The Shepherd Heart (30th anniversary of the death of Dr. Truett)


The Shepherd Heart (30th anniversary of the death of Dr. Truett)

July 7th, 1974 @ 10:50 AM

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.
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Dr. W.A. Criswell

Acts 20:28

7-07-74     10:50 a.m.



On the radio and on television, we welcome you to the services of the First Baptist Church.  Thank you.  Isn’t it wonderful to have a friend like Jimmy?  I don’t have to say anything, he just knows what to do.  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. 

On the Sunday that is nearest the anniversary of the death of the great, far-famed pastor, Dr. George W. Truett, who was the shepherd of this flock for forty-seven years, on the Sunday nearest the anniversary of his death, I prepare an address on some phase of God’s kingdom work into which he poured his life. 

For example, he was the moving spirit in the founding of the Texas Baptist Memorial Sanitarium that we now know as Baylor University Medical Center.  So one of the Sundays, I prepared an address on Dr. Truett and Baylor University Hospital

As many of you know, the Annuity Board of our Southern Baptist Convention, the only board west of the Mississippi River, the Annuity Board of the Southern Convention was organized in this church.  And Dr. Truett again was the moving spirit that brought that board to Texas and to Dallas.  So one Sunday I prepared an address on Dr. Truett and the Annuity Board. 

As most of you know, he was God’s plenipotentiary – an ambassador from heaven to the nations and the peoples of the world – so one Sunday I prepared an address on Dr. Truett and World Missions.  And thus it is continued for thirty years. 

This Sunday is the anniversary Sunday upon which Dr. Truett died.  Dr. Truett died the seventh of July in 1944.  So today is the exact memorial Sunday of the thirtieth anniversary of the translation of the great pastor.  And I have entitled the address today, The Shepherd Heart, because the message concerns Dr. Truett and his great love for this church. 

When I finished the sermon at 8:15 – the 8:15 o’clock service this morning – Valene Turner came to me after the service was over and said, "Pastor, Dr. Truett said, and I heard him say it many times, ‘When I die, you will find engraved on my heart, the First Baptist Church in Dallas.’"  This thirtieth anniversary sermon, therefore, will concern Dr. Truett and the shepherd heart: the heart of a pastor for his people. 

The background text will be in the twentieth chapter of the Book of Acts, and the twenty-eighth verse.  The story closes like this: Paul, having called from Ephesus the pastors of the church to come down to Miletus, he spoke to them.  And beginning at verse 36:


And when he 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.


Now, in the appeal that the apostle made to the pastors of the church at Ephesus, in verse 28, he said:


Take heed therefore, unto yourselves and to all the flock – all of the church – over which the Holy Spirit hath made you bishops – here it is translated literally, "overseers,"episkopoi, overseers, bishops – to pastor – and the word is translated here, "to feed"; to shepherd – to pastor the church of God which He hath purchased with His own blood.


Dr. Truett died after a year of great, agonizing suffering.  Harvey Penland was the son of Dr. Truett’s sister.  And Harvey Penland – who founded the Southwestern Drug Company here in Dallas – Harvey Penland was the chairman of the trustees of Baylor Hospital.  And in those days, I was on the board of the hospital.  Harvey Penland talked to me many, many times.  I cannot remember any time that he talked with me, but that he asked me why it was that Dr. Truett suffered so much. 

You’re going to see some of these words in the address as it moves along.  But Dr. Truett agonized for a full year in excruciating and indescribable pain.  The reason for it was he was allergic to any kind of sedation, any kind of narcotics, any kind of an ameliorating pain reliever; it made him deathly sick.  So for a full and unending year, Dr. Truett agonized in terrible pain and that profoundly affected Harvey Penland.  And he said every time he would talk to me, "I cannot understand how a great, towering man of God like Dr. Truett would have to suffer such agonizing pain." 

Those things are in the providences of God; Job’s affliction, the suffering and crucifixion of our Lord, the martyrdom of the saints.  If you will look at the story of the church, the historians did not exaggerate it to say, "The blood of the martyrs is the seed of the church."  And without suffering, there is no perfecting of our lives. 

Dr. Truett was ill for a full year; that is why the pulpit committee extended an invitation to me to become pastor of the church so soon after the illness of Dr. Truett.  He died the seventh of July and the pulpit committee and the church called me to come here as pastor the twenty-seventh day of September. 

And the reason for it was that for a full year the church and the deacons knew that Dr. Truett would not live.  He loved this church in a sweet, and dedicated, and precious way. 

