WHICH WAY, AMERICA?
Dr. W. A. Criswell
9-26-65 8:15 a.m.
On the radio you are sharing the services of the First Baptist Church in Dallas. This is the pastor bringing the message entitled Which Way, America? It is a message outlining the background of our own course and destiny as a nation against the lines of progress or retrogress of the nations of the world. I have not time to read the whole passage. The last, the third chapter of Joel, is a description of the final judgment day of the Lord. And in that description, Joel writes: "Multitudes, multitudes in the valley of decision: for the day of the Lord is near" [Joel 3:14].
To my amazement, I learned that in a country like Sweden one has to wait for ten years to find, to be given, to have the opportunity to rent an apartment. Dallas is so filled with apartments; you can find one down any street. In a country like Sweden, you put your name on a waiting list, and you will not be able to be assigned an apartment under ten years; nor can you place your name on the list of waiting until you are eighteen years of age. That has a powerful repercussion in the life of young people, for the age of eighteen to twenty-eight is the age of marriage and building a home. But under no conditions is it possible to be assigned to rent an apartment under ten years after you place your name on the list. There was an American businessman in a little group in Stockholm, and when he heard that, he said, "You know, if I were free, I’d bring an American architect over here and an American contractor over here, and we’d build so many apartments these Swedes wouldn’t know how to fill them."
Is it because they have no architects in Sweden? Is it because they have no contractors in Sweden that you place your name on a waiting list for at least ten years to find a place to live? Not at all: they are a brilliant and a capable and an educated people; then why the dearth and the want and the scarcity? The answer is very simple and very plain: since 1932, Sweden has had a socialist government. And wherever socialism takes over the life and government of a people, it finally ends in scarcity and want and lack. What an amazing development in the life story of the nations of the world.
One of the military men in Berlin said, "I’m not afraid of communism in America, and I don’t dread communism in America. But I dread to see socialism take over the life and government of the American people." He said, "We see socialism in all the countries over here in Europe, and I dread to see it come to America."
One of the highest governmental officials in all Europe said, "To me, I think Karl Marx has more to do with American life than he does with the life of the Soviet Union."
What is this thing of socialism like in the personal life of the people? Well, here’s an illustration. I talked at great length, ate dinner with, visited several times with a distinguished senator of the parliament of the Swedish nation. He had just had a long and severe operation. And he said to me proudly, "This operation did not cost me one cent. My hospital bill cost nothing. The doctor’s bill cost nothing. The drugs, the anesthetic, the care, the nurses, this cost me nothing; it was given to me." And he was proud of Sweden. "For," he said to me, in elucidating upon what he had experienced, "I believe, I believe that every man born in Sweden, the state owes him care and a livelihood. By virtue of the fact that he is a Swede, the state owes him livelihood and care." Well, that, of course, is socialism: that we are not to provide for ourselves, to work for ourselves, but the state is to provide and to work for us, from the cradle to the grave.
I didn’t tell him, but in my mind I thought, "So your operation costs nothing? Hospital cost nothing, nurses cost nothing, you paid nothing, and you say to me it would have cost thousands of dollars had you paid for it yourself. But didn’t somebody pay for it? Is there such a thing as something for nothing in this world? Is there? Is there?" One of the strangest psychological turns of mind of American people is this: that when the federal government does something for us, it is given to us. The federal government has no money at all, except the money we send up there; and it comes back to us, our money. Somebody paid for that operation. Somebody paid for that care. But the delusion of the socialistic interpretation of governmental life is this: that we are finding a scheme whereby we get something for nothing.
Now how is religion under a system like that? That’s what I am interested in. The answer is simple and very plain: religion dies under socialism just as certainly and completely as it dies under communism; it is just as disintegrated. That was an amazing thing to me! In Sweden, for example, the whole atmosphere of life and government is definitely atheistic. The greatest newspaper and the most influential newspaper in Sweden is violently anti-Christian and vigorously pro-atheistic. And the churches are dying. Every free church and every free denomination in Sweden is disintegrating. A few years ago we had sixty-eight thousand Baptists in Sweden; we now have less than thirty thousand. Less than three percent of the people ever attend church; and they have the highest suicide rate in the world. Religion dies under socialism.
