Visions in Our Soul
October 3rd, 1965 @ 8:15 AM
Church Finance, Church growth, City Church, Inner-City, Satan, Tithing, Vision, 1965, Acts
VISIONS IN OUR SOUL
Dr. W. A. Criswell
10-3-65 8:15 a.m.
On KIXL radio, you are sharing the services of the First Baptist Church in Dallas. This is the pastor bringing the message entitled Visions in Our Soul. As you have been aware, this is the twenty-first anniversary of this pastorate. In the last sixty-eight years, this church has had two pastors. The national average of a pastorate is three and a half years. God has been marvelously, wondrously, unbelievably good to me, to mine, and we are grateful for the love and encouragement on the part of the people of this great congregation.
I wish I had several hours to speak to you this morning. Then, if I had several hours, there would be still other things I would like to add to the message. I think of those communist presidiums, how fortunate those speakers are. They get up and talk three, four, five, six, seven, and eight hours. Ah, I envy them. I do.
In the nineteenth chapter of Luke and the forty-first verse, “And when Jesus was come near, He beheld the city, and wept over it” [Luke 19:41]. Coming up to the top of Mt. Olivet, He could look down as many of you have looked down into the heart of the city of Jerusalem. And when He came to the brow of the hill and looked down into the heart of the city, He wept over it. Was His compassion and care and concern justified, standing there on the top of Olivet, weeping as He looked down into the city?
There are so many things that crowd into your soul when you look into the heart of a great city, even our city. Here Satan has his throne. Here mammon is so largely and vastly worshiped. The heart of the city; here the financial magnates control and color the entire political, and cultural, and economic, and social life of the nation. Here thousands of young people crowd, fresh out of college, fresh out of high school, seeking employment, seeking a livelihood, and because they are of limited means they are crowded together in these central districts, living in these apartment houses. In the age when they are the most tender, they are subjected to the most dangerous of environments, the heart of the city. And here men and women, crushed by sin, congregate. They have lost the battle. They have given up hope.
If you were seeking a place where a church and its ministry was most needed and most possible, where would you look? If you were seeking a ministry that had its vastest opportunities, where would you find it? If you were seeking to build an institution of help and encouragement and salvation, where would you build it? What of the city in the future? Is it just now that a warm-hearted evangelistic church ministry is so vitally needed? Will it pass away, the need for it, on any tomorrow, in any future? If the world lasts a thousand times a thousand generations, and if Jesus delays His coming for another millennium, as far as the prophetic future can be seen even in the eye of God, the city is still the throbbing heartbeat of the nation.
Instead of the city passing away, the trend of population now is toward the central district. As though expressways were not enough to pour the population of a city into a lap of the central district, they are now studying means, ways, ingenuities by which rapid transit systems can bring the population more rapidly into the heart of the city. In the Book of the Revelation, outlining the course of church history to the end of time, there are seven cities, the seven cities of Asia [Revelation 2:1-3:22]. In the eighteenth chapter of the Book of the Revelation, there is described toward the consummation of the age the fall and destruction of the great merchandising city of Babylon [Revelation 18:1-24]. And into the eternity of the eternities, God has drawn for us the beautiful city of God, the New Jerusalem [Revelation 21:1, 2, 9-22, 5].
And in the ministry to the heart of the city, there is a tragedy that has overtaken every great city in America, and that tragedy is beginning to overtake the city of Dallas. In my ministry here, if you were to draw a large circle around the heart of this city, eight churches since I have been here, eight downtown churches have either ceased to exist or moved out. Yet any statistician will tell you that within the next decade, the heart of the city of America will increase by seventeen million people. When you go out to a suburb and build a new community, almost certainly you will build a new church. But there are no new churches added to minister to the city. Instead, they fold up their tents and silently, like the Arabs, steal away.
A great church is only possible, in all the true meanings of that word, in the heart of the city. For one thing, its possibility of growth, vast growth is only possible there. A neighborhood church will grow to a certain extent, then when it gets beyond that growth, the people will move out to another neighborhood church. They go to a church for convenience sake.