One time, at a Southern Baptist Convention, I sat with Dr. John L. Hill of the Sunday School Board – himself a giant of a layman for God – and we were listening to Dr. Truett preach.  We were seated together in the balcony, looking down at the great pastor as he preached. And John L. Hill turned to me and said, "He is the only pastor I know who could not be moved out of his pulpit." 

No inducement, no invitation, no enticement, no wooing, no anything-else ever could move Dr. Truett from the pulpit and from the pastorate.  I heard him one time say that,  "If I lost my church, I would go up to the head of the hollow – an expression that he used, being a North Carolinian mountaineer – I’d go up to the head of the hollow and organize me a church of my own. "  He was the under-shepherd of this congregation for forty and seven years.  And no other invitation ever pulled him away from his dedication to this house of God. 

He was a close and personal friend of John D. Rockefeller, Sr.  And in those days John D. Rockefeller Sr. was the superintendent of the Sunday School at the Euclid Avenue Baptist Church in Cleveland, Ohio.  John D. Rockefeller sent the pulpit committee of the Euclid Avenue Baptist Church in Cleveland, Ohio, down here to Dallas to bring back Dr. Truett as their pastor.  And Rockefeller said, "You can tell Dr. Truett he can have anything that he wants.  He can set any salary that he pleases.  He can have anything that the earth offers.  We want him as our pastor." 

So the pulpit committee from Cleveland, Ohio, came down here with the help and with the resources of the richest man in the world, John D. Rockefeller, to get Truett to go to Cleveland to be the pastor of the church.  And he steadfastly refused even to consider it. 

In exasperation the chairman of the pulpit committee said, "Dr. Truett, can you be moved at all?" 

And Dr. Truett said, "Yes." 

Well, the pulpit committee and the chairman thought, "Oh, that means for a sum of money he’ll come.  If he pay him two hundred thousand dollars a year, he will come.  If we offer him,"

And then, "What, what, what would move you, Dr. Truett?"

And Dr. Truett simply replied, "Just move my people." 

When the trustees of Baylor University were seeking a president of our great Baptist school, they chose Dr. Truett.  And the chairman of the trustees was sent to talk to the great pastor to come to be president of Baylor University.  And Dr. Truett, turning it down, answered in a sweet, and dear, and humble way.  And he replied in one of the sweetest sentences I have ever heard – and it is that sentence that gave the title to the address this morning – in turning down the presidency of the great university, Dr. Truett replied, "I have sought and found the shepherd heart."

Not to be the administrator of a school, but to be the pastor of one of God’s flocks; he loved this church.  I copied the conclusion of his anniversary sermon in 1915.  That would be the eighteenth year of his forty-seven year pastorate, and this is what he said:


Oh my fellow Christians of this church, a church dearer to me than my own heart’s blood, I summon you anew to give your best to Christ.  To be done with all playing at religion.  I summon you to come and give your best to win this city, and state, and world, to Jesus.


He loved this congregation,  and it was his commitment that the church stay downtown.  As the city grew and grew, and the extended corners reached out and out, there were a dozen places in this growing metropolis to which the First Baptist Church could have sold its downtown property and moved; out to those new and salubrious locations.  But Dr. Truett committed himself and led the congregation to commit itself to this downtown location.  And could I say, they have been true to that commitment that Dr. Truett made seventy-seven years ago: we shall stay downtown.  There shall always be, in the heart of this great city, a lighthouse for Christ.  And as they build these giant skyscrapers, and as they reach up toward the sky itself, there shall also be a spire pointing up to heaven, seeking in prayer to bring the blessings of Christ to this downtown city. 

Twice have I faced, in the thirty years they have been here, twice have I faced unusually interesting, alluring opportunities to sell our property and to move out to some other location.  One of them was in the days of Dr. Jay Howard Williams – who grew up in this church, who loved this church – and who was executive secretary of the Baptist Convention of Texas.  When the Baptists of Texas sold the Baptist building, which was located at that time where the Republic National Bank is now built, when they sold that building, they were seeking a place for their headquarters.  And in those days, Dr. [Williams] came to me and said, "Pastor, if you will sell the downtown properties of the First Baptist Church, we will pool our vast monies – and it was vast in those days, for those days – we will pool our money and we will go out somewhere and you build a great church.  And in this complex we will build our Baptist Headquarters, and we will make it one of the interesting sights of the United States; a great Baptist monument!"  I told Dr. Williams, I said, "Dr. Williams, I would not consider it.  I would not even think about it, much less pray about it.  We’re going to stay downtown."  It was the dedication of Dr. Truett, it is my heart.  And I know I speak the response of our congregation: We are staying downtown. 

