The Closing Days of Dr. Truett’s Ministry
July 6th, 1958 @ 10:50 AM
2 Timothy 3-4
THE CLOSING DAYS OF DR. TRUETT’S MINISTRY
Dr. W. A. Criswell
2 Timothy 3-4
7-06-58 10:50 a.m.
You are listening to the services of the First Baptist Church in Dallas. This is the pastor bringing the 11:00 o’clock morning message, which this day is dedicated to the memory of the great pastor, Dr. George W. Truett. On the Sunday that is closest to the anniversary to the death of Dr. Truett, we turn to some subject in his life; some denominational interest to which he devoted his efforts, to some part of his ministry that was dear to his heart. It brings to us an opportunity to make this day a day in keeping with the call of the Old Testament prophet who, turning to Israel said, "Look unto the rock from whence ye are hewn and to the whole of the pit from whence he are digged. Look unto Abraham your father and unto Sarah who bear you." [Isaiah 51:1, 2] This church has one of the great and illustrious and noble histories of any church in the earth. Once in a while, God Himself calls us to look back to our forefathers, remembering our history; then, to gird ourselves for the tasks that lie ahead.
Any family, any nation, any people who look with distain and contempt upon their past could not have a worthy and a noble future. So, this day is a day that we set apart to remember those yesterdays and yesteryears in which the mercies, and blessings and benedictions of God so wonderfully enriched our past, our history, our fathers of yesterday.
Now the occasion brings to us opportunity to do many things. For example, when we think of the interests of Dr. Truett, we survey the entire Christian earth; and especially, the many ramifications and facets of our own Baptist denominational life. Dr. Truett was a key figure in almost every great Christian development. I have spoken on the founding, the organization of the Texas Memorial Baptist Sanitarium, which came to known as Baylor University Hospital; Dr. Truett and Colonel Slaughter founded that institution.
I have spoken of the Relief and Annuity Board, which was organized in this church. I have spoken of the Buckner Orphans’ Home. I have spoken of Baylor University, the academic school in Waco. I have spoken of our mission fields, and some of those fields to which Dr. Truett so wonderfully ministered; on and on, through these fourteen years now, we have taken up different phases and interests of the life of the great pastor.
Now this morning, I have turned to the closing days of his ministry. And if I were to entitle the message, I would call it The Closing Days of Dr. Truett’s Ministry. The epistles pastoral have given to us a wonderful insight into the closing days of the great Apostle Paul. Were it not for these Pastoral Epistles, we would have no idea how the life of the apostle ended. The story of his life in the Book of Acts closes in the twenty-eighth chapter with Paul a prisoner in Rome, dwelling in his own hired house; free to preach the gospel to any who would listen.
Now in the Pastoral Epistles, we have a revelation of the closing life of the apostle, who was liberated from his first imprisonment, who preached apparently over the whole Roman Empire, and who came to his martyrdom under Nero; just before Nero himself was a suicide. And in the second letter to Timothy, he writes a final benediction:
I charge thee, therefore before God, and Lord Jesus Christ,
who shall judge the quick and the dead at His appearing and
Preach the word; watch thou in all things, endure afflictions,
do the work of an evangelist, make full proof of thy ministry.
For I am now ready to be offered; and the time of my departure
is at hand.
I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith.
Henceforth there is laid up for me a crown of righteousness,
which the Lord, the righteous judge, shall give me at that day:
And not to me only, but unto all them also that love His appearing.
[2 Timothy 4:1,2,6-8]
And that closes the life of the Apostle Paul. Now I was not here in the closing years of Dr. Truett’s ministry; I did not know him personally. I just saw him from time-to-time as I grew up. So when I deliver this address, it is from newspaper accounts. And I have gone through these magazines and these newspapers; and from these records, I have prepared this presentation of the closing years of the ministry of the great pastor.