Isn’t that a strange thing? When people begin to interpret life altogether in terms of materialistic values, religion dies. We are fast drifting into that pattern of life in America. For example, out of the countless numbers of conferences that I have had with newspaper people, I haven’t found one yet interested in what I call religion. What they want to know are the welfare agencies of the church, and the contribution we are making to the social order, and the reform movements that we are sponsoring. And when a church enters into that social work, and the whole heart and life of the church is in that area, it isn’t long until it changes over into agencies that you can find will do it better under some civic appointment, or under some civic enterprise, or under the aegis of some governmental alphabetical agency.
Religion has to do with sin, and with God, and with judgment, and with death, and with immortality, and with the soul, and with heaven, and with hell. And when a people turn aside from belief in judgment, and sin, and damnation, and hell, and heaven, and the afterlife, then there’s no point in religion. Why bother about it? What we need to do is to set ourselves as members of these agencies that will carry on reform movements. And that is what happens, and the church dies. Wherever there is a materialistic society, communist, socialist, totalitarian, anywhere in the world, the churches die, religion dies.
And as we look at this world, to my amazement, I am surprised, I am overwhelmed by a weakness of the free Western world that I never had particularly thought of before. I had been told many times, and I had read in many places, that the graph of crime in the Western world was disastrously rising, and particularly in the United States. But I never had felt it or faced it quite as poignantly as I did in the Soviet world. There is practically no crime in the Soviet world, none. There are more people in jail for crime in New York City than in the whole Soviet world. It is practically non-existent.
Whenever you walk down the streets of Washington, you’d better be careful, you better be careful. And there are vast areas in our capital city where a woman dare not walk alone, even in the daytime. And there are vast areas in our capital city where you’d better not walk along by yourself at night, no matter who you are; the same in Los Angeles, the same in Chicago, the same in New York. Any woman could walk anywhere, anytime, any hour of the day or the night, in any city in the Soviet Union with perfect ease and perfect safety. Why that? Here again is an answer: in the West, in the name of freedom, we coddle a juvenile delinquent, we coddle and protect the criminal; he’s turned loose to murder, and to rape, and to destroy, and to pillage, and to rob again and again and again. And the crime rate in the Western world, and especially in America, is fearfully rising. And the coddling of the criminal, whether he’s young or he’s old, is a pattern of our American way of life. And unless that thing is turned, and unless it is stopped, there is coming to America a disintegration, a disintegration: the criminal element in America will finally overwhelm this country like a flood; for it grows enormously and terrifically every year. The rise in the graph of the criminal activity of America in every area of life, in business, in culture, in the social order, in every area of life is unbelievable: it is aboundingly fearful!
What we need in the American way of life is a discipline. That’s one thing you’ll find in the Soviet world: discipline! And my lesson that I learned is this: that criminality is not a thing that is an adjunct or a corollary of the life of the people, it is a thing that is allowed. Children are violent, and destructive, and vicious because they are allowed to be that. They are extenuated in their violence. And criminals are let loose upon society because the arm of the law and of the government does not hold them in a fierce hand.
You will never see pornography in the communist world; there’s not a sex magazine in the whole communist world, not one. You’ll never see a prostitute. But when you come to the Western world, you can hardly walk down the streets of Paris without being solicited on every corner. One of the signs of the free world is its moral disintegration.
