JB Cranfill: The Men Around Dr. Truett
July 13th, 1969 @ 10:50 AM
THE MEN AROUND DR. TRUETT
Dr. W. A. Criswell
7-13-69 10:50 a.m.
On the radio and on television you are sharing the services of the First Baptist Church in Dallas. This is the pastor bringing the message. It is an address; it is the kind of an address that once a year I prepare and deliver on a Sunday that is nearest to the anniversary of the death of the great pastor Dr. Truett. Ordinarily it would have been delivered last Sunday morning; Dr. Truett died the seventh day of July in 1944. But last Sunday I was in a city crusade in Oklahoma City, so the address will be delivered now.
In tribute to the memory of the far-famed preacher, our church is endowing a chair of evangelism in Baylor University. The sum will be three hundred thousand dollars. We have a little less than half of it now, and if there is anyone here today or who sees or listens over television and radio and would like in honor and memory of Dr. Truett to help build that chair of Bible teaching and evangelism in Baylor University, we would thus and earnestly encourage you, solicit your help in that achievement.
Now the title of the address this morning is The Men Around Dr. Truett. And out of so many things that could be said and men who could be chosen, I have this day prepared the address concerning a man who figured so largely in the life of our Texas Baptist people and in the life of this church and the ministry of Dr. Truett. His name was J. B. Cranfill. And if I were to choose a text, it would be in Hebrews 11:4: "He being dead yet speaketh."
Dr. Cranfill was a medical doctor, he was a Baptist preacher, he was a journalist and author and editor, and he was a shrewd and gifted businessman. His parents came to Texas from Kentucky. His father and mother married when they were very young and they immigrated to this wilderness called Texas in a covered wagon drawn by a yoke of oxen. They settled first in East Texas, around Gilmer; but the father was restless. All of his life they moved many times. So the father left East Texas and came out into the uncivilized, un-subjugated wilderness around Denton. And after being there for a while, went a little further west to Parker County where there was a fort at Weatherford. He had a brother there and he went to that part of the country in deference to his brother. But after he was there a while, he gave up the hope that the country would ever be subjugated. It was a howling wilderness of scrub timber and prairie land, and the Indians were frightfully active. When there was an attack by the Indians, he’d bundle up his family and flee to the fort at Weatherford. But his brother’s boy was slain, murdered by the Indians, and he lost hope of any future, of any civilization in that part of the country, so he left.
Now, I want to pause to say a word here about the American Indian. Before I was pastor in Oklahoma, I would not have said this word; but in the years of my ministry there, and especially with those five civilized tribes of the Cherokee, the Choctaw, the Chickasaw, the Creek and the Seminole, I came into an understanding of those children of the wilderness in America. What they saw was the white man coming, taking away their lands, their hunting grounds, their homes, wasting their people; so they reacted violently. And I understand. It was one of those tragedies in history: the white man came, and when he pressed into the hunting grounds and domain of the savage Indian, the Indian replied in kind, with murder, and massacre, and thievery, and burning. I am grateful that day is passed. My great-grandfather came to Texas in the 1820s; and he and the generations that followed him, and the men around him fought through all of the Indian wars in Texas. I am grateful the day is passed; but it remains with me a profound sympathy for the plight of those children of the wilderness, that the white settler found in America.
There around Weatherford in that uncivilized wilderness, J. B. Cranfill was born the twelfth day of September, in 1858. When the father came back to East Texas, the War Between the States broke out; and he went away with the Confederate armies – like my grandfather. His father was a doctor, and a soldier, and a Primitive Baptist preacher in the Confederate armies. My grandfather, my mother’s father, was a doctor in the Confederate armies. And some of the tenderest passages you could ever read are the descriptions of Dr. Cranfill of his mother, gathering the little brood around her knee, reading to them a chapter out of God’s Book every night, and praying God’s remembrance upon their father and upon their armies of the South, but always praying that the right prevail.
After the war, and the father came back home, drifting down through Southern Texas, through Gonzales, and finally to Coryell County, there I began my ministry. And all of those things that he speaks of and writes – for he wrote voluminously – in Coryell County, the places are so familiar to me. And there in Coryell County, near Turnersville, under a brush arbor revival by the Hardshell, foot-washing Primitive Baptist church there, he was converted. It came about like this: he was eighteen years old, and took a girl to the revival meeting. She was highly indifferent; and he had resolved not to be a Christian until later in life, lest he miss the joys and the pleasures of life.
