Dr. Truett and the State
July 2nd, 1972 @ 8:15 AM
Authority, City Church, Democracy, Freedom, Government, Sermons on Truett (early svc), 1972, Romans
DR. TRUETT AND THE STATE
Dr. W. A. Criswell
7-2-72 8:15 a.m.
On the radio you are sharing the services of the First Baptist Church, and this is the pastor bringing the message entitled Dr. Truett and the State.
In the thirteenth chapter of the Book of Romans, a letter of Paul to the eternal city and the head of the Roman government, these are the words in the first seven verses:
Let every soul be subject unto the higher powers. For there is no power but of God: the powers that be are ordained of God. Whosoever therefore resisteth the power, resisteth the ordinance of God: and they that resist shall receive to themselves damnation.
We think of that word in terms of hell. The word is krima. And they that resists shall receive to themselves, then the word krima. It means a sentence; a judgment such as a court would pass upon a criminal.
For rulers are not a terror to good works, but to the evil. Wilt thou then not be afraid of the power? do that which is good, and thou shalt have praise of the same:
For he is the minister of God to thee for good. But if thou do that which is evil, be afraid; for he beareth not the sword in vain: for he is the minister of God, a revenger to execute wrath upon him that doeth evil.
Wherefore ye must needs be subject, not only for wrath, but also for conscience sake.
For, for this cause pay ye tribute also: for they are God’s ministers, attending continually upon this very thing.
Render therefore to all their dues: tribute to whom tribute is due; (that is taxes to whom taxes are due) custom to whom custom; fear to whom fear; honor to whom honor.
Now that we might know that this is not an isolated admonition in the Bible, I am going to read also from 1 Peter chapter 2, verses 13 through 17:
Submit yourselves to every ordinance of man for the Lord’s sake: whether it be to the king, as supreme;
Or unto governors, as unto them that are sent by him for the punishment of evildoers, and for the praise of them that do well. For so is the will of God, that with well doing ye may put to silence the ignorance of foolish men:
As free, and not using your liberty for a cloak of maliciousness, but as the servants of God.
Honor all men. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honor the king.
[1 Peter 2:13-17]
Respect the president. All of these admonitions have one very clear and decisive admonition. And that is a good Christian is to be a good patriotic citizen.
Now, when you read the passage closely, you would think that a Christian in his yielded submissiveness, in his passive non-resistance, would be thus admonished not to seek to change an evil government. But there is nothing like that in the passage.
If we are good citizens, we should try to correct what is wrong and to make viable and valid the hope for justice for all people under law. What we find in the Bible is always the ideal, and it is so here with regard to government. It is the ideal government that is ever in mind, ever in thought. The whole Scriptures are like that. It presents the ideal, even though human nature falls short of it. Yet the ideal is held up.
It is so in marriage. The ideal is, there is one man for one woman and one woman for one man. That is the ideal. There are many sorrows and many mistakes and many shortcomings, but that does not keep us away from holding up the ideal as our Lord did.
It is so in private life, in our personal life. The Lord will say, "Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect" [Matthew 5:48]. We all fall short of the ideal, but the ideal ought to be kept before us in the church and in the pulpit – the perfection of human life, the excellence of human character.
Now it is that ideal thing here with the government. Social injustice ought not to take us away or becloud our ideal. The ideal government under God is one that administers justice for all of the people.
Now it is very patent in the Bible that the presentation of human government is a part of the way that God rules the whole universe. God has government, law, for the planets, the solar system, the sidereal spheres, the Milky Ways. All that you see out there in stellar space follows certain divine, immutable laws.
It is so in our earth. This whole earth, its seasons, its format of growth and life, all of it is controlled by God’s laws. And human law, governmental law, is but a facet, a part of that great divine ordinance by which God controls the whole universe.
Now, when a minister turns himself in his message and his subject to speak of the government, and of the state, and of the law, and of obedience, and of good citizenship, he is doing no other thing than following the revelation and admonition of the Holy Scriptures. And as a true servant of Christ, if he preaches the whole counsel of God, this will also be included.
