Dr. Truett and This Dear Church
July 2nd, 1978 @ 10:50 AM
DOCTOR TRUETT AND THIS DEAR CHURCH
Dr. W. A. Criswell
7-2-78 10:50 a.m.
It is with inexpressible gladness that we welcome the throngs of you who are listening to this service on radio and who are sharing this hour with us on television. This is the pastor of the First Baptist Church in Dallas, and you are worshiping with us this triumphant hour. On the Sunday that is closest to the anniversary of the death of Dr. Truett, for now thirty-four years, I have prepared an address on some phase of kingdom life to which he devoted his highest and noblest interests.
For example, one of the addresses was on Baylor University Medical Center. He was the moving spirit in the founding and the launching and the organization of the Texas Baptist Memorial Sanitarium, which became what we know today as Baylor Hospital. One of the addresses was on the Annuity Board. The Annuity Board of the Southern Baptist Convention, the only agency west of the Mississippi River, was organized in this church, the First Baptist Church in Dallas. One of the addresses was on Baylor University. As a young fellow, just barely out of his teens, he was used of God to save Baylor University from bankruptcy and dissolution. One of the sermons, one of the messages was on missions, the foreign mission enterprise in which he so largely shared. And so on through these thirty and now four years.
The message today is on Dr. Truett and This Dear Church. As a background text, in the ninth chapter of the Book of Acts, verse 31, there is a beautiful verse that describes the ministry of Dr. Truett in this congregation. “Then had the churches rest throughout all Judea and Galilee and Samaria, and were edified; and walking in the fear of the Lord, and in the comfort of the Holy Spirit, were multiplied” [Acts 9:31].
Could I translate that word oikodomeō exactly? “Then had the churches rest throughout all Judea and Galilee and Samaria, and were edified, oikodomeō, and were built up.” Oikos is the word for “house.” Domeō, “to build”; to build up the house of the Lord, the congregation of the Lord. “Then had the churches rest throughout Judea and Galilee and Samaria, and were built up, walking in the love and comfort of the Lord” [Acts 9:31]. And that is exactly the ministry of Dr. Truett; building up the house of God, the church of the Lord.
This morning, I would just like to know how many of you belong to that elite and privileged generation who were members of this church when Dr. Truett was its undershepherd? Would you stand up if you belonged to the church while Dr. Truett was pastor? Remain standing for just a moment and look around you; the dear and wonderful people who thus had one of the greatest privileges of life. Thank you.
In the summer of 1897, the pulpit committee of this church wrote to the young pastor of the East Waco Baptist Church, asking him to be pastor of this congregation in the then thriving young city of Dallas. He refused. They wrote him again and again. And as many times as they wrote, he refused, saying that he was happy where he was in that little church this side of the Brazos River, the East Waco Baptist Church. And that he was contemplating possibly attending the seminary.
Then the church called him unanimously, whether he would answer or come or reply, the church voted unanimously to ask him to be pastor of the congregation. Confronted with that, he had no other alternative but to meet with the pulpit committee. And out of their prayerful and consecrated insistence, he accepted the pastorate of the congregation and began his ministry here, the second Sunday in September, in 1897. He continued that ministry until the first week in July in 1944, forty-seven years.
It is an odd thing about the life of Dr. Truett, a strange turn of fortune. He did not ask to be ordained. The church in Whitewright believed that he ought to be a preacher and not a lawyer. He was preparing to be a lawyer, an attorney. And the church ordained him, voted to ordain him whether he wished or no. And when he carried it to his godly mother, who herself was the daughter of a Baptist preacher, she said to him, “Son, these are godly people. And they have the Spirit of the Lord, and you ought to listen to their voice.” So he was ordained upon the unanimous vote of the church in Whitewright, Texas. And the same kind of a thing happened here. The church unanimously called him as its pastor whether he would respond or come or no. Led of the Lord, he came and spent the rest of his life here as undershepherd of this dear church.
His affection for the church and his devotion to the church was without parallel. He was a dear close friend of John D. Rockefeller Jr., of John D. Rockefeller Sr. And John D. Rockefeller was the superintendent and senior deacon in the Euclid Avenue Baptist Church of Cleveland, Ohio. One of the things that I remember Dr. Truett telling about John D. Rockefeller: he said they were riding in the limousine of the Rockefellers, and John D. turned to Dr. Truett and said, “Dr. Truett, you know they say I am the richest man in the world. But my clothes don’t fit me.” As you know, he was very, very emaciated. “But my clothes don’t fit me and what I eat doesn’t agree with me.”
