Pastor Truett and Father Buckner
July 7th, 1957 @ 10:50 AM
PASTOR TRUETT AND FATHER BUCKNER
Dr. W. A. Criswell
7-7-57 10:50 a.m.
You are sharing with us the services of the First Baptist Church in Dallas, Texas. This is the pastor bringing the morning message. Once a year, on the anniversary of the death of Dr. George W. Truett [George Washington Truett, 1867-1944], I prepare an address on some tremendous phase of our religious denominational life in which the great pastor largely shared. His interests were as wide as the world.
One of the reasons for the building of the tremendous Baptist denomination in Texas and in the south aligned is to be found in the glorious personality and the eloquent golden tongue of George W. Truett. For seven and forty years, he was the pastor of this church. He died on this day, 1944, thirteen years ago.
I have a reason for doing this. It is found, among others – a reason is found in the Book of God in Isaiah 51:[1-2]: "Hearken to me, ye that follow after righteousness, ye that seek the Lord: look unto the rock whence ye are hewn, and to the hole of the pit whence ye are digged. Look unto Abraham your father, and unto Sarah that bare you . . . "
These Old Testament prophets had a habit – this is not an isolated or unusual instance – they had a habit of calling their people back to the great landmarks, to the great fundamentals, to the great patriarchs. And they based their future upon the promises God had made in the past, and they taught their children of the heroic deeds and the mighty achievements and the vast spiritual commitments of the forefathers, of the patriarchs. They even so ofttimes referred to their God as the God of Abraham and the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob [Acts 3:12-13].
And, I say, this call of the incomparable prophet Isaiah is but typical of the whole fabric of Israel’s life. "Look unto the rock whence ye are hewn, and to the hole of the pit whence ye are digged" [from Isaiah 51:1] – where we came from. "Look unto Abraham your father, and unto Sarah that bare you" [Isaiah 51:2].
So, I say, I have purposely turned aside on these anniversary days once a year to hearken back to those who have so wonderfully and effectively wrought before us. They planted the seeds. They built the institution. They watered it with their tears. They cultivated it with their cares. They poured their lives into these ministries. And we, their children, inherit the work and the reward and the recompense of their precious and godly deeds.
This church ought never to forget the great pastor, Dr. Truett – never ever. And, as I say, taking advantage of an opportunity to refresh our hearts, to teach our children the word and the pristine character of that glorious preacher of God and of Christ and of the Gospel of Jesus, I take advantage of it to make opportunity to hold up the work that this church has loved and supported through the years and the years. So, I say, of all of the developments in our denominational life, of all the institutions that we love and foster and contribute to and pray for and care for, of all the work that this church has shared in and of all of the ministries of the great pastor, there is none that is more sweet or more precious or more meaningful or more beloved than this work of the Buckner family and the ministries of the Buckner Orphans Home.
So this morning, we’re going to present, in a different kind of a way, the work of the Buckners. And the different kind of a way I refer to is, it will not be just a story of the family itself, but it will be the story of the family as it touched this church, as Dr. Truett shared in it. And then, if I could be forgiven, it has a place in my own heart, and I want to speak of it as our own church, our First Baptist Church, and the Buckner Orphans Home and shall so speak of one or two things in my own heart.
Now, to be first introduced to the Buckner family. I called Mrs. Hal Buckner, dear, sweet, precious Christian mother and member of this church, I called Mrs. Hal Buckner, and I asked for the privilege of coming out and spending an afternoon with her. So I went out there to her home.
And Mrs. Buckner has done a wonderful work. In these years that unfold, it will be increasingly valuable. She has collected so very much of historical material: magazines, newspapers, documents – piles and piles of it. And she has carefully arranged it, and it tells the story in intimate and minute detail of the growth of that glorious Buckner institution.
Now, my embarrassment is the vast amount of material. How shall I begin? What shall I say? For anything that I say means I do not say a thousand other things that crowd and cry and ought to be said. My problem is how can I encompass within a few minutes a story that is filled with the inspiration of the Spirit of God and the fruit of which blesses so many thousands today? Well, I must be forgiven for just touching the hem of the garment. That is all I can do, but may God bless it to our use, and our memory, and our appreciation for these who have so wonderfully worked before our day.
