IN PICTURES OF SILVER
Dr. W. A. Criswell
10-5-69 8:15 a.m.
In the twenty-fifth chapter of the Book of Proverbs and the eleventh verse is a passage that reads like this: "A word fitly spoken is like apples of gold in pictures of silver" [Proverbs 25:11]. And this being the pastor’s twenty-fifth silver anniversary, I have chosen as the subject of the message the words from that verse In Pictures Of Silver. Two of the series will be of the past; and two of the series will be of the future; In Pictures of Silver.
Last week I delivered the president’s address before the executive committee and the agency leaders and the presidents of our institutions in Nashville, Tennessee. As I walked into the hallway of the Baptist building of our Southern Baptist Convention, there was a large group of preachers to my left. And one of them seeing me said, "Look, here comes the most unpopular preacher of the Southern Baptist Convention." He paused and added, "He has not had a pulpit committee to visit him in twenty-five years"; which, of course, is gloriously true. I used to have a pulpit committee come to the little churches – and I don’t mean little, they would not like that – to the big churches that I was pastor, I used to have a pulpit committee often, often; but I’ve not had for twenty-five years, here in Dallas. I would suppose that throughout our Baptist Zion, whoever pastors this dear church has reached the zenith and the acme of spiritual dedication and ministry.
Now, I’m going to speak first of pictures of surprise In Pictures of Silver; things that have surprised me. First, in this preaching ministry: when I began here twenty-five years ago there were people that came down the aisles giving their hearts to the Lord, and joining the church, and it continued for several months. And, upon a day, the chairman of the deacons had a conference with me. And this is what he said, he said, "Young pastor, we all have noticed that since you came to be the undershepherd of the flock that people are coming down the aisles, and they’re giving their hearts to the Lord, and they’re joining the church. Now, son," he said, "this will not continue. And I am speaking to you of it so that when it ceases, and you do not have those large groups of people come forward, that you will not be discouraged. For this is not the way it is for people to come forward like that in every service. And when it doesn’t continue, we don’t want you to be discouraged."
Well, for twenty-five years I’ve been looking for it to discontinue; it not only does not discontinue, but it has increased through the passing years to my great and blessed surprise. For twenty-five years there has never been a morning, there has never been an evening where I have preached but that God has given us a harvest.
Another surprise: I have been greatly surprised at the 8:15 service. This service was begun to take the pressure off of the 10:50 o’clock hour, for the 10:50 o’clock hour filled up, and we had to do something. And we tried every conceivable way that anybody could devise. We had a Primary church, we had a Junior church, we took the Good Shepherd department out and had a Good Shepherd chapel, and we took our Silent Friends out and they had a Silent Friends chapel, and we extended our service for the smaller children; and yet the auditorium filled up. So I announced the only alternative was to have another service at 8:15. And I announced that I would start the service – it was the first of November, fifteen years ago – that I would start a service and continue it until the end of the year, then turn it over to somebody else. Well, the service began to grow from the first hour. Then I said, "I will continue preaching at the 8:15 service until June and turn it over to somebody else." And the service continued to grow, and I have continued it now for, lacking a month, fifteen years. And this service is a phenomenon in Christendom; there’s not another Protestant church in the world that has a great throng like this at an 8:15 service. I’ve preached through many of them in revival meetings. They’ll have a hundred and fifty there; they’ll have two hundred there; once in a while on a great day they might have three hundred. But we fill this auditorium every morning at 8:15 on Sunday, and it has come to be one of the great axle, burden-bearing, praying, interceding, preaching, soul-winning services of our church. This 8:15 service is a phenomenal thing; look around you, look around you!
Another surprise to me was the blessing of God upon my preaching through the Bible. You cannot imagine, when I began that, oh, the lugubrious prognostications: what would happen to the congregation? People are not going to come to hear the Bible preached; why, there are great sections of the Bible they’ve never even seen or read. They never heard of those Old Testament prophets back there, and when you go to preach through the Bible the church will die.
