Dr. Truett and the First Baptist Church
July 3rd, 1966 @ 8:15 AM
PASTOR TRUETT AND OUR FIRST BAPTIST CHURCH
Dr. W. A. Criswell
7-3-66 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 morning message entitled Pastor Truett and Our First Baptist Church. On the Sunday preceding the anniversary of the death of Dr. Truett, I deliver a message on some denominational or missionary or Christian commitment to which he gave his life. This is the twenty-second year that I have done this. I do it for two reasons. One: to keep alive, in this church, especially, the memory of the greatest preacher that our denomination has ever produced; there never was a princely preacher that belonged to our communion and our denomination of the stature of Dr. Truett. He was a God-sent man. He was the prince of preachers. And it is a joy to my own heart to keep alive the memory of that incomparably great man. For most of these who now belong to our church never saw Dr. Truett, never heard Dr. Truett, they just read of him. They have seen his name in print, but they never knew him personally. And I, under God, would love that all of our people might know somewhat intimately of that far-famed pastor.
Another reason why I do this: it gives me opportunity to make this a Christian day in the presentation of the work of God in the earth. One of the members of this church, Colonel C. C. Slaughter, whose granddaughter is here to my left, whose children now have all gone away to be with the Lord, one of the men of this church, a layman, and Dr. Truett founded Texas Baptist Memorial Sanitarium, which you now know as Baylor Hospital. And one of these Sundays, I delivered an address, a message on Baylor Hospital. The Annuity Board, the pension board of our Southern Baptist Convention, located now at 511 Akard Street, the Annuity Board was founded in this very building where you now are seated. And thus, in so many areas of the life of our people, Dr. Truett and this church had a tremendously worthy significant part. So it gives me opportunity once a year to make this a denominational day, to speak on these things to which he gave his life, and to which we still dedicate our prayers and our love and our interests.
Now the sermon this morning concerns Dr. Truett and this church; the pastor and the First Baptist Church in Dallas. Dr. Truett was the pastor of this church for forty-seven years. Do you ever sometimes stop to think—the average pastorate is three and a half years, and this church has had two pastors in sixty-nine years? That is still going on, we hope, we hope. There have been two pastors of this church in sixty-nine years.
John D. Rockefeller, Sr., who was a great man, and who would not recognize some of his offspring, John D. Rockefeller, Sr. was one of the noblest men the world ever produced. He was a Baptist deacon. He was a Baptist Sunday school superintendent. And he greatly loved Dr. Truett. He was the Sunday school superintendent and deacon in the Euclid Avenue Baptist church of Cleveland, Ohio, where he lived. And upon a time when that church was seeking a pastor, they sent a pulpit committee down here to Dallas, with instructions from John D. Rockefeller, Sr. to do anything to bring Dr. Truett to Cleveland.
So the committee talked to the great pastor about salary, and they raised it and raised it and raised it until it became fantastic, and Dr. Truett said, “No.” And they offered him fringes, homes, anything that he’d like, and he still said, “No.” And finally the chairman of the pulpit committee said to Dr. Truett, “Well, Dr. Truett, can you be moved at all?” And the pastor said, “Yes. Yes, indeed!” And with hope, bright like the sun, the chairman of the pulpit committee said, “Well, what would it take? What would it take?” And Dr. Truett humbly replied, “Just move my people.” If you’d all go to Cleveland, he’d go to Cleveland with you.
When he was invited to be president of Baylor University, he replied in one of the most beautiful sentences that I have ever read. In reply to the call to be president of the university, Dr. Truett said, “No. I have sought and found the shepherd’s heart.” He loved being a pastor. He loved being the pastor of this church. And many times in his addresses and in his letters he would refer to Dallas, and refer to this church, as the dearest place on earth to his heart. And he put his life in this congregation, in these bricks, in this house in which we worship the name of God. And in his love for the church and in his commitment to the church, he reflected the true spirit of this Holy Book, God’s Bible.
