A Giant Step Heavenward


A Giant Step Heavenward

September 7th, 1969 @ 10:50 AM

And a vision appeared to Paul in the night; There stood a man of Macedonia, and prayed him, saying, Come over into Macedonia, and help us. And after he had seen the vision, immediately we endeavoured to go into Macedonia, assuredly gathering that the Lord had called us for to preach the gospel unto them.
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Dr. W. A. Criswell

Acts 16:9-10

9-7-69    10:50 a.m.


On this radio and on television, you are sharing the services of the First Baptist Church in Dallas, and this is the pastor praising God and rejoicing in the Lord.  Hallelujah!

The young minister here that was introduced to you—and I want you to stand up again, Rodney Sawtell—that young man is one of the most brilliant young ministers in England.  He is just graduated from Spurgeon College, our Baptist seminary in London.  And we ask for their brightest young man to be sent to us, that he might work with us for this year.  Then, when he goes back to England and pastors the church that calls him, we are praying that he will take something of your spirit and methodology and outreach back to his church in England, and that all the other churches of the British Isles will see what he does, and that there be in England a great moving of the Spirit of God in outreach through the influence of that dedicated young man.  Thank you, Rodney.  What a joy to welcome you.

 Now one other thing: we begin our work in the fall with a tremendous round-up, gathering all our people together, and this year we are doing it Friday night out at Six Flags over Texas, from five o’clock to midnight or however long you want to stay.  The whole thing is given to us.  Those tickets out there cost $4.50, but they are working with us.  They have turned the whole thing over to us for that night, and they say you can come for $2.00.

 Now, we are going to have a tremendous convocation of all of our people, all of us, and then we are going to project our work for the new year. And if God is in it and if our people come praying, when that service is turned over to me about a quarter till nine or something like that, I am going to have a great evangelistic service out there at Six Flags.  And you could not find a better time to bring a friend or a neighboring family than Friday night.  Let’s do it.  We have promised that we’d have as a minimum of five thousand of us out there.  Let’s make it ten thousand. Gather up everybody you can find who will come with you, and there are lots of folks that wouldn’t come into these four walls that will go out there to Six Flags. Buy the ticket for them. Invest that much in somebody that might be moved God-ward.  And I repeat, if the Spirit of God is in it, when we have done our program—and that’ll be interesting; it’ll be a rodeo program—when we have done our program, and our children and all of us have shared in the fun and festivities and food and fellowship and all the other things out there at Six Flags, and the service is turned over to me, I’m going to preach a gospel sermon and give an invitation.  So come, bring somebody with you.  This may be amazing what the dear Lord does.

Now, the sermon today is entitled A Giant Step Heavenward or A Giant Step Forward.  And it comes entitled from something that Neil Armstrong said when he put his foot on that last rung on the ladder of the Eagle down on the moon: “A small step for a man, but a giant leap for humanity.”

And the background text is in the sixteenth chapter of Acts, verses 9 and 10:

And a vision appeared to Paul in the night; There stood a man of Macedonia, and prayed him, saying, Come over into Macedonia, and help us.  And after he had seen the vision, immediately we endeavored to go into Macedonia, assuredly gathering that the Lord had called us for to preach the gospel unto them.

[Acts 16:9-10]

And that little incident turned the course of civilization; a small step for a man, but a giant leap for humanity.  As Neil Armstrong slowly descended that ladder, down and down and down, there was one small step remaining, and there were 600 million of us watching that astronaut as he took his foot and lowered it from that last rung down on the surface of the moon.

Some of us went out that night and looked at it.  What a fantastic, amazing scientific achievement that a man’s up there in that orbit, on that moon.  And when the first American astronaut put his foot down on it, lowering it from that last rung to the surface, he said, “Small step for a man, just from there to there, but a giant leap for humanity.”

 And that’s that.  For, you see, when they’d gone throughout Phrygia, the central Roman province of Asia Minor, and the region of Galatia that went down to the coast, and were forbidden of the Holy Spirit to turn east into Asia [Acts 16:6], after they came to Mysia, they started turning back east again to Bithynia—these are all Roman provinces—but the Spirit suffered them not, and finally they were directed down to the Aegean Sea [Acts 16:7-8].  They came to the end of the land and waited there, just across that narrow body of water called the Hellespont, the strait of Bosporus. Some of you’ve been there.  I don’t suppose I could, but it seemed to me I could throw a rock across that small body of water that separates Asia from Europe.  When they came down to Troas on the Aegean Sea, that night they saw a vision: a European, a Greek, a Macedonian said, “Come over to Europe, to Macedon, and help us” [Acts 16:9].

So the gospel message was turned in its first outreach from the East to the West, and the whole course of civilization followed it. For it was not from India or China that the gospel came to America and that the Christian civilization arose, but it was in Europe.  It was in Italy, it was in France, it was in Germany, it was in the British Isles, and from them to America—and Western civilization was born in that little step: a small step for a man, but a giant turning in human history. And you’ll follow that story all through the intervention of God in human story; all through the days and the generations and the centuries.