The other time that we had an incomparable opportunity to move out and to do, possibly, one of the greatest things that the United States has ever seen in the building of a church house: I had a wonderful friend in the Jewish president of the Republic National Bank.  For some reason that I could not explain, Mr. Fred Florence chose to be a dear, and marvelous, and helpful friend to me.  Upon a day, Mr. Fred Florence, the president of the bank said, "Pastor, let’s sell the properties of the downtown Baptist First Church.  Let’s sell it and let’s go out and let us build the most beautiful church in America."  He said, "I will help you raise the money for it."  He himself was affluent.  He had access to vast sums of money in these foundations and he was the friend to some of the richest men in Dallas and in America.  He said, "I will help you raise the money for it.  And we will go build the most beautiful church house in the United States."  And he said, "I would love for it to be in Dallas.  I’d love for the visitor to be brought here and to say, ‘Look, that’s the beautiful church house in America.’  And it will be a monument to your Baptist people, let’s do it!"  Mr. Florence pressed that upon me, he wanted to help do it.  I considered it over a long period of time and that one, I prayed about.  It was one of the most enticing offers I ever faced.  But after a long, long time, I went back to see Mr. Florence, and I said to him, "Sir, beyond what words, or syllables, or sentences could say, do I thank you for your love for the church – but, it is God’s will that we stay downtown – we cannot move." 

Edgar A. Guest wrote:


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, and no shop window display.  This is a hospital for sick and weary souls; it is making a battle, not for our own sakes, but for the sakes 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,

A church that sows the seed of the Word,

Where the masses of men go by.


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

And 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 is moved by the call of Christ

Who wept o’er 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 here.  We are God’s ministers, under His hands, for the need of our city; the poor, the rich, the sick, the well, anybody. 

Beginning his forty-fifth year, a newspaper reporter said, beginning his forty-sixth year, as he celebrated his forty-fifth year, a newspaper reporter wrote, "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."  There were forty-five who had been with Dr. Truett all through the years.  I wonder how many of you here today were members of the church when Dr. Truett was pastor?  Would you stand up, all of you who were here in the church thirty years ago and before when Dr. Truett was pastor?  What a heritage you have and what a sweet and precious memory. 

Dr. Truett loved the ministry and loved the pastorate.  I heard him say, and a man wrote it down, and I quote it, Dr. Truett said:


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 you will do with your lives."  I would choose to preach to the end of everyone 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 his neighbors and died pleading with them about the gospel.  I could not ask for anything better.


On the occasion when they were celebrating his forty-fifth year here, the papers had a tremendous tribute to Dr. Truett.  And in that Sunday’s issue, there was a long article by Dr. J. B. Cranfill entitled, "George W. Truett, the Best-Loved Preacher in the World."


Today, George W. Truett begins his forty-[fifth] year as the pastor of the First Baptist Church.  He came when he was thirty years of age.  Spurgeon died when Dr. Truett was twenty-five years old.  He never saw the great English preacher, but he has preached many times in the Spurgeon Tabernacle in London.  In 189[7], I – Dr. Cranfill – I was editor of the Baptist Standard which I had founded in 1892 in which was then published in Waco.  Among my intimate friends then, and until his death many years later, was Colonel W. L. Williams, senior deacon of the First Baptist Church of Dallas.  While visiting with him in the spring of 1897, he asked me to give him the name of a man who would qualify as pastor of the First Baptist Church; the former pastor, Dr. C. L. Seasholes, having recently resigned.  Without a moment’s hesitation, I gave him the name of George W. Truett, then a resident of Waco and the young pastor of the East Waco Baptist Church,soon the call was made to Dr. Truett; and on the second Sunday in September, 1897, he preached his first sermon as pastor.  He was thirty years of age.  He was married and the father of a little girl. 


At that time the First Church was worshiping in a new church building on which there was a substantial indebtedness and which had been completed five years before.  The total membership of the church when Dr. Truett came was seven hundred fifteen.  Everything else Baptist-wise followed Dr. Truett to Dallas.  And now, Dallas is the Baptist center for the southwest.  First came the Baptist Standard, then came the Baptist State Executive Board, then came Baylor College of Medicine – which has been removed to Houston – then Baylor Hospital, then Baylor Nurse’s Training School, then the College of Dentistry.  Later came the Relief and Annuity Board, the only Southern Baptist Convention board west of the Mississippi. 