The city church in Jerusalem had at least fifty thousand members, and that is a conservative estimate. John Chrysostom said that he had in the church at Antioch about one hundred thousand members. A great downtown city church has to be of vast proportion; if it isn’t it will turn into a mission. It has to be in the providence of God and in the nature of life; it is large or it is nothing. It has to magnify and grow and expand along with the size of the city, and if it doesn’t it will turn into a mission supported by the denomination.
Now my sermon; in the second chapter of the Book of Acts:
It shall come to pass—
and he is speaking here of Pentecost, which was in the mind of Joel the prophet of God [Joel 2:28-32]—
I will pour out 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.
“Your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams” [Acts 2:17], and that’s the title of the message, Visions in Our Soul.
First: and I haven’t time to discuss these things, and because of it, it shall seem as though the pastor speaks lightly of so vitally important a matter. It’s just that I have an opportunity to discuss them in their proportion, in their weight, in their matter. Purpose, always before us, clearly stated, plainly seen, lucidly apparent, the great purpose that lies back of our mission, and ministry, and message, and work, and labor, and toil, and dedication, and commitment, plainly seen and plainly understood.
May I illustrate it? Would any man in the earth have to look at a lighthouse and explain its purpose or wonder at its structure? Out of all of the national budgets that I have ever heard discussed in my life, as Congress presents the outline of its tax program and spending for a fiscal year, I have heard them debate and discuss over radio, through commentaries and commentators and in newspapers and magazines, foreign aid and salaries and a thousand things, but I never heard, nor did I ever read in my life, of a man standing up in the halls of Congress and saying, “My brethren, I want to challenge the money we have in this budget for a lighthouse.” However it costs, and some of them cost two and three million dollars, the reason for it is so apparent and the necessity for it is so lucidly clear.
That same thing ought to be apparent in the church, our church. It’s a lighthouse, it’s a soul-saving station, it’s a guide to heaven and to glory. Casting its beams across a stormy way, guiding ships through the perilous deep, a lighthouse in a dark world, and the purpose is understood and apparent. We don’t even discuss it. That’s our assignment. It’s not as though we were about to turn to something else or to give the energies of our life to extraneous and peripheral causes. We are dedicated and committed to this one great, all inclusive, all-significant devotion. It shall be the prayers of our souls and the toil and energy of our lives that people come to know God, that souls be saved.
Now in the implementing, in the doing of that work, in making it effective, I have a few things I can say in this briefly allotted time. I speak first of the ministry itself. In this church, seeking to be commensurate with the vast, vast outreach of the hundreds of thousands in this city, our church is, as the church at Philippi, there is a multiplicity of ministers. The work is impossible without it. One man could not begin to minister to the needs of so great and so vast a city. So in our church, there is a multiplicity of ministers. Some of them are men, some of them are women. And in that dedication, God has marvelously and wondrously blessed us.
- In October in 1944 we had 245 Seniors enrolled in the church. This first Sunday in October there will be 666.
- In October of 1944 there were 168 Juniors in attendance. Last Sunday we had 501, the first time that any division below our Adult division has ever gone beyond 500 in attendance.
- Among our young people, in October 1944 we had 276 enrolled, including our Young Married people. In October of this year, today, we have 687 young people enrolled, not including our Young Married people.
- In the Young and Median Adult division, in 1956 we had 360. This first Sunday in October we have 1,052.
- In our music ministry in October 1958 we had an enrollment of 465. This Sunday in October we have an enrollment of 1,350.
Now come along with me. Think with me. Open your heart with me. Come along with me.
May I ask you a question? In October of 1956, for 360 Young and Median Adults, we went into an experiment. No church I ever heard of, or read of, or visited, or dreamed about in the earth had a Young Adult leader, no church. But we experimented here in this church under the hands of God and under the leadership of the Holy Spirit. We invited Mrs. Jack Hood to come and to take those 360 Young and Median Adults and see what she could do to help it grow, to reach these young people for Jesus.
