Leading America Back to God
February 29th, 1976 @ 10:50 AM
LEADING AMERICA BACK TO GOD
Dr. W. A. Criswell
2-29-76 10:50 a.m.
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 the Lord’s address to the ancient nation of Babylon, you would think that He was speaking to America today. Isaiah chapter 47 beginning at verse 7 [Isaiah 47:7]:
And thou saidst, I shall be a lady for ever: so that thou didst not lay these things to thy 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 . . .
Thou art wearied in the multitude of thy counsels. Let now the astrologers, the stargazers, the monthly prognosticators, stand up, and save thee from these things that shall come . . .
Behold, they shall be as stubble; the fire shall burn them; they shall not deliver themselves from the power of the flame . . .
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.
Such an awesome judgment from God! And in His descriptive passages, you would think He was standing and looking upon and addressing modern America.
Leading America Back to God. As I review American history it is a deep conviction in my heart that God set aside and reserved for a chosen and elect people, this North American continent. When Columbus was sailing across the blue Atlantic, his sails were set to land in Delaware Bay. But as he approached the New World, a flock of birds passed by and the navigator persuaded Columbus to alter his course and to turn south. He never touched the New World in its North American continent, and those who followed him all turned south seeking gold and exploitation.
When the Pilgrims left England to come to the New World, it was their thought to turn south. But in the Atlantic, a great storm buffeted the Mayflower and the ships with her, and they finally landed far, far north. And though it was in the dead of a cold winter, they came to New England and built their little colony there. When a massive drought—such as we are beginning to face in the great heartland of America now, this moment—when a massive drought threatened the destruction of the little community, they knelt and prayed for nine unending hours; the close of which, brought water and life from God’s hand in heaven.
In 1746, when forty French warships left Nova Scotia to destroy the settlement, a massive hurricane arose at sea and dashed them all upon the rocks. Somehow, as you read American history, you cannot but be persuaded that God somehow reserved this North American continent for an elect and chosen people.
What kind of people were they? What kind of men were they, these men who laid the foundation of a new nation in a howling wilderness? We see the stature and the kind of men they were in many of the events through which God, in His providence, led them. One is in the Revolution, and the Revolutionary War. There were fifty-six men who signed that document of the Declaration of Independence. We look at it now and see those names scrawled there on that parchment and we think, “How noble and how fine and how magnificent—these men whose names are there on that glorious Declaration.” What we do not realize is that those men paid for that Declaration with their lives and with their fortunes.
On the fourth day of July in 1776, those fifty-six men signed the Declaration. They were not wild-eyed, rabblerousing ruffians. They were dedicated, determined men of means and education. Twenty-four of them were lawyers and jurists. Eleven of them were merchants. Nine of them were large plantation owners. They were all men of means, and they signed knowing the penalty, that was, namely, death, if they were captured.
What happened to those fifty-six men? Nine of the fifty-six fought and died in the Revolutionary War. Five of the fifty-six were captured by the British, as traitors they tortured and died. Two of the fifty-six lost their sons in the war and another had his son captured. Twelve of the fifty-six had their homes ransacked and burned.
Carter Braxton of Virginia, wealthy planter and trader, saw his ships swept from the sea by the British navy. Thomas McGee hounded by the British, his family kept in hiding, lost all his possessions and died in poverty. Ellery, Clymer, Hall, Walton, Gwinnett, Hayward, 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 and the mansion was destroyed and he [Thomas Nelson] died in bankruptcy.
Francis Lewis had his home and all of his property destroyed. The enemy jailed his wife where she died a few weeks later. John Hart saw his fields and mills laid waste. For more than a year he lived in forests and in caves. He finally returned home to find his wife dead and his children vanished. A few weeks later, he himself died of a broken heart. Morris and Livingstone suffered a similar fate.
