Arise, Shine, First Baptist Church
November 6th, 1960 @ 10:50 AM
ARISE, SHINE, FIRST BAPTIST CHURCH
Dr. W. A. Criswell
Isaiah 60: 1-3
11-6-60 10:50 a.m.
On the radio, you who listen are sharing with us the services of the First Baptist Church in Dallas. This is the pastor bringing the 11:00 o’clock morning message from the text in Isaiah which we address this day to our beloved church: “Arise, shine; for thy light is come, and the glory of the Lord is risen upon thee. For, behold, the darkness shall cover the earth, and gross darkness the people: but the Lord shall arise upon thee, and His glory shall be seen upon thee. And the nations shall come to thy light, and kings to the brightness of thy rising” [Isaiah 60:1-3].
The message this morning is prepared in behalf of and dedicated to our tremendous stewardship appeal. At this time of the year, in November, before Thanksgiving, our people prepare a giving program, a budget for the new year. And we underwrite it in these days of appeal. Our budget this year is for one million, one hundred, ninety-five thousand dollars. Our local budget is almost a half a million. Our missionary, denominational, benevolent budget is over half a million. And the one hundred ninety-five thousand dollars is to help us retire the indebtedness against our church. It is a tremendous program. It is a vast budget. It is far larger than any that we have ever attempted or any that has ever been attempted by any church in the history of the world. But God has laid it upon us to do it. And our people are arising to make it possible, to achieve a victory, to lay a triumph at Jesus’ feet such as we have never done before. And it is in behalf of that appeal that the pastor speaks this morning.
The theme of the sermon—the following of its course—lies in the hope and in the prayer that our church will be a witness, and a paragon, and a testimony to all of the thousands of churches of Christendom, and to the millions of the faith who follow what we do in this downtown congregation. And that’s why the text was chosen: “Arise, shine; for thy light has come, and the glory of the Lord is risen upon thee” [Isaiah 60:1].
It is an appeal first that our church be an example in turning the tide which is flowing against us. I have taken just at random, this is by no means exhaustive, I have chosen at random articles from the religious press. I shall read one or two, or maybe three excerpts from them.
The spiritual tide in our country is downward, and the spiritual trend in our own denomination is decadent. We have lost the fervor and the zealousness of our drive for Christ, and our people as such, our churches, and our communion, and our denomination, and our fellowship of congregations is beginning sharply to decline.
Here is one: a former vice president of the Southern Baptist Convention said here in Nashville he is very greatly concerned over evidence there may be a spiritual recession among Southern Baptists. A financial report also presented to the executive committee of the Southern Baptist Convention suggested revising downward cooperative program estimated gifts during the 1960s. This followed by two weeks an announcement by Southern Baptist evangelism leaders that baptism goals had been reduced.
The financial statement caused the executive committee to cut half a million dollars from its estimated capital needs and operating income for Southern Baptist Convention agencies next year because of a sharp decline in giving trends this year. By the year 1965 the revised projection of income through the cooperative program would be nearly six million dollars under the earlier forecast. Those are excerpts from one article.
I now read excerpts from another article. This is part of the word of one of the leaders of our Southern Baptist convention:
Spiritual pride has blinded Southern Baptists to the warning flags that are clear throughout our denomination. As a perpetual optimist, I am sounding an alarm for the first time in seventeen years of denominational service. Baptist churches will baptize from one-fourth to one-third fewer people than were won to Christ in 1959. Sunday school board officials report it is becoming increasingly difficult to maintain the pace of enlisting new people in Sunday school. Total enrollment in theological seminaries is down. All six of our seminaries were shaken by their 1960 fall enrollment. A study reveals that this is the result of a trend for several years. In 1951, Southern Baptists ordained one thousand nine hundred and ninety six new ministers. This declined until at the end of the decade, in the year 1959, only eight hundred forty were ordained. The Foreign Mission Board is not going to have enough prepared volunteers to make all of the appointments it had planned during this year.
And on and on it goes, and other excerpts that could be read, and I thought that this was indicative and prophetic.
