Dr. Truett and American Freedom
July 3rd, 1977 @ 8:15 AM
DR. TRUETT AND AMERICAN FREEDOM
Dr. W. A. Criswell
7-3-77 8:15 a.m.
Once again you, who are listening to this service on the radio of the city of Dallas and on the radio of our Bible Institute, are welcome. This is the First Baptist Church, and this is the pastor bringing the message entitled Dr. Truett and American Freedom. Every year on the Sunday closest to the anniversary of the death of the far-famed pastor, I prepare an address on some interest, some dedicated institution or agency or cause to which he gave his life. And today it is religious liberty, American freedom.
How many of you were members of this First Baptist Church in Dallas when Dr. Truett was pastor of the congregation? Would you stand up? All of the members of the church in the days of Dr. Truett, thank you. You are some of the most privileged people in this world. When I first asked that question thirty-three years ago, everybody stood up. And then as the years have multiplied, the ranks become increasingly fewer. But to you who had opportunity to belong to this congregation when he was undershepherd, I could think of no greater privilege in life than to have been here in those days.
As a background for the address, I am reading from the twenty-second chapter of the Gospel of Matthew, beginning at verse 15:
Then went the Pharisees, and took counsel how they might entangle Him in His talk. And they sent out unto Him their disciples with the Herodians—
whom they hated, but they hated Jesus more.
The Herodians were a sect in the Judean population who wanted to have a descendent, a son or a grandson of Herod the Great, to be their king; as it was, you remember, they are now a province under the Roman Caesar. In the Roman Empire, if a province was at peace, if it was not restive, they placed it under the Senate; but if the province was volatile, inclined to rebel, they placed it under the Roman Caesar. And the reason for that was because the army was under the direction of the emperor, the Caesar. So Judea was under the Roman Caesar; it was governed by an appointed procurator, a governor, who had charge of the Roman legions. But these people, the Herodians, wanted it back under a descendent of Herod the Great. Pharisees hated them, but as I say, they hated Jesus more, so they are in combine with the Herodians now, saying:
Master, we know that Thou art true, and teachest the way of God in truth, neither carest Thou for any man: for Thou regardest not the person of men—
that’s sheer flattery; they had no regard for Him themselves at all. Now just to trap Him—
Tell us therefore, What thinkest Thou? Is it lawful to give tribute unto Caesar, or not?
Had He said, “It is not lawful,” they could have arrested Him and tried Him for treason. If He says, “It is lawful, that is something we ought to do and to obey,” then all the people who hated the Roman conqueror would despise Him. Whichever way He answered, it was a trap:
Jesus perceiving their wickedness, said, Why tempt ye Me, ye hypocrites? Show Me the tribute money. And they brought unto Him—
in the King James Version, “a penny”; the Greek is denarion, the Latin of it is denarius—
They brought unto Him a denarius—
that was a coin, a Roman coin—
He saith unto them, Whose is this image and superscription? They say unto Him, Caesar’s. Then saith He unto them, Render therefore unto Caesar the things which are Caesar’s; and unto God the things that are God’s. When they heard these words, they marveled, and left Him, and went their way.
And that has become one of the great watchwords of the Christian faith, for us who believe in human liberty, in the separation of church and state, and in freedom: rendering unto Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and unto God the things that are God’s [Matthew 22:21]; two great and separate institutions.
So we begin with the study, George W. Truett and American Freedom; or Baptists and Religious Liberty. Dr. Truett had been pastor of the church here in Dallas for seventeen years when the storm of World War I burst upon the world in August of 1914. He had inherited the Baptist love for freedom, so immediately in his sermons and addresses he began to encourage the people to sacrifice for their country, saying, quote, “Some things are worth living for, fighting for, and dying for.” Now you remember, in April, the sixth day, of 1917, the United States was drawn into that conflict. And on the twenty-second day of June, in 1917, the first American troops landed in France under the leadership of General John J. Pershing. Now, in the summer of 1918, after we had been in the war for one year, President Wilson chose twenty illustrious, gifted preachers—ministers of Christ in America—to go oversees, to deliver messages to those men who were fighting and who were billeted in camps and were in the conflict at the front line. Of those twenty preachers chosen from America, Dr. Truett was one. Their mission first was preaching to the troops in England and Ireland who were there either in hospitals or preparing to go to the front, and he wrote back home these words:
Tonight, I spoke in a hospital. The chapel, holding perhaps one thousand, was packed. Oh, they did give me such a welcome, some with only one foot, some with only one hand, some with only one eye. I saw them unloading a trainload of new arrivals of wounded. The sight of it seared into my brain forever. I talked to one of them from El Paso, to another from California, to another from Iowa. The boy from Iowa a curly-haired, sweet-faced boy of nineteen; I fairly took him into my arms, and loved him; and he so clung to me. They were so brave and uncomplaining. Surely, surely, I shall know better than ever to be a murmurer anymore about the little things, when men by myriads are dying without a murmur for me, for my country, for liberty, and for civilization. I could wish I were a thousand men that I might tarry beside every boy for a personal interview.
