WE BEGIN OUR TWENTY-FIFTH YEAR
Dr. W. A. Criswell
10-06-68 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 morning message. And it is titled We Begin Our Twenty-fifth Year, or We Go Up to the House of the Lord. Now, I am going to read the one hundred twenty-second Psalm, and our text will be the first verse.
I was glad when they said unto me, Let us go up into the house of the Lord.
Our feet shall stand within thy gates, O Jerusalem.
Jerusalem is builded as a city that is compact together:
Whither the tribes go up, the tribes of the Lord, unto the testimony of Israel, to give thanks unto the name of the Lord
For there are set thrones of judgment, the thrones of the house of David.
Pray for the peace of Jerusalem: they shall prosper that love thee.
Peace be within thy walls, and prosperity within thy palaces.
For my brethren and companions’ sakes, I will now say, Peace be within thee.
Because of the house of the Lord our God I will seek thy good.
That is entitled, “A song of degrees.” You will find about [fifteen] of them from the one hundred twentieth Psalm through the one hundred thirty-fourth Psalm. And then a great deal of discussion as to what is meant by a song of degrees, “a song of steps” actually. There are those who say that the song of degrees refers to the hymns, the psalms; this is the hymnology of the Hebrew people as they stood on the [fifteen] steps that went up into the temple. And they sang their first psalm here, and then their next psalm here, then the next psalm here, and so on up. Then there are those who say the song of degrees refers to the songs that the pilgrims sang when they went up to Jerusalem to worship the Lord, as the Canterbury Pilgrims—Chaucer wrote about them—as the Canterbury Pilgrims made their trek to the holy side of the grave of Thomas à Becket. So you have the pilgrims who went up to Jerusalem to worship, such as at the Passover, and as the people went up, they sang together these songs of Zion. I like that explanation. It fits, and it fits the Psalms. “I was glad when they said unto me, Let us go up into house of the Lord” [Psalm 122:1].
Now, there are a thousand facets of this Lord’s house, and all that it means, and all that we do in it, and from it, and through it. There are a thousand facets that I could speak of this morning, but I have to choose one, or two, or five, leave off nine hundred and ninety-nine others. So we’re going to look at us this morning as we begin this twenty-fifth year; we’re going to look at us as a house of God and a congregation of the Lord. And I’m going to speak of our preaching, and of our praise, and of our prophecy, and of our praying.
First: going up to the house of the Lord: I was glad when they said unto me, “Let’s go to church, and let’s go the First Baptist Church.” There, we have the preaching of the gospel, the preaching of the Word of God. That’s what they did in the temple. Isaiah, the court preacher, preached his great messages in the temple [Isaiah 6:1]. And Jeremiah delivered his prophecies in the temple [Jeremiah 19:14]. And Jesus taught and preached in the temple [Matthew 21:23]. And I am not unmindful or oblivious to the tremendous opportunity and responsibility of standing in this sacred place. Over radio, over television, through Tapes for Christ, and through the vast congregations that gather here three times every Lord’s Day, this is an incomparable place to speak God’s Word, deliver the Lord’s message. And God has blessed us. “I was glad when they said unto me, Let us go up into the house of the Lord” [Psalm 122:1].
Now, our praise: I would suppose that if the house of God was any one thing above anything else, it was a place of praise. In the Book of  Chronicles, we are meticulously introduced to the care and the services of the temple. The great King David introduced the program of music into the temple services. The Hebrew people never cultivated any other art except one; Israel loved to sing. And throughout her history, Israel sang. The Bible says here that David invented instruments of music by which the people praised the Lord. And in the twenty-third chapter of 1 Chronicles, and in the twenty-fifth chapter of 1 Chronicles, and in several other chapters through 1 Chronicles, we are introduced to those glorious praises of the Lord. Now they were under the direction of the Levites. And in the twenty-third chapter of 1 Chronicles, they numbered them.
