THE SPIRIT OF CONQUEST
Dr. W. A. Criswell
10-22-72 10:30 a.m.
On the television, and there are many hundreds of thousands of you who are looking at this service, and in the spirit of reverence and worship are seeking a blessing in this hour with us on the television and on the radio; you are with us in the First Baptist Church in Dallas. And this is the pastor bringing the message entitled The Spirit of Conquest, The Spirit of Can-Do. And the text is the one that the choir sang, from Philippians chapter 4:13: "I can do all things through Christ who strengtheneth me." The spirit of victory, of triumph, of conquest, of can-do: "I can do all things through Christ who strengtheneth me."
The astonishment of the modern world is the illimitable, immeasurable greatness of the United States of America. That greatness can be seen in the affluence of our people. We have more everything than anyone else in the world: more bathtubs, more telephones, more automobiles, more radios, more television sets, a higher income, a more salubrious standard of living; there is not anything of material wealth and possession but that you find it in superabundance in America. It has been an astonishment even to our enemies that we have been able to wage for years a war in the Orient, spend billions of dollars in the exploration of the moon, and yet not even approach a dent in our high standard of living. America is a great nation, and its greatness can be demonstrated in the marvelous material prosperity that has crowned our efforts. But there is some reason for that greatness, and it is found in the greatness of will and spirit that in days past has characterize our people.
We do not have the resources of South America or of Africa; nor do we have the vast teeming populations of a subcontinent like India; nor do we have the ancient civilization and culture of a China. The foundation of the greatness of America can be discovered in her spirit and in her will.
What is that foundation? There would be many things that we could categorize. I name three. A part of that foundation that has entered into the spirit of America that has made her great has been her reverence for Almighty God. A reflection of that devotion can be seen in the motto that is placed upon our coins: "In God we trust." A reflection of that spirit of heavenly importunity and dependence can be illustrated in the famous picture of General George Washington in the days of the darkness and nadir of the Revolutionary War, down on his knees, supplicating and importuning the favor and blessing of Almighty God. A demonstration of that spirit of dependence upon Providence and upon the favor of God can be illustrated in the packing and jamming of our churches at two o’clock in the morning, when our armed forces stormed the continental bastion of Hitler on D-day. The spirit of America in these days has been one of deference and reverence before God.
A second part of that foundational spirit of greatness can be found in the Christian doctrine of the worth of the human soul. A man is not chattel property; he is made in the image and likeness of his great Creator [Genesis 1:27]. A man is not a pawn of the state; he is a child of God, and as such his life, his welfare, his destiny is precious in the eyes of heaven and of earth.
A third foundational spirit that has made America great can be found in what could be described as the Puritan ethic: the devotion and the doctrine that our Pilgrim Fathers brought to this new continent and this new earth. The persuasion that we ought to be free: free in religion, without the coercing and heavy hand of a king; free in heart and spirit, where every man might have opportunity to work, to excel, to exceed, to achieve. The spirit of self-reliance, the spirit of personal responsibility, the spirit of ’76: the spirit where any boy might become the president of his country, and where any man would have open door to be his best self and to achieve and succeed in whatever his endowments and capabilities might lead him to do.
It has been the spirit of "I can," the spirit of "can-do." It is the spirit of the last four letters of our American name: I-c-a-n, American, "I can." "I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me" [Philippians 4:13]. And that spirit of achievement and of extension and of success has been in these days past the spirit that has made America great.
But today, in our lifetime and in our generation, we have been introduced to a new and a different spirit. There has been a decay of the national will. No longer is it the spirit of "can-do," but it is the spirit of "can’t do," it is the spirit of "anti," it is the spirit of "against." Wherever you turn in modern life, there do you meet a floodtide of negativism. It is like trying to swim through seaweeds: on every hand there are those who press movements that are hostile and negative. If there are demonstrators, just count on it, they are demonstrating against something. They are "anti," they are protesting, they are anti-establishment, they are anti-Pentagon, they are anti-war, they are anti-American, they are anti-Semitic, they are anti-church, they are anti-God, they are anti-business. In their lexicon, bigness is badness, success is failure, and forward is backward. We have come to live in an age of the dis-phenomenon: they are disillusioned, they are disenchanted, and they are disappointed.
The sickness has pervaded every section and part of American life. No longer do we create heroes, but we create anti-heroes. Their pictures are on the papers. They are the paragons of those who seek anarchy and nihilism. Their followers are blatant and blasphemous. They seek the destruction of our institutions, and the destruction of our free spirit, and the destruction of our will to do! It is a new age and a new generation and a new spirit.
I illustrate that in three ways: first, I find it illustrated in the decay of the citizenry of America. There is a new political idea that has gained hold in the hearts of our people, and it is this: the new idea that we have a right, a right to public dole; that there is a right whereby one man can live off of the toil and labor of another man, while he toils and labors not.
