THE SPIRIT OF CONQUEST
Dr. W. A. Criswell
10-22-72 8:15 a.m.
On the radio this morning, you are worshipping with us in the first Baptist Church of Dallas. This is the pastor bringing the message entitled The Spirit of Conquest, or, The Spirit of Can-Do. It is from a text in the Philippian letter, the fourth chapter and the thirteenth verse; a sentence the apostle Paul wrote from the Mamertine prison in Rome, to the church at Philippi, who had been thus so gracious as to send him a gift in his incarcerated necessity. In that letter he wrote this sentence: Philippians 4:13, "I can do all things through Christ who strengtheneth me." And it is from that text that the subject is chosen: spiritual omnipotence, the spirit of conquest, the spirit of can-do. "I can do all things through Christ who strengtheneth me."
Our America is the astonishment of the civilized world; it has been. The greatness of America can be visibly seen in the almost illimitable, immeasurable material success that has crowned our every effort. In this country there are more things than all other countries under the shining sun: more bathtubs, more telephones, more automobiles, more radios, more television sets, higher income, higher standard of living, more everything than is found in any other national group under the sun. It has been an astonishment even to our enemies that we have been able to carry on a war for years, spend other billions on exploration of the moon, and yet there is no waning of our standard of living, there is not a dent made in the ability of the American nation to support itself with increasing prosperity. But there is a reason for this material greatness: America has been great in its will, in its spirit, in its "I can do."
It has been the spiritual foundation upon which the nation was built that gave birth to its material greatness. In resources we do not compare with the South American continent, nor with Africa. In population we do not compare with the subcontinent of India. In ancient culture and civilization we do not even begin to approach a comparison with that of ancient China. Yet there has been in this country achievement and success and material greatness beyond anything any nation has ever known or seen. And when you look for the foundation upon which that material greatness has been built, even those who would reject God could not hide their minds or their faces from the fact that that greatness has been built upon a spiritual foundation.
Well, what kind of a foundation? There are many that could be mentioned. I speak of maybe three. One: reverence for God. Typical of the spirit of the American people has been the motto upon our coins: "In God we trust." Typical of the heritage of our nation has been the famous picture of General George Washington down on his knees in the nadir of the Revolutionary War, importuning the presence and the blessings of Almighty God. Typical of the spirit of our nation has been the call to prayer on the part of the millions of our people who flooded and jammed our churches when the announcement was made that on D-day, when our forces stormed Hitler’s bastion in Europe, it would find our people on their knees, supplicating the mercies and the remembrance of God.
Another foundation for that greatness has been the Christian doctrine of the worth of the human soul. Men are not chattel property, nor are they pawns of the state; but they are children of God, made in His likeness and in His image [Genesis 1:27]. And another foundation of that greatness has been found in what you could call the Puritan ethic illustrated, implemented, demonstrated by our Pilgrim Fathers. They were a people of self-reliance, of responsibility. They were a people who gave themselves to the idea that we were to be free: free to worship without the coercive direction of the state; personal freedom to work, to excel, to achieve any end for which any man might find himself capable or fitted – a fierce spirit of freedom and independence, the spirit of ’76, the spirit of "I can do." It is illustrated in the last four letters of the American name: Amer-I-can; I-c-a-n, "I can"; the spirit of achievement and conquest. The national heart, the national will, the national spirit has made America great.
Today we have come into a new age and a new era. It is the spirit of "I can’t do." It is the spirit of "anti." It is the spirit of "against." Like a floodtide, movements of negativism have overwhelmed the American people. Our demonstrators are always in some kind of a protest, in some kind of an "against." The spirit of America today is like swimming through seaweeds. It is "anti." Practically every movement that you can name is somehow some kind of an anti-establishment, anti-Pentagon, anti-war, anti-Semitism, anti-Americanism, anti-business. In the lexicon of these people, to be big is to be bad; success is failure, and forward is backward. We have come to the age of the dis-phenomenon, disillusionment, disenchantment, disappointment. And the sickness has pervaded American life in all of its aspects: in its culture, in its political outlook, in every area in which we live. We don’t create heroes today; we create anti-heroes. These whose pictures are on the papers and these who lead these movements are those who are protesting, they are anti, they are against. And the illness has swept the very fabric of the American nation.
