Dr. Truett and God’s Call to America
July 4th, 1965 @ 8:15 AM
DR. TRUETT AND GOD’S CALL TO AMERICA
Dr. W. A. Criswell
7-4-65 8:15 a.m.
I suppose that out of all of the Christian groups in the world, there has never been one that has produced greater preachers than our Baptist faith and communion. In England, there comes to my mind John Bunyan, a Baptist preacher, and Andrew Fuller, and William Carey, and Alexander MacLaren, and F. B. Meyer, and the incomparable of all preachers of all time, Charles Haddon Spurgeon. And it has been no less so in America; Richard Furman, and B. H. Carroll, and the illustrious and inimitable, far-famed prince of preachers, George W. Truett, for forty-seven years the pastor of this beloved and great congregation, the First Baptist Church in Dallas.
On the Sunday nearest the anniversary of the death of the far-famed preacher, I prepare a message on some phase of his life or on some subject that was dear to his heart. This is the twenty-first year that I have done it; and it is a joy to my soul to have the privilege of so preparing these messages.
Sometimes they have been on Dr. Truett and Baylor Hospital; sometimes on Dr. Truett and the Annuity Board which was organized here in this church; sometimes on Dr. Truett and evangelism; sometimes Dr. Truett and his pastoral ministry. Now today, because it is the fourth of July, the message is prepared entitled Dr. Truett and God’s Call to America.
In the thirty-first chapter of the Book of Deuteronomy: “And Moses went and spake these words unto all Israel. And he said unto them, I am an hundred and twenty years old this day” [Deuteronomy 31:1-2]. This is the address he made on his birthday:
I can no more go out and come in: also the Lord hath said unto me, Thou shalt not go over this Jordan…
And Moses called unto Joshua, and said unto him in the sight of all Israel…For thou must go with this people, be strong and of a good courage: for thou must go with this people unto the land which the Lord hath sworn unto their fathers to give them; and thou shalt cause them to inherit it.
And the Lord, He it is that doth go before thee; He will be with thee, He will not fail thee, neither forsake thee: fear not, neither be dismayed.
And Moses wrote this law, and delivered it unto the priests the sons of Levi, which bare the ark of the covenant of the Lord, and unto all the elders of Israel.
And Moses commanded them, saying, At the end of these seven years . . .
they were to observe every seventh year this holy convocation,
Gather the people together, men, and women, and children, and thy stranger that is within thy gates, that they may hear, and that they may learn, and fear the Lord your God, and observe to do all the words of this law:
And that their children, which have not known any thing, may hear, and learn to fear the Lord your God, as long as ye live in the land, whither ye go over Jordan to possess it.
And as I think of the marvelous words of this patriarch in the Book of Deuteronomy, I think of the marvelous words of God’s great preacher, as he delivered the incomparable message entitled “God’s Call to America.”
In the Baptist World Alliance of 1911, convened in the city of Philadelphia, June, 1925, in the Grace Baptist Temple, and the pastor of it was another world famous Baptist preacher Russell H. Conwell. He went all over the world delivering that famous address called “Acres of Diamonds.” In Dr. Conwell’s church in Philadelphia, this second congress of the Baptist World Alliance convened in 1911. John Clifford, of London, England, was the president who presided over its sessions.
At the end of the congress they elected Robert Stewart MacArthur, pastor of the Calvary Baptist Church in New York City, as the new president. And that congress, that alliance convocation, was characterized by unbounded optimism. Russell H. Conwell, for example, said:
We have our dear brethren here from Russia. God bless them, every one. Let us say to the people of Russia that these brethren are sent back from this great convention with the prayer that they may have Christ going with them everywhere.
Dr. John Clifford of London, who presided over the sessions as the president, the first congress met in London in 1905, and was presided over by Alexander Maclaren. Then they elected Dr. John Clifford and this is from the address of the president who presided over the alliance meeting.