To move from Ur in Chaldea to Canaan was a small step for Abram, but it was a great turning in the religious history of mankind [Genesis 11:31].

For a man as Moses to stop and to look at a bush on the back side of the desert was a small thing for a man, but it introduced the great legislative history of the people of Israel [Exodus 3:1-4].

For David, to move his capital from Hebron to Jerusalem was a small step for a man, thirty miles, twenty miles, but what a tremendous coloring of all eternity!  [2 Samuel 5:1-9]. 

For Ezra and Zerubbabel, with a little handful, comparatively, a little handful of captives numbering hardly fifty thousand, to go back to Judea [Ezra 2:1, 64-65], was a small thing for a man, but it provided the great background for the coming of the Messiah, and the launching of the Christian faith, and the remaking of Israel in their homeland.

For Jesus of Nazareth to go down to the Jordan River to be baptized by John the Baptist was a small thing for a man, but it introduced the great Messianic ministry of our Lord [Matthew 3:13-17].

For Simon Peter to go to the house of Cornelius, a Roman centurion in Caesarea, and to say to him, “By the law”—that is, by the tradition, by the Talmud—“it is not lawful for a man that is a Jew to enter into the house of one that is a Gentile, but God hath showed to me that I am to call no man common or unclean” [Acts 10:28].  A small step for a man to enter into the house of Cornelius, but the great opening of the door for the conversion of the Gentile nations of the earth.

For John to have been exiled from Ephesus on a lonely island of Patmos [Revelation 1:9], to die of exposure and starvation was a peccadillo, it was a minutiae in the story of the cruel Roman Caesars, for in their persecutions, they decimated thousands and millions.  How small a thing for one, John, to be thus exiled.  But out of that exile came those visions, those apocalyptic revelations, by which we have before us not the nonsensical, idiotic meaninglessness, purposelessness of history according to modern existential philosophy, but we have a great goal and consummation toward which all history is inevitable and inexorably moving—revealed to us in the Word of God and in the great, final, apocalyptic book; in the Revelation.  How small a thing for a man, but how meaningful for all humanity.

And thus it is in the sometimes so small a beginning, so little a step, so tiny a decision, and all of humanity is colored by it, and all eternity is stained with it; and thus it was in the story of this dear church.

There was a baby boy born in Kentucky in 1836, and Moses Harris, his father, moved the family to Missouri, and died.  And he left, penniless and destitute, a widow with two little boys.  An uncle took the two little boys to Texas, and when one of them was seventeen years of age, W.W. Harris, Billy Harris, he was converted and baptized.  So gifted was the boy in speaking, though awkward in presence and walk, they licensed him to preach when he was seventeen years of age.  When he was twenty years old, an association took up a collection to send him to Baylor University at old Independence near Washington-on-the-Brazos.

When he was thirty years of age, they invited him back to deliver the commencement address, and he delivered his address entitled, “The Knowledge of Jesus, the Most Excellent of Science.”

He was so able in his preaching that they called him Spurgeon Harris after the great London preacher.  He baptized B.H. Carroll, the greatest theologian we’ve ever produced.  He was God’s servant, and in those days when he was thirty-two years of age, he came to a tiny frontier village in Texas called Dallas.  July of 1868, he held a two week revival meeting here in this city.  There was one conversion, and there were ten who signified interest to join by letter, and with those eleven, he organized the First Baptist Church in Dallas.  And he was called as their first pastor, Spurgeon Harris, in 1868. How small a work, how tiny a beginning, how little a story: eleven members and Spurgeon Harris.

May I, following his life—when he was forty-four years of age, there’s not a more forlorn figure in Christian history than the sight of Spurgeon Harris, a lone horseman riding from our North Texas down to the border to die.  No health, suffering from tuberculosis; no voice, could not speak above a whisper; no means, no anything in the earth, just the clothes on his back and no family.

 He fell in love with a schoolteacher in South Texas, and she promised to wait for him in the days of the Civil War. And he went away, and for four bloody years he fought through that Civil War in the Confederate army.  When it was over, he came back to marry that girl.  But in a last moment of infatuation, she made the colossal blunder and mistake of marrying another man just before Spurgeon Harris returned.  And sitting down in the house of a friend, he placed into the fire the treasured mementos and letters that had cheered his heart for four long, weary years, and he never married.  He made that journey down to the south to die, penniless, sick, alone.

When he died, his ministry had been so effective among Baptists in Texas that when they offered down there in Del Rio to build a monument, to put a tombstone at the head of the man of God, “No,” said our Texas Baptist people, “so effective has been his ministry we covet that privilege for ourselves.”  But the Baptist Convention of Texas became embroiled and busy, let it go, let it pass, and nobody knows where his grave is to this day.  Nobody knows whose bones they were when they built a church-house in Del Rio on the ground where the old cemetery had been.  Nobody marked the spot when some Mexicans and a cowboy or two dug his grave and lowered his bodily frame into the heart of the earth.  There is no monument to the first pastor of the First Baptist Church in Dallas until this morning, when we voted to call one of our buildings the Spurgeon Harris building: the man who presided over and was pastor of the first little congregation in the frontier town of Dallas.