Grace Noll Crowell, the poet laureate of Texas, wrote a poem in honor of Dr. Truett – a sonnet. And, she read it at a dinner given to the great pastor at Mary Hardin Baylor College in February, 1940; and this is that sonnet:
We raise bronze statues to our fellow men
Whose service has been great in some good cause,
’twere better if we paid our tribute when they still are with us.
Thus, today, we pause before a man, whom God has lifted up,
Who lives and moves alive to every call,
Who holds out living waters in a cup,
And daily breaks Christ’s bread of life to all.
Shoulders and head above the throng,
He stands a pillar of fire in his community.
His zeal for souls has kindled other lands,
Yet none is humbler in the world than he.
His is not fit for service down earth’s sod,
But long, and steady, burning for his God.
The beginning of his forty-fifth year as pastor of this glorious church was celebrated on the second Sunday in September, 1941. A reporter wrote, "Bob Coleman, at one juncture of the services, recognized the forty-five old-timers who attended Dr. Truett’s first service in the Dallas pastorate forty-four years ago."
So according to this reporter, the second Sunday in September, 1941, there were forty-five people in the congregation who attended Dr. Truett’s first service in the Dallas pastorate, which was the second Sunday in September, forty-four years before.
Now, is there anyone here – is there anyone here, out of these forty-five of 1941, is there anyone here who was present when Dr. Truett became pastor of this church? If you were, would you stand? Is there anyone here? Well, bless their hearts. How many? The congregation counts five: one-two-three-four-five. There’s another one. And Mrs. Tinney, that’s six. Well, bless them. There are six of the forty five who were present in 1941; who were present at Dr. Truett’s first service here, in Dallas. Now, you will have to help me; I never thought to count that up. I did not think there would be but maybe one. How many years ago is that?
[from the congregation: "Sixty-one"]
Sixty-one years ago; that is sixty-one years ago. How God has blessed you six wonderful people. Now, on that occasion of the beginning of Dr. Truett’s forth-fifth year as pastor of this church, he said – and this is a quotation from the address he made that day:
The Christian gospel and work grow dearer and sweeter
every day that I live. I was ambitious to be a lawyer, but God wanted me to be a preacher.
Now, if God should give me a thousand lives and should say to
me, ‘You wanted to be a lawyer, but I wanted you to be a preacher. Now choose what you will be with a thousand lives,’ without a moment’s hesitation, I would choose to preach to the end of every one of them.
Happy if, with my latest breath,
I may but speak His name,
Preach Him to all, and gasp in death
‘Behold. Behold, the Lamb!’
[from "His Nets Were Set"; Thomas Spurgeon, attributed to George Whitefield]
My grandfather died preaching. When the doctors said he
had but a few moments to live, he asked to be propped up in bed, called in the neighbors, and died talking with them about the gospel. I couldn’t ask for anything better.
And that is from the message he delivered here on his forty-fifth anniversary, in the beginning of his forth-fifth year as pastor of the church.
Now in the Dallas Morning News, dated Sunday, September 13, 1941, is a great headline: "Prince of Preachers Starts His Forty-Fifth Year in Dallas Pulpit Sunday." Now in that same issue is a long, long article by Dr. J. B. Cranfill which is entitled, "George W. Truett, the Best-Loved Preacher in the World." Now, I quote at length from that newspaper article written by Dr. Cranfill at the beginning of Dr. Truett’s forty-fifth year as pastor of this church. Now, we quote from Dr. Cranfill:
Today, George W. Truett begins his forty-fifth year as pastor
of the First Baptist Church here. He came when he was thirty. Spurgeon died when Dr. Truett was twenty-five years old. He
never saw the great English preacher; but he has preached
many times in the great Spurgeon Tabernacle in London.
In 1897, I was editor of The Baptist Standard, which I had founded
in 1892, and which was then published at Waco. Among my intimate friends then, and until his death many years later,
was Colonel W. L. Williams, Senior Deacon of the First Baptist Church of Dallas. While visiting with him in the spring of 1897,
he asked me to give him the name of a man who would qualify
as pastor of the First Baptist Church; the former pastor, Dr. C. L. Seasholes, having recently resigned.
