Facing the Future with God
November 19th, 1944 @ 10:50 AM
FACING THE FUTURE WITH GOD
Dr. W. A. Criswell
November-19, 1944 10:50 a.m.
(original shorthand transcription courtesy Elizabeth Lewis Packer and Dorothy Lewis Ivey)
SUNDAY MORNING SERVICE, FIRST BAPTIST CHURCH, DALLAS, TEXAS:
HYMNS: Doxology (followed by prayer by Mr. Robert H. Coleman); “Higher Ground” (Led by Mr. Coleman)
SCRIPTURE READING: 145th Psalm, read by Dr. Criswell
MORNING PRAYER: Led by Dr. Criswell
Our Father and our God in heaven: behold, we have taken upon ourselves to speak unto Thee, we who are but dust and ashes. We pray, our God, in the goodness and tender mercy and loving kindness of Thy heart, that wayward and sinful children be welcomed in Thy presence. We are not here, our Lord, because our righteousness is above that of other men, nor is it because we have escaped the sin and wickedness to which our flesh is heir, but our Lord, it is because of a profound need of Thee; it is because of weakness, and inadequacy, and insufficiency that we bow in Thy presence and humble ourselves in the dust. O God, through the blood of Christ and atonement of the cross was regeneration and salvation to ourselves. O Master, recreate in us a life that can never die; and may it grow, may it flame, may it burn, may it shine, may it be to other men and to the world a beacon and a lighthouse, that we might reveal the goodness, and majesty, and adequacy, and greatness of God our Savior.
Our Father, we pray especially this morning that in saving, pardoning love and power, You might be in our midst. God, bless these who share in singing and hear the great congregation as we pray in our hearts, and bless the reading of God’s Word, and bless the appeal that is made.
Master, may this be a mighty beginning of a holy and pleasing ministry. O God, raise us up friends, raise us up people who pray and who believe in prayer, who work and believe in work, who will place their shoulder to the wheel, who will bare their arms for the task, who will dedicate the last drop of blood and energy of their life into this endeavor. Master, make us glad, make heaven glad this morning. May souls be saved this hour. May many unenlisted come into the fellowship of this church. May we begin today, a long work with the Lord, one which we believe ends in heaven. Lord, lead us on, reward our efforts, hear our prayers, and make glad our words to the glory and to the praise of our Lord Jesus. Amen.
ANTHEM: “In the Cross of Christ I Glory” – Girls Choir
OFFERING and ANTHEM: “Wait on the Lord” – Quartet (Mrs. Madison Adams, Mrs. M. M. Myers, Glenn Lechleitner, Alvin T. Been)
SERMON: (This is the first sermon given by Dr. Criswell as the pastor of the church)
This is absolutely one of the most inspiring congregations I would think to be found in all of the world; this vast building packed. I think of the imagery of the author of Hebrews in the twelfth chapter of his book, “compassed about with so great a cloud of witnesses” [Hebrews 12:1]. Truly, one of the privileges of life is just to be present in this church, much less to think of the passing years, every Lord’s Day morning and evening worship here.
It is a joy to see our Silent Friends on my right. I hope that through their prayers and attendance, maybe the rest of us will be challenged and encouraged to do more and better for our Savior.
Well, they say we are to have a reception Tuesday evening. Well, that’s fine! That’s fine! Now what shall we wear? Oh, what? Haven’t I heard that before? When word came down to us of a reception, my wife said, “and I have nothing to wear.” I said, “Well, what’s the matter with that long dress, or that short dress,” and she said, “Well, you’re a man and you just don’t understand.” Well, whether it’s a long dress or a short dress, you come. You come, and you’ll find this little family of mine is the “hand-shakingest” little family you ever saw. You come. If we’re going to have a reception, let’s have one we won’t forget. I will promise you something on the side, too. If my wife will turn loose of my little girl, we will have a three-ring circus to boot. You come! You come! We’ll have a good time, not only then, but every time we get together in the name of the Lord.
In beginning this life and this ministry together, Facing the Future with God; and the reading of the Word is taken from the twenty-and-seventh chapter of Acts:
And when neither sun nor stars in many days appeared, and no small tempest lay on us, all hope that we should be saved was then taken away.
But after long abstinence, Paul stood forth in the midst of them, and said, Sirs, ye should have hearkened unto me, and not have loosed from Crete, and to have gained this harm and loss.
And now I exhort you to be of good cheer: for there shall be no loss of any man’s life among you, but of the ship.
For there stood by me this night the angel of God, whose I am, and whom I serve,
Saying, Fear not, Paul; thou must be brought before Caesar: and, lo, God hath given thee all them that sail with thee.
