Visions in Our Soul
October 3rd, 1965 @ 10:50 AM
VISIONS IN OUR SOUL
Dr. W. A. Criswell
10-3-65 10:50 a.m.
On television and on radio you have just shared the beautiful choir number of the First Baptist Church in Dallas. And any Sunday that they want to sing like that, anniversary or no anniversary, it is preeminently apropos. I do not know what that word means but it’s all right for them to sing gloriously.
Twenty-one years ago I was presented here as the new pastor of this church. And Judge Ryburn, seated on this platform, the chairman of our deacons for thirty-five years, presented that recommendation. He was the chairman of the pulpit committee. I have often wondered just how he has felt through the years since, having presented that recommendation. But he is been charitable and kind and so have you. And some of these people around the earth who made the prediction that I would last about six months have been buried themselves, and we are still carrying on here in this church. God has been infinitely, marvelously, wondrously good to us, to me, and to mine.
This church has had two pastors in sixty-eight years. I saw a denominational leader yesterday who said, “Did you know that the national average of a pastorate is three and a half years?” And this church has had two pastors in sixty-eight years. Maybe in the goodness of God we can make it two pastors in ninety-eight years. You just can’t ever tell. You just don’t know. God may do an unusually wonderful and surprising thing for us.
Now the sermon is entitled Visions In Our Soul. And as I said at the 8:15 service this morning, I wish I had about four or five hours even beginning adequately to speak of some of these things that are vital to us and vital to the kingdom and patience of our Lord. So we begin. And if I speak of some things just briefly, it will not be because they are less important. It will be because we have so brief a moment in these worship hours.
In the nineteenth chapter of the Book of Luke, and in the forty-first verse: “And when Jesus was come near, He beheld the city, and wept over it” [Luke 19:41]. Coming to the brow of Olives, He could look down, as many of you have looked down, into the heart of the great city. And our Master, coming to the brow of the hill of Olives, looking down upon the city of the great king, and “When He was come near, and beholding the city, He wept over it [Luke 19:41].”
Was His care and compassion and concern justified? As the Lord looks down into the heart of a great city, our city, and He weeps over it, is there a reason for His compassionate care, and His bursting into tears? As you look into the heart of a great city, this is where Satan has his throne. And this is where mammon is worshipped. In the heart of a great city, the financial and economic magnates of modern life color and direct the political, and social, and economic, and cultural outreach of the whole nation.
Pouring into the heart of the city are thousands of young people, fresh out of college, fresh out of high school; coming to the city to find the livelihood and fortune. They have small means, limited means, and they crowd together in these apartment buildings. At the most impressionable and inexperienced age of life, they are most dangerously exposed. And in the heart of the city, the wastes, and the flotsam and the jetsam of sin, men and women, who have been blasted and cursed, who’ve lost hope, congregate. And as the Lord looks down into the heart of the city, He—and the Greek is, “He burst into tears.” He wept over it [Luke 19:41].
As we look forward into the future, will there be a development in society that will take away the phenomenon of the great city? The answer is a decided no; both in the evolution and development of society, and also according to the immutable Word of God. In our own economic and cultural life people are streaming into the city. There is a reverse out of the suburbs, back into the heart of the town. This is seen on every hand. It is seen in our own city.
When I came here to Dallas, there were very few apartments and no large ones at all, not one. Now when you drive around the heart of this city, everywhere, you see these great skyscraper apartment houses, towering upward; the people pouring into the heart of the city. And as though the expressways were not adequate enough and fast enough, people, government, city, are ingeniously trying to devise rapid transit systems to bring the entire population into the lap of the central district. And when we look at the Word of God, as far as time shall last and into eternity, there is the city; the outline of the future until the Lord comes again, in the seven cities of Asia [Revelation 2:1-3:22].
In the eighteenth chapter of the Book of the Revelation is the outline of the fall of the great city of Babylon [Revelation 18:1-24]. Then into the eternity that is to come, there is the beautiful city of God, the New Jerusalem [Revelation 21:1, 2, 9-22:5]. It seems to be in the providence of the Almighty, the city is always before us, with us, around us. And commensurate with its challenge and its need, the heart of the compassionate Savior, in His church, incarnate in His people, full of concern and care, ministering to the needs of a vast city.
