Dr. Truett and Christian Education
July 2nd, 1967 @ 8:15 AM
1 Timothy 4:12-13
DR. TRUETT AND CHRISTIAN EDUCATION
Dr. W. A. Criswell
1 Timothy 4:12-13
7-02-67 8:15 a.m.
At this hour and every year on the Sunday before the anniversary of the death of the great pastor, Dr. George W. Truett, I always prepare and deliver an address on some part of the kingdom work into which and to which he gave his life. I have been asked many times why I do that. I do it for two reasons.
First: it is a joy to me, ineffable, to keep alive in our church a vivid memory of this greatest Baptist preacher that America has ever produced. There is only one preacher who might have excelled Dr. Truett, and he is one who died before my day. I never saw or heard, of course, Charles Haddon Spurgeon of London, England; I suppose Spurgeon was the greatest preacher, the most capable, the most effective of any man who has ever lived since the days of the apostle Paul. But next to Spurgeon himself is Dr. George W. Truett, who was for forty-seven years the undershepherd of this great congregation. There was a greatness about him beyond any man I ever saw or heard in my life. There was a nobility, a kingliness, there was a godliness, a saintliness unmatched in Dr. Truett. He looked like I would think God looks, if God had human form. And he spoke in that marvelous, majestic way that I would think God would speak. I say first, it is a supernal delight on my part to keep alive in this church a vivid memory of the great pastor. This is the twenty-third time, the twenty-third year I have prepared and delivered such an address.
The second reason I do it is this: Dr. Truett was, of all of the men in our denomination, a kingdom worker. He gave himself to so very many of the facets of the work of our Baptist Zion. If it was Baptist, if it was of God, if it served our people, Dr. Truett was a leader in it. Here in Texas, in the convention of which he was president, in the World Alliance of which he was president, in his great missionary journeys, in his strategic part in the building and supporting of our institutions, in every facet of our denominational life, Dr. Truett led in a kingly and princely way. So it gives me an opportunity once a year, to prepare an address on one of those kingdom enterprises to which he gave his life.
Then I might incidentally say I love to do it personally. I was a young fellow, of course, when I saw and heard Dr. Truett. But, oh! he was just the hero, the paragon, the model of every young preacher who lived, and most of all, of me. I never dreamed that I would be standing in the pulpit where Dr. Truett stood for so long. You know, just talking; how little old things stay in your mind and you wonder about them – just inconsequentials, minutiae, have no bearing, no meaning, no anything at all – the little old things that you remember. You have your life like that; you remember little old things. Well, I remember something.
In the years gone by, they were holding a simultaneous revival effort in Atlanta, Georgia, and I was preaching at the Kirkwood Baptist Church in Atlanta; Dr. K. Owen White was pastor there at the time. And Dr. Truett was conducting the revival services simultaneous, at the First Baptist Church in Atlanta where Dr. Ellis Fuller was pastor. And at noonday, in one of the large, large, spacious dining halls in the city of Atlanta, they had a convocation of all of the service clubs, just as many as could get into that dining hall, the Rotarians, the Kiwanians, the Lions, all of them. They met there in that enormous hall. And of course, the preachers were invited as guests of those service clubs. And I was there with Dr. White, Dr. K. Owen White. And I sat about middle ways in the auditorium in front of the speaker’s stand, and Dr. Truett sat on that side of the speaker’s stand next to the man who was going to introduce him, and the president of the organizations over here. And as I sat there as a young fellow – I was in my early twenties – as I sat there, Dr. Truett looked so long and hard and penetrating at me that I became self-conscious; just looked at me, just looked at me, just looked at me, and looked at me, and fastened his gaze on me and didn’t turn his eyes, just looked at me.
After I came here to be pastor of the church, I remembered that so well; anyway, it fastened itself in my mind. I never knew him, I never talked to him, but that little incident has stayed in my memory with the vividness of as though it were an hour ago.
