The Shepherd Heart


The Shepherd Heart

July 7th, 1974 @ 8:15 AM

Acts 20:28

Take heed therefore unto yourselves, and to all the flock, over the which the Holy Ghost hath made you overseers, to feed the church of God, which he hath purchased with his own blood.
Print Sermon
Downloadable Media

Share This Sermon
Play Audio

Show References:


Dr. W. A. Criswell

Acts 20:28

7-07-74     8:15 a.m.


On the radio we welcome you to the services of the First Baptist Church in Dallas, and this is the pastor bringing the message entitled The Shepherd Heart.  It is a tribute to the far-famed and noble, former pastor, my predecessor, in the First Baptist Church in Dallas. 

For thirty years now on the Sunday closest to the anniversary of the death of Dr. Truett, I have prepared an address upon some phase or facet of the life of ministry to which he gave his devoted energy.  For example, Dr. Truett was the moving factor in the founding and establishment of the Texas Baptist Memorial Sanitarium that we call today Baylor University Medical Center.  So I prepared an address on Truett and Baylor Hospital.

The Annuity Board of the Southern Baptist Convention was founded and organized in this church, in these buildings.  I prepared an address on Dr. Truett and the Annuity Board.  Dr. Truett was a world emissary, an ambassador from the courts of heaven, to the nations of the world.  He was plenipotentiary representative of us, among the families and nations of the earth.  And I prepared an address of Dr. Truett: God’s Ambassador.  And so on for the years and the years.  

This day is the thirtieth anniversary of the death of Dr. Truett.  He died July 7, 1944.  So today, July 7, 1974, is the thirtieth anniversary of the translation of this tremendous man of Christ and preacher golden mouth of the gospel of Jesus.  For this thirtieth anniversary address, I have chosen to speak of Dr. Truett and this church.  And you will see why as the address moves along.

Dr. Truett was ill for a full year before he died the seventh of July in 1944.  And he was ill in a way that brought untold suffering to his physical frame.  He was allergic to any kind of ameliorating drug; he was immediately thrown into nausea of a terrible order if any kind of sedative was ministered to him.  So for the full year that he lay sick, he suffered excruciating pain and agony.

Harvey Penland, who was the son of Dr. Truett’s sister and for many, many years the chairman of the trustees of Baylor University Hospital—and all through those years I was on the board of the hospital–Harvey Penland talked to me many, many times.  And there was never a time that I can remember but that Harvey Penland would ask me why it is that Dr. Truett suffered so long and so grievously.  Then Harvey Penland would describe the noble majesty of Christian stature of Dr. Truett and then always that inevitable question, “Why is it that the great pastor suffered so greatly, having done so nobly for the Lord?”  That would lie in a message itself from God’s Book: why does Job suffer?  Why do the righteous suffer?  Dr. Truett suffered so agonizingly for so long.

That is why, when Dr. Truett died, that the church called a pastor so soon.  I was called to be undershepherd of the congregation the twenty-seventh day of September in 1944, after Dr. Truett died the seventh of July.  And the reason why the call was extended so soon after the death of the pastor was that the people had been prepared for someone to come to be pastor of the church for a full year, in which it was known to the people that the great and beloved minister would certainly die. 

Now to speak of The Shepherd Heart: Dr. Truett.  In the twentieth chapter of the Book of Acts, we have God’s inspired story of the apostles calling for the elders, the pastors of the church at Ephesus, to come down to Miletus on the seashore.  And there Paul spoke to them [Acts 20:17-18].  And he did so in a way of great affection, love, concern.  In the thirty-sixth verse, for example:

And when Paul had thus spoken, he kneeled down and prayed with them all. 

And they all wept sore, and fell on Paul’s neck, and kissed him, 

Sorrowing most of all for the words which he spake, that they should see his face no more.

[Acts 20:36-38]


Now the twenty-eighth verse; as he spoke to them, thus affectionately, the apostle said:  “Take heed therefore unto yourselves, and to all the flock,” the church, “over which the Holy Spirit hath made you bishops”—the word is translated here.  Most of the time it is not translated, it is just “bishops.”  The word, episkopoi, “bishops,” literally means “to look over; to oversee.”  So the word here to the pastor of the church is translated literally “over the which God made you bishop; over which He made you overseers,” to pastor—translated here “to feed”—to pastor, “to shepherd the church of God, which He hath purchased with His own blood” [Acts 20:28].

And that admonition of the inspired apostle to the pastors of the church at Ephesus is the admonition so beautifully illustrated in the life of Dr. Truett.  He loved the pastorate, the oversight, the shepherding of the household of faith.

