Dr. Truett and American Freedom
July 3rd, 1977 @ 10:50 AM
DR.TRUETT AND AMERICAN FREEDOM
Dr. W.A. Criswell
7-3-77 10:50 a.m.
This is the pastor bringing the message entitled Dr. Truett and American Freedom. On the Sunday closest to the anniversary of the death of the far-famed pastor who was undershepherd of this congregation for forty-seven years, on the Sunday closest to the anniversary of the death of Dr. Truett, I always prepare an address relating to some agency, or institution, or cause to which he gave his life.
I would like to do something before I read the background of the Scripture. All of you who belonged to the church when Dr. Truett was pastor, he was your pastor, would you now stand, all of you who belonged to the church in the days of Dr. Truett? Thank you. You are a most blessed and most fortunate people. When I first began having you stand, the whole congregation stood up. Just a little scattering here and there remained seated. Now it’s just a few who stand. How the years waste away our families and our dear congregation. But you who were in those days members of the church can remember a privilege that is beyond any I know in our Baptist world.
As a background of the message, I read in 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 the Lord more.
The Herodians was a sect in Jewish national life who wanted to call back as the ruler of their nation a member, a descendant of the family of Herod the Great. By this time it would have been his grandson. So they were political activists who wished to get rid of the Roman procurator, at this time Pontius Pilate, and invite back to the leadership of the nation a descendant of Herod. So these Pharisees joined with these Herodians saying, and now this is sheer flattery, they do not mean it really at all,
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.
Tell us therefore, What thinkest Thou? Is it lawful to give tribute unto Caesar, or not?
Whichever way He answered, He was enmeshed in serious altercation. If He said it is not lawful to give tribute to Caesar, they could accuse Him of treason and subversion, and hale Him before the Roman legions and condemn Him to death, which later they actually did. If He says it is lawful to give Caesar his tribute, why then, immediately He becomes an enemy of those who hated the Roman yoke. So however He answered, it was tragic.
But Jesus perceived their wickedness and said, Why tempt ye Me, ye, ye hypocrites?
Show Me the tribute money. And they brought unto Him—
in the King James Version it is translated a penny—
And they brought unto Him—
In the Greek, dēnarion, it is a Latin word—
They brought unto Him a denarius, a Roman coin.
And 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.
Dr. Truett and American Freedom. He had been in Dallas as pastor of this church for seventeen years when the storm of the First World War burst upon the world in August of 1914. He had inherited the Baptist love for freedom and immediately in his sermons and addresses encouraged the people to sacrifice for their country saying, and I quote from him, “Some things are worth living for, fighting for, dying for.”
As you remember, in April, the sixth day in 1917, our country was drawn into that conflict. And on the twenty-fifth day of June of 1917, our first expeditionary forces landed in France under the leadership of General John J. Pershing. A year later in the summer of 1918, President Woodrow Wilson selected twenty godly men, ministers in America, to go across the sea to preach, may I quote, “To deliver their messages of patriotism and religion to the Allied armies.” And of those twenty, Dr. Truett was selected as one. Their first mission was to speak to the men who were coming back from the front, who were in hospitals or in cantonments and camps getting ready to go to the front who were stationed in England and in Ireland. Dr. Truett wrote home, quote,
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 all is seared into my brain forever. I talked to one of them from El Paso; to another from California; to another 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.
Then he speaks along the way of a famous story that was current in the Allied forces in Europe. It occurred at a famous YMC cantonment in London. There was a rookie from Texas, a big, rawboned boy who wanted to meet King George and Queen Mary. And behold, the king and the queen came to the camp to eat, quote, “hotcakes,” with the American boys. Now, this big Texan, he wasn’t there. He came in late. And so, his friend said, “You missed the only opportunity to see a real king and a real queen.”
But he found out they were still in there. So he says, “I’m a goin’ to meet them.”
He strode in and up to King George and said, “Are you King George?” And when the king replied he was, the big Texan replied, “Well, I just wanted to meet you and your wife so I could tell the folks back in Texas, I met the two biggest shots in the whole outfit over here.”
Sticking out his big hand, he said, “Put ‘er there, George, shake.”
The king put ‘er there and shook hands and said, “And this is my wife, Mary.”
Aren’t you glad there’s somebody you can joke about? So many it’s us Texans.
There was a gracious providence that watched over Dr. Truett. When the steamer came by to bring him back here to America, his baggage was loaded and all of his things were placed on the boat. But he missed it because of the length of an appointment he had in England, so he took the next ship. And that first steamer that he was supposed to go on was sunk by a German submarine and its people lost. And Truett’s baggage went down to the bottom of the sea, but his own life was spared.
