Facing the Future with God
January 5th, 1958 @ 10:50 AM
1 Thessalonians 4:14-15
FACING THE FUTURE WITH GOD
Dr. W. A. Criswell
1 Thessalonians 4:14-15
1-05-58 10:50 a.m.
You are sharing with us the services of the First Baptist Church in Dallas. This is the pastor bringing the eleven o’clock morning message. In our preaching through the Bible, we have come to one of the great, great chapters in the Book: the fourth chapter of the first Thessalonian letter.
For the next Sunday, or two, or three, we shall be in the midst of this tremendously, vitally, marvelously, gloriously important, deeply significant revelation, which Paul says he received from the Lord Jesus Himself. It is of course the passage of the translation of the church, the rapture of the saints:
For the Lord Himself shall descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trump of God; and the dead in Christ shall rise first,
Then we who are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air. And so shall we ever be with the Lord.
Also upon this first Sunday morning of the year, I have established a precedent in my own preaching of delivering a message, an address, on the downtown church; the First Baptist Church in the heart of Dallas. It had been my first plan to depart from that this year, but as I came to the preparation of the hour’s message I could not find it in my heart to turn aside from that usual practice of preaching a sermon on our downtown church, the first Sunday morning of the new year. So we shall do so this time, once and again.
This passage in the fourth chapter of the first Thessalonian letter is a revelation of the beginning of the consummation of the age, the denouement of all time and human history. It begins stealthily, furtively, secretly, clandestinely, without forewarning, "as a thief in the night," when the Lord comes to steal away His jewels. In the view of that imminent coming of the Lord, we ourselves are to be ready; having faith in Christ, having trusted Him as our Savior, we are to lift up our heads; "our redemption draweth nigh."
We have a second assignment in view of that great consummation. We are to make appeal to others that they be ready. We are to be soul-winners, pointing men to the Lamb of God. And there is a third thing, a corollary. It is this: we are to be found at our tasks, at our posts, at our assignments, when He comes. Is it today? Is it tomorrow? Is it the next day? Whenever it is, at whatever hour, the Lord, when He comes, is to find us working, busy at our task.
I preached for about ten years out in the country. And I made a visit one time at a country home, and the beloved mother in the home, when I came, was up to her elbows in flour baking bread. And she made a gesture at herself, and said, "Look how you have caught me. I did not know you were coming, and I’m not dressed."
And I said, "That’s the way you ought to be found. Not in the parlor holding your hands, doing nothing; but busy, taking care of God’s little brood, His family He’s entrusted to you." Busy at our tasks when He cometh.
Did you ever think of those whom Jesus describes as being worthy to be translated to heaven when He comes? One of them was working out in the field, plowing the ground. One of them, a woman, was pulling and working at a millstone, grinding wheat for bread. Because half of the earth will be dark, and at night when He cometh, one of them was asleep in bed, after a hard day’s work; not in drunkenness and in revelry, but in rest after the toil and burden of the day.
Now this morning I am to speak of that corollary. When He cometh, that the Lord shall find us dedicated and committed to this task. I speak first of the example of our ministry, and the labor, and work, and dedication of our church; how the Lord hath set this church in the very heart of the spiritual life of our denomination, and how God has blessed the example of this church in days past and the years gone by.
Within a few weeks, I heard one of our ablest religious leaders describe a meeting he had with one of the downtown First Baptist churches in one of the larger cities in Virginia. The First Baptist Church in the largest city of Virginia moved out long time ago. And this church in another Virginia city was in session, and they were preparing to sell their property, and forsake the heart of the city, and move out where it is easy and convenient.
And as the church was in deliberation, this leader stood up and made an impassioned appeal that they stay where they were, anchored in the heart of that growing city. And the basis of his appeal was the First Baptist Church in Dallas. And he described our work, and the favor and blessing of the Lord God upon it. And when he was done, the people in that church in Virginia, a few weeks ago, arose and said, "By God’s grace, we too shall stay and minister to this whole city."
And my friend said in describing it to me, "They announced their Sunday night services starting again, and they announced their Wednesday evening prayer meetings starting again, and they announced a full program for Christ starting again." And he said to me, "That is just one of a multitude of instances that I could describe in America and in this world." The example of our church in days past.
