My Church Reaching Out to the Inner Man in Outer Space (SBC)
May 26th, 1961 @ 7:30 PM
MY CHURCH REACHING OUT TO THE INNER MAN IN OUTER SPACE
Dr. W. A. Criswell
Southern Baptist Convention Address
[announcer] In just a moment, Dr. W. A. Criswell, pastor of the First Baptist Church of Dallas, Texas, will bring you a message. Every time I think about it, I want to thank God for W. A. Criswell. I will tell you, God has been good to us to give us a man of his conviction, of his courage, and if you want a great spiritual blessing some time go and hear him preach in his own pulpit. I know you would like to meet his lovely wife. Will you stand, Mrs. Criswell? We are so glad you are here with him tonight.
[Dr. Criswell] Dr. Pollard, and Dr. Hobbs, and the faithful, longsuffering messengers of our Southern Baptist Convention, you are the elite of the earth, no doubt. There are five or six times as many people here tonight as I thought would be here. I counted on for sure the janitors maybe and the new president. And to see you here is a joy to my soul. I have prepared a special address for tonight entitled My Church Reaching Out to the Inner Man in Outer Space. It is an ambitious program, I assure you.
Not long ago, the House committee on appropriations for missiles was listening to a satellite engineer. And one of the members of the committee asked the engineer, "How long do you think until we can get in a capsule in New York City and in thirty minutes land in Paris?" And in all sobriety and in all earnestness, the engineer replied, "We shall achieve that within fifteen years."
Reminds me of that old cowpoke in West Texas that sauntered into Van Horn and asked the bus station agent when it was the bus left for El Paso, and the agent said, "At six-thirty"; and the fellow said, "And when does it arrive?" And he said, "At six-thirty." He never had heard of daylight saving time, and the old cowpoke blinked at him real hard and walked outside. Pretty soon he came back in and he said, "Mister, what time did you say that bus leaves?"
"And what time does it arrive in El Paso?"
"At six-thirty. Would you like to have a ticket?"
"No," said the old cowpoke, "I don’t think so. But if you don’t mind, I’d like to hang around here just to see that thing take off."
Mr. Kennedy said yesterday that within the sixties America shall send a man to the moon and return him back to the United States. I hope he brings with him the Soviet flag when he comes. And Congress, of course, is getting ready to appropriate the money for that astounding, satellitic feat. But when we land on the moon, or when we land on Mars, or when we reach the sidereal spheres, we will be the same there as we are here. We fuss, and we fight, and we hate, and we kill, and we destroy in this planet Earth. And when we land on the Mars, or on the moon, or on the sidereal spheres, we will fight, and we will murder, and we will kill, and we will destroy there the same as here.
The earth is thousands of years old, and generations have come and gone; but we are still spiritually the same. The Paleolithic man killed with a stone ax or with a wooden club. The modern man does the same thing with a jet plane or an atomic bomb. Mankind has lifted himself out of ignorance and out of darkness and out of superstition; but we are still lost and undone. With all of the achievements of science, we are on the same spiritual level with Adam and Eve when they were driven out of the garden of Eden [Genesis 3:22-24]. We have learned to fly through the air like a bird. We’ve learned to swim through the sea like a fish. But we have never yet learned to walk on the earth like a man: we have learned to divide the atom before we learned to unite humanity. What we need is not guided missiles, but guided men and women.
Now, I don’t deprecate the achievements of science. They have brought to us a marvelous and a miraculous age, and I rejoice, like you, to live in it. I said in my heart long time ago, I am not going around in an ox cart or in a horse and buggy, I belong to an air age, to a jet age, and I’m going to ride the things. When I made that announcement to some of my folks, they came around me with lugubrious prognostications and said, "You fall out of the sky" – by the way that’s the rankest poison in the world, one drop and you’re dead – "You fall out of the sky, and you’ll turn to a cinder." I said, "Don’t care what. I’m going down and ride in an airplane." I went to the ticket agent and plunked down the money for the fare. I was like that old Texan that came into Love Field at Dallas, plunked down a five hundred dollar bill and said, "Son, give me a ticket." And the boy said, "Where to?" and the big Texan boomed, "Anywhere, son. I got business all over." Bought my ticket, climbed in that thing, they wound it up, and it took off into the wild blue yonder and scared the living daylights out of me. I saw a fellow across the aisle reading the newspaper. I wanted to say, "Put that down man and start praying, we’re up in the air." When finally I got enough nerve to look out, I looked slap dab, smacky-doodle, right square into the middle of a cemetery. Every one of those tombstones seemed to me were waving at me up there in the air. I was like that fellow who took his first airplane ride, and he said, "I got along pretty good until a buzzard flew alongside, looked in my window, and winked at me."