You don’t know what you’re doing.  You don’t realize its repercussions and its meanings.  So small a step for a man, just from there to there, but how meaningful for all of the days that lie ahead.

When I was a boy, I was ten, in the little town in which I grew up, on the far northwestern plains of Texas, there came a man to hold a revival meeting in our church.  His name was John Hicks, pastor of the church at Dalhart, Texas.  He stayed in our house, and when he was done preaching in the evening, he would sit down at a table in our kitchen, and my mother—we churned butter.  I’ve done that seemingly like it would never end, such a task, an assignment.  Do ya’ll know what I’m talking about when I say churning butter?  Churning butter, had a big crock about that big around and about that tall, and mother would put the milk in there and say, “Now son,” and, oh dear, it is like death to me to sit there churning that butter.  But there is nothing in the earth like churned buttermilk.  This old cultured stuff that you get from the dairy is made out of chemicals.  They take the milk and put chemicals in it, and that turns it into clabber, and you drink it and say, “Oh, this is fine.”  Listen, that’s stuff for the hogs!  But the angels drank buttermilk churned like this.

Every night when he’s done preaching, he’d come home and sit down in that same place at that kitchen table.  Mother would give him a big glass of churned buttermilk to drink, and while he drank that buttermilk before he went to bed, he’d talk to me about Jesus.  I was just a little fellow, just listen to him and look at him.  That man had the saintliest face of any man I ever saw in my life, and I’ll never forget his voice.  He had a different kind of voice than I ever heard.

And I was saved in that revival meeting.  Did you know?  In the passing of the years, I was called to be pastor of the First Baptist Church in Dallas, immediately following the greatest Baptist preacher our Baptist people of America have ever produced, Dr. George W. Truett, undershepherd here forty-seven years. And I came to be undershepherd of this flock, this church.

Soon after I came, Wallace Bassett, the pastor for forty-eight years of the church at Cliff Temple here in Dallas—Dr. Wallace Bassett sat down by my side at a meeting, and he said, “Where were you converted and where were you baptized?  Where did you come from?”

Well, I said, “I grew up in that little town, far northwest Texas, and the way I was converted was this: there was a saintly man named John Hicks who held a meeting in our church.  He stayed in our home, and he talked to me about the Lord Jesus, and I was saved in that meeting, and that’s when I was baptized.”

He said, “What?  Johnny Hicks?” as though he were sort of speaking to himself. “Johnny Hicks,” called him Johnny, “Johnny Hicks?  And you were saved in his revival?”  “Yes.”  “Ah,” he said, “I cannot imagine.”

He said when John Hicks was sick unto death, they brought him here to the hospital in Dallas, our Baptist hospital.  “And I went out to see him,” said Dr. Bassett, “and sat down by his side, and Johnny Hicks said to me, ‘Wallace, I have been a total failure, a total failure.  My whole ministry has been a total failure.’” And Dr. Bassett said, “Johnny Hicks died believing that his whole ministry had been a total failure, and now you tell me that you were saved in a revival held by Johnny Hicks?”

You don’t know what you do.  You don’t know the meaning of the decisions you make and the words you speak or the testimony you offer unto God; a small step for a man, from there to there, but how meaningful for eternity. And that’s true with you, my brother, my sister.  Sometimes out of the tiniest acorns, the giants among the oaks do grow.  Sometimes out of little decisions that we make, all of the after-years of life are covered; a little step for a man, but a giant leap God-ward, heavenward.

This morning, would you take that step?  Would you make that decision?  How small a journey from where you’re seated into that aisle. How small a journey from the balcony down one of those stairways, but how meaningful—your life will never be the same again.  How meaningful for your family, for your home, for your own heart, for your own life; a little step for a man, but a giant turning toward God.  If you’re in that last seat in that topmost balcony, there is a stairwell to the right, to the left, at the back and at the front, and there’s time and to spare. In the balcony round, a family you, a couple you, a one somebody you, that first step, and God will give you strength for the rest of the way.  Come, on this lower floor, “Pastor, this is my wife and these are our children, and all of us are coming today,” or just you, a small step for you, but how meaningful to us and to God and to your life now and in the world that is to come.

Make the decision now.  Do it now, and in a moment when we stand up to sing, stand up coming.  Take that step, and God will see you through.  Angels will attend your way.  Do it now.  Make the decision now: “I’m ready, God helping me, and I’m coming. I’ll not put it off to another time or another day or another Sunday or another hour.  I’m coming now, and here I am.”  Do it.  Bring your family with you, or just you.  You come as God shall say the word and open the door and lead in the way.  Make it now, come now, while we stand and while we sing.