That brings me to Dr. Truett and one of the remarkable addresses that he made entitled "God’s Call to America." This will be the twenty-eighth year that, on the Sunday before the anniversary of the death of the great pastor, I have prepared and delivered an address in keeping with the noble memory of that far-famed and incomparable preacher.
For forty-seven years he was the undershepherd and pastor of this church. He was the president of our Southern Baptist Convention. He was the president of the Baptist World Alliance. He was God’s spokesman for our people in the generation in which he lived.
In 1911, the Baptist World Alliance in its congress convened in the Grace Baptist Temple of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. That is the church that Russell H. Conwell was pastor, the famous lecturer who delivered "Acres of Diamonds," who followed the Chautauqua course. He made more than a million dollars back yonder when a million dollars was like fifteen million now.
Russell H. Conwell was given more than a million dollars on those Chautauqua lecture tours, delivering his message on "Acres of Diamonds." He used the money to found Temple University, which was a part of the Grace Baptist Temple in Philadelphia.
At that world congress that met in 1911 in the Grace Baptist Temple of Philadelphia, Dr. Truett brought the closing address. And he entitled it "God’s Call to America."
I cannot help but make one passing comment before I speak of that marvelous address of Dr. Truett. I don’t have time. I don’t ever have time to do what I want to do. What we need to do is come down here at six o’clock in the morning and stay here all day long and just let the preacher talk to us. That’s what we need to do.
In studying through the addresses made at that world congress, I cannot help but notice the sublime optimism of the men who were present. And I copied down what they said. I don’t have time to read it. But just one after the other of the great leaders of America, John Clifford was the first president of the Alliance, and he was followed by the tremendous Baptist expositor Alexander MacLaren, who presided over that session in 1911.
And those men from around the world, from London, from Germany, from Japan, from America, they spoke of the great and lasting peace that had come to the world, and how the very kingdom of God was at hand. And in thirty-six months after that congress, on the twenty-third day of June in 1914, Archduke Francis Ferdinand, heir to the throne of Austria, was assassinated in Sarajevo, Serbia, and the whole world was aflame.
I cannot help but sense that and see that when I hear the greatest ministers in the world, none excepted, stand up and say that, by the preaching of the gospel and by human mediation and instrumentality, we are going to bring in the millennium, we are going to bring lasting peace to the earth – when God’s Book absolutely says the opposite!
God says that wars are determined unto the end [Daniel 9:26]; that there will be no peace in this world until the Prince of Peace comes. I believe that, just like the Bible says it [Matthew 24:6]! And these eras, as some saints said in times of peace, "Prepare for war." And I think America ought to be strong. I think it ought to be strong militarily. I think it ought to be strong in its naval power. I think it ought to be strong in its air power. I think it ought to be strong every way. And I don’t think we will have an opportunity to exist and to live in this world if we are not strong.
Our enemies seek to subvert us and to destroy us, and they don’t change in that! I am not an optimist about the ability of human councils and human concordance and human treaties to deliver us from war and bloodshed. I think that will only come when Jesus comes, the Prince of Peace comes. I think the Bible teaches that, and I am just pointing that out to you incidentally, by the way.
Now, the closing address of the Alliance was delivered Sunday evening, June 25, in 1911 by Dr. George W. Truett. And he began in his address, "God’s Call to America," with these words:
This week may well be likened to a great council of war where God’s men have surveyed the battlefield and have taken cognizance of their forces. But what of America in this great program? The eyes of all the world are on America. Emerson said that ‘America seems to have been the last effort of divine providence in behalf of the race.’ The noble Spurgeon, the pastor of the great Metropolitan Tabernacle Baptist Church in London, the noble Spurgeon said to one of our American brethren a little before his death, quote ‘Go back to your country and tell your men that the hopes of the world are centered in your country; the free church in a free state.’
Then Dr. Truett in that address began to point out some of the perils that faced America. And he is a prophet. I take two of them. One:
America is threatened today by manifold perils. Optimism is a very stupid and hurtful thing if it fails to face the facts. We are menaced for one thing by our vast and fast growing cities.