I preached through the Bible seventeen years and eight months; and all of those years the church grew, and the attendance grew, and God blessed it marvelously, heavenly. And the greatest preaching experience I have ever had in my life, another surprise, when New Year’s Eve fell on a Sunday evening, I announced that I was going to start preaching at 7:30 o’clock and preach until midnight. Well, I thought I’d have some people here to start off with, but most of them would melt away before the evening was done. So I started preaching through this Bible. I entitled the message The Scarlet Thread through the Bible, the story of God’s grace, the sacrifice of blood, through the Bible; from Eden when God clothed those sinning parents with coats of skin and shed blood in the garden of Eden [Genesis 3:21], until the vision of John, "These are they who have washed their robes, and made them white in the blood of the Lamb" [Revelation 7:14]. Well, I started at the seven-thirty o’clock hour, and this placed was jammed, and people were standing all the way around the walls downstairs, and upstairs. And when I finished, after midnight, this place was jammed and people were standing all the way around the walls upstairs and downstairs; the surprise, the greatest preaching experience of my life; pictures of silver, pictures of surprise, not only in this preaching ministry but in people.
For the first years of my ministry there was a little maiden seated right there, every service she was seated there. Her name was Mariah Dunn. She grew very, very old, and grew sick. And so I took care of her; sweetest little maiden you ever saw in your life. And through Orville Groner, one of our deacons, I saw that she was taken care of in the hospital, and then we paid her rent at the little attic-like room in which she lived. And then we took her to a convalescent home, and we took care of her there and paid all of the bills. And I buried her. So I said to Orville, "Now you go to the landlady and that little attic room where she has lived, and you tell her we don’t need the room any longer"; we kept the room, paid the rent on it, wasn’t much. And then I said, "Orville, you take all the things she has and if there’s anything there worthwhile we’ll give it to the mission. And then tell the landlady that we will not need it anymore." So he went to the room to take everything out, called me on the telephone and said, "Pastor, you cannot imagine. I have found a shoebox; I have found a shoebox in the closet. And on the inside of that shoebox there is more than thirty-four thousand dollars worth of government bonds, and there are two wills in that box; and both of them wills everything to the First Baptist Church here in Dallas." Pictures of surprise; and I took that money and we built the lodge out there at Mount Lebanon; pictures of surprise.
After I’d been here just a while there was a member of the church named Mrs. Minnie Slaughter Veal. And she came to see me and she said, "The work of the church is just glorious, and I want to change my will. And I want to make a third of everything I have to the First Baptist Church in Dallas." I had no idea what that meant, had no idea at all. I had not been here long enough to realize. Then upon a day, when our deacons and the church voted to build the building, the activities building across the street, at that time the property came up for sale on the Patterson Street side. And I went to the deacons and I said, "You know we ought to buy that, somebody else will and build a sixty story building on it and we’ll never protest it. Oh, let’s buy that!" And the deacons said, "Now pastor, we have already borrowed more than a million dollars for this building here." Now bear in mind this was when money was money; a million dollars then was about three million dollars today. "Now we’ve already borrowed more than a million dollars, and we just cannot add to the indebtedness on this church." Well I said, "That’s right, and I understand." I was standing out there by the side of my educational director on the Patterson Street curb, looking at that property, and I said to him, "This is one of the great tragedies of life; we so desperately need this. And we’re already in debt, and I’ve asked the deacons about it and they say we ought not to go in debt any longer. But oh, oh, how we need that." And my educational director turned to me while I was standing there on the curb, and he said, "Well, pastor, why don’t you ask God for it?" Well, I paused a long time, and I said, "Ask God for it, well, that hasn’t ever occurred to me. I thought you were to ask the deacons for it. It has never entered my mind." I said, "I believe I’ll try it." So I took it before the Lord. And I got a telephone call, and the dear lady at the other end of the line said, "Pastor, I hear you’re down on your knees praying. What you praying for?" Well, I told her about that property over there. She said, "Well how much does it cost?" I said, "I don’t know, but I’ll tell you." So we got one of our deacons to find out, and I called her back. "We can get it for $255,500." She said, "You buy it, and I’ll give you the $255,500." So she gave me that money, and we bought that property over there. Then I got another telephone call from her. And she said, "Pastor, by the way, what do you want to do with it?" I said, "What I have in my heart, I want to build a parking building. It isn’t on Sunday that a downtown city crowds choke the church, it’s your weekday program. You couldn’t have a committee meeting down here because it would cost each one of you fifty cents if you could find a place to park. I want to build a parking building, and then I’d like to build a wonderful recreational facility for our young people."
