Truett and God’s Call to America
July 2nd, 1972 @ 10:50 AM
DR. TRUETT AND GOD’S CALL TO AMERICA
Dr. W. A. Criswell
7-2-72 10:50 a.m.
The title of the message is Dr. Truett and the State: God’s Call to America. In the letter that Paul wrote to the Imperial City, to the throne of the Roman Caesars, even though the emperor was a dog—we name our children after Paul, we name our dogs after Nero—even though the emperor was a dog, he writes,
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 in terms of hell when we use that word. The word is krima. They that resist shall receive to themselves krima, judgment, a sentence of judgment such as a judge on a bench would mete out to 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, that ruler, 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 this cause pay ye tribute also: for they are ministers of God attending continually upon this very thing.
Render therefore to all their dues: tribute to whom tribute is due—
you could translate that taxes to whom taxes are due—
custom to whom custom; fear to whom fear; honor to whom honor.
And that we might know that this is not an isolated injunction and admonition, you will find a like demeanor and attitude toward government in 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, or 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—
respect the president.
[1 Peter 2:13-17]
These words are sometimes looked upon as being admonitions to us who are Christians in the sense that we are passively non-resistant and would not seek to change a cruel and unjust government.
That is not quite true. For the passage in the Bible is presented in terms of an ideal government, an ideal state. And though injustice and miscarriage of justice and sometimes cruel oppression blemish a government, yet the ideal in the Bible is always there. And this is as we would expect. However a miscarriage of justice, however a fault in human failure or downright depravity and sin, yet the ideal is always to be held before us.
It is thus in the scriptural presentation of marriage. It is God’s intention and God’s purpose that there be one man for one woman and one woman for one man [Mark 10:7-9]. That is the ideal and there are many sorrows in falling short of it. The man marries the wrong woman, and the woman marries the wrong man and there are many, many shortcomings. But the ideal in the Bible is always there, the one man for the one woman.
That same ideal is always presented in the Bible for human life, our personal character and deportment and demeanor and living. The Lord will say, “Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father in heaven is perfect” [Matthew 5:48].
Now who measures up? Who can stand and say, “I am that perfect paragon of the excellency of God?” We all fall short of it and are sensitive to it. We are cognizant of it. Yet the ideal is always there, presented in the Holy Scriptures.
It is thus with the state. The state may be oppressive. It may be even violent and coercive, but the ideal of the true state is presented in the Bible, and as such the Christian is to be found a loyal subject of the ordained government of God. For the Scriptures avow that government is ordained of heaven [Romans 13:1]. Human government is a part of the great overall sovereignty of God in the universe. You find law, government in the great planetarial and solar systems. These vast planets and suns and their orbits are all held in course by the law of a mighty and sovereign God. That same sovereignty, that same law of the Lord is expressed in everything we find in the earth, in its seasons, in its laws of growth and propagation and fruitfulness. The whole earth is controlled by the imperial majesty and sovereignty of God.
Now a facet, a part of that governmental program of the Almighty is found in the state. And that also, as much as the laws of God express in our planetary systems and orbits, that also is an ordinance of God. Government is ordained of heaven [Romans 13:1]. When a man therefore takes the Bible and he speaks of the state, he speaks of the law, he speaks of government, he is a true minister of Christ, delivering the revelation and message of the Lord.
And it was as such that Dr. Truett stood upon an occasion many years ago and delivered a moving and famous address entitled “God’s Call to America.”
This will now be the twenty-eighth year that on the Sunday preceding the death of the great pastor I have prepared an address in honor of his memory. Dr. Truett was president of the Southern Baptist Convention. He was president of the Baptist World Alliance. He was the most famous and gifted preacher of his generation and was plenipotentiary, emissary, representative of our Baptist faith and message in the whole world.
He was undershepherd and pastor of this church for forty-seven years. He died the seventh day of July in 1944. And the next year, in 1945 and for the years that have followed after, on the Sunday before the anniversary of his death I have prepared an address in keeping with the memory of the great pastor.
