Look Unto the Rock
July 30th, 1967 @ 10:50 AM
LOOK UNTO THE ROCK
Dr. W. A. Criswell
7-30-67 10:50 a.m.
On the radio and on television you are sharing the services of the First Baptist Church in Dallas. This is a momentous and epochal day for us because this day, the thirtieth day of July, we are beginning the celebration of the one hundredth anniversary of our dear church. Tonight you will have to come early to get a seat. The people in the choir, our instrumentalists, our ushers, everybody who will – and that will be a host of us – are going to dress as they did a hundred years ago, and I am going to preach a sermon that I have preached all over this nation, but I have never had enough nerve to preach it here. I am going to preach tonight on The Old-Time Religion, and if you want to listen to some shouting and some singing, you can clap you hands, you can pat your foot, you can say amen or hallelujah. We are going to put on all the rousements tonight. I’m going to dress in my cutaway and my rattlesnake britches. We are going to have a service and a time tonight as nobody ever had since the history of the world; the old- time religion. The title of the message this morning is The Rock From Whence We Are Hewn.
The Old Testament prophets had a habit of calling their Hebrew people back to the remembrance of their forefathers. For example, Isaiah in the fifty-first chapter of his book said, "Look unto the rock from whence ye are hewn, and to the hole of the pit whence ye are digged. Look unto Abraham your father, and unto Sarah that bare you" [Isaiah 51:1, 2]. "Look unto the rock from whence ye are hewn, and to the hole of the pit from whence ye are digged."
And this morning we shall turn our hearts backward and the pages of history backward to the days of the founding of this city and of this glorious congregation. The city of Dallas became such, it was organized, incorporated in 1856 with a population of about four hundred. Ten years before that in 1846, there came a traveling, missionary, itinerate, circuit riding, Baptist preacher to the little settlement and preached the first Baptist sermon in this town. His name was Reverend J. M. Myers. A year later, in 1847, he returned and organized here a little Baptist congregation. Ten years later, in 1857, he returned to the little settlement of Dallas, meeting in a ten by ten log structure on the banks of the Trinity River, and under his direction they unorganized the church, then they reorganized it in order to and I quote "to rid themselves of Yankee vermin." It was a fiery church, and it lived in a fiery day. The repercussions of the civil war, the War Between the States was felt in every family. Several of the members owned slaves, won them to Christ, baptized them into the church. They had strict discipline. They put out of the church as many as they took into the church. It was full of fire, fury, and furor.
In 1860, the little congregation moved out of the town into the country in order to and I quote, "to flee from the wickedness of the city." In 1863 they moved further out into the country and took the name Pleasant View Baptist Church. That congregation recently observed its one hundred and twentieth anniversary. They are located way out in the country at Mockingbird Lane and Fisher Road. All of which, of course, left the little city of Dallas without a Baptist church.
In those long ago days a hundred years ago, there lived in the town a very devout Baptist family by the name of Colonel W. L. Williams. He taught a Sunday school class in the Cumberland Presbyterian Church, but he was not happy being away from his own people and his own church. So, in those days he went to the two pastors of the Pleasant View Baptist Church, Brother Pinson and Brother Long, and he said to them, "When you moved out into the county, some of our Baptist members were left behind." And he said, "We have no congregation in Dallas for us who would love to attend it – would you therefore come and help us organize a Baptist church in the settlement of Dallas?"
Those two pastors, Brother Pinson and Brother Long, came back to the town of Dallas, and they set about to establish a Baptist congregation of worship. They met on the lower floor of the Masonic Hall which was located two blocks north of the court house square at Ross and Lamar.