But there’s more to life than our gadgets, and our airplanes, and our labor-saving devices, and our automobiles, and our luxuries, and our radar, and our transistors, and our atomic fission. These things do not ultimately solve our problems, nor do they save our souls; but they point up, they point up the vast complex of that inevitable day that under God some time we must face as a people, as a nation, and as a race of humanity, as though a man’s life consisted in the things that pertain to our abundance.
There are two things that point up the fruit, the sterility, the emptiness, the vacuity of materialism and secularism. One is this: namely, the horror of the Frankenstein monster that we have created with our own hands. A prophecy was made: if atomic fission is ever achieved, it will first be used in an atomic bomb. And when I stood in Hiroshima and saw that destruction beyond any man could describe, I remembered that prophecy. There is not a great nation in the earth today that does not labor day and night by science, by money, by appropriation, by engineering, by chemistry, by mathematics, by every way known to obviate the lurid death that falls from the ethereal sky, or rises from the destructive seas. The gift of materialism, however splendid, however intellectual and however magnificent it may be, is still frightsome and awful.
I read in the newspapers like you did of the death of Albert Einstein. Albert Einstein is the genius back of this satellite age. It was his theories, it was his ideas, it was his mathematical genius that laid open the way for our modern scientists to perfect atomic fission and finally the atom bomb. And when Albert, and when Einstein came to die, he said, "I want it understood that I am an atheist. I want it clearly understood, I don’t believe in God. And I want to make it plain when I die there’s no funeral service, and scatter my ashes to the wind." However brilliant our scientists may be, however miraculous their achievements that be laid in our laps, we are lost and undone, as a nation, and a people, and a world, without some more answer and some further answer than what science, and learning, and mathematics, and chemistry is able to produce.
The other great thing that points up the bankruptcy, and the sterility, and the vacuity, and the emptiness of materialism is the drive of economic determinism that has taken over, as the chaplain said, more than one billion of the people of this earth. In all of its hideous ugliness, it has been unmasked before humankind in the battle of North Korea; in the rape and the destruction of the freedom fighters in Hungary; in the drive in Red China that has annihilated so many of our Christian people; and in the negotiations now that are going on for a cease fire in Laos and in the whole conquest of Malaysian Asia. Lenin said, "What matters it to us if two-thirds of the human race is destroyed, if only the remaining one-third is communist?"
I could not better point up the difference between them and us than in this illustration: in the Korean War, those communist volunteers so-called from China, hurled into the maw of our cannon a hundred thousand men and another hundred thousand men, for life is cheap. You let one American enlisted man be lost in the vast expanses of the Pacific, and the Navy and the Air Force and all of the armada of America will search to find that one man. Where did we learn that? We learned that from the gospel of the one lost sheep [Luke 15:3-7], and the one lost coin [Luke 15:8-10], and the one lost boy [Luke 15:11-32], from the preaching of the gospel of the Son of God; that one man and one soul is worth something in the sight of the great Creator who made him in His own image [Genesis 1:26-27], and before whom someday he shall stand [Acts 17:30-31]. What a time, what an hour, what a day to stand up and to preach the glorious gospel of the Son of God, lest America and our free world fall into the same materialistic persuasion that has destroyed and darkened the mind of the whole communist empire. And it’s easy to fall into it, easy.
I couldn’t help but be amused at a thing I read in the little program that comes to our Baptist preachers entitled "The Baptist Program." It described a Texan in there, a rich one – not talking about me, evidently – talking about a rich Texan, and he’s going to be buried, when he died, in his gold-plated Cadillac. Isn’t that Texas? So the Texan died. And they put him in his gold-plated Cadillac, dug out the big hole, and the crane swung the big limousine; and in the hush and the awe of that solemn moment, as the dead man was being lowered into his grave in that gold-plated Cadillac, a fellow’s voice was heard over the hush of the crowd, "Man, ain’t that living!" As though here again, a man’s life consisted in the abundance of the things that he possesseth. For you see, materialism and secularism and worldliness is not assigned only to them; I see that snake crawling to our front door every time I stand up to preach. I see him sinuate his way in and out among the pews. And I see him, like this microphone here, stick his forked tongue in my face, as though the things of God in this world were matters of materialities. And our churches, in obedience thereto, reach out after things instead of souls, and lives, and people. Ah! How many times are we enamored with, and overwhelmed by, the big budget; look at it climb, and it climb, and it climb!