Never in this earth shall I forget the first time I heard that doctrine. I was in Stockholm, the capital of Sweden. I was the guest in the home of Joel Sorenson, who was the pastor of the largest Baptist church in Sweden, and a political figure. He was, year after year, elected to the Senate of the congressional legislative body of the nation of Sweden. And as I sat and talked and visited, to my astonishment, he said to me, "I believe that every Swede, by virtue of the fact that he is born a Swede, is entitled to a subsidy, an income from the national treasury." I said, "Dr. Sorenson, you mean without his working? He doesn’t work?" He said, "I mean by virtue of the fact that he is born a citizen of Sweden he is therein born with a right to an income and a subsidy and a dole from the national treasury." I said, "But sir, that contravenes and contradicts the plain Word of God that says if a man does not work, he shall not eat" [2 Thessalonians 3:10]. And the man replied to me, "Whatever it says in the Bible, I believe that any man that is born a citizen of Sweden is therein entitled to a dole from the government."
That idea has so fastened itself upon the American political life until it has become a way of life for thousands and millions of people! Just three days ago I copied this article out of the daily paper. It is a dispatch from Washington; it is a report from the United States Department of Health Education and Welfare. And in their year-end summary, they have more than fifteen million Americans on the dole, on welfare; an increase of more than seven hundred thousand people this year of 1972. And the money that is spent for those welfare indigents in this fiscal year of ’72 is eighteen billion two hundred million dollars: an increase of two billion, seven hundred million dollars of this year over last year. And there is no end in sight. Welfare, dole, as a way of life is increasingly becoming a part of the American scene. It is a right that they expect, vote for, lobby for: that this man shall work and toil and this man shall live off of the other man’s efforts.
What a far cry is that new doctrine and that new spirit from the days of our forefathers. I have in my study in the library at the parsonage; I have a large picture hanging on the wall of my great-grandfather, my father’s mother’s father, my great-grandfather Neely. It is a picture of a homestead in central West Texas. I stand and look at that picture many, many times. There he is with his family; and everything seen in that picture he made with his own hands: the house, the corrals, the fences, the barns. He went out to that howling wilderness, and with his own hands he built a place for him and the support of his family. There was no dole, there was no welfare; he had been taught under God to be responsible and self-sufficient. "I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me." It’s a new day. It’s a new spirit. It’s a new age. It’s a decadence and a decay.
I see that decay not only in our national citizenry; I see it also in the decay of our great cities. I had not been to New York for several years. Sometime recently I went back to visit the greatest city in the earth once again. I walked down Times Square: I could not believe my eyes. Gone the great White Way, gone those beautiful scintillating advertisements and their glistening lights, gone the people of respectability who used to promenade up and down the street; and instead it is dirty, and crummy, and decadent. And the people who walk there look like the very stewed out flotsam and jetsam of human life.
I asked a citizen, "What has happened?" And the reply is that what you see in Times Square, which in itself the sight of it besmirches – it’s a blot on the escutcheon of America – what you see in Times Square you see in the entire city. The city is decayed, the city is bankrupt, it has lost its glory and its grandeur. And you ask, "Why? Why?" And the answer: the people are not there in Times Square, they are afraid of the muggers, and the rapists, and the murderers, and the underworld, and the underground; they are afraid! And the city has been given over to those who live on welfare. The city is bankrupt because of the thousands and thousands and uncounted hundreds of thousands who live on the public dole – the decay of the great city.
I see it again, this new spirit and this new age, I see it in the decay of our churches. In one of those great cities on the Atlantic seaboard, there is a magnificent house of worship. It was built by one of the greatest Baptist preachers of all time, one of the most famous in the world. I went to see the church, just eager to look at it. To my amazement, the first time I was there, the great balcony was curtained off, no one to use it. The second time I went there, there was a caretaker in the auditorium, and he was roping off the vast part of that auditorium downstairs. I walked up to him and I said, "What are you doing?" He said, "I’m roping off the great vast part of this auditorium." I said, "But tomorrow is Sunday, the Lord’s Day, and you’ll need these seats." He said, "Oh no, that’s why I’m roping it off"; he said, "Lest that the people scatter all over this lower auditorium I’m roping it off, and leaving just a small section down at the front where they’ll be in front of the preacher, for about a hundred or a hundred twenty-five." The city is there, the people are there, but it has lost its spirit, it has lost its godliness; it is a city decayed and dying.
What America needs is a rebirth, a renewal, a regeneration of the spirit and the heart to do – to change from an "anti" to a "pro." As General Douglas MacArthur said, "It must be of the spirit if the flesh is to be saved." What we need is to stand up in a new heart and a new dedication, unashamedly, "I am pro-American, I am pro-God, I am pro-Christ, I am pro-church, I am pro for the great things that our forefathers knew and loved, and the tools and instruments by which they built this great nation." And above all, "I am pro-faith, pro-faith. I can do all things through Christ who strengtheneth me" [Philippians 4:13].
When Abraham was called to go out to a country he should afterward receive for an inheritance, he went out not knowing whither he went, trusting God, pro-faith [Hebrews 11:8]. When Moses was called to take two and a half million slaves into the wilderness and for forty years there without food and without water, trusting God for the blessing, pro-faith! When Jesus appointed the eleven men to the evangelization of the world, they never staggered before the mandate, pro-faith! [Acts 1:2, 8-9]. And when Paul, who wrote this sentence and his compatriot the apostle John, faced the idolatry and paganism of the Greek-Roman world, they did it in the spirit of that text: "I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me" [Philippians 4:13]. And that is the spirit that we pray for in our hearts, in our church: the spirit of commitment and of faith, "I can do!"
