Dr. Truett and God’s Call to America
July 4th, 1965 @ 10:50 AM
DR. TRUETT AND GOD’S CALL TO AMERICA
Dr. W. A. Criswell
7-4-65 10:50 a.m.
On television, on radio, you are sharing the services of the First Baptist Church in Dallas. Well, I do not know of anything finer we could do for our Lord and for our country than to turn aside on this day of all days and call upon the name of Jehovah God; the fourth of July. For twenty-one years, this is the twenty-first year, on the Sunday closest to the anniversary of the death of Dr. Truett, I have delivered a message on some cause to which he gave his life, or upon some spiritual or denominational interest that was dear to his heart. For example, some of the addresses have been on Dr. Truett and Baylor Hospital; some of them on Dr. Truett and Evangelism; Dr. Truett and His Pastoral Ministry. And today, because it is the fourth of July, I have chosen the subject, 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; 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, 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 shall go before thee; He will be with thee; He will not fail thee, neither forsake thee: fear not, neither be discouraged.
So Moses wrote this law, and delivered it unto the priests, which bare the ark of the Lord, and to all the children of Israel. . .
Then he says, at stated intervals:
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, may learn the fear of the Lord, as long as ye live in the land wherein ye go over Jordan to possess it.
And in the spirit of the message of that great patriarch, we turn to the memory and the message of God’s superlative and incomparable preacher, the pastor of this wonderful church for forty-seven years.
Dr. Truett and God’s Call to America. The Baptist World Alliance met in its second congress June, 19 to 25, in the year 1911, in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Their sessions were held in the Grace Baptist Temple, whose pastor was Russell H. Conwell, the famous preacher and lecturer known over the world for his address “Acres of Diamonds.” The congress was presided over by Dr. John Clifford of London, England. And at the session they elected Robert Stewart MacArthur, the pastor of the Calvary Baptist Church in New York City, as the incoming president. And the sessions of that world congress in 1911 were characterized by unbounded and limitless optimism. The great and far-famed pastor, Russell H. Conwell, 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.
And Dr. John Clifford of London, who presided over the sessions, said,
Is not our outlook bright? Ought not we to be full of hope? We are looking forward in the old country; the freedom which we possess today shall be everybody’s possession, and the justice which rules in our land shall rule in all lands.
In 1911 J. G. Lehmann of Germany, reporting from his people in his address said, “The report not only from Germany, but also from Bohemia,” now listen to these countries he names. “From Bohemia, and Bulgaria, and Estonia, and Lithuania, and Moravia, and Poland, and Russia, and Romania,” every one of them lost to freedom. “The report not only from Germany but from these brethren is a marvel in my eyes and in the eyes of my German brethren. From these countries, blessings have flowed all over Europe.”
I quote from A. U. Kawaguchi of Japan. In his address he said:
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 and to the sun flag of Japan, he said that there never had been war between the stars and the sun. There will not be war between the sun flag and all the flags that are represented here.
And within thirty-six months, to be exact, on the twenty-third day of June in 1914, within thirty-six months of that session, an assassin had taken the life of Francis Ferdinand, the heir of the Austrian throne, in Sarajevo, Serbia, and the whole world was on fire.
The closing address of that alliance was delivered Sunday evening, June 25, in 1911, by the illustrious pastor of this great church, Dr. George W. Truett. And the title of that address that closed the World Alliance in 1911 was 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 battlefield 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 nation, the free church in the free state.’ And if you have read very much of Spurgeon, you’ll be very sensitive to why he would have said that. For all the days of Spurgeon’s life he warred against an established, tax supported church. And the proudest accomplishment of America in her political gift to the world has been that: what Spurgeon called a free church in a free state. I think of this glorious poem, and look at its climax:
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 on sea,
Grand in religious liberty.
[from “Baptists And Religious Liberty,” George W. Truett]
Then, after that marvelous introduction, Dr. Truett began to point out the perils that faced America. “America,” he said, “is threatened today by manifold perils. Optimism is very stupid and hurtful if it fails to face the facts. We are menaced,” he continued,
for one thing, by our vast and fast growing cities. The challenge for our civilization and the test of our Christian faith 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 what a prophet he was—and in another short generation, one may easily calculate the myriads of people who shall live in the cities. The best and the worst meet in the city.
And that is representative of and reflective of the devotion and the dedication of the great pastor to keep this church in the heart of this downtown city. He never wavered from it. He never swerved from it. He never deviated from it. All of the years of his ministry, seven and forty, Dr. Truett gave himself to that commitment: that the First Baptist Church in Dallas should seek to minister to the whole city, to put its arms around this great metropolitan area.
Nor has there ever been, since the days of Dr. Truett and in the years that have followed after, nor has there ever been a hesitancy before that same and like dedication. The First Baptist Church in Dallas stays downtown in the heart of this great city, where Satan has his throne, where these great skyscrapers reach up, where these merchandising magnates carry on their trade, where banking and insurance and all the things that go with the teeming life of the city has its daily concourse in the heart of it, and in the midst of it, there is also a church pointing upward to God, and the preaching of the unsearchable riches of the grace of the Lord Jesus.