Dr. Truett pulled around him great and noble men, and the very heart of our denomination.  The city of Houston said, "The only skyscraper Dallas has that we would like to have is George W. Truett."  He was incomparably the greatest man that I ever saw.  I’ve seen Presidents of the United States, Chief Justices of the Supreme Court, governors, senators, some of the great of the world.  But I never saw anyone who, to me, measured up to the stature of a great, great man; comparable to the great pastor of this church.  On the eighth day of July in 1944, there was a headline, "Dr. George W. Truett, Minister to the World, Dies."  And then the article:


Dr. George W. Truett, the prince of preachers, whose jewel gospel penetrated to the world’s corners, died at eleven-fifty p.m. Friday.   Seventy-seven years of age at death, Dr. Truett was born on the sixth of May in 1867 in the Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina.  And he spent the last forty-seven years of his life as pastor of the First Baptist Church. 


And the editorial on Sunday morning, the ninth of July in 1944 was this:


A heart that encompassed the world in solicitude and a voice that stirred the souls of men with regenerative powers, were 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 a period of years, just three short of half a century, 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 marvelous sentence for an editor to write? "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 man.


On Friday, July seven, he died; on Monday, July 10 at 4:00 in the afternoon, the memorial service was held in this auditorium.  And the casket was brought here to the church at 11:30, and the body lay in state until time for the services.  The stream of people passing by lasted through those hours.  The newspaper says that more than twenty thousand people passed by.  By 3:00 the auditorium filled.  The city, and county, and federal offices, and courts, were all closed, as well as a great many of the retail stores. 

In the funeral address of Robert Coleman, he spoke these incomparable words.  Robert Coleman, Bob Coleman, was with Dr. Truett over forty years and God left him for a year and a half to help me begin my ministry as the under-shepherd of the congregation.  Never did there live a sweeter, finer spirit than Bob Coleman.  He had the spirit of helpfulness and encouragement; God bless the memory of Bob Coleman.  And in the funeral address of Robert H. Coleman at the service for Dr. Truett he 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, except 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 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." 

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 earth.  We say of a ship that passes over the horizon and disappears, "It is gone, gone."  It is just winding its way across the pathless waters to find its 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.  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 now.  In the words of Elisha we say, "My father, my father, the chariot of Israel and the horsemen thereof!"  God’s command stirs us today.  "Moses, My servant is gone.  Now therefore, arise and go over this Jordan."


I did not know when I came here that Bob Coleman had said that, had quoted that.  But when I came to be pastor of the church, that – that was my text.  "Moses My servant is gone; now therefore arise, and go over this Jordan." Then to conclude, in the newspaper the reporter wrote:


At the simple service before the grave, Robert H. Coleman read the Scripture from 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18: a comfort concerning the resurrection of the Christian dead.


Then he wrote:


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, good night


We will see you in the morning

[from "Warm Summer Sun"; Mark Twain]



So closed the life of the man who loved this church with a true shepherd’s heart. 

Oh, what an infinite heritage we have!  And how we pray that the infinite, indescribably sweet, and dear, and precious blessings of God that have enriched us now for seventy-seven years – it is hard for me to realize that for seventy and seven years the church has known but two pastors – may the same sovereign goodness and grace of God that has sustained us, and blessed us, and enriched us, in these years and years that have passed; may the same sovereign, elective purpose of God choose to be good to us.  Sustain us, and enrich us, and guide us, from triumph to glory through the years that unfold before us. 

And in this solemn, sacred hour if the Holy Spirit has spoken to you, would you answer today with your life? "Pastor, this is my family and we’re all coming,Pastor, this is my wife and the two of us are coming."  Or, "Pastor, God has spoken to me. I am coming."  In the balcony round, if you are on the farthest row, there’s time and to spare.  Down one of these stairways here to the front, in the press of people on this lower floor, into that aisle and here to the front, "Pastor, the Lord has spoken to me and we’re coming."

As God shall say the word, on the first note of the first stanza, come. Make the decision now in your heart and when you stand up, stand up coming.  "Today, I accept the Lord as my Savior and here I am.  Today, I am putting my life in this dear church."  As God shall say it, as the Holy Spirit shall speak it, answer, "Lord, here am I, I’m coming!"  Make it now.  Do it now, while we stand and while we sing.