She said, "How much will that cost?" I said, "I don’t know, but I’ll tell you." So I called her back, and I said, "It will cost about a million, five hundred thousand dollars." She said, "Pastor, you go ahead and do it, and I’ll give you the money." And we built that wonderful building over there without any knowledge of the church whatsoever because she did not want the church to know where it came from or even what we were doing. And God did that, a surprise!
Now, memorial surprises. One of the sadnesses of being pastor a long time of a church is that the people that you come to know so well and love so dearly and look upon as part, members, of your family, to see them die and be taken away. Now I’m not going to make this sad, I don’t want to do it that way; this is a time of thanksgiving and rejoicing to God. So I’m going to speak of some of these men triumphantly, I pray. Memorial pictures, pictures of silver and memorial pictures.
Bob Coleman was one of the sweetest, dearest, most precious of all the men that God’s ever let me know. I had seen him at conventions but I didn’t know him personally. Bob Coleman was with Dr. Truett here for over forty years. He was the Sunday school superintendent, always wore a red flower in his lapel. He said he liked any color just so it was red. And always stood at the Patterson Street entrance of the Truett building welcoming people as they came to Sunday school. Bob Coleman was the one that called me on the telephone; we were in Muskogee and we were being entertained that Wednesday night, the twenty-seventh day of September in 1944. And he called me on the phone and said the church had unanimously asked us to come and to be pastor of the church, and would I come the following Sunday. So I came here to the church and preached in this pulpit the first Sunday in October in 1944, after they had called me as pastor of the church.
There was such a service; I preached on Make it a Matter of Prayer, and the service was, oh, it was the most moving hour I’d ever lived through. And there used to be an entrance from – until we changed the choir – and we walked off the pulpit from here. So when I walked from the pulpit and back, Bob Coleman put his arms around me, and he said, "Young man, I have never seen a service like this in my life; this is to be your anniversary Sunday." And that’s why the service of anniversary has been the first Sunday in October of each year, because of Bob Coleman.
When he died, and God left him here for a year and a half, and I shared the funeral service from this sacred place. Speaking of Bob Coleman I used an illustration that I noticed here in Dallas. The Texas Special – a great passenger train in days passed on the Katy Railroad – went from the Union Station here to the Highland Park station, and always stopped there. But there’s a heavy grade from the Highland Park station on to the north; and they had a booster engine that pushed it over the hill. And then the Texas Special went on its way. And I said, "That’s what God did for me with Bob Coleman. He left him here for a year and a half to help me get started, to push the train over the hill. Then when his work was finished God took him home." I bless God for the memory and the love and encouragement of so wonderful a friend as Brother Bob Coleman.
Orville Groner, Orville Groner was secretary of the committee that called me as pastor of the church and was very active in it. Orville Groner was the treasurer of the Annuity Board, one of our deacons – I ordained him – and one of the sweetest friends, oh, I love Orville Groner. And he was an unusually fine and optimistic fellow, he just was that way. Well when I came to the church I had my trials and troubles as you would know, and my discouragements, and I remember I made my way over there to the Annuity Board and was seated in his office. And I was telling him some of the troubles that I was having in the church: lack of vision and lack of dedication and lack of faith, trying to get the church moving, and I was having a hard time. And I was discouraged, and I was over there to tell Orville Groner about it. And he stopped me and said, "Now listen, pastor, every dog has to have some fleas if for no other reason than just remind him that he’s still a dog." So I’ve never forgotten that. And when discouragements come or troubles, well I just think, "Well that’s part of the mortal frame."
Frank Ryburn, whom most of you have lived long enough and been here long enough to love and appreciate, Frank Ryburn was the chairman of the deacons here for thirty-five years, that’s before they changed the rule. And Ryburn, of course, was an infinite encouragement to me in this work. His wife, named Anne, was deaf; and because Anne could not hear well they always sat right down there, in that pew right there, close. Well, the pulpit here, you don’t realize because of the gradations, but the pulpit here is high. If you had it right there it’d be way above your head. So one time I said to Judge Ryburn, who always sat right there, I said, "Judge Ryburn I notice you always sit right down there at the front with your wife, and you listen to me with your head back like that." I said, "Doesn’t that hurt your neck?" He replied, "No, just my ears."
