The Thirteenth Anniversary
October 6th, 1957 @ 10:50 AM
OUR THIRTEENTH ANNIVERSARY
Dr. W. A. Criswell
10-6-57 10:50 a.m.
You are sharing with us the services in the First Baptist Church in Dallas, Texas. This is the pastor bringing the morning sermon. Almost always it is an exposition from the Word of God. This morning it is a topical sermon as we begin our fourteenth year. The beloved physician, Luke, writes in the first sentence in the Book of Acts:
The former treatise have I made, O Theophilus, of all that Jesus began both to do and teach,
Until the day in which He was taken up, after that He through the Holy Spirit had given commandments unto the apostles whom He had chosen:
To whom also He showed Himself alive after His passion by many infallible proofs, being seen of them forty days, and speaking of the things pertaining to the kingdom of God:
And, being assembled together with them, commanded them that they should not depart from Jerusalem, but wait for the Promise of the Father, which, saith He, ye have heard of Me.
For John truly baptized with water; but ye shall be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days hence.
When they therefore were come together, they asked of Him, saying, Lord, wilt Thou at this time restore again the kingdom to Israel?
And He said unto them, It is not for you to know the times or the seasons, which the Father hath put in His own power.
But ye shall receive power, after that the Holy Spirit is come upon you: and ye shall be witnesses unto Me both in Jerusalem, and in all Judea, and in Samaria, and unto the uttermost part of the earth.
And when He had spoken these things . . . He was received up into glory.
And the disciples returned to Jerusalem, and in prayer waited for the Promise of God.
[Acts 1:1-9, 12]
At Pentecost that Promise was given, and this age, this dispensation, this era of the church of the Holy Spirit began [Acts 2:1-4]. Now Luke starts that with an unusual word, "of all that Jesus began both to do and to teach" [Acts 1:1]. The work of our Lord in the days of His flesh was an initiation; it was an introduction, it was a beginning. And the great work of our Lord is a continuing ministry, you will find that especially emphasized in the words of our Lord Himself.
In the fourteenth chapter of the Gospel of John, He says, "Truly, truly I say unto you, He that believeth on Me, the works that I do shall he do also – ‘of all that Jesus began both to do and to teach’ [Acts 1:1] – and greater works than these shall he do; because I go unto My Father" [John 14:12]. He repeats that same thing in the fifteenth chapter, the next of John: "Herein is My Father glorified, that ye bear much fruit; so shall ye be My disciples" [John 15:8].
It was never in the thought or the program of God that His witness in the earth should be without great power. Now it may be controverted and contradicted. The servant of God may be persecuted and prosecuted, delivered to the bailiff, to the dungeon, to the galley, to the cross, to the chair, to the rack, to the stake. But it was never the thought of God that the work of Christ in the earth should be a feeble one. Sometimes it burns and flames the more gloriously when it is the more vigorously assailed and repudiated. So, if I can understand at all the work of our Lord, it is a beginning work. It is a continuous work, and it is one that the Lord outlined as being increasingly great and meaningful in the earth [Matthew 13:31-32].
Now, I have a theological position that all of you know. I think to the end of time it will be controverted and interdicted. But I think ’til the end of time it will also be powerful in the blood of martyrs, and in the faithful witness and testimony of those who give their lives to Christ.
Now, that work that Jesus began, I say, is a continuing work and an increasingly greater work. He said it would be, and it has proved to be just that. The continuing ministries of the apostles resulted in the building of vast churches. How many members that church in Jerusalem had would be most anybody’s guess, but it numbered thousands and thousands and thousands.
I had heard that Chrysostom said he had fifty thousand members in his church at Antioch. I dug out those musty books to see what he said. He said he had more than one hundred thousand members in that great, tremendous church in Antioch. The work continued in power and in glory just as our Lord outlined.
Now that ministry in Christ is one that hath been delivered by our forefathers to us; we have inherited from their hands a great, great work. All over this earth is it planted, all over this earth are there missionaries and evangelists, are there preachers and teachers who are guiding the thought, and the heart, and the life of a multitude of people into the ways of the Lord. And in that train it is our privilege to follow today; we as a church and I as a pastor.
I speak of our work in three ways: the first shall be our ministry of missions. Through Dr. Irvin, our men presented to our people this morning a recommended giving program for 1958. Ever since we have shared in this work, a half and then a little more than half of what we give is dedicated to missions. In keeping with the word of our Lord, "Ye shall be My witnesses in Jerusalem, in Judea, in Samaria, and unto the uttermost parts of the earth" [Acts 1:8], we divided, for us to look at, our great mission program into those four categories.
In Jerusalem, and here is our Jerusalem, our city of Dallas; and in all Judea, that is our Texas, our state; and in Samaria, that is our convention, our southern fellowship; and unto the uttermost parts of the earth is our foreign mission program. To that has been dedicated out of this budget three hundred seventy-six thousand dollars. I would not be honest with you did not I say that that is one of the greatest burdens that I personally have ever assumed in my life. And I am sure that all of the fellow members of this church feel likewise who have any part in seeing that this is a glorious achievement.