I shall illustrate that in three ways; first, in the decay of the citizenry of the American people. It has come to pass in our lifetime, and almost in the last few years, a new and an amazing and an astonishment acceptance of the idea of a right to government dole! I’ll never forget the first time I heard that political philosophy. I was in Stockholm, Sweden. I was a guest of Joel Sorenson, who was the pastor of the largest church, Baptist church, in Sweden. He was also a political leader; he was a member, an elected member of the senate, of the national congress of Sweden. And as I was a guest in his home, and speaking to him, he said to me, "I believe that every person, every soul, every citizen that is born in Sweden has a right to a subsidy, to an income from the government." I said, "Without the man working? A dole? A thing given to him?" He said, "Yes, just by virtue of the fact that he is born a citizen of Sweden. He has a right to a dole, a subsidy, an income from the public treasury." I said, "But the Scriptures avow if a man will not work, neither shall he eat" [2 Thessalonians 3:10]. He said, "No matter, no matter, that is a right inherent in the birth of every citizen of Sweden."
That was the first time I ever met that political philosophy, and I was astonished and overwhelmed! But I have lived to see the day, this present time, when that political philosophy is regnant in America: that new idea of a right to be supported by the work and labor of other men.
About two days ago, in our newspaper, our daily paper, I cut out this clipping from an article from Washington D.C. And the year-end summary of the Department of Health Education and Welfare has announced that there are fifteen million Americans who are on the dole in the United States, fifteen million: an increase of this year of more than seven hundred thousand! In the fiscal year of 1972 there were eighteen and two hundreds, eighteen and two-tenths, eighteen billion, two hundred million dollars given in dole: an increase of two billion seven hundred million dollars over the previous year. Our American people are beginning to be taught and to accept the philosophy of support from the government. And we are losing our spirit of independence, of self-reliance, of responsibility!
In my study, in my library in the parsonage, I have a large picture of the home and family of my great-grandfather. In the years gone by, in the 1800s, they went out to central West Texas. And there out of the wilderness, threatened by Indians and by every other storm of life, they carved a home and built a life; everything in that picture was built by my great-grandfather, with his own hands: the fences, the house, the barns, the corrals, everything. Looking to God, he went out there and built a life for him and his family – the spirit of self-reliance and independence. But today that spirit is being battered and eroded away.
I see that illness and that loss in the decay of our great cities. I had not been in New York for some time, several years. And recently I visited the city again. I walked down Times Square; I did not recognize it. Gone that beautiful White Way, those glowing lights, those gorgeous impressive commercials; and the place is crummy, and it is filthy, and dirty, and decadent, and decayed. And gone are the people who used to promenade there. And instead it looks as though there is assembled the very flotsam and jetsam of the human society. I asked, "What has happened?" The whole city is somewhat like that. And the answer came: "The people are afraid of the muggers, and the rapists, and the murderers, and the robbers, and those who threaten violence and live in an underworld of crime; and they’ve gone away and left the great city in bankruptcy and in spiritual death."
The richest city in the richest nation in the world, the richest city in the richest state in the richest nation that the world has ever seen is hopelessly bankrupt and increasingly so. And when you ask why, the answer is very plain: the welfare rolls of New York City are endlessly mounting. Thousands and thousands and hundreds of thousands live on the dole of the government.