How many times are we envious of the great edifice, the cathedral-like sanctuary in which we worship God? And how many times are we impressed by the boom of the organ, and the sounds of the great choir, and the accouterments of worship? How many times are we enthralled with the idea of the things of religion, when all of the time we can pray just as well and intercede for the lost just as well in a kitchen corner as we could in a cathedral. When a man can come down a sawdust trail and be as near to Jesus, kneeling down at a mourner’s bench as he could walking down a carpeted aisle? The outreach of our churches: not for things, not for materialities, but for God and for God’s people.
You have builded temples in His name,
Of mortar and brick and stone,
With windows of glass so beautifully stained,
With tower and spire and dome.
But what do we of the byways care
For structure and line and trim?
Out in the dust of the lonely road,
We only ask for Him.
You’ve robed your choirs, and trained them well
In proper and intricate song;
You’ve bought fine organs to edify
And lull the weary throng.
But what do we care for your black-robed choir,
Or your organ’s deep amen?
We want you to walk beside us here,
And point the way to Him.
All the paths of the world are a crooked maze,
And we are woefully lost,
For the road to Him and the path of men
Is faint and hidden and crossed.
What do we care for the trappings of art,
When our heart’s high hope is dim?
We seek the touch of His healing hand,
Isn’t there somebody to show us the way to Him?
[Author and work unknown]
Oh! that the dedication of our people – whether it’s in an empty store building or on a vacant lot, whether it’s at the courthouse square or on the gutter by the side of the street, whether it’s out in the country or in the heart of the big city, whether it’s a great church or a little one – our dedication our love for God is this: if there’s a lost man anywhere, we have a message for him: Jesus saves; Jesus can save [Acts 16:30-31].
That’s why God hath ordained our people I think above any other people in the world, to preach the gospel of the Son of God – our Baptist preachers everywhere, preaching the gospel of the Son of God.
I stood in a mud church in the heart of Africa waiting to be introduced to preach. The thing was so jammed and filled till there were no aisles. I stood there in front, jammed on every side by those half-naked people, dark in their minds, filled with ignorance and superstition, lost in their souls. And as I stood there waiting to be introduced, I saw a placard above the pulpit on the back wall. It was the one that you so often see: a picture of the Lord Jesus, and the caption around, "Christ is the answer for every human need." I looked at the picture and I read the caption, and I looked at all of those half-naked people standing around me on every side, and back to the picture, and again at them. Christ is the answer for every human need in America, in Africa, in Asia, in the whole earth of humanity; the answer for our healing. I may not believe in paid divine healers, but I believe in divine healing. "Is any one of you sick? Let him pray; let him call for the pastors of the church, and the prayer of faith shall save the sick" [James 5:14-15].
I said to the nurse, "These babies are all dead, every one of them is dead."
"Why," she said, "they’ve died since I was in there?"
Well, I said, "They’ve all died since you’ve been in there; every one of them is dead."
"Well," she said, "I’ll go see." So she went into the nursery, and she took her hand and pressed the fist of each one of the children, and she said, "They’re all alive."
Well, I said, "How can you tell by pressing a child’s fist?"
She said, "Well, when the child is dead, the fist will relax. But when I mash the little baby’s fist and it’s still alive, it will tighten and stay clenched."
Well, I said, "What is the matter with these babies? They all look dead to me."
Well, she said, "They all have tetanus."
I said, "Tetanus? Why, the only time I’ve heard of anybody getting tetanus is when he walks on an iron, rusty nail, or something like that. And these babies just born, they don’t have any way to walk and get tetanus."
"Why," she said, "that’s not it." She said, "These babies are born on the roadside in a ditch, or born in a thatched hut, where cow manure is spread on the floor to keep the insects out and to make the ground hard. And they immediately get tetanus." She said, "You see that mother there? She’s had eleven children; just one of them is alive, and it’s one of those babies there." Ah! Ah!
Going down the road, "See that broom on a house and in a yard? They’ve got smallpox there, and that’s the way they heal smallpox." And the fellow talking up there to his friend, he said, "You know in my district, we didn’t have spinal meningitis bad this year; we just lost fifteen thousand of our people this year."
I stuck my head up there and I said, "You didn’t have spinal meningitis bad this year? You just lost fifteen thousand? How many do you lose on a bad year?"
"Why," he replied, "It’s nothing at all for us to lose sixty to seventy-five thousand people in a year due to spinal meningitis."
Dr. Goldie said to me, "Would you like to go with me on my monthly circle? And would you like to see me as I visit my clan settlements?"
