Building the House of God
May 23rd, 1976 @ 8:15 AM
BUILDING THE HOUSE OF GOD
Dr. W. A. Criswell
5-23-76 8:15 a.m.
Thank you young people and welcome all of you who share this service on radio, WRR, of the city of Dallas. In our preaching through the Book of Isaiah, we have come to chapter 56. And in keeping with the special assignment from heaven today, concerning Building the House of God, I have selected verses 7 and 8 as a background for the sermon, Isaiah 56:7-8:
Even them will I bring to My holy mountain, and make them joyful in My house of prayer: their burnt offerings and their sacrifices shall be accepted upon Mine altar; for Mine house shall be called an house of prayer for all people.
The Lord God which gathereth the outcasts, the diaspora, of Israel saith, Yet will I gather others to him, beside those that are gathered unto him.
In the Lord’s house there are welcomed these proselytes that have been described in the verses above. “Them also I will bring to My holy mountain. Make them joyful in My house of prayer” [Isaiah 56:7]. Then God says in verse 8, “He will gather all of Israel, and they shall worship there in God’s house.” Then He adds yet another thing: “Yet will I gather others besides those that are already gathered” [Isaiah 56:8]. And this refers to the Gentile nations of the earth.
This is one of the most remarkable prophecies to be found in all the Scriptures. Paul expatiates upon it in Ephesians 2:14-16. When he says it was the purpose of God to make one body in Christ: the proselyte mentioned here, the Jew mentioned here, and the Gentiles, the heathen nations to the ends of the earth. All of them meeting together in the house of the Lord [Ephesians 2:14-16]. Then the familiar passage, “For Mine house shall be called a house of prayer for all the people” [Isaiah 56:7]. The proselyte, the Jew, the Gentile, the heathen nations of the earth, all of them gathered together in one body, in one faith, in one love, in one commitment; “Mine house shall be called a house of prayer” [Isaiah 56:7]. And that is familiar to us from its quotation in Matthew 21 when the Lord cleansed the temple and said, “You have made the house of God a house of merchandise,” when God says it is to be called a house of prayer [Matthew 21:12-13], its support is not to be in the selling of things and the merchandising of material. But he mentions, in the text, offerings and sacrifices [Isaiah 56:7]. And the Lord pushed them out, overturned their tables, set out those who were selling and quoted that famous passage in my text: “For My house shall be called a house of prayer” [Matthew 21:12-13; Isaiah 56:7]. And it is to be supported by the sacrifices and the offerings of the people [Isaiah 56:7].
I speak first of the hand of God upon us. From the beginning the Lord has looked in loving favor upon this sacred place. First there was the building of this sanctuary. In 1890 was it erected. Then in 1924 the seven story educational building just back of us, dedicated under the guidance of the far-famed pastor Dr. Truett. Then the church continued to grow, and there was built our chapel building across San Jacinto. Then we bought the Riley building at St. Paul and San Jacinto. Then the Veal parking and recreational building was lifted to the glory of God. Then we bought the Burt building, then the lot at the corner of Federal and St. Paul. Then we built the Christian education building. Then across the street we bought the Spurgeon-Harris parking building. Then beyond the Y facing Akard we bought the Easterwood building, and finally the rest of the block facing Ross Avenue.
The church continued to grow and continues to grow. And these in the music division came to me and said, “There is no opportunity for us to continue an expanded music program in the cramped quarters that we have just beyond the auditorium. We must find a larger area.” And the only area possible was the nursery. But at the same time the nursery division came to me and said, “Our nursery division is in straitened quarters. We need opportunity to expand.” And the only opportunity for the nursery division to expand was to take over the music apportionment.
Never did I face a more impossibly perplexing and frustrating problem in my life because both of them also said, “We must be located next to the auditorium. We cannot build a place for our choir, our music program, across the street. It has to be next to the auditorium because we robe and we come into the choir loft. It has to be close by.” And the nursery division said, and I understood, “Our nursery division must be close to the auditorium. For a mother will feel far more at peace and at ease if she knows that her baby is close by and especially in the same building with her. And to build the nursery across the street in some other area is not wise. It ought to be close to the auditorium.”
How could you build anything for the music division and for the nursery division when there is a street on that side and a street on that side and a street on that side and in front of the auditorium a street on that side? Bounded by four city streets. How could such a thing ever be?
Then the miraculous hand of God upon us. Literally out of the blue of the sky, there came to be one of our men, Sheffield Kadane, and he said, “Pastor, the city of Dallas wants to give us the street on this side, and the city of Dallas wants to give us the street on this side in exchange for eighty feet through our property facing Ross Avenue. And beside they will give us three hundred fifty thousand dollars to apply on our debt.”
Why, when that was announced, I met businessmen on the streets of the city of Dallas, saying, “How do you get a street from the city of Dallas? The street is worth four hundred thousand dollars on that side and four hundred thousand dollars on this side,” besides the three hundred fifty thousand dollars given us to apply on our debt. It was a miraculous intervention of God. That street was given to us immediately. Patterson. San Jacinto will be given to us when the new San Jacinto is built through the middle of the block just beyond. It was something from heaven. Something no one ever dreamed of or imagined.
