THE HOPE OF AMERICA
Dr. W. A. Criswell
4-28-68 10:50 a.m.
On the radio KIXL and on television Channel 11, you are sharing the services of the First Baptist Church in Dallas. This is the pastor bringing the message entitled The Hope of America. And the reading of the Word is in the thirty-third chapter of the Psalms, the thirty-third Psalm:
Blessed is the nation whose God is the Lord; and the people whom He hath chosen for His inheritance.
There is no king saved by the multitude of an host: a mighty man is not delivered by much strength.
Behold, the eye of the Lord is upon them that fear Him, upon them that hope in His mercy;
For our heart shall rejoice in Him, because we have trusted in His holy name.
Let Thy mercy, O Lord, be upon us, according as we hope in Thee.
[Psalm 33:12, 16, 18, 21-22]
And the text “Blessed is the nation whose God is the Lord” [Psalm 33:12]. In the centuries ago, there were prophets of God who delineated the sovereign mercies of the Almighty as He guided and judged the nations of the earth. And what they delivered from heaven, and the Word and message they addressed to the nations of the earth is written here in the Book I hold in my hand. But the same Lord God who stood King above all the nations of the earth in those centuries ago is the same Lord God who judges the peoples of mankind today; only in the generations past there were prophets who spake God’s message to the people, and today we have no inspired prophets. Out histories today are written by economists, and politicians, and academicians, and educators, and they write out of human frailty and out of human limitations. But in the generations of the long ago, there were prophets inspired of God who delivered to the people God’s message, God’s judgment, and what God purposed for the people of the earth [2 Timothy 3:16; 2 Peter 1:20-21].
Now I am no prophet, and the same human limitations that would be said that dog any historian circumscribe my own judgments, but to me there are some things in modern American history that can easily be seen and ought to be known. One: it seems to me that God reserved, in His mercy and in His providence, the North American continent for a special and providential purpose. In the providence of God, the Italian Columbus and his Spanish flag was never planted on the soil of the North American continent. Our people and our nation in its destiny were shielded by the islands of the Caribbean: Cuba, Costa Rica, all of that far-flung island empire.
And the Spanish conquistadores never found a place in the North American continent, but they were enticed by the gold of Montezuma and by the riches of the Aztecs in Mexico and Peru. And lured by gold and seeking treasures, they turned south: another of the providences of God. In the mercies of the Lord, on the cold, inclement, inhospitable and rocky shores of the North American continent, there came pilgrims and pioneers and settlers. They were seeking a place to build homes; they were seeking a place to worship God.
And among those pilgrims and pioneers and colonists, there were men with a great devotion and passion for freedom: freedom of soul, freedom of conscience, freedom of religion; among them, Obadiah Holmes, Dr. John Clark, and Roger Williams. And there in the inhospitable climes of the North American continent, they founded a great people and a great nation and a great government. In the providences of God, as the days went on and the years multiplied, those pioneers and those settlers, and those colonists, and those pilgrims pressed over the Alleghenies into the heartland of America, beyond these broad prairies and finally to the Pacific ocean.
And they were preceded by the pioneer preacher. He was a man uncouth, rude, for the most part untaught and untrained, but he preached the gospel of the grace of the Son of God. He forded rivers; there were no bridges. He followed Indian trails; there were no roads. He did not know where his next meal was coming from or where he would spend the night. He was a man of two books; he had a Bible and a hymnbook, and on the rugged frontier under arbors, on split logs, in hovels and huts and dugouts on the prairie, wherever he could find men to listen in the raw, rugged frontier, he preached the gospel of the Son of God. And he laid the foundations for the republic, and for our Christian institutions, and for the building of the churches in which we worship today. And in the providences of God, the Lord blessed the efforts of those pioneers with the greatest nation the earth has ever known; from side to side in the expanse of this entire continent, a nation with seven percent of the earth’s population, with seventy percent of its wealth; a nation with the longest unfortified frontiers in the earth, a nation that has never been invaded and destroyed by foreign foes—God has blessed America!