Jesus never said, “My home.” He never had a home. The only time He ever referred to it was like this: “The foxes of the field have dens, and the birds of the air have nests; but the Son of Man hath not where to lay His head” [Matthew 8:20]. He never said, “My home.” He never said, “My wife.” He never said, “My child.” But He did say, “My church” [Matthew 16:18]. And after the glorious day of Pentecost [Acts 2:1-46], the second chapter of the Book of Acts closes with this sentence, “And the Lord added to the church those who were being saved” [Acts 2:47].
And in the twentieth chapter of the Book of Acts, when Paul addresses the elders of the church of Ephesus down on the seashore at Miletus [Acts 20:17-27], he says to them, “Take heed unto yourselves, and to all the flock, to shepherd the church of God, which He has purchased with His own blood” [Acts 20:28]. And the apostle Paul, in describing his conversion, said, “But I am the least of the apostles, but am not meet to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of Christ” [1 Corinthians 15:9]. And as we turn the pages of the Book, Ephesians, out of which we read, is called “the church epistle.” In the first chapter, the apostle writes, “God gave Him, the Lord Jesus to be the head of all things to the church, the body of the Lord, the fullness of Him that filleth all in all” [Ephesians 1:22-23]. In the third chapter, the passage you read, “For He is able to do exceeding abundantly above all that we ask or think. And now unto Him who is able to do it, may there be glory in the church by Christ Jesus throughout all ages, world without end. Amen” [Ephesians 3:20-21].
And in the next chapter, the fourth of Ephesians, “And the Lord gave apostles, and prophets, and evangelists, and pastors and teachers for the work of the ministry, for the building up of the church” [Ephesians 4:11-12]. And in the next chapter, the fifth chapter, “Christ loved the church, and gave Himself for I” [Ephesians 5:25]. And in the last Book of the Revelation, John to the seven churches of Asia [Revelation 1:4], and in the last chapter, and almost the last verses, “I Jesus have sent Mine angel to testify unto you these things in the churches. I am the Root and the Offspring of David, the Bright and the Morning Star. And the Spirit and the bride, the church, say, Come, come” [Revelation 22:16-17].
When Dr. Truett loved the church, and loved this church, he reflected the true spirit of the Holy Scriptures and the mind of God Himself. Sometimes the word “church” is used generically—“the church,” in the same sense as you would say, “the state,” or “the home,” or “the school.” But in the Bible, almost always it refers to a local congregation—the churches of Judea [Acts 9:31], the churches of Samaria, [Acts 9:31], the churches of Macedonia [2 Corinthians 8:1], the churches of Achaea [2 Corinthians 1:1], the churches of Asia [1 Corinthians 8:1].
And one test of the life of a man, and of a movement, is whether or not it builds up the church. And the only church that we know, that we have anything to do with, is the local church and to us the church here in our queenly city of Dallas. Now, in the building up of the church, oikodomeō, you have it translated in the Bible almost always, “edify”:
Then had the churches rest throughout all Judea and Galilee and Samaria, and were edified; walking in the fear of the Lord, and in the comfort of the Holy Spirit, and they were multiplied.
Oikodomeō—oikos is the Greek word for “house.” Domeō is the word “to build up.” Oikodomeō is “to build up.” The Lord likens us to a temple, He likens us to a house. That word refers to starting at the foundation and building it up; translated “edified,” actually, “build up,” the building up of the church of God.
In the building up of these physical facilities we have, our church has gone through some great periods of commitment and indebtedness. In 1924 this whole block here was taken over by the First Baptist Church. And this vast auditorium was created in the framework of the walls of the old building. And this building that we call the Truett Building, immediately back of us, the seven-story Educational Building was erected at that time. And when this building was built, it was a phenomenal thing. In the history of the world there has never been an extensive educational unit ever constructed as this Truett Building immediately back of this auditorium; a program that went far beyond a million dollars, and the church owed half of that when the terrible Depression came. And the church agonized under the heavy weight of that debt. But the facility was gloriously used and blessed of God.