I think of that sometimes when I hear a fellow griping about the providences of life. Man, if you can eat and if you are well, you are rich. You are richer than John D. Rockefeller. Enjoy that dinner. Eat twice as much of it as you ought to and have a good time.
John D. Rockefeller instructed the committee of the Euclid Avenue Baptist Church in Cleveland, Ohio, to come down here to Dallas and to bring back Dr. Truett as its pastor. “Money is no consideration. Whatever it takes to get him, get him.” So the committee came down here and pled with Dr. Truett to come to be pastor of that Rockefeller church.
And he steadfastly refused. Finally, the chairman of the committee said to him, “Dr. Truett, is there anything that would move you?”
And Dr. Truett said, “Yes, yes, indeed.”
And the man with great hope said immediately, “What is it? What is it?” Thinking maybe if he asked for a salary of a hundred thousand dollars a year, he’d come. “What is it?”
And Dr. Truett replied, “Move my people and I’ll move with them”; his love for this congregation.
You see another example of that tremendous dedication when he was asked to be president of Baylor University. He replied in one of the most beautiful sentences I’ve ever heard. He said, “I have sought and found the shepherd’s heart,” and remain here as pastor of the church.
You can sense somewhat of the great spirit of the pastor as he closes an anniversary sermon: this is in the first book of sermons that was published by Dr. Truett entitled, We Would See Jesus. It was preached, I would suppose, in about 1914. And he closes that message with a typical appeal to this congregation. He said:
Oh my fellow Christians of this church, a church dearer to me than my heart’s blood! I summon you anew today to give your best to Christ, to be done with all playing at your religion. I summon you to come with the rich, red blood of human sympathy for all mankind and give your best to win this city and state and world to Jesus, so that you hear that plaudit which it were worth worlds at last to hear, ‘Well done, thou good and faithful servant.’
So typical of the attitude and feeling of the great pastor toward this congregation.
The church had seven hundred twelve members when it called him. They built that building. Those tall windows that the balcony now breaks into were to the side. The pulpit was here, and it was in the enlargement of the church in 1924 and the building of what we call the Truett Building back of us that this auditorium was rearranged.
Dr. Truett, preaching the gospel here, began to fill the church to overflowing. And the church began to grow prodigiously. And the fame of this man of God spread to the ends of the globe. And you can see a reason for that in the message that you’re going to hear right now.
I have asked Jack Byrd to take out of one of his sermons a pericope, that you might hear the voice and spirit of this great man of God. And the next voice you hear is the voice of the inimitable and marvelous undershepherd of the church, Dr. Truett:
The house of God is where you ought to be. Touching last Sunday, to see two parents here who had buried their son the day before, and here they were with their faces, covered with tears, saying to me as they greeted me, “If ever we needed the house of God, we need it today.” And they spoke wisely and well.
You’d better go to the house of God when trouble of any kind is on. You say it is financial, and my clothes are not good. If they are frazzled and you have a hundred and forty patches on your coat, find the house of God. If it is in the right sort of the house of God you will be welcomed as cordially as any prince with his beautiful coat. Find the house of God, whatever your trouble, whatever your situation, your question, your bereavement, your suffering, your awful perplexity, find the house of God. And you will get in the house of God what you’ll not get anywhere else in all of the world.
Oh, the many—I could write a book, a good-sized book, filling the same with testimonies of the many—who have come to this place of worship, have come with this impression or the other, with this atmosphere environing them, or something else. And they have gone away with their clouds lifted and their hearts lifted and their burdens lifted and their faith lifted, and victory thrilling to the tips of their fingers, because they contacted God in His house.
You better go to church. You men within these walls and women, and the larger throng may be many times over, listening in the land over, when trouble is on, no matter what the occasion of it, you better go to church and get your good pew with a square look at the preacher and where the whole volume of worship offered in the service—sermon, songs, Bible and prayer and your contact with your fellow man—may have for you the full value God wishes it to have for you.
Now, this man points a grave lesson for us. “Was all too much for me, my trouble was I was bitter, I was envious, I was rebellious. I was cynical. I was ready to criticize God and leave Him out and ignore Him. I was in that miserable plight until I went to church. And then understood I. Then understood I.”
Now there are no substitutes for public worship. And the transforming influence of public worship is beyond the word of man or angels. Jesus knew what He was about when He formed His church and made it one of the duties, not to be trifled with by anybody, to be a regular attendent upon the services, the worship of His church.