In the survey bulletin which is published by our convention, the item, the number of ministerial students enrolled in our Baptist senior colleges dropped from 5088, in the last scholastic year, to 3440 in this present scholastic year. Then the next item in the news bulletin: the First Baptist Church in Dallas, Texas, has unanimously approved what is believed to be the largest annual local church budget in the history of Christendom. The $1,195,000 budget earmarks $501,648 for missions, and $426,352 for local educational and promotional programs. The budget is an increase of $295,000 over the current budget, and is twice as large as the one approved ten years ago.
Those two items, side by side, in our denominational survey bulletin. “The trend is down! Our giving is down! Our programs are down! Our volunteers are down! Our enrollment is down!” But the next item: “But the First Baptist Church in Dallas is up!” And our greatest appeal is now, and our finest day lies ahead. And that’s why I call this first part of this sermon an appeal to the First Baptist Church to change the tide and the trend, and to be an example to all of the other congregations of the thousands and the thousands that make up our communion and our fellowship of congregations.
I could not tell you the number of times that I have heard deacons and pastors and church leaders say to me, “We had a called meeting of our congregation, whether or not we would leave our downtown ministry and move out to the suburbs.” Or, “We had a meeting last night of our deacons whether or not to recommend to the church that we forsake the downtown heart of our city and move out to a green pasture where the going is easy and the ways are soft. And while we were in that deacons meeting,” or “while we were having our church conference, one of the men stood up and said, ‘Look at the First Baptist Church in Dallas. They are not only not forsaking the heart of the city, and they are not only not moving out to some lush and green pasture, but they are staying downtown with an increasing program, with a greater appeal, with a larger vision, and a brighter destiny.’ And we want you to know,” they say, “that our deacons voted unanimously to try it again. And our congregation voted unanimously to stay!”
That has been the paragon of excellence, the devotion to duty, the faithfulness to its task of this glorious downtown congregation. Now that we might once again be an example: stemming the tide, wresting the flow, turning this thing back up where it ought to be—the graph, the turn, the level, the height, reaching upward and not downward.
Thomas J. Jackson was a teacher in the Military Institute of Virginia, VMI. He taught military tactics and mathematics. And when the war broke out between the states, he was made a general under Robert E. Lee. Thomas J. Jackson was a man of deep moral sentiment and faithful devotional life. He never lost a battle, though he fought in many. He prayed before the campaigns, and he thanked God after the war, after the battle was over.
At the Battle of Bull Run the forces of the Confederacy were being hopelessly battered down and pushed back. In the midst of that battle, Thomas J. Jackson, with his troop of Virginians, stood steadfast and unmovable! And General Robert E. Lee pointed to his retreated forces, pointed to the example of Jackson and said, “Look at Jackson standing like a stone wall! Rally behind the Virginians!” They did, and the Battle of Bull Run was won by our soldiers. And that’s where he thereafter gained the name and epithet “Stonewall” Jackson.
Robert E. Lee said, after he was defeated at Gettysburg, “If I had had Jackson with me, I would not have lost.” The example of one man is a thousand. And the example of one church is ten thousand! “Arise, shine; for thy light has come, and the glory of the Lord is risen upon thee” [Isaiah 60:1].
May I speak now of the size of our budget? One would think with so vast a sum of money there must be enough in that budget to gold-plate the doorknobs. There must be enough in that budget to put diamonds in the chandeliers. There must be a superfluous, abounding abundance in that budget beyond what anybody could think of or need. It is the opposite. That budget has been trimmed down and cut down, and it has been retracted until it represents the barest minimum.
When Dr. J. Howard Williams went to be pastor of the First Baptist Church of Oklahoma City, they had an annual budget of seventy-five thousand dollars a year. And when that pastor sought to get the deacons in the church to raise the amount of the budget, some of the men said to him, “Why, pastor, what would you do with the money if we raised this budget above seventy-five thousand dollars a year? We don’t need it. What would you do with the money if you had it?” And the denominational pastor, the statesman who had the vision of our great work in his heart, he replied, “Why, my brethren, if that budget were ten million, forty million, fifty million dollars a year, we still would not find it commiserate with the infinite, vast needs of this lost world.”
And it is so with our program today. If our people were to dedicate at Christ’s feet ten million dollars every year, it would be nothing compared to the vast, immeasurable, illimitable call and appeal of our mission field around this earth. And that same thing is true of our own local program.