As he began his ministry over there under the appointment of the president, he was soon at the front speaking four to six times a day. Then until the early hours in the morning, he was writing letters to every Texas boy’s home back here in America. After the Armistice he went into Germany with the army of occupation for three months. This is a paragraph about his ministry there written by Powhatan James, his biographer and his son-in-law, quote,
He was billeted, Dr. Truett 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 little cakes or some other food on the small table beside his bed when he came in at night from a 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, “Men, 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.” It is almost impossible for me to realize that we linked arms with communist Russia in order to crush Germany. May I also make another aside? When the day comes, not if, when the day comes in this final confrontation with Russia, I know of one nation that will be marching by our side, and that will be the citizens of the Republic of West Germany. The rest, I don’t know. England has gone so far down the drain in socialism until I don’t recognize England. France has practically gone already. Italy is completely gone. Spain is moving in that direction rapidly. Only Germany is walking by our side in its vigorous opposition to the increasing encroachment of Red Communism.
After his service was ended, he returned home to America through France, and there spoke to civil and military leaders about the cherished principles of our Baptist people, namely, the doctrine of religious liberty. When he returned home here to Dallas, the great thongs met him, thousands and thousands went down to the Union Station to welcome the great pastor back from Europe. Then they provided and gave him a marvelous banquet in the Scottish Rite Cathedral attended by more than one thousand civic leaders in our city.
Now the shame and the tragedy of it all. Dr. James, his biographer, speaks briefly of the effect of this war ministry upon the preaching of Dr. Truett, his great patriotic and moral fervor, then closes the chapter with this sentence,
For them—the servicemen who offered their lives in defense of our nation—for them, and hosts of other disillusioned people, Truett has been able to recapture some of the dignity, heroism, altruism, and idealism which for a while 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.
I lived through those days of the First World War. I remember when it began. I remember when Woodrow Wilson called the Congress, and they entered the conflict. And in the address of the president [of the] United States, he said, “This is a war to make the world safe for democracy! It is a war to end all wars.” How sad and how tragic that it was nothing other than the foundation for the most awesome holocaust the world has ever known, namely, the war that began in 1939. And that has laid the foundation for the literal dissolution of Western hope. The eclipse that we now see, the disintegration of the Western world and the spread of Red Communism over the whole earth is partly the result of the awesomeness of the Second World War.
I turn now to the tremendous address of Dr. Truett, delivered on the steps of our national Capitol in Washington D.C. on the occasion of the meeting of our Southern Baptist Convention there in May of 1920. The address was published in pamphlets, in magazines, in papers, in books, and distributed all over the world. The foreword, the introduction, is written by Dr. J. B. Gambrell who was the executive secretary of our Baptist convention in Texas and who was president of the Southern Baptist Convention. In the foreword, Dr. Gambrell says, quote, “This address was delivered to a vast audience of about fifteen thousand people from the east steps of the national Capitol at 3:00 Sunday afternoon, May 16, 1920.”
Ever think about the way those men spoke? Today, you won’t have a handful of people in a little room, but that they will have a PA system there. It never fails. Before the days of the PA system, George Whitefield would sometimes address thirty thousand people on a river bank. Billy Sunday would address the thousands in the days of the sawdust trail, no PA system. And Dr. Truett is speaking to fifteen thousand gathered on the east side of the Capitol.
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, peoples of every religious order and of all classes.
The speaker had prepared his message, that’s the Lord’s truth. That’s one of the greatest addresses I’ve ever read in human speech. 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.
I commend this address as the most significant and momentous of our day.
And to that, I say, Amen. Now Truett began:
Southern Baptists count it a high privilege to hold their annual convention this year in the nation’s capital and they count it one of life’s 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.
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 made thus far to civilization. And historic justice compels me to say that it was preeminently a Baptist contribution.
Then he follows through in the address the history of the struggle for religious liberty in the old world and in the new. And I don’t take time to follow the days, finally coming to the sixteenth century and the dawning of a new hope for the world. He then recounts the struggle of the Reformation. He then follows the struggle for religious liberty in this new world resulting in the state of Rhode Island, a Baptist state. And in the winning of Washington and Jefferson and Madison and Patrick Henry and the writing into our Constitution that church and state must in this land be forever separate and free. He continued:
It was preeminently a Baptist achievement . . . Much of the time were Baptists pitiably alone in their 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 and 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 muttering discontent,
Cursed me and my flower.
Then it grew so tall,
It wore a crown of light,
But thieves 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 flowers now,
For all have got the seed.
[“The Flower,” by Lord, Alfred 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.
What a tragedy, the sad turn of modern history. When Dr. Truett delivered that address after World War I, 1920, the idealism that possessed our people; all of our preachers were postmillennialists. They were going to bring in the kingdom. It was the day of the Philadelphian age of the church, the church of the open door [Revelation 3:7-13]. Sending out missionaries, preaching the gospel, converting the people, the whole world was open to us. Now the world is again closing its doors.
And most of the peoples of the nations of the world today live behind curtains, iron. Live under governments, merciless and cruel, into which we can send no missionaries. And religious liberty in those lands is unthinkable and unknown. And our brethren are either slain or lie in prisons or face oppression that is to us unimaginable.
Dr. Truett then launched in his great and extended appeal:
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 on our way, singing more vehemently and than our fathers sang them, these lines of the great 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.
