POVERTY AND LIBERALITY
Dr. W. A. Criswell
2 Corinthians 8
9-26-71 8:15 a.m.
On the radio you are sharing the services of the First Baptist Church in Dallas. This is the pastor bringing the message entitled Poverty and Liberality. Mr. Roy Ramsour, our business administrator, said to me yesterday afternoon, “I’m eagerly looking forward to that sermon.” I said, “Why?” He said, “Because of its title, Poverty and Liberality.” I have the sad announcement to make to him that in preparing the sermon, when I got down to that section, I had already prepared too much. So the message today is on the first half, and then sometime later, we will come to the second half, which will be your half Mr. Ramsour.
I read from the eighth chapter of the second Corinthian letter:
Moreover, brethren, we do you to wit, we let you know, of the grace of God bestowed on the churches of Macedonia;
How that in a great trial of affliction the abundance of their joy and their deep poverty abounded unto the riches of their liberality.
And that was the subject.
For to their power, I bear record, yea, and beyond their power they were willing of themselves;
Praying us with much entreaty that we would receive the gift, and take upon us the fellowship of the ministering to the saints.
And this they did, not as we had hoped for, thought for, usually would expect, but first gave their own selves to the Lord, and unto us by the will of God.
[2 Corinthians 8:1-5]
They gave first their selves to God, then they gave according to the will of the Lord [2 Corinthians 8:5].
Now I recognize a truism, it is axiomatic. You ought not to wash your laundry and hang it out in the front yard. Do it in the backyard. I realize that, but I think the time has come that the church as a whole should realize our situation. Therefore, for the whole world to hear we shall spread it before you today. And I have the feeling, the persuasion, that as I speak this morning I’m like a doctor in heart surgery: I have the very lifeblood, and life stream, and heartbeat of the church in my hands as I speak today.
Now there is no doubt but that God has blessed us as a congregation among the few choice benedictory remembrances of heaven. The church is healthy. It is sound and it is growing, expanding, in every one of its parts and ministries. Sunday before last we had 5,994 in Sunday school. And Mel Carter just pointed out that this last Sunday we had 6,318 in Sunday school. And we are planning for and confidently expecting an even larger throng sitting in the presence of the teachers of God’s Word today.
And our giving is phenomenal! There’s not a church in the earth that I know of that approaches even one-half of what this church gives. This last year, and it’s a pace that we’re falling into, keeping up, this last year we gave to the Lord’s work, all together something like $3,400,000. Did you ever hear of a church that gave half that much to its work? Three million four hundred thousand dollars in one year, but in the development of the program there is something that is tragic and sad that is overtaking us. And it is simply this; with all that we give, and with everything combined that we support, the lack of support for the church itself is hurtful and painful beyond anything that I could describe.
This last year, in the work of the church here, the support of our local work, last year we ran a deficit of several hundred thousand dollars. And this year we’re going to do the same thing, which means, of course, that there has to be a rethinking of everything in our stewardship program. It is a traumatic experience for me because it is designations that hurt us. And I have always felt, still do, always will, that anybody ought to have the right to designate. And in my own work as pastor I encourage people to give to special objects. I work at it. I invite them to do so. And yet, that is what is so greatly hurting us. And I see it when the men meet and we plan an expanded program. This deficit in our local program support hangs like a pall, like gloom, over the men as they outline what we propose to do for God.
Now when I met with the committee, the requests that were so needed in the church amounted to about three million one hundred thousand dollars, so the committee began to cut out, and cut back, and leave off, and cut down. I felt as I watched it and listened to it, I felt like the family that met together; they didn’t have enough for all, so they decided to give one of their children away. In the evening after the children had gone to bed, and at night when they were asleep, they went from one to the other to the other to decide what child they would give away.
