Leading America Back To God
February 29th, 1976 @ 8:15 AM
LEADING AMERICA BACK TO GOD
Dr. W. A. Criswell
2-29-76 8:15 a.m.
We welcome you who are sharing with us this service in the First Baptist Church in Dallas over station WRR, the station of the city of Dallas. This is the pastor bringing the message entitled Leading America Back to God. In our preaching through the Book of Isaiah, we have come to chapter 47, and in this chapter is an address of the Lord to an ancient kingdom, one of judgment. It sounds as though the Lord were addressing the American people of today. Beginning at verse 7 in Isaiah chapter 47:
Thou hast said, I shall be a lady for ever: so that thou didst not lay these things to heart, neither didst remember the latter end of it.
Therefore hear now this, thou that art given to pleasures, that dwellest carelessly, that sayest in thine heart, I am, and none else beside me; I shall not sit as a widow, neither shall I know the loss of children:
But these two things shall come to thee in a moment in one day, the loss of children, and widowhood.
Therefore shall evil come upon thee; thou shalt not know from whence it riseth: and mischief shall fall upon thee; thou shalt not be able to put it off: and desolation shall come upon thee suddenly, which thou shalt not know.
Stand now with thine enchantments, and with the multitude of thy sorceries, wherein thou hast labored from thy youth; if so be thou shalt be able to profit, if so be thou mayest prevail. . .
Behold, they shall be as stubble—
these astrologers and stargazers and monthly prognosticators—
the fire shall burn them . . .
Thus shall they be unto thee with whom thou hast labored, even thy merchants, from thy youth: they shall wander every one to his quarter; and none shall save thee.
[Isaiah 47:11-12, 14-15]
As I review the history of the American people, I have the deepest persuasion, reviewing God’s providence that the Lord set aside and kept sacred for Him the North American continent for His chosen people. When Columbus set sail, his destination would have brought him to the Delaware Bay. But as he approached the New World, a flock of birds were flying southward, and a navigator persuaded Columbus to turn south, following the flock of birds. He never came, he never touched, he never saw, he never discovered the North American continent. When the Pilgrims left England and came to the New World, their sails were turned to the south; but a heavy storm at sea swept them to the north. And even in the cold of the winter, they made life and lot and fortune and destiny in the cold days, the winter months of a New England. And when a disastrous drought within three years threatened the life of the little colony, they bowed in prayer for nine hours. And at the end of the ninth hour, God sent them rain.
It was to be for a chosen and elect people. In 1746, forty warships of the French set out from Nova Scotia to conquer the New England colony. There arose a disastrous hurricane, a massive wind at sea, and blew them all away. The hand of God has been upon this American people, this chosen nation, this witness to the world of the goodness and the graciousness of God.
What kind of people were they? Of what stripe and of what tenor, of what make and of what courage? Do you remember the description of these men who signed the Declaration of Independence? We have sometimes a persuasion what a great honor it was in the freedom train. Looking at a facsimile of that great document of liberty, what an honor it was to place their name on that declaration. The men, who did that, did so at the risk of their lives, of their fortunes, and certainly of their sacred honor in the eyes of the British people. On the fourth day of July, in 1776, there were fifty-six men who signed the Declaration of Independence. What happened to these men? What became of them? They were not wild-eyed, rabble-rousing ruffians; they were dedicated, determined men of means and education. Twenty-four were lawyers and jurists; eleven were merchants; nine were large plantation owners, men of means; but they signed knowing the penalty was death if they were captured. What happened to them? Nine of the fifty-six fought and died in the Revolutionary War. Five of the fifty-six were captured of the British as traitors, tortured, and died. Two of them lost their sons in the war, and another had his son captured. Twelve of them had their homes ransacked and burned. Carter Braxton of Virginia, wealthy plantation and trader, saw his ships swept from the seas by the British navy. Thomas McKean, hounded by the British, his family kept in hiding, lost all his possessions and died in poverty. Ellery, Clymer, Hall, Walton, Gwinnett, Heyward, Rutledge and Middleton saw their homes and all their possessions looted and destroyed.
Thomas Nelson at the Battle of Yorktown noted that the British General Cornwallis had taken over the family mansion for his headquarters. He urged General Washington to open fire: the home was destroyed. Nelson died bankrupt. Francis Lewis had his home and all his properties destroyed. The enemy jailed his wife, where she died a few months later. John Hart saw his fields and mill laid waste. For more than a year he lived in forests and caves; returned home to find his wife dead, his children vanished. A few weeks later he died of a broken heart. Morris and Livingston suffered similar fates. They had security, but they valued the nation more: standing tall, straight, and unwavering, they pledged for the support of this declaration, with a firm reliance on God, on divine providence. “We mutually pledge to each other our lives, our fortunes, and our sacred honor.”