Now, an introduction to the Buckner family. There are four generations of those Buckners upon whom God placed His hand and set aside to the ministry of the Gospel of Christ. Back yonder in 1823, Daniel Buckner, twenty-three years of age, Daniel Buckner was ordained to the Gospel ministry in the Big Pigeon Baptist Church of South Carolina – and that sounds like one of those country churches back there in the Carolinas. Twenty-three years of age, he was set aside for the Gospel ministry and soon thereafter began to preach in Madisonville, Tennessee.
While he was there, he was turned out of the church which is an unusual experience for a minister of the Gospel. He was turned out of the church. Now, the reason why he was turned out of the church was this: he believed in missions and the people didn’t believe in missions. They were anti-missionary. They were a hard shell. They were Primitive Baptists. And this man, Daniel Buckner, preached that God has called us for the evangelization of the whole world, and that was heresy. So they turned Daniel Buckner, the preacher, out of the church.
Well, when it came to the matter of his wife, Mrs. Buckner, they said to her, "Now, we not going to turn you out. We don’t have anything against you." And she hastily replied, "Well, you may not have anything against me, but I have something against you. I believe in missions, too, just like my husband." So they turned both of them out of the church. Now, that was the beginning of the ministry of Daniel Buckner, a preacher of the Gospel and a missionary exponent, an evangelist. So Daniel Buckner moved to Kentucky and there continued a glorious ministry.
Now, the second generation: Daniel Buckner had two boys. One was named Henry Freeland Buckner. For thirty-three years, he was a missionary to the Creek Nation in Indian territory. In the heart of that nation is Muskogee, Oklahoma. And in my pastorate at Muskogee, I came across the record and the memory and the work of Henry Freeland Buckner many, many, many times in the founding of Bacone College, in the founding of the Murrow Orphans Home – Indian institutions there in Muskogee. He wrought a great work for the Lord as a missionary, thirty-three years, to the Creek Nation.
Now, the other son of Daniel Buckner who was ordained to the Gospel ministry was named Robert Cook Buckner. He was known to our people as Father Buckner. He was born there in Tennessee on January 3, 1833. Then in Kentucky, where his father was preaching, early gave his heart to the Lord. Then early was ordained to preach, about seventeen years of age. And in 1859, Robert Cook Buckner came to Texas, and in 1861, accepted the pastorate of the First Baptist Church in Paris [Paris, Texas]. And there in Paris, he began these extensive ministries – so multiplied.
He was so gifted. He published a newspaper. He helped to build the denomination. He was the president of the Baptist General Convention of Texas for years and years until he became too old to preside over the assemblies. And from that place in Paris, as a pastor, he began that wonderful work of love and care that finally fruited in the establishment of the Buckner Orphans Home. Now, that’s the second generation.
Now, the third generation of preachers is named Joe Buckner and Hal Buckner. Those young men, born into the family of Father Buckner – those young men gave themselves to the building up of the home. I think Joe Buckner was a layman all his life. I think Hal was the only of the boys that was a preacher, ordained. Hal went away to be a missionary in China and then came back upon the death of his father, Father Buckner, in 1919, with brother Joe there to head the ministries of the home. And upon the death of Joe Buckner in 1935, Hal Buckner became the manager and the leader of the home.
And, as for his son, and this is the fourth generation of Buckners who’ve been set aside for the Gospel ministry. Robert Cook Buckner II, who’s here this morning, Robert Cook Buckner [Robert Cook Buckner II], in 1935, upon the death of Joe Buckner, was asked to come and to be with his father. So with Hal Buckner as manager and president and Robert Cook Buckner [Robert Cook Buckner II] as assistant, those two marvelously built and wrought out there in the Buckner home.
Now, we’re going to turn to the Buckner family and our First Baptist Church. In the early years, so long ago, in the 1880s, the Buckner family belonged to this church. Father Buckner, Mother Buckner, this eldest daughter, Mrs. Maybelle Coleman – they all belonged to this beloved First Baptist Church, and from this church went out those prayers and those appeals and that support that so largely helped Father Buckner in the building of that glorious home.