Then there came to me the missions division, and representatives from our church who are interested in this thing, and the academy with Mel Carter. And all three of them said, “We want the gymnasium.” And it was difficult, trying to face a schedule whereby our people could use our recreational center, the academy could use it, and our missions could use it. And the missions were the most emphatic, saying, “We cannot continue our mission program unless we have an inducement for these boys and girls to come to Sunday school because they are not interested and their fathers and mothers are not interested, and we need some way to get the child there. Then after the child comes we can teach him the Word of God and the blessedness of Jesus. But we have to have some way to reach him.” And their way is to promise the child, “You come and we will take you to the recreational department of the First Church in Dallas. And there you can skate, and there you can play basketball, and there you can share in a happy and beautiful evening.”
Well, then the second thing happened, a miraculous thing to me. Mrs. Mary Crowley said, “I will give you a large and generous gift in order to build a building for these.” And then Mrs. Helen Wicker said, “We will give you a generous gift to help build our recreational facilities.” And then others said, “And we will make a generous gift for you in order that our children may be taken care of.”
So we started with the program of the new building that is now rising to the glory of God, the Mary C Building. The first part, the lower part, for our music program, dedicated to the honor and in gratitude to Lee Roy Till. Then the next three floors, to be used by our children, nursery, beginner and primary. Then the top and going clear over the Truett Building to San Jacinto, our Wicker Family Recreational Center. The hand of God in an unusual outpouring of grace and blessing upon our people.
We face along with it a great debt. This is what we owe. We owe $87,000 on the lot located at St. Paul and Federal. We owe $1,800,000 on our Christian education building. We owe $828,000 on the Spurgeon-Harris Building. That debt is being liquidated by the income from the building itself. We owe $828,000 on the Easterwood building. We owe $1,719,000 on the properties that we bought facing Ross Avenue. And in our Mary C building, the contract calls for $3,100,000. Last year we pledged all together toward $2,000,000, about one half of which has been paid. And we lack for the Mary C Building in subscription, $1,100,000.
These are the debts and they are substantial that we owe. And the drain of carrying that debt is tremendous, for out of our giving there is paid something like five hundred thousand dollars a year just for interest carrying the debt. We face, therefore, as a people a great call from God to liquidate that indebtedness. We must. For the glory of God and His work, we have no other choice. But how do you do it?
First, there is no way to do that except by a special appeal. There is no other way. I tried for years and years and years. I’m not talking about two years or three. I’m not even talking about five. I’m talking about something like fifteen years. For many, many years I’ve tried to carry the building program of our church in the budget, in our stewardship appeal in the fall. I learned after years and years and years that it cannot be done. You cannot raise enough money in a budget to build a new building. It is exactly, Fred Lang, like a hospital. A hospital can carry on its work forever in the income that comes from the people that use the rooms. But if the hospital builds a building, they have to take it in a special appeal to the city of Dallas and to the people who love the healing ministry. After the building is built, then the hospital can carry it on.
Such is Baylor right now. Baylor this minute is in a capital program, and they have already succeeded in it. They were asking for four million dollars. They already have more than four million dollars. But they have to ask the people for it. And the city of Dallas and the friends of the hospital must provide it. Then after the building is built, then the hospital can carry it on. That is an identical thing with the church. We cannot build a building through the budget. It has to be done by and through a special appeal. Then when the special appeal is rewarded with success from heaven, the church can carry it on and use it until the Lord comes again.
A second thing about the challenge God has given us to provide for these facilities, the house of the Lord. After long discussion, Lawson Ridgeway said to us, and we all concurred, “The appeal ought to be made year at a time.” There are cogent and potent reasons for that.
Number one: there joins the First Baptist Church, this dear church in Dallas, in a down year there will come into the church more than one thousand new people. In an up year there will join the church something like one thousand six hundred people. Every year there will be new members in the church numbering a thousand and more if it is a down year, numbering a thousand and six hundred and more if it is a good year.
Now, if you make a pledge for three years, let’s say, we carry to the people an opportunity to pledge for three years. In three years if all three were down years, there are three thousand new people in the church. In three years if it is an up year there are four thousand eight hundred new people in the church and a letter will not do it. We must make an appeal as such. It is vital, therefore, to us that the appeal be made each year. And that includes all of our members, the older members and the new members, all of us have an opportunity to respond.
And here is a man who came to me last week and he says, “I make my pledge in three years.”
“Well,” I said, “that’s all right for three years.” But I said, “The best thing to do now is just to pledge it a year at a time, in the springtime, a year at a time.” And we will have this appeal this year. We will have it next year. And then finally when the debt is down to where we can take care of it, we will put it in the budget a smaller part and be able to carry it on to its consummation.
Now, Mr. Ridgeway says this is something in which all of us can share. The poor among us can give four dollars a week and the more affluent of us can give much more in order to make up for those who are still so poor they could give hardly anything at all.