That’s the spirit of Dr. Truett. He wrote back and told a story that just struck me as being one of the most unusual things that I ever heard. He was at a great cantonment in London, which was sponsored by the YMCA. And there was a rookie there from Texas who wanted to meet King George and Queen Mary, the king and queen of England. Well the king and the queen came to that cantonment to eat, quote, “hotcakes with the American boys.” But this rawboned Texas rookie got there too late, he missed the only opportunity to see a real king and a real queen. However, somebody told him, “But they are still inside.”
“I’m going to meet them,” he said. So he strode in, up to King George, and said, “Are you King George?”
“Well,” said the rookie, “I just wanted to meet you and your wife, so I could tell the folks back in Texas that I met the two biggest shots in the whole outfit over here.” So sticking out his big hand, he said, “Put her there, George, shake.”
And the King put her there, shook hands with him, and said, “And this is my wife, Mary.”
There was a gracious providence that watched over Dr. Truett. In the steamer by which he was to return from England to America, his baggage already loaded, he himself missed the boat because of the length of an engagement he had accepted. So he took the next ship. The first steamer back, upon which he was to return to America, was sunk by a German submarine and the people lost. Dr. Truett’s baggage and luggage sank to the bottom of the sea; but his own life was saved to come back to this dear church.
Now soon at the front, having been over there in England and in Ireland speaking to those American boys, soon he was at the front, speaking four to six times a day. Then, until the early hours in the morning he was writing letters back home to every boy that he met from Texas. And after the armistice he went into Germany with the army of occupation for two or three months and here is a paragraph about that ministry from his biographer, Powhatan James. Quote:
He was billeted for a while in a modest German home, presided over by a devout and motherly housewife, who constantly kept fresh flowers in his room, and somehow managed always to have some fruit or a little cake or some other food on the small table beside his bed when he came in at night from his day’s service with the soldiers. It appeared that Germans were doing everything in their power to make a good impression on the army of occupation, that their efforts were in large measure successful with the rank and file of the American men was evidenced by the remark often heard among them, as they said, quote, “Boys, as sure as you live, we’ve been fighting the wrong crowd. We like these Germans more than any other people we’ve met on this side of the big pond.”
And I say Amen to that. I always have felt that way; I love the German people. They are just exactly like us. If you want to look at somebody that looks just like you, look at a German. If you want to look at somebody that works just like you, look at a German. If you want to meet somebody that has a home just like yours, meet a German. The people, the nation as such, I greatly admire.
And may I parenthesize to say this: if trouble ever comes with Russia, the one great people over there who will stand by our side is that republic of West Germany. Whether anybody else does or not, I don’t know; but those Germans will be marching with us if we ever come to a confrontation with Russia, which I think we shall, someday, sometime, somewhere. They are not stockpiling those weapons of offense just for the fun of it; Russia means business. While we are playing at this game—we are flirting with communism all over the world—and piece, by piece, by piece they’re breaking off the Western world, and placing it under the Red flag of communism.
Well, after his service was ended, he returned home to America through France. In Paris, he spoke to over three hundred French civil and military leaders in a dinner meeting. He spoke on the cherished principles dearest to Baptists. They were amazed and the enthusiasm was unbounded, especially as he spoke to them on our cherished doctrine of religious liberty. And returning home here to Dallas, it was like the welcoming of a great general himself. There was a vast throng at the Union Station to welcome him. Then they gave him a tremendous banquet in the Scottish Rite Cathedral, attended by more than one thousand of the civic leaders of Dallas.
Now, to come to the sadness of the close of the great World First War—his biographer, speaking of Dr. Truett’s great patriotic and moral fervor—closes that chapter with this sentence:
For them, for the men who fought in that war, and hosts of other disillusioned people, he has been able to recapture some of the dignity, heroism, altruism, and idealism, which for a time surged through most American hearts; an enthusiasm which was later forced into almost total eclipse by the sordid hypocrisy and selfishness of war and its aftermath.