Then in the early 1950s, the church entered again a heavy, a tremendously heavy building program. On this side, on the town side, the Patterson Street side of our church, through the philanthropy and love of one of the daughters of Colonel C. C. Slaughter, Mrs. Minnie Slaughter Veal, there was constructed the Parking Recreational Building that cost over $1,600,000. And at the same time, on the San Jacinto side of our church house, there was constructed the Activities Building—now I never will get to where I can call that the Criswell Building. There was constructed the Activities Building at a cost of more than $1,750,000. And then, in the providence of God, we were able to buy the Burt Building at the corner of Ervay and Patterson Street at a cost of $1,000,000. And we spent about a half a million dollars remaking the Truett Building, about $300,000 making the Burt Building conform to the educational necessities of the congregation. And in those years there was spent something like $5,000,000 in the facilities and in the equipping of this great congregation. We had a great debt. Our indebtedness sometimes would total $2,000,000. But our people never wavered. They never hesitated, and we have pulled that debt down now to about $300,000, and a part of everything we give to the church helps to retire that note at the First National Bank.
And now we face one other tremendous building program. And it must be done. And our people must prayerfully assume the responsibility, and with gladness and glory and gratitude accept the assignment of building one more tremendous structure here in the church. It will be located in this property back of our present Activities Building—a property that is twice as large as the Activities Building. Now as we face that, do we do it with fear and trepidation? Not at all. Not at all.
When a young couple marries, the chances are, early in their married life, they will assume the indebtedness of building a house, their home. And that is good. That is fine. That is commendable. They go in debt for it. They pay it out through the years, but that is excellent. A young couple for the most part should plan on building a home, buying a house, after they are married. Now, big business will go in debt for a facility. One of these big businesses downtown went in debt more than two million dollars for an air conditioning program and for the refurbishing of their facilities. “But,” you say, “that’s a business.” But I remind you, the biggest business is God’s business! This also is a business. We’re in business for the great, glorious King. And is it good business?
I began my ministry in the Depression. And up and down every street of every city and every village and every town that I went through in the days of the Depression, I saw businesses bankrupt; banks that were bankrupt; houses of great far-famed merchandising equipment and background gone out of business. I never saw one single church that went bankrupt in all the years of that time, not one. You could walk up and down the streets of any town or any city, and every church that was there before the Depression was there after the Depression. The best investment and the best business I know in the world is God’s business! It’s big business. And to have the facility is an incomparable blessing.
You know businessmen, I marvel at them. When I was pastor at Muskogee, Oklahoma, the widow of the illustrious pastor who outlived him, the widow was left with a nice amount of money; plenty, plenty, adequate, sufficient to build a beautiful apartment building and that was in 1940. And so she was going to take the money and build an apartment house, and live off of the revenue of the apartment house, but the businessmen in the First Baptist Church of Muskogee, their finest men, gathered around the widow of the former pastor and said, “Oh, no! Now you wait, and you can build that building for maybe one-tenth of what it’ll cost you to build it now. You just wait.” That was in 1940. And then 1940s, and the 50s and on, and finally that poor widow died penniless. She had taken all that she had to live, waiting for the day when the prices would come down and she could build her apartment for a tenth of what it would cost her in 1940.
When we were delayed in the building of our Activities Building, the leading financial deacon on this board of this church told me, “Pastor, don’t be restive about building that building. Every year you delay it, you are making $200,000!” I’ll tell you, if we delayed it long enough, we would have been, everybody would have been millionaires around here. “You’re making $200,000,” he said to me. Did you know when we started building that building, we started on a $500,000 project, and by the time the Korean War got through with us, and by the time the steel strike got through with us, and by the time other things got through with us, that building cost $1,750,000. The whole earth is like that; all of it, all of it.