Upon a day at a Southern Baptist Convention, I was seated by Dr. John L. Hill, a layman from the Sunday School Board and himself a giant of a man in the work of God.  I was seated by Dr. Hill, listening to Dr. Truett preach at a Southern Baptist Convention.  So many times—and there’s nothing against this; when I say it, I’m not criticizing any one of our fellow ministers who thus are called of God into another work—but many times a pastor will give up his pastorate to enter some other kind of work: religious work, president of a seminary, executive leader of the denomination; many, many areas of work. 

Dr. John L. Hill, listening to Dr. Truett—we were seated in the balcony looking at him just like that—while Dr. Truett was speaking, John L. Hill turned to me and said, “That is the only man that I know in the pastorate who could not be moved.”  Dr. Truett loved the pastorate; he loved the ministry of the Word in the circle of a flock, a church.

I one time heard him say at a convention—which is the only time that I ever saw him or knew him or was close enough to hear him—I heard him say that if somehow he could not be pastor of this church that he’d go up to the head of the hollow—using a word from his mountaineer home in North Carolina—he’d go up to the head of the hollow and organize a church of his own. 

He felt called of God to be a pastor.  And all of the days of his life as a servant of Christ he was a pastor and the undershepherd of this church, as you know, for forty-seven years.  He loved this church, this church, this congregation. 

Dr. Truett was a personal friend of John D. Rockefeller, Sr.  And Rockefeller Sr., at that time, was the superintendent of the Sunday school of the Euclid Avenue Baptist Church in Cleveland, Ohio.  They tried again and again to get Dr. Truett to resign his pastorate here in Dallas and to be pastor of the Euclid Avenue Baptist Church in Cleveland, where John D. Rockefeller was the Sunday school superintendent.  And upon a day John D. Rockefeller sent a committee down here to the First Baptist Church in Dallas to get Dr. Truett at any price and at any cost.  

They offered him any amount of money, “Name it.” 

“Money is no consideration.”

“Name it,” said John D. Rockefeller through the committee.  “Name it and we’ll give it to you; or anything else that you want.  Just say it and we’ll provide it for you, if you’ll come and be our pastor.” 

Dr. Truett steadfastly refused. 

And finally the chairman of the committee in desperation said, “Dr. Truett, could you be moved?  Is it possible for you to be moved?”

And the great pastor answered, “Yes.  Yes.”

And with that little encouragement, the [chairman] eagerly said, “Well, well what would it take to move you?”

And Dr. Truett replied, “Move my people.”  If the church would go with him, he’d be very happy to go.  But he wouldn’t go without the church.

When Dr. Truett was offered the presidency of Baylor University, he replied in a sentence that I think is one of the most beautiful sentences I have ever heard.  Refusing the presidency of the great school, he said, “I have sought and found the shepherd’s heart,” and that gave rise to the title of the sermon, The Shepherd Heart.  There are men who have that.  God gives it to them. 

For example, feel the spirit and the tone of this—he closed his anniversary sermon on the eighteenth of his pastorate, eighteenth year, that would be 1915—he closed it with these words:  “Oh, my fellow Christians of this church, a church dearer to me than my own heart’s blood,” a church dearer to me than my own heart’s blood, “I summon you anew today to give your best to Christ.  To be done with all playing at religion,” to be done with all lukewarmness, “I summon you to give your best to win this city, and state, and world to Jesus.”

Dr. Truett had in his heart the commitment that the church should stay downtown; that it not be moved from this location right here, where we are.  And when the day came for the rehabilitation of this building—this building was erected in 1890.  Go out and look at the cornerstone there, and you will see those words: “Erected in 1890.”  We worship in that same building.  And at the time that this educational building was built, this auditorium was enlarged, renovated, and that structure was raised.  At that time the church could have moved because it was a multi-million dollar project, but Dr. Truett and the people and men of the church kept it here in this place. 

Dr. Truett was committed to the downtown church.  And now could I add another chapter to that commitment?  We are staying downtown in the heart of this city.  I have said that and followed through with that commitment of the great pastor now for almost thirty years.  There have been opportunities to move from our downtown location in ways that simply overwhelm you.  I’m going to name two of them.  One time Dr. J. Howard Williams, who grew up in this church and loved this church and was our executive secretary; when the Baptist Building was sold—where the Republic National Bank is now located—the Baptist Building was, at that time, to be relocated and was seeking a haven, a home. 