And in the nine years they have grown from 360 to 1,052. Now, come along, come along with the pastor. If there was a need for a leader when we had 360 Young and Median Adults, what should we do with 1,052? If there was a need for 360, what is the need for 1,052?
Come along with the pastor. Open your heart and mind. Think with him. If we had 465 enrolled in our music ministry in 1958, now an enrollment of 1,350, what do we do now? You see, back yonder we had visions in our souls, and we had dreams. Now, we begin to lose it. “Why, let’s just let that same one leader who came here for 360, let’s just let that same one leader work with a 1052, and let’s forget about it! We’re done, no longer a vision, no longer a dream, no longer others to be reached or added. Let’s just rejoice in what has happened and let it go. Forget it.” About this music ministry, had 465 then, we asked a man to come and to assume its responsibility. We now have 1,350. That’s enough. “That’s enough. Let it go. Let it go. Let the vision die. Let the dream cease.”
“Thousands of other people out there, forget them. Hundreds of thousands of people out there, don’t let it bother you. Don’t let it concern you. We have got enough. Forget it! Now go home, pastor, and take it easy for a while. Now go home, congregation, and let’s just be unburdened. Let’s just take it lightly. Let’s do something else.”
Why, my brother, if we have the vision today that we had in those years gone by, what we ought to do is to take that Young Adult division, 526 and a half, that Young Adult division, 526 and a half, if we had a need for a leader when we had 360, how about the 526 and a half? Let’s get a leader for them. Then let’s bring another leader, and let’s get a leader for the Median Adult division, 526 and a half. If we had 465 when that lad came here, let’s get somebody else now to help him and work by his side, and let’s keep our vision fresh. Let’s keep it bright. Let’s keep a love to reach people in our souls and keep on until in God’s grace the Lord has given us all that the Lord in heaven will elect unto salvation.
That is what we ought to do. Let’s keep the vision shining.
Now about our facilities, about our facilities; ah, we dreamed dreams, and we had visions, and in keeping with this enlarged staff, we expanded and expanded, and we added in these twenty-one years more than $5 million, more than $5 million of properties, ministering to these dear people. Now, shall we forget? Why, the text says, “Your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams” [Acts 2:17]. Why, even your old men still have their eyes to the future. Even your old men are dreaming dreams. We’re not done, we’re not finished. We’ve just started good, if we’ll keep the vision bright and the dream before us.
Now may I illustrate? There is one other building, that under God, if we are true to ourselves and to a thousand promises we have made through the years, there is one other building that must be built by this congregation. We have promised those dear people in the Good Shepherd department, which is our downtown mission, that someday they will have a home, a place for them. We have promised our Silent Friends, our deaf, that someday they will have a home, a place for them. We have promised our Special Education division, a ministry to retarded children, that someday there will be a place for them. There are ministries ministering in this wonderful and precious church, outflowing to the needs of families and people that under God and with His help we shall fulfill.
While we are building that building, when we come to build that one other building, why don’t we do some other things in it? Why don’t we in that building also make a place for the expansion of that great Adult ministry? And in that building, why do we not erect the most beautiful, spacious, felicitous, embellished, usable dining hall and kitchen in the whole world? Why not?
Friday night I went to the banquet down here for our children. Our dining hall looks like a postage stamp. Twenty-one years ago, on a Wednesday night, we would have maybe, if we had a good Wednesday night and a good attendance, we could have seventy-five, and they would meet in the small dining room and rattle around in it. Last Wednesday night, we had more than eight hundred here. Thursday night of last week there was served here in this church more than one thousand people. We have the same kitchen we had when we served seventy-five. We have the same dining hall we had when we served seventy-five. Why, a church to continue in that constriction, it’s unthinkable, it’s impossible.
“Well, preacher, what about a dining hall?” Several things about it: one, if I were to define sacrifice, the sacrificial system in the Old Testament, I would call it a shared meal. Once in a while, once in a while, there would be a whole burnt offering [Leviticus 1:3-17], but practically every sacrifice was a shared meal. Some of the animal was burned, and that was God’s part. The fat and the inward parts were burned, and God was pleased with His part. And the other of the flesh was eaten by the family and their friends and the priest. A sacrifice was a shared meal [Leviticus 7:15-18].