Now today, I have addressed myself to the subject, Dr. Truett and Christian Education. Dr Truett was born the sixth day of May, in 1867. It was a grief and a disappointment to me that when the one hundredth anniversary of the birth of Dr. Truett was celebrated here, I was in a revival meeting at the Belleview Church in Memphis, Tennessee, and could not be present. But it was such a meaningful hour, and they played one of Dr. Truett’s sermons, "The Conquest of Fear," and then took a wreath and placed it on his grave in the Hillcrest Cemetery.
One hundred years ago, the sixth of May, Dr. Truett was born. He was a mountain boy. He was born in a little place called Hayesville in Clay County, North Carolina. And in that little place was an academy, you would call it a high school. And when he was eighteen years old he was graduated from the Hayesville Academy in Clay County, North Carolina. And though he was so very young, yet when he was eighteen, having graduated out of that academy, he began teaching school in a rural school in Towns County, Georgia, which is just across the line from his home at Hayesville. When he was nineteen years of age he was saved, converted in a revival meeting at Hayesville, and was baptized into the Baptist church there.
At that time, when he was nineteen years of age, he conceived the idea of founding, establishing an academy at Hiawassee – the county seat of Towns County, Georgia – which I say is just across the line from his home in North Carolina. He also was encouraged to do that because in that Towns County, Georgia, were his cousins, the prosperous and famous McConnell family, one of whom was named F. C. McConnell, Dr. Truett’s cousin. Dr. McConnell was a great preacher. He was ten years George Truett’s senior. So he established this academy at Hiawassee, northern Georgia. And immediately, God blessed it; it was a religious school. He had twenty-three young preachers attending, and in two years had an enrollment of over three hundred. The cost was very expensive, one dollar a month tuition. That was a lot of money in those days; my father told me that he worked for fifty cents a day. Times have changed.
Dr. Truett, in his earnestness and in his Christian dedication, immediately became known. And when he was twenty-one years old, F. C. McConnell introduced him to the Georgia Baptist Convention, which was meeting in Marietta. He was illustrating the blessedness of a work among mountain children and mountain young people. When he called on young George Truett to speak, nobody could find him. The young man was so very timid. But when they located him and brought him up, without any previous announcement or preparation, the young man stood there and spoke the words of embarrassment at first; then began to speak of the work of God among mountain people. He electrified that Baptist Convention in Marietta, and when he was finished, a rich layman stood up and said that he would send that mountain boy to college for four years and pay all of his expenses. Out of that impromptu address that George Truett made to the Georgia Baptist Convention when he was about twenty-one years old, there came the work that has followed through ever since in the Home Mission Board, our ministry to mountain people and to mountain children.
But Dr. Truett never went to Mercer College in Macon, where this layman offered to send him. Instead, he followed his family who had moved to Whitewright, Texas, up here to the east of Sherman. And as a young man about twenty-one years of age, he came to northern Texas in Whitewright with his family.
And while he was there the church met, as some of my little churches did, on Saturday afternoon in business conference. And when he went into the church house it was filled, which was very unusual for a Saturday afternoon church conference. So the young man sat down, and the aged deacon, the leading deacon, the patriarch in the church stood up and said, "My brethren, we have a work to do, a work which God has laid upon our hearts, for we are gathered here under the will of God to ordain George Truett to the gospel ministry." Well, the young fellow stood up and said, "Oh, no, my brethren, no!" But they said, "Yes. God’s called us to do it. And tomorrow morning, at the 11:00 o’clock church hour, we are going to ordain this young man to the gospel ministry," and made the motion, and it was seconded and unanimously passed by the church.
He took it to his mother. I wish I could have seen her, always with that little black bonnet. And she has attended church here. I wonder if any of you ever saw Mother Truett? Would you raise your hand? There’s a hand. There’s one. Here’s one. There are about three of you who have. There’s one. There are four of you, five and six of you. Well, I wish I could have seen her. She must have been one of the saintliest women in the world. He always took his problems to her. So he took that problem to her. "Mother, what shall I do?" And the mother replied, "Son, these are godly people, and the church, in stated conference, has expressed itself as of the firm persuasion that God would have you in the ministry."