In the days of David, the Levites were numbered from the age of thirty years and upward [1 Chronicles 23:3]. And a Levite served in this passage here from thirty years to fifty years [Numbers 4:3, 23, 30]. Now the Levites were numbered from thirty years to fifty years, and they numbered thirty-eight thousand [1 Chronicles 23:3]. There were thirty-eight thousand Levites, men who were from the ages of thirty to fifty. Twenty-four thousand of them were set forward in the sanctuary [1 Chronicles 23:4]; they helped the priests in all of their offerings. Six thousand of them were officers and judges [1 Chronicles 23:4]; they were itinerant judges who went around and helped the people in all of their disputes and altercations. Four thousand of them were doorkeepers, and four thousand praised the Lord with the instruments which I made—said David—to praise therewith [1 Chronicles 23:5].
There were four thousand of those Levites to praise the Lord with instruments which David had invented [1 Chronicles 23:5], to stand every morning, to thank and praise the Lord, and likewise at even [1 Chronicles 23:30]. Every day in the sanctuary, those thousands of Levites, every morning and every evening, stood to praise the Lord. Now as I look at that number, four thousand of them in the choir. It says here in that same twenty-third chapter of the Book of 1 Chronicles that in the last words of David, the Levites were numbered from twenty years old and up [1 Chronicles 23:27]. Now if there were four thousand of them that were thirty years old to fifty years, in David’s last days, he lowered the age of the service of those Levitical singers from thirty to twenty [1 Chronicles 23:27]. There must have been, if there were four thousand of them from thirty to fifty, there must have been something like towards six thousand of them in that choir.
Now, in the twenty-fifth chapter of the Book of 1 Chronicles, it says that David and the captains of the host separated for that service Asaph, and Heman, and Jeduthun. Now look how they write it, “who should prophesy with harps, with psalteries, and with cymbals.” Then it names the sons of Asaph, then the sons of Jeduthun, then the sons of Heman [1 Chronicles 25:1-4]. Then it continues on, “These were under the hands of their conductors for song in the house of the Lord with cymbals, and psalteries,” a psaltery is a lute, a small stringed instrument, “and harps, for the service of the house of God [1 Chronicles 25:6]. So the number of them that were cunning with these instruments were two hundred fourscore and eight” [1 Chronicles 25:7]. There were two hundred eighty-eight in that orchestra who prophesied with harps, psalteries, and cymbals. There were two hundred eighty-eight that were cunning [1 Chronicles 25:7].
Now you will find—and I haven’t time to follow all through this, are you listening to me? You will find as you read that service of praise, you will find that one of the geniuses of David was he very expressly spelled it out: that the neophyte, the novice, was to be associated with the one that the Bible calls “cunning” [1 Chronicles 25:7]. That is, advanced in the singing and in the playing. And I noticed this morning that all of our choir here sang without music the score, and all that choir out there had your nose in a book. I suppose those are the neophytes, the novices; is that right? Or are they stupid ones and the dumb ones out there? They are mixed! I love for you to sing without a score, out of your heart. I love for you to do it. And the genius of David when he built his orchestra and he built his choir, he had two hundred eighty-eight cunning ones [1 Chronicles 25:7]. The way that the King James calls it, they were gifted in it. They could read at sight, sight-read. And they could play those instruments gloriously. Then he put by their side the novices; those that were just beginning. And in that way, the novice could follow the gifted singer and the gifted player, and it was a marvelous praise service.
Oh, look at this! The one hundred fiftieth Psalm, “Praise ye the Lord” [Psalm 150:1]. That’s the translation of the Hebrew word, “Hallelujah!” Praise ye the Lord or in Hebrew, “Hallelujah!”
Praise God in His sanctuary: praise Him in the firmament of His power. Praise Him for His mighty acts: praise Him according to His excellent greatness. Praise Him with the sound of the trumpet: praise Him with the psaltery and harp. Praise Him with the timbrel and dance.