[“Moral Warfare,” by John Greenleaf Whittier, 1936]
That concludes that incomparable address of Dr. Truett on Baptist and religious liberty, delivered in 1920 on the steps of the east side of our nation’s Capitol.
In July of 1939, the Baptist World Alliance in its sixth Congress met in Atlanta, Georgia. The president of the World Alliance was the pastor of this church, Dr. George W. Truett, and he delivered the presidential address upon that august occasion. They were assembled in a ballpark. And in that fan-shaped throng, there were something like thirty thousand people. And right there in front of the great pastor I sat, and I listened to him as he delivered this address entitled “The Baptist Mission: The Baptist Message and Mission for the World Today.” He began,
You have come together in one of the most ominous and epochal hours in the life of the world.
You remember 1939? That was the year, a little after this address when Hitler hurled his panzers against Poland. And we were plunged into the Second World War,
Stupendous influences and forces are shaking the world to its very foundations. Fear seems to have the pass-key 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. All these conditions poignantly remind us how desperately we need help from above. The right of private judgment is the crown jewel of humanity. 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.
Then he describes the sufferings of John Bunyan, incarcerated for twelve years in Bedford Prison because of his preaching, a Baptist preacher. Then he described Henry Dunster, the first president of Harvard College, a Baptist. Then he spoke of Roger Williams and John Clarke and Obadiah Holmes and their formation of the State of Rhode Island. Then he spoke of the lands of Baptist people confiscated in Connecticut, the imprisonment and persecution of Baptists in Virginia. Then he continues on and on,
Our Baptist forebears 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 protests and remonstrances and memorials until thank
God . . . forever their contention won in these United States, and it was written into our country’s Constitution that church and state must be in this land forever separate and free.
Would to God that were true! But in the last week, the Supreme Court of the United States has begun to chip away that wall of separation between church and state. We are now to be taxed in order to support parochial schools. And that little chipping away by the Supreme Court this last week is but the first hammer blow to destroy the entire wall. Would God he had said it true, “forever separate and free.”
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 a trophy of the Baptists.” And such historian will also agree with the noble champion of human rights, John Lock, who he 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 Storey, long a member of our nation’s Supreme Court when he said, “In the codes of law 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 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. Toleration 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!
Amen! I like that! That’s great, and the truth of Almighty God.
The difference between toleration and liberty is the difference between life and death, up and down, God and Satan. When you are tolerating, somebody exalts himself and puts up with you; condescends to spit upon you.
Liberty is a gift from God! It’s a right and a prerogative with which every soul under God is endowed. It is just men that interdict. 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 organizations to which they do not belong and whose creed they do not believe. 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 again, “Render unto Caesar the things that are Caesars; and unto God the things that are God’s” [Matthew 22:21]. This marked the divorcement of church and state forever.
In principle, Dr. Truett says it right. In actuality we are seeing that beautiful idea gradually perishing in the earth and, to my amazement, compromised in the United States of America. I must close, I should.
In the whole comfort and circumference of the heart of Dr. Truett in this tremendous representation of our Baptist faith and message, in an address in France he closed his delivery with these words—and the reason that I especially copied it out—at a convocation of our Baptist people in America, I heard Dr. Truett repeat this identical thing. And as I listened to him say it, I thought, “That’s God’s truth!” I read it,
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 would rejoice to see every man everywhere voluntarily accept the tenants of my faith because I sincerely believe these 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.
And in that persuasion all of us in divine presence would prayerfully and zealously concur. There can never be coercion in religion. And there ought never to be the enforcement of any act by which this man is made to support another man’s faith and another man’s religion. In matters of religion we are to be free, absolutely free! I can be free to say no to God. I am free; I can refuse His overtures of grace. I can reject His covenant of mercy. I can pass by any church erected in the name of our Savior. I ought to be free in my soul. I ought to be free to call upon the name of God. I ought to be free to walk in the church door that I look upon as my “House of God.” I ought to be free to rear my children in the love, and faith, and nurture of the Lord. I ought to be free to offer God the tribute, the worship, the love of my soul.
And it has been this freedom that has made America great! Ah, Lord! That what our forefathers have won with blood, and tears, and infinite sacrifice, we might be able to hand down to our children, who themselves would know freedom as God has made us free.
And thus our invitation to you today, out of the deep of your heart, out of response to the call of God, “I believe in the Lord, I believe in the Son of God and take Him as my Savior [Romans 10:8-13]. I believe in His church and the witness of Christ in this dear place. And before men and angels today, I answer God’s call with my life, and I give myself to His will, walking in His way, and I am coming this morning.” A family you, a couple you, or just one somebody you; in the balcony round, down one of these stairways, in the throng of people on this lower floor, down one of these aisles, “Here I am pastor. I have made the decision for God and here I come.” On the first note of the first stanza, when you stand up, stand up walking down that stairway, coming down this aisle. May angels attend you in the way as you come, while we stand and while we sing.