That is one of the most unusual persuasions that young people have. If we’re going to be happy, we have to be evil, or vile, or filthy, or compromise. And just the opposite is true: if you have a good time, it must be a good time, always.
But he was one of those young fellows, as most of them are, go through that life, "I’m going to be a Christian someday, but right now I’m afraid it would intervene, interdict, interfere with my gladnesses and happinesses." Well, in that revival meeting under that brush arbor, the preacher made a proposition, and it was this: "Is there anyone here who intends to be a Christian someday, not now, but someday? Would you come and give me your hand?" Now this shows the honest of the young man: he turned to his date, and said to her, "I must respond to that appeal; for I intend to be a Christian someday." She scoffed and scorned, but he left her, and stepped in the aisle and down to the front to give the preacher his hand. And when he did so, something happened to his heart: he came under powerful conviction.
I’ve always felt that if a man would take the first step to Jesus, God would meet him in the way. That happened to that young man. When he came down to the front to give his hand to the pastor, that he someday intended being a Christian, he remained as a penitent and bowed for prayer. His father and mother saw it. He prayed all that night when he went home. He came down the next meeting as a penitent, and the next meeting. And the next time he came down and they were praying with him, the burden rolled away, and he stood up in sign that he’d given his heart to Christ. And he describes a service that I have lived through many, many times; not now, not in recent days, but long, long ago – forty years ago – I’ve been a pastor forty-two years. He describes the service, the people singing, and he speaks of the song:
When I shall read my title clear
To mansions in the skies
I’ll bid farewell to every fear,
And wipe my weeping eyes.
["When I Can Read My Title Clear," Isaac Watts]
Then he said, "At that time this chorus was with that old song –
Oh, come, angel band,
Come and around me stand;
Oh, bear me away on your snowy wings
To my immortal home –
["Oh, Come, Angel Band," Jefferson Hascall]
And the people singing that song, and tears falling off of their faces, shaking hands with one another."
I’ve been in many services like that: the people just singing, and shaking hands, and all of them weeping, just overflowing joy before God. The reason we don’t know it today is we find our emotional release and our interests in things that move us, we find it in the sports world, and we find it at the television set, or at the picture show, or at the ballpark; but we hadn’t any of those things when I was a boy. And our joy and our happinesses we found in the Lord, and we expressed them. Sometimes our people would shout. J. B. Cranfill describes a time when his old godly mother shouted at a foot washing service.
He was a Primitive Baptist. And even after he became a Missionary Baptist – a Baptist as we are – he still believed in foot-washing. Have you ever been to an old Primitive foot-washing Hardshell Baptist service? He describes it, and he describes it exactly as I have watched it. People come to laugh and to scoff, and to make fun; but they stay to pray.
A pastor will kneel before his senior deacon, say, "Brother Bellamy, may I wash your feet?" and he bathes the feet of his deacon. I have said many times in this pulpit: I wish I knew a something in the service of the church that would do for us what that foot-washing service did for those old Primitive Baptist people, the best people who ever lived in God’s world.
I was interested in how it was that he gave up his belief that foot-washing was an ordinance in the church. He said B. H. Carroll convinced him with the plural of a word. Jesus says:
I’ve given you an example, that ye should do as I have done to you. Verily I say unto you, The servant is not greater than his lord; nor he that sent him, nor that he that is sent greater than he that is sent. If ye know these things, happy are ye if you do them. If I, your Lord and Master, washed your feet; ye also ought to wash one another’s feet."
[John 13:15-17, 14]
That’s very plain; it just is. So he says that he changed, that there were not three ordinances in the church, baptism, the Lord’s Supper, and the washing of feet; but there were only two, baptism and the Lord’s Supper. And B. H. Carroll convinced him. And this is the way he says Dr. Carroll exegeted this passage: "If you know these things," plural, "happy are ye if ye do them," plural. So B. H. Carroll said that the Lord was not talking about one thing, the washing of feet, but He was giving us an example in all of our life, "things" plural, in everything we are to be humble and self-effacing, in honor preferring one another: the spirit of washing, bathing each other’s feet. And that convinced him.