Now, may I comment? If you are the only one that has the persuasion that God’s called you to preach, my advice to you is forget it; forget it. And I don’t know how many times that happens, far more than any other kind of a way – come to me and say, "God’s called me to preach, but nobody else thinks so." Well, that’s a sure sign God hasn’t called you to preach. If God has called you to preach, there will be others who will have that conviction as deep and as plainly as you have it. And that’s a good illustration of it. That church felt to the last member that God had laid his hand on Dr. Truett. So the next day, they had their examination of the young candidate publicly, and they ordained him at the 11:00 o’clock hour in the Baptist church at Whitewright, Texas.
Now Truett is twenty-three years old, and the year is 1890. In 1890, the Baptist General Convention of Texas met in Waxahachie, a flourishing town in northern Texas. Today we have so outgrown it. Why, we think of Waxahachie as being a small suburb, but it was one of the flourishing, strategic towns in Texas in 1890. The convention met in 1890 in Waxahachie and faced an insoluble problem. Baylor University was preparing to close its doors. The university faced extinction. They had a debt on it of ninety-two thousand dollars. To us, that is a small sum, but in that day it was astronomical.
Dr. J. B. Cranfield, who was for many years a teacher in this church, Dr. Cranfield had the KRLD radio in his class. Dr. Cranfield had been the financial agent of Baylor, and had resigned to become corresponding secretary of the Baptist General Convention of Texas. And the convention met there in Waxahachie, not knowing what to do, to close the school was catastrophic. To pay the debt was impossible. For the school to continue in indebtedness and adding to the indebtedness with no hope of payment was also unthinkable. And the brethren didn’t know where to turn or what to do.
They closed the convention in Waxahachie in a covenant of prayer that God would lead Dr. B. H. Carroll – head of the Bible Department at Baylor, later the founder of the seminary – they took the Bible Department of Baylor up to Ft. Worth and organized the Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary with it. They gave to Dr. B. H. Carroll, head of the Bible Department at Baylor and pastor of the First Baptist Church in Waco, the assignment of finding somebody to save the school. And they closed the convention in a covenant of prayer. All the messengers and all the churches would pray for Dr. Carroll to be led to God’s man to save the school.
One of the messengers to that convention was Pastor Jenkins of the Whitewright Baptist Church. And Pastor Jenkins wrote to Dr. Carroll and suggested young George Truett to be that instrument of God to save the school, to raise ninety-two thousand dollars. And he closed his letter with this word, "He is young," and this and this, "but this I know," said the pastor, "when Truett gets up to speak, people always do what he asks them to do."
It was such an unusual thing, and he was such a young man and not a college man, hadn’t been to the school. Dr. Carroll made an engagement to meet him in McKinney. Dr. Carroll was coming to an associational meeting to speak in McKinney, and it was arranged there that Dr. Carroll and George Truett would meet together, face to face, in McKinney. And that was the beginning of one of the great Christian friendships of the world. Dr. Carroll was forty-eight years old. George Truett was twenty-three. But when they met each other, God seemed to cement their love and admiration. They spent many hours talking together and Dr. Carroll invited the young man to be that agent to save the school.
When he went back and told the people at Baylor about what he had done and whom he had chosen, their spirits fell. "A young man twenty-three years of age, who hasn’t even attended the school, you are proposing to go out here – though he’s unknown – and to raise ninety-two thousand dollars to save the university?" And they said to one another as they mumbled, "We might as well forget it. Close the school. Go home." But Dr. Carroll, said "You wait. You wait." And Dr. Carroll introduced the young man, George Truett, for the first time to a group, Baptist group here in Texas. And when he was done speaking their hearts were raised high as heaven. And I can well understand. I never heard him in my life but that it just seemed to me I went to glory; I was in heaven.
For twenty-three months Dr. Carroll and George Truett worked together. The young man lived in Dr. Carroll’s home until he married. And when he would preach and make appeal for that school, people would come up and turn their purses inside out and give everything they had to the school. And after twenty-three months, the entire sum of money was raised. The debt was paid off; the university was saved and its doors were kept open.