And that’s not a waltz. Dance, they just got so happy praising God. You remember David when he went before the ark as he brought it up to Jerusalem, he danced for the Lord [2 Samuel 6:14-16]. They just got so happy, you’d call it shouting. “Praise the Lord with the timbrel and the shoutings: praise Him with stringed instruments and organs” [Psalm 150:4]. Plural: “organs.” Do you ever use that organ up there? You do? Well, I ask about it, and I don’t ever hear anybody saying they hear it up there. We’ve got two organs in the church; there’s one there and there’s one there. I I want to hear both of them. It says plural: “Praise Him with the stringed instruments and the organs” [Psalm 150:4]. Plural. Will you tell Ms. Forester that too at this next service? “Praise Him with the loud cymbals” [Psalm 150:5]. It didn’t say the soft muted ones, the loud cymbals. “Praise Him with the high-sounding cymbals.” And I tried to find out the best I could what’s the difference between a loud cymbal and a high-sounding cymbal. And the best I could find out is that one of them is about that big around and makes a certain kind of noise, and one of them is that big kind around and makes a certain kind of a noise. I don’t see any cymbals around here! “Praise Him with the loud cymbals, and with the high-sounding cymbals [Psalm 150:5]. Let every thing that hath breath praise the Lord. Praise ye the Lord” [Psalm 150:6]. Hallelujah! Now Lee Roy, I want you to turn to 1 Chronicles 23:30, 1 Chronicles 23:30, 1 Chronicles 23:30. I want you to memorize that; I want you to say that to yourself; I want you to teach it to your people, “To stand every morning to thank and praise the Lord God, and likewise at even” [1 Chronicles 23:30].
Now, this is what I pray that our church will do, and I want you to do it. When even time comes, I want us to have the most glorious service of praise this world ever saw or ever heard. Now that means six thousand singers in the choir; six thousand singers in the choir and two hundred eighty-eight cunning ones with the organs and the music. You notice it mentioned all three kinds: there are wind instruments, and there are stringed instruments, and there are percussion instruments, all three of them. I just—it must have been like glory! Think of it! Going to church. No wonder they said, “I was glad when they said unto me, Let us go up into the house of the Lord” [Psalm 122:1]. Think of that! A choir of six thousand singers, and two hundred eighty-eight skilled musicians, beside the novices who sat by their side learning how to praise the Lord on a psaltery or on a harp or an organ; Oh, I just can’t imagine it!
Now Lee Roy, I want you to get you an architect. I want you to get you an architect. There are three stairs on each side of this thing to that one spot. You don’t need three stairs to one spot. There’s one there, there’s one outside, and there’s one in the Truett building coming up. I want you to get you an architect, and I want you to rearrange the front of this auditorium from this side to this side. I want you to make this thing so that the balcony comes all the way around, just dips down here in front, just down here in front. And when I come to church on Sunday night, I want to see at least one thousand people singing in the choir. And an orchestra of at least…it’s just like glory. That’s what they did under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. And instead of the services being dull, and slow, and dry, and the people saying, “Well, I’ve got to go to church.” And they look on the benediction like an amnesty, just waiting there to get out, just bearing it up, just going through it. Oh, I’d love for us to follow the text in the one hundred twenty-second Psalm, the song of degrees. “I was glad when they said unto me, Let us go into the house of the Lord” [Psalm 122:1].
No wonder these churches are empty on Sunday night, and no wonder our churches look like sepulchers on Sunday night, and no wonder most of them are closed and look like mausoleums on Sunday night. There’s no life there. There’s no glory there. There’s no spirit there. There’s no praise there. There’s no thanking God and loving the Lord there. There’s no happiness there. There’s no joy there. Lee Roy, let’s have a service every Sunday night like that. Let’s get those high-sounding cymbals, those loud cymbals it says in the Bible, let’s bring them down here. There’ll be some people who can’t stand loud noise. Well, we will put them underneath the auditorium where the loud noise won’t bother them, and the rest of us will stay up here. Yeah. And then we won’t be going out to some of these places that I could name for our joy and our gladness, but we’ll come here. I’d rather go here than to any vaudeville that I saw in my life! I’d rather come here than any show I ever saw in my life. I’d rather come here than any circus I ever attended in my life, a lot of times it’s more fun. That’s the way it ought to be! Make it vibrant, and alive, and especially on Sunday night. Why, I can just see it down here: a thousand in the choir. You can do that, Lee Roy, a thousand in the choir every Sunday night and a glorious orchestra with wind instruments, trumpets, and with stringed instruments, cellos, and violins, and harps, and whatever God has invented for us, and percussion instruments, drums, tambourines. Ah, I just thrill at it, and there’s not anything that lifts my soul more than such a praise service. I just respond like plucking the strings of the harp. “I was glad when they said unto me, Let us go up into the house of the Lord” [Psalm 122:1]. Hallelujah! Going up there to praise Jesus.