These were the men who signed the Declaration. What kind of people were they? There’s no more beautiful picture that reflects the spirit of those men of the long ago than in the terrible winter of 1777, when it seemed that the cause was lost and the straggling army of Washington would certainly be defeated. In the snows of Valley Forge, there is that famous painting of George Washington kneeling in prayer. And the General himself is but an image of the thousands and thousands of those early settlers who carried their cause to God.
What kind of people were they? You find their kind and courage and tenor in the framing of the Constitution of the new democratic republic. When they assembled in Independence Hall in Philadelphia for the writing of the new Constitution, there was one book on the desk in front of General George Washington, who presided over the Congress. That book was the Holy Bible, the Word of God.
Aged Ben Franklin stood up and said, “If it be true that a sparrow cannot fall without His notice, how could it be that a nation could rise without His care and providence?” Then he said, “I make a motion we begin each session with prayer.”
A Britisher attended as a visitor that Constitutional Congress. And being a stranger, asked, “Which one of these men is General George Washington?” And the reply came: “When Congress goes to prayer, the one who kneels is General Washington.” He closed his first inaugural address with these words:
Almighty God, we make our earnest prayer that Thou wilt keep these United States in Thy holy protection, that Thou wilt incline the hearts of the citizens to cultivate a spirit of obedience, to entertain a brotherly affection and love for one another, and for their fellow citizens of the United States.
What kind of people comprised the citizenry of the nation that they founded? When we follow it through the years that followed after, there came a time when the Union was rent by a tragic altercation between the states. And at the end of that terrible and bitter war, Robert E. Lee delivered his farewell address to his army on the tenth of April, in 1865, and he concluded that farewell address with these words: “I earnestly pray that a merciful God will extend to you His blessing and protection.” Then a word of gratitude for their grateful remembrance of him, and closing, “I bid you an affectionate farewell, Robert E. Lee, General.” And when Lincoln concluded his second inaugural address in that same year of 1865, he said these closing words:
With malice toward none, with charity for all, with firmness in the right, as God gives us to see the right, let us strive to bind up the nation’s wounds, to care for him who shall have borne the battle, for his widow and his orphan, to do all which may achieve and cherish a lasting peace among ourselves and with all nations.
What kind of people were these who laid the foundation of our nation and of whose devotion and sacrifice we share in blessing today? As the time and the years sped by, we came into the tragic days of the Second World War. When one of the young men in the church, volunteering for service, marched away to the Pacific arena of that conflict, bidding me goodbye, he said, “Pastor, when I go, if I can have a part in opening for you and assuring for you the right and the opportunity to preach the gospel of Christ, if I die I will count that the sacrifice was well worth my offering unto God.”
I had a feeling in my soul then, and reviewing it now cannot help but be moved in my soul, that the privilege I have to preach, the opportunity we have to worship, and the infinite blessings we enjoy as a people were bought for us with human blood and human life.
We come to our nation today. What kind of a people are we today? As God looks down from heaven and judges us, and as we read of ourselves and see ourselves in the daily papers and in all that we watch as city citizens, what kind of people are we today, we who have inherited these tremendous sacrifices and blessings bought by their life, and their fortune, and their blood? First of all, if I had a characterization of modern America I would say, number one; it is a people of vast and illimitable indifference. I quote from one of our tremendous spiritual leaders, the president of one of our universities, quote:
I do not believe the greatest threat to our future is from bombs or guided missiles. I don’t think our civilization will die that way. I think it will die because we no longer care. Arnold Toynbee has pointed out that nineteen of the twenty-one civilizations have died from within, and not by conquest from without. There were no bands playing, and flags waving when these civilizations decayed. It happened slowly in the quiet and the dark, when no one was aware.
There is hardly the spirit in modern national life, I think, even to go through a great, massive Depression, as I went through when I first began my ministry. I think if there came to pass those tragic days when men were without work and without money, I think America today would find itself torn by riot and rebellion, and blood would flow down the streets. I don’t think we have the moral courage today to go through a depression such as the nation went through in the 1930s. We have come to love our ease too dearly.