Well I thought of my own convincing. In that same county where I began to preach, in Coryell County, I spent many a night with those Hardshell Primitive Baptist people. I preached to them; they came to hear me. And no less in Kentucky, preaching out in the country as I did for ten years here and there, I met many of those foot-washing Baptist people, many of them. And once in a while they would argue with me; they had a public argument with me one time on the courthouse at Brownsville, Kentucky. The Lord’s people gathering around, those men, I was just a young fellow going to the seminary, but I didn’t believe in foot-washing as an ordinance, and they did; and oh, it was just around and around.
Well, this was a thing that I think about it: I believe in washing feet – and I hope you do too, I pray so – but the question is whether it is an ordinance or not. Is it an ordinance? Well, to me it is not an ordinance because the Lord said, "After I am gone away, the Holy Spirit will bring all these things to your remembrance, what I have said and done" [John 14:26]. And God commissioned those apostles to write down these things, and to interpret them for us [Revelation 1:11]. Now, in the interpretation of the Lord and in the writing down of the things of the Lord, washing feet is never mentioned, never referred to: it was never practiced by the apostolic church, nor did the apostles ever teach the people to do it. So I know by that, that the two ordinances they did practice, commanded by Jesus, baptism [Matthew 28:19], and the Lord’s Supper [Matthew 26:26-28; 1 Corinthians 11:23-26], they set in the church; but the washing of feet they did not set in the church. They did not practice it in the church. The only time it’s mentioned is in the letter to Timothy, where it is a gesture of hospitality, like you would give somebody a drink of water [1 Timothy 5:10].
But he grew up among those dear and great people. And I have no words but words of gratitude to God for those Primitive Hardshell foot-washing Baptists.
Now as time went on, he made a business trip from Gatesville, to which he had moved, to Waco; and turning back – and I’ve driven over that road a thousand times going from Waco to Baylor, down to Coryell where I was preaching – he stopped at McGregor to attend a revival meeting. And B. H. Carroll was the evangelist and preacher, the pastor of the First Church at Waco. That’s the first time he saw B. H. Carroll: and immediately, aboundingly admired him, loved him, honored him. The words of gratitude to God for Dr. Carroll written by Dr. Cranfill are superlative, overflowing. He would go to Waco on the weekend to stay there on Sunday, just to hear the great giant theologian preach.
In 1883, they had a little baby boy was born, and he named the little boy Carroll after Dr. Carroll. The little child became sick – became sick when it was three years of age, but was better; and he made a journey to Corscicana, Dr. Cranfill did, to Corsicana, and stayed there in the home of the pastor, Mullins. And the Pastor Mullins in Corsicana had a brilliant young son by the name of E. Y. Mullins, later president of the World Alliance, president of the Southern Seminary in Louisville, our greatest theologian. And while he was there, young Mullins, Dr. Edgar Young Mullins, at that time was a telegrapher, and he received a telegram. And Cranfill describes the tenderness with which Edgar Young Mullins read that telegram to him: their little boy had died while he was away.
Now he was a journalist of the first order. In Turnersville, he founded a paper; in Gatesville, again; and in Waco, again. And up here in Dallas, and in this church, were two men, Samuel A. Hayden and Robert T. Hanks. Pastor Hanks was the undershepherd of this church; Hayden belonged to it. And Hayden sought with vindictive bitterness to ruin the ministry here of Pastor Hanks; and he carried that vindictive bitterness beyond the church, into the whole denomination. They split this church. And however this church goes, the denomination goes. When the church split, the First Church here in Dallas, the denomination split. And you had those bitter, unremitting, unwearying attacks by S. A. Hayden.
Well, Hayden had a paper called The Texas Baptist Herald; and Hanks began publishing one called The Western Baptist. And Dr. Cranfill, who had moved to Waco, bought The Texas Baptist and moved it down there, and changed its name to The Baptist Standard. While he was in Waco, a disastrous fire destroyed the press and the plant, and Dr. Cranfill came to Dallas to see Colonel C. C. Slaughter in this church, to see if he could rebuild it, and offered Colonel Slaughter half ownership in the Standard, if he’d reply. And Colonel Slaughter did, but with this proviso: that he move The Baptist Standard to Dallas.