What is the strength of America? There has never been in recorded history a nation so rich and so powerful as American is today. What is her strength? If resources, natural resources were the strength of America, far beyond all that we possess would you find in Africa. If continental expanse were the strength of America, we hardly compare with the vastness of Eurasia. Is it ancient civilization? Before we were introduced to the world, the civilization of China was old. Is it the multitude of our people? We do not compare with the millions of mother India or of Asia. What is the strength of America?
When I was in school, I shared in those scholastic declamation contests, and I remember one of those declamatory perorations that was a favorite of all of us. We memorized it, and you’d hardly have any kind of a scholastic or inner-scholastic meeting at which one declaimer did not deliver this oration. It was from the famous southern orator Henry W. Grady of Atlanta, Georgia, and it went something like this. The great orator said—he was seeking the strength of America, and he said he saw our great navy deployed in Hampton Roads. And he said, “Surely this is the strength of America, our great navies.” Then he said he saw the military might of our country deployed on the banks of the Potomac River, and he said, “Surely the strength of America lies in its armed forces.” Then the great orator said he watched the processes of Congress under the great dome of our Capitol building in Washington, D.C. And as he witnessed the democratic process of the nation, he said, “Surely the strength of our nation lies in her Congress, in her Constitution, and in her form of government.” Then the orator continued. Sometime after that he was the guest of a friend who lived on a farm in Georgia. And as the day wore to a close and the chores were done, he saw his friend gather the family around him, and he the guest, and read out of God’s Word and kneel to pray in the name of the Almighty. And that night the great Southern orator said, as he reviewed the strength of America, “The navies passed away, and the armies faded from sight, and even our democratic processes of government did not come to view, but,” he said, it came to his heart, “that the strength of America lies in her godly people.”
I think he spoke as a prophet, as well as the Southern orator. In these days past, the foundation of the life of our people was found in God and in the Word of the Lord. All you’d have to do to verify that is to get an old-time McGuffey Reader, the textbooks that were taught to the children years and years ago. They were stories of the Bible; they were stories of character and morality and devotion. None of which, nor the approach to which would you find in modern textbooks, for today we would be offended in our secular and materialistic educational processes if we presented to our children such things as the stories of God you would read in McGuffey’s Reader.
And the foundational background of America was colored by, and formed by, and shaped by great religious movements: the Great Awakening in the 1700s under George Whitefield and Jonathan Edwards; the tremendous turning to God in the days of Charles G. Finney, in the early 1800s; then the mighty sweeping revivals under Sam Jones, the Methodist preacher in the South, and Dwight L. Moody, the Congregationalist preacher in the North. And as we turn the pages of history, from those great sweeping revivals and those mighty spiritual awakenings, we come now to our present generation and our present century and our present time. What does America look like today, and what is America like now? You wouldn’t have to be a prophet to be sensitive to modern America.
Visit any of our great cities on the Lord’s Day, any of them. Are the people in these great cities of America—in Chicago, in Los Angeles, in New York, in Detroit—are the people in the great teeming cities of America on the Lord’s Day seeking God’s face? The churches have a small percentage of the vast population of our cities. The cities pour out on the weekend. And every radio announcement, and every TV announcement, and every piece in the paper, and everything is turned toward the making of God’s Holy Day a day of revelry and amusement. It is no longer a holy day. In America and in our great cities, the Lord’s Day is a holiday and is looked upon as such.
Why didn’t they begin the change of time at two o’clock Monday morning? Because it would make no difference in the vast hosts of America whether it’s changed remembering the church, remembering the Sunday school, for business is big in America! And money and materialism and secularism is gigantic in America, but spiritual things are ephemeral and peripheral. And if you went to church in the ordinary pulpit in America, listening to that man, you’d have a man up there saying, “God is dead.” Or you might have a little more conservative preacher who’d say, “God is just half-dead.” Or you might have one a little more conservative, “He is just partly dead.” Or you’d have a man in the pulpit saying the Bible is not the Word of God! Or you’d have a little more conservative man in the pulpit, and he’d say, “Well, the Bible is partly the Word of God.”