I’ve said to our men and I cannot help this, that whether it is right or whether it is wrong, I cannot help this. I have a pride in our church like I hope I can continue to have a pride in my country. This is my own, my native land. I have a pride in our church. This week, this last week, I was in Lubbock. The First Baptist Church in Lubbock is a jewel, one of the finest buildings you could ever see in America; just to pass by it, just to look at it is to be lifted up toward God. These people love the Lord, look what they’ve done!
And this last week I was also in San Antonio. Looking out the hotel window, there is that beautiful and spacious plant, the First Baptist Church in San Antonio. And they’re building another great building. And every part of that building is beautifully furnished. And every detail of that vast plant is meticulously finished. And you look upon it with pride. Those people love God.
I spoke this last week in the Trinity Baptist Church at San Antonio, upon the occasion of the congregation pulling together for a greater program. And they have just finished one of the jewels in God’s houses of worship, and adoration, and ministry. That’s one of the most beautiful churches you’ll find in America. The front of it is as glorious as the back. And the main entrance, it seems to me is the back. Every detail of that plant is finished, and it’s gloriously done. And you feel a pride that God’s people there love the Lord enough to erect that pile in honor to His infinitely precious name.
But the First Baptist Church in Dallas; I’ll take two instances out of a thousand. I have had one and a dozen of the pastors of our Baptist General Convention in Texas who gather here at their executive board meetings, I’ve had them say to me, “Preacher, we point to the First Baptist Church in Dallas as our greatest church. And we bring visitors here and say, ‘This is our finest congregation. This is our largest church. This is our greatest.’ And then those men say to me, “I want you to know that I am ashamed of things in the keeping up and in the beauty of the church. I’m ashamed of it”—to point it out to them and to say to them, “This is our best and this is our finest.”
And one of the finest, most devoted denominational workers, a layman we have in our city, walked with me from town to this church, talking to me about this Burt Building. And he said to me, “Preacher, if you’re not ashamed, I am ashamed for you. If they did a thing like that in west Dallas, if they did a thing out here at Elm Thicket like that, I would expect it. But the glorious First Baptist Church in Dallas ought to be prouder of itself than to put your children, and to put your people in a building where the ceilings are not finished, and the floors are not finished, and the walls are left in the rough, and not anything is painted.” He said, “I like, though I don’t belong to your congregation, I like to point to the First Baptist Church with pride as being our greatest and our finest among all of the congregations of the Southern Baptist Convention.”
Now I say, it might be false pride on my part, but my heart hurts and I cannot help it. My heart hurts when I go and visit and preach in these magnificent edifices that sparkle and shine for God and come back to my own church here in Dallas. And I am ashamed of the condition of the inside of our Burt Building. And I am ashamed of a whole lot of things of the appointments of our present plant.
Well, why don’t you fix it up, preacher? Why don’t you make it beautiful? Why don’t you make it nice? Why don’t you make it glorious like these other churches? We have one plain and simple reply. We do not have the money. And rather than go in debt anymore, we’re trying to put up with a second-rate structure and a second-rate arrangement, leaving off everything except the bare necessities just in order to get by. The First Baptist Church in Dallas could do better. The First Baptist Church in Dallas ought to do better. I believe, don’t you, the First Baptist Church in Dallas will do better! “Arise, shine; for thy light has come, and the glory of the Lord is risen upon thee!” [Isaiah 60:1].
May I speak of our church as an example, as it ought to be, in its tithing, in its giving, in the dedication of its offerings unto God? More than half of our congregation refuses to pledge. More than half of our people never sign a card. More than half of our people refuse to help us underwrite our budget. Is that you? Is that you? Could that be you?
And of the half that do pledge, more than half, far more than half of that half, do not tithe. Once in a while there’s a mean streak in me, God help me! I need praying for. When you’re praying for all the other sinners in the world, you put my name in it too. I was asked in a split-off splinter of our Baptist denomination, I was asked to be a part of a deacon ordination committee. And the leading elder of that splinter group did not believe in tithing, and he taught his people against tithing, and he taught his deacons against tithing.