Remember? Man alive, do I! When President Wilson declared war against the Kaiser, he said, “This is a war to make the world safe for democracy.” And then again, “This is a war to end all wars.” And finally when the thing comes out, here we are with Stalin, linked with him, fighting for the conquest of world communism. Oh! I just can’t believe the irony of history, it’s a judgment of God upon America.
All right, the second thing now: I would suppose that the greatest address ever made by a Baptist was delivered by Dr. George W. Truett on the steps of the capitol in Washington D.C. It was occasioned by the meeting of the Southern Baptist Convention in our nation’s capital, in May of 1920. The address was published all over the world; I see it constantly, even today in pamphlet form, in books. In the introduction, in the foreword of that address, Dr. J. B. Cranfill, who was the executive secretary of the state of Texas, one of the—and the president of the Southern Baptist Convention—and one of the great denominational leaders of all time, in that introduction Dr. Cranfill wrote:
This address was delivered to a vast audience of about fifteen thousand people, from the east steps of the national Capitol, at three o’clock in the afternoon, on Sunday afternoon, May 16, of 1920. Since Paul spoke before Nero, no Baptist leader ever pleaded the cause of truth in surroundings so dignified, impressive, and inspiring. The shadow of the Capitol of the greatest and freest nation on earth, largely made so by the infiltration of Baptist ideas through the masses, fell on that vast assembly, composed of cabinet members, senators, members of the lower house, foreign ambassadors, intellectuals in all callings, with people of every religious order, and of all classes. The speaker had prepared his message;
that’s the truth! “In a voice clear and far reaching”; they had no such thing as a P.A. system in those days. Do you ever think about things like that? George Whitefield would preach outside on a river bank, sometimes to thirty thousand people; no P.A. system. When Billy Sunday carried on his campaigns; no P.A. system; and there Dr. Truett is speaking to fifteen thousand people, and all could hear him clearly, distinctly:
He had prepared his message: in a voice clear and far reaching he carried his audience through the very heart of his theme. History was invoked, but far more history was explained by the inner guiding principles of a people who stand today as they have always stood for full and equal religious liberty for all people. Then he says, “I commend this address as the most significant and momentous of our day. It is entitled ‘Baptists and Religious Liberty’” Then he begins that address on that east side of the capitol, “Southern Baptists count it a high privilege to hold their annual convocation this year in the nation’s capital. And they count it one of the highest privileges to be citizens of our one great united country.
Grand in her rivers and her rills,
Grand in her woods and templed hills
Grand in the wealth that glory yields,
Illustrious dead, historic fields
Grand in her past, her present grand;
In sunlit skies, in fruitful land
Grand in her strength on land and sea;
Grand in religious liberty.
[From “Baptists And Religious Liberty,” George W. Truett]
Then he launches into his message,
Years ago, at a notable dinner in London, that world-famed statesman, John Bright, asked an American statesman, himself a Baptist, the noble Dr. J. L. M. Curry, ‘What distinct contribution has your America made to the science of government?’ To that question, Dr. Curry replied, ‘The doctrine of religious liberty.’ After a moment’s reflection, Mr. Bright made the worthy reply, ‘It was a tremendous contribution.’ Indeed, the supreme contribution of the new world to the old is the contribution of religious liberty. This is the chiefest contribution that America has thus far made to civilization. And historic justice compels me to say that it was preeminently a Baptist contribution.
Then in the address he follows through the struggle for religious liberty in the old world and in the new. I wish I had time to follow it with him. Then he continued:
In the sixteenth century, the dawning of a new hope for the world”; then he recounts the struggle of the Reformation, and he follows the struggle for religious liberty in this new world, resulting in the state of Rhode Island, a Baptist government, and in the winning of Washington, and Jefferson, and Madison, and Patrick Henry, and the writing into our Constitution that church and state must be in this land forever separate and free. Then he continued, “It was preeminently a Baptist achievement. Much of the time were Baptists pitiably alone in this age long struggle. But I take it that every informed man on the subject will be willing to pay tribute to our Baptist people as being the chief instrumentality in God’s hands in winning the battle in America for religious liberty. Do you recall Tennyson’s little poem, in which he sets out the history of the seed of freedom? Catch its philosophy:
Once in a golden hour,
I cast to earth a seed.
Up there came a flower;
the people said, “A weed!”
To and fro they went
through my garden bower,
And muttered discontent,
cursed me and my flower.