I do it for two reasons. One, I love keeping alive the memory of Dr. Truett. Second, it gives me opportunity to speak of the many, many things into which he poured his life.
I have spoken of Dr. Truett and the founding of Baylor University Hospital, of Dr. Truett and the founding of the annuity board which was organized in this church, it’s our pension board, right across the street. I’ve spoken of Dr. Truett and Baylor University, of Dr. Truett and world missions, of Dr. Truett and Evangelism, of Dr. Truett and this church, Dr. Truett and Christian education. Through the years and the years I have prepared these addresses and this one concerns Dr. Truett and the State.
The Baptist World Alliance in its congress met in Philadelphia in 1911 in the church pastored by the famous Russell H. Conwell, the Grace Temple Baptist Church of Philadelphia. Dr. Conwell, you remember, was famous for his lectures on Acres of Diamonds. He was on the Chautauqua course. He made more than a million dollars in a day, early 1900s, when a million dollars was worth fourteen or fifteen or twenty million dollars today. He was given that as fees for that famous lecture, Acres of Diamonds. And this Baptist World Alliance in 1911 met in his church in Philadelphia.
It was an illustrious occasion. Some of the great far-famed preachers of the world were in attendance upon that congress. It was presided over by Alexander MacLaren, possibly the greatest Bible expositor in Christendom. And as I study the reports and the record of the proceedings of that congress in 1911, I cannot help but be impressed by the unbounded optimism of the men and what is to me a misinterpretation of the Word of God.
For in those days these men were largely postmillenialists. That is, they believed that they were going to preach the kingdom of heaven down from up above, here on the earth where we live. And they believed that by the propagation of the gospel they would bring in the millennium. They would do away with war. They would do away with all of the problems of human society. And that is so expressed here. And I haven’t time to read these quotations. I learned that at the 8:15 service; I never got started. Did any of you all listen to the 8:15 service? Just as I got started the time was over.
I copied from the addresses of these marvelous far-famed men, these princes of preachers. I copied their words of assurance. There wasn’t going to be [any] more war. That was a thing of the past. No more anything bad. Just man after man they stood up, from London, and from England, and from America, and from Germany, and from Japan, and from the ends of the earth.
Now what strikes me is within thirty-six months after that congress on the twenty-fifth day of June in 1914, the Archduke Franz Ferdinand, heir to the throne of Austria, was assassinated in Sarajevo, in Serbia and the whole world was in flames within just a few months after these marvelous predictions on the part of these men who spoke at that congress.
Which shows me that, the way I read the Bible, which shows me you cannot escape the revelation and the truth of Almighty God. I think it is the man’s doctrine that we are going to preach the kingdom of heaven into existence and we are going to bring in the millennium. The Bible expressly says that wars are determined to the end. That’s in the ninth chapter of the Book of Daniel [Daniel 9:26]. And all through the Holy Book are there prophecies and revelations of the tribulations, and tragedies, and grief, and war, and violence, and bloodshed, and suffering, clear to the time of the consummation of the age.
Now to me that is clear. I read that in the Bible. Yet those marvelous men read the same Book and came to the conclusion that they were going to “preach in” the millennium of Christ.
Well, you don’t hear much of that anymore because as the human family proceeds and as human history continues, we bog down more and more in the morass of human problems and human depravity and human frailty, nor would you ever get beyond it. There will never be peace in this world until you see in visible and manifest glory the Prince of Peace [Matthew 24:6]. There is no kingdom without a king and there is no peace without the prince. That’s our hope. That’s what the Bible says. I think God blessed these, as Paul would say, “Not only for me, but for them also who love His appearing” [2 Timothy 4:8]. He calls it the blessed hope [Titus 2:13], and that’s our message, that’s our gospel.
The concordats and the treaties and all of the counsels and leagues of this world have never been able to solve human problems. They cannot. The infinite answer lies in the infinite God. When we bring men to Christ, we bring them to that hope of a glorious ultimate tomorrow. Well, that’s just an observation, just reading the sermons of those men.