So Dr. J. Howard Williams came to me and said, “Pastor, we have a golden opportunity now to go somewhere and to build a tremendous complex, dedicated to the glory of Christ and to the name of our Baptist people.”  He said, “If you will take the First Baptist Church property and sell it, and we take the money that we have from selling our property to the Republic National Bank, and go somewhere, we can build a tremendous monument to our Lord and to our Baptist faith, here in the city of Dallas.  On the same complex that you will build a church, we could build our headquarters for the Baptist denomination and make it beautiful and effective beyond compare.”

I told Dr. Williams, I said, “Dr. Williams I would not even entertain the thought, much less take it to our deacons or to our people.  We will not move.  Under no conditions would we even consider such a thing.  We are staying in the heart of this city.”

Another time that such an opportunity was given to us; as many of you know I had a close and dear and personal friend in Mr. Fred Florence, a Jew who was president of the Republic National Bank and who built that big complex that you see there.  For some reason that I cannot explain, I have no way to answer, Fred Florence chose to be a dear and wonderful friend to me.

One time Mr. Florence said to me, he said, “Let me help you build the most beautiful Baptist church in the world.” He said, “I think it would be a credit to the city of Dallas; it would be something in which we would be personally and civically proud to say ‘one of the most beautiful churches in the earth is located in the city of Dallas’ and it can be yours.  It can be a Baptist church.”  He said, “I will help you raise the money for it.”  And you who knew him, knew that he had access to foundations, was personally affluent, and was the friend to wealthy men.  He said, “I will help you raise the money for it.”  But to build such a church as that, we would have to take it from downtown and take it out somewhere else where we could find a great spacious property on which to erect the cathedral. 

That really appealed to me because of the energy and drive and vision of Mr. Florence.  And I thought about it, took it to the Lord and turned it over in my mind for a long, long, long time.  And finally I went back to Mr. Florence with a final and decisive answer. I said, “Mr. Florence, it seems to me that God, God has placed us here; this place, this place in the heart of the city.  And I have the conviction it would be contrary to the will of God for us to move.  We cannot.  We are going to stay where we are in the heart of this great metropolitan area.”

I quote from Edgar A. Guest: quote, “I like to see the downtown Churches holding their places.  It seems good to me that here and there, amid the rush of traffic, there should remain a building that has no bargains to offer, no shop window displays.  But it is a hospital for sick and weary souls; it is making a battle, not for our own sake, but for the sake of others.  A church in any neighborhood is an asset, but none so much as a downtown church.”


God bless the church on the downtown street

That hears the city’s cry,

The church that sows the seed of the Word,

Where the masses of men go by.


The church that makes, midst a city’s roar,

A place for an altar of prayer.

With a heart for the rich and a heart for the poor

And rejoices their burdens to share.


The church that’s moved by the call of Christ

Who wept over the city’s need,

Who sent His disciples to work for Him,

Where the forces of evil breed.


The church that gives and the church that lives

As seen by the Master’s eye.

God bless the church on the downtown street

That answers the city’s cry.


[adapted from “The City Church,” Ralph Walker]


And that is our commitment.  We are staying downtown.  However the vast suburbs may grow, however the lush life of the affluent who live on the edge of town, we will be here.   The problems of the city are our problems.  The problems of the poor, the wretched, the sinful, the lost, these are our problems.  We shall stay; we shall not run away.

Dr. Truett was incomparably the greatest man that I ever saw.  Houston said in his day, the only skyscraper Houston wants is Dr. George W. Truett.  I’ve seen presidents, chief justices of the Supreme Court, governors, senators, some of the great of the earth.   I never saw a man that I felt measured up to the great stature of Dr. Truett.  Nor have I ever heard a man preach who had the effect upon me of Dr. Truett.   I wish I had time to describe some of the occasions upon which the great man of God rose in soaring Himalayan majesty, carrying with him, sweeping up with him the whole vast congregation of thousands of people, listening to the pouring forth of the eloquence of his dedicated heart. 

On his forty-fifth anniversary, a reporter said, “Bob Coleman, at one juncture of the service, recognized the forty-five old-timers who attended Dr. Truett’s first service in the Dallas pastorate forty-four years before.”  I wonder.  How many of you here today were members of the church when Dr. Truett was pastor?  Would you stand up?  If you were a member of the church thirty years ago when Dr. Truett was pastor, stand up.  Thank you.  Thank you.  God be praised for you. 

