The Old Time Religion


The Old Time Religion

July 30th, 1967 @ 7:30 PM

Acts 8:8

And there was great joy in that city.
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Dr W. A. Criswell

Acts 8: 8

7-30-67     7:30 p.m.



On WRR radio you have been sharing, believe it or not, the services of the First Baptist Church in Dallas, and my subject for tonight has already been announced by the song that has been sung, The Old-Time Religion.  Now the service hour is just a little late, but I want you to be seated, you who are seated, in a comfortable way; and I want all of you who are standing to stand in a comfortable way, and give me time tonight to preach this sermon.

In the eighth chapter of the Book of Acts:


They that were scattered abroad went everywhere preaching the word.  Then Philip went down to the city of Samaria, and preached Christ unto them.  And the people with one accord gave heed unto those things which Philip spake . . . and there was great joy in that city.

[Acts 8:4-8]


The old-time religion – "And there was great joy in that city" [Acts 8:8].  I live in the day of the passing away of the old, and the introduction of the new.  Seeing that coal-oil lamp burned down there, I grew up in the light of a coal-oil lamp.  We never had any electricity; we never had any water in the house except what we pumped and brought inside.  We never had anything like these people have today, except we had a double dose of old-time religion.

I want to speak first about the people.  None like them.  When I began preaching, always and in every little church I pastored, there was a big potbellied stove, and they’d come in chewing tobacco, and when a guy was about to drown, he’d go over there to that stove, unhook the door and nearly put out the fire.  I longed for the day when I would be the proud pastor of a church rich enough to buy some brass cuspidors.  We had our conferences on Saturday afternoon.  Did any of you ever go to a church conference on Saturday afternoon?  Always the conferences were on Saturday afternoon.  And I have never had been pastor of a church in my life where there was not some fellow born in the objective mood in the kickative case.  No matter what, he was agin’ it, he was agin’ it.  At one of those church conferences, a fellow stood up and he said, "My brethren I make a motion that we build a fence around the cemetery."  And that same guy got up, and "I’m agin’ it; I’m agin’ it."  He said, "Do you know anybody in the cemetery that can get out?"  And then he said, he said, "Do you know anybody on the outside that wants in?"  Then he said, "Why build a fence around the cemetery?"

I want to speak about the revival.  It was an epoch in the long ago day when we had the revival meeting.  We didn’t have any picture shows, we never had any automobiles, didn’t have any roads for them to run on if you had an automobile.  Didn’t have any radio, didn’t have any television, didn’t have anything.  So when the revival was announced, it was an epoch in the life of the community, and everybody came.  They closed the stores on the weekday mornings, and everybody came to the revival meetings.  I remember the town infidel – and every town had his infidel – I remember the town infidel.  He lived right back of our house.  You could hear him all over creation as he beat and cussed his cow every morning.  I remember the town infidel, he’d always come and sit on the second row and make fun of the preacher while he was there.  And everybody went to everybody’s revival meeting.  When the Methodists had their meeting, we all went over there.  When the Baptists had their meeting, we all went over there.  When anybody had a meeting, we’d all went there.

And the services, and the services – they were heartfelt.  I never went to an old-time meeting in my life that wasn’t bathed with tears.  Heartfelt religion, that’s how I was saved, and that’s the kind of religion I got.  When I was saved, I could hardly see the preacher for crying.  And many of those services, I’d bow my head between the pews pouring out my heart in tears, a flood, a shower before God.  And the services were filled with healing. 

Today, we find the expression of our emotions and our feelings in a melodramatic theater, in a Cotton Bowl.  Why, one of those men can make a touchdown, and we’ll make that whole thing rock from side to side, but in my younger days, we found the expression of our emotions and our feelings in the church, and in the services.  We wept, we cried, we shouted, we praised God, we were glad, we were full of intensest response as the preacher told about the marvelous grace of God in Christ Jesus.  "Amen," they said.  "Praise God," they said.  "Hallelujah," they said.  They’d clap their hands and sometimes leave the church and shout all over the town.  But today when you come to church, it’s like looking at a valley of dry bones, and everybody is jammed down in his skin and is to stay there.