Is not our outlook bright? Ought not we to be full of hope? We are looking forward in the old country, the freedom we possess today shall be everybody’s possession; and the justice which rules in our lands shall rule in all lands—
J. G. Lehmann of Germany, when he spoke for his country, he said, “The report not only from Germany, but also from Bohemia, and Bulgaria, and Astonia, and Lithuania, and Moravia, and Poland, and Russia, and Romania.” Do those nations sound strange to you? “The report from those nations is a marvel in my eyes, and in the eyes of my German brethren. From these countries blessings have flowed all over Europe.” Then A. U. Kawaguchi of Japan said in his address:
A few days ago, the Japanese minister at Washington said that there had been wars of the roses, but pointing to the Stars and Stripes of the United States flag and to the sun flag of Japan, he said that there had never been war between the stars and the sun. There will not be war between the sun flag and all the flags represented here.
Within thirty-six months, in fact, the twenty-third day of June, 1914, within thirty-six months, Arch Duke Francis Ferdinand, heir to the throne of Austria, had been assassinated in Sarajevo of Serbia, and the whole world was aflame in war.
The closing address of that alliance was delivered Sunday evening, June 25, 1911, by the pastor of this great church, Dr. George W. Truett, and it was entitled “God’s Call to America.” He began:
This week may well be likened to a great council of war, where God’s men have surveyed the battle field and have taken cognizance of their forces. But what of America in this great program? The eyes of all the world are on America. Emerson said that America seems to have been the last effort of divine providence in behalf of the race. The noble Spurgeon said to one of our American brethren a little before his death, ‘Go back to your country, and tell your men that the hopes of the world are centered in your country, the free church in the free state.’ And if you’ve ever read much of Spurgeon, you would know he was conscious of the state establishment in England. And in the spirit of Spurgeon, I cannot help but think of this poem of America:
Grand in her rivers and her rills,
Grand in her woods and templed hills;
Grand in the wealth that glory yields,
Illustrious dead, historic fields;
Grand in her past, her present grand,
In sunlit skies, in fruitful land;
Grand in her strength on land and sea,
Grand in religious liberty.
[Author Unknown, before 1880]
But as Dr. Truett began to deliver that address, he pointed out the perils that faced America. He continued:
America is threatened today by manifold perils. Optimism is a very stupid and hurtful thing if it fails to face the facts. We are menaced, for one thing, by our vast and fast growing cities. The challenge for our civilization and the test of our Christianity are these same cities. As go the cities, so shall go the states and the nation. The populations of our country are rapidly hurrying to the cities. In 1800, only three percent of the people were in the cities of America. Now, 1911, now something like forty percent are in the cities. And in another short generation—
and how true this prophecy—
And in another short generation, one may easily calculate the myriads of people who shall dwell in our cities. The best and the worst meet in the city.
And I’m going to pause there and discuss for a moment one of the deep and abiding commitments of Dr. Truett. It was this: that the First Baptist Church ought to stay downtown, and shepherd this entire city; put our arms around this vast metropolitan area.
How easy it would have been to forsake the heart of this great city, and move out where the pastures are lush, and the living is luxurious, and the rewards fall like ripe plums in your hands, where people attend church for the sake of convenience. But one of the passionate, devoted commitments of the great pastor was this; that the First Baptist Church in Dallas ought to stay downtown. And in that commitment, for these many, many years, all of us have earnestly and prayerfully shared.
It is our hope that until Jesus comes again, this city will always have a great Baptist church downtown, namely, this church, the first church organized in this city. We have steadfastly committed ourselves to that devoted commitment.
One of the finest friends that I ever had, and one of the most generous to me, was the president of the Republic National Bank, Fred Florence of lamented memory. One time in the office of Mr. Florence; he said to me––and he called me his “other pastor”––he said to me, he said, “Pastor, let me tell you something, your property downtown is worth millions of dollars. You sell that property, and I’ll help you add to the funds; and you go somewhere in the city of Dallas, anywhere you choose, and build the most beautiful church in the world. And I’ll help you build it.” And by that, he said, “I mean financially. I’ll help you build it.”