These men valued freedom and God’s will more than they valued their properties and their lives. Standing tall, straight and unwavering, they pledged for the support of this Declaration with a firm reliance on the protection of Divine providence, “On Almighty God we mutually pledge to each other our lives, our fortunes, and our sacred honor.” These are the men who laid the foundation of the nation. You see what kind they were in the Revolutionary struggle.
There is not a painting more impressive than that of George Washington in the winter of 1777 when it seemed that all was lost, and his ragged, struggling, army would be simply overwhelmed; In the snow, down on his knees, praying for the help of God in the struggle, that’s the kind of men they were.
What kind of people were they who laid the foundations of this nation? You see it in the Constitutional Congress. It was presided over by George Washington. And on the central table before Washington there was one book, and that book was the Bible, the Holy Word of God. In the assembly, aged Ben Franklin stood up and said, “If it be true that no sparrow can fall to the earth without His notice [Matthew 10:29], then how much more is it true that no nation can rise without His blessing?” And then he added, “I make a motion that we begin each session of the Congress in prayer.” As they continued in their deliberations, a Britisher from across the sea, a stranger, was attending one of the sessions, and he turned to a neighbor and said, “Sir, which one is General George Washington?” And the reply came, “When Congress goes to prayer, the man that kneels is General Washington.”
In the tremendous first inaugural address delivered by George Washington, he closed that address with a prayer. Can you imagine an American president inaugurated today closing his address, looking up to heaven in supplication? George Washington did that. On the thirtieth day of April he closed his first inaugural term with this prayer, “Almighty God we make our earnest prayer that Thou would keep the United States in Thy holy protection. That Thou would incline the hearts of the citizens to cultivate a spirit of obedience to entertain brotherly affection and love for one another and for their fellow citizens of the United States.” What kind of people were these who laid the foundations of the nation? They were men who loved God and loved this country.
That devotion to the Lord and to the people and to the nation continued through the years that followed after. Finally seen again, poignantly so, in the leaders of that terrible conflict in the War Between the States. I still feel the sense of that tragic hour. My mother’s father was a physician, Dr. David Curry. My mother’s father was a physician in the Confederate army. And I have listened to my mother, world without end, speaking of the days of that tragic confrontation. The men who led on either side of that awesome and bitter struggle were men who loved God and loved this country.
In the farewell address of Robert E. Lee to his army, he concluded with these words, April 10, 1865. “I earnestly pray that a merciful God will extend to you His blessing and protection.” Then, closing with a gratitude for the remembrance of his troops for their kind and generous consideration, he says, “I bid you an affectionate farewell. Robert E. Lee, General.” And in the second inaugural address of Abraham Lincoln in 1865, the same year, he spoke these concluding 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 just and lasting peace among ourselves and with all nations.
These are the kind of men who built and sustained this American nation. In our own lifetime we have seen two awesome world struggles in which the United States was involved; the last, World War II.
One of the young men in the church where I pastored volunteered and spent all of the years of that conflict in the Pacific arena. And before he left, he came to me, a tall, fine young man, took the pastor’s hand and said to me; he said, “Sir, I am going into the war. I am to be stationed in the Pacific.” Then, he added, “If, by my going, I can assure you the right and the opportunity to preach the gospel of the Son of God, if I die, the sacrifice will be well worth the offering unto God.” I had felt then, as I feel today, that the right to preach that I enjoy, and the right to worship that we share today, was bought by the blood and the sacrifice of these men who offered unto God to lay down their lives for us. Thousands and thousands of you actually did.
This is the America that they have built, that they founded, and that they have preserved for us. What kind of an America is it today that we have received from their hands? What kind of an America are we making of it today? What kind of people, now, are the citizens of this great and beautiful land? I can easily characterize them, for I live with them and I read about them and I see them everyday of my life.
One of the characteristics of modern American life, a colossal and illimitable and indescribable indifference. I am quoting now from one of the great university presidents in America, 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 twenty-one civilizations have died from within and not by conquest from without. There were no bands playing, no flags waving, when these civilizations decayed. It happened slowly, in the quiet and the dark, when no one was aware. Just don’t care.