And here’s the devil in me. When time came to question those deacons who were going to be ordained, I took them one at a time. And I talked to the first one, and I said, “Do you believe in tithing?” “No sir,” he said, “I don’t believe in tithing.” “Do you believe in tithing?” I said to the next one. “No sir,” he said, “I don’t believe in tithing.” And then I said to the third one, “Do you believe in tithing?” No sir,” he said, “It’s not right.” And, “Do you believe…” and I went on through. “No sir, we don’t believe in tithing.”
And then the devil in me; I went back and I started with the first one, and I said, “Now I want to ask you a simple question. You, the first deacon here, do you not believe in tithing in order to give more to God or less to God?” “Oh,” he said, “I don’t believe in tithing in order to give more to God.” And that’s liar number one. Then I went to the next one. I said to him, “Do you not believe in tithing in order to give more to God or less to God?” “Oh,” he said, “I don’t believe in tithing in order to give more to God.” And that’s liar number two. Then I went to the third one, and I went through the whole group of them. And I made every one of them lie in the presence of God.
There is no such a thing as a man saying, “I don’t believe in tithing in order to give more to God.” He doesn’t believe in tithing because he wants to give less to God. Tithing is as scriptural as the preaching of the gospel of the Son of God. There are three great witnesses that our Savior lives. And the first one is this: Hebrews 7:8, “And here men that die receive tithes; but there He receiveth them, of whom it is witnessed that He liveth!” When a man brings his tithe, and then an offering, to the Lord and lays it at the feet of Christ, it is a living testimony that our Savior lives in heaven! We’re not serving a dead Lord. We’re not serving a dead Christ. This is a patent, open, lucid, clear witness to the fact that we believe our Lord is alive. “And here men that die receive tithes; but there He receiveth them, of whom it is witnessed that He liveth” [Hebrews 7:8]. Our finest testimony that our Savior is alive is to dedicate the tithe to our Lord [Hebrews 7:8].
I’ll just mention the other two briefly. The second great witness that Christ lives is the ordinance of baptism. We are buried with our Lord, we are raised with our Lord, He liveth [Romans 6:3-5].
And the third great witness to our living Lord is the table of the breaking of bread. “For as often as you eat this bread, and drink this cup, you do show forth the Lord’s death achri hou elthe, till He come” [1 Corinthians 11:26], till He come, till He come.
The three great witnesses that our Lord is alive: our tithes [Hebrews 7:8], our baptismal service, and our breaking of bread, achri hou elthe, till He come, till He come [1 Corinthians 11:26]. For, after all, in keeping with the Scripture that we all read together, what does it matter to a man if he gained the whole world, and lost his own soul? [Mark 8:36]. For a man’s soul and his life do not consist of the abundances of the possessions that he holds in his hands [Luke 12:15]. It’s an astonishing thing how fleeting and evanescent what we have is—just for a while, then it’s given to somebody else, it’s taken away.
One of these fine, wealthy, affluent but selfish men, finally came to die, as all of us do. And he had an obsession with his hands. And the doctor, and the nurse, and his wife, and his family, could not get the obsession out of his mind—his hands, his hands! And finally they made an appeal to a lifelong friend. “Jim, go talk to him and see if you can’t help him, his hands.” And Jim sat down by the side of his lifelong friend and said, “Your hands, I see nothing wrong with your hands.” And the wealthy, affluent man said to his lifelong friend, “Why, Jim, my God, man! My God! They’re so empty! They’re so empty.”
Carve your name high o’er the shifting sands
Where the steadfast rocks defy decay
All we’ll ever hold in our cold dead hands
Is what we have given away.
[from “Carve Your Name High,” E.M. Poteat]
In this congregation, I have seen some of our wealthiest people die in order that the courts, and the lawyers, and the families, and the nieces, and the nephews might war and quarrel over the estate that remains, learning to hate one another, learning to be bitter toward one another, breaking up family love of a whole generation. I’ve seen it time and again. I do not understand why, to accumulate, and to accumulate, and to keep and to keep in order that it might curse someone else. Why not take it while you can see it? Why not take it while you can look upon it and dedicate it to God and say, “Lord, bless it and make it a blessing there. Lord, sanctify it and make it a hallowed thing there?”