Mr. Florence had at his fingertips literally millions of dollars; in his friendships, in the foundations and trust funds of the city. “You do that,” he said to me, “and I’ll help you build it; the most beautiful church in the world.” I said, “Mr. Florence, that’d be unthinkable to us.”
“Why,” he said, “why such a thing unthinkable? Just sell that property. It’s old. And go and build a new plant.”
“No,” I said, “Mr. Florence, in that place is the very blood, and the very life, and the tears, and the devotion of our people. And the great pastor who preceded me built into the souls of the people the devotion to the cause of a downtown church. And instead of it waning, it increases our commitment to the ministry in the heart of this city. And however much that property might bring, and however much people might help us, we’ll never move, never leave. What we do, we’ll do right there.”
Mr. Florence said, “I just can’t understand.”
I said to him, “Mr. Florence, you’d have to have been in the church the years of your life to understand.”
Upon another occasion, when the Baptist people sold their property, and the Baptist building, where the Republic National Bank now is erected, and bought the property across the street from us and built their Baptist building there, in those days, J. Howard Williams, who grew up in this church, the executive secretary of our Baptist Convention, J. Howard Williams said to me, he said, “Pastor, I don’t know whether such a dream could come true or not, but pastor, if you’ll sell your property, as the property of this Baptist building has been sold, and come with us, we’ll choose us a place somewhere in the city of Dallas, and build a Baptist shrine. We’ll pool our funds, and you can sell your property and pool your funds, and build one of the most magnificent cathedrals in the world.”
I said, “Dr. Williams, there wouldn’t be the remotest possibility of such a thing even if we might financially be able to achieve it, because of the commitment of our people to stay downtown.”
Dr. Truett was that. He saw and was prophet enough to see that the future of America increasingly was determined by these cities. And to forsake the city to Satan and to the heights and throngs of darkness and iniquity, to us is unthinkable and impossible. Where these great buildings tower, and where the merchant man has his kingdom, and the great magnets of finance meet, and decide, and choose the very destiny and life of our country, there will you find, and ought to find, the cross of Christ lifted high, and the preaching of the gospel fervently delivered; so his word of the city.
Then he closed the passage on the perils that confront America: “In our great country,” he said, “lawlessness to a fearful degree stalks like a pestilence through the land. In our great country the craze for amusement threatens the destruction of things serious.” Imagine his saying that in 1911, before there was a radio, before there was a television set, before the proliferation of all of these stages, and musicals, and theaters. “In our great country,” he continued, “the social world is filled with frivolities and vanities.” Imagine his saying that before there was a cocktail party invented.
He continued, “And the business world, crowded with dishonesties and the political world saturated with graft.” Think of his saying that before these headlines of administration after administration. “Oh! This is no time, my brothers, for that negative, complacent, soft-going optimism which says soothingly, ‘All is well.’ But for what have I said this? To chant a dirge? No, no, but to beat a charge.” He then turned to the challenge of America:
What is the task of America? The task of America is that she herself become thoroughly Christian. Brethren, this mighty America can command the conversion of the world on only one condition, and that is that she be Christian through and through. And that is the preeminent call of this hour to America. We must remember that no longer are there any hermit nations, no national secrets. The world is a whispering gallery now. The nations have been brought into one great neighborhood. The seas have dwindled into little brooks, and nothing anywhere can now be done in a corner.
Imagine his saying that before the airplane, and Telstar, and the rockets, and the missions, and a thousand other means and ways of communication and travel. What would he say now?
May I pause for a moment’s discussion on his call for a Christian America? I talked to one of the businessmen in this city. And he said to me, “I have no use for the church. I have no place in my program for religion. I don’t believe in the Bible, and I don’t believe in God.”
And I said to him, “My friend, you had as well live in Russia. That’s what produces a Russia. They don’t believe in the Bible. They don’t believe in religion. They don’t believe in God, and they don’t believe in the church. You had—why, you had might as well be a citizen and a card-carrying communist in Russia—for the difference between our culture, and our life, and our civilization, and our government, and our people lies in the difference in God.”