Isn’t that something? In 1911, Gordon Shanklin, he said that. In 1911: "We are menaced for one thing by our vast and fast growing cities." The cities of America were villages then compared to what they are today. How big was Dallas in 1911? Fifty-thousand? Oh, the whole country was about like that! And yet Dr. Truett can see that:
We are menaced by our fast growing cities. The challenge for our civilization and the test of our Christianity are these same cities. As go the cities, so shall go the states and the nation. The populations of our country are rapidly hurrying to the cities. In 1800, only three percent of the people were in the cities of America. Now something like forty percent are in the cities. And in another short generation – now he’s speaking of our time, today, and he is a prophet – and in another short generation one may easily calculate the myriads of people who shall live in the cities. The best and the worst meet in the city.
Now that is why, for one thing, that Dr. Truett wanted to keep the First Baptist Church downtown. In his day and in his ministry, time and again pressure was brought to take the First Baptist Church and to move it out where the living was easy, and the people were close by, and the thing made a matter of convenience.
Now, may I add to the dedication of Dr. Truett to keep the First Baptist Church downtown? I have felt that same conviction in the twenty-eight years that I have been his successor. The First Baptist Church, now and forever, until Jesus comes again ought to be downtown, here in the heart of this great city.
Now, I have had in these years, I have had two remarkable opportunities to do something with this church, moving it out. One: one of the richest men in the city of Dallas and a man who had entree to I don’t know how many trusts and foundations, and I suppose the number one civic leader of our city, loved us. He loved this church. He loved your pastor, and he loved everything that we seek to do for God.
He said to me, "If you will take the First Baptist Church and move it out, I will help you get the money to build the most gloriously beautiful church in America!" He said, "I think it would be a credit and a honor to the city of Dallas to be able to say that the most beautiful church in America is in Dallas. And I will help you build it if you will move out. Get out where it can be done."
I considered that long and hard and laid it before God the best way that I knew. Now, I’m talking about a man that had access to untold amounts of money and said to me, "I will help you finance it and build it, get the money for you." But after long thought and prayer, I came back to that original dedication of Dr. Truett, that the First Baptist Church in Dallas ought to stay downtown in the heart of this city.
All right, the second one: the executive secretary of the Baptist General Convention of Texas grew up in this church. He loved this church. And when he was executive secretary, the leader of our Baptist denomination in Texas, he belonged to our church, and he loved our church. Now this was before they put the Baptist building, right across the street from us. And they were looking for a location to build the new Baptist building having sold their property down here at Pacific and Ervay.
The executive secretary came to me and said, "Pastor, if you will take the First Baptist Church and move it out, I will see if I cannot get the Baptist General Convention of Texas to build its headquarters, to build its Baptist building, with you in that complex." And he said, "I would like to see us build the most gloriously beautiful church in the world! And we can do it. We will take our Baptist building and make it a part of it. And it will be a marvelous complex that we can point to with pride, let the whole world look upon it."
Well, I considered that, and thought about that, and turned that over in my mind and laid it before God. And came back once more to that same conviction that Dr. Truett had: the First Baptist Church ought to stay downtown!
And I want to lay that upon the hearts of you younger men. You are going to have many, many in these years to come, you are going to have many, many things said to you about the properties of the First Baptist Church in Dallas. We have more downtown property than any institution that I know, any business that I know in downtown Dallas. And there is going to be many, many things said to you; how you can sell it, and how you can take the money, millions of dollars, and you can take the money, and you can go out here, and you can build you a beautiful church way out somewhere in a silk-stocking, gold-coast area of the metropolitan area.
My young men who are listening to me today, when that siren song is played for you, say, "By God’s grace we are not going to go out and just minister to these who are affluent, or these who live in beautiful homes, and leave the rest of the city to rot and to die and to drown in its own misery, maybe its own poverty, its own abysmal hopelessness and helplessness." Keep the church for the race of men that go by, the thousands that will press through it, that will pass. Keep it where the people are, the very heart of the city, down here where Satan has his throng. Always in the heart of the city you will find that great insurance company. You will find those great banking institutions. Always in the heart of the city, you will find the complexities that make possible the very life and progress and ongoing of the nation. They may scatter somewhat, but you will always have the heart of the life of the people in the city.