If I have any definition of that early church at all, it would be this; they gathered together in what they called agapes, an agape. An agape is a love feast, and the church gathered together every day, every day in an agape, a love feast. They broke bread together, and in that early church, they closed every meal with the Lord’s Supper, the breaking of bread with its blessings, and the sharing of the cup with its Eucharistic blessing. That was the church gathering together to break bread [Acts 2:42, 46-47].
In the providence of God, this church can do no other thing, not only a spiritual blessing in it but a physical necessity in it. No man downtown has time after work to go way out to his house and then come back here to a meeting. What he does is, he comes to the church, and his wife and the children come, they meet here at the church, and we break bread together. That’s in the ordinance, and the habit, and the program, and the plan, and the revelation of God. And to have a glorious center, around which our families gather, is one of the finest things by which God could ever bless any church.
I must close. “Pastor, in all of this work you outlined, the visions and the dreams, pastor, how do you take care of those things? How do you do it? Oh, pastor, the burden of it for our souls and the heaviness of it for our lives, how do you do it?”
Ah, my friend, God does that. That is God’s part. “Take My yoke upon you,” He said, “for My yoke is easy, and My burden is light” [Matthew 11:29-30]. Here is a yoke, one, one. “Take My yoke upon you,” there is the Master, and here is His disciple. “Take My yoke upon you.” That’s God’s part to pull with us and to endow us and to bless us.
“Pastor, you mean to tell me that all of this thing you outline, in its vastness and in its program and in its outlay, you mean that God bears the burden of it and the strength of it and the weight of it?” Yes, I say just that. For you see, God blesses the man with nine-tenths more than He will bless the man with ten-tenths. And when our people bring to God’s house that one-tenth, God makes it adequate and enough. And the nine-tenths that God leaves in the hands of His people goes further, buys more, blesses for ever future day more than the ten-tenths that he keeps for himself. And when we partnership with God, when we enter into company with God, the Lord adequately provides for our needs, and the Lord blesses the home and the house. See, He does that. God sees to that.
Then once in a while, once in a while, for a reason that comes, once in a while, after we have brought a tenth to the Lord, once in a while somebody will say in his soul, “You know, God has been good to me. God has blessed me. The Lord has seen me through. You know, I think I will just bring an offering to Him that He might know that I thank Him.” Sometimes in our souls it will be whispered, “I would like for this special offering to go to foreign missions,” or, “I would like for this special offering to go to support the poor and to help our poor.” Ah, there are so many things.
And once in a while, somebody will come to me like Dr. Embree, not a member of this church, never did belong to this church, Dr. Embree, a beloved physician. Once in a while, somebody like Dr. Embree will come to me, and he will say to me, “Pastor, my wife, the daughter of a glorious missionary in China, my wife is translated and I am alone, and in memory of all of the blessed years, I have sixty thousand dollars I’d like to give you. And if I gave you the sixty thousand dollars, pastor, would you dedicate something in the new building in memory of my sweet wife? Just a way of saying to God, ‘I bless Thy name for the years that we enjoyed together.’” So I took the sixty thousand dollars, and other members of the family added to it, and we called it Embree Hall, an offering, something over and beside, just sometime, sometime.
God does these things. The Lord provides these things. His name is Jehovah-Jira, “God will provide.” When we give ourselves to the work and keep our vision bright and glorious, somehow the Lord abundantly and marvelously and wondrously adds His heavenly benediction. God speed us, my fellow members, in the way as we prepare for the greater work that lies ahead.
Now, we always go over the time. While we sing this song, on the first note of the first stanza, come and stand by me, somebody you, “Today, pastor, I want to put my life in the church.” Or, “Today, pastor, I take the Lord as my Savior” [Romans 10:9-10]. As God shall say the word, shall open the door, shall lead in the way, shall whisper to your heart, on the first note of the first stanza, come. When you stand up, stand up coming. Do it now; make it now, while all of us stand and sing.