At that time, in the good providences of God, there came to the settlement a Baptist preacher by the name of W. W. Harris. He had just closed a revival meeting at the little place called Belton in Bell County. So they invited W. W. Harris to hold a two- weeks revival meeting, the last part of July in 1868. They had one conversion during the revival, and at the end of the meeting on the thirtieth day of July in 1868 they organized the First Baptist Church of Dallas. It had a membership of three men and eight women, a total of eleven. And when Brother Pinson prayed the prayer of dedication, he prayed three things for us – one, that the sustaining grace of God would ever attend us; second, that we would war against wickedness; and third, that we would be a light to a lost world until Jesus should come. A few days after the organization they called William W. Harris to be their pastor.
Now we shall look at that man, William W. Harris, the first pastor of this church one hundred years ago – they call him Spurgeon Harris. He was so eloquent and he preached with such felicity and choice of language, and he was so graceful in his gestures and eloquent in his message. He was a young man in his later twenties. A frail young man, but one in whom the grace of God rested aboundingly and abundantly. When he spoke, he spoke with great and moving power. An old time, long ago, Baptist historian, by the name of J. B. Lee, wrote this in one of his histories about Spurgeon Harris – the first pastor of the First Church in Dallas. I quote "When he finally, when he fairly had himself face-to-face with his congregation, and text, and well-thought theme before him, the streams of grandest eloquence, vivid descriptions, flights of fancy, and home-thrusts of omnipotent truth clothed in burning words, captured, swayed, and entranced his congregations. Often his musical voice and tender pathos bathed almost every cheek in tears."
And Mrs. W. L. Williams, the colonel’s wife, who was one of the charter members and the founders of the church – she described him as being graceful and eloquent. She also said that he had a sweet, melodious, beautiful voice, and that he began every sermon with a solo – and to me, that is an inspired suggestion – every sermon with a solo. Why, I’ve just got it in my system:
Oh, the Lord has been so good to me
I feel like traveling on
Until those mansions I can see,
Oh, I feel like traveling on.
["I Feel like Traveling On," William Hunter]
Every sermon he began with a solo – but he also preached one hour and a half. Another inspired suggestion! As I read all this in history, I think, well, maybe that’s why he had only one conversion in his revival. There’s an old adage, you know, "There are not many souls saved after the first twenty minutes." As I read the life, seeking it out in places where you’d hardly ever find it – these things are all new to me – I never though of them or dreamed of them. I got acquainted with Spurgeon Harris.
In 1860, at the outbreak of the War Between the States, he entered the confederate army as a soldier, and he fought through four bloody years of that terrible conflict. Before he left for the war, he had fallen in love with a young lady school teacher in South Texas, and they made a covenant that if and when he should return from the war they would be married.
In a providence that nobody can understand, and in a shocking surprise to her family, just before the close of the war, she unexpectedly, in a momentary infatuation, married a man that she had known but a short while. She regretted it to her dying day. When therefore Spurgeon Harris came back from those four trying years, the first thing he did was to make his way to her home, to make her his bride and wife. Can you imagine the tragedy when he discovered what had happened? One of the most pathetic scenes I have ever read is this preacher, sitting before an open fire, burning page at a time, the letters that he had treasured and kept through those four waiting years. He never married; he lived alone without family, without home, the rest of his life. He gave himself to itinerant preaching – going to the frontier settlements, always alone.
I could not help but be sensitive to the word of Mrs. Williams as she describes their first young pastor, saying that he was eloquent and gifted – but there was this criticism against him, that he had such a tragic way of speaking. As we enter into the innermost secret of his life, we can somewhat understand the loneliness that he knew.
In 1879, a lone horseman is riding in his last journey from up here in North Texas down to the south part of the state to die. He is penniless, he is broken in health, in heart, in spirit, and he is making his way down to the Rio Grande river to die. That lonely man is Spurgeon Harris. He can speak hardly above a whisper. He has fallen victim to the then dreaded disease of tuberculosis. He was a graduate of Baylor University at Independence on the Brazos River. And as he made his way in short stages to the south, he stopped at Seguin, a settlement between Austin and San Antonio, there to visit with an old Baylor College friend by the name of Dotson, who was pastor of the church at Seguin.