Wherefore, sirs, be of good cheer; for I believe God, that it shall be even as it was told me.
For the text we shall think on that verse:
For there stood by me this night the angel of God, whose I am, and whom I serve, saying, Fear not, Paul; thou must be brought before Caesar: and, lo, God hath given thee all them that sail with thee. Wherefore, sirs, be of good cheer: for I believe God, that it shall be even as it was told me.
Oh, that was a tempest; that was a storm! After days and days and night after night, no sun, no moon, no light, no hope, no cheer, no stars—nothing but tempest and shipwreck, and I think in the gloom of the night there appeared this representative of God and he said to Paul, “There is a destiny God has in store for you. Fear not, I have a will and a purpose for thee. Thou must stand before Caesar, and not only that, Paul, but God has given thee all them that sail with thee” [Acts 27:24]. And based upon that promise of the Almighty, Paul turned to encourage the people, “I believe God. Be of good cheer, break the fast. Let us eat, let us ask for strength” [Acts 27:25]. And when he had thus spoken, he took bread and gave thanks to God in the presence of them all, and when they saw it they were all of good cheer, and broke bread in hope and faith with the apostle. [Acts 27:35-36]
Now this message this morning is more like a personal talk between you and me. If I had time and the privilege, I would like to sit down on the opposite side of the desk of every businessman in this house, and I would just talk, face to face and heart to heart. If I had time and the opportunity, I would like to knock on the door of every good mother and wife and daughter in this house, and we would just sit down there in the living room and talk this thing out heart to heart. I would be an old man by the time we did that, so this morning we will just talk across this pulpit together. You forget it is a stated occasion, and we will just be friend to friend, and I will talk to you out of my heart. I will be frank—you may say too frank. I will be frank, but I will lay bare my heart and my soul, and as I speak to you in your heart, you speak back to me.
Ah, haven’t we been through tempest? And haven’t we been through gloom of night, storm and stress, disaster and shipwreck? And in the tempest there have been many who have prophesied dire things about us. This church is more spoken-of than any other we have in the earth and for years before you ever thought or dreamed, I was in the land. I have heard more spoken of this church, especially during the latter months. Why, what have they said? There were Job’s comforters, without hope, and without faith, and without loyalty, and without love—not in this church, thank God. But in the great file I have heard speak beyond the city.
Listen to what they have said: they have said that the church shall die. They have said it was built around a great personality and incomparable preacher, and that when the man, his personality and influence was taken away that the church, like scrap iron, would fall in pieces. They have said that the first pastor who came here would utterly fail. There can never be another man like the great pastor, and for any man to try to be like him, he would fail; and if he did try to be like him, they would resent him. The first pastor shall miserably fail, and that the golden days of the church are past. Their leadership in missions and evangelism shall become a memory, no way to go but down. I wonder if you and I have a reply to make to that?
All right, they have said that the church will die, that it was built around a great incomparable personality, and now it shall fall apart. Let us look! Let us look at the incomparable man who ministered to this congregation for the generation of his life: wonder what kind of a man he was? They took me, when I was here before, out to see dear Mrs. Truett. She prayed for me and talked to me and said, “You will be my son.” And in her speaking she made this avowal, “Don’t you be afraid of the church. My husband built it not around himself, but around Jesus Christ, and it will stand and live, and it will last. Don’t you be afraid.”
I have heard Dr. Truett since I was a lad. Everybody has heard that incomparable preacher. He never impressed me as being a man like that. There are men that, when you have heard them, you go out saying, “He has the most brilliant vocabulary I have ever heard.” You have heard other men and said, “What an intellect!” and others, “What a social passion!” But oh, my soul, every time I have heard this man and incomparable pastor preach, I went away every time saying, “Oh my, what a great Savior we have!” “Oh, that I might live better and nobler!” He had that effect on me and I can’t help but be persuaded he had the same effect on you. That was his own heart.
The fifteenth of June, 1931, Dr. Eugene Sallee died suddenly in Raleigh, North Carolina. He had been brought back from the China mission field by the Mission Board to stir up an interest in missions in us. Oh, his going was a tragedy! I can remember that so well. And they brought the body of that great ambassador of Christ and held his funeral service on the nineteenth day of the month, in the First Baptist Church in Waco. And Dr. Truett, his brother-in-law, made a great and incomparable address, and I copied out these words that the pastor said:
Christ’s way for His people is that “One soweth, and another reapeth” [John 4:37]. David gathered the material for the temple, but the task of building was left to his son, Solomon. When Moses went away, Joshua was called to carry on as the successor to Moses. So came the call to Elisha when Elijah was taken away. “God buries the workman, but the work goes on,” the generations stand together in an unbroken solidarity. It took two men to write the immortal poem, “In Memoriam,” Arthur Hallam had to die before Tennyson could write that world-famed poem.