There are no substitutes for public worship. Our nature demands it. You are stunted, and stifled, and choked, and suffocated in soul if you leave religious worship out of your life. That Frenchman Sabatier was right when he said man is incurably religious. Now if you starve that which is in man, and blight it, and suffocate it, it harms him beyond words. The Bible says, “God has set eternity in the hearts,” and nothing short of the eternal can sufice and satisfy and anchor the heart. The nature of man and demand the man’s public worship…
Listening to a voice like, and a spirit like that, and an appeal like that, it is most understandable and explicable why the church began to grow and people by the thronging thousands attend upon its ministries. When Dr. Truett magnified the church, building up the church of God, he but reflected the spirit of our own Lord. It was He who said, “Upon this rock I will build My church; and the gates of Hades shall not prevail against it” [Matthew 16:18].
He never said, “My home.” He never said, “My child.” He never said, “My wife.” But He did say, “My church.” And the spirit of the building up of the house of God is reflected in all of the Holy Scriptures of the New Testament. The great Pentecostal chapter, the second chapter of Acts, verse 47 reads like this, “And the Lord added unto the church daily those who were being saved” [Acts 2:47].
The Book of the Revelation closes in its twenty-second chapter and the sixteenth verse with this: “I Jesus have sent Mine angel unto you to testify unto you these things in the churches” [Revelation2 2:16]. We have a magnificent portrayal of the emphasis of the Holy Spirit of God upon the church of our Lord in the few pages that I now turn in the letter to the church at Ephesus.
Listen as Paul writes. “God hath put all things under His feet, and gave Him to be head of all things to the church, which is His body, the fullness of Him that filleth all in all” [Ephesians 1:22-23]. I turn the page. “Unto Him be glory in the church by Jesus Christ throughout all ages, world without end. Amen” [Ephesians 3:21]. Without turning the page, “God gave some, apostles; some, prophets; some, evangelists; some, pastors and teachers; For the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying”—there’s that word again, oikodomeō—“for the building up of the body of Christ” [Ephesians 4:11-12].
And I turn the page once again. “We are members of His body, of His flesh, and of His bones. . . This is a great mystery: but I speak concerning Christ and His church” [Ephesians 5:30, 32]. When we love the church, we love the ministry of our Lord. When we serve the church, we serve our Lord. When we offer our lives to the finest, farthest advancement of the church, we offer our lives to the blessedness of the assignment we have in the kingdom of Jesus.
The church in its word is used in two ways in the Bible. It is used generically, referring to the idea—such as you say, “the state,” or, “the home,” or “the school,” or “the law,” or, “the government,” or “the judiciary,” a generic use of the word to describe the idea. In the New Testament, when the Lord said, “Upon this rock, I will build My church” [Matthew 16:18], that’s the universal idea of the church.
In the twelfth chapter of the Book of Hebrews when the author said that we are not come to Mount Sinai; “So terrible was the sight, that even Moses said, I exceedingly quake and tremble: But ye are come unto Mount Zion . . . to an innumberable company of angels, To the assembly and church of the firstborn, whose names are written in heaven” [Hebrews 12:21-23], there the church is used generically, the church, the idea, the great circumference of the redeemed of God.
But the use of the word “church” in the New Testament to refer to a universal and invisible aggregate, redeemed group, idea, is unusual. Practically all of the uses of the word in the New Testament refer to a local congregation: the churches of Samaria, the churches of Judea, the churches of Asia, the churches of Achaia, the churches of Galatia, the churches of Macedonia. And when we read these epistles, it will be addressed “To the church at Corinth; To the church at Philippi; To the church at Colosse.”
And the only thing that we have anything to do with, and the only relationship that we have in this life is always to a local church. And whatever builds up the church of Christ is an agency and an instrument with which God is pleased and that God will always bless.
There are many parachurch organizations, and they do good. And God bless them and all of the good that they do, but to me and for us, our energies ought always to be channeled into building up the church of Jesus Christ. That’s why the great apostle wrote the passage I just read, “God gave apostles, and prophets, and evangelists, and pastors, and teachers . . . for the building up of the body of Christ” [Ephesians 4:11-12].
It is in this congregation that God does His finest work in the earth. This is His plan, and this is His purpose, and this is His answer to the needs of the world: the church, the local church, the local congregation of the Lord.
I want you to look at that just for a moment. In the days of the Roman Empire, and that was the last and the largest and the greatest empire the world has ever seen, in the days of the Roman Empire, its culture and its civilization were characterized by three things. One was slavery. Another was idolatry. And a third was brutality. In the days of the Roman Empire, had you walked down the streets of any of the great cities of the Greco-Roman world, had you walked down the streets of Antioch, of Ephesus, of Thessalonica, of Athens, of Corinth, of Alexandria, of Rome, had you walked down any one of the streets of the great cities in the Roman Empire, out of five men that you met three of them would have been chattel property, bonded slaves. Out of a population of a hundred million, there were sixty million slaves in the Roman Empire. It was characterized by human slavery.