We’re still here. We shall continue to be here. And in the grace, and mercy, and goodness of God, when Jesus shall come from the throne in the sky, He shall see below Him the First Baptist Church in Dallas still in the heart of this great and teeming city. Your pastor never had a kinder or a more generous friend than the lamented and late president of the Republic National Bank, Mr. Fred Florence. And upon a day, up there in that towering structure, looking down on the properties of our First Baptist Church, upon a day he said to me, “Pastor,” and he referred to me as his other pastor, he said, “Pastor, let me tell you, you sell this property downtown. It’ll be worth millions of dollars now. You sell this property downtown, and you go anywhere in the city, anywhere. You pick it out, anywhere in the city, and I’ll help you build the most beautiful church in the world.”
Mr. Florence had at his fingertips friends, and neighbors, and influential leaders in the business community, and foundations and trusts, and he explained to me that he meant by that, that if we would sell this property, and choose us another place in the city, that the millions and the millions of dollars it would cost to erect that marvelous monument, he would help us build. I said to my dear friend, “Mr. Florence, it’d be unthinkable, unthinkable! We could never do it.”
“Why,” he said, “pastor, unthinkable? Why,” he said, “that’s the most marvelous opportunity I could think of. Why, it’d be glorious.”
“No, Mr. Florence,” I said, “You don’t understand. You don’t understand. For see that church,” and I pointed to it, “there are roots that go down from that church as deep as history and as life itself. Bathed in tears, in the blood of our fathers, and the sacrificial devoted efforts of these who have gone before us, and the incomparable ministry of God’s greatest preacher, to us it is unthinkable and unimaginable. We could never do it. We could never do it.” I could never get Mr. Florence to understand.
A like invitation came once again. When the Baptist building was sold, the property upon which that great Republic National Bank building is now erected, when the Baptist building was sold, our executive leader, Dr. J. Howard Williams, who grew up in this church, Dr. Williams said to me, “I do not know how these financial arrangements might be made, but,” he said, “pastor, if you’d sell your property, and then we add to it the funds from our proposed Baptist building, and go out somewhere, we could build a Baptist shrine that’d be beyond any cathedral, it would be the star of our Baptist world!” And I made the same reply to our executive secretary.
I either and neither, I do not know of the ultimate of its financial detail, but I know this, as you do, that the First Baptist Church in Dallas would never move, never. This place is sacred. This pulpit is holy. And as long as there is a city, so long, please God, in the heart of it will be the ministry of this incomparable First Baptist Church.
He closed his passage on the perils we face, after speaking of the cities and other perils; he closed it with this passage: “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, before there was a proliferation of all of the theaters and musicals and entertainment world.
“In our great country,” he said, “the social world is filled with frivolities and vanities,” this he said before there was such a thing thought of as a cocktail party, “and the business world crowded with dishonesties, and the political world saturated with graft,” this before the headlines of administration after administration. “Oh,” he said, “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?” he asked:
The task of America is that she herself become thoroughly and truly Christian. Brethren, this mighty America can command the conversion of the world on one condition only, 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—now look at a prophet as he speaks: 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.
What an amazing thing in 1911, before an airplane crossed the sea, before Telstar was flung out into space, before a thousand other ways and means of travel and communication. “The seas have dwindled into little brooks, and nothing anywhere can now be done in a corner.” The great preacher is calling America to faith in God. “This is the challenge of the hour, preeminently, to our people,” he said, “that we be Christian in ourselves.”
I visited one of the businessmen here in the city of Dallas. I was inviting him to the Lord and I was inviting him to the church. And he replied to me, “I appreciate your coming, and I appreciate your gracious kindness, and your interest in me. But,” he said, “I want you to understand, I don’t believe in God, and I don’t believe in Christ, and I don’t believe in the Bible, and I don’t believe in the church, and I don’t believe in religion.” I said to him, “You would make a fine citizen in Russia. Why don’t you live in Russia? That is a country dedicated to the belief there is no God, and no Bible, and no Christ, and no immortality, and no judgment to come, and no world beyond the world we live in this life. They are atheists, and agnostics, and materialists. Why don’t you live in Russia?” The difference between America and Russia is a difference in their belief in God!
For all of civilization, and all culture, and all government is nothing other than a repercussion of what a man believes. And the faith of a people is reflected in its government, and in its culture and its life. And when men refuse to believe in God, and refuse to believe in the Bible, and refuse to believe in Christ, and refuse to believe in the worth of the human soul, then all of the tyranny and oppression that follows after becomes a natural aftermath of the first commitment of atheism and agnosticism. We are the fruit of the devotion and dedication of our forefathers. And the liberties we enjoy, and the freedoms that bless our souls, and all of the rich heavenly gifts from heaven come from their dedication that God reigns, and this nation is under God, a free republic. It lies in God.
