March 17th, 1938
Dr. W. A. Criswell of Chickasha, Oklahoma
B. T. U. Convention
Thursday night, March 17, 1938
The subject assigned me is Lengthening Shadows. I presume the committee means by that, “The Influence of Life.”
I read some time ago of a railway president who died, and at the hour of his funeral every train on the entire system stopped for a minute, every workman ceased from his labors, every telegraph key was silent, everything connected with that great system had stopped—except the influence of the man in the casket. A man’s personality never dies. The body may waste away, the light and flame of his life may flicker and die, but the man himself never dies. His personality lives on to the end of time. Plato, and Socrates, and Alfred the Great, and Bismarck, and Washington, and Lincoln, and Wilson have fallen, but these men all live on. The bodies of Marx and Lenin have crumbled, but through their revolutionary philosophies they have more influence today than Hitler and Mussolini, their satellites, and Stalin their disciple. The influence of such men as Nietzsche of Germany and Machiavelli of Italy lives on. When lives are turned to pernicious ends, one can never recall their influence. One might gather up every copy of Thomas Paine’s Age of Reason and burn them, but you could no more destroy the influence of that book than you could bottle the Atlantic Ocean. If there is a resurrection of the just, there is also a resurrection of the unjust, and some day every man must face the far-reaching influence of his life.
With what joy we turn to the contemplation of the fact that the influence of good men never dies! One of the most triumphant passages in the writings of Paul is found in his letter to the church at Rome: “For if, while we were enemies, we were reconciled to God through the death of His Son, much more, being reconciled, shall we be saved by His life” [Romans 5:10]. Oh, the matchless, incomparable life of Christ! Today He is royally, regally regnant in all lands. The question is still being asked, “What shall we do with Jesus?” His disciples through the ages have influenced the world. We think of John the Baptist, of John the Evangelist, of Augustine, of Savonarola, of John Huss, of John Calvin, of John Knox, of Charles Spurgeon, of Dwight L. Moody, of John A. Broadus, of B. H. Carroll, and a host of others who were bright and shining lights. The inscription on the tomb of Dwight L. Moody, “He that doeth the will of God abideth forever” [1 John 2:17], applies to every man who walks in the steps of Jesus our Savior and Lord.
Then there are those who live in obscurity, who are unknown to the world, but they likewise have exerted their influence. We do not know the name of the Unknown Soldier yonder at Arlington, but he represents a mighty host of men and women who were loyal to their homes and to their country. Over many a grave in the homeland could be placed the inscription similar to that of the Unknown Soldier, “Here lies a father unknown except to God”. . . “Here lies a mother unknown except to God.” We do not know the name of the worker who left the Pacific Garden Mission and won Billy Sunday to Christ. We do not know the name of the Moravian preacher who led Wesley to his Savior. Nor do we know the name of the simple preacher whose message opened the heart of Charles Haddon Spurgeon to the Lord Jesus. You remember what Dr. John L. Hill said a while ago about the Sunday school teacher back yonder, years ago, who taught a class of boys behind the organ in the little old-fashioned church house. And on and on, we might think of others whose obscure lives have influenced the world for the glory of God.
I am thinking of two qualifications of life: Unselfishness and Faith. These traits have made earth fragrant with beautiful lives and have enriched the world with heroic men and women. There is a vast difference between a sordid selfish life and a great unselfish, magnanimous soul. The life of Cain was characterized by selfishness; of Abel by unselfishness [Hebrews 11:4]. Covetousness said to Lot, “Choose the well-watered valleys”; unselfishness said to Abraham, “Take what is left” [Genesis 13:8-12]. Selfishness said to Orpah, “Kiss your mother-in-law good-bye” [Ruth 1:13-14]; unselfishness led Ruth to say: “Entreat me not to leave thee, and to return from following after thee” [Ruth 1:16-17]. Selfishness said to Judas, “You have followed a lost cause; get what you can—thirty pieces of silver” [Matthew 26:14-16]; consecration and loyalty said to John, “Stand by the cross” [John 19:26]. Selfishness led Demas to forsake Paul [2 Timothy 4:10]; consecration and loyalty led Luke to stand by Paul to the end [2 Timothy 4:11]. Selfishness said to Stanley, “Go back to England”; unselfish devotion to the black men prompted Livingstone to say, “I will die for Africa.” Selfishness led a girl to break her engagement to her lover who was going blind; consecration and loyalty led George Matheson to sing:
O Love that wilt not let me go,
I rest my weary soul in Thee;
That in Thine ocean depths its flow
May richer, fuller be.