Without a moment’s hesitation, I gave him the name of George W. Truett, then a resident of Waco; the young pastor of the East Waco Baptist Church – for which recently he had recently built a splendid new church edifice. And a member that year of the graduating class of Baylor University. Soon the call was made to Dr. Truett; and on the second Sunday in September, 1897, he preached his first sermon as pastor.
And these six were there – the mercies of God. Then Cranfill continues:
At that time, the First Baptist Church was worshipping in a new church building on which there was a substantial indebtedness.
And I constantly hear reference to that great indebtedness on the church when Dr. Truett came to be pastor of this church. Well, I found out what the indebtedness was. Do you know what it was? Do you remember? Paul Danner would know. That great indebtedness – which weighted the church down, and under which the church laboriously struggled, grievously concerned – that great indebtedness was $10,000.00. That part of the church is the original church. The tower, at the corner of Ervay and Patterson, is the tower above the original church. Now, it had been completed five years before. The total membership when Dr. Truett came was 715. Everything else Baptist-wise followed Dr. Truett to Dallas; and now, Dallas is the Baptist center for the Southwest.
First came The Baptist Standard; Cranfill moved The Baptist Standard here about four months after Dr. Truett came. First came The Baptist Standard, which moved to Dallas the following January; then came The Baptist State Executive Board; then was founded Baylor College of Medicine; Baylor Hospital; Baylor University School of Nursing; the College of Dentistry. Finally, later came the Relief and Annuity Board, the only Southern Baptist convention board west of the Mississippi.
Now in that article written by Dr. Cranfill, published in the news on that Sunday, in that article, he turns aside and discusses Truett’s seriousness and whether he ever smiled. Because I had heard all my life as I grew up as a boy, that Dr. Truett never smiled; I never did see him smile. So, Dr. Cranfill continues:
Once, here in Dallas, a good woman who had only seen
Dr. Truett in the pulpit asked Mrs. Truett, "Does Dr. Truett
Mrs. Truett vigorously replied, "Why, of course he does.
Do you think that I am married to a tombstone?"
Then Cranfill continues:
In periods of relaxation, the great preacher would tell a joke.
When Peter Clark McFarlan, editorial writer on the staff of Collier’s Weekly, came to Dallas a few years ago to write a character
sketch of Dr. Truett; Robert H. Coleman gave a luncheon for Mr. McFarlan and a few invited guests. My wife and I – Cranfill and
his wife – were among those guests. Dr. Truett told this story:
A rather timid young man, who had been going to see his sweetheart for a number of months, called on a certain summer evening; and his sweetheart entertained him out on the porch, where they nestled in behind the ivy and honeysuckle vines. He was a slow upon this occasion, as was his want. Whereupon she asked, ‘Why don’t you kiss me?’
He replied, ‘I’ve got sand in my mouth.’
She exclaimed, ‘Swallow it. You need it.’
Then Dr. Cranfill continues:
In his pulpit work, Dr. Truett is a very serious man. It is only
once in a great while that any gleam of humor is noted in his sermons. There is one that I recall. He was talking about the foolishness of amassing vast sums of money to be idle, inert,
and useless. In pursuing this thought, he said
Now, he’s quoting from Dr. Truett:
Not long ago, I was in conversation with John D. Rockefeller, reputed to be the richest man in the world, who was a good friend
of mine. I congratulated him on his business success and I added that he must be a very happy man.
‘No,’ the senior Rockefeller replied. ‘I am not happy at all. All
I get are three meals a day and my clothes. My meals
don’t digest, and my clothes don’t fit.’
I might say out of my listening to Dr. Truett – which was only at conventions and places like that – the only time I ever heard people laugh when Dr. Truett spoke was at Ridge Crest at Preachers’ Week. I heard him one time there. And, he was talking about the spiritualists. And he was talking about the mediums who said that they could talk to the dead. And Dr. Truett described some of them, and the messages that they got from the dead. And his final observation was this, "All I have to say about it," said Dr. Truett, "is this: if that’s all the dead have to say, let’s just not bother them. It isn’t worth it."