I find the decay of America in the decay of our great churches: not only in the citizenship, and not only in our great cities, but I find it also in our great churches. In one of the marvelous, glorious historical cities on the Eastern seacoast, I visited a marvelous, glorious, famous church. One of the great Baptist preachers of all time built that glorious church, a great congregation, a vast auditorium. And the first time I stood there and looked upon it, the balcony was curtained off; no longer any need. And the second time that I visited that church, I talked to the caretaker. On the lower floor he was doing something. I said, "What are you doing?" He said, "I’m roping off the great area on this downtown, on this lower floor." I said, "You’re roping it off? What are you going to do tomorrow when Sunday comes and the people are here to worship God and to hear the Word of the Lord?" The caretaker said to me, "We’ll only need seats for possibly a hundred or a hundred twenty-five; and lest they scatter out over this great auditorium, I rope it off so they’ll be in a little group right down there at the front." And as I looked and walked through that edifice, and stood outside, and gazed upon its walls, it seemed to me that "Ichabod, the glory has departed" [1 Samuel 4:21], was written all over it – and the city in which it is built, and the very nation to which it belongs.
What do we need? What we need is a rebirth and a renewal of the national heart and the national spirit, the spirit of "I can do!" "I can do all things through Christ who strengtheneth me" [Philippians 4:13]. We need men and women who are pro-American, they are pro-freedom, they are pro-God, they are pro-Christ, they are pro-church, they are pro-faith. "I can do all things through Christ who strengtheneth me"; the spirit of conquest and victory.
The spirit of an Abraham, who, when he was called to go out into a land he should afterward receive for an inheritance went not knowing whither he went; trusting God [Hebrews 11:8]. The spirit of trust in God, the spirit of faith, the spirit of Moses, who, taking two and a half million slaves, for forty years in the wilderness, without food, without water, but trusting God [Hebrews 11:24-29]. The spirit of our Lord who commissioned eleven men to face the evangelization of the entire earth [Acts 1:2, 8-9]; the spirit of "I can do": the spirit of the apostle Paul from whose letter we quote; and the spirit of the apostle John who faced, and lived, and worked, and died in a world of idolatry and Greek-Roman paganism. "I can do." This is the spirit that we need.
I can do the work and the assignment God has laid upon me. "I can do all things through Christ who strengtheneth me" [Philippians 4:13]. I can do what God has assigned for me to do. I can in His name, in His grace, and with His help. Whether the task given me is mammoth or whether it is menial, whether it is vast or whether it is small, there is an assignment for each one of us; and I can do these responsibilities and assignments that God has given to me. And the church – which is nothing but a composite, a summation, of each one of us, of all of us – the church is to have that spirit, "I can do!"
The assignments that are laid upon us are extensive, I know. We have a school, we have an institute, we have a vast biblical, Bible, scriptural educational program. We have missions, we have new buildings, we have these who work and pour their lives into the guidance and direction of our efforts, we have a tremendous assignment. But thank God, praise God, who matched our souls against it, we can do!
Last night, when I came in, I found that packet that Dr. Bryant referred to. And in it I found my pledge card. I shall double my pledge this coming year. "I can do all things through Christ who strengtheneth me." And there is no finer, nobler, better commitment than I can make in behalf of my country, and my people, and my Lord, and my Christ, and my city, than to see that in the heart of it this light burns bright for God, this church marches for Jesus. And to that end I dedicate this gift to my Lord. "I can do all things through Christ who strengtheneth me." I can face the future triumphantly in Him. I can do.
Not for us, the spirit of nihilism and anarchy; not for us the spirit of "anti." The spirit of anti-establishment, anti-all establishment, the spirit of anti-church, anti-God leads to nothing but abysmal anarchy and disintegration. "Christ loved the church, and gave Himself for it" [Ephesians 5:25]. And that spirit of commitment and "I can do" carries into every area of our lives, and finally, into the spirit of optimism and triumph and victory, as we face the unfolding future: "I can do all things through Christ who strengtheneth me" [Philippians 4:13]. And I can face in Him the future triumphantly.