They came to the eldest, and looked at him, and said, “We could not give him away, he’s our eldest son.” They came to the next boy, and the mother said, “We could not give him away, he looks like his father.” They came to the next child, a girl, and the father said, “We could not give her away, she looks exactly like her mother.” They came to the next child, the little crippled boy, and they said, “We could not give him away, he’s crippled. He needs us.” They went on down through every child in the family and finally came to the baby, and said, “We cannot give our baby away, why, he’s just a baby.” I felt that as we go through and we leave off this and we leave off that.
For example, we left off the British intern. That’s one of the sweetest things, and I shall speak of it in a minute, that our church ever did. I’d hoped for that continuing. We leave it off, cut it out. I had so prayed that this year we would be able to have a full-time professor for our Bible Institute. We left that out. We’ve never had such an open door as is represented by our School of the Prophets; had five hundred forty of those preachers from the ends of the earth here last spring, and it’ll be greater next March. We left that out and went on down, and down, and down. “Why is it, pastor, that you feel so deeply and poignantly about these things?” Well, I haven’t time to discuss it all. I’ll take one or two.
Let’s take the British intern. When you see that young man stand up here with a British accent, you just see a person. But back of that is an indescribable hope and prayer on the part of the pastor. For you see, our Baptists have been dying in England for years and years and years. Down, and down, and down, and down, every year less than the year before. When I was in India in 1950, the English Baptists were at that time beginning to close down the mission stations on the Ganges River that were founded by William Carey himself in 1792.
Somehow I felt that, if we could turn the graph of that decadence and loss in England, we might be able to make an incomparable contribution to the whole English speaking world. Well, how do you do it? It came to my heart: if we could take a young man from Spurgeon’s College––that’s our seminary in England––and bring him here and let him learn, and see the program of the building of a church, then let him go back; then take another one, and let him go back. Maybe one or two might be ineffective, but given over a period of years, and those young men together, meeting in the general assemblies, and convocations, and conventions, and unions of our Baptist denomination in England, they could turn the whole turn, change the whole complexion, and therein maybe affect the whole English-speaking world. So we invited Rodney Sawtell; what a benediction to have him! We invited Morris Mockram; what a benediction to have him! And now the dream is like a rainbow fallen apart. I’m just illustrating, just illustrating.
Same way with our Bible Institute; and the same way with all of the other areas of the church that are cut down and cut back; and the same thing true with the mission program; the men said, “There’s no other thing to do as we cut down the budget. We must cut down also on our mission program and on our cooperative program.” I realize there are those who look askance at some of the things that our denomination does; but, but, it is like burning down the barn to get rid of the rats, to turn aside from the support of our denominational, cooperative mission program.
Now, what shall be our response to the budget that is presented less, and less, and less? What is our response? I don’t know how people find it out, but when the deacons in the committee were first speaking of it, I received a little note from a Sunday school class:
Pastor, please let’s not drop our budget figure from what it was for this year of 1971. It will show the world our precious church is also dropping down, and not as strong as we are or should be in the faith. We discussed it in the Angelis Sunday school class this morning, and we women all have faith enough. We can make it if we pray, be strong, and really and truly have faith. We love you and our prayer for you and yours, Dr. Criswell, is always Psalm 91:11. With Christian love and God’s blessings on you, for always and in always.
Now isn’t that strange? How’d they know about that when the men were just discussing it in a committee meeting? When I read it I thought,
This is no time to be full of fright;
This is a time to stand up for the right
This is no time to sit and cry;
This is the time to do or die.
And then I could add another little sentence of my own, “And this is no time to fuss and stew; this is the time to get up and do.” So I said to the deacons when they prepared this budget, doing the best they could according to what our people are giving, facing a deficit this year of three hundred thousand dollars, I said to the men, “Let’s take it to the people, and let’s be honest with them. Let’s lay the whole thing before our people. And then after subscription day, after budget day, after victory day, let us see if our people will not so oversubscribe this giving outline that it becomes a mandate to our budget committee to come back the first Sunday in December, the fifth day of December, and bring us another budget. And that one we shall call Restoration Budget. We shall put back into that giving outline these things we’ve taken out. And we shall add to these things to which we are already committed.”