A great statesman said, “All that it takes for evil to prevail is for good men to do nothing.” Just passing by on the other side, could care less. Don’t pray, don’t take part, don’t pour into the effort our lives blood, just living at ease in Zion. “If I can get mine, that is all in which I am interested,” a vast indifference.
What is a consideration of modern American life? I think a stranger who never saw us before, if he were to visit this planet and visit our nation, would say, “We are becoming increasingly lawless and violent.” There are drugs to tear our body apart. There is promiscuity and license to tear our homes apart. There are bombs and acts of violence to tear our properties apart. There are gang attacks and vandalism to scare, to tear, our schools apart. There are roaming evil men to make our people such that they tear our cities apart. There are cults, strange and false, to tear our churches apart. And the whole life of America is spent in an increasing and cringing fear. We are afraid to walk through the streets of our own cities at night and now we’re becoming afraid to walk through the streets of these great cities in the daytime. We are afraid of the dark, we are afraid of the night, we are afraid of robbers, we are afraid of the violence that we find on every side.
I was in a great airport a few days ago. There, a big sign on the lockers, “These lockers are closed.” You couldn’t put your case there. You couldn’t put your suitcase there. You couldn’t put your handbag there. They’re closed. Why? Because of acts of terrorism in America. You can’t get on a plane now but that they search you. And they have those eyes that look beyond what you can see on the outside. This is modern America. And our people, increasingly, are turning to every gadget and kind of thing in the earth in order to keep out the violent intruder in their own homes. And there’s no place in Dallas that you can build a house, and there’s no place in the great cities of America where you can build a home, that is not liable to violence, and rape, and robbery, and terror! And this is an increasing phenomenon in American life. This is modern America. This is what we have done with the nation we received from the hands of these men who died that we might have peace, and joy, and liberty, and freedom under God.
Not only that, but we are becoming, increasingly, an irreligious and a pagan people. Sunday is no longer a holy day. It would be laughable and ridiculous to call it that. Sunday in America, now, is becoming a holiday. You can look on the pages, the front pages of our Dallas newspapers and the newspapers of the cities of the world, and there will you read, there will you find all of these things for the weekend; what’s possible for the weekend, the entertainment, the athletic contests, and you’ll never see one suggestion that maybe, you might go to church. It’s a holiday now. It’s not to be named in the presence of the public that Sunday is a day to worship Almighty God, to call upon the name of the Lord.
There are not two percent of the people in England or in continental Europe who go to church. In this very pulpit, there stood a man from Scotland saying that if the apostasy of the last twenty years in Scotland continues for the next twenty years, Scotland will be as pagan as it was when Columba left the monastery of Iona to evangelize it. When was that? 500 AD. Our whole nation and our whole Western world is becoming, increasingly, as heathen and as pagan as it was before the gospel message of Christ was delivered to it.
This is what we have done with the America given to us by the hands of our praying, Pilgrim Fathers, by the hands of a George Washington down on his knees, from the hands of an Abraham Lincoln who prayed the blessing of God upon the healing of the wounds of the people. This is the America I face and I see in the prayers of the young man who said, “If I lay down my life for the right and the opportunity for you to preach, I shall count the sacrifice an offering unto God.”
What we need, what I pray for, is a great awakening, a great quickening, a great turning back to God. Ah, that I can see in my lifetime, and in my day, a great sweeping, soul-saving revival! O God, could it be? Could it be?
