A Giant Step Heavenward
September 7th, 1969 @ 8:15 AM
A GIANT STEP HEAVENWARD
Dr. W. A. Criswell
9-7-69 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 entitled A Giant Step Heavenward. In the sixteenth chapter of the Book 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 endeavoured to go into Macedonia, assuredly gathering that the Lord had called us for—
and I like that Old English expression—
for to preach the gospel unto them.
Now we are beginning a gigantic and meaningful church year. And as the message is developed you will see why it is I have chosen this text. For one thing, in a new departure, there was introduced to you the finest prospect for the Baptist ministry in England, who is now graduated from Spurgeon College, our Baptist seminary in London. And he and his wife, who is a nurse, will be here for a year. And they are present, not only to help us in our own ministry here in Dallas, but also to learn how an American church builds itself; outreach, visitation, education, evangelism.
He is here to learn from us, as I could pray if we were there we would learn from them, and take the methodology of our Southern Baptist churches back to England. And when he is pastor, things that he has seen in us do, he may be able to inculcate in his own congregation there. And by the example of what he does in England, there may be many other of our Baptist churches in that tight little island that will expand its ministries due to his own example. So we welcome Rodney Sawtell. And we are going to open up our hearts and our whole church to him and his young wife.
Then Friday night we have one of the great opportunities of a lifetime in our church. Friday night, this Friday night, we’re all going to Six Flags, all of us. It’s our annual Roundup. That’s one thing. It is the time for the projection of our tremendous outreach and program for this coming year. Then if God will help us, and if you will pray for it, I’ve got it in my soul to turn that great gigantic convocation into an evangelistic service. After we’ve had our time of recreation and fellowship, we’re going to meet together. And then after a program, a rodeo program, they’re going to turn the service over to me.
I could not think of a better way to get folks to a congregational service, a preaching hour, who are not interested in the church, who are not saved, who are not Christians, than to invite them to the Six Flags program Friday night. We ought to be there. We have promised to have at least five thousand of us there. We ought to be there. And then we ought to take some friends and families there. Maybe they wouldn’t come to church here in this auditorium, but they’d go with us there. Now a $4.50 ticket cost $2, and they put their heart and soul into making this a successful thing for our First Baptist Church here in Dallas. So let’s go. Let’s be there. And then let’s go with a prayer in our hearts that, if God puts it on the soul of the pastor that night, he’ll preach an evangelistic sermon and make an appeal. God be with us as we launch our work in that tone and in that tenor.
Now the idea back of this sermon this morning is how a small step can eventuate in a tremendous repercussion. It’s the kind of a thing that Neil Armstrong said when he walked down the ladder of that Eagle sitting on the moon. And there was a step there about that tall, as he slowly went down that ladder toward the moon. And when he put his foot down that small step, he said, “A small step for a man, but a giant leap for humanity.” Of course, it has been one of the most fantastic, unbelievable of all of the achievements of American science; that a man—did you go out there and look at that moon—that a man should be putting his foot on that moon, “A small step for a man,” just a few inches, “but a giant leap for humanity.”
Now the development of the text. To me, in my judgment one of the greatest of all of the turnings of history is in this text I’ve just read [Acts 16:9-10]. For preceding it, they’d gone through Phrygia, the great Roman province in the interior of Asia Minor, and the region of Galatia, another like province, and were forbidden of the Holy Ghost to preach the gospel in Asia [Acts 16:6]. They finally came to Mysia, when they assayed to go into Bithynia, east, and the Spirit suffered them not [Acts 16:7]. And standing there on the shores of the Aegean Sea, and just across the Hellespont is Europe, the Holy Spirit said, “You are not to go to the right, to the east; but you are to go to the left, to Europe” [Acts 16:7-10]. And Paul crossed that little narrow strip of water [Acts 16:10-12].