Whenever you build a community on the outside of the town, anywhere, almost and always, in the new addition, in the suburb and center you’ll have a church going up. But with the vast millions, and these statisticians say that seventeen million more people are going to be added to the heart of our cities in America within this decade, yet with the vast increase, the teeming life of the hearts of these cities, does anyone think of building another church? On the other hand, and contrariwise, in every city in America the churches have fled. They’ve gone away.
Since I have been pastor of this First Church in Dallas, if you were to draw a circle around the heart of Dallas, in the heart of this central district there have been eight churches, eight churches that have either gone out of existence or have moved to the suburbs. Yet the trend in the population is opposite. And these thousands and these millions congregating in these great cities, and not one single, ever, one church added; but destroyed and moving out where it’s easier, more convenient. No wonder the Lord weeps looking down into the city [Luke 19:41].
If you were looking for a place to help, to minister, to build a great warm-hearted evangelistic church, where would such an opportunity be the most possible and the most needed? And the church, to minister to the city downtown, has to be vast. It has to be big. It has to be gigantic. If it is not that, it will turn into a mission. Isn’t that a strange thing? The church that ministers to a great city, if it has any impact at all and any ableness at all, the church must be large. It must be vast. It must be big. And if it is not that, it will turn into a denominationally mission supported congregation, sustained and upheld by the mission funds of some denominational office.
In a great church in Jerusalem, they had conservatively fifty thousand members, conservatively. John Chrysostom, the pastor of the church at Antioch, said that he had more than one hundred thousand members in his congregation. No wonder in Jerusalem, and in Antioch, and in those ancient cities, the church of Jesus Christ had an unbelievable impact. They were gigantic, and they were powerful, and they were influential, and they did great things for God.
You cannot build a big church in the suburbs. You can’t do it. After it reaches a certain size, the people who went there for convenience’s sake in the first place will find themselves going to the other churches in the more distant urban areas for convenience’s sake. You can’t build a gigantic church in a suburb. You can’t do it. The only place it can ever be done is in the heart of the city. And it can be done, and it ought to be done; and by the grace of God where men have vision and dedication and commitment gather together, they do it!
These great churches that I see in Europe, downtown, have been there for a thousand years, for twelve hundred years; tremendous churches. Never entered one of those ecclesiastical leader’s mind to move out; never occurred to them, never dream about it. It’s only people, as we, small vision, pigmy people, who take our great churches and forsake the hearts of the great cities and leave them to mammon and to Satan. “I don’t want to be bothered, preacher, with driving an extra mile. I don’t want to be bothered with getting up five minutes earlier. Don’t speak to me about it. I’m going out here where it is easy and lush.” Ah, who could ever have thought of it in those tremendous cities of Europe? There those vast churches stand; they are monuments to the faith of a people whose names nobody ever heard of. There’s nobody in history that can tell you who built those great cathedrals, nobody. The reason for it is they were built by common people; thousands, and thousands, and thousands of plain, ordinary common people. And who erected those great cathedrals? Nobody knows. Their names are lost in the annals of the saints who loved God. Tremendous, it’s unbelievable what plain, ordinary people can achieve.
Now to my sermon––the title of the sermon is Visions In Our Soul. In the Pentecostal sermon, the second chapter of Acts, Simon Peter stood up and said:
This is that which was spoken by the prophet Joel;
And it shall come to pass… saith God, I will pour out of My Spirit upon all flesh: and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams.
Visions in our soul; “Your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams” [Acts 2:17].
First, may I speak of the purpose, and I have to say but briefly, may I speak of the purpose that lies back of this great congregation and its teeming life? That purpose ought always to be plain and understood, lucidly clear, manifest; no need to expatiate or extenuate. It is its own finest defense and apology and reason, raison d’etre, reason to be. Whoever looked at a lighthouse and wondered what it was for? Just to sit on some rocky, some rocky, craggy, coral reef in a beating ocean; just to see its light at night, it is eloquent in itself.
When we have our national budget adopted by Congress, there is debate over foreign aid, and debate over a thousand other assignments made in that political budget presented to Congress. But I never heard in the history of the world, I never heard on the floors of Congress, or any Parliament, or any assembly in the earth, a debate when men challenged and questioned the budget for the building and sustaining of a lighthouse, never in my life. There it stands, throwing out its beams over a stormy sea; guiding ships away from the rocky reefs; saving lives. And just to look at it is to know without word of explanation what it’s for, its purpose, its reason. And to sustain it would be a part of gladness on the part of any people.