Now, in an article in the Dallas Morning News, written by Felix R. McKnight, dated in 1944, is this word. Now, I quote from McKnight:
One of the greatest of Dr. Truett’s many services was soul-
winning by correspondence. Two mornings of each week
He devoted to answering hundreds of letters from people
who sought his counsel. If his secretary was not available,
He answered them in longhand, personally. ‘I could not quit
this holy task if I wanted to,’ Dr. Truett once said. ‘When I
know how many I have led to Christ and see the constant
appeals pouring into me, I would not quit if I could.’
And, there fell into my hands one of those many, many, letters that Dr. Truett wrote. After church – this came into my hands a long time ago. I had lost it. I found it in an envelope that I had tucked away and I cannot remember the circumstances under which this letter has been given me. But with the letter to whom it is addressed, it is addressed to Mr. Zeb Lapelle, or LapellÃ©, L-A-P-E-double L-E, in Washington, D. C. and it is dated February 6, 1899. And with the letter, I have a personal card from Zeb Lapelle, or LapellÃ©, and he writes on it his new address in Washington.
He is the Chief Printer, Director – he is the chief printer; and he writes on there, "retired." Evidently, I have seen this man in Washington, or somewhere; and he gave me his card and asked if I wanted this letter that Dr. Truett had written to him. As a young man, he left this church and went to Washington; but I cannot recall him. If any of you could, I would greatly appreciate it.
Now, I want to read this letter, which is so very typical of the multitudinous ministries of Dr. Truett as he wrote to many, many different people. Now this letter, I say, is dated February 6, in 1899: Mr. Zeb Lapelle, 25 Fifth Street NE, Washington, D. C.
My dear brother Lapelle, your twenty-fourth ultimate was received some days ago and noted with pleasure. I am delighted
at your pleasant surroundings and at your prospects, generally. You are in a position to make great progress in your self-improvement. Perhaps the most interesting city by far, in all this great country, is our national capital. I spent a week there once with increasing delight, every hour that I stayed.
You have wisely decided upon your church connections, I think; and I pray that you may be very happy, and especially very useful in such membership. See to it, whatever you do or do not, that your spiritual life is not neglected. Just here, our young men suffer incalculably because in the press of the duties of ambitious young manhood, they neglect the care of their better life. I trust sincerely that it shall not be so with you.
Remember that nothing can take the place of earnest, personal work for the Savior. I trust that I do not need to suggest that you make it a point of conscience, daily, to read some portion of God’s Word and to seek by prayer to find out His will concerning you. I enjoy your happy remembrance of your stay with us, here. And I am very much gratified that you received some blessings from our services.
It’s his humble way of – evidently, the boy spoke of what Dr. Truett had meant to him. Isn’t that a gracious way to speak of it? "I enjoy your remembrance of your stay here. And I am much gratified that you received some blessings from our services."
Your message to the Young People’s Union will be duly given;
and I am sure will be much appreciated. Know that your interests shall be kept very tenderly in my mind; and I pray that they may all be very precious in this sight of God. Only commit all your ways to Him, and He shall surely direct all your paths.
With tender interest and Christian esteem, I am yours fraternally, George W. Truett.
Now, could you think of a sweeter thing than to take time out and write a letter to a boy why had just gone to Washington?
Now on July 8, 1944, that morning, Saturday morning. the Dallas news came out with a great headline: "Dr. George W. Truett, Minister to World, Dies." Then the first sentences:
Dr. George W. Truett, the prince of preachers, whose jeweled gospel – isn’t that an unusual phrase? – whose jeweled gospel penetrated to the world’s corners, died at 11:50 p.m. Friday. Seventy-seven at death, Dr. Truett, born on May 6, 1867 in the Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina, spent the last forty-seven years of his life as pastor of the First Baptist Church.