Then it grew so tall
it wore a crown of light,
But these from o’er the wall
stole the seed by night.
Sowed it far and wide,
by every town and tower,
Till all the people cried,
“Splendid is the flower!”
Read my little fable,
He who runs may read
Most can grow the flower now,
For all have got the seed.
[“The Flower,” Alfred, Lord Tennyson]
Very well, we are very happy for all our fellow religionists to have the splendid flower of religious liberty; but you will allow us to remind you that you got the seed in our Baptist garden.
He then launches into his great and extended appeal. May I pause there before I go on? What a tragedy, what a tragedy! After the First World War, it looked as if the whole world would be open for the gospel and for the separation of church and state, a free church in a free state. Today we are seeing the opposite: more, and more, and more, and more, do you find the church coerced—its doors closed—or their meetings held under surveillance of the police, or the people slain and martyred. Now his peroration:
And now, my fellow Christians, and my fellow citizens, what is the present call to us in connection with the priceless principle of religious liberty? Standing here in the shadow of our country’s Capitol, compassed about as we are with so great a cloud of witnesses, let us today renew our pledge to God and to one another, that we will give our best to church and to state. Let us go our way singing more vehemently than our fathers sang them, these lines of the American poet, Whittier:
Our fathers to their graves have gone,
Their strife is passed, their triumphs won;
But greater tasks await the race
Which comes to take their honored place,
A moral warfare with the crime
And folly of an evil time.
So let it be, in God’s own sight,
We gird us for the coming fight;
And strong in Him whose cause is ours,
In conflict with unholy powers,
We grasp the weapons He has given,
The light and truth and love of heaven.
[“Our Fathers to Their Graves have Gone,” Whittier and A.F. Barnes]
That was the peroration in the address he delivered from the steps of our nation’s Capitol.
Now I come to the last. Dr. Truett, as you remember, was elected president of the Baptist World Alliance; and the sixth congress over which he presided met in a large ballpark in Atlanta, Georgia, in July of 1939. And Dr. Truett delivered the presidential address; and I was there, seated right in front of him. It was a magnificent address. It is remarkable the power of that man, in speaking to thousands and thousands of people. I would suppose at that occasion there was something like thirty thousand people present—in the fan shape of a ballpark—the people were everywhere, from side to side. So, he begins. He entitled his address “The Baptist Message and Mission for the World Today.” He begins, “You have come together in one of the most ominous and epochal hours in the life of the world.” Now many of you have lived through that hour, July, 1939, just before Hitler threw his panzers against Poland and the Second World War burst into a fearful flame:
You have come together in one of the most ominous and epochal hours in the life of the world. Stupendous influences and forces are shaking the world to its very foundations. Fear seems to have the passkey to whole nations. Vast changes are rapidly sweeping the world, as swirling ocean currents sweep the seas. Misunderstandings, both national and international, seem relentless in their persistence. Wars and rumors of wars even now are casting their dark shadows across the earth.
He didn’t realize how tragic the word was he was saying. “All these conditions poignantly remind us how desperately we need help from above.” Then he began:
The right of private judgment is the crown jewel of humanity; that you can choose, think for yourself. For any person or institution to come between the soul and God is a blasphemous impertinence and a defamation of the crown rights of the Son of God. Baptists regard as an enormity any attempt to constrain men by penalty or patronage to this or that form of religious belief. What a frightful chapter has been written the world around by disregard of this lofty principle of freedom of conscience and its inevitable corollary, the separation of church and state.
He then launches into a magnificent portrayal of John Bunyan, Henry Dunster—a Baptist who was the first president of Harvard College—Roger Williams, who with John Clark and Obadiah Holmes founded Rhode Island; then the lands of Baptist people confiscated in Connecticut, and the imprisonments and persecution of our Baptist people everywhere, evident in Virginia. Then he continues:
On and on, our Baptist forbearers waged their unyielding battle for religious liberty. They dared to be odd, to stand alone, to refuse to conform, though it cost them suffering and even life itself. They pleaded and suffered, and kept on with their protest, and remonstrances, and memorials until, thank God, forever their contention was won in these United States and written into our country’s Constitution, that church and state must be in this land forever separate and free.
And now may I make an aside? For the first time since that amendment was placed in the Constitution, we are, of about a week ago, beginning to see it chiseled away. The Supreme Court has decided that we can take tax payers’ money and buy things for the parochial school; little chipping away. And the next Supreme Court decision will be another chip in it, and pretty soon you’ll find the wall torn down.