For there are multitudes of things that press upon us here in this church: how we need, how we could expand, how others could be called in to help us. But we are tied to that fifty/fifty program. Whatever is spent here, that much and a little more must be set aside for the missionary causes of Jesus in the earth.
This last year, Ms. Ann Ellison came to help us as the staff member working with young adults. The very moment that decision was made, a like sum of money had to be set aside for missions. We bought a new machine over there in the office. A like sum of money had to be set aside for missions, whatever that machine cost to post our envelopes.
There had to be a girl trained to operate that machine, whatever her salary; that much is given also to missions. There have been janitors added to take care of our buildings. That amount of money is set aside for missions. The repair of the roof, buying paint to paint these window sills, wherever in our church there is a thing spent, that same amount of money must be dedicated to missions.
Our organ is being rebuilt. It took about fifteen thousand dollars, set aside for the rebuilding of this organ. That same amount of money had to be set aside for the missionary causes of our Lord in the earth. Whatever we do, that amount of money must also be set aside for missions, for this program is not a budget set, but it is a percentage of giving. However much we give, that much is set aside for missions and the remainder for us, divided almost half and half. Now I say that becomes a tremendous burden. No matter what you plan or what you do, we have a double responsibility in rising to do it. "Well, why do you cumber yourself like that? Why do you tie such a weight around your heart? Why do you assume such a percentage?"
Well, two reasons why: one, there is an illimitable need. All day yesterday – from nine thirty in the morning until two in the afternoon – I spent with the men who guide the mission program in our Jerusalem; the first part, just a small part of this worldwide mission program. And they would say to me things like this: "Pastor, if we can have another facility out there where we work, we can reach twice as many families and twice as many children for Jesus; if we can just have just something more."
Then they will describe, and it wrings your heart to listen to them, they will describe homes, and families, and children – not in Africa among the Hottentots, not in Australia among the aborigines, not over there in Communist China among the heathen – but here in our city! They will describe spiritual dearth, and need, and want in such a way as to wring your heart and move your soul. How they need our support. They are doing a great work, winning families, teaching children, remaking a whole community, building in their midst a glory, and a hope, and a heavenward spiritual appeal.
Why, when you get through speaking to them, you feel, O God, that it could be $500,000 and $600,000 and a million that much more for missions. And time would fail me to tell of the rest of this mission program. Throughout this earth, every missionary and every evangelist would make appeal to your heart, remember us. We have a great, great work. We have a great need; remember us.
So I say, in presenting the program of our church, it’s in our hearts to help, and this is our response. The other thing about it, I think we need to do it. There is something about God’s work, that when the people get big in their souls, somehow there’s more room for the blessings of heaven.
When we are dwarfed, and cramped, and little, and selfish, there is not room in us for God to pour out His heavenly blessings; but when we grow big in our souls and big in our hearts, there is an interest of us in God’s work wherever a man lifts up his voice to point to Jesus. Something happens to us, and God pours into our church infinitely rich and precious blessings. We need it, and God blesses us in our attempt to make it just as our men present it, something for us and a little more than that for them.
Now I speak of the second ministry of our church. This one here, first: our ministry of missions; now, our ministry here. There are three places in which I find the church. One: there is a church in the house of sorrow. There is the church with the crepe on the door. There is the church in the cemetery, the church ministering in bereavement and death.
The most beautiful and meaningful of all of the elegies ever written, that I suppose that would ever be written, is that one entitled, "The Elegy Written in a Country Church Yard." I think God inspired the poet Gray to pen the lines, "The Church in the Grave Yard":
The boast of heraldry, the pomp of power,
All that beauty, all that wealth e’er gave,
Awaits alike the inevitable hour,
The paths of glory lead but to the grave.
["Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard," Thomas Gray, 1786]
Ere the silver cord be loosed, or the golden bowl be broken, or the pitcher be broken at the fountain, or the wheel be broken at the cistern; when the windows shall be dark, and the daughters of music brought low; when the mourners go about the street,
When the almond tree shall flourish and desire shall fail [Ecclesiastes 12:4-6]; O Lord, our illimitable need. All that the world can offer in that hour is so empty and vain, so like husk and chaff. There is but one message, and it lies in the church and its risen Lord.
I cannot describe; I had been a pastor for twenty-four years, and in that twenty-four years, had conducted I do not know how many, many funerals. We have had but one break in our family circle, when my father died. And I sat there in the little church in the cemetery, the Church of the Flowers in Forest Lawn, and sat by my mother, and the casket of my father. I had been holding those services for twenty-four years, and yet when I sat there that day, it was as though I had never been in a memorial service before. It was so new, and so strange, and so different. That is the voice of Christ in the greatest hour of our need, when the pale horseman comes riding by [Revelation 6:8], and he tears apart our family circle. It is a great ministry, and one without which our poor hearts would faint and die.
There is another great ministry of the church: the church in the bowery, the church ministering to the fallen and the undone, the church ministering to the flotsam and jetsam of humanity; the church with its arm around a drunken, lost, blotted-out, unknown, unnamed, uncared-for wretch. There is the ministry of the church in the rescue mission, out on the streets, down there in the slums.