And the people yawn and go out and play golf, or they go out to fish, or they go out to the lakeside. Why bother to go to church if there is not a message from heaven, one from an inspired Word [2 Timothy 3:16; 2 Peter 1:20-21], one addressed to the human soul? No trumpet giving an uncertain sound, but a message; “This is the Word of God, and thus saith the Lord!”
Modern America; do you read our literature? I do not; I do not. Once in a while I am introduced to it in a providence. I’m talking about the filthy novel, the modern fiction, the dramatic work of our modern American authors; such blasphemy, such blatant cursing, such filth and unspeakable villainy! This is from our modern authors in America. And the modern attitude into which the psychologists and the sociologists are leading the thought lives and the response life of our American people from the Supreme Court on down: the arsonist and the rioter and the murderer; they’re not to be constrained by the full capable force of our police! The shopkeeper, into which he has placed in that shop all of his life savings, sees the shop burned down and everything he possesses carried out, and if he interfered he’s murdered! But the police is interdicted from using the force at his command to obey the law and to protect life and property. Why, it is a new psychology; you see, these dear criminals are not responsible for their acts. They are just reflective of our sick society, and they grew up poor and in poverty, and all of their acts of violence, and bloodshed, and murder, and arson, and burning, and destruction are extenuated. They’re not accountable themselves; they’re just victims of the sociological background in which they grew up.
My brother, my father was a poor man. He never made more than a hundred twenty-five dollars in his life a month, thank the Lord, a month. A hundred twenty-five dollars a month was the most my father ever made in his life, and we lived poor, and I grew up poor. We never had a telephone, we never had electric lights, we never had water in the house, we never had a bathroom, we never had a car, we never had anything, except one thing: we had the Bible! And they taught me, and what God said was the word of the Lord in that Book! And I was taught honesty and decency and to respect the properties, and the lives, and the homes, and the loves and wishes and work and savings of other people. But to burn it down, and to steal it, and to take it because we were poor was unthinkable! And I was taught according to God’s Word that we were accountable to the Lord for our actions, however poor we might have been. But it’s a new day in America. They’re not accountable. Though God says we’re accountable, they’re not accountable; they’re just products of some kind of sociological background in order to be excused and extenuated.
We have lots of poor people in America; that is, by our standards. But O Lord, because we’re poor, or because we don’t have many of the gadgets that other people have, are we thereby and therein to be persuaded that God doesn’t live, and that God’s Book is not true, and that the great judgments of the Almighty do not fall upon us individually? And as a nation, is that the way we are to believe today?
God says however my father is, I am accountable for me. I am not accountable for his sins, but I am accountable for my sins [Ezekiel 18:1-32]. And whatever my background and whatever my present circumstances and whatever my need, I am not to burn, and I am not to steal, and I am not to kill, but I am to love God and walk in the fear, and the mercy, and the knowledge of the Lord all the days of my life, and I am to die in that love, and in that grace, and in that mercy, and according to that commandment [Micah 6:8]. And when we turn aside from God’s Word and God’s law and God’s justice, we face nothing but an inevitable judgment from the Almighty! [Romans 2:5]. Our America is an unusual country, such extremities in it.
This last week I spoke before a civic club, two hundred fine businessmen. I hadn’t attended a civic club in years; I’d almost forgotten how the program was presented. They stood up and saluted the flag, repeated the oath of allegiance, and they sang “God Bless America,” the song Jenny Farrow sang a few moments ago. And as I stood with those businessmen and repeated the oath of allegiance, “One nation, under God,” and as I sang that meaningful song, “God Bless America,” and then sat down, I couldn’t help but think, “Why should God bless America?”