God, do it for us, and place it into the heart and souls of the people thus to respond. We so oversubscribe it, we so go beyond that goal of two and a half million, and a hundred thousand dollars; we so go beyond it that it becomes a mandate to that budget committee with Ralph Pulley to bring us another budget. And the first Sunday in December, the fifth day of December, these men return and present to us the outline of a program that is triumphant, and victorious, and incomparably blessed of God.
What is this represent that I hold in my hands? The 1972 proposed budget, what is that? Well, it’s us. It is we. When God adds us up, this is what it is. It represents me and you, and the koinōnia, the fellowship of God’s congregation here in the First Baptist Church in Dallas. When I take my time and life and trade it, coin it for money, that represents me. This is a day of me, a day of my life. And when I bring it and dedicate it to God, it is a dedication of a part of me.
And when all of us are placed together, and God adds it up, the budget is we. It is us. It represents every ministry we have in our church. It represents our ministry to our children, to our youngsters, to our teenagers, to our people. It represents our mission ministries to the ends of the earth. It represents the pulpit. It represents the church. It represents everything in the church. It has been years since we spent money on the maintenance of these buildings. Every time I come in the auditorium, do you see that light right up there? Well, a guy fell almost through that light, and that old ugly stain up there has been up there so long, and it has become a symbol to me of our church. We don’t have enough money to repair it. So I look up there and I marvel at our poverty. Do you see that hole in the ceiling? Do you see what I’m talking about? A guy stuck his foot through it. I must hasten.
Out of all of these things itemized in the budget that are dear to our hearts, I speak of two. I pick out two. One, you have an item in the budget, it’s called technical services. That is our television and radio ministry. Now what about that? Is that worthwhile? Somebody came to me not very long ago and asked me, “Pastor, do you ever hear of anybody being converted, or anybody being changed, or their lives especially blessed by the radio and television ministries of our church?” Well, that’s one of the items in there. Well, let me speak of it just for this moment.
In this town there is a businessmen’s breakfast. And one of our godly men attended it. And in the breakfast a man prayed. And our church member said to me, “Pastor, I just never had heard a man pray like that. It did something to my heart. So after the breakfast was over I went up to him and introduced myself. And I said, ‘Who are you?’ And when he told me,” I said, “I was so moved by the tone and the voice and the words of your prayer, I just thought maybe there was something special about you. Where’d you find the Lord?”
And the man said, “I was a drunkard, and I was in the gutter, and I lived,” and he spoke of a marginal, peripheral section of the city of Dallas. He said, “I was there in a slum house with my wife, and our large, large family. We have many children.” And he said, “I so mistreated my wife, and I so mistreated the children until finally, upon a day, my wife said, ‘I can stand it no longer;’ and she took the older children, those that could leave with her, and my wife and the older children left. And I was there with the younger children.”
He said, “One of them was a baby in the crib. And the baby began to cry and to cry. I presumed the child was hungry; and the baby began to cry.” And he said, “I wanted to drown out, I never cared about the child’s cry, just wanted to drown out the crying of the baby.” So he said, “I went to the television and I turned it up as high as it would go.” He said, “It just happened to be that the television was turned to a church service, and there was a man up there preaching to the top of his voice, loud.” And he said, “That pleased me. It drowned out the crying of the baby.” And I can understand that, “drown out the crying of a baby.”
But he said, “You know, as I sat there in the house and listened to that man preach, conviction came into my soul and I fell down on my face. And there in the living room of that slum house, I gave my heart to Christ, listening to that man preach Jesus.” And he said, “We have a new home, and a new family. And my wife and the children and I have a better house. And now I’m working at a better job. And God has blessed us.” What’s that worth? How much would that be worth?
Take again, at one of our conventions here in Texas, a young pastor, down there now in South Texas in a county seat church, came and said, “Could I tell you, would you listen for just a moment? I was driving down the highway near Dallas and listening on the radio in my car. I’d been running away from God.” And he said, “You were preaching. And the Spirit of God seized upon me, and I drove to the side of the road, and stopped the car. And as I listened I buried my face in my hands on the steering wheel and gave my life to God!” And he said, “I’m a pastor now in South Texas.” How much is that worth?