The closing address of the alliance was brought Sunday evening, June 25, 1911 by Dr. George W. Truett. And it was called, he entitled it, “God’s Call to America.” He began like this:
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 human race. The noble Spurgeon, Charles Haddon Spurgeon—pastor of the Metropolitan Tabernacle in London, and God’s great minister and preacher—the noble Spurgeon said to one of our American brethren a little before his death—then he quotes from Spurgeon, “Go back to your country and tell your men that the hopes of the world and centuries are centered in your country; the free church in a free state.”
Then Dr. Truett began in that message, “God’s Call to America,” to point out our perils. And when I read what he said—now this is in 1911—he was speaking as a prophet. I quote; now this is the first peril he points out:
America is threatened today by manifold perils. Optimism is a very stupid and hurtful thing if facts are not based. We are menaced for one thing by our vast and fast growing cities.
And how big was Dallas then, fifty thousand? The cities of America in 1911 were villages compared to the vast cities that we have today. Yet he saw as a true prophet, we are menaced, for one thing, by our vast and 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 population of our country is 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.
Now this is 1911.
And in another short generation—now this is we—in another short generation one may easily calculate the myriads of people who shall live in our cities. The best and the worst meet in the city.
And that is the reason that Dr. Truett insisted in all of the years of his pastorate here that the First Baptist Church stay downtown in the heart of this city. In his day, and I have talked to some of the compatriots and peers who were with Dr. Truett in this church and in this program and ministry—in his day there were pressures brought to bear on the congregation to lift up the First Baptist Church, take it out of its downtown ministry and set it out there in some silk stocking gold coast where the matter of worship was a matter of convenience. And Dr. Truett steadfastly said, “No, we shall stay downtown. The lighthouse for Christ we build shall be in the heart of this great city.”
Now there have been twice in my years of ministry here when that same effort has been made with me. One came through the offices and the wonderful graciousness of one of the richest men in the city of Dallas, and one of the leaders, possibly the leader of the civic life of our city. He loved our church and he loved your pastor. And he had access to vast amounts of wealth through trusts and foundations.
Upon a day, he called me to his office and I sat down by his side. And he said to me, “Let me help you take the First Baptist Church and let us find us a spacious area out of the city somewhere and let us build the most beautiful church in America.” He said, “It would be an honor to the city of Dallas if we could say that the greatest and most beautiful Baptist church in the world is in Dallas.” He said, “I will help you do it, and I will help you get the money to do it.” And he was talking about millions of dollars to build the most beautiful and impressive church in America. “Do it,” he said, “here in Dallas, and I will help you.”
Ah! I turned that over in my mind and heart for months and months and months; finally, the best I knew how, laid it before the Lord God in heaven, and finally went back to him and said, “I cannot escape the deep, and abiding, and continuing, and unfailing conviction that the First Baptist Church ought to stay downtown, and just where we are.”
Our first little house, our first little worship building was right there. We own that property, and I am so glad. We own that property right across the street there, right there where the first little Baptist church meeting house was erected. It’s our property. I wish that little place was still there. We’d keep it forever as a shrine.
But we are here. We’ve been here over a hundred years; since 1967, that would be five years now, we have been here one hundred five years in the heart of this city. God placed us here, and here we are by the grace, and mercy, and providence, and blessing, and help of God, here in the heart of this city.
The second time that I was asked to help take the First Baptist Church and build a great complex out in the city somewhere, was when the executive secretary of the Baptist General Convention of Texas, who grew up in this church, and who was a member of this church in the days of his administration, and also loved us.
At that time they were getting ready to build a new Baptist building, having sold their property at Pacific and Ervay. And the executive secretary called me and said to me, “If you will take the First Baptist Church, sell its properties”—it’s worth, ah, so much, we have more downtown property than anyone that I know in the city—“If you will sell your properties,” he said, “and take the money that we can raise in the congregation, I will try,” and he said, “I can succeed in it. I will take the Baptist General Convention of Texas office building,” their headquarters, “and we will pool our resources, and we will go out and we will build the most effective and beautiful Baptist center in the earth. And your church can be a part of it. And the headquarters, the Baptist Building will also be a part of it. And we will build a tremendous and effective and beautiful house for the glory of God and the extension of His working kingdom among men.”