It was characterized by idolatry. To us today, idolatry is sort of an innocuous, sort of heathenistic worship whereby somebody bows down before some kind of an image. No, idolatry as it was known and practiced in that ancient day was of all things immoral and promiscuous. You worshiped the goddess by cohabiting, committing adultery and fornication with temple prostitutes. The gods were more immoral than the people themselves, and it led to the debauchery and the dissolution of the whole fabric of society.
It was a civilization and a culture characterized by brutality. The exposure of children was common and acceptable throughout the Greco-Roman world. I myself have read Greek papyrii where the father is writing to his wife who has given birth to a child while he’s away, and in the papyrii, he writes to his wife, “I don’t want the child. Expose it!” That was universal. The father had the privilege of exposing the child they didn’t want, that is, take the child and set it by the side of the road for the jackals or the foxes or the wild beasts to devour it. Or worse still, take the child and set it by the side of a city street for some unscrupulous family to pick it up and break all of its bones and raise it disfigured, that the thing might be sat down on the street side and there beg alms of the people. That was universal in the days of the Roman Empire.
In the days of the Roman Empire brutality characterized the daily life of the people. It was the Roman who invented crucifixion, the most awesome and terrible form of execution the world has ever known. It was the Roman that built the great Coliseum where the crowds by the thousands and the thousands, tier upon tier upon tier, watched the bloody combat as men fought to the death in the center of the arena. That was the Roman Empire.
In the days of the Roman Empire, in the entire circumference of the civilized world, there was not one hospital, not one. There was not an orphan’s home, not one. There was not a home for the elderly, not one. There was not a leper colony, not one. It was a day of inhumanity and grossest brutality.
And what was God’s answer to the slavery, and the promiscuity, and the immorality, and the idolatry, and the brutality of that day? His answer was the planting of here and there and there. And now, Let me use a translation from James Moffatt. In Philippians 3:20, the King James says, “For our citizenship is in heaven.” Moffatt translates it, “For we are colonies of heaven.” Let me take that translation. What God did in answer to the need of the human family was this: a little colony of heaven there in Ephesus; and a little colony of heaven there in Antioch; and a little colony of heaven there in a Philippi, or a Thessalonica or a Corinth or a Rome; His answer to the heart cry and the need and want and suffering of the world always is the planting of a little church, the testimony and witness of the house of God. All of us feel that and see that when we go abroad and look upon the unspeakable poverty and degradation and want of the world, and then see in the midst, a little church with its spire pointing up to God in heaven—and by the side, a little school and maybe on the other side, an orphan’s home; and always, the minister and undershepherd praying for, blessing, guiding, winning the people to the faith of the Lord Jesus.
When we magnify the church, we magnify the work of Christ in the earth! And when we drain from the church our energies and our devotions into other channels, we thereby weaken the great purpose and plan of our Lord for His kingdom’s cause in the earth. May I bring this now in the few moments that remain, may I bring this down to us today?
You and I live in a day that is unprecedented in human history. There has never been any day like our day. Let me show you. Pliny the ancient historian wrote of that time in the first Christian century. Now listen to him. “There has never been a state of atheists. If you wander over the earth, you will find cities without walls, cities without kings, cities without mints, cities without theaters or gymnasiums, but you will never find a city without a god, without prayer, without oracle, without sacrifice.”
That’s what Pliny wrote nineteen hundred years ago. But in my lifetime and in your lifetime, for the first time in the history of mankind, there are states and there are governments and there are nations who are avowedly and statedly atheists!
The Communist Red world: they state their purpose bluntly, and crudely, and rudely, and violently. I quote from a great Russian philosopher, quote: “We will grapple with the Lord God in due season. We shall vanquish Him in His highest heaven. And wherever He seeks refuge, we shall subdue Him forever. The very concept of God will be expelled as a survival of the Middle Ages which has served as an instrument to oppress the working man.” And they go through their streets singing:
Arise ye toilers of all nations,
Condemned to misery and woe;
To hell with humbleness and patience,
Give deadly battle to your foe.
Wipe out the ruling wealthy classes;
Arise and slash your thraldom chains
Let power be wielded by the masses,
Let those who labor hold the reins.
[“Let Those Who Labor Hold the Reins”]
And in the name of atheism and godlessness and infidelity, the flood tides of darkness are sweeping over the entire world. Day by day, week by week, year by year they break off pieces of the free Western world, sinking seemingly forever behind the dark and dismal and godless curtain.