And in 1893, at twenty-six years of age, young George Truett entered the university as a freshman. He stayed there four years until 1897, when he was graduated. In his college work at Baylor, he was married to Judge Jenkins’ daughter, Josephine Jenkins. And in those years he was pastor of the little East Waco Baptist Church, which pastorate he intended to keep the rest of his life. He never thought of anything else, but that the rest of his life he would be undershepherd of that little church in East Waco.
When he was graduated in 1897, the First Baptist Church in Dallas – a big church in those days, it had seven hundred fifteen members. And as always, it had a debt, a big debt for a church in those days, of twelve thousand dollars. The First Baptist Church in Dallas called the young preacher, who was just out of Baylor, to be pastor of this congregation. There were many other invitations, but somehow God was in this one. And in 1897, at thirty years of age, Dr. Truett accepted the pastorate of this church here in Dallas and came to be in this church, the world preacher that all of us who knew him loved and revered.
Now in the days that passed, I went to Baylor four years. And in the library at Baylor at that time, there were two busts of great men who were sons of Baylor. On one side of the library in which I studied was a bust of George W. Truett. On the other side of the entrance was a bust of Pat Neff, the governor of the state. Ten thousand times have I walked by and looked upon them.
And in the providences of life, Dr. Truett came to Baylor one time while I was there and spoke in chapel. He spoke on the four laws of Christian character. And when the chapel service was over and they had some kind of a denominational meeting there, he was seated in the middle of the cafeteria with Dr. Joseph M. Dawson, pastor of the First Baptist Church in Waco. And as I walked, going through the cafeteria line, I watched Dr. Truett. And I thought how wonderfully, marvelously fortunate Dr. Dawson was to be able to sit down and to talk to that incomparably great, great man.
And in my freshman year, the Baptist Student Union, the BSU Convention met in Dallas in this church. And I came up here to attend the BSU Convention and I sat over there, right where Boto is seated now. I sat there and listened to Dr. Truett on Sunday morning at the 11:00 o’clock hour. As he preached and across the proscenium here was the placard, the big banner of the conference theme, "Christ Adequate." And Dr. Truett preached that Sunday morning on that theme, "Christ Adequate."
Now there were only six rows in the little church in which I grew up. That was how big it was. There six pews, I mean. It was six pews in depth. And when I went to Amarillo, it was at Ninth and Polk Street, just a little church comparatively. When I sat over there and looked at this church, I had never seen or imagined such a big church in all my life. I couldn’t imagine a church this large and I couldn’t imagine a congregation this large; I don’t know what in the world has happened to this church since those days when I was a freshman at Baylor. It has shrunk up. Oh! Why, I can remember when a two-story building, I could not imagine how those bricks could stay on top of each other, two stories high! How times change for a country boy.
Then in Amarillo – Deacon Jim Cantrell – the convention met, the Baptist General Convention met in Amarillo, and that was the convention in which Samuel Palmer Brooks pled and begged for the founding of the Baptist Foundation. And I remember those sessions there, and what Dr. Brooks said, and how he appealed, and how he appealed, and explained, and begged, and in every way humanly possible made a tremendous effort for the establishment of the Baptist Foundation in Texas. And at that convention, Dr. Truett stood up and delivered a tremendous address on Christian education and took up a collection for a hundred thousand dollars. Oh, I just could not imagine it, such a tremendous address, and to me at that time such a tremendous response.
Now in those days, at the Southern Baptist Convention in Houston, Texas, Dr. Truett closed the convention with an address on Christian education on Thursday, May 13, 1926. And I have chosen out of that address, the way he began. One of the things in the middle, and one quotation at the end that you might see the kind of a thing Dr. Truett did and thought about Christian education. He begins:
I am keenly sensitive of my inability to speak as one should speak at this hour for the high claims of Christian education. It is impossible for a busy pastor to be informed and equipped to speak about our Christian schools as our noble schoolmen themselves could speak. If, however, an increasing and ever-deepening interest in these schools be a qualification for one who would plead for them, then I have that one qualification. If ever the drumbeat of duty sounded clearly in the ears of God’s people to take a great step forward in behalf of our Christian schools, it is my deep conviction that is thus sounding this very hour.