Sunday came and the pastor asked if his old friend Spurgeon Harris could preach. He then could speak just above a whisper, but he said, "I will try, and if I must close before it is done, you take charge of the service." So they began, and the broken and frail man in his early forties stood up to take his text, Romans 1:16: "For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ: for it is the power of God unto salvation to all who believe."
And as he started to preach he coughed and his voice was hoarse – just a whisper. But they say that as he continued to speak, his voice became clear, mellifluous, beautiful, and that he soared in every marvelous, rhetorical peroration. They say that there seemed to shine above his head a halo from heaven, and that he literally swept the great congregation to the very throne of God – and when he finished, he fell into a fit of coughing, he leaned on the pulpit, barely able to whisper, in a hoarse voice, the last sermon he ever preached.
He made his way beyond San Antonio to the ranks of the three Roberts brothers. Somebody suggested that possibly the reason he made his way to the Roberts ranch at the head of Devil’s River, where it pours into the Rio Grande – that possibly the reason he made his way there was that those three Roberts boys were the nephews of the only woman he ever loved. They received him and took care of him until he died. He was laid to rest in a little alkali flat on the other side of the creek from the small military outpost of San Felipe. In the days that multiplied, the railroads pressed toward the setting sun, and they built on that side of the creek, the little town of Del Rio. In the heart of the town was this little alkali flat. It was later brought by the Methodist people who built there their house of worship.
The funeral service was attended by six Mexicans and a cowboy. The grave was unmarked, and when the Methodist people made the excavation for their church house, they found some human bones. They were reinterred in the city cemetery in Del Rio. They could have been the mortal remains of Spurgeon Harris or else he lies beneath the building itself or somewhere on the lawn – the unmarked, unknown grave of the eloquent young pastor of the First Baptist Church in Dallas.
In the one hundred twenty-sixth Psalm that we read, sowing and reaping:
They that sow in tears shall reap in joy. He that goeth forth and weepeth, bearing precious seed, shall someday come again with rejoicing, bringing his sheaves with him.
And again in the sweet words of our Lord: "That he that soweth and he that reapeth may rejoice together. And herein is that same truth, One soweth, and another reapeth" [John 4:36-37].
Sowing and reaping: the sower, Spurgeon Harris, organizing with his fellow Baptist preachers a little congregation of three men, of eight women; eleven. The reaper, and today a great church of over 14,000 members, a Sunday school approaching 9,000 enrolled, with a multitudinous, multifaceted ministry to every member of the family; sowing and reaping. The sower, Spurgeon Harris, meeting for their house of worship on the lower floor of the Masonic Lodge. The reapers, today in one of the largest church auditoriums in America, in the heart of a great city, with a property valued over $7,000,000; sowing and reaping [Psalm 126:5-6].
The sower, Spurgeon Harris, struggling to exist with a bare pittance for a living, and the little congregation striving to raise $500 to lay the foundation for a new house of worship. The reapers: today our church is reaching toward the fantastic annual budget of more than $2,000,000. It will not be long until this great congregation gives year by year to its work more than $2,000,000; sowing and reaping [Psalm 126:5-6; John 4:36-37].
The sower, Spurgeon Harris, with the spirit of evangelism and missions, going from settlement to settlement, preaching under arbors on the open prairies, praying that somehow, some heart would catch the fire to carry it further and beyond. The reapers, the missionary outreach of this church in Dallas, in Texas, in our national life and extending around the world, has been a beacon for our people for years and years; sowing and reaping [Psalm 126:5-6; John 4:36-37].
The sower, Spurgeon Harris, answering God’s call, lifting up his voice, preaching the gospel of the grace of the Son of God, but his voice failed, finally could not be heard, just the hoarseness of a whisper. The reapers: the olden voice of George W. Truett was verily heard around the world, and today the thousands and thousands who listen on television, who share in the radio, the books and the Tapes for Christ ministries that are sent to every language under the sun; sowing and reaping.
