My Life and My Church
August 6th, 1967 @ 8:15 AM
MY LIFE AND MY CHURCH
Dr. W. A. Criswell
8-6-67 8:15 a.m.
On the radio you are sharing the services of the First Baptist Church in Dallas. And this is the pastor bringing the message from God’s Book entitled My Life and My Church. And it is a wonderful thing to be a servant of this precious congregation. As I have sometimes said, I had rather be pastor of this church, than to be president of the United States, than to be the prime minister of the British Empire, and I have added, with the hope that the deacons did not take it to seriously, I had rather do what I do for nothing than what anybody else does for pay.
Now the sermon that I have prepared this morning is one that is meaningful to me. It is an attempt to portray, at least that of my own soul and affection, what the fellowship, the koinonia, the congregation of God’s people means; my Lord, my life, and my church.
Now these are texts, they are background texts. One is in Acts 20:28; Paul speaking to the leaders of the church at Ephesus says, "Take heed therefore unto yourselves, and to all the flock, over the which the Holy Spirit hath made you overseers, to shepherd, to feed, to care for the church of God, which He hath purchased with His own blood."
You know, you could preach a good sermon on the theological background of that text, "To feed the church of God, which He hath purchased with His own blood" [Acts 20:28]. He calls Jesus God there, and He purchased our salvation, all of God’s redeemed here with His own blood. Now the other passage is in Ephesians 5:25: "Christ also loved the church, and gave Himself for it." Christ loved the church. The ministry of our Lord issued in a church; upon this foundation rock of the deity of the Son of God, "On this rock I will build My church" [Matthew 16:18].
The ordinances of the church hold the great doctrines of our salvation, as a dipper will hold the water. In our baptismal service, a picture of our salvation, Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and He was buried, and the third day He was raised again according to the Scriptures [1 Corinthians 15:3-4]. "This is My blood of the new covenant, of the new promise, shed for the remission of sins, this is My body given for you" [Matthew 26:28]. The doctrines of our salvation and redemption are held beautifully, memorially, eternally, until we see His face in the holy ordinances of the church. They don’t belong to the senate, or the judiciary, or the legislature, or the chamber of commerce. The ordinances belong to the church.
The coming of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost [Acts 2:1-4] empowered a church, all of them together; and after the Spirit of salvation worked among the people, and the convicting power wooed, and the regenerating power saved [Acts 2:36-41], God added to His church those who being saved [Acts 2:47]. And the ministries, far-flung, of the apostles issued in the founding of churches; the churches of Judea, of Galatia, of Macedonia, the churches that surrounded the Roman Empire, and the Lord’s last messages in the Apocalypse were addressed to His churches. The seven churches of Asia [Revelation 2:1-3:22] – symbolic seven, out of all of the churches in Asia, seven of them – representative, symbolic of all of His churches then, and through all the ages. And the summation of it in the word of the apostle, "Take heed to yourselves, and to all the flock . . . to shepherd the church of God, which He purchased with His own blood" [Acts 20:28]. And the summation of our Lord’s attitude: "Christ loved the church, and gave Himself for it" [Ephesians 5:25]. Now I belong to that group inside of me, outside of me, all the faculties of my mind and the affections and the emotions of my soul; I belong to that group, this group.
When I was a youth, I went to the big city for the first time, Chicago. I bought a ticket on a scenic cruise to look at all the city, and I happened to be seated by a young fellow just about my own age. He was from Seattle and from a broken home. His father was very wealthy, his stepmother did not like him, so the boy was sent away to school in the wintertime and given money to go anywhere in the world in the summertime, just so he wasn’t at home where his stepmother so violently disliked him. And I had never seen a young fellow like that before, he’d been everywhere in the world. So as I sat by him and we were riding around over Chicago, looking at the city, he said to me, "Would you like to go to one of Al Capone’s speak-easies?" Well, I said, "I never had thought about it." Well, he said, "You come along with me and we’ll go see one of Al Capone’s speak-easies."
So we got off on a central place in the heart of Chicago by State Street, and that boy walked about half a block off of State Street in the very heart of Chicago, and up in a building about a half a block off State Street, up a long flight of steps and knocked on the door. Well, a little old panel opened and he said something to the fellow on the inside the panel and he went in and the door was shut, and then after a little while the door was opened and I was introduced in.