An Air Force pilot wrote me a letter. And he said, “I picked up your service on the radio up there in the sky, flying over Texas. I picked it up in East Texas.” And he said, “I listened to the service, clear to the border of New Mexico.” And he said, “Up there in the sky, I gave my heart and life to Jesus. And I just wanted you to know.” How much is that worth? These are just illustrations of a thousand, thousand others. That is the budget.
I pick out one other because it has been so very much discussed by our people, and by our members, and by our budget committee, and by our deacons. I pick out the music program. There are two items here; the music program on the local side and the music program on the mission side. Put it all together, put it all together, and it amounts to 3.2 percent, 3.2 percent of our church budget; our music program. In that music program we have one thousand sixty hundred seventy-five enrolled. It amounts to about thirteen cents a day for each one of those who share in our music program.
Do we get any kind of a spiritual return from it? Do we? Look up here. Tell me, isn’t this one of the finest sights you could ever see in God’s house in the whole earth, this glorious group of teenagers? They made a trip, a mission trip, to the giant provinces of western Canada. And the president of an insurance company here in the city of Dallas received a letter from a tourist up there. And he said, after addressing his friend,
I’m enclosing a little article I clipped out of the Calgary, Canada newspaper, while Patsy, the three little girls and I were there making a fifteen-day tour. We ran into your beautiful Chapel Choir in Victoria, and again at Lake Louise, and followed them through Calgary. I just wanted to let you know, they do a beautiful job; not only in their singing but in their representation of the First Baptist Church of Dallas, and you might say the entire United States. These are certainly nice, clean-cut American kids. I noticed a number of tourists stopping them on the streets and souvenir shops, where they were asking them questions. With them wearing the same type of clothing, it was very evident of course that they were a group. They were pleasant and courteous to everyone. I’m sure the members of the Chapel Choir received a great deal of benefit out of the trip. But they also did a wonderful job of showing Canadians and vacationing Americans what a nice group of kids live in Dallas. This was a welcome relief from the normal group of traveling hippies we saw on our travels this year through western Canada, and the one last summer when we traveled through California. My hat is off to you and the others who have been so active with the First Baptist Church; you have done a beautiful job with this group of students.
Doesn’t it make you proud?
And I have a copy of a letter here, a photostatic copy of a letter addressed to the Chapel Choir by Lester Pearson, the prime minister of Canada, in their previous journey to those western provinces of that giant land. But above all, aren’t you glad that we have them? Aren’t you? Aren’t you? Instead of wringing our hands about the decadence and disintegration of the life among young people, isn’t it better to do something that guides them in the work and praise and love of the Lord? Aren’t you glad you have them?
When a man went to another man and asked him about the church and supporting it, the man said, “It costs too much. The church costs too much, and I’m not going to give, and I’m not going to support it.”
And the man said, “You know what you remind me of?” He said, “You remind me of a sorrow in our home. We had a wonderful little boy, a magnificent little boy, born the apple of our eye. From the beginning he cost money. He did as a little baby, hospital bills, medicine bills, doctor’s bill. And as he grew up he cost money. There were shoes. There were clothes. There were toys. He kept costing us money through high school. And then when he went to college, he cost more than ever! But” he said, “you know, when time came for the boy to graduate, a grievous disease struck him. And we buried our boy. He died. And my friend,” he said, “from that day to this he has not cost us a cent, not a cent. We’re absolutely free, there are no bills. There’s no cost. But we don’t have the boy!”
As long as there is breath in my body, and as long as I have voice to speak and tongue to articulate the words, in God’s grace there will be appeal to our people to support the youth program of our church. And we have them here by the acres. This is one older teenage group. They’re all through the church. And they’re ours; and I’m so glad.