I had far rather have the facility, and to use it to reach people, than to wait and delay upon some supposed golden hour when we can buy the materials for nothing, and when men work for nothing, and when the unions all go out of business, and the building can be erected for one tenth of what it could be erected for now. Let’s just don’t hold our breath until that golden moment comes. So we are facing a great commitment on the part of our church, and as in days past, we shall be equal to that moment! And God bless our men, and God bless our church as we get ready for that tremendous building program.
Now, the last part of this message; this is God’s answer to the need of the world, and to this present exigency, and this deep and terrible crisis through which we are now living. God’s answer is the church. How does God do it in the church? How has God done it through these thousands of years in the congregations of the Lord? Now you walk with me for just a few minutes through the pages of history.
In the dark, dark world of slavery and tyranny—we call them the days of the Roman Empire—it was as though Hitler had won the war. All the civilized world was under the iron heel of the Roman legionnaire. And a tyrannical, and sometimes facetious, and sometimes childish Caesar held life and death of the entire civilized earth in his hands. I repeat, it was as though the whole world had been conquered by Hitler. That was the Roman world! Every nation was subjugated to the imperial Caesar. And most of the population of the world was enslaved and lived in slavery. It was a world of gross and unspeakable idolatry. The orgies of that ancient world are indescribable and unthinkable to us today. And the language that describes it is still untranslated, lying in its filth, and in its unspeakable squalor and immorality. The Liber, and the Libernalia, the Saturn and the Saturnalia, the Bacchus and the Bacchanalia; it was a world of unspeakable idolatry.
It was a world of brutality. It was the mind of the Roman that invented crucifixion, the most terrible form of execution the world has ever known, where a criminal, nailed to a cross, would linger in thirst, and fever, and anguish, and gangrene for three, four, five or six days before he died, a world of unspeakable brutality. It was universal in the days of the Roman Empire for children to be exposed. And the father had the legal right to say whether the child was kept or not. And when the child was exposed, they meant by that they would put it on a hillside for the jackals or the foxes to eat. Or they placed the child on the side of a highway, and somebody would pick it up and break all of its limbs and raise it up in that horrible condition to be set on the side of the street to beg. And the money the thing received, broken and tragic, was given to those that found the child on the side of the highway. The exposure of children was universal. It was an age of brutality.
The gladiator and the Coliseum where men fought to the death just for the amusement of a bloodthirsty throng, their blood staining the sand––what was God’s answer to that universal tyranny? What was God’s answer to those orgies of idolatry? What was God’s answer to that world of brutality? Here, and there, and there, and yonder, and yet there, He built little colonies of heaven, little churches, with their pastors and their deacons and their people; and the day came when idolatry was subverted. And the day came when the empire was taken off its very hinges. And the day came when crucifixion was no more, and the gladiator was no more, and the exposure of children was no more. He changed the whole earth through the founding of those little churches.
In the twentieth century, in which I have lived, and in which your life is cast, we also have met some tremendous dark and foreboding hours. I can remember so well the First World War. And in that world war, President Woodrow Wilson applauded the pastor of the First Baptist Church in Dallas, Dr. George W. Truett, as an emissary from the president to preach to, and to visit with, and to comfort our American troops across the sea in France and finally in the occupation army in Germany. And one of the most brilliant chapters in the life of the great pastor is the chapter that describes his ministry to our American soldiers fighting at the front in France. I lived through that war. And I lived, of course, through the Second World War. How much these churches of America contributed to the strength of our armies, and the courage of our people to stand by the side of England, apparently alone in the earth!
When the D-day came, the announcement had been made from our pulpit that as soon as the word was received all of our people were to, were to immediately go to church, and pray. My telephone rang about 2 to 2:30 o’clock in the morning. I dressed hurriedly. When I went through the town, it was a blaze of light. Every house was lighted! And when I got to the church, the church was filled, the horseshoe balcony around, the lower floor, it was jammed by the time I got there at 2:30 o’clock in the morning. Oh, that America could remember in the days of our distress; but in the days of our affluence we forget. But we face our greatest and our most terrible enemy this day, this hour, this moment.