May I speak briefly of the example of our church in days present, in the now? May I take just one thing out of a multitude of things that our church, being faithful in, is used of God to encourage and to strengthen other churches? May I speak of our service on Sunday night? When you come down here in the heart of this city, and the nightclub is ablaze, and the hotels are aflame, and the picture shows have every light on the marquee shining, you will find in the heart of this city on Sunday night also a church, downtown, with every light ablaze, and every stained glass window proclaiming the glory of Jesus our Savior.
Now a long, long time ago, the liturgical churches gave up their Sunday evening services. If I went to the Sacred Heart Cathedral Sunday evening I would not expect it to be open; nor would I expect to attend a church service there. But when I go to a church of this faith, and of this communion, and of this persuasion, and it is dark on Sunday night, and the services have been dismissed, my heart is heavy.
And I could not conceive of the incomparable damage and hurt to the kingdom of God if this exemplary church were also to destroy its Sunday evening service and to give it to the world of party, and entertainment, and theater, and picture show, and television. Somebody said to me, "Did you know that there is another church in your communion with a brilliant young and able pastor, who has given up its Sunday evening service?" I said, "It is not true!" They brought me a newspaper and showed it to me, the announcement of the services. A vesper service is a stop-gap; it’s a makeshift, until finally it is done away with altogether.
I do not speak with any hope of reforming or changing anyone else. I just make two observations. First, when we give up that Sunday night service, ostensibly for other reasons, the real reason lies in this: we are giving it up for the world of entertainment, in our own homes, in other homes, and outside. And the ultimate of that is that we give up our Sunday altogether to the world of entertainment.
I was out of the city when this great convention of the nation met, but I read this in the New York Times: "A proposal that weekly church services be held on Thursdays instead of Sundays was advanced here today. The departure from tradition was suggested at a session on the church of the future." Then it describes the two great leaders in that denomination, one of whom is in Dallas; and it describes his great Dallas church. They pointed out that with a shortening work week, and an increasing leisure period, thousands of Americans, particularly in the suburbs, go to resort areas on Friday and return to work on Monday. He proposed that the major weekly service of worship, including the sermon, be held on Thursday evening. On Monday morning, he suggested, that a short communion service be held before church goers would return to work.
They said that worship patterns had never been tied to one specific day. "The church of the future," he declared, this great leader in Dallas, "must break out of the mold and pioneer." A Thursday night church service, according to the Texas clergyman, would be dynamic, different, and daring. That is the ultimate and that is a true characterization of why the Sunday night service is given up: because, you say, the children cannot be taken out at night.
Isn’t it strange when they propose having the service not on Sunday night, they change it to Thursday night – night, Thursday night? Just be honest and bold. The reason lies in the reason they give. It is to take the evening of the Lord ‘s Day, and give it to the party, and the entertainment, and the amusement, and the theater, and the television, and all of the other things of this world.
He said there was no tie of the church service to the Lord’s Day, to Sunday. By all that I could ever read, or know, or understand in this Book, the Sabbath Day was a Jewish day marking the covenant of a Mosaic law with His chosen people Israel. But the Lord’s Day, Sunday’s day, is a mark of the Christian celebration of the resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ. And from the beginning, Christ’s disciples met on the first day of the week, on Sunday, on the Lord’s Day.
Jesus appeared to Mary Magdalene on Sunday. He appeared to the women on Sunday. He appeared to Simon Peter on Sunday. He appeared to the two Emmaus disciples on Sunday. Jesus appeared to all of His disciples on Sunday night. Jesus appeared to all of His disciples the following Sunday night. Jesus instituted the Lord’s Supper at night.
It is never a tea. It is not a luncheon. It is a supper. And it was instituted at the hour of the solemn Passover night, the Lord’s Supper. The only reason we observe this Supper – – and it’s a misnomer to call it such – – the only reason we observe this Supper in the daytime is on account of older people who cannot come at night, and women who are afraid to come and to go back into their house alone and at night.
We observe the Lord’s Supper every other month, Sunday morning, because of the people who otherwise would never be privileged to share in it. But it is a night meeting. It is a supper meeting. And if you have ever observed it here at night, you will find it to be doubly effective when it is observed as the Lord instituted it, after the going down of the sun.