The impartial historian will ever agree with Mr. Bancroft, our American historian, when he says, “Freedom of conscience, unlimited freedom of mind, was from the first the trophy of the Baptists.” And such historian will also agree with the noble champion of human rights, John Locke, who said, “The Baptists were the first proponents of absolute liberty, just and true liberty, equal and impartial liberty.” And still again will he agree with the eminent Judge Story, long a member of our nation’s Supreme Court, when he says, “In the code of laws established by the Baptists of Rhode Island, we read for the first time since Christianity ascended the throne of the Caesars, the declaration that conscience should be free, and that men should not be punished for worshipping God in the way that they were persuaded that He requires.” The Baptist contention is not for mere toleration, but for absolute liberty.
There is a wide difference between toleration and liberty. Toleration implies that someone falsely claims the right to tolerate. “Tolerate” is a concession, while “liberty” is a right. Toleration is a matter of expediency; while liberty is a matter of principle. Toleration is a gift from men; while liberty is a gift from God.
Man! Isn’t that great?
It is therefore the consistent, insistent, and persistent contention of our Baptist people, always and everywhere, that religion must be voluntary and uncoerced, and that it is not the prerogative of any power to compel men to pay taxes for the support of religious organization to which they do not belong, and in whose creed they do not believe.
And can you believe that now, as of about six days ago, we’re going to pay taxes in order to support a parochial system in which we do not believe? Ah! What is happening to America? And what is happening to the world? In the very nature of the case, there can be no proper union of church and state. Jesus stated the principle in two sayings: “My kingdom is not of this world” [John 18:36]; and, “Render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar’s; and unto God the things that are God’s” [Matthew 22:21]. This marked the divorcement of church and state forever.
I must conclude. I’m going to do so from an address that he delivered in France after the First World War. This is the heart of the great pastor:
We conceive of religion as being a personal, individual, voluntary, and spiritual relationship between a man and his Creator and Savior. In our scheme of things, there is no room whatsoever for coercion or the use of physical force in the realm of religion. For example, gentlemen, I am a Baptist.
And what he’s going to say here, I heard Dr. Truett say one time, speaking in America at another convocation:
For example, gentlemen, I am a Baptist, and would rejoice to see men everywhere voluntarily accept the tenants of my faith, because I sincerely believe those tenants to be in harmony with the revealed truths of God. But if by the pressure of the weight of my little finger I could physically coerce every person in the world to become a Baptist, I tell you frankly and truthfully, I would withhold that pressure, even of the weight of my little finger. Religion must be free. The soul must have absolute liberty to believe or not to believe, to worship or not to worship, to say yes or no to God, even as that soul and that soul alone shall dictate. Every true Baptist in the world, and there are millions of them, would take the same stand that I take on this matter; because they believe, and I believe, this to be the clear teaching of the New Testament as to religious freedom.
Well, I’m glad to be numbered among those people. I am glad my father and mother were devout Baptists. And I am happy to walk in the ranks of those who say to the whole world, “It is your choice. However God shall mean what to you, you are at liberty to worship Him in any way that you choose.” Uncoerced, untaxed—absolutely free—in matters of religion it’s just between the soul and God.
I spoke yesterday afternoon to a great convocation; a denomination to which I do not belong, many of the tenants of which I do not personally believe. But I rejoiced to be in their presence, and God blessed me as I spoke to them on the infallible word of the Lord. They interpret what they read in a different way from what I do. Fine. If that is God’s message to them as they read that Holy Book, God bless them as they gather together. And in their way and in their understanding, they approach the throne of grace; that is freedom [Hebrews 4:16]. That is religious liberty, and it is the crown jewel of the American government.
O God that it might remain so with us, dear God that it might spread over the whole earth! And dear God, that every people in every nation and land on the globe might have freedom to call upon the name of the great Jehovah and our Savior, as they feel in their hearts led to believe, to call, to worship.
Our time is spent. We are going to stand and sing a hymn of appeal. And as God shall open the door to your heart, and as the Spirit shall enter in, speaking to you about a decision for God, “This day, out of the deep of my soul, uncoerced; this day I take Jesus as my Savior” [Romans 10:9-17]. “We are placing our life in the fellowship of this precious church; it is a joy for us to be numbered among the people of God who work in this dear place.” Make the decision now in your heart. And on the first note of the first stanza, come. Down one of these stairways, down one of these aisles, “Here I am, pastor, I’m making it now.” Come. God be with you as you respond with your life, while we stand and while we sing.