The sower, Spurgeon Harris, dying penniless in want, an old soldier of the cross, even in early years of middle life laying down a burden, in the heat and toil of the day. The reapers: in this very church was organized the ministry to the old soldiers of the cross; not one today suffers in need and in want. Our great Annuity Board located in Dallas was organized in this great church; sowing and reaping.
The sower, Spurgeon Harris, dying one hundred seventy miles from any hospital. The reapers: out of the giant men of this church, Colonel C. C. Slaughter, the pastor George W. Truett, there was organized the Texas Baptist Memorial Sanitarium, who later changed its name to Baylor University Hospital, and which now is called Baylor Medical Center, ministering to thousands and thousands, and thousands, every year like a good physician, like a good Samaritan in the name of the Great Physician; sowing and reaping [Psalm 126:5-6; John 4:36-37].
The sower, Spurgeon Harris, dying unattended in the evening. A cowboy would come in from the range, throw his chaps on the back porch, and in an awkward and a clumsy manner try to help the dying pastor. Reaping: in our university system and on the Baylor University Medical campus, the schools of nursing, and our sister hospitals over the state, training technicians and nurses to help us in our day of need; sowing and reaping. "They that sow in tears shall reap in joy [Psalm 126:5], that he that soweth and he that reapeth may rejoice together" [John 4:36-37].
The seed I have scattered in spring time with weeping
And watered with tears and with dews from on high
Another may shout when the harvesters reaping
Shall gather my grain in the sweet by and by.
By and by, by and by, by and by, by and by
The tears of the sowers and the songs of the reapers
Shall mingle together in joy by and by.
["Songs of the Reaper," William A Spencer]
And one of these days, please God, one of these days, when the redeemed of all of the ages stand in the presence of the Great Glory, in the throng that shall be present in that great assize, I want to seek out that man, Spurgeon Harris – introduce myself to him and tell him of the glory of the grace of God upon that little congregation that he pastored in the long, long ago.
How much God has done! How faithfully His people have wrought – that the sower and the reaper may rejoice together in the by-and-by, in the by-and-by [Psalm 126:5-6; John 4:36-37]. O Lord, with what grace, and with what goodness, and with what infinite mercy has God blessed and sustained this dear church.
Now, while we sing our hymn of appeal, somebody you, to give himself to Jesus. A family you, to come into the fellowship of the church; a couple, or one somebody you, while we sing this hymn, out of the throng, in the balcony round, on this lower floor, into the aisle and down here to the front, "Here I am, pastor, and here I come. Today I give my life to the Lord." Or, "Today we are putting our lives in the circle of this precious church." Do it now, do it today, on the first note of this first stanza come; decide now, and when you stand up, stand up coming. Do it now. Make it now, while we stand and while we sing.
LOOK UNTO THE ROCK – CENTENNIAL SERMON
Dr. W. A. Criswell
I. The First Baptist Church in Dallas
A. City of Dallas incorporated in 1856
B. Ten years before, Rev. J. M. Myers preached first Baptist sermon
1. Organized a Baptist congregation in 1847
2. Returned in 1857 to reorganize and "rid themselves of Yankee vermin"
C. In 1860, congregation moved out to country to "flee wickedness of city"
1. In 1863, moved further out and became Pleasant View Baptist Church
II. The other, present First Baptist Church
A. Colonel W. L. Williams sought help to establish Baptist church in the city
1. Invited William. W. Harris to hold revival, July 1868
2. July 30, 1868 organized First Baptist Church with eleven members
3. Called William "Spurgeon" Harris as pastor
III. William "Spurgeon" Harris
A. Regarded as a great preacher
B. Entered Confederate army in 1860
1. Returned to find his love married another
2. Gave himself to itinerant preaching, always alone
C. His last journey in 1879
IV. Sowing and reaping
A. Sow in tears, reap in joy (Psalm 126:5-6, John 4:36-37)