I want to quote to you a passage I copied of Pliny the ancient historian. Writing in a pre-Christian time, Pliny wrote. Now listen to him:
There has never been a state of atheists. If you wander over the earth, you will find cities without walls, cities without kings, cities without men, cities without theaters, cities without gymnasiums—that would be “schools,” we’d say—but you will never find a city without a god, without prayer, without oracle, without sacrifice.
That’s what Pliny wrote even in pre-Christian times.
But you have lived to see the day, for the first time in human history, when there are governments that are officially atheistic. The ancient Roman never went to war without first placating the gods. Nor did any ancient Greek ever face a decision without inquiring at the Oracle of Delphi. But these bow at no altar and call on the name of no God.
I quote again from the Russian Zinoviev. “We will grapple,” he says:
with the Lord God in due season. We shall vanquish Him in His highest heaven. And wherever He seeks refuge, we shall subdue Him forever. The very concept of God will be expelled as the survival of the Middle Ages which has served as an instrument to oppress the working man.
And in the days of some time ago, I copied the two stanzas of a song that were sung in the streets of America by marching men:
Arise, ye toilers of all nations
Condemned to misery and woe;
To hell with humbleness and patience
Give deadly battle to your foe!
Wipe out the ruling wealthy classes,
Arise and slash your thralldom chains,
Let power be wielded by the masses,
Let those who labor hold the reins!
[“The Workers International”]
It is another thing. And the implacable and bitter enemies of God in heaven and the Lord’s people in earth, plan and battle and wage war for our annihilation.
I think that’s why it was that I cried so in the church in Leningrad. I cannot remember feeling as I did in that Baptist church. I have reviewed it ten thousand times, and I have thought it must have been walking around a beautiful church, and it’s a railroad station; a beautiful church, and it’s a granary; a beautiful church, and it’s a warehouse; a beautiful church, and it’s locked and in decay and ruins; a beautiful cathedral, and now it is a monument to atheism; and the statue of Lenin where you would expect to find a pulpit and an altar unto God.
I suppose it was a reaction to those oppressive sights that I’d never seen before. And on the outskirts, where they were ostracized and sent, assigned on the outskirts of a city as large as Chicago, there was allowed one church to be open, just one; in the whole city one church, that Baptist church. As I sat there, and listened to the people sing, and saw them kneel in prayer, and the tears so freely flow from their eyes, I don’t think I ever cried so in my life.
It seemed to me that our enemies were just about to drown the life of the Son of God in blood, and in irons, and in atheism, and blasphemy, and bitter unbelief. But as I review it, there have been other dark days. There have been other persecuting governments. There have been other heavy trials. But God’s people have survived, and out of the ashes a veritable phoenix of triumph and revival and victory has come. And it will come again!
All of the stars in their courses, the Bible says, fought against Sisera [Judges 5:20]. And all of the powers in heaven, and all of the powers in history, and all of the powers that make this world what it is—every law, every mandate, every principle lies back of it, fights on our side. And we shall not lose! We shall be triumphant and victorious. God will bless us in this fateful hour. God will bless our people who pray, our nation if it will turn to the high purpose of heaven. And the Lord in glory bless and sanctify us as a church, and our people as a nation, as this Fourth of July we rededicate ourselves unto Him. God’s answer? “My church.”
Our time is gone, and we sing our hymn of appeal. Somebody you give himself to Jesus, a family you come into the fellowship of the church. “Today, pastor, I give my heart to the Lord” [Romans 10:9-10]. Or, “Today, pastor, we’re putting our lives in the fellowship of this dear church.” However the Spirit of Jesus, would press the appeal to your heart, make it now, come, stand by me. In this balcony round, the throng on the lower floor, come, on the first note of the first stanza. When you stand up in a moment, stand up coming. “Here I am, pastor. I make it now.” Do it, while we stand and while we sing.