I said, "Why, I would!" We got in his little car and away we went. He has gathered all those lepers in a great arc; and they build their little huts, and they build their little villages, and they call them "clan settlements." And he goes from one to the other once a month, ministering to those lepers. And when he drives into the compound, the word is spread immediately and they gather all around.
And I watched him, and as I looked at him, I thought, who bought that medicine? You did and I did; we did! We bought it. And who sent out that missionary? We did; you did and I did! And when he got through ministering at one of those places, they found out I was a preacher. They said, "We’ve got a little mud church here. Would you preach to us?" First time in my life I ever saw a mud church, mud pews, mud pulpit, mud desk, mud everything; the whole thing made out of mud. And I stood in the mud pulpit behind the mud desk and preached to those lepers as they sat on mud pews. And when I got through the best I could and stepped down from the pulpit, the interpreter came back and said, "They want you to go back up into the pulpit. They have a song they want to sing for you." So I got back up into the mud pulpit and behind the mud desk, and they stood up and sang me their song. Guess what it was? It was this:
The great Physician now is near,
The sympathizing Jesus;
He speaks the drooping heart to cheer,
Oh! hear the voice of Jesus.
Sweetest note on seraph tongue,
Sweetest carol ever sung;
Sweetest note in mortal song,
Jesus, blessed Jesus.
["The Sympathizing Jesus"; William Hunter, 1859]
Christ is the answer for every human need. And in my city is one of the most glorious hospitals in the world. Our people built it, and it is administered by our Christian leaders. And some of the finest physicians in the world, who pray before every operation, deacons in our churches; they heal in the power and genius of God in that great Baptist institution: the answer to every human need.
The answer for the healing of our fears: Oh, and He didn’t cower before the facts of life! When I was in Nazareth, I made friends with Dr. Bathgate, the Presbyterian physician there in the hospital. And we wrote to one another for several years. And about – oh, a few months ago, he came through Dallas. He had retired from his work in Nazareth and was on his way to Australia to live the rest of his life in that southern continent. And he came by to see me in Dallas. And as I sat by his side, and we talked about the things in Galilee and the things at his hospital and the things of our missions there, he said, "By the way," he said, "let me tell you one of the last things that happened before I left." He said, "I operated on a little Arab boy, very seriously ill and a very serious operation." And he said, "The little Arab boy, when we placed him on the operating table, turned to me and said, ‘Dr. Bathgate, if you don’t mind, could I kneel down by the side of the operating table before, before the operation and pray?’" And the astonished doctor said, "Why yes, son." So the little boy climbed down and knelt by the side of the table. And he prayed like Hannah prayed [1 Samuel 1:13]: he just moved his lips, but he didn’t say words out loud. And after the little fellow prayed, he climbed back on the table, absolutely unafraid, Dr. Bathgate said. And the doctor said he just looked in the face of the lad and said, "Son, I know it’s between you and God, but if you don’t mind, tell me boy, what did you pray down there by the side of this operating table?" And the little Arab boy replied, he said, "Sir, I prayed the twenty-third Psalm." And the doctor was amazed at the Arab boy, and said, "Son, the twenty-third Psalm? Where did you learn that?" And the boy replied, "Sir, I learned it in my Baptist school in Nazareth. ‘Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for Thou art with me; Thy rod and Thy staff they comfort me’ [Psalm 23:4]. I learned it in my Baptist school."
And could I finally say, and the answer, and the answer to the saving of our souls: this Jesus, whom Paul avows to be alive, this Christ [Acts 25:19]. Do you remember reading, you who love literature; do you remember reading in English literature, when Rudyard Kipling came to America? One of the most triumphal marches ever made across the expanse of our nation, when the great Kipling came; San Francisco entertained him beyond anything the world had ever seen. He fell seriously ill in our western city, and day-by-day fought for his very life. Poor San Francisco, with so illustrious a guest, at the very gate of death; and the nurse who happened to be ministering to him that early morning hour, saw him move his lips and whisper something. She put her ear down to hear what he said. And the great English poet was repeating, "Oh, oh, I need, I need God. Oh, oh, oh, where can I find God? Oh, oh, I want God." Poor San Francisco and poor world, with its wealth and its power and its might and its glory, facing the ultimate and final day when we shall meet God face to face [Revelation 20:11-15]; what a message, what a gospel, what God hath committed to us! Man,
There’s life for a look at the Crucified One,
There’s life at this moment for thee.
Then look, sinner, look unto Him and be saved,
Unto Him who was nailed to the tree.