Every system of faith and belief produces a repercussion, fruits in a repercussion in the lives of its people. And when you give yourself to atheism, and to godlessness, anti-Christ, anti-Bible, anti-church, anti-God, then the fruit of it is what you find in communist Russia, and in communist China, and in communist any other nation under the burning sun. But what you find in America is the fruit of the faith of our forefathers. And for a man in this land and in this country and in this day to deny the faith, and to blaspheme God, and to fail in reverence to bow before the great Almighty, to me, is unthinkable and impossible.
I have never been more poignantly hurt in my life in the world of America, and religion, and God than in the incident that happened in our Memorial Auditorium a few weeks ago. The WMU of the Southland, the WMU of the convention, was preparing for their meeting. And in our great Memorial Auditorium put a beautiful, beautiful placard, a beautiful motto at the front of the auditorium, “Except the Lord Build, Except the Lord Build,” the rest of the verse you remember, “Except the Lord build the house, they labor in vain that build it: except the Lord keep the city, the watchman waketh but in vain” [Psalm 127:1]. The WMU of the convention placed up at the front of the auditorium that beautiful placard, “Except the Lord Build.” And that night, one of the high schools of Dallas County held its commencement exercises in the auditorium. And when the officials of the high school came to prepare for their commencement service, they saw that great sign and said, “It must be taken away.”
And some of the officials said, “But sir, it is beautiful. It is beautiful and it’s from one of the psalms in the Bible.” But the officials of the high school replied, “There’s nothing wrong with the beauty of the sign; but it cannot remain because it refers to God and to the Lord, and it must come down. It must be removed.” So removed it was. What has happened to America, when, for a reference to God is not acceptable in the commencement exercises in the graduation of our boys and girls from high school? Something tragic is happening to America!
Wonder what old Ben Franklin would say to that? He belonged to no church, but after the days, and weeks, and months had passed in the Constitutional Convention, aged Benjamin Franklin said, “My fellow delegates, let us take our cause to God in prayer. And I make a motion we begin every constitutional session with prayer. For how can we expect to succeed without God’s blessings upon us?”
Then Dr. Truett closed with this marvelous moving climax and peroration on the second coming of Christ: “Many are the stories,” he said,
They tell of that world-famed Queen Victoria. But this one has appealed to me as none other. One day, as she listened to the chaplain preach a sermon on the coming again of Jesus to the world, those near the royal box noticed the noble queen as she shook with emotion, as her lips quivered, and as her eyes were suffused with tears. When the service was ended, she called to see the chaplain alone. And when he was ushered into her presence and beheld her great emotion, he asked her its occasion, and she said, ‘Oh sir, what you said about the coming again of the world’s rightful King.’ And he said, ‘Why are you so moved?’ And she said, ‘I could wish to be here when He comes.’ He said, ‘And why do you wish to be here when He comes?’ And with emotion indescribable and sublimely glorious, she said, ‘That I might lay this crown at His blessed feet.’
Then he concluded:
When the kingdoms of this world shall have become the kingdom of our God, and of His Christ [Revelation 11:15], the enrapturing word shall be passed along the line that He reigns in America, and in Britain’s vast domains, and in the mighty dominions of the czar and the emperor and the sultan, and in all lands, and among all peoples. And all dominions, and all republics, and all governments shall be lost in that one kingdom of Him, who is the world’s blessed and only Potentate, Him whose it is here, and for ever to be King of Kings and Lord of Lords [Revelation 19:16], ‘Even so, come, Lord Jesus’ [Revelation 22:20].
I had a good many things to say about that climax, but our time is gone. When Dr. Truett was in his prime, he spake oft of the second coming of our Lord; and this is typical. “Even so, come blessed Jesus” [Revelation 22:20].
Now we must sing our hymn of appeal. And while we sing it, somebody you this morning, give his life to Jesus [Romans 10:8-13]; a couple, a family, one coming to the Lord, coming to us [Hebrews 10:24-25], while we sing this song make it now. Make it this morning. What a good day to come. On the first note of the first stanza, when you stand up, stand up coming, “Here I am, Lord. Here I am,” While we stand and while we sing.