Coming in a bus out of the East German Soviet world, the East German communist world into the free Western world of West Germany, the very minute, the very minute that that bus crossed through that barbed wire and barricade into the free world of West Germany, that second the bus driver passed back through all the bus a little leaflet that had a picture of a nude woman, and underneath the place and the hour and the cost of the tickets, and he was selling the tickets. He didn’t dare pass that out in the Soviet communist world of East Germany. But the minute he passed over into the free world, he passed out his pictures of the nude woman and the invitation to buy a ticket at such and such hour and such and such night. In talking about that with some of the men in the American army in Berlin, they said, "Well preacher, don’t persuade yourself that their hearts are any better over there." He said, "You know, our soldiers take Playboy magazines and go to the border, and they can trade an East German soldier out of any and everything that he has by just bartering with him for a Playboy magazine." That’s true, I know. Human nature is the same wherever it is in the world; but I am pointing out to you that prostitution, and pornography, and crime, and violence are the result and the product of a society that allows it. And in a social order that will not allow it, it does not exist – a thing that America ought to learn.
Now may I speak briefly of patriotism? One of the pastors had a godly man from his church who is a captain, a young captain in Berlin. He and his wife are stationed there, and I ate dinner with them. So I said to the young captain, so fine and noble, I said, "Captain, are you a graduate of West Point?" He’s just a young fellow. "No," he said, "no I’m not." Well, I said, "Are you a career Army man, then?" He said, "Yes, I’m a career Army man." Well, I said, "That’s unusual. Most of our young men seek other areas of life than military service." I said, "Why did you choose to be a career Army man?" And he didn’t answer. And I didn’t press it any further. And as we ate dinner, why, he broke in, and he said, "Preacher, while ago you asked me why I chose to be a career Army man, and I didn’t answer. And," he said, "I feel that I should to you." He said, "The reason I hesitated is that when I tell people my answer, they scoff at me and ridicule me. So I have ceased mentioning it anymore; I never answer it anymore. But I’m going to answer it to you." He said, "I chose to be a career Army man because I love my country, and this was the way that I could best serve my country, by being a member of the Armed Forces of the United States." I said, "Captain, who ridicules you? Is it the Berliners? Is it the communists? Are they our enemies? Who ridicules you because out of love for your country you’ve chosen to be a career Army man?" He said, "Oh no, not at all. The people who ridicule me are Army people and American people. They think I’m visionary and idealistic and unbalanced." Oh! What a day! What a day, when a captain, and a fine young Christian, could say, "I never speak anymore of why I have chosen to be a career Army man because I am ridiculed by my own people!" Patriotism is passÃ© in America.
I speak now of education. Oh, the power, the unbelievable power of education! Samuel Palmer Brooks was the president of Baylor. He died at our commencement time when I was graduated in 1931, so long ago. I remember something Dr. Brooks said in a chapel service. He was talking about heredity and environment; it was something discussed at the time in the world and field of psychology. And Dr. Brooks said, "I am not saying that environment is everything, but I am saying," said Dr. Brooks, "that whether a child is an atheist, or a Catholic, or a Baptist, or a goose-stepping soldier, or a Democrat or whatever is due altogether to his training." And in that Soviet world, they take those tiny children and put them in the kindergarten. Then when they get to be about five years of age, they put them in the Octobrists, Octobrists, and they proudly wear a red star, because of the October Revolution in 1917. Then when they get to be nine years of age through fourteen years of age, they belong to the Young Pioneers. And then when they get to be fourteen years of age through twenty-eight years of age, they belong to the Komsomol. And you can imagine what happens to those children, when taken from the kindergarten clear through the Komsomol, they are taught to hate God, and hate religion, and hate Christ, and hate the church. And they are taught that there’s no soul, and no immortality, and no judgment, and no heaven. Oh! the repercussion, the repercussion!
Riding along in a bus in East Berlin, the guide said, "This is where Karl Marx lived"; then crossed the street, "And this is where Karl Marx went to school." And as the bus drove along, I looked around me, I looked around me: death, and despair, and darkness, and destruction, and desolation on every hand! Empty buildings, like sawtooths, jagged and ruined, and the whole, vast beautiful city turned into ruin. This is where Karl Marx lived, and this is where Karl Marx went to school. O, the repercussion!
In a last appeal to one of those Intourist guides, we said to her, "Remember, if you ever need God, call upon Him and He will answer." And she replied, "I will never call upon Him."