And then, as though I could stand on this side of the Berlin Wall, or stand this side of the Pacific Ocean and look upon my own country and my own people and say, “But thank God our people love the Lord. And our people are God-fearing. And our people are at worship on the Lord’s Day. And our people serve the purposes of God in the earth.”
What do I see? Instead, I see our own nation becoming increasingly secular, increasingly materially-minded, increasingly worldly in all of its dreams and visions and prayers and hopes for any golden tomorrow. I could not believe, I cannot believe that in the queenly city of Dallas it should have created an unbelievable uproar that a trustee in the Dallas public school system would be condemned for asking a man, “Are you a communist? Are you an atheist? Are you an infidel?”
Are we come to the place where it is to be something to be received as a matter of freedom, that a man can teach our own children communism, atheism, infidelity and do it with all of the plaudits of the community? What has happened to the soul of America? What has happened to the children of our forefathers who laid down their lives that they might have the opportunity to worship God in this new and free land of America?
I don’t know what has happened to us. I just know that increasingly and increasingly we become more materialistic, more atheistic, more secularism. And dear people, whether atheism, or whether infidelity, or whether secular or materialism is found in England, or in Russia, or in China, or in Indonesia, or in America, it is all the same.
Worldliness: secularism: a life without God is the same wherever you find it. And the Lord looks down on this darkening world and what is His answer? His answer lies in those little colonies of heaven that long ago He planted around the shores of the Mediterranean Sea. And God’s answer to the need and the darkness of the world today is found in these little colonies of heaven that He found and blesses and prospers in these darkening areas of the world. That is God’s purpose in us and God’s plan for us.
Nothing like this ever happened. It’s a legend, but its spirit is true. When the Lord was raised from the dead after His suffering and crucifixion, He returned to heaven, ascended into glory and was met there by the angel Gabriel. And the angel Gabriel said, “Lord Jesus, You suffered and died on the cross, how many knew it? How many know it? How many are aware of it?”
And the Lord replied to Gabriel, “Just a little handful.”
And Gabriel said, “Lord, now that You have ascended up into heaven, who is responsible to make Your name known and Your sacrifice known and Your gospel known? Who is responsible?”
And the Lord replied, “That little church. That little band in Jerusalem.”
And Gabriel asked the Lord the searching question, “But Lord, what if they fail? What if that little church fails? What if that little band fails? Then what, Lord?”
And the Lord is supposed to have replied, “Gabriel, I have no other plan. No other plan.”
And as I read the Bible, the Holy Scriptures, and as I study Christian history, that is the truth of heaven itself! There is no other program, there is no other plan, there is no other purpose in the mind of God but that His witness be found in the churches that He has planted in the earth.
And when Dr. Truett gave himself for the building up of this congregation in the heart of the queenly city of Dallas, I think he gave his heart to the greatest ministry to which any man could ever dedicate his heart, his life, and his length of days. He was buried from this church, from this sacred place.
When I die, I want to be buried from this church, from this sacred place. I would like for all of the energies and love and hope and prayers of my whole life to be centered in the church of the living God.
Many, many other marvelous things to which we can give our time and our talents and our energy and our usefulness, many of them, but there is none that has in it the hope of the blessing of mankind as does the church of Jesus Christ. This is His plan, His purpose. It is our hope and the blessing of the world, and on this day, when we honor the memory of the great pastor, to whom God gave truly the shepherd’s heart, may it be for us, a reconsecration and a rededication of our lives to the building up of the household of faith. May God save the lost through us. May God add to His people through us. May God make His witness shine in the earth through us. And may God add His blessing to the work of our hands and of our hearts that we offer and consecrate unto Him.
And this is our invitation to you: to believe in the Lord Jesus as your Savior, too; to walk with us in a fellow pilgrimage from this earth to the world yet to come, to be counted among those who name the name of our Lord, to serve God as the Lord shall give us His blessing, His strength, and His wisdom. Walk with us. Work with us. Worship with us as that beautiful appeal of Dr. Truett, just now we heard. In the church, in the house of God, with the people of the Lord, rear your family, bring your children, devote your life, find the answers to the need of your heart.
May God bless you as you come. May angels attend your way as you come. “Pastor, today, I have accepted the Lord as my Savior, and I stand before men and angels in that open and unashamed avowal. I’m bringing my whole family, pastor, we’re all coming, we’re all going to be here together.” Or just one somebody you, while we sing this song, make that decision in your heart now, and then down one of these stairways, down one of these aisles, “Here I come, pastor, I’ve made that choice, I’ve cast my life and lot, here I am.” Angels attend you in the way while you come, while we stand and while we sing.