So Dr. Cranfill took The Baptist Standard and came here to Dallas. But in this church, and in that work, he inherited the feuding bitterness of S. A. Hayden. And upon a day, in the Baptist Convention, they denied a seat to S. A. Hayden. You could do that anywhere; you don’t have to have anybody in your organization. They denied a seat to him. And S. A. Hayden brought suit against B. H. Carroll, George W. Truett, Colonel C. C. Slaughter, and J. B. Cranfill, for $100,000. That was an astronomical sum of money in those days. And then happened a thing without precedent in Christian history: that trial lasted for seven years, here in the city of Dallas. And Cranfill writes of the law and of the judges. Oh! I never was introduced to such a thing until I began studying that trial. You see, it came about by the fact that the judge was prejudiced, and the judge was in sympathy with Hayden. Colonel Slaughter paid off – he was a very wealthy man – finally, J. B. Cranfill sold the property that he owned at Main and Akard, here in the city of Dallas, in order to get out from under the terrible burden of that awful suit. You just never read such things; but that attack continued, and the denomination split. And that’s where the Baptist Missionary Association came from; that’s the Hayden-ites. They have a college in Jacksonville. There were those Baptist Missionary Association churches all over this state; they are gradually waning. But oh! the bitterness – and all of it here in this First Baptist Church.
While I’m thinking of it, may I say how grateful I am that that day is passed? Out of all the places I know to feud and to fight, the last place in the earth that is thinkable or imaginable is in God’s house among God’s people.
Now, Dr. Truett – down in Waco, Dr. J. B. Cranfill was the financial secretary of Baylor University, raising money in support of Baylor. But the Texas convention invited him to be their superintendent of missions, to direct all their mission work in the state. So he resigned that place as financial secretary of Baylor in 1890. In the latter part of that year, they were having a missionary mass meeting in McKinney, Texas, and B. H. Carroll was to deliver the address, the missionary address. So he and J. B. Cranfill came up to McKinney to attend that meeting; but mostly they came to interview a young man they’d never heard of. The pastor at Whitewright had written to Dr. Carroll, saying that he had a suggestion to make about a young man who could lift the burden from Baylor University, because the school was getting ready to close its doors; it had a debt, to them astronomical, of $92,000, and they were seeking somebody to save the school. And a pastor at Whitewright had recommended the name of a young fellow that nobody’d ever heard of: George W. Truett. So Dr. Carroll, the preacher at Waco, and Dr. Cranfill, went up to McKinney, to visit with that young unknown. He was invited; and the story of how he did raising that burden from Baylor is a legend that I’ve spoken of here in these addresses in days passed.
After Dr. Truett had campaigned over the state, and raised that money for Baylor, he entered the school, and was graduated from it, and married Judge Jenkins’ daughter, there in the First Church in Waco, and was accepted as pastor; and began to preach in the little East Waco Baptist Church.
Now we’ve come to 1897, and Dr. Cranfill had come to Dallas the earlier part of that year, bringing The Baptist Standard with him. And that year, Brother Seasholes resigned as pastor of this First Baptist Church. And Colonel W. L. Williams went to Dr. Cranfill and asked if he knew someone who could pastor this First Church in Dallas. And Dr. Cranfill said, "Yes: George W. Truett, pastor of the little East Waco Baptist Church in Waco." And Dr. Cranfill went around with the other members and spoke of Dr. Truett, George W. Truett. And the church called him. Dr. Cranfill was with the pastor at Waco, B. H. Carroll, for twelve years; and inordinately loved and admired him, published his works – he’s the one that published the interpretation of the English Bible in fifteen volumes for the great theological works of the Baptist denomination. But here in this church and in this place, he was with Dr. Truett for forty-five years. He taught the Baraca Sunday school class, and then later organized the radio Bible class. He edited and published Dr. Truett’s first volume of sermons. He was a great, wonderful man in this ministry and in this church.
Now, there was a sadness in his life. When he was eighteen years old he was licensed to preach by the Hardshell Baptist church there near Turnersville in Coryell County; and then his other interests pulled him away. Sometimes a man’s gifts can interfere with the great dedication of his life. For Dr. Cranfill was a gifted doctor, physician, and he was a gifted journalist and author, and he also was a shrewd and gifted businessman. And he turned aside from that preaching ministry. In 1883, when his little boy died, Carroll Cranfill, he came back to the church at Waco, told them the grief of his heart, and he rededicated his life to Jesus. And they licensed him to preach in the Missionary Baptist Church, our Baptist church in Gatesville. But again, these interests pulled him away. In 1890, the church at Waco called for his ordination. Dr. Carroll preached the ordination sermon, and R. C. Buckner, Robert Cook Buckner, delivered the charge; but once again these interests in his life pulled him away. When he came to the end of his life, he closed his autobiography with these words: "When Helen Hunt Jackson," who was a famous authoress of the last century, "When Helen Hunt Jackson was within a few hours of her death, she wrote these lines, and they represent my own heart:
Father, I scarcely dare to pray,
So clear I see now it is done,
That I have wasted half my life,
And left my work but just begun.