Is it because we gamble more than any other nation under the sun? Is it because we have more crime by far than any other nation under the sun? Is it because we’re moving heaven and earth to bring into our state and into our community organized criminals in liquor and in gambling? Is that why we’re going to sing “God Bless America”? Is it because we have more barmaids than co-eds by ten to one; is that why we’re singing, “God Bless America”? Is it because we have more saloons by ten to one than we have churches, is that why we sing “God Bless America”? Every few seconds a major crime—assault, murder, rape, violence, is perpetrated on our people, and the influx of drunkenness and violence and disobedience is like a tidal wave in our nation. Is that why we’re singing, “God Bless America”?
As the Lord judges our nation and judges our people, I wonder what God ought to do. In the days of the prophet, Jeremiah lifted up his voice in Jerusalem and in Judea and cried, “Repent, repent, turn to God!” [Jeremiah 3:12-14]. And the Babylonians came in 605 BC [Daniel 1:1-6], and Jeremiah lifted up his voice again and cried, “Repent, repent!” And the Babylonians came in 598 BC [2 Kings 24:11-14; Ezekiel 1:1], and Jeremiah lifted up his voice again and cried, saying, “Repent, repent!” And the Babylonians came in 587 BC, and there was no need for them to return again, for they left Jerusalem a shambles and carried captive out of Judea her people [Jeremiah 39:1-10, 52:4-30; 2 Chronicles 36:17-21].
And Jeremiah cried his most pathetic lamentation:
The harvest is past, the summer is ended, and we are not saved.
For the hurt of the daughter of my people am I hurt . . .
Is there no balm in Gilead; is there no physician there? Why then is not the health of the daughter of my people recovered?
Oh that my head were waters, and mine eyes a fountain of tears, that I might weep day and night for the slain of the daughter of my people!
And there will come a judgment of God upon America unless there is a turning to the Lord. It will be one or the other. I speak as a prophet of God, when I say from this Book; “The wicked shall be turned into hell, and all the nations that forget God” [Psalm 9:17]. There is no life outside of the Lord. And that’s why I entitled the message today The Hope of America. The hope of America lies in a great revival. O Lord, send it, send it; enter Thee, Lord. Roll back the heavens like a scroll and come down, Jehovah God. Visit our people; send us a great turning to heaven, and Lord, if You begin it here, let it be with us, amen. In God’s will, in God’s mercy, and in answer to the prayers of God’s people: a revival, Lord, revival.
May we pray? O Lord, add to this message Thy benedictory blessing. However our background, may we love Thee and Thy Word, and may we pour our lives into this dedication and commitment? Lord, may there be a zealousness and a devotion on the part of Thy people, that the whole city is astonished at such commitment. No longer playing at religion, as though God’s Word were somehow immaterial or not pertinent, or to be weighed in speculative philosophy or discussion, as though it were optional. O God, Thy Word is life and salvation [2 Timothy 3:16-17], and if we have any hope it is in Thee. God is not optional with us; He is our very life itself. And the appeal we make to men is not optional. Whether it is yea or nay would be immaterial? No, it is forever and eternally decisive, primary, fundamental; “The times of this ignorance in days past God overlooked; but now commandeth all men every where to repent” [Acts 17:30]. And Lord may that turning begin in us. May that great revival in God’s will start here. Now, Master, in Thy grace and goodness, give us a harvest this precious hour. And when in a moment we stand to sing, may God give us souls [Romans 10:9-10], families, couples, coming to Thee and to us [Romans 10:9-10]. And we’ll thank Thee forever, in Jesus’ dear name, amen.
In a moment we stand to sing, and as we sing our song, a family you to come, a couple you to come, one somebody you to come; on the first note of the first stanza into this aisle and down to the front; come and stand by me. In the balcony round, you, you, decide now, then when you stand to sing, stand up coming. And God’s angels attend you in the way as you come. God bless you as you come, as we stand and as we sing.