If you’ve been at the Bosporus Strait, it seems to me you could throw a rock from Europe to Asia, or Asia to Europe. He crossed that narrow strip of water, a small step for a man; but he changed the course of civilization. For it was not China or India that sent the gospel to America, but American civilization came out of Christian Europe . And Europe was Christianized because of this turning of the apostle Paul westward, across the Hellespont to Europe [Acts 16:9-12]; a small decision for a man, but a giant turning in the history of humanity.
Now that thing is repeated in the activity of God, the intervention of God in human history through all of the generations. It was a small thing for Abram to move from Ur of Chaldea to the land of Canaan [Genesis 11:31]. But the whole course of God’s revelation in history was changed when God called Abram. And Abraham moved out of Ur of Chaldea into Canaan, the land promised to him and his seed forever [Genesis 11:31; 12:1-7]. It was a small thing when Moses stopped to look at a bush that burned unconsumed [Exodus 3:1-8]. But out of that looking and that listening came the great ministry of the lawgiver and the Jewish nation [Exodus 3:9-10].
It was a small thing for David to move his capital from Hebron to Jerusalem, just a few miles, but how the whole earth is colored and eternity by that decision [2 Samuel 5:1-13]. It was a small thing and relatively insignificant when Ezra and Zerubbabel took possibly fifty thousand of the captives, just a handful of them, and returned to Canaan, to Palestine, to Judea [Ezra 2:64-65]. But out of that came the framework of the nation that gave us our Lord and is seen in the continuation of the Judaistic ministries in the world today [Romans 9:3-5].
It was a small thing for our Lord to go down to the Jordan River and to be baptized by John the Baptist but in that commitment began His messianic ministry [Matthew 3:13-17]. It was a small thing when Simon Peter entered the house of Cornelius, a Roman centurion and a Gentile, saying, “It is unlawful for a man that is a Jew to enter into the house of one who is a Gentile; but God hath showed me that I am to call no man common or unclean” [Acts 10:28]. And he preached the gospel to the Gentiles which opened the door for the great missionary message to all of the nations of the world [Acts 10:34-48]; how little a thing for Simon Peter to do, but what vast repercussions in the history of mankind.
It was a small thing, a small thing when the apostle John was sent to a little isle of Patmos [Revelation 1:9-20], one out of an innumerable number of prisoners that were trying to be executed, gotten rid of, starved, famished, or exposed by Domitian in the Roman Empire. But there on that rocky isle came the greatest triumphant and encouraging note the world has ever seen! There John pointed out for us the great ultimate consummation and goal toward which all human history is moving. We have the Apocalypse, the Revelation [Revelation 1-22].
It was a small thing when Augustine, in 600 AD, made a journey to England and there built a little church at Canterbury, but it proved the evangelization of our Anglo-Saxon forefathers. It was a small thing when Roger Williams built in Providence, Rhode Island, a little tiny colony, but in it he declared there would be religious freedom for all men everywhere, the greatest gift of American democracy to the world; a small step for a man, but a giant leap for humanity.
And it was so with us in our First Baptist Church in Dallas. I don’t know quite why, but there has never been in Christian history, especially that that concerned us, a figure, a pathetic figure that more moved my own soul than this Spurgeon Harris; a small, small thing, but oh, the repercussion that has come from it. May I summarize his life just a moment? In 1836 he was born in Kentucky. And Moses Harris, his father, took the family to Missouri and there died and left his widow and two little boys destitute. An uncle took the two little boys and brought them to Texas. And when this one, W. W. Billy Harris, was seventeen years of age, he was converted and baptized.
He was an awkward boy physically but had a golden voice, and the Spirit of God was in him. And he was licensed to preach when he was seventeen years of age. When he was twenty years old an association here in Texas took up money and sent him to Baylor University at old Independence, on the Brazos River. When he was thirty years of age he preached the commitment sermon for Baylor. He entitled it “The Knowledge of Jesus––the Most Excellent of Science.” When he was thirty-two years of age he held a revival meeting in a little frontier village called Dallas. He was the most effective of all the preachers of Texas. He’s the one that baptized B.H. Carroll.