There has not been anything, there has not been anything that I have ever seen, that ever as poignantly hurt my soul as I think of our country, and our people, and our children, as this incident that happened a few weeks ago at the Memorial Auditorium. The WMU of the southland, of our convention, was decorating the auditorium for their nationwide convocation. And that day, in preparation for the gathering a few days hence, they put up a beautiful sign, beautifully done, “Except the Lord Build,” taken from the Psalms, “Except the Lord build the house, they labor in vain that build it: except the Lord keep the city, the watchmen waketh but in vain” [Psalm 127:1]. And that beautiful sign, the motto of the convention, “Except the Lord Build,” and that evening, there was to be a commencement exercise on the part of one of the high schools in one of the towns in Dallas county. And when the officials of the school came into the auditorium to prepare for the exercises that night, they looked at that great motto and placard at the front of the auditorium, “Except the Lord Build,” and those officials said, “That sign must come down. That sign must be removed.” And when it was suggested to them that it was beautifully done, and had a magnificent sentiment, the officials replied, “We have no objection to the beauty of the sign, but we do object to the sentiment! For in the commencement of a high school, there must be no reference to the Lord God Almighty! And the sign must come down, and the sentiment must be removed.” Just what, just what has America come to when it is out of place and unacceptable to name God at the graduation service of an American public high school?
I cannot help but think of old Ben Franklin, aged, advanced in years, never belonged to any church, but after the Constitutional Convention had wrestled for days, and weeks, and months fruitlessly, the aged statesman stood up in that first Constitutional Convention and said, “My fellow delegates, let us take our cause to God. How can we, how can we hope to succeed without the blessings of the Almighty upon us?” Then he added, “Brother Chairman, I make a motion that every session of this Constitutional Convention begin on our knees, asking the blessing and favor of heaven upon us.”
What has happened to America, when it is unacceptable and out of place to name the name of God, even in the presence of our children at a commencement exercise of a public high school? Something has happened to the soul, and the heart, and the life of America, and something is going to happen to the destiny of our people, except we turn. Then the great preacher moved to his marvelous, moving climax and peroration. And guess what it was. It was on the second coming of Christ. He said in closing:
Many are the stories 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 asked 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 the chaplain said, ‘Why are you so moved?’ And the queen replied, ‘I could wish to be here when He comes.’ The chaplain said, ‘And why do you wish to be here when he comes?’ And with emotion indescribable and sublimely glorious, she replied, ‘That I might lay this crown at His blessed feet.’
Then the great pastor continued:
When the kingdoms of this world shall have become the kingdom of our God and of His Christ, 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 and all peoples shall be lost in that one kingdom of Him who is the world’s blessed and only Potentate, Him whose it is here and forever to be King of kings, and Lord of lords. Even so, come, Lord Jesus.
And he closed his great address, and that vast convocation of world representatives of our people, with a prayer to the Lord, “Even so, come, Lord Jesus” [Revelation 22:20].
How precious and how blessed! In his later life, because of a certain development here in Texas, he rarely if ever referred to the second coming of our Lord. But in those days he preached the second coming of Jesus.
I have here in my hand a sermon that one of the aged members of this church took down. It was preached by Dr. Truett on this text in John 14:3, “If I go. . . I will come again, and receive you unto Myself; that where I am, there you may be also.” And his text was, “I will come again.” And as he preached that glorious sermon, outlined here by one who sat in this congregation and listened, as he preached that glorious sermon on the second coming of Christ, a dear old sainted mother in Israel stood up in the midst of the congregation and began to shout, and to clap her hands, and to praise God. Well, we are so far removed from such a thing as that, that it was an electric shock to the congregation, as it would be today.
And as she stood and shouted in the midst of the great preacher’s sermon, some of the deacons began to usher her out, thinking that she was ill. And as Dr. Truett watched it, he raised his hand and said, “There, there, leave her alone. Leave her alone. She’s just happy in the Lord.” And then turning to the vast throng gathered here, he added, “We need more of this in the church.”
I don’t know what would happen today if while the pastor preached somebody stood up, whose cup overflowed, and began to shout the praises of God, but I know this, there would be children here who had never seen it before. There would be fathers and mothers here who had never seen it before. And the word would go out like liquid fire, “God has come down in that First Baptist Church.” Oh! Is there not more to religion than cold, calculating theology? Is there not also in the faith the abundant, overflowing gladness of a heart too full for utterance? As the great pastor preached it, “Even so, come, Lord Jesus” [Revelation 22:20].
And our time is done. And while we sing our hymn of appeal, somebody you, give himself in faith to the Lord [Romans 10:9-10]. A family you, coming into the fellowship of the church; one somebody you, God gave us a gracious harvest at the other service. May God do it again at this hour. What a marvelous day to give your life to the Lord. What a glorious hour to fellowship with us, put your life with us in the ministry of this great church, do it, do it. And while we sing our hymn, on the first note of the first stanza, come. In the balcony round, there’s time and to spare. On this lower floor, into the aisle and down to the front, “Here I am, pastor, here I come.” And when you stand up, stand up coming, “Here I am. I make it today,” while we stand and while we sing.