O Light that followest all my way,
I yield my flick’ring torch to Thee;
My heart restores its borrowed ray,
That in Thy sunshine’s blaze its day
May brighter, fairer be.
[from “O Love That Wilt Not Let Me Go,” George Matheson, 1882]
Through all eternity we shall never cease to be grateful for men and women whose lives were the incarnation of unselfish devotion.
Consider that other quality, Faith. The roll call of faith reveals such heroes as Abel, Abraham, Moses, Joseph, and a vast army of others “Who through faith subdued kingdoms, wrought righteousness, obtained promises, stopped the mouths of lions, quenched the power of fire, escaped the edge of the sword, from weakness were made strong, waxed mighty in war, turned to flight armies of aliens” [Hebrews 11:33-34]. From Abel to the present time, men of faith have lifted the world out of despair. They have expected great things from God and have attempted great things for God.
One of the men who influenced my own life was Dr. Samuel Palmer Brooks, who during the four years I was in Baylor University touched my life in its most impressionable and mobile years. Again and again I heard him in the chapel as he summoned the students to faith and consecration and courage.
One day the news came that Prexy could not live: our graduating class was bowed in sorrow. When the appeal came from the members of that class, he signed their diplomas with the last ounce of his strength. We wanted a message from the president. Now that he faced death would his faith sustain him to the end? We thought that he had left no word for us. On the day of our graduation, shortly after his burial, we marched into the chapel, stood in line, received our diplomas, then we were seated for the message. The dean arose. He said, “I have in my hand the president’s last message to the class of 1931.” Yes, Prexy had left us a message. What did he say? Well, as we had expected, his faith sustained him to the last. I quote from that message:
This is my message to the senior class of 1931. I address also the seniors of all years, those seniors of the past and those seniors yet to be. This I do because I love them all equally, even as I love all mankind regardless of station, creed, race, or religion. I stand on the border of mortal life but I face eternal life. I look backward to the years of the past to see all pettiness, all triviality shrink into nothing and disappear. Adverse criticism has no meaning now. Only the worthwhile things, the constructive things, the things that have built for the good of mankind and the glory of God count now. There is beauty, there is joy, and there is laughter in life—as there ought to be. But remember, all of you, not to regard lightly nor to ridicule the sacred things: those worthwhile things. Hold them dear, cherish them, for they alone will sustain you in the end; and remember, too, that only through work and ofttimes through hardships may they be attained. But the compensation of blessing and sweetness at the last will glorify every hour of work and every heartache from hardship. . . As my teachers have lived through me, so I must live through you. You who are graduating today will go out into the world to discover that already you have touched much of what the future holds. You have learned the lessons which must fit you for the difficulties and the joys of the years to come. Then hold these college years close in your hearts and value them at their true worth.
Do not face the future with timidity nor with fear. Face it boldly, courageously, joyously. Have faith in what it holds. Sorrows as well as happiness must come with time. But know that only after sorrow’s hand has bowed your head will life become truly real to you, for only then will you acquire the noble spirituality which intensifies the reality of life. My own faith as I approach eternity grows stronger day by day. The faith I have had in life is projected into this vast future toward which I travel now. I know that I go to an all-powerful God. I know that He is a personality who created man in His image. Beyond that I have no knowledge, no fear—only faith.
So I go on not knowing,
I would not if I might,
I would rather walk with Christ in the dark
Than to walk alone in the light;
I would rather walk with Him by faith
Than to walk by myself with sight.