And when that two weeks meeting was done here in the little frontier village of Dallas, they called him as pastor of a little organized church that came out of that revival. It had eleven members and had Spurgeon Harris for a pastor; how small a step, but with what colossal repercussions! I don’t think in history there is a more pathetic figure than Spurgeon Harris, forty-four years of age, a lonely horseman, his health gone. He had tuberculosis. All that he has in the world is what he has on his back. His voice gone, riding through Texas from the north where we live, to the south to die and dying, buried by some Mexicans and a cowboy or two, and his grave forgotten.
Though so eloquent a preacher, the Baptists of Texas promised to erect a tombstone. They never did it. And his grave is unmarked and unknown to this day. And that’s why I ask the deacons to bring a recommendation to you that we have a monument for that first pastor of this First Baptist Church of Dallas: a building that we’ll use to glorify the name of God; so small a thing, yet with what repercussion and meaning. All of life is like that.
When I was ten years old there came to our little town a preacher. He stayed in our house while he held the revival meeting. When he got through preaching he would sit at the table in our kitchen, drinking a glass of buttermilk, every night sit there at that table; drink a glass of buttermilk and talk to me about the Lord. The face of that man was the kindest, saintliest face I have ever seen, oh, the impression he made upon me! And his voice, he had a voice unlike anyone I ever heard speak; a godly, a wonderful man.
I was converted in that revival and gave my heart in that revival. And I was baptized at the end of that revival. The years passed and I was called as pastor of the First Baptist Church in Dallas, to follow the greatest Baptist preacher America has ever produced, George W. Truett. And as the work began here in this church, upon a day I was visiting with Wallace Bassett, who for forty-eight years was pastor of the Cliff Temple Baptist Church in this city. And Wallace Bassett said to me, “Where were you converted? Where were you baptized? Where did you come to know the Lord as your Savior?” And I said, “In a little tiny town on the high plains of northwestern Texas, in a revival meeting when the preacher stayed in our house. And his name was John Hicks, pastor of the church in Dalhart.”
He said, “You mean to say to me that you were converted under Johnny Hicks?”—called him “Johnny Hicks.” I said, “Yes, yes, I’ll never forget him; his voice, his face, and his talking to me as a little boy.” He said as though he were talking to himself, he said, “What an amazing thing. What an amazing thing!” He said, “I visited Johnny Hicks just before he died. He had been brought here a sick man to Dallas and I visited him. And as I sat by his side in the hospital room, Johnny Hicks said to me, ‘Wallace, my life has been a complete failure. I’ve never done anything for Jesus in my life like I should have done. My ministry has been a complete failure.’ And he died,” Wallace Bassett said to me, “feeling that his ministry had been a complete failure. And now you tell me that you found the Lord under the preaching and the personal witness and testimony of that godly man.” How small a step, but how meaningful it can be under God.
You, you, just step into that aisle and down to the front; how small a thing to do, but how meaningful in your life, in your family, in your house, in your home, in your work. A small decision, a small step, but eternity is in it. How great oaks grow out of such little acorns. What tremendous repercussions come out of such small decisions! Take that step. Make that decision and let God add His blessing to the days and the years that lie before us. Will you? [Romans 10:9-10]. Will you? In a moment, we’re going to stand to sing. It will be a dedication of our lives and our souls to a higher ground. And in the balcony round, if you’re in that last seat on the last row, there’s time and to spare. Down one of these stairwells on either side, at the back and at the front, you come; a small step for a man, but a giant leap for the work of God, come. On this lower floor, into that aisle and down here to the front; just a small step, just a simple decision but oh, how meaningful for you, for your life, for your home, for your family, for God, and for God’s work in the earth. A small step for a man, but O Lord, what it means to us, and to heaven, and to You. Make that decision now, do it now, and in a moment when we stand up to sing, stand up coming. A couple you, a family you, or just one somebody you, while we sing, come, do it now, make it now, while we stand and while we sing.