Ignatius was the pastor of the church in Antioch in 70 AD. He was a flaming preacher. Antioch was the third city of the Roman Empire: first Rome, second Alexandria, third Antioch. This last summer, standing in the heart of that city, just a shambles of what once it was, I relived the whole story of the Christian faith in Antioch – the mother of our Protestant, Gentile religion – where Paul and Barnabas preached, where the people were first called Christians [Acts 11:25-26], the church that sent out the first missionaries [Acts 13:1-5], where Ignatius was pastor and Chrysostom, the most eloquent preacher who ever lived, John the Golden Mouth, John Chrysostom.
In 70 AD Ignatius was pastor of the church at Antioch; and because of the favor and blessing of God upon him, the emperor Trajan sentenced him to be exposed to the wild beasts in the Roman Coliseum. And as God’s preacher stood there on the sand of the floor of the Coliseum, and the cages were opened, and the lions rushed toward their prey, Ignatius reached forth his hand, and the leading lion coming to it first, seized it, and crushed it in his mouth. And Ignatius said above the sound of the crunching bones, "Now, now I begin to be a Christian!"
I can do! The spirit of conquest and victory: not leading demonstrations against us, not leading the younger generation to nihilism and negativism and anarchy, but pro-God, pro-America, pro-Christ, pro-church.
O God, that that spirit of triumph and conquest may be evident in everything that we do. Under God, this is our assignment: with His help and grace, this we shall do. And as the Lord in heaven looks down upon us, may He be pleased with what He sees in my heart and soul, in the congregation of the Lord’s assembled people, and in the achievement that in His grace we lay at His dear and blessed feet.
"I can do all things through Christ who strengtheneth me" [Philippians 4:13].
We stand to sing our hymn of appeal. And while we sing it, you, a family you, or you, a couple you, or you, just one somebody you, "God has spoken to me, and I’m coming. I’m answering with my life, and here I am." I can’t say that word; the Holy Spirit must whisper it to your soul. But what God bids you do, answer and make it now. To trust Jesus, to accept Him as Savior; to make Him Lord in your life; to come into the fellowship of His dear church; whatever God would whisper in your heart, make that answer now. Come now. Do it now, on the first note of the first stanza. And may the Holy Spirit bless you in the way, while we stand and while we sing.
THE SPIRIT OF CONQUEST
Dr. W. A. Criswell
I. The greatness of America
A. Material greatness
B. Foundation found in greatness of will and spirit
C. What kind of foundation?
1. Reverence for Almighty God
2. Christian doctrine of the worth of the human soul
3. The Puritan ethic – the spirit of "I can" and "can-do"
II. The decay of the national spirit, will
A. New age of "can’t do", of "anti", of "against"
1. Floodtide of negativism
2. The "dis" phenomena – disillusioned, disenchanted, disappointed
B. The sickness has pervaded every part of American life
1. No longer create heroes, but we create anti-heroes who seek the destruction of our institutions, of our free spirit, and our will to do
C. Illustrated in three ways
1. In the decay of the citizenry of America
a. New idea that we have a right to public dole
i. Joel Sorenson(2 Thessalonians 3:10)
ii. Article on welfare
b. Picture of my great-grandfather Neely
2. In the decay of the city
a. Times Square
3. In the decay of our churches
a. Grace Temple
III. We need a rebirth, a renewal of the national spirit, will
A. General Douglas MacArthur – "It must be of the spirit if the flesh is to be saved."
B. A new dedication that is unashamedly pro-American, pro-God, pro-church, and above all pro-faith
1. Abraham was called and went out not knowing whither he went
2. Moses called to take Israel into the wilderness
3. Jesus appointed the disciples for the evangelization of the world
4. Paul and John faced idolatry and paganism of the Greek-Roman world
C. I can do, through Christ who strengtheneth meâ€¦
1. I can do my God-given assignment
a. May be mammoth, may be menial
b. Our stewardship campaign
c. Every new generation must be won to Christ, taught (Luke 19:16-17)
2. I canface the future triumphantly
b. Poem, "The Son of God goes Forth to War"