Nor did a pastor ever have a wonderful friend beyond Fred Florence, to me and to my family. Over the years Fred Florence gave to us thousands and thousands and thousands of dollars. One time I added it up: and Fred Florence had given to me more than twenty some-odd thousand dollars, just out of the love of his heart. What we did with that money is, we bought those beautiful things that are in the parsonage; we tried to find something, he wanted us to use it for us. So we used the things that Fred Florence gave us and we bought those pretty things out there in the parsonage. Upon a day, Fred Florence, he was the president, and he was a Jew, the president of the Republic National Bank, upon a day Fred Florence called me to see him and I sat down in his office. And he said, "Pastor, let’s do something"; he would call me "pastor."
"Pastor, let’s do something." He said, "Let’s build the most beautiful glorious Baptist church in the world." And he said, "I’ll help you get the money." Now Fred Florence had access, as Fred Lange knows, to many, many foundations and to many, many men of great wealth. And he said, "I’m not only thinking of you and the congregation, but I’m thinking of the city of Dallas." He said, "Let’s build the most glorious church house the world has ever seen. And let’s do it right here in Dallas, and let’s do it for you, the First Baptist Church in Dallas." Well, I talked to him about it, and of course he could not do that downtown. He wanted to go out. He said, "Let’s go out, and let’s get us a great place, spacious, with lawns and swards and room. And let’s build the most glorious building the world’s ever seen for the Baptists, let’s do it." Well, I said, "Mr. Florence, I’ve never had anything more appealing to me than that." Think of it, one of the richest men in this country with access to millions of dollars, with a proposal like that, to move the church and to build a cathedral. He used the word cathedral, "Let’s build it"; but I said, "Mr. Florence, there’s something about the First Baptist Church in its downtown ministry that to us is of God, it’s of the Lord." And I said, "I don’t think that we could ever turn aside from God’s call to us. But," I said, "let me pray about it and think about it." And I did; and I turned him, I returned to him a final verdict from my own soul. "Mr. Florence," I said, "we love you and appreciate you more than words could say, but the First Baptist Church ought to stay downtown." So we’re staying; and I charge you young people who will outlive me, maybe half a century, young people remember that. Under the ministry of Dr. Truett, for forty-seven years, he placed in the hearts of our people a dedication to a ministry that would build a light for Christ in the heart of this city; you stay with that, don’t ever move this church out to some suburb. Stay with the Lord in His desire to minister to the heart of a great city; stay here young people, keep this church here.
Now, and my time is gone, pictures of the future in pictures of silver; pictures of the future. Let me summarize and remain just for a moment. One: as our church continues, more and more we ought to get involved with the needs of our people, more and more, not less and less; more and more, and the needs of people, period. Wherever there is need, let our church increasingly become involved with it: illness, sickness, age, poverty, gross injustice, sin, evil; more and more a ministry to people.
One of the things I wanted to speak of and I haven’t had time, I’d love to see us build, organize, in these great facilities a Bible Institute. We can do that at night and carry on all the work of this church just the same, it won’t interfere. And then more and more, the outreach of the church; that means organization, involving people, reaching out, getting people to the Lord, teaching them the Word of God, their families and their children. Somebody will say, "Oh, oh, that means more machinery and more organization!" Well, it all depends. Organization will kill you if you don’t have power to run it; but if you have the power there’s no limit to what you can do with the involvement of organized people. It’s like an organ: when I was a little country preacher I used to have the church where a woman pump a pedal and played the organ in the church. Then as time went on, why, they got a bigger organ, and there was a boy who pumped a bellows. Then they have great organs; and that organ can be as great and as big as the giant turbine in the power plant, is able to generate the power to run it. It’s a question of power. Organization, method, genius, approaches are nothing unless they are baptized by the power of the Spirit of God. But if there is a looking to God and a seeking of God’s face and favor, there is no limit to what a church can do, reaching people for Jesus.