Well, there the second time the thing appealed to me. Just think what you could do. So I turned it over in my heart for days and weeks, and again laid it before the Lord God. I went back to our executive leader, and I said to him, “I cannot escape the conviction that has characterized this congregation for the years and the years. God set us here. It was the Lord’s purpose that we be here, and I think it is still the mind of Christ that the lighthouse in His name that burns with our lives ought to be right where it is, downtown in the heart of this great city.”
So I never brought it to the congregation. It has been our purpose, our steadfast resolution; it has been our commitment through the years that we shall build the church, the lighthouse for Christ, we shall do it downtown in the heart of this great and growing city.
I like it that way. If I were asked to be the pastor of some easy and convenient and affluent congregation on the edge, or out in a development, a suburban area of the city that was prestigious, I would do it with a heavy heart and with a drooping spirit. Whatever the problems downtown, and however far out the people ultimately move, I want to stay right here, and the church to be in this very place, in the heart of the city. And God has blessed it. He will continue to bless it.
And I would like to lay upon the souls of the young men who listen to me today, I would like to lay upon your hearts the burden of that same conviction. This is not the last time in these days past that there will be suggestions made to you. You could sell these properties for millions of dollars. You could take that money with the added money of the congregation and go out somewhere and build a magnificent church house. That suggestion will be made to you. I know that it will, because of the vast worth of these facilities and their increasing worth.
We have now properties down here that are worth upward of ten million dollars. And these suggestions will come. I would like to lay upon the hearts of the young men who are listening to me today the burden of that conviction. Stay downtown. Do it!
When you go to Chicago you can walk forever before you will find a Baptist church. Long, long years ago they gave up their witness for Christ in the heart of that great city. I take Chicago as just typical. I can show you city after city after city where the First Baptist Church has moved out. Downtown will always be the center of the life of this nation. It will.
I read articles about the decaying city. Whatever those articles may mean, whatever they may portend or harbinger, there will always be the heart of the nation in the city. You go to New York today, down there at the end of Manhattan where Wall Street runs, you will find buildings going up that are so high above the Empire State Building as to make the thing look like a matchstick. The throbbing life of America is still to be found in the heart of that growing city. New York, and cities like it, Dallas; stay downtown.
I don’t know of anything finer to be seen in America than to walk down Wall Street. You know what it runs into? Trinity Church. It’s been there ever since there has been a Manhattan. It’s been there ever since there has been a borough of Manhattan. Been there ever since there has been a New York City. Been there ever since the Dutch founded it. That Trinity Church, right in the heart of the great financial district of America; I thank God for it. It’s an Episcopal Church, but thank God for the Episcopalians.
Keep the church in the heart of this great city, and God honor and bless that wonderful, wonderful and continuing dedication.
Well, the same thing is happening again. Our time is gone. I want to take time and stay with me. I have so much prepared here and am not able to do anything about it.
I want to refer to the moving climax and peroration of that address that Dr. Truett made to that World Congress in Philadelphia in 1911. Guess what it was? As he moved in his address toward the end and the climax of his marvelous message, he began preaching on the second coming of Christ.
I wonder if Dr. Truett is dead long enough for me to make an observation and it not be offensive. The tragedy of those who fall into error, both in heresy and in overemphasis, is not in what they themselves do; but the tragedy of it lies in what they push others into doing.
For example, the excesses and the extremities of those who are loud and vociferous in their worship, they talk in garrulous verbosity, words that nobody knows and nobody understands, and all of those things that go on in the congregation. Well, when you go see it, and they say they do it in the name of the Holy Spirit, the harm of it is not what they are doing, but the harm of it is when the minister goes and looks upon it, the pendulum swings to the other side, to the other end, and so he never mentions the Holy Spirit. He just feels the preaching of the Holy Spirit is identified with that, and that to the minister might be highly disgusting and offensive and unacceptable. So he just goes to the other extreme, and your services are dead and dull, and the church is anemic and lifeless. It doesn’t have any quickening presence in it. Nobody will stand up and say “Amen!” or “Glory!”