I one time heard of a fellow who wandered into a liturgical church, and he had a good case of old-time religion.  And as he sat there and listened, why, the preacher who was up there – up there somewhere – why, the preacher said something good about Jesus, and he said, "Amen!"  And the preacher got off the vein, and when finally he got back on again, why, he said something else good about Jesus, and that fellow said, "Praise the Lord!" and the preacher forgot his sermon altogether.  The usher went over there and tapped him on the shoulder and said, "Shut up!  Don’t you know you’re bothering our preacher?"  And this fellow said, "Well, I was just praising God."  And the man – the usher – said, "Well, you can’t praise God in this church!"  And the fellow said, "But I got religion!"  And the usher said, "Well, you didn’t get it here.  Shut up!"  The old-time religion, and it was full of feeling and response.

One of the most memorable nights I ever lived through was in the First Baptist Church of Waco, Texas.  The president of the university was there, his wife was there, the professors were there, the finest businessmen in the city were there, we had a church house full of wonderful people in that revival meeting that night in the First Baptist Church in Waco, Texas.  Now, when I began preaching at seventeen years of age down there in Coryell County, there was an old-timer down there by the name of Top Martin – and he had a good case of old-time religion.  And I loved to have him lead the singing for me in those tabernacle and arbor meetings when I began preaching as a teenager.  Well, to my amazement, old Top Martin, aged, hoarse, creaking, bent, old had come to the revival meeting there in Waco.  So I said to the pastor, I said, "That old gentlemen out there; that’s Top Martin, who used to lead the singing for me when I began preaching seventeen years of age."  I said, "I want you to recognize him."  So when the preacher stood up, why, he said, "We have here tonight a dear old soldier of Jesus who used to lead the singing for this preacher from Dallas when he was a teenage boy under arbors and under tabernacles, and Mr. Top Martin, will you stand up?"  And that old, grand, blessed soldier of Jesus stood up, and when he stood up, he didn’t sit down.  He said to the pastor, he said, "Before I die, before I die, just one more time would you let me come up there in the pulpit and lead a song service for Brother Criswell?  Would you do it?"  I nearly fell out of the chair.  I had no idea what in earth, but the pastor was gracious, and he said, "Why, come on up!" And old brother, Top Martin, came up there and he started singing with the people those old-time songs that we used to sing thirty and forty years ago. 


Amazing Grace, how sweet the sound, that saved a wretch like me,

When we’ve been there ten thousand years,

["Amazing Grace," John Newton]


  And I want you to know that that was the only night that I ever saw that intellectual and professorial crowd break in two.  There’s something about us, whether we’re presidents of the university, whether we have our PhD degrees, no matter how or where, there’s something about us on the inside that responds to the old-time religion.

I have spoken of the people.  I have spoken of the revivals.  I have spoken of the services.  I now speak, and last, of the Book, the Book.  I never heard, I never heard an old-time preacher that doubted that Book.  Never in my life, not in my life, and yet in this modern day, outside of a certain fundamentalist group like some of us Baptists and some of the others, there is not a preacher in America that believes that Book.  To him, it is filled with legends, and myths, and fables.  But I never heard an old-time preacher in my life but who believed that Book from cover to cover, from Genesis 1:1 to Revelation [22]:21.  Sometimes, it led them into some strange come-to-passes.

There was an old Southern preacher who stood up in his pulpit to take his text, and unknown to him, some mischievous boys had glued the pages of his Bible together.  So he opened his Bible, and he started out to read his text, and he read, "In those days, Noah was a hundred forty years old, and he took unto himself a wife, and she was" – and he thought he’s turned the page – "and she was fifty cubits broad, seventy cubits long, made out of gopher wood.  And daubed on the inside and out with pitch."  He scratched his head, and he said, "My brethren and my sisters, this is the first time I ever saw that in the Word of God."  He scratched his head again, and he said, "But this goes to prove that other marvelous verse in God’s Book where it says, ‘We are fearfully and wonderfully made’ [Psalm 139:14].  But if God says it, I believe it."  That’s the attitude of the old-time preacher.

I grew up, as many of you know, in far West Texas, in a line camp that belonged in the years past to the XIT Ranch.  The XIT Ranch was an English company who contracted with the state of Texas to build our capitol building in Austin in return for a vast assignment in the northwestern part of the state of Texas.  I grew up in a line camp of the old XIT Ranch.  The ranch had been dissolved, but the old foreman and the old-time cowboys were still there.  And in my father’s shop, year after year I would listen to those old cowmen as they would tell stories about the days of the long ago.  I see those stories in these western pictures that you have on television, but strange to me, I have never yet seen a western TV story like some of those Christian deeply converted and moving as I heard those old cowmen recount in my father’s shop, and I’m going to tell you one of those stories, one of those old cowmen told of the long, long ago.