Well, got to go on. I haven’t come to the main body of my sermon yet. Prophecy; isn’t that an astonishing thing? They’re going to prophesy with the harp and with the lute and with an organ; going to prophesy [1 Chronicles 25:1]. What an astonishing thing! Of course the word “prophecy” refers to inspiration [2 Peter 1:21]. The people who sang and played were inspired. The Lord was in it, and the glory of the Savior filled the place. Well, I ought to apply that in the usual way that we think of prophecy, the way it is mostly used in the Bible: the proclaiming, the propagation of the faith. And here we enter a tremendous program that immediately lies ahead, and I don’t have time but just to summarize it.
Do you know outside of the circle in which you live there are no large Baptist churches in the world? Go anywhere in the world, anywhere in the world, go to England and Scandinavia, go to South America, go anywhere and the churches are very small. Well, I just was so blue and discouraged through the years looking at that, the church is so very small, and I tried to think through why should the churches be so small? Then I began talking to the men about how to build a bigger church, and I surely found out, and quick, why. Whenever you go to one of those churches, most of the times they will be in the middle of the town pressed in the center of a block, pressed on each side, just like that; and nothing there but just an auditorium. And when you go to the church service, you’ll see the preacher seated up there by himself. He leads the singing, he preaches the sermon, he makes the announcements, he leads all the prayers, he does everything, and the whole church is contained in that one box, and that’s it. There’s no activity, there’s no tremendous teaching ministry, there’s no vast and extended visitation program; the people go to church in the same way that they go to a vaudeville. They sit there and they look at it.
Now to me that is the opposite of what a church was in the New Testament times. Now I haven’t time to go into this, but you read the fourteenth chapter of 1 Corinthians, and you’ll get a good idea there of what kind of a church service they had in New Testament times. Everybody shared in it. Somebody was teaching, and somebody was singing, and somebody had a doctrine, and somebody had a song, and somebody had an interpretation, and somebody had a vision, and somebody had an experience, and they shared it together! [1 Corinthians 14:26-40]. You read that chapter and you’ll get a good idea of what the services were like in the days of the New Testament [1 Corinthians 14:1-40]. Now we ought to do that same thing. We ought to involve our people; everybody in God’s house ought to have a part of it, all of us, all of us. “Well, preacher, all I can do is raise the window; fine, be the best window-raiser that the world ever looked at!” I know one of the psalmists said, “I had rather be a doorkeeper in the house of the Lord, than to dwell in the tents of the wicked” [Psalm 84:10]. If all I can do is to stand at the door and smile at the people that are coming in, fine! Do that. Or maybe all I can do is sweep the floor; well, Brother Ramsour would sure like to have you! All of us ought to have a part. Now I want to show you how the extension of our church and the ministry of our church is just according to how we do that.
Well, I’m going to take an instance of our visitation, of our going out and inviting people, confronting them with Christ. Last Thursday night, Thursday night of last week, I spoke at a banquet at one of the great churches of our Southern Baptist Convention. They had about eight hundred of their finest church leaders there. And in that service—that night, the Thursday night at which I brought a closing address—in that service they put a big graph by a lantern, by a slide, they put a big graph up there at the front where everybody could see it. And they followed the attendance in their Sunday school for about ten years. From 1958 it’d be to 1968: for about ten years they had a graph, a line, you know up and down like a stock market average. They had a graph of the Sunday school attendance, up and down, up and down, for about ten years. Then—now that line was black. Then they superimposed a graph, another line on top of the line of their attendance. And when I looked at that, I could not believe my eyes! I was overwhelmed! The second graph that they superimposed was the number of their visits. And the graph of their attendance like this, and the superimposed graph of their visitation, it followed it precisely and identically. It went up and down, up and down, up and down, precisely for ten years! Well, after the thing was over, I got hold of the pastor and his educational director. I said, “I want you to set that lantern up again. I want to look at that. I never saw anything like that. I never dreamed of anything like that.” So they set the lantern up again, and they did that again for me. And the educational director said to me, “Preacher, if you think this graph looks kind of identical, if I were to do this week by week, you would be overwhelmed at the exact identity of it.”