Ah, that our church could be an example in its dedication of its loving heart and faithful spirit to God! After all, we’re not great because of the bigness of our congregation. Nor are we great because of the extensiveness of this plant. Nor are we great because of the enormous size of this budget appeal. But if we’re great, and to say that is to feel that the Lord is not pleased when we speak of ourselves as being great. How shall I say it? If the Lord is able to use us wonderfully for Him and mightily for Him, if God’s favor in abundance can be vouchsafed and entrusted to us, it will be because of our spirit, of our devotion, of our heart, of our love, of our commitment, and our consecration to Him. These things make God’s children great.
I have a pastor friend who said something that, though it moved my heart, I could not help but think “I’ve seen this again and again in my own pastoral life.” On a cold winter day, he went out visiting and he knocked at the home of a well-to-do parishioner. And the maid opened the door and invited the pastor in. And he sat down in a luxurious living room. And soon, the wife came. And as he sat there and talked to her and looked at all of the lavishness of that beautiful mansion, all she did was complain. She complained about the high taxes, and she complained about the downturn of the market, and she complained about the difficultness of all of this era in which we are living. She just complained about everything, reflecting the spirit of her husband, I suppose. And the preacher said when finally his visit was over, he went outside, and he just breathed an air of relief out of the God-blue heaven.
Then he said he happened to think about a widow, a poor woman who was left with a house full of children and nobody to care for her. And he said it was such a cold day, he thought she might need some coal. And he went by and knocked at the door to see if the poor woman had heat for the house and the children. He said when he started walking up the sidewalk, he could hear the children with their faces pressed against the window, “Mama, here comes our pastor! Here comes our pastor.” And they opened the door wide and welcomed him in. And he set there in the midst.
And the dear widow and mother in the home said to the pastor, “Oh, God has blessed me this week.” She said, “Last week, I did not know where bread was coming from to feed our hungry mouths.” Then with a gesture of her hand she said, “But look! But look!” And there was her room piled full of sewing to do. And there was the sewing machine in the middle of the floor. She said, “Look! I now have more sewing to do than I can possibly do. God has been so good to us, and God has so blessed us!” And the preacher said that he had prayer after reading the Bible, and then he took his leave.
He said, as he walked down the stairs and out to the sidewalk, he heard the sound of the sewing machine sewing for the children. And above the sound of the machine, he heard the voice of that widowed mother singing,
Be not dismayed what e’er betide,
God will take care of you.
Beneath His wings of love abide,
God will take care of you.
[“God Will Take Care of You,” Civilla D. Martin, 1904]
That’s what makes a people great.
“Arise, arise, arise, shine; for thy light has come, and the glory of the Lord is upon thee” [Isaiah 60:1]. When the Lord adds us up and Mr. Zachary reads the report, may heaven grant we’re thirty-six inches to the yard, and sixteen ounces to the pound, and eight furlongs to the mile, and sixty seconds to the minute, and seven days to the week.
Oh, First Baptist Church, arise, shine; this is thy great day! [Isaiah 60:1].
And now, while we sing this song of appeal, somebody this morning, give his heart to Jesus [Romans 10:9-10], somebody today put his life with us in the fellowship of the church, while we sing this song, would you come and make it now? In this balcony round this host of people, coming down this stairway at the front, at the back, and stand by me. The throng on this lower floor, into that aisle and down here to the front, “Here I come, pastor, and here I stand. Today I give my heart in trust to Jesus.” Or, “Today, we’re putting our lives in the fellowship of the church. This is my wife, these are my children.” Or just one somebody you, while we sing the appeal, on the first note of this first stanza, make it now, make it this morning. If you’re in the last seat in that topmost balcony, there’s time and a plenty to come. Make it today, while we stand and while we sing.
SHINE FIRST BAPTIST CHURCH
I. The tragedy of the present downturn
A. The example of the
First Baptist Church
1. An example of
a downtown church
II. Desire to an example in the beauty of
A. Taking pride in our
B. Commitment to do more
than bare necessities
III. An example in tithing and offering
A. Those who don’t
believe in tithing
B. Tithing is a witness
that Christ lives
1. We do not
serve a dead Christ (Hebrews 7:8)
3. Breaking of
bread (1 Corinthians 11:26)
C. Rich but
empty-handed (Luke 12:15)
IV. Our church an example of prayerful trust
and faithful devotion