He said that there was a Christian boss-man – a foreman – on the ranch, and he had a habit of trying to win his cowboys to Jesus, everyone that he hired.  And when the roundups of the fall and the spring were held and the day’s work was done, he would gather his cowboys around the fire and he’d read to them out of God’s Book and tell them about the love of Jesus.  It was upon one of those days – a roundup in the fall – that one of his cowboys came back to the corral to get a new and a fresh horse.  He picked out the horse that he wanted, roped him, bridled him, saddled him, undid the gate, and rode out with him to go back to his place on the range.  But the horse was fresh and hardly broken and when he started off, the horse began to pitch, and to sunstep, and to sidestep.  You could never throw a real cowboy, never, but once in awhile a cowboy would fall when it wasn’t his fault.  And this horse, being fresh, and prancing, and bucking, and sidestepping, and sudden-stepping, that horse lost his foothold and fell over backward on the cowboy.  The horse got up and scrambled away, but when the cowboy sought to rise, he was crushed internally, and profusely bleeding from his mouth, and couldn’t rise. 

The cook in the camp had seen what had happened, and he ran over to the young lad, and picked him up, and brought him back, and placed him on a cot in the camp, but what could a cook do with a boy who was crushed internally and bleeding from his mouth?  As the lad’s life ebbed away, he turned to the cook, and he said, "Jake, you know that big black Book that the boss-man is always reading to us?  Will you get it, Jake, and bring it to me?"  So, the cook went to the chuck wagon and among the things of the boss, he found the big, black Bible.  He brought it to the lad, and the boy said to the cook, "Cook, you know that verse that the boss-man’s always reading to us, John 3:16?  Jake, find that verse."  And he started the Bible and found John.  He went through John and found chapter 3.  He went down the verses and found 16.  And then the boy said, "Now Jake, read to me that verse."  And the cook read out of the boss-man’s Book, "For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life."  And the boy said, "That’s it, Jake.  Now Jake, would you take that Bible and put it on my breast just so.  And now Jake, would you take my finger and put it on that verse."  Then the lad added, "Now Jake, when the boss-man comes in the evening, will you tell him that I died with my finger on John 3:16?"


One glad smile of pleasure

O’er the cowboy’s face was spread.

One dark compulsive shadow,

And the tall young lad was dead.

Far from his home and family,

They laid him down to rest

With a saddle for a pillow

And that Bible on his breast.

[author unknown]


"The flower fadeth, the grass withereth: but the Word of our God shall endure forever" [Isaiah 40:8].  This is the old-time religion.  Sing it with me.


It’s the old-time religion,

It’s the old-time religion,

It’s the old-time religion,

It’s good enough for me.

It will take us all to heaven.

It will take us all to heaven.

It will take us all to heaven.

It’s good enough for me.

It’s the old-time religion.

It’s the old-time religion.

It’s the old-time religion.

It’s good enough for me.

[traditional hymn]


Bless God.  Now, in the hour of my death, and until the Lord shall raise us up from the dust of the ground, or until He descends in power and in glory [1 Corinthians 15:51-52; 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18], this is the immutable, unchanging Word of God [Isaiah 40:8].  Like God Himself, the same yesterday, and today, and forever [Malachi 3:6].

Now while we sing our song of appeal, somebody you, give himself to Jesus.  Would you come and stand by me?  A couple you, a family you, "Preacher, tonight we’re putting our lives in the fellowship of this dear church."  Or, "Tonight I’m taking the Lord as my Savior.  If I were to die tonight, I will die trusting Jesus to forgive me my sins and to open for me a door into glory."  As we sing our song – an old-time hymn of appeal – if you are in the balcony round there’s a stairway at the front and the back on either side.  There’s time and to spare.  The throng on this lower floor, into the aisle and down-hill to the front; "Preacher, today I decide for God."  Make that decision now.  Do it now.  And in a moment when we sing, stand up coming.  "Here I am, pastor, and here I come."  I make it, I decided, now.  Do it.  Do it, while we stand and while we sing.


W. A. Criswell





Lived between old shouting, mourning, weeping and beginning of new
sophisticated but the old is most remembered

Pot bellied stove

Heartfelt with many tears

Religion of the Book

Religion of the blood, Hebrews 9:22, redemption

Religion of the blessed hope