On the next day, Sunday morning, July 9, 1944, there was this editorial in the Dallas news, a little part of which I quote:
A heart that encompassed the world in its solicitude and a voice that stirred the souls of men with regenerated power were stilled Friday night when the messenger of death called George W. Truett from his earthly labors. Yet the influence of this man of God will persist, like a river of living waters. His words and his works will be remembered through generations to come, not only here in Dallas, where as pastor of the First Baptist Church for a period of years, but three short of half a century. Dr. Truett won the esteem and confidence of all men. A day at the First Church in Dallas will restore any man’s confidence in the vitality of the Christian religion.
Oh! What a sentence. "A day at the First Church in Dallas will restore any man’s confidence in the vitality of the Christian religion."
Throughout the Christian world, there will be sorrow at his passing. Yet grief will be assuaged by gratitude that such a man has lived and labored among us. His life was a contribution to the good of man.
On Friday, July 7, 1944, he died. On Monday, July 10, at 4:00 o’clock, the memorial service was held in this auditorium. The casket was brought to the church at 11:30. The body lay in state until time for the memorial hour. The stream of people passing by was described by the Dallas news, and the headline saying, "Over Twenty-Thousand Friends View Body." The city, county, and federal offices and courts were closed, as well as many retail stores. The floral display, six truckloads of flowers, was described in the paper. And one unique flower arrangement – which from the picture, stood right there – the flower display was this one, in the form of an open Bible, with the words, "Thy will be done," worked into the pages of the Bible.
Now the paper also printed the funeral address of Robert H. Coleman; and I quote, from the funeral address of Bob Coleman:
George W. Truett was the greatest soul I ever touched. I came to Dallas in February 1901; and for more than 43 years, I have been very close to him. I first became his assistant in December 1904.
I loved him and honored him above any man on earth except my honored preacher father. For many months, Dr. Truett has been a great sufferer
He lay very ill for about a year.
And while we cannot understand it, yet we know that God knows and cares. Suffering is part of God’s plan for building and enriching lives. The world’s greatest Christians have been have been the world’s greatest sufferers. We are told that Christ was made perfect through suffering, "If we suffer with Him, we shall also reign with Him."
"In the evening," says this newspaper report of Bob Coleman’s funeral address:
In the evening we say of the sun, "It is gone." Gone where? It has simply disappeared from our view to shed light on some other part of the earth. We say of the ship that passes over the horizon and disappears, "It is gone." Gone where? It is just winding its way across the pathless waters to find a shelter in another harbor.
Our pastor has gone to find rest in another harbor, and to shine in another realm. It is not darkness the pastor has gone into, for God is light. It is not lonely, for Christ is with him. It is not an unknown country, for the Savior is there. O angel, bearing the everlasting gospel to the people, fly faster, fly faster. And if you cannot fly faster, then commit your precious message to the beloved pastor; and he will bear it to the praise of the glory of God, and to the joy of humanity.
We cannot but feel today how rich we have been and how poor we are. In the words of Elisha, we say, "My Father, my Father, the chariot of Israel, and the horsemen thereof!" God’s command stirs us today. "Moses My servant is gone; now therefore arise, go over this Jordan."
How like Bob Coleman. God spared him a year and-a-half; and I think God did it to help me. "Moses My servant is gone; arise, arise and pass over this Jordan" [Joshua 1:2].
The news reporter, in describing the service, said:
At the simple service before the grave, Robert H. Coleman read scriptures from 1 Thessalonians 4: 13-18: a comfort concerning the resurrection of the Christian dead. As Dr. Truett was finally laid to rest in the grave which stands on a hill, his most intimate friend, Coleman, left him with these words:
Now, look at the beauty of this little poem Coleman quoted:
Warm summer sun,
Shine brightly here,
Gentle southern breeze
Blow softly here.
Green sod above,
Lie light – lie light.
Good night, great heart.
We’ll see you in the morning.
[from "Warm Summer Sun"; Mark Twain]
And that closed the ministry of the incomparable pastor.
Now, we are off the air. I want to share with you something that some of you already know. All of you who were here at the time that I came to assume this staggering – and for a young man, a commitment, a task that would crush the soul.