Now, Father Buckner was as older than Dr. Truett as Dr. Truett was older than Hal. So when I come into the story of Dr. Truett and the Buckners, chronologically, it goes something like this. First, Hal Buckner, the son of Father Buckner, was ordained to the Gospel ministry here in this church. And it was an unusual day. He was ordained the twenty-third of December in 1900. And the entire day, the morning services and the evening services, were given over to the ordination of Hal Buckner. At the morning hour, Dr. J. B. Gambrell [James Bruton Gambrell, 1841-1921], the illustrious leader of the Baptist General Convention, its executive secretary – at the morning hour, Dr. J. B. Gambrell examined the candidate and Father Buckner delivered the charge. The entire service was given over, at this morning hour, to the ordination of Hal. And then at the evening hour, Dr. Truett delivered the ordination sermon. It must have been a glorious, great day.
Now, next in the chronology, the funeral services for both Father Buckner and Mother Buckner were conducted by Pastor Truett. And from the Dallas News, I have copied out a tribute of Dr. George W. Truett to Robert Cook Buckner, Father Buckner. And this is from the Dallas News, Thursday, April 10, 1919. It is a published tribute of Dr. Truett to Father Buckner. I quote:
It would be altogether impossible for me to give adequate expression of my appreciation of Dr. R. C. Buckner as friend, counselor, citizen, philanthropist, leader, preacher, and man. In all these relations, he stands out against the horizon, a man difficult to match. The most casual glance at his life reveals his vast and many-sided serviceableness.
Doesn’t that sound like Dr. Truett – "serviceableness"?
In every relation he has been preeminent. He has been one of the most prodigious toilers of his own and any time, and the abundant favor of God has manifestly crowned his labors. As a preacher, both in the realm of winning souls and teaching them, as a counselor, whether in causes great or small, he has wrought in each and all of these realms in such a way as to win an enviable immortality.
But greater than all that he has said or done is the greatness of his character. His virile intellectual power; his indomitable strength of will; his moral resoluteness –
that sounds like Truett –
his dauntless courage; his remarkable faith, both in God and man; his never failing optimism; his rich, deep, tender human sympathy: all are such as to make his personality greater and more valuable than can be measured in any terms that are human and earthly. God be thanked with inexpressible thankfulness for this valiant soldier. One may well wonder whether we shall ever see his like again.
Dr. Truett’s published tribute to Father Buckner when he died. I wish I had the whole peroration. I just read a summary of it – of J. B. Cranfill [James Britton Cranfill, 1858-1942] when he wrote his appreciation. He ended it with a glorious tribute something like this. He said, "There are many great monuments in the world – the Washington Monument, the Lincoln Monument, Bartholdi’s Statue of Liberty, a monument from France to the freedom of America. But," he said, "of all the monuments in the world," in his "humble persuasion, the greatest monument is this that Father Buckner has built in the building and the establishment of the Buckner Orphans Home." And I concur in that. A statue, a column, a building – but oh, think of what Buckner did in his ministries through the years to these children.
Now, in Mrs. Hal Buckner’s wonderful, wonderful story, as she has developed it, I came across this. In her last illness, Mother Buckner said just before she died, "All I can hold in my cold, dead hand is what I have given away." What a wonderful sentiment! That dear, blessed companion who labored by the side of her husband all these years in ministering and in building that institution: "All I can hold in my cold, dead hand is what I have given away." So Mrs. Hal Buckner, by the side of the picture of Mother Buckner, has pasted that poem; and I copied it:
Carve your name high over drifting sand
Where the steadfast rock defies decay.
All you can hold in your cold, dead hand
Is what you have given away.
Build your pyramid skyward and stand,
Gazed at by millions, cultured, they say.
All you can hold in your cold, dead hand
Is what you have given away.
Carry your wide conquests by sea and land.
Keep the gold hoard as you may.
All you can hold in your cold, dead hand
Is what you have given away.
You can’t take it with you. And how rich these as Mother Buckner who invested life in the care of those children.
Now, to continue: Dr. Truett and Hal. I could not think of a sweeter or finer thing than the relationship of Dr. Truett and Hal Buckner. Remember, I said Father Buckner was as much older than Dr. Truett as Dr. Truett was than Hal. So when Hal Buckner, upon the death of Father Buckner, with Joe Buckner came to lead the institution, why, Dr. Truett looked upon Hal as one of his sons.