That was the hope of that great man. He never envisioned a moment in his life that, when he laid down the task and the work dropped from his shoulders, that this work he built would perish with his memory. He thought it would live and burn and grow. Please God it shall!
All right, what kind of people are gathered here in the church? Are they like this? Have they called to one another and said, “The days of trial are come, and let me be the first one to forsake”? Have our men been like that? Have our women been like that? Have our young people been like that?
Why, I’ve found the opposite. I have never seen such prayers, such faith, such fortitude, such magnanimous, infinite loyalty and love. I think back in our own history to the summer of 1865. There were four professors who had founded our Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville: Boyce, Broadus, Manly, and Williams. The Civil War destroyed their state and left poverty and need and want and devastation in its stead. All that the seminary had was invested in Confederate bonds; all their students had gone into the war and in the summer of 1865—no money, no students, everything gone with the wind. James Pettigrew Boyce called a meeting of the four in Greenville, South Carolina, to see what should become of the seminary. Those four great geniuses of God met together and bowed and prayed, and knelt and prayed again about the future of the seminary. But there was no answer, no way. Finally John Broadus stood up in the group and kindly said this, “Let us here resolve before God that the seminary may die, but that we shall die first.” And those four men got on their knees and prayed such to God.
“Sir, the church may die, but we shall die first, God being our witness!” All right, they may have said, “the first pastor shall utterly fail.” That now, of course, has become a personal matter. Oh, naturally, I am human enough to cringe before that—to stagger and to stumble, to try to be equal and cannot, finally falter and fail, and everybody saying, “See I told you so!” I cringe, of course, before that.
But it goes beyond me. There is never a leadership that fails that doesn’t take with it the institution; and if I fail in this ministry, it won’t build the church! It won’t honor the kingdom! It won’t save the lost! And I have prayed—and oh, how I have! “O God, remember me.” And that is the reason for the text, “For there stood by me this night the angel of God, whose I am, and whom I serve, saying, Fear not, fear not” [Acts 27:23-24]. And I believe God, that it shall be even as it was told me” [Acts 27:25]. Rather, “If I must needs glory, I will glory of the things which concern mine imperfections” [2 Corinthians 11:30]; in carrying on this incomparable work, I can’t do it, but He can!
And I am not by myself in that. There have been letters, hundreds of you dear people who have written to me messages and called, and I am thinking of one letter now. It went like this:
Dear Brother Criswell,
All of us know what a great task and responsibility that you have. But young man, don’t forget, you are not going to bear it by yourself. There will be literally hundreds of us sitting out there before you who will be bearing it with you. And among them I shall be one.
Oh, I can see that! As I prayed this morning, I could see you out there in front. I could see you praying. I could see your interest. I could see your help and your love, pouring your life in this message, and I had my answer.
Blessed people, this shall always be true: as long as you can love us, pray for us, and help us and see us through, the cords that bind us together shall be as “hoops of iron and cables of steel.” But whenever you cannot pray for us and love us and help us, they shall become a rope of sand. And you shall be the judge whenever, in the life of the church, we put an imposition on your heart and your life. As long as you can willingly love us and pray for us, we shall be with you. If you shall say otherwise, it shall be as you shall say.
Now that last word they said, “The golden days of this church are in the past. The days of their great work and their mighty leadership in missions and in evangelism and in education, all of those great eras are in the past. The church shall lose its place, and its mighty acts shall be but a memory in the pages of history.” And to begin with, isn’t it reasonable to believe that we ought to do better? We shall do better. Look at what we have to build upon.
When Dr. Truett came to this church almost a half century ago, it wasn’t like it is now. They had just dismissed their pastor, and there were many wars and fights to go through. Isn’t that right? Oh, as I read the history of Texas Baptists, how they had trouble! And many of the decisions were made in this church. These men have fought a good fight; all the work they have done, this foundation they have established. Now, my brother, we will not fight those battles over again; they won them for us! We will stand on the foundation they have laid. We will build on the work that they established thus far, and we will go up, and on, and forward! Why, look here; we will give more to missions, please God, than we ever did.