Same thing about the underlying, underneath, fundamental, dynamic, meaningful, significant purpose that lies back of our church; it stands a lighthouse, pointing men to God, saving souls, shedding the light of the gospel of the grace of God that shined in the face of Jesus Christ, into a darkened world [2 Corinthians 4:5-6]. Purpose––and all of us see it, and remember it, and thank God for the part we can have in sustaining its glorious beams.
Now in speaking of its ministry; in a large church such as ours, we have a multiplicity of ministers. One man would find it impossible, impossible to put his arms around a great, vast city. And one man would find it impossible to direct all of the multitudinous facets of a ministry to thousands of people who need God in a great city. So this church is like the New Testament church. There is a multiplicity of ministers.
In a passage of Scripture you read a moment ago, “Paul and Timothy… to the church at Philippi, with the bishops” [Philippians 1:1], plural, the episkopoi, plural, the presbuteroi plural, the poime” plural. Same word for all; sometimes translated “bishops”; sometimes translated “elder”; sometimes translated “pastor”; but there’s a multiplicity in its ministry. So in our church, there is a multiplicity in its ministry. Some of them are men. Some of them are ordained. Some of them are laymen. Here are two laymen there. Here are two ordained here. There are men. And there are women; dedicated, consecrated, God-called women in the multiplicity of those ministries.
It was a vision we had. It was a dream that we dreamed. It was a hope that we laid before God when we took before the Lord and asked our deacons, and asked our church to support it, this multiplicity of ministers in order to reach this teeming city. As in a day in which we live, when there are specialists, a specialization in medicine, in chemistry, in physics, in electronics, in every field in the world, so in order to be effective with the Word of God there was a specialization attempted in this church. And the Lord abundantly and marvelously blessed it.
In October of 1944, in our Junior division, we had an enrollment of 245 juniors. But in October of 1965, we have 666. In October, 1944, in attendance in our Junior division we had one 168. Last Sunday and I’m sure this Sunday, we have in attendance more than 500. First time any of our divisions above the adult age went over 500 was last Sunday; 500 in attendance. This is what we did. We took those 245 Juniors and we invited a godly, consecrated leader to be responsible for those children. And God blessed it, and it is grown to 666.
Now think along with the pastor in these figures. Think along. Open your heart. If there was a need for somebody to come and to direct the effort of this teaching ministry to 245, what shall we do now when we have 666? Shall we lose our vision and cast aside our dream? And those hundreds and hundreds of Junior boys and girls outside who are still unreached, in nobody’s Sunday school, shall we forget them? “Let them go, pastor. Why mention it? Why bring it to our attention at all? We’ve done well. Let us rest in what we have done. Forget the vision. Forget the dream. Pass it by.” Back there in those days of the years ago when we got somebody for 245, what shall we do now, with 666, divided by two, that’d be 333? If there was a need for somebody for 245, why not divide it now and get somebody to come and help build; starting with 333? And keep on, and keep on.
Our Young people, in October 1944, we had 276, including the Young Married people. In October 1965, this Sunday, we have 687 Young people, not counting the Young Married people. If there was a need to bring in somebody when we had 276, what shall we do now that we have 687? “We have enough,” you say, “let’s stop. Let’s forget our vision and all of these thousands of young people in this city who pour from every village and hamlet. Forget them, pastor. It’s enough. Sit at ease. Take it slow. Forget it.” Could you? Could you?
In October 1956, our church experimented in a new departure. No other church, no other family, no other group in the world had ever done it. We had, in 1956, 360 Young Adults and Median Adults, 360. And our men and our deacons came along with a pastor as he dreamed. And they said, “Go find you a Median and Young Adult leader.” No other church in the earth had ever attempted such a thing. But we tried in our dream and in our vision. And from 1956, when we had 360, to October of this year, it grew to a 1,052.
Now come along with the pastor. If there was a need for somebody to come, and to help, and direct when we had 360, what shall we do now that we have a 1,052? “Forget it, preacher, forget it.” And these thousands of Young Adults, these Young Married people, Median Adults who are standing at the threshold of the very strength of manhood and womanhood, they are here in our city by the thousands and the thousands, “Why bother, pastor? Why be concerned? Why bring it to our attention?”