So clear I see that things I thought
Were right and harmless were a sin;
So clear I see that I have sought,
Unconscious, selfish aims to win.
In outskirts of Thy kingdom vast,
Father, the humblest spot give to me;
Set me the lowliest task Thou has,
Let me repentant work for Thee."
["A Last Prayer"]
But the ministry of Dr. Cranfill, though in another area, God amazingly blessed. And this is an instance: last night, last night, a minister, a pastor called me and said, "I see that you’re going to speak Sunday about the men around Truett, and that this address you’re speaking of Dr. Cranfill." I said, "Yes." Well he said, "I want to tell you something about Dr. Cranfill. I was born and reared on a country farm, poor, in Collin County. And when I was a teenager, a dog bit me, and a country doctor inoculated me against rabies; but I had a violent reaction against the rabies shot. And for ten months I lay ill on that bed, and dying. They said I was to die. For ten months, sick." And he said, "I had a little crystal radio set, and I listened every Sunday to Dr. Cranfill." And he said, "I took a penny postcard, and wrote to Dr. Cranfill, and asked him to pray for me, and to ask the pastor, Dr. Truett, to pray for me." He said, "To my surprise, I looked out the window, and there drove up to our poor country farm home a black Cadillac, and out of it stepped two men: one was Dr. Cranfill and the other was a surgeon from Baylor Hospital. They looked at me, they put me in that Cadillac, Dr. Cranfill’s Cadillac, and they took me to Baylor; and I got well. When I was well," he said, "I went to Dr. Cranfill and offered to pay him; but Dr. Cranfill said, ‘No, Jesus will pay me.’"
And when Dr. Cranfill saw the boy on that bed sick, he said, "Son, God will heal you, and God’s going to make a Baptist preacher out of you." When he was graduated from high school, he was six feet, four inches tall, weighed two hundred pounds. And Dr. Cranfill called Dr. Tidwell down at Baylor University, and said, "I’m sending you a young man. Teach him the Word of God; he’s going to be a preacher of the gospel." When he went down to Baylor, every door was opened to him through the kindness of Dr. Cranfill. He never lacked for a place to preach or a church to pastor. The man that called me and told me that is Dr. Charles Cockrell, who is pastor of the First Baptist Church at Garland – just one of the wayside ministries of this great and godly man.
I had so much more to tell. He was the one that got Dr. J. B. Gambrell to come to Texas. Working with Dr. Buckner, oh! in how many ways did Dr. Cranfill build up the kingdom of God in this vast wilderness. I conclude.
I cannot help but say a word of how I feel here in this place and in this church. I have always felt this way in this place and in this church. In the twelfth chapter of the Book of Hebrews, it says, "Wherefore seeing we are compassed about with so great a cloud of witnesses, let us run with patience the race that is set before us" [Hebrews 12:1]. In this very place, and when the pulpit was there, and behind this very desk, it is the same desk, that great band of God’s mighty servants have stood and have marched. Countless numbers of times giant B. H. Carroll has stood in this very place and preached the gospel. J. B. Gambrell belonged to this church. Robert Cook Buckner belonged to this church; his son Hal Buckner was ordained to the ministry in this church. Dr. Cranfill for forty-five years a stalwart in this church; and behind this very desk, for forty-seven years the incomparable pastor, Dr. Truett, delivered God’s message in this church. Why, you feel like taking off your shoes, standing on holy ground. And how could it be that I should be undershepherd of so precious a flock and so meaningful a congregation? I don’t know: just something God did. And to love the Lord in this place, to serve Jesus in this church, to join hands lifting up the light of the hope we have in God in the heart of this great city is an incomparable blessing indescribably precious.
And it is that invitation we extend to you this morning. To give your heart to Jesus, to come into the fellowship of the church, in a moment when we stand to sing stand up coming. A family you, or a couple you, or just one somebody you, following in the train of those giant men of God who laid here the foundation for the greatest denomination the earth knows today, come. In the balcony round, on this lower floor, into the aisle and down here to the front, "Here I am, pastor, I make it now." Do so, come now, and angels attend you in the way, while we stand and while we sing.