At the turn of the century, there was a great revival in the nation of Wales. How remarkable when God bares His strong arm to save. Revival will spare a city, it did Nineveh [Jonah 3:4-10]. Revival will spare a nation, it did England in the days when blood ran down to the streets of Paris in the French Revolution; there was no French Revolution, no English Revolution in England. Why? Because the people were calling upon the name of the Lord in a great Wesleyan revival. Revival will spare a people and save a nation. In this day of the turning of this century, the Welsh revival, the Welsh revival, men would go down the streets of the cities and of the towns, arm in arm, singing the songs of Zion. They would pour out of the pits, our of the colliers, out of the coal mines, singing the praises of the Lord. They had no jails; they closed them up. There was nobody to put in them.
What is happening in Dallas? We have one jail down there that was built long time ago. Then we built another jail on top of that massive new marble courthouse. And now, we’re in one altercation and litigation after another, we must have another jail and a vast one and an expensive one and an expansive one. And they tried to place it here in Oak Lawn. What we need in Dallas is more jails. We must have more space. We have an increasing number of criminals and terrorists; we must incarcerate them. We must have more jail space in Dallas. So they are trying to buy it and elongate it and expand it and find places for it. This is modern city life even in a great fundamental community like Dallas.
They didn’t have to have any jails. You see, God was moving among the people. And instead of singing songs of lewdness and filth and lust and dirt, they were singing the songs of Zion. Instead of looking at pornography, and all of the things that lend to flaming license, they were looking at the Word of God. And, instead of trying to rape each other’s wives, and instead of trying to rob from each other’s homes, and instead of destroying each other’s towns and cities and blowing them up, they were loving one another in the Lord. They were gathering in peace and in praise in the convocations in the house of God. It was a day of a great revival.
O Lord! Could such a thing happen to us today? Could my eyes see it? Is it possible that there could come in my lifetime, where my heart could feel it and my eyes could see it, a great outpouring of the Spirit of God?
I have even had the temerity and the boldness to pray, “Lord, could it be that it began here? Could it be it begin in me? It begin in my people, it begin in this church, it begin in this city, that it spread out like a flame over the whole nation and earth? Lord, is revival possible in our day and in our time? Is a visitation from heaven for us? Lord, in the elective purposes of God, could God be pitiful and good and gracious to us?” I just know this, that it has to begin in me, in us, in you. There’s no revival outside and apart from us. I am a part of the nation, you are a part of the nation. It may be small, but we are a part of it. And the nation cannot repent if I do not repent. The nation cannot believe if I do not believe. The nation cannot accept Christ if I do not accept Christ. The nation cannot be baptized if I am not baptized. The nation cannot be saved if I am not saved.
We are members of that great body of America. And it is only in us, as we respond, as we open our hearts heavenward and God-ward, that the Lord is able to bring a great visitation from heaven to our people. It is still true, as it was in the days of Solomon, as it has been through the centuries since, and it is still true now, “If My people, who are called by My name, will humble themselves, and pray, and seek My face, and turn from their wicked ways; then will I hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin, and will heal their land” [2 Chronicles 7:14].
There is no other hope, there is no other way. These great answers and solutions and benedictory blessings we seek can come from no other hand, save the gracious, abounding hands of our Lord. Master, may it begin now. May it begin this hour, in this service. And, Master, may it begin in me.
In a moment we stand to sing our hymn of appeal, and while we sing that invitation, to accept the Lord Jesus as your Savior [Romans 10:8-13] would you come and stand by me? To put your life in the fellowship of God’s church [Hebrews 10:24-25], would you come and stand by me? If you have a child, bring the child; or you have a family, bring the whole family. There’s just you two, that couple you, come. Or just you, “Today I decide for Christ. I give my life and heart to God, and here I am, here I come” [Ephesians 2:8]. You may be in the topmost balcony, in the last seat, there is time and to spare. A stairway at the front, at the back, on either side, come. In the press and throng of people on this lower floor, into the aisle and down here to the front, “Here I am, pastor. I make it now. I have decided for God in my heart and I’m coming.” On the first note of the first stanza, answer with your life. When you stand up, stand up walking down that stairway or coming down this aisle. May God bless you, and His angels attend you as you come, while we stand and while we sing.