That’s the way he began. Then, in the center of his address:
Just here emerges one of the highest and most challenging privileges allowed Christian men and women; and that is the privilege of planting and worthily maintaining the right kind of Christian schools. These schools are to be fundamentally, unfalteringly, and aggressively Christian. They are to be ready at all times to give a reason for the faith that is in them, and faithfully to impart that faith to all who come within their halls. To fail to do so is to be guilty of educational simony and to betray Christ’s cause in the house of His professed friends. Our Christian schools are ever faithfully to remember that the soul of culture is the culture of the soul. All education is atmospheric. The whole atmosphere of the Christian school is to be devoutly, positively, constructively Christian. The noble McMaster University in Canada has the right motto for every Christian school. "In Him all things consist."
Oh, I wish our school would remember that: there’s only one reason for a Christian school. That is, that it be Christian; otherwise, why have it? First, foremost, it is to be Christian. Now, his conclusion:
This present hour, as never before, is the hour of destiny for Christian education and the Christian school. And it also be said with acute emphasis that our Baptist people are well able to care for these schools. And if we can, then we must! And well does the Christian historian Guizot say, "Though God sometimes seems to require a thousand years for one step and the other times He takes a step of a thousand years in one day." God seems to be taking that long step now. The Renaissance was an intellectual awakening. The Reformation was a religious awakening. The French Revolution was a political awakening. But, the awakenings of today are all these and more. They are intellectual, and political, and social, and industrial, and educational, and moral, and religious, all, all combined. We have come to the day of days for our Baptist people. Are we big enough to see our day and faithful enough to meet it according to the will of God?
And I wish he were alive today to say those words with his silver tongue. Whether our Christian schools will continue to exist or not is a very pertinent question. More and more federal money is being poured. More and more tax moneies are being poured into our state institutions. And how can the Christian school compete with these tremendously endowed institutions and these tax-supported schools? The answer is very plain. We cannot. There is no possibility of Baylor University competing with Texas University. There is no possibility of Dallas Baptist College competing with Texas University at Arlington.
Then, how must we face this tremendous issue that involves the very heart of our denominational lives? In my humble judgment, we must face it in the spirit and in the appeal of the great pastor, Dr. Truett. We must build a Christian school for those children of our families who want, above all things, to teach their children in a Christian environment, in a Baptist school where our preachers are taught and our Christian leaders are taught. And if one is not interested in a deeply religious school, and if one is not interested in our Baptist commitment to Christ, let him go to Texas University. Let him go to Arlington. Let him go to A & M. Let him to go to any other school that he would choose. But what we ought to do is to pray God’s blessings upon and to give our support to the building of a deeply religious school, a Christian school; and if we will do that, we shall have money and to spare.
What is our decimation is the compromise we make in Christian education. We are afraid of offending somebody, and we are afraid that we will not compete in the race with somebody. Forget it. Let’s be of all things, first given to Jesus, serving our Lord. Announcedly, publicly, statedly, unashamedly this is a Christian school and a Baptist institution. And if you would like for your son or your daughter to attend such a school as that, then you have found a home for the educational training of that child and welcome. God bless us in that commitment. The Lord give us wisdom thus to do.
Well, as always, we go over the time. While we sing our song this morning, while we make our appeal, somebody to give himself to Jesus, would you come and stand by me. A family you, to put your life in the church, as we sing our song, as the Holy Spirit would lead in the way, come and stand by me. "Pastor, today I take Jesus as my Savior." Or, "Pastor, today we are putting our lives in the fellowship of this dear church." As the Spirit shall lead, offer God your highest best, your life for Him: on the first note of the first stanza, come, while we stand and while we sing.