Two Sundays ago, when I was there in the country, I went to a little country Baptist church by the river. And when the service was done, nothing would do them but I would come up and speak and I did. After the service was over I met a girl, a high school girl. She said she had given her life to be a missionary. I said, “Georgia, when I went to school the boys and girls who had given their lives to be missionaries were disappointed. They had offered everything they had on the altar, but when the time came to go, when they had finished their education, we had no money to send them. And they grew beyond the age of missionary appointment, and they will live their lives at home, in disappointment and failure. You go ahead and get your education and prepare yourself, and as God will help us, we will see you through. We won’t let you down.” And I want to keep that promise for the generation in which we live. There will be not a young man whom God has called—who has responded and prepared himself for the work—but when he is ready to go, this church and her sister churches will do better than they have ever done. We will see them through; we will give more than we ever did.
In our Sunday school, in our Training Union, in our Brotherhood, in our Women’s work, we will do better than we have ever done. We have them to build upon. Let’s go out and forward. Why don’t we demonstrate right here to the world, we’ll build a Sunday school with five thousand every Sunday morning. Sure, we will do that; we don’t know how, but God knows how. They are here to be reached. Dallas has them. Who will teach them? Who will lead them? Who will train them? Who will baptize them? We will! We will! And others will follow after. We will do our best in that work.
O God … O God! May it be a liquid fire, may it be a flame in our hearts, fire in my heart, fire in your heart, morning and night, and winning more to the Lord and “adding to the church daily those that are to be saved” [Acts 2:47], and last the service here in the church. How shall it be? Ah … They will be! They will be! They will be in the eye of God, they will be in the favor of the Savior.
It won’t be because of an eloquent sermon; it won’t be because of a magnificent personality, it won’t be that way. But it shall be in prayer, and in labor, and in love, and in loyalty to the deed.
I have debated whether to tell you this or not. I have never uttered it to a living soul but my own little family. I thought you might not misunderstand if I shared it this morning with you, then we will never refer to it again. The latter part of July of this year I had a dream in the night that left me with a burden as I never had on my heart. When I was a student in Baylor, I had attended a BSU Convention in this auditorium, the only time that I was ever in the service. That night, the latter part of July, I came here to the services of this First Baptist Church. There was a man in front of me—I was in the center—there was a man behind me; we came into the building, and upstairs and sat over there in that balcony, and we looked down upon the vast congregation. There were tears in the pulpit. There were tears in the choir. There was a flood of tears in the congregation. There were tears in the balcony, and I wept too. Their pastor had been taken away. They had lost their undershepherd, and the sheep were in sadness and sorrow, and in tears. And I wept just as though he had been my own pastor. After they had sung a hymn—I could see them, in that dream, singing up here—after they had sung a hymn, the man who was seated to my left stood up. I did not know who he was. He stood up and turned to me and said, “It is time to go. The pulpit is given to you.” I cried, “Oh, no! No!”
“Yes you must go with me, the pulpit is given to you.”
I sat there with the earth on my heart and the man who sat on the other side of me put his hand on my knee. I turned to see who he was and there he sat, looking deep into my face, with his black suit on, his white hair, and those searching eyes. It was Dr. Truett. He looked into my face and said in his golden voice, “Remember, preach to them out of your heart.” And the vision went away and for days I lived under it. Nobody in this church besides a handful had ever heard of me. Oh, that incomparable preacher! A true ambassador for Christ! I will do the best that I can, out of my heart!
May we pray?
Our Father and the God of all listening, O God, make this be today the beginning of a ministry and a labor of love that God can hallow and bless through the years. Lord, bless these people who have borne this burden for the generations, who have poured into it their life’s blood to make it what it is today. And our Father, may the same spirit of Jesus that honored their efforts in these days past, may the same Jesus—the same yesterday, today, and forever [Hebrews 13:8]—may He empower them. Oh, honor Thou! Oh, honor Thou, O God, honor Thou Thy Word, and Thy church, and Thy people. And Master, grant that in after-years, my God, people everywhere will look upon us and say, “Behold the power, the miracles and wonder of God. See what God is able to do.” O Master, our Savior! Father, use us to win souls to Thee. Use us to rebuild broken homes. Use us Lord, to reach boys and girls, the sad, the perplexed, the burdened, the heart broken, the poor and the needy. O God, raise us up to minister to this generation.
God, help us, and see us through, and love us, Lord, even though sometimes we are unlovely. Lord, do love us, and give us the love of the people. And in prayer, and in words, and in work, present and past, and greatness, O God, make us better, and the people that God would like to see planted in the heart of this great city.
Master, we will thank Thee every time we pray; we will thank Thee for it every day we live. We will do it, Master, in Christ. Amen.
INVITATIONAL HYMN: “My Jesus I Love Thee.”
(Forty-seven united with the church, among whom were Dr. and Mrs. Criswell.)