I can do, through Christ who strengtheneth me, I can do what God has assigned for me to do. I can do it. To some of us that task may be mammoth; to some of us it may be menial; to some of us who have great talents and abilities it may be vast and tremendous; to some of us who are less endowed and less gifted it may be humble and quiet. It makes no difference: when the assignment is from heaven, however our capabilities, "I can do all things through Christ who strengtheneth me." And that’s our spirit in the building of this lighthouse for Christ. What can I do best for America, my native land? What can I do best for my city, the queenly city of Dallas? What can I do best for my God and my Christ? What can I do? This I can do: I shall support it, give to it, pray for it, as I never have in these days that are past.
This week, yesterday, there came to our house a packet from our stewardship committee. And on the inside of that packet was this card, a stewardship card. I picked it up, read it, looked at it, and immediately decided in my heart I shall double anything I have ever given to my Lord in these days past; I shall double it. Looking to God, trusting God, believing in God, I can do that and all other things that are mandated to us, to me, to you, through Christ which strengtheneth me.
My brethren, we are never but one generation from paganism. Every new generation must be won to Christ. They must be prayed for. They must be taught. They must be guided. It is a never ending assignment. When God commended the ten talent man, "Enter thou into the joy of thy Lord," he never quit. God said, "Be thou ruler over ten cities" [Matthew 25:21-23; Luke 19:16-17]. In this life and in the life that is to come there are vast assignments, mandates, heavenly work, tasks, and praise, praise God, blessed His name, that He would match our souls against it.
I don’t cringe before what God has laid upon us to do; I just thank God that He thought that He could trust us with so vast and illimitable an assignment. "I can do all things through Christ who strengtheneth me."
One other thing: in that spirit I can face the future triumphantly in Christ; I can do. I can face the tomorrow triumphantly, victoriously in Christ; I can do, whatever that tomorrow might be.
This last summer I realized one of the ambitions of my life. For years I have wanted to go to Antioch on the Orontes River. I made that pilgrimage this last summer, and stood there in what remains of that great, ancient Oriental city, the third city of the empire: first, Rome; second, Alexandria; third, Antioch. And standing there on the Orontes, I lived over again the story of God’s blessing upon His work in that ancient city. It was there that the Hellenistic Jews preached the gospel to idolaters, heathen idolaters; and accepting Christ by faith they were gloriously saved. It was there that Barnabas left to go to Tarsus in Cilicia to seek Saul, brought him there, and together Barnabas and Paul preached the gospel of the grace of the Son of God; and they were called Christians first in Antioch [Acts 11:25-26]. It was there that the first missionaries were sent out [Acts 13:1-5], preaching the kind of a gospel and of a faith of which we are the children and the heirs: the Gentile Christianity [Acts 11:26]. And it was there in 70 AD that Ignatius was pastor of the church, and in later years John Chrysostom, the greatest preacher that ever lived, the most eloquent, John the Golden Mouth, John Chrysostom, it was there that he preached, in Antioch.
And I thought through the life of Ignatius, God’s servant, and a mighty preacher. He was so effective preaching the gospel of Christ that the emperor Trajan sentenced him to be exposed to the lions in the Roman Coliseum. He was taken to Rome, placed in the Coliseum, and stood there on the sand of the floor before those tiers of thousands and thousands of bloodthirsty Romans. And when the cages were opened and the lions rushed out, Ignatius held out his hand and his arm. And as the first leading lion to reach him clamped his jaws on that hand and that arm, above the crushing of the bones and the tearing of the sinews, Ignatius was heard to say, "Now, now I am becoming a Christian!" A spirit like that, a dedication like that is unbeatable. "I can do all things through Christ who strengtheneth me." The spirit of triumph, of victory, of commitment, of dedication, of response: "Now I begin to be a Christian."
A noble army, men and boys,
The matron and the maid,
Around the Savior’s throne rejoice,
In robes of light arrayed.
They climbed the steep ascent of Heav’n,
Through peril, toil and pain;
O God, to us may grace be given,
To follow in their train.
["The Son of God goes Forth to War"; Reginald Heber]
"I can do all things through Christ who strengtheneth me" [Philippians 4:13] – the spirit of can-do, the spirit of conquest, the spirit of triumph and victory in our Lord.
O Christ in heaven, bless to us this kind of a dedication, this kind of a will, this kind of a spirit; one that will bless and save our nation, our city, our church, and our souls.
In a moment we shall stand to sing. And as we sing that hymn of appeal, a family you, a couple you, or just one somebody you to whom God has spoken, will you answer today with your life? Will you? From the balcony down a stairway, the press of people on this lower floor, into that aisle, here to the front, "Pastor, my wife, my children, all of us are coming today." Or just two of you, or just you, make the decision now in your heart; listen to the voice of God. And if God calls, answer with your life, "Here I am, here I come, I make it now." God bless you, angels attend you in the way as you come, as you come, while we stand and while we sing.