“And in those days I will pour out My Spirit, saith the Lord…and your young men shall see visions, and even your old men shall dream dreams” [Joel 2:28]. We don’t have to be old in our hearts. We don’t have to be old in our minds. We don’t have to be old in our spirits. Our faces may wrinkle but our hearts, never. We may grow old in our physical frames but not in our hopes with Jesus. “Your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams” [Acts 2:17]. Why not stay alive, quickened, sensitive, full of every compassionate care and concern, building, adding, reaching? Why not?
In our music ministry, in October of 1958, we had an enrollment of 465 and we brought in a music director who would have responsibility just for the music program of the church. October of 1965 we have enrolled 1,350. From 465 in ’58, to 1,350, in ’65; if there was a need to bring someone in to help us with 465, what shall it be now with one 1,350? “Why pastor, forget it, forget it. It’s enough, it’s enough.”
It would be enough if everybody had been reached. But there are thousands, and thousands, and thousands who are untaught, and untrained. The only time they name the name of Jesus is in an oath and a curse. And the only song their children sing would be some beer song they picked up on television. Why not teach them to sing the songs of Zion? Why not bring them to God’s house in choral groups, and in choruses, and in bands, and in pilgrimages as they make all the glorious work, beyond anything I have seen in the world?
Most of you don’t come to the 8:15 service. At 8:15 service, every Sunday of the world, at 8:15 o’clock, that auditorium is jammed with teenagers. And this morning, that section up there was filled with them, in the choir, in the choir. If God blessed us in the day when we had 465 and we brought in one, what shall we do now that we have 1,350? Why not bring in another? And let’s keep on leading; a fellow helper. Why not? Why lose our vision and forget our dream? Why not keep them?
I speak of our facilities. There is one building yet to be built if we are true to our promises and our own souls. There is one other building that must be built. Commensurate with this vision and this dream of the years past, when we added to the staff, we also built more than five million dollars worth of buildings here in this downtown First Baptist Church. Now we’ve got one other we must build. For years and years, we have promised the Good Shepherd department, our downtown mission, we have promised them that they’d have a place of their own. For years and years we have promised the Silent Friends, the deaf, that they would have a place of their own. We have promised our Special Education group, a ministry to retarded children, that someday they shall have a place of their own. And we have other like sweet and precious ministries in the church that, God helping us, we shall provide for them.
Now when we build that building––and we must––when we build that building, why don’t we add to it the areas necessary for the expansion of these other teaching ministries? And above all, why don’t we build in it, the finest and most beautiful, and spacious of all of the dining rooms in the world, and the most spotless stainless steel kitchen the world ever saw? Why not? Why not?
Twenty-one years ago, 21 years ago, we had about 75 on Wednesday night. And they met in the small dining room and rattled around in it; 75 on Wednesday night. Last Wednesday night, we had more than 800. And last Thursday night, we fed more than 1000 down here at this church, in the same kitchen, in the same dining room as when we had 75.
Friday night, I came down here to a children’s meeting, to a children’s banquet; and that dining room looked like a postage stamp. They were in all of the areas that they could find seats around. There is no possibility in this church of having any kind, even of a divisional convocation and taking care of it. There isn’t room. Friday night when I came down here to the dining hall and looked at the Children’s division, in their banquet, and they were flowing, over flowing every part––at the same time, there was another great meeting in this church; our Young and Median Adults. But they were way out in Tarrant county. The Lord be merciful to us, they were way out in Tarrant county. Maybe this airport decision will help us down here in this First Baptist Church.
For our church to continue a situation like that would be eloquent. You don’t need to say it. It would be eloquent in itself. “But our people aren’t really full of care, and commitment, and compassion, and concern. Doesn’t matter much to us, let it go. Let it go.” O Lord, can’t let it go. We got visions in our souls and dreams in our hearts [Acts 2:17].