Well, that’s what happened to Dr. Truett about the second coming of Christ. For the years and the years of his later ministry he never preached on the second coming of the Lord because of the overemphasis that was given to it by leaders of fundamentalist groups.
But in 1911 Dr. Truett closed that marvelous peroration with just preaching about the second coming of Christ. And I don’t have time to read the peroration. He tells a story about Queen Victoria. Let me read the closing words:
When the kingdoms of this world shall have become the kingdom of our God and of His Christ, the entire world shall stand by the side of America and Britain, Britannia’s vast domain, and in the mighty dominions of the czar and the emperor and the sultan, and in all lands and among all peoples. And all dominions and all republics and all governments and all peoples shall be lost in that one kingdom of him who is the world’s blessed and only Potentate, Him whose it is, here and forever, to be King of kings and Lord of lords. Even so, come, Lord Jesus.
That’s the way in his peroration that he ended that glorious address, “God’s Call to America.” I carried along with me the sermon that Dr. Truett preached in this church, in this church on the second coming of Christ. There was a minister here and I have his notes; these are his notes. There was a minister here who copied down Dr. Truett’s sermon on the second coming of Christ here in this congregation on a Sunday morning. He was preaching from the text in the fourteenth chapter of John. “If I go away, I will come again” [John 14:3]. And I have that sermon as that minister wrote it down. It’s one of the most glorious messages you could ever hear, a message on the soon, imminent and expected return of our Lord. Then follows the favorite story of all the stories that I have heard about the great pastor.
While Dr. Truett was preaching that sermon that I have here in my hand, while Dr. Truett was preaching that sermon many, many years ago, there was an old sainted mother who stood up in the congregation and began to clap her hands and to praise God and to shout. I have heard them do that when I was a boy going to church. A dear sainted old mother would get happy in the Lord and stand up in the service and shout and clap her hands and praise God. Well, that dear old sainted mother in Israel did that while Dr. Truett was preaching that sermon. She stood up in the congregation and began to praise God and to shout and clap her hands.
There was a doctor, a physician, in the congregation. He’d never seen that and he’d never heard that, and he thought she was ill. So he went to her, that dear old mother, and he began to usher her out of the congregation, to take her out of the service because he thought she was sick.
And Dr. Truett was standing in the pulpit and he saw and watched. And when he could see what the beloved physician was getting ready to do, to take the dear old saint out of the congregation, he reached forth his hand—and I’ve had people describe that gesture to me—he reached forth his hand and said, “There, there, doctor; there, there doctor, leave her alone. Leave her alone. She’s just happy in the Lord.” And then turning around to the great congregation he said, “My brothers and my sisters, we need more of that in this church.”
How do you like that? “We need more of that in this church,” the praise of God. That’s Dr. Truett.
George Busick, stand up. Stand up, son. Say, “Glory!” Glory! Say, “Amen!” Amen! Say, “Hallelujah!” Hallelujah, amen, God bless you, fella.
That’s what we need. That’s what we need. It’s the substance of life. Life was not intended by the Lord God to be drained and dry, without love and without moving response and without the presence of heaven. God made us to rejoice and to be glad and to praise His name. And what could you do more gloriously in about and for than to praise Jesus for what He has done for us and what He is going to do for us?
Well, we can’t stay here all day, so we are going to sing a song. And while we sing it, a family you, a couple you, or just one somebody you, to give himself to Jesus [Romans 10:8-13], to come into the fellowship of the church [Hebrews 10:24-25], to put your life with us in this ministry, you may have to drive thirty miles; it’s worth it. May have to get up an hour earlier; it’s worth it. As the Spirit of Jesus shall press the appeal to your heart, make the decision now. Come now, and God speed you and bless you in the way, while we stand and while we sing.