I was in a funk. I was in another world. There was one of those bars with all the beautiful trappings of embellishment, and carved wood, and mirrors, and the brass rails, and the men drinking there at the bar, and beyond that was a large room where they were gambling, all kinds of gamblings and the people there, it was an astonishment to me! All the stuff they sold tasted terrible, terrible. I cannot conceive of anybody drinking slop that they called beer, I cannot conceive of anybody drinking medicinal spirits that they called liquors. It is unthinkable to me and all of that gambling back there, I cannot conceive of people taking money and putting it out to chance. There’s so many ways you can use it, you can invest it, you can give it to God, I just can’t conceive of it. The only thing there that I enjoyed was at one end of that big speak-easy was all kinds of things to eat. The most delicious delectable, kosher foods of every kind you can imagine, so I went over there and I ate to my full. But, after I had eaten all I could hold, I said to the young fellow, I said feel so uncomfortable here, and if you don’t mind, I am going to leave – so I took my leave of the young fellow and went down those steps.
I also went to the Pacific Garden Mission, and as a young fellow, not as an old minister as I am now, but as a young fellow, as a youth. In the Pacific Garden Mission, I loved everybody there, I loved everything there. Those testimonies are as fresh in my mind now as the days I heard them years and years ago, and the songs they sang and the service and everything about it, I just fit, I just belonged, these were my people and this is my Lord. I feel that way about everything in our dear church. I believe in God, I believe in Jesus, I believe in the Holy Scriptures, and I believe in the sanctity, and the meaning, and the heavenly pilgrimage of our commitment and confession. I want to be identified with them. I rejoice in the identification.
I love to be an American with all of the weaknesses of America. Wherever I go in this world, I am proud to be an American. I am glad to be a citizen of Dallas, with all the things that we can make better in this city, I am proud of our queenly metropolis. You who are old enough to have heard Dr. Truett have heard him say many times, "I am a citizen of no mean city," quoting apostle Paul as he spake of the capital of Cilicia, his native city of Tarsus [Acts 21:39]. And I am grateful for the high holy privilege of being a fellow member of this glorious First Baptist Church. I love to be identified with this congregation. I love to be in the fellowship because I feel they need me.
This is not egotism or false pride, my Lord needs me. He didn’t have to choose, He was not coercively made to elect the way that He did. But out of the boundless grace of His love for us, God committed not the angel, but to us this ministry of the gospel of the Son of God and all of its accouterments, and all of its preaching, and all of its missions, all of it He has committed to us. The hands that He uses are our hands, and the feet that He uses are our feet, and the tongues that He uses are our tongues, and my Lord needs me. As Stradivarius said, "Even God cannot make Stradivarius violins without Stradivarius."
Even God has elected not to preach the gospel or do His work without us. Our Lord needs me, and my brethren need me. We have a vast assignment, a tremendous assignment. Like a man under a heavy, heavy load, more than he can bear; if you were to help him in it, he would say, "Thank you, sir"; so God’s people, with all of our weaknesses, and negligence, and forgetfulness of appreciation and remembrance. Yet it is the true spirit of our hearts – when we are helped, and abetted, and aided, and encouraged; oh, how grateful we are. And my brethren need me; there are visits to be made, and there are testimonies to be given, there are mission causes to support, and there are people to win to Jesus, and there is so much of the teaching ministries, and helpful ministries of this church into which I can pour my life; and my brethren need me.
And then I want to speak of the merit of the work, of the investment of my life in the circle of this incomparable fellowship and this glorious congregation. Did you know, the Book says that the only thing that withholds judgment from this world – the only thing that keeps the hand and the wrath of God from falling upon this vile, and wicked, and Adamic race, is God’s people in it [Genesis 18:23-33]. When you walk around and see these skyscrapers standing up, when you see all of these lines of communication running, and when you see civilization and culture as it progresses, and when you see the development of history in this world, all of it is made possible because of God’s people in it.
For the Lord said one time to Abraham, "If I can find ten righteous men, ten righteous men in Sodom, I will not destroy for the sake of the ten righteous" [Genesis 18:32]. And the Lord sent His messengers [Genesis 19:1], and they walked through the streets of the city of Sodom, and they entered all the business houses of the city of Sodom, and they searched through all of the hearts of the people in Sodom to find ten righteous. And for the lack of ten righteous, judgment fell from heaven; and fire and brimstone turned the place to cinder and ashes [Genesis 19:24-29].