Dr. Truett, as I said, was committed to you, and to this church, and to the preaching of the gospel of Christ.  I have something here that somebody wrote down at a meeting that I attended at which Dr. Truett spoke.  And I found out that he had said the sentiment in many other places.  I read it: “The Christian gospel and work grow dearer and sweeter every day that I live.  I was ambitious to be a lawyer, but God wanted me to be a preacher.  Now, if God should give me a thousand lives, and should say to me, ‘You wanted to be a lawyer, but I wanted you to be a preacher, now choose what your will be with a thousand lives.’  Without a moment’s hesitation I would choose to preach to the end of every one of them.”


Happy if with my latest breath,

I may but speak His name,

Preach Him to all and gasp in death

Behold, behold, the Lamb!

[from “His Nets Were Set”; Thomas Spurgeon attributed to George Whitefield]


“My grandfather died preaching.  When the doctor said he had but a few moments to live, he asked to be propped up in bed, called in the neighbors, and died pleading with them about the gospel.  I could not ask for anything better.”

On the morning of the day after Dr. Truett died, there was a headline, the eighth of July, in the Dallas Morning News “Dr. George W. Truett, Minister to the World Dies.”

Dr. George W. Truett, the prince of preachers, whose jeweled gospel penetrated to the world’s corners, died at eleven-fifty P.M. Friday.   Seventy-seven at death, Dr. Truett born on May 6, 1867 in the Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina; spent the last forty-seven years of his life as pastor of the First Baptist Church. 

And the editorial in the Dallas Morning News that morning read like this:

A heart that encompassed the world in its solicitude and a voice that stirred the souls of men with regenerated power was stilled Friday night when the messenger of death called George W. Truett from his earthly labors. 

Yet the influence of this man of God will persist like a river of living water.  His words and his works will be remembered through generations to come, not only here in Dallas, where as pastor of the First Baptist Church for forty-seven years—but there, three years short of half a century—but Dr. Truett won the esteem and confidence of all men.  A day at the First Church in Dallas will restore any man’s confidence in the vitality of the Christian religion.


Isn’t that a glorious thing that an editor could say?  And how we pray that it would continue today:

A day at the First Church in Dallas will restore any man’s confidence in the vitality of the Christian religion. 

Throughout the Christian world there will be sorrow at his passing. 

Yet grief will be assuaged by gratitude that such a man has lived and labored among us.  His life was a contribution to the good of men.

On the seventh day, a Friday—on Friday the seventh day he died.  The funeral service was on Monday the tenth day at 4:00 o’clock in this auditorium.  The casket was brought to the church at 11:30, and the body lay in state until time for the services.   The stream of people passing by was endless, thousands and thousands; the newspaper says it was over twenty thousand passed by.  By 3 o’clock in the afternoon the auditorium was filled.  And the city, and the county, and the federal offices, and the courts were closed as well as many of the retail stores. 

As you know, and with this I must close, there’s so much one could say.  As you know, Robert H. Coleman was the assistant of Dr. Truett for something like forty years.  And God never did anything so good to me as leaving Bob Coleman here for a year and a half to help me.  When we buried Bob Coleman here, at the service I said, “You know, it reminds me, Bob Coleman’s being here, it reminds me of the Katy passenger train that would begin down here at the railroad station, and going north at Highland Park, would pick up an extra engine.  And the train was so long that one engine could not pull it up the grade from Highland Park going north.  So there was a booster engine added to it at Highland Park that pushed the great train up the elevation and on its way.”  I said, “That is exactly what I think God did for me.   He left Bob Coleman here for a year and a half to help push the great momentum of the church up the grade, at a time when we were so sorely needing God’s help.”  Bob Coleman was without doubt a helper of incomparable grace and humility and blessing.

In the funeral address at Dr. Truett’s service, Bob Coleman said:

George W. Truett was the greatest soul I ever touched.  I came to Dallas in February 1901, and for more than forty-three years I have been very close to him.  I first became his assistant in December 1904.  I loved him and honored him above any man on earth, beside my honored preacher, father. 

For many months, Dr. Truett has been a great sufferer, and while we cannot understand it, yet we know that God knows and cares.  Suffering is a part of God’s plan for building and enriching life.  The world’s greatest Christians have been the world’s greatest sufferers.  We are told that Christ was made perfect through suffering: “If we suffer with Him, we shall also reign with Him” [2 Timothy 2:12]. 

In the evening we say of the sun, “It is gone.”  Gone?  It has simply disappeared from our view to shed light on some other part of the globe.  We say of the ship that passes over the horizon and disappears, “It is gone.”  Gone?  It is just winding its way across the pathless waters to find a shelter in another harbor.