["There is Life for a Look at the Crucified One"; A.M. Hull]
When Spurgeon turned into that little Methodist chapel, and the layman was expounding on Isaiah’s word, "Look unto Me, and be ye saved" [Isaiah 45:22], he pointed out Spurgeon, and said, "Young man, you look so miserable. Look to Jesus, young man, look to Jesus." And Spurgeon said, "And I looked that day, and I lived."
It’s recorded in His Word, Hallelujah,
It is only that you look and live.
Look and live, my brother, live;
Look to Jesus Christ and live,
It’s recorded in His Word, Hallelujah!
It is only that you look, look, and live.
["Look and Live"; William A. Ogden, 1887]
That’s our gospel. That’s our message. That’s our commission. And it may be delivered in the smallest hamlet, or it may be delivered in the heart of the throbbing city, or it may be delivered in a humble mission outpost, or it may be delivered in tears and in agony; but God will bless that message wherever a man lifts up the cross of the Son of God. And if he’ll pray, and if he’ll ask, and if he’ll intercede, and if he will appeal, God will give him souls, wherever in this earth he preaches the gospel of the Son of God. Let others do these other things. Let’s preach Jesus. Let others walk into those avenues of economics and politics, and the political currents of the day. Man, I can go to any newsstand and for twenty cents I can buy it, take it home, and after dinner lie down on the sofa, and if I don’t go to sleep I can read the thing that night, or I can hear it on the radio, or I can look at it on television, or I can follow the literature or pages of the newspaper. But who is going to preach the gospel of the Son of God? We are, by His grace and in His goodness, and in the heavenly calling to which we are not disobedient. Preaching the gospel of the Son of God; I think God will give us the world, God will give us America, God will give us the ends of the earth if our preachers will stay true to that heavenly calling and that holy vision.
And the Lord God whispered and said to me,
"These things shall be, these things shall be,
Nor help shall come from the scarlet skies
Till My people rise!
Till My people rise, My arm is weak;
I cannot speak till My people speak.
When men are dumb, My voice is dumb,
I cannot come till My people come."
["Called of God"; Lester J. Stuart]
From over the flaming earth and sea,
The cry of My people must come to Me.
Not till their spirit break the curse,
May I claim My own in the universe.
But if My people rise, if My people rise,
I will answer them from the swarming skies.
["God Prays"; poem 96 of Forward March! by Angela Morgan, 1918]
"I am with you in power, in glory, and in saving grace, until the end of the age" [Matthew 28:20]; and that included the atomic age, and it included the satellite age, and it includes that faithful going with us until we see our Lord in glory, coming down from heaven again [1 Thessalonians 4:16-17]. God bless us in the way, in the task, in the assignment, and in that heavenly calling.
I asked the president if I could close the service in my own way. He said, "Yes." I said, "It’ll be a very simple thing. And I will leave them for you and the one who preaches the benediction." But I just wanted to ask; and then maybe, maybe, in the dedication of our lives here tonight, there’ll be a new day, and a new year, and a new vista in the throbbing, pulsating, evangelistic, soul-saving life of our glorious Southern Baptist Convention. Would every preacher here tonight who’d like to give himself again and anew to that God-given assignment of preaching the gospel of the Son of God, would every preacher here tonight, would he stand to his feet? This is one of the most magnificent sights to be seen in this earth. I think the destiny of our nation and ultimately of our world lies in your hands, in your hands. Would you sing together?
Must Jesus bear the cross alone,
And all the world go free?
No, there’s a cross for everyone,
And there’s a cross for me.
And I thought last, these who remain seated are our yokefellows and our prayer partners; they’re deacons, they’re presidents of WMU, they’re teachers in Sunday school, they’re leaders in Brotherhood meetings, they direct our Training Unions, they’re our people. I thought maybe:
O precious cross! O glorious crown!
O resurrection day!
The angels from the stars come down
And bear my soul away.
I thought maybe all the rest of you would stand by the side of the pastor and we sing it together, if you’d like, all the rest of us:
O precious cross! O glorious crown!
O resurrection day!
The angels from the stars come down
And bear my soul away.
["Must Jesus Bear the Cross Alone?"; Thomas Shepherd, 1844]
[Announcer] Remain standing. And aren’t you glad that God gave us W. A. Criswell? [Audience] Amen. [Announcer] For these who cry "defeatism," for those who wallow in the mud of defeat, may God help them to get this spirit in their hearts: God is not dead, and the blood of Jesus Christ has not lost its power. Let’s preach it and sing it. Dr. Hobbs, will you please come that I may turn over to you this historic gathering?