When I came to church this morning there was a friend who placed in my hand a pledge card from a very poor man. And he had with it two much used one dollar bills. That’s all right. That’s all right. God bless him in what he did. And God bless us who are able to do much more. And adding us together we will succeed. For if we succeed it will be that we succeed together. And if we fail it will be because we fail together. We will do it together, and God will remember what I can do I shall try to do and what I am unable to do God can do.
Now a last word: the heart to try. The wonderful willingness to respond. I recognize as any minister does who shepherds a downtown church that the odds are against you. It is difficult. It is increasingly difficult. The world of flesh and the devil war against you.
There is nothing that pleases Satan more than to see these great cities rise and the witness for Christ die in it. And the churches go out where it is salubrious and soft. And they are out where the pastures are green and the people come because of convenience. And to leave the city to die in the hands of those who are violent, who are criminally minded, who roam the streets bringing terror and fright to the people who come downtown. That pleases Satan to take these great cities and to turn them into ghettos and into vast areas of hopeless despair. I could not imagine anything that would please him more than to take the witness of Christ out of the heart of the growing city. O God! He has called us in this sacred place.
We had many opportunities and invitations to move. We will never do it. When the Lord comes again, He will find this place open and the gospel of Jesus preached from this sacred pulpit, please His name in answered prayer. That’s the way it will be.
Now I welcome the call from heaven. I’d rather be here than any forty dozen other places in the earth. And the harder it is and the more challenging it becomes, the more it’s a dedication on our part to respond with our lives. It’s like this. For the last two years there has come to our church in the School of the Prophets, a young, handsome, tall, good-looking young man from Nevada. He has a beautiful wife and they were pastor and wife of a fine church.
But God laid upon them a call to a city in Nevada, a town of a little over ten thousand people that had no Baptist church in it. There were three Baptist families in that Nevada city. And they invited him to come, and they would work with him to build a church. The young fellow and his wife resigned their nice and lovely pastorate and went to Nevada. By the time they got there, two of those Baptist families had left. One remained, and the pastor and his wife had arrived.
For three years, for three years he preached and struggled and visited and prayed and supported himself with his hands. And at the end of three years, he had only thirty in Sunday school. Because he is a fine man and gifted, other churches called him. But he stayed there. This is God’s place for me.
And then God seeing his dedication, God opened the windows of heaven. And when he made his report at the Nevada fellowship to which I preached just a few weeks ago, he said, “We are moving toward three hundred in Sunday school.” And they have built a house of prayer and of worship and for preaching of the gospel. And do you know what? Among the men that he had won to Christ and had baptized and had brought with him to our fellowship in Nevada to which I was preaching, there was a fellow, a layman that he brought with him who was making more than fifty thousand dollars a year. And though making so handsome an income, the man was in debt. He was facing bankruptcy. He was miserable. He was unhappy. The whole world was dark in failure around him. Then this young preacher led him to Christ, led him to Jesus and baptized him into the fellowship of the little Nevada church.
And do you know what he is doing now? That layman? Every year he gives to his church there twelve thousand dollars. And someone said to him, “You make fifty thousand dollars a year. And you give twelve thousand dollars to the church, twelve thousand? Why, that is unthinkable!”
And the man replied, “Sir, while I was serving the devil, I was in debt. While I was serving the devil, I faced bankruptcy. While I was serving the devil, I was miserable. While I was serving the devil, my home and family faced wreckage and ruin. While I was serving the devil, I was in the depths of despair!” But he said, “Now that Christ has saved me I am prosperous. I have money in the bank. My business is flourishing. I’m happy in my home, and my family has been blessed of heaven.” And then he added, “Sir, the best investment I ever make in life is the twelve thousand dollars a year that I give to our little Baptist church.”
That’s wonderful. And I believe that will obtain for any man, any woman, anytime, anywhere. There is something good and there is something great in loving God and praising God with our gifts, with our love, with our praise, and with our prayers. It’s like a bird. He sings not out of coercion or grudgingly or of necessity, but he sings because there is music in his soul and in his heart.
That’s the way it is with us. You don’t have to twist my arm. I want to do it. Nor do I feel in my soul a grudging necessity to be compelled and thus coerced to reply. No. Thank You, Lord, for the privilege. Thank You, God, for the open door. Thank You Lord for the song I can sing and for the prayer I can pray and for the gospel I can preach. Thank You, Lord, for the children that are brought up in the nurture of Christ Jesus. Thank You, Lord, for the privilege to baptize my converts. And thank You, Lord, for the assembly of the saints in God’s house, a holy place of prayer and praise [Isaiah 56:7; Matthew 21:13].
Therefore, when we have the invitation to share in that response, wondrously, gloriously, gladly, triumphantly, happily shall God see us do our part for Him. We sing now our hymn of appeal. And while we sing it, a family, a couple, or just you, in the balcony round, on this lower floor, down the stairway, down an aisle, “Here I am, pastor. I’ve made the decision now in my heart [Romans 10:8-13]. I’m on the way.” Do it. God bless you as you come, while we stand and while we sing.