"Yes, but," I said, "there might be a time in the extremity of death when you might want to call upon God." And she replied, "Never, never, never!" Those were the last words as we went away, "Never. Never. For there is no God, and there is no answer, and prayer is a waste of one’s breath" – the power of education.
I speak last and briefly of God’s remnant. The great revelation that God made through Isaiah the prophet was the doctrine, is the doctrine of the remnant, the remnant [Isaiah 10:21-22]. The temple destroyed, Judea a waste, Jerusalem in ruins, the people in captivity: "By the rivers of Babylon, sat we down. We hanged our harps upon the willows in the midst thereof" [Psalm 137:1-2]. The whole world in darkness, and Isaiah came with his gospel of the doctrine of the remnant: that God has His own in every generation, in every place, in every culture, in every civilization. There are those that are known to Him whose name God calls: the doctrine of the remnant. And I found them everywhere.
Walking down the streets of socialist Stockholm, a woman came up to me, and she said, "Sprechen ze deutch?"
"Oh, American!" and she thumbed through the different tracts that she had, and gave me one in English; just walking down the street, a simply dressed woman, but so fine in the look in her face. I took it: "The Youth of the World for Christ." I read it. It’s practically all Scripture, telling a young man how to be saved. And I looked at who did it: a man by the name of Jay Peterson, Stockholm, Sweden, a member of an assembly. There the message of Pentecost, as before in the days of apostles, also now have that same mighty power. And in her hand were these tracts, a little bundle of them, for English-speaking. And in her hand another little bundle for German-speaking. And in her hand another little bundle for Swedish-speaking. That woman, I have no idea who she is, but walking down the streets of the great city, giving out tracts, pointing people to Jesus.
Seated in Leningrad in a group, I happened to be next to a Canadian young woman. And as I talked with her and visited with her, under her breath she said to me, "But actually, I am a Wycliffe missionary, here out of an institute near Hamburg, to see about the possibility of going to a tribe in the far north, whose language has never been reduced to writing." She had no idea I ever heard of a Wycliffe missionary. But secretly she said, "I am a Wycliffe missionary," God’s own, God’s own.
When I was in London, I made my way, as I have done every time I’ve been in that great city, to Westminster Abbey, just to stand at the grave of David Livingstone, and there review the devotion and the life of that incomparable missionary. I had memorized it half a dozen times, but I wanted to write the words on that grave, above that grave in Westminster Abbey. And I reached in my pockets, and I had nothing. And finally I found a little card, and I pulled it out and hastily wrote it on the back of the card. You know the words: "Brought by faithful hands over land and sea, here rests David Livingstone, missionary. Died May 1, 1873, at Chitambo’s village, llala. Other sheep I have, which are not of this fold: them also I must bring, and they shall hear My voice" [John 10:16]. Put it back in my pocket, and never thought about it. When I got home and gathered my things together and looked at that little card, on the other side, printed, "Moscow Baptist Church," church address, telephone number, and the names of their three pastors.
"Other sheep I have, which are not of this fold: them also I must bring, and they shall hear My voice" [John 10:16]. Chitambo’s village, where is that? I don’t know. Ilala, where is that? I don’t know. God has His own in the earth. And I think sometimes when I describe situations that to me are so dark and despairing, I think of what God said to Elijah: "Elijah, you think you are by yourself, that you alone are in the earth. Elijah, Elijah, I have reserved for Me seven thousand who have not bowed the knee to Baal [1 Kings 19:18]. Stand up, Elijah, stand up. There is work to do. There is a commission assigned. Stand up, Eljiah, stand up! And I send thee back to the people and to the work." And I think that, God, bless us: in Chitambo’s village, in Ilala, in Moscow, on the streets of Sweden, in every nation under the sun, God has His own.
O bless His name, that He calls us, and we hear His voice, and He saves us, and we love Him forever. God bless us and all His people in the earth.
Now we must hasten. While we sing this hymn of appeal, one somebody you give himself to Jesus; a family you coming into the fellowship of the church; however God shall say the word, make the appeal, a couple, a family, one somebody you, on the first note of the first stanza, come, come, while we stand and while we sing.