Well, I have another minute. Let me speak of our music program here. I cannot tell you what the music program means to me personally. I go to church. I’m not just a paid professional. I also have a heart and a soul; and I come to church and worship God as well as being a paid professional. And I cannot describe to you what music means to my heart as I come before the Lord. Do you remember the third chapter of Second Kings? Elisha the prophet said, “Bring me a minstrel,” and while the minstrel played the hand of the Lord came upon Elisha, and he prophesied [2 Kings 3:15-19].
One of the signs of great revival is the worship of God in praise and in song. Let me take the time to read it. In the revival under Hezekiah, who cleaned out the temple, who refurbished the house of the Lord, listen to the story of that revival:
And Hezekiah the king set the Levites in the house of the Lord with cymbals, with psalteries, with harps, according to the commandment of David, and of Gad the king’s seer, and Nathan the prophet: for so was the commandment of the Lord by His prophets.
And the Levites stood with the instruments of David, and the priests with the trumpets.
And Hezekiah commanded the burnt offering to be renewed. And when the burnt offering began, the song of the Lord began also with the trumpets, and with the instruments ordained by David king of Israel.
And all the congregation worshiped, and the singers sang, and the trumpeters sounded . . .
And when they had made an end of offering, the king and all that were with him bowed themselves, and worshiped.
Moreover Hezekiah the king and the princes commanded the Levites to sing praise unto the Lord with the words of David, and of Asaph the seer. And they sang praises with gladness, and they bowed their heads and worshiped.
[2 Chronicles 29:25-30]
You never saw a revival that didn’t burst out just like that. One of the most thrilling of the revivals of this nineteenth century, the twentieth century in which we live, is that by Evan Roberts. And in reading about the revival by Evan Roberts, it said that in those mining towns in Wales, those miners would come up out of the pit, and join arms, link arms, and walk through the towns singing the praises of God. It is a part of our worship of the Lord.
The third chapter of Colossians and the sixteenth verse, “Let the word of God abide in you in all wisdom; teaching and admonishing one another with psalms and songs, and spiritual hymns; praising the Lord in your hearts” [1 Colossians 3:16]. And I haven’t time to go through the Revelation. “And they sang a new song [Revelation 5:9], Worthy is the Lamb to receive honor, and glory, and dominion, and power, forever and forever” [Revelation 5:12]. An item in the budget.
I believe, in my taking this before God, I believe that our people will gloriously respond. There’s no part of it but has been prayed over, much of it wept over. One of my divisional directors came to me and said, “Oh, pastor, we’re just beginning to grow. We’re just beginning to reach people. Look,” and she sent me the figures of the growth of her division. And she said, “Don’t take away from us. Don’t cut us back. We’re beginning to reach people. Encourage us, pastor.” We shall by the grace of God.
And when this is presented to you, let it be that we so respond and so oversubscribe that giving outline that it becomes that mandate to Ralph Pulley and that budget committee, “Come back up here, Ralph, the fifth day of December, the first Sunday of December, come back up here, Ralph. And let’s put back what we took out of that cooperative program, put it back. And let’s put back all of these things that we had to take away. Let’s put it back.” And let’s look forward in trust and in faith to the most triumphant year that God ever gave a congregation. And between now and the end of the year, with God’s help, let’s make up that deficit.
Lord, bless our people as we do it. “And this they did, not as we had expected, thought for, but first they gave their own selves to the Lord, then they gave unto us, according to the will of God” [2 Corinthians 8:5]. First, ourselves to God, and then giving to His work, according to His will. Grant it, blessed Jesus. Please Lord, let it be. Let it be.
Now our time is far spent. We sing our hymn of appeal, and while we sing it, on the first note of the first stanza, a family you, a couple you, or just one somebody you, in the balcony round, on the lower floor, into the aisle and down to the front, “Here I come, pastor. I make that decision for God now. And here I am.” Do it. Do it. When you stand up in a moment, stand up coming. Into that aisle and down to the pastor, “Here I am. I’ve given my heart to Christ, and here I come.” Or, “We’re putting our lives in the circle of this glorious church, and here we are.” Do it now, make it now, while we stand and while we sing.