Our pastor has gone to find rest in another harbor and to shine in another realm.  It is not darkness the pastor has gone into, for God is light [John 8:12].  It is not lonely, for Christ is with him.  It is not an unknown country, for the Savior is there.

O angel, bearing the everlasting gospel to the people, fly faster, fly faster.  And if you cannot fly faster, then commit your precious mission to the beloved pastor.  And he will bear it to the praise of the glory of God and to the joy of humanity.

We cannot but feel today how rich we have been and how poor we are.  In the words of Elisha we cry, “My father, my father, the chariot of Israel and the horsemen thereof!” [2 Kings 2:12].  God’s command stirs us today.  “Moses, My servant is gone; now therefore arise, and go over this Jordan” [Joshua 1:2].

I did not know what Bob Coleman had said at the funeral service.  I was not here.  But that was the text that I used in my first sermon here as pastor of the church.  “Moses My servant is dead; now therefore arise, arise, and go over this Jordan” [Joshua 1:2].

To close, at the simple service before the grave, Robert H. Coleman read Scripture from 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18; that’s the resurrection and rapture passage, a comfort concerning the resurrection of the Christian dead.  “As Dr. Truett was finally laid to rest,” this is quoting from the newspaper, “as Dr. Truett was finally laid to rest in the grave which stands on a hill, his most intimate friend, Coleman, left him with these words”:


Warm summer sun,

Shine brightly here,

Gentle southern breeze,

Blow softly here.

Green sod above,

Lie light, lie light.

Good night, great heart,

 Good night.

We will see you in the morning.

[from “Warm Summer Sun,” Mark Twain]

I do not know why I should be so moved.  I never thought for it.  I suppose that all of this brings back to my heart the thousand trials and decisions and memories through which I have lived and especially seeking to pick up, as Joshua, the work laid down by this Moses [Joshua 1:2-9].  Nor do I mean by that, that I have been any other thing than marvelously been treated by the church. 

I inherited from Dr. Truett the love of the congregation for its pastor.  They called him “pastor.”   They have always called me “pastor.”  The same reverence that they showed and the same deference by which they entreated and welcomed Dr. Truett upon on any occasion, has been the same cordiality and love and affection that I have known as pastor of the church.  The tears that come to my heart are in no wise and in no way tears of sadness because of the church that I receive from the hands of Dr. Truett.  It’s just that the way has been filled with so many, many providences, some of which bow your heart to the ground and your knees to the floor.  And you just are reminded of everything that life, and death, and heaven, and work, and ministry, and church, and people, the whole circumference of it—I live through in remembering those days when Dr. Truett died and when the church asked me to come and to be our undershepherd.

Could we pray?  Our Lord in heaven, could it be that for thirty years, God has helped us and blessed us to carry on the work of God’s servant?  O blessed Savior, our souls are overwhelmed by Thy goodnesses and Thy remembrances.  How could one continue the ministry and the efforts of an incomparable pastor like Truett, apart from the presence and the goodness and the blessing of Almighty God?  And Lord, Thou has been so wondrously kind.  We praise Thee and bless Thee for every heavenly benedictory remembrance.  And our Lord, it seems that, instead of our assignment and our responsibilities being done, it seems that God has increased them.  There is so much more to do; almost as if we had just started the conquest.  And our Master, as Thou hast been with this dear church for these past seventy-seven years of a ministry that has not abated but continued, not ebbed but waxed, not lessened but has increased; our Lord may we face these future days and years with like triumphant commitment to the Word of God, to the shepherding of the flock, to the building of the household of faith, to the saving of the lost, to the ministering to the needs of the people.  Holy Spirit of God, bless and work with us in increasing presence and power, with gratitude for Thy every kind and precious remembrance.  Lord, stand by us in decision, in wisdom, in knowledge, in dedication for the conquest that lies ahead, in Thy blessed and keeping and saving name, amen.

Now we have but a moment; I must not hurt our Sunday school.  In this moment that we sing our invitation hymn, someone to give himself to Jesus, someone to put his life in the fellowship of the church, a family, a couple, or just you, taking our Lord as Savior, or coming to work with us and to magnify and praise the Lord with us, if God has placed that in your heart, and the Lord says and bids and welcomes you, then make it now, on the first note of this first stanza, we’ll just sing something like one or two stanzas.  If God bids you here, if He says, “This is God’s time and place for you,” then on the first note of that first stanza, come, while we stand and while we sing.