That of course would mean facilities. One of our directors said to me last week, "We had a goal of a hundred additions increase in our division for this year. We had an average increase of a hundred andforty." And she said, "This twenty-sixth year of your work we have set us a goal of two hundred children increase in this division, one division"; and they’re all crowded up there on one floor. Well, we need, if we’re going to reach these people, we need facilities, for what tools are to a mason or a carpenter, and what arms are to a soldier, these facilities are to us; they are instruments of outreach. Now the men tell me, and I read it and I know, there’s no money available; money to borrow is almost impossible. Fine, I have never wanted to go that way, never. And I’ve told the men, "I don’t want to go that way. I don’t want to sell my soul to the company store; I don’t want to owe some bank somewhere, some corporation somewhere; I want our people to do it." And we can do it: one, we can give; and second, we can make an investment in this church. We can make an investment in it ourselves; we don’t need to go out to some bank or some company; we can do it ourselves.
We live in a day of awesome martyrdom. Do you read in history of the martyrs of those first Christian centuries? Listen, this week, and it was confirmed as I visited with this man, he is a preacher that works in the underground trying to get Bibles and the gospel beyond the iron curtain. Listen, listen: in the last few years there have been more than twenty million Christians who have been slaughtered in communist countries. And that man said to me, "It is more near thirty million." Why, the martyrdom and the persecution of the first Christian centuries under the Roman Caesars was a peccadillo compared to the persecution that the Christian people know today. That man described to me how some of these Chinese communists take Christians and nail them to the church wall.
Am I a soldier of the cross,
a follower of the Lamb,
Shall I fear to own His cause,
or blush to speak His name?
Must I be carried to the skies
on flowery clouds of ease,
While others fought to win the prize,
and sailed through bloody seas?
["Am I a Soldier of the Cross," Isaac Watts]
For us to pause or to hesitate in the face of the sacrifice of life and blood on the part of our fellow Christians would be unthinkable and unspeakable. There has to be in what we do an element of sacrifice and consecration, or it fades into dust and ashes.
Now, I must conclude. I do it with a word of dedication to you. In the last years of Dr. Truett, the church staggered because he was gone almost half the time; and practically all the time for Sunday evening. Now, what shall I do this next twenty-five years? You cannot imagine the invitations that that pour across my desk or by telephone come to my ear. Here’s one of the most moving invitations I’ve ever received in my life, and I haven’t time to describe it. It’s from a colonel in the Air Force, stationed in Brussels, Belgium; the seat of NATO, shape and the European Common Market, and the seat of over four hundred American industries. And they have a flourishing Baptist work over there; and they’re asking me to come and to hold a nationwide crusade in Brussels, Belgium. Here is a long correspondence from Yugoslavia, behind the iron curtain. It’s from Zagreb, one of the great cities in Yugoslavia; it’s a long series of correspondence. They are pleading with me to come to Zagreb and to hold a crusade in Yugoslavia behind the iron curtain. This is from Brazil; this is from Old Mexico; and this is from the Baptist Union of Australia; and on and on it goes. What shall I do? Where shall I turn? I have to make a decision.
Dr. Truett, with whom I do not compare, Dr. Truett was a world citizen; and he was gone and he was gone and he was gone. And the church suffered, and declined in its attendance, and drastically so in its Sunday school. I don’t think that one can do both; I cannot be gone, and gone, and gone, and at the same time build this church here into the lighthouse and the soul-saving station and the witnessing ministry that would make what God would have it be. So I have been praying, and praying, and praying what to do. And I have come to the definite and final conclusion. I have this year to finish as president of the Southern Baptist Convention; this year is full. I have five weeks in East Africa holding evangelistic rallies from one city to the other; there are other things like that; but when this year is done, I am going to stay with this First Baptist Church, and I’m going to help pray this program through.
We’re going to build a pattern church, it already is increasingly so, for the whole world to look upon. It’s not something we say, this is something we’re doing, look at it! And my brother, let it encourage you to do the same thing where you live, in any town, in any city, in any nation, in any part of the world. God bless us now, and see us through as we offer to Him our highest best.
Now Lee Roy, I’ve never preached this long, that hour there, and I’m so sorry. To give your heart to Jesus, or to come into the fellowship of the church, while we sing this song, on the first note of the first stanza, come, while we stand and while we sing.