When I was a boy, a small boy, I went to Amarillo to see my sister, and while I was there, Dr. Truett held a revival meeting. That’s the first time I ever saw him. In most any Baptist household, Dr. Truett was looked upon as a prophet, as God’s greatest man. And between the brick church at Ninth and Polk, and a temporary wooden educational building, was a wooden walkway to the back of the church. I was standing there by myself, as a boy; and Dr. Truett walked down that wooden walkway. And where it turned to go up into the church, I was standing. He walked down that walkway when I was as a boy, and looked at me – stopped and looked at me like you don’t ever forget: looked.
And in the days that passed and the years that passed, I grew up to be a young man and a young preacher. And they were holding a simultaneous revival meeting in all the churches in Atlanta, Georgia. And I was preaching at the Kirkwood Baptist Church, where Dr. White, now of First Church Houston, was pastor. And Dr. Truett was at the First Baptist Church in Atlanta, preaching with Dr. Ellis Fuller, pastor.
Upon a day in that simultaneous revival, all of the civic clubs came together downtown in a great spacious hall and listened to Dr. Truett preach, speak. I was seated in the middle of that great hall somewhat close to the front. And the strangest thing: Dr. Truett, seated there right by the side of the podium, Dr. Truett looked at me a long, long, long time. Just seated there, looked at me; you couldn’t forget it, those eyes, the way he could look a long, long time – looked at me.
When Dr. Truett died, I cannot remember, but soon after that, I dreamed. And it was as real as I am real, standing here this day. I had been in this auditorium one time when I was a freshman at Baylor, sat over there on my extreme left, attending a BSU meeting on a Sunday morning; and Dr. Truett preached. Only time I was ever here. I dreamed that I, between two men, walked in that back door, up that stairwell and sat down in that balcony, right there. The front of the church was covered with flowers – flowers, flowers. And the church was bathed in tears. Everyone was crying – everyone. All the people on this lower floor, in the choir, in the balcony around, and by me, everyone was in tears.
The man seated on my left stood up, turned to me and said, "The great pastor is gone. The time has come when you must take his place."
I said, "No! No, not I."
And when I said it, the man on my right put his hand on my knee; and I turned to see. And it was Dr. Truett – in that same looking as I had seen and remembered as a boy. And Dr. Truett said, "Yes. You must go preach to the people." And he went away.
I received a letter from Bob Coleman, asking me to come to preach at the church. One month after that, I received a long-distance call on a Wednesday night from Bob Coleman, saying that the church had just called me to be pastor of the congregation. These things are inexplicable, except – except as God moves.
Now, I have come to see the reason God chose so unable and inadequate a successor was that the world might be astounded, what God’s strong arm can do. This – this is His work; this is His church; this is His ministry. These are God’s people. "Moses My servant is gone; now arise, go over this Jordan,and as I was with Moses: so shall I be with thee."
And this work has been a miracle to me. I never dreamed that it would be like this, never. Our Sunday school, our Training Union, our preaching attendance, all of this ministry has been a marvelous thing to me. And I can just humbly say I am glad that I could be around just to look at it, when God chose to do it. And may we always, all of us remember, it is of God; and the praise, and the love, and the glory, and the devotion, and the honor, all are His. And every soul He gives us are trophies to lay at His precious and blessed feet.
Now, we stand to sing a stanza of a hymn. And while we sing it – all right, let’s go ahead and stand. While we sing it, somebody to give his heart to the Lord; somebody to come into the fellowship of the church, put his life in faith in consecration, by baptism, by letter; a family, or just one. God is so blessedly good to us.
At the 8:15 service, there were six who joined the church this morning, six. At this hour, does God bid you come? Trusting Jesus as Savior, putting your life in the church, as the Spirit shall lead the way down these stairwells into the aisle; would you come and stand by me? "Today, I give my heart to the Lord." Or "Today, we place our lives in the fellowship of the church," while we sing the appeal.