Now, to the great – I don’t like to say disappointment but a rearrangement of his life, Father Buckner had come to look upon Hal as his right arm. And in a meeting held by Father Buckner, Hal gave his life to the Lord, and then at a convention presided over by Father Buckner, gave his life to be a missionary. And so Father Buckner had to give up the boy, and he went out to be a missionary in China.
Hal Buckner and his wife – and she had then three little babies, and in those days, it wasn’t like it is now. It was difficult and hard, the long journey to China. And they remained there as missionaries in China for ten years. And Hal Buckner and his wife and those three little babies were sent out to China from this church. They had a tremendous hour of dedication right here and prayed and asked God’s blessings upon them and sent them out from this morning congregation to China to be missionaries.
Now, upon the death of Father Buckner, in 1919 – in April 1919 – Hal Buckner came back, and, in September, began to help in the administration of the home. So when November came, the Baptist General Convention of Texas met, and at the evening session, at a great hour, Hal Buckner was to speak and to present his first report to the Baptist General Convention of Texas.
When the time came for Hal to be presented, Dr. Truett walked up to him and put his hand on his shoulder and looked straight into his face and said, "Hal, I’ll be standing back of you." And he took his seat on the platform right back of Hal Buckner. And when Hal stood up to deliver his message and to make his first report, there was the great pastor standing right back of him to help the young man as he faced the great responsibilities that had been laid upon him.
Hal liked Dr. Truett. Hal began his work that day and quoted this motto which was his motto all of his life:
I do not ask that I ever stand
Among the wise, the worthy, or the great.
I only ask that softly, hand in hand,
A child and I may enter heaven’s gate.
Dr. Truett standing by Hal. You have another dramatic picture of that in this baptistry here. When Hal and Mrs. Buckner came back on a furlough from China, Robert Cook, their eldest boy, and Miss Charette Jo, their only daughter, gave their hearts to the Lord and were to be baptized. Well, Hal Buckner was in an automobile wreck and broke severely his right arm. So when time came for the two children to be baptized here, Dr. Truett and Hal had a little conference about it. And when Hal said, "I do not know whether I can do it with my hurt arm," Dr. Truett said, "Hal, I will go down in the baptistry with you, and I will stand right by you. And if you experience any difficulty, I’ll be there to help." So into this baptistry came Hal with the two children, Robert Cook and Jo, and Dr. Truett stood right back of Hal to help. And the children were baptized here into the fellowship of this blessed church.
Now, this last one: on January 3, 1933, Founders’ Day, was the one hundredth anniversary of the [birth] of Father Buckner. And Dr. Truett delivered that glorious, glorious Founders’ Day address, and the newspaper’s account of it spoke of it in such glowing words: "matchless oratory and glorious tribute." And then, just right after that – he delivered that address on January 3 – February 1, 1933, Robert Cook Buckner [Robert Cook Buckner II] was ordained right here in this church. Ordained – liberated, as they say – to the full Gospel ministry. Dr. Truett was the moderator, and to my happy surprise, the ordaining council – the presbytery – when it organized, Dr. H. E. Fowler was the clerk of the council. Do you remember that? I read that in the story when Robert Cook [Robert Cook Buckner II] was set aside to this Gospel ministry.
Now, the time goes away. I have just a moment or two left. May I speak just a little word, and I can be pardoned for it? May I speak just a word about the Buckners and my coming here to Dallas? I never saw but one denominational leader when I was a boy growing up. I grew up so far away from anywhere, I never saw but one. And when I was a boy, I saw Joe Buckner. He came way, way, way out there to represent the Buckner Orphans Home. He was the only denominational man that I ever saw until I was almost grown.
When I came to Dallas, I could not describe for you the wonderful kindness of Hal and Mrs. Buckner and the family to me. They took me into their hearts literally. I delivered the Founders’ Day address at the invitation of Hal in 19. I was the chairman of Hal’s committee on the Buckner benevolences when that great, new, expanded program was begun; and Hal asked me to do that. And when Hal was buried, I, with Dr. Craig and Dr. Bassett, conducted the funeral service in 1951.