And that is a great parable, and a symbol, and a harbinger of the judgment of God in this final age when God’s people are taken out of it [1 Thessalonians 4:16-17]. The judgment of the Almighty will fall upon it. And as the angels said to Lot, "I can do nothing until thou be come thence" [Genesis 19:22], as long as righteous Lot infects his soul with the filth of the people, as long as righteous Lot was in the city it couldn’t be burned up, it couldn’t be judged. But when righteous Lot was taken out, the power of the judgment of God Almighty fell [Genesis 19:24-29]. And it is God’s people who keep that judgment from falling today upon this Adamic race.
Another thing: did you know that all values – I am going to prove this, it is simple to prove; did you know that all true values, all of them, I mean all of them – all true values are Christian values. They are God’s values, they are church values – they come from heaven, all true values do.
Now to speak of it, just exactly what value is a house, or a farm, or a business that you might own in a godless, and an atheistic, and a communistic country? Just exactly what would it be worth? Just exactly what would a man’s life be worth in a godless, atheistic, political society, who would think nothing at all of starving, of starving fifty million people if it would accrue to the advancement of their godless purposes – or the feeding of 500,000 men into the bore of a cannon if it would advance their political purposes?
Isn’t it an unusual thing? Listen to this: whenever godless men and unchurched men turn aside from the revelation from heaven for the security of their lives, they turn to the next most powerful thing they know, which is the state. And they worship the state, and they exalt the state, and in their repudiation of God they lose every godly thing! All of them, I mean all of them: the value of property, the value of life, the value of home and family, the value of everything is destroyed, for these things of worth are rooted in the character of Almighty God, and a godless society and a churchless society destroys all true values. Tell me; tell me, what value was a house in the days of Lot, when he vexed his soul with the living of that brutalized city? [2 Peter 2:7]. What value was a farm in the suburbs of Sodom in the days of that godless society? [Genesis 19:4-14]. Tell me, what value was Naboth’s vineyard when Jezebel sat on the throne and when the prophets of Jehovah were banished from Jezreel? [1 Kings 21]. When we destroy belief in God, and when we destroy the witness of Jesus Christ, and when we destroy all of those holy revelations we have received from heaven, we destroy all true value; all of it, all of it. That includes your banks, that includes your farm, that includes your house, that includes your lives, that includes it all.
I came across, years ago, a famous instance of that in the United States of America. You’ve doubtless heard of this, but I want to call to your attention. A man in Montana had made a tremendous fortune in mining. Now he was a blaspheming, cursing, infidel atheist, had no use for God, no use for the church, and no use for God’s people. So he took his fortune, and he built a little city in Montana. It had a thousand acres in it to start off with, and he took that thousand acres, and he outlined it beautifully with paved streets, and gas, and electric lights, and he made beautiful parks, and playgrounds, and he built schools. He did everything to make it an ideal community. No churches, and no religion, and no preachers, and no God. But he had plenty of saloons, and plenty of gambling places, and all of the things to go along with it, to make life really enjoyable. Well, people were enticed, and invited, and they bought, and his community flourished; but several things began to appear in it. One is, there weren’t very many fine women who liked to live there; plenty of the other kind who plied their trade, but not many fine women. Another thing: there were not many children there, for fathers and mothers didn’t much like to bring their children up in that kind of an atmosphere. And another thing: he had great difficulty getting good teachers for the schools, for a fine teacher doesn’t like much to live in a place like that.
And did you know, after five years the fellow faced complete bankruptcy! And then he published this manifesto in magazines and handbills all over the country – and this is the strangest mixture of mental incongruity and irreverence that you ever heard of in your life – but I read what he put in the paper and on those handbills. He said,
To whom it may concern: God knows that there is no such person as God, and my motto has always been "To hell with religion," but for some fool reason, which no man can fathom, I have found by experience that we can not do business in this country, or on any other basis, than that silly bit of sentiment that which we stamp on our coins, "In God We Trust." Therefore, infernal foolishness though it all is, I have sent for a parson and we are going to build a church!
Everything disintegrates, all values disintegrate when we read God out of our social order; everything disintegrates. For all of these things that we love and cherish are rooted and grounded in the character of Almighty God. Well, I have several other things I want to say. I’m talking about the worthwhileness, the merited worth of the investment of my life in this Christian congregation.
I want to speak now of the training and the education of our children. More and more and more, you are going to find the interdiction of religion, expressly spelled out in our public school systems, and all of us who think through that carefully, though we are not seeking for a godless school, yet all of us can see the reason for that. I don’t want my little grandson who will be going to school this coming fall, I don’t want him taught the Roman faith, or the Mormon faith, or the Christian Science faith – I want to rear that little boy in what I think is the true revelation, of the truth of God, in the New Testament, in this Baptist Church. I don’t want him taught anything else. I want him taught what I think is the truth.