In New York, wouldn’t you think as big as New York and as much as it spreads out, wouldn’t you think that in New York that the city would find itself without life, would finally start to decay and to die? Well, go to New York. Go down Wall Street. You will find down there at the lower end of Manhattan, you will find the most impressive buildings going up far taller than the Empire State Building, those two tremendous World Trade Center Towers. It’s growing, it’s throbbing! And I can’t help but thank God for the Trinity Church that blocks Wall Street, at the head of Wall Street, right down there in the heart of that city, a witness for Christ. That’s what we must have here in Dallas, always this lighthouse burning for Jesus in the very heart of this city.
What in the earth, my time is gone! This is just one of the little things I was going to say. Well, God bless us. I have to quit. But I hate to quit like this. Let me say a concluding word.
People have asked me many, many, many times, "Did you know Dr. Truett?" My answer, of course, is very patent and most obvious. No, I did not know Dr. Truett, as you use that word, did you "know" Dr. Truett. I shook hands with him one time, just shook hands with him. It was at a wedding. I shook hands with him. But I heard him many times. He came to Baylor and would speak at Baylor when I was a student at Baylor. He held a revival meeting at the First Baptist Church in Amarillo, and I attended that revival meeting as a boy. When I began going to the Southern Baptist Convention, Dr. Truett was always presented. When I’d go to the Baptist World Alliance, Dr. Truett was there and would always speak.
I came here to this church one time and heard Dr. Truett in this pulpit. And as I remember that glorious preacher of Christ, I never dreamed that the day would come when our Baptist people would ever have a tendency to deviate from the gospel that Dr. Truett preached. He believed that Book, every syllable of it. His interpretation of some things might not be quite the same as I see them. But he believed in it, and he preached it.
And the men of his generation were like that. Dr. Fowler could stand here where I am standing and say that all of the leaders and educators and institutional presidents of our whole Baptist denomination were men of one heart and one mind. They believed the Bible, and they believed in Jesus, in His deity, in His resurrection, in His power to save, in His coming again.
And O God, what do we see today? Here and there and there are men who say they belong to us, and they say that they have found enlightment, that we are provincial now, believing the Bible, that we do so because we don’t know any better, and that these things that we read in the Word of God, they are legends and myths that teach morals, but in themselves they are not true at all.
Oh dear! I have one other admonition for the young men who are listening to me this morning. For your generation and the children that you are teaching, that will be two generations, you see to it and pledge yourself before God that the pastor you have here in this church and that the Bible teaching in this church shall be true to that faithfulness that came from Jesus, and Peter, and John, and Paul. That’s why I had you read that admonition. "Things that thou hast heard of me among many witnesses, the same deliver thou to faithful men, who shall be able to teach others also" [2 Timothy 2:2].
Keep it, keep it anchored on the Word of God, true to the gospel of Christ. And when Jesus comes, let Him find the First Baptist Church in Dallas just as it was when Dr. Truett was preaching the gospel, when his successor for these many years stood in the same pulpit preaching the gospel of the Son of God. Let it be that to the end of time.
May God bless our Bible Institute. Next Sunday you are going to have opportunity to hear the new president of our Bible Institute, Dr. Eddleman. May God bless our elementary school; give us these boys and girls to teach them the faith of Christ. May the Lord bless the whole extent, the gamut of the preaching and teaching ministry of this glorious, dedicated church.
Now we are going to sing our hymn of appeal, and while we sing it, a family, a couple, or just you, to give your heart and life to Christ, to Jesus; to come into the fellowship of the church, to give your life to a call of God – we are going to have our special services banquet Tuesday of this next week – to answer God’s call for your life, I cannot say the word of appeal, the Spirit must say it; but if the Lord says something to you today, come, welcome. God bless you, use you, see you through, while we stand and while we sing.