And now, if God would help me – I could not describe nor could I share the feeling of an hour like this. In December, December 23, 1950 – just before Hal died; he he died the next month – in December of , they had a little celebration out at the home of Hal Buckner’s fiftieth anniversary as a minister of the Gospel. He was ordained here. Remember? In 1950, December 23, the fiftieth anniversary, so Dr. Hal Buckner had the group out there. They had a little celebration, and the program was so beautiful and the people were so nice and everything was so precious. That was the last time that Hal ever appeared from that occasion to his illness to death.
And at the end of the program, Hal asked me to speak. And I stood on the steps there in the home, in the building, and spoke a word of tribute and appreciation. And then to my utter surprise and amazement, Hal took his wife, Mrs. Buckner, by the hand and walked over in front of me as I stood there on those steps having just spoken. And he said to me, "I want you to place one of your hands on my head and I want you to place your other hand on the head of my wife, and I want you to ask a blessing upon us."
Well, I was young. I felt unworthy to do such a holy thing as that with so wonderful and precious a couple, but I did my best to voice a prayer and ask a blessing. And I asked his wife, long time after that, I said, "Why did Hal ask me to do that? It was one of the most precious experiences of my life." And she said, "He never did say, but I have just supposed that he had tried to be a blessing to so many other people, he just felt in his heart a hunger to be blessed himself." Well that was typical of the great, good man.
Oh, how you wrought in Hal’s ministry there! There were nineteen of those buildings completed, and four completed after he had begun with he and Robert Cook [Robert Cook Buckner II].
Now, I must close. I’m going to do it with a testimony. That home was organized in that John Neely Bryan Cabin. You’ll see it on the courthouse lawn. That was the first courthouse in Dallas. That was the first post office of Dallas. That was the first house, the first home in Dallas. A wonderful Baptist family lived there – John Neely Bryan [1810-1877].
And as the city grew, the house was pushed out and out until finally it was pushed to East Dallas. And when Father Buckner built the home, he bought forty-four acres out there in East Dallas, and on that forty-four-acre tract of land was that John Neely Bryan Cabin. And in 1935, Brother Joe and Brother Hal gave it back to Dallas for the centennial exposition in Fair Park in 1936 after which it was removed to where you now see it on the courthouse lawn.
Now, from those beginnings, how the Lord has blessed that glorious institution! And here is a testimony, and with this I have to close. Here is a testimony from an old news magazine. A man writes, and I quote from him:
My mother, on her deathbed, requested that we three boys be sent to the home. She had faith in the Baptists of Texas and felt sure that her boys would be given a home under Christian influence, educated, and sent into the world with good character. We were sent to the home December 4, 1883. I will never forget that day. Father Buckner met us at the Union Depot and took us out to the home. And these were his first words to us: "Boys, I am your father now, and we want you to be happy in your new home." He was the only father I have ever known, and I truly believe that my love for him was far greater than most boys have for their own father.
When we came to the home, there were only nineteen children. The farm contained only forty-four acres. We had only one small frame building and the boys had to sleep in the barn, but we were happy. We had our school in a large sitting room. Every night, we had a little prayer meeting just before going to bed, and those songs we sang still live in my heart. I speak for all of us who have received the great benefits of the home. We thank you one hundred thousand times for what you have done for us.
Well, I’m glad to have a part. And God bless the memory of these wonderful people and God bless these families that carry on in the great tradition of that wonderful family. And that home is ours to pray for, and ours to love, and ours to keep. Last Monday night, our deacons voted to give from our church at least ten thousand dollars a year to that home, and we’re glad to do it. A little bit of what we bring to the church will go for the ministries out there.
Now, we sing our song of appeal. Somebody you to give your heart to the Lord or to place your life in the fellowship of the church: in the great throng, in the balcony around, down here on this lower floor, a family to come, you to come, to give your heart to the Lord, to put your life in the fellowship of the church. As God shall say the word and lead the way, you come. On the first note of the first stanza, come and stand by me: "Pastor, I give you my hand. I’ve given my heart to the Lord" while all of us stand and sing.