When somebody speaks to me about this ministry of breaking bread down at the church, I always remind them, “Remember the sacrificial system was first and above all a shared meal, always” [Leviticus 7:15-16] Once in a while, but just once in a while, it was wholly burnt, wholly burned [Leviticus 1:3-17. 6:8-13]. But outside of those few exceptions, every sacrifice was a shared meal, every one of them. The fat and the inward parts were burned, and that was God’s part [Leviticus 7:3]. And all the rest of the animal that was sacrificed, the family ate it with their friends and with the priest [Leviticus 7:6]; sacrifice is a shared meal [Leviticus 7:15-18]. In the New Testament church, everyday they gathered together for the breaking of bread. And in that early church, the Lord’s Supper closed every meal with the blessing of the bread [Acts 2:42, 46-47], and the Eucharistic blessing of the cup. They called it the agape, the love feast [Jude 1:12]. And in the providence of God, the heart of the center of the activities of our church is that dining hall. The man gets off from work. If he goes home and comes back the time is wasted. So his wife comes and brings the children. And all of us are down here in this glorious church together, singing, speaking, talking, praying, teaching, learning, fellowshipping together around the breaking of bread. God has done a great thing for us. He has.
I cannot close without answering a question and with this I have to close. “Pastor, when you think of these things, and you dream these dreams, and you see these visions, oh, pastor, that calls for a financial outlay. How do you do it? How do you do it?” God does it. God does it. He bears the burden of it. God bears the strength of it and the weight of it. God does it.
“Well, pastor does He do it without any, without any crushing burden on His people?”
”That’s God for you. Yes!”
“Take My yoke upon you,” He said, “for My yoke is easy, and My burden is light” [Matthew 11:29-30]. I can just see that. The Lord made those yokes with His own hands. Haven’t you seen an ox yoke? “Take my yoke upon you” [Matthew 11:29]. There’s one, one side of the yoke, here’s one side of the yoke, an ox yoke, oxen. And the Lord’s on one side, and He invites us to come, and join Him on the other side. God does it. God does it.
“Well, preacher, I still don’t see what you’re talking about. You say the financial outlay and responsibility of a great program like this, that God does it. How does God do it?” In a very simple way, God says, “You have ten tenths; you take nine tenths for you, and you give one tenth for Me. And that nine tenths, you keep for yourself, I’ll bless, and it’ll go further than ten tenths. And that one tenth you bring to Me, I’ll use it, and it’ll be adequate and sufficient. I’ll do it,” says the Lord God. And when we do it, bring in a tenth to God, and the Lord blesses it here and nine tenths for you, and God blesses it there; He adequately and marvelously takes care of all of our needs, all of them, all of them. God does it.
Then once in a while, once in a while, somebody will say in his soul, “You know the Lord has been wonderfully good to me. I think I will bring to God a special offering, over and above the tenth that I give to Him. He has been so good to me. I think I’ll give something a little beyond and send it to missions on the foreign field.” We’ve got a missionary here this morning from Italy. “Going to give it to a missionary,” or “I’m going to give it to the poor”; or a thousand things.
And once in a while somebody will come up and say, “Pastor, I want to do something. God’s been good to me, and out of memory I want to do something for Jesus.” Something like this: Dr. Embree did not belong to our church; a beloved physician, a wonderful doctor. He did not belong to this congregation. He never belonged to this congregation. He had married the daughter of a Baptist missionary in China. And when we began building this building across the street, he came to me, and he said, “Pastor, God has called my dear wife home. God’s taken her away, and I’m left here by myself, but those years were so precious, and I want to thank God for them.” He said, “Pastor, if I placed in your hands sixty-thousand dollars, could you do something in the building in memory of my dear and sainted wife? Could you?” I said, “Why, Dr. Embree, yes.”
We took the sixty-thousand dollars and there was more added to it by the family. And we dedicated in that building over there, the Maude Sally Embree Hall; just something over and beyond that once in a while you may want to do in your soul. And God blesses it. That’s the Lord. God is in that. You don’t need to worry or be full of care and concern about these things that pertain. “Seek ye first the kingdom of God” [Matthew 6:33], and all of these necessities, God will bestow upon us, upon us as a people in our homes and families, and upon us as a congregation in the church.
Now as we always do, we go over the time, but oh, how the Lord speaks to our souls, how He does! On the first note of the first stanza, when we sing our hymn of appeal, come. Come. A family, a couple, one somebody you, as God shall say the word to your heart, shall press the appeal to your soul; down one of these stairwells into the aisle, here to the front, “Pastor, today I decide for God, for Christ. I take the Lord as my Savior” [Romans 10:8-13]. Or, “We want to put our lives into the church” [Hebrews 10:24-25] while we sing this song, come. When we stand up in a moment, stand up coming; make it now. Make it now while all of us stand and sing together.