May I make a second observation of the Sunday night service? Not only do we give it up because of the entertainment of the world, but when it is given up it spells the death of evangelism and revival. When you have a revival meeting you have it at night. I never heard of a protracted series of meetings without those services at night. Monday night, Tuesday night, Wednesday night, Thursday night, Friday night, then on Sunday, God’s Day, the Lord’s Day, no service at all.
When the night service is gone, the Wednesday evening service shall be gone. It also is a night meeting. I think of the appeal of the Lord to the church at Ephesus. Thou hast left thy first love." There is a tendency always on the part of any movement to die, to lessen, to quiesce, the fire and the flame burn away and just cold ashes are left. Oh! First Baptist Church in Dallas, God’s church, may it be a flame of fire! Not a religion of convenience, but a religion of consecration. Not preaching social amelioration, but spiritual regeneration; meeting as they met in the holy days of Christ and His disciples, preaching the Word of God on Sunday night.
And Paul met with the disciples at Troas, and broke bread with them, and preached until midnight. There they were, the great apostle Paul and the little band in the church at Troas, meeting together on Sunday night to break bread and to hear the preaching of the gospel of the Son of God. Our example, our example, down here on Sunday night, with every light ablaze and every window shining for our Lord; and somebody breaking the bread of life to the people and it has been my humble persuasion that though there may be a multitude who would choose the television and the entertainment, there will also be God’s elect who will be here, listening to the mediation of the Word and the revelation of Almighty God.
Now, may I speak of a second thing? I have spoken of our example and what we do, how it encourages the brethren of other churches, and how it strengthens the faith of other flocks. May I speak now of our incomparable opportunity? Until now, this century, ninety-nine percent of all the people of the world lived in the open country and in rural areas. At the turn of this century, ninety-five percent of the people lived in open country and in rural areas. In 1954 – – the latest census that I could find – – in 1954, that had so changed until two-thirds of the people of this world live in urban communities, two-thirds of them.
And the political, cultural, economic, religious, spiritual life of the nation is determined by those seething masses who live in the heart of our great cities; Paris in France, London in England, Rome in Italy, Moscow in Russia, or Tokyo in Japan. And it is no less true of us here in America. Out of the heart are the issues of life; and out of the heart of our cities lies the destiny of our nation.
William D. Monroe, one of the greatest authorities on city life and problems says,
This social disintegration, this complete absence of psychological homogeneity is what burdened the city with many of its most difficult problems. But the real problem is to find a dynamic common denominator that will tie the people together in a common fellowship and singleness of purpose. Lacking this, cities tend to destroy themselves. Any person with any depth of feeling who has ever walked in the steel and concrete canyons of Manhattan Island, mingling with the millions, will share the deep concern of the pastor who, looking out upon the milling masses of Broadway, quoted an ancient writer: "It is the human eye that haunts me," and the psalmist: "The floods of ungodly men made me afraid." What is true of Manhattan is true of Dallas, New Orleans, Atlanta, and other large cities. Unless we save these cities, they may become human atom bombs, raining death on the whole country.
And in the face of these startling sociological facts, our churches are increasingly forsaking the hearts of the cities. In an area, in a city that I studied, in a downtown area, within the last few years, two-thirds of the churches have fled, they have gone. Since I have been pastor of this First Baptist Church in Dallas, five of my neighbor churches have sold and gone away, five of them.
What is that? That the heart of the city, the great area of the city, does not have a supporting population anymore? I looked it up. The census statisticians say that within the next seventeen years, within the next seventeen years, the hearts of the cities, of which Dallas is one, will increase in population by eight millions. The heart of the city will increase in population by eight millions.
You drive around with me in Dallas. These some have moved away, others have poured in. You drive with me out Gaston Avenue, out Live Oak, out Turtle Creek; there you will find those great apartment buildings rising into the air. There you will find those multiple unit housing projects lining the streets on every side. In this morning’s paper there’s an announcement of a twenty story apartment building going up right there, across the street from our activities building.
Now, you look at this; God help us to see it. When we have an addition out there, they build a church in it. When we build an addition to the city out there, they build four or five churches in it. When they extend the city limits out this way, and there’s another development, there is a church in it. But in the face of the increasing population of the heart of the city of Dallas, we not only do not build another church, but the churches that are here forsake it and go away.
What of the thousands, and the thousands, and the thousands who press into the heart of a city, and the church is gone? No wonder, no wonder the sociologist looks into the vistas of the future and sees in the hearts of our city that canker of decay that ultimately shall destroy the civilization and the nation.