There is a ministry of the church in the nursery, and in the home, and in the schoolroom, and in the playground. And I do not turn aside from the true emphasis of the Word of God when I say that our greatest ministry, our vastest enterprise must always be there, reaching these families for God, teaching these children the admonition of the Lord, before they fall, before the avenger comes, before the evil day cuts down like a scythe. The great ministry of the church must always be centered in reaching people that they might be conserved unto God, that they might glorify the Lord in their lives.
It is a great ministry to lift up the fallen, in rescue work to reach down for the wretch and the outcast. But the infinitely greater task and commission of the church is to keep that boy from falling; to preserve that family unto God; to teach our children in the way of the Lord. And it is that ministry to which our church is so largely committed, in all of these categories: a staff worker guiding a multitude of us with little children; a staff worker leading a host of us with young people; other staff members guiding the life of our church in its visitation and appeal. All of us, dedicated to the winning to Christ and away from the death and abyss of this world these whom we conserve as trophies of grace and lay at the feet of Jesus. How much better, I say, for us to work and to appeal and keep from falling these who otherwise might find themselves adrift and lost in life.
This isn’t poetry, it’s just rhyme philosophy, but ah, how astute and how keen a perception:
‘Twas a dangerous cliff, as they freely confessed,
Though to walk near its crest was so pleasant,
But over its terrible edge there had slipped.
A duke and full many a peasant.
So the people said something would have to be done,
But their projects did not at all tally.
Some said, "Put a fence around the edge of the cliff,"
But some said, "We need an ambulance down in the valley."
Now the cry for the ambulance carried the day,
For it spread through the neighboring city,
A fence may be useful or not, it is true,
But each heart became moved with pity,
For those who slipped over that dangerous cliff,
And the dwellers in highway and alley
Gave pounds and gave pence not to put up a fence
But an ambulance down in the valley.
Then an old sage remarked, "It’s a marvel to me
That people give far more attention
To repairing the results than to stopping the cause,
When they’d much better aim at prevention.
Let us stop at its source all this hurt," cried he.
"Come, neighbors and friends, let us rally;
If the cliff we will fence, we might almost dispense
With the ambulance down in the valley."
Better guide well the young than reclaim them when old,
For the voice of true wisdom is calling.
"To rescue the fallen is good, but ’tis best
To prevent them when young from falling.
Better build in their hearts the love of the Lord
Than to deliver from dungeon or galley.
Better put a strong fence round the edge of the cliff
Than to buy an ambulance for the valley."
["A Fence or An Ambulance"; Joseph Malins,1895]
Judge Davidson, if we could just pour our lives into the hearts of children and young people, and train them in the love and nurture of the Lord, a great deal of the work of our courts would never be needed. That is our greatest ministry.
Now, may I say a word – and I have barely begun – may I say a word about us and our type of program? I’ve been trying for thirteen years to find out whether it’s of egotism and of the flesh or whether it’s God and I still don’t know which, but I have it in my soul, and in every cell, and piece of my body; I like a championship team, I like a church that goes, I like a people that’s on the way, and I can’t help it!
So, reading the Word of God, I guess I find those texts which appeal to my heart like that. God wants us to do a great work. God is glorified by our bringing many sheaves to Jesus. He is pleased with us when we do well for Him.
I say I like a champion team, people who are in it to win. Compromise, lethargy, apathy, indifference is out. For us, it’s for God, and for life, and for time, and for eternity, and for all that I’m worth; all of us.
I like the spirit of the New York Yankees. They play to win! They are a championship team and outfit. Who would do this but the Yankees? When the season is so far along, he couldn’t pitch in their world series if they won it. When the man was nearing forty years of age – that is old and ancient for a player – but they buy, sign Sal Maglie just the same. Lay down $37,000 for him, trade two other players for him, though he’s old and couldn’t qualify to be in a world championship series if they won the pennant. But that’s the Yankees; all out, no matter what it costs! Therefore, I was doubly interested to watch and to listen to the first game that he pitched with the New York Yankee uniform. It was a magnificent three-hit shutout for Sal Maglie and his championship outfit.
I like that. It’s all out. Not looking at the problem, not looking at the cost, but just looking at the need. Is it something that needs to be done? Is it something God would have us do? Then, by His grace, we rise up to do it; that kind of an outfit.
We sing our song, and while we sing it, somebody to give his heart to the Lord, somebody put his life in the church; in this balcony, down these stairwells, from side to side in this auditorium, while we sing this appeal, somebody you: "Pastor, I give you my hand. I have given my heart to the Lord," you come and stand by me. A family to put your life with us in the church, however God would say the word and lead the way and the Spirit whisper to your heart, would you come and give me your hand? While all of us stand and sing together.
THE THIRTEENTH ANNIVERSARY
Dr. W. A. Criswell
A. Work of our Lord in the days of His flesh was a beginning (Acts 1:1)
B. His expectations of us (John 14:12, 15:8)
II. Our ministry of missions
A. More than half the budget goes toward mission program
B. The great need
III. The ministry of the church
A. In the house of sorrow (Ecclesiastes 12:4-6)
B. In the bowery
C. In the nursery, home, school
IV. Doing the work like a champion