What kind of a people are we increasingly becoming? We are becoming a nation of lawlessness and violence. There are drugs to tear the body apart. There is promiscuity and license to tear the home apart. There are bombs and acts of terrorism to tear our properties apart. There are vandalisms and gang attacks to tear our schools apart. There are acts of violence on the streets, and bitterness and hatred to tear cities apart. There are cults to tear our churches apart. And there is a spirit of suspicion to tear our nation apart. Our people are increasingly living in fear; afraid to walk down the streets of a city at night; and now increasingly afraid to walk down the streets of a city in the daytime, in the daylight. Afraid of the dark, afraid of the night, afraid of robbers, fear on every side and on every hand: this is the America of today.
We are becoming increasingly a nation forgetful of God. Could you imagine a president of the United States today closing his inaugural address, as George Washington closed his; on his face, on his knees, beseeching the blessing of Almighty God, closing it with a prayer?
Our Sundays today are not holy days, they are holidays. You can read the newspapers of Dallas and follow that front page of the events for the weekend: you’ll never hear or see the church mentioned. All of these things are for the weekend; but not God. There are not two percent of the people in continental Europe or in the British Isles that attend services on the Lord’s Day. And increasingly we are becoming like that: a pagan and a heathen nation.
In this very pulpit there stood a man from Scotland, [who] said, “If the apostasy, the falling away of the last twenty years in Scotland continues for the next twenty years, Scotland would be as pagan as when Columba left the monastery of Iona to evangelize it.” You know when that was? 500 AD. We are reverting back, and increasingly back, to the days of our heathen and unevangelized ancestors.
Our values are material, and our goals and aims in life are not heavenly, they’re not God-ward, they’re not holy, they’re not from above. We are sinking in the morass of the materialism and secularism of this world in education, in business, in government, in life. You would think the prophets were addressing modern America. Oh! how my soul, the deepest moving of my soul, longs and prays for a great awakening, a great turning to God, a great visitation from heaven! I see no sign of it. Nonetheless, I pray for it, and I work in this church hoping maybe God might intervene and a fire and a flame might start in this congregation with this people.
A revival can save a city; it did Nineveh [Jonah 3:4-10]. A revival can save a nation; it did England in the great Wesleyan movement. A revival can change the complexion of a whole people. At the turn of this century there was a marvelous quickening, awakening in the country of Wales, the Welsh revival. I have read of it many times. Men would walk arm in arm down the streets sometimes four abreast, singing the songs of Zion. In this next chapter of Isaiah, “With a voice of singing declare ye, tell this, utter it even to the end of the earth; say ye, The Lord hath redeemed His people” [Isaiah 48:20]. With what result, the revival? The jails were closed; there was nobody to put in them. Can you imagine the city of Dallas that is in an altercation in the court now trying to find some way to expand the jail system of this city? We’ve got a jail down there; we built another jail down there, now we’re expanding it to the Oak Lawn area. We need space for jails! In the great Welsh revival the jails were closed; there was nobody to put in them. The criminal courts were closed; there was nobody to prosecute. And the people were filled with the joy and gladness of the Holy Spirit. They were singing.
How could such a thing come? I am a part of a nation, maybe a small part, but I am a part of the nation. And we are parts of the nation. And the nation cannot repent unless I repent. The nation cannot believe unless I believe. The nation cannot be baptized unless I am baptized. The nation cannot turn to God unless I turn to God. The nation cannot be saved unless I am saved. The devotion and the fire and the flame must start in me.
O wonderful, wonderful Savior, remember the sacrifice of our forefathers, remember Thy great elective purpose when You guided to the shores of this continent these men who came to build churches and Christian schools and godly homes. And remember the prayers of those godly statesmen who framed the government of the United States. Remember the toil and the tears of those who have in these years past guided it, laid down their lives for it. And our Lord, today, find in us worthy sons and successors of so great and so noble and so dedicated a people.
In this moment when we sing our appeal, “I would like to give my heart to the Lord, and I am coming.” “I would like to be baptized, and I’m coming.” And, “I would like to link heart and hand with the people of this church who pray for revival, and I’m coming.” “The Lord has spoken to me in a deep and an unusual way, and I’m coming.” As the Spirit shall press the appeal to your heart, answer with your life [Romans 10:9-10; Ephesians 2:8]. “Here I am, pastor, I make that decision, and I am coming now.” Do it. In this balcony round, down one of these stairways, “Here I am.” In this lower floor, into the aisle and down to the front, “Here I am.” As the Lord shall open the door and His presence precede in the way, make it now, come now, do it now, while we stand and while we sing.