In other words, we can have as many people here in God’s house, and we can have as many people here being taught the Word of the Lord, and we can have as many people coming down these aisles accepting Jesus as we want to have. It’s just up to us, just up to us. If we don’t want them, don’t invite them, but if you want them, invite them, and they’ll be here! And when you invite and visit, the attendance goes up just like that. And when you level off, the attendance levels off just like that. And when you start quitting, it goes down, just like that. I never saw anything like it in my life. If we want to teach people the Word of God and confront them with Christ, and win them to Jesus, and get them down to God’s house, all you have to do is just go after them, and they’ll be here. It’s an astonishing thing!
Well, let me add one other thing along this line. We’re going immediately into a tremendous building program in our church. One, we’re going to build a vast parking building over there, a self parking building; one where you drive in yourself, park your car yourself. It will be integrated with our present parking building. And as soon as we can formulate our plans—and we are just praying for God for wisdom now—we’re going to expand these facilities, greatly expand them. Back yonder, about fifteen, eighteen, twenty years ago, we went into a program like this. We never had this many people, but we believed God would give them to us! So we built, we built far beyond what we had. We bought that Burt building, eleven stories of it, and we built that building over there, far beyond the attendance we had, and God honored our faith, and we filled it up. Friday night of last week I went to a Junior Leadership group at Bob Thompson’s home, and they had their work all written out there, and they need right this minute seventeen new Junior departments; right this minute seventeen new Junior departments. And I don’t know how many new departments in the Primary division, and how many throughout this whole teaching ministry. I’m just summing up. My brethren, what we did seventeen, eighteen, twenty years ago, we can do again. We can build a facility, and our people will fill them. Think of it! We’ll have little children down here, half again as many studying about Jesus; have our Young Marrieds down here, twice and three times as many, putting their homes together in the Lord Jesus. That’s the best assignment God could give humanity. He didn’t give it to angels, He gave it to us.
Now, I want to close. Prayer: My house, “I was glad when they said unto me, Let us go into the house of the Lord” [Psalm 122:1]. “My house,” said Isaiah, “My house shall be called a house of prayer” [Isaiah 56:7]. Undergirding all that we do, must be our leaning upon the arm of God. Prayer. Prayer. God’s wisdom, God’s grace, and God’s sustaining help. When I first began preaching—this will be the twenty-fifth year for me at the Palace Theater. The first year I was here almost twenty-five years ago; it will be twenty-five years ago this spring. I walked out the front of the theater; I never do that, I always go out the back side entrance to the car because usually I’m perspiring after I get through preaching and I try to get out to the cool air as soon as I can. But I walked out the foyer of the theater, and there was a little old lady standing there dressed in black, in old-fashioned clothes, a little old lady. As I walked through the lobby, she came up to me and stopped me; bent, my remembrance is she had a cane—and she stopped me. She introduced herself to me, told me her name, and she said, “I’m old and crippled, and I have no money and no way to go to church, and I’m not able to attend, but today was a beautiful day, and a kind neighbor picked me up and brought me down here to the theater, because,” she said, “I wanted to see my new pastor. I just wanted to see what he looked like, my new pastor.” Then she repeated to me, “I’m old and crippled, and I can’t come, and I don’t have any money to give.” Then she added, “All I can do is pray for you.” Sweet, little old-fashioned lady; I put my arms around her, and I said, “Dear, do you think that is a small thing when you think, ‘I can’t do anything else; all I can do is just pray for you’”? I said, “My sweet, dear, little lady, that is the greatest thing you can do.” For the Lord Himself said, “Without Me you can do nothing” [John 15:5]. In all of these plans, and dreams, and visions, they are literally dust and ashes unless God is in it. The Holy Spirit must work with us. God must be here. And we know God through prayer and intercession, talking to Him, asking Him, loving Him, telling Him so. Ah, dear people, what an open door God hath set before us if we’ll stay on our knees, and our eyes fixed on Jesus!
Now I’ve gone far beyond the time. When we sing this hymn of appeal, on the first note of the first stanza, on the first note of the first stanza, in the balcony round, on the lower floor, a family, or a couple of you come, giving your heart to the Savior, or putting your life in the fellowship of the church, as God shall press the appeal, come. When you stand up in a moment, stand up coming. Do it now, immediately, while all of us stand and sing.
WE BEGIN OUR TWENTY-FIFTH YEAR
Dr. W. A. Criswell