Now that means that when religion is interdicted, when the teaching of religion is interdicted in the public schools, that means that we must except that responsibility. O Lord, how serious that assignment. We must accept that responsibility first in the home and second in the church. And whatever it takes, whatever it takes for us to implement that decision, that we are going to teach these children the Lord God Almighty; and His doctrine, and His truth, and His revelation, and His Book. We’re going to do it in the house where we live and in the church to which we attend. All that that means is the church ought to undergird with gladness and with thanksgiving to God that we can do it. And whatever all that means in this Sunday school, and Training Union, and these retreats, and our church camps and everything in the buildings, and the furnishings, whatever it takes, our church ought to accept the responsibility with infinite gladness. And don’t you worry, God’s promise is with us if we will bring these children up, if we will bring these children up; they may wander around, as sometimes prodigal children do when they are young, but they will come back to us, God says. "When they are old they will not forget it, they will not turn aside from it [Proverbs 22:6].
Do you remember last Sunday, there came a man down here who had left the Baptist church thirty years, thirty years? I wonder if he is here this morning? Thirty years, and he said to me, "Preacher, I’ve been gone from the Baptist faith and the Baptist communion for thirty years, but it was the religion of my childhood, it was the religion of my mother and father, it was the religion of my faith, it was the religion of my conversion." And he said, "I have been kind of lost ever since, and I want to come back home." That’s not unusual, that’s not unusual; you train these children up in the love and nurture of the Lord, and there will be an anchor, there will be a hold that they will never get away from, never!
When we were going through London on one of those buses – a group of us preachers and Christians – going through London on one of those sightseeing buses, we passed through Charing Cross, a street, a square in London. And one of the preachers said, "Do all of you know the beautiful story of Charing Cross." Well, I said, "No, I haven’t heard it, what is it?" So he told it to all of us; some had already heard it.
There was a little girl who was lost on the streets of London and a bobby, a London policeman, found the little girl wandering around crying. She was lost. So the policeman said, "Now, let’s go this way and see if you recognize any of these houses." She didn’t there. He said, "Let’s go this way," he said, and she didn’t recognize anything. And he said, "Let’s go this way," and she didn’t recognize anything. So the bobby sat on the street curb and said, "Now, little girl, let me name some streets in London and see if you know any of them: Regent Street?"
"Oh!" said the little girl, "Oh, mister, Charing Cross, yes!" and she added, "Take me down to the cross, and I can find my way home from there." Isn’t that a beautifully expressed sentiment? "Take me down to the cross, and I’ll find my way home from there."
Always, in the youth time of life, in the meridian strength of life, down to old age and to death; anchor them in the Lord. And that’s our assignment, and our infinite and glorious opportunity. And I have one other, but I’m not going to speak of it. Of course, of course, the ministries of this church, and the preaching of this gospel, issues in our appeal for, our invitation to, that the lost may be saved. If someday we see God’s face when we die, it is through the mediation of the gospel of Christ that we share in our personal testimony and in these dear services.
Rescue the perishing, care for the dying,
Smashed and in pity from sin and the grave,
Weep for the erring ones, lift up the fallen,
Tell them of Jesus, the mighty to save,
Down in the human heart, crushed by the tempter,
Feelings like buried that graves can restore,
Touched by a loving hand, and awakened by kindness,
Hearts that were broken will vibrate once more.
Rescue the perishing, care for the dying,
Jesus is merciful, Jesus will save.
["Rescue the Perishing," Fanny Crosby]
Oh! What a blessed gospel to preach, what a precious invitation to extend. God be good to us forever. My life and my church – "Christ loved the church, and gave Himself for it" [Ephesians 5:25]. "Take heed to yourselves, and to the flock . . . that you shepherd the church of God, which He hath purchased with His own blood" [Acts 20:28].
And now while we sing our hymn of appeal, you, somebody you, give your heart to Jesus, come into the fellowship of this precious assembly. As you sit there, make a decision. If God calls you, "Lord, here I come and here I am. I will take Thee as my Savior, I will open my heart to Thee, come in, Lord Jesus, abide in my life, write my name in the book. Keep me forever." You come; or into the fellowship of the church, while we sing the song, make it now. On the first note of the first stanza, come, while we stand and while we sing.