My brethren, this is for us. By His help and by God’s grace we shall work, and strive, and pray, and plead, and visit, and build, in order that the increasing thousands who press into the heart of this great city shall have a ministry, shall have a church, shall have mediated to them by our prayers and the best we know how, the gospel of the Son of God in heaven.
Now this final word of appeal: to do that, to do that, to minister to these thousands, and thousands, and thousands who press into the heart of a great city – one, we must have the support of the community of Dallas. You, you who live way over yonder, and you who live way over yonder, and you who live way over yonder; we must have your prayerful and consecrated support. The downtown area of a city could never support the church, never. It will die. It becomes a mission. But as long as there are people who live miles that way, and miles that way, and miles yonder way, who will come and support that great lighthouse we build for Jesus downtown, we shall be able to measure up to the fullness of the stature of Jesus Christ in this holy and sacred place.
A couple, two weeks ago, came to my study, placed in my hand a check for $5000; said to me, "Use it for the needy in the mission program of your church," and then said, "It is our intention every year at this time to bring you a check for $5000 for those ministries. We cannot do it with you."
From the corners of this city, up and down every thoroughfare, we must look upon this church as our Dallas community church. It is my community church. This thoroughfare makes it so. This wide boulevard makes it so. It is my church, ministering to the whole city of Dallas.
Then the other concomitant; we must have a program, and we must have a plan, and we must have a work that has in it a plus. It’s got to be good, but that’s not good enough. It has to be better, and that’s not good enough. It has also to be the best; the best music program, the best educational program, the best recreational program, the best educational program – – and God help me, God be merciful to His preacher, and help him – – and the best preacher in the land. Lord, that prayer would make him so! Not that he is, or could be, but by the raising up of the intercession of a thousand times a thousand people he is mighty in the Lord, great and powerful in Christ’s name, though himself he is nothing, less than nothing.
Now this church is able beyond any church in the earth to rise to meet this increasing and enlarging opportunity. There is nothing in the will of God that this church cannot do. We face a great, great program, larger than any that I ever dreamed of. But God hath called us to it, and the Lord hath set us in this place, and we must rise to face the future in the love and patience and promise of God.
Even if we averaged fifty dollars a piece, averaged it, think what it would mean for all of us; five hundred thousand dollars a year. If half of the people could not share in it at all, then the other half of us, averaging fifty dollars a year, two hundred fifty thousand dollars a year for the great program God hath laid on our hearts. We can do it. We ought, and by His grace we shall. I am asking the church to appoint a committee through our deacons, serving and planning this appeal and this ministry for five years, and for ten years, and then, calling our people to prayer and to dedication as they face that gigantic and tremendous program for Jesus our Lord.
A few weeks ago, last year, there was observed the two hundredth anniversary of the birth of the mystic poet, painter, engraver, William Blake. One of his epic poems he entitled "Milton". And the preface goes like this:
Bring me my Bow of burning gold;
Bring me my Arrows of desire:
Bring me my Spear: O clouds unfold!
Bring me my Chariot of fire!
I will not cease from Mental Fight,
Nor shall my Sword sleep in my hand:
Till we have built Jerusalem,
In England’s green and pleasant Land.
Could I paraphrase it?
Bring me my bow of burning gold;
Bring me my arrows of desire:
Bring me my spear: O clouds unfold!
Bring me my chariot of fire!
We shall not cease from spiritual fight,
Nor shall the sword sleep in our hand
Till we have built Jerusalem,
In Dallas’ fair and promised land.
"Oh, who will come and go with me? We are bound for the Promised Land."
All right, let’s sing our song. While we sing it, somebody this morning, to give his heart to the Lord, in faith, in love, in trust, in dedication, would you come? Somebody to put his life in the church; while we sing and make appeal, would you come? A family you, or one somebody you, come on the first note of the first stanza. And while we sing that song, in prayer, into that aisle, down to the front, you; down these stairwells, here to the pastor, do it, on the first note of the first stanza. "I give my heart this day to the Lord; I want to be baptized. I want to put my life in the church." As God shall say the word and open the door, would you come while we make this appeal? Then we’ll have the end of this service, and the beginning of the second. While we stand and while we sing.