Dr. W. A. Criswell
10-18-78 7:30 p.m.
When I had finished my long course of study at the seminary—beyond Baylor University, I attended the seminary for six consecutive years; three years earning a master’s degree and three years beyond earning a Doctor of Philosophy degree—my first pastorate out of the seminary was at Chickasha, Oklahoma. It was my first full-time pastorate. I had a very difficult, difficult time in that first church, trying to finance the kingdom of God, as it was expressed and mediated in that church of the Lord. And the depths of the Depression added to the burden that I had in seeking to encourage the people to give. However I tried, I was never able to get the church to give more than two hundred fifty dollars a Sunday. I prayed, I agonized before the Lord; I did everything that I knew, all to no avail.
One of the problems I had was: the people had a bitter experience with the former pastor, my predecessor there, who was undershepherd of the congregation for fifteen years. They had a bitter experience with him concerning stewardship. He felt called upon himself to visit the people in the homes collecting any dereliction in their pledging. He would make a trip to a home and collect a five-cent lack of a child—concerning the pledging of the child—and the disarray in the hearts of the people concerning their giving was almost impossible for me to overcome.
Well, what I did was: in the church was a man by the name of Carl Richardson. He was the manual science teacher in the high school. And in the beautiful carpenters shop in the high school, where he taught boys carpentry and other things in the use of their hands; I asked him if he would make a Joash—he’d just read Jehoiada the high priest—a “Joash chest” for me [2 Chronicles 24:4-14]. And I designed every little piece of it—every little part of it—and the Scripture on the front of it, inlaid: “They first gave their own selves to the Lord” [2 Corinthians 8:5]. That’s the only thing about it, when he saw that he had put a hyphen between “them-selves,” he just nearly died. He had so meticulously worked on that chest with his hands, and that inlaid Scripture, “They first gave themselves to the Lord”; all of that he worked out with his own hands.
And then when he brought it to me, I took it to the church, and I set it in front of the pulpit. And the way we took the offering was this: I had the deacons come from each side, and, two by two, they first gave their own offering into the chest. And then they went out to minister to the congregation, two by two. Well, because they had had such a terrible experience—with pledging and the pastor visiting the people, even the little children, to collect their pledges—I tried to finance the church without anyone pledging, just pleading with them to tithe. And that occasioned an experience that happened right in front of that chest that I could never, ever forget.
I had a great difficulty in the church leading our people to tithe because one of the leading deacons was the dean of Oklahoma College for Women—now Oklahoma…it’s a university now—and I can’t remember the changed name. Anyway, when I was there, it was Oklahoma College for Women. He was the dean of the school and a brilliant man, and the son of a pastor in Missouri. He bitterly opposed my pleading with the people to tithe. And one of the telling things that he used to subvert and interdict my own preaching that we ought to give a tenth of what we make to the Lord, one of the things that he did was he pointed to a man in the congregation who had been a tither and had fallen into bankruptcy; economic loss and ruin.
And this dean—a Ph.D. in education, and a brilliant man—he would point to that man, and he would say, in the deacons’ meeting and in public meetings, “The pastor gets up there and he says, ‘God will bless you, if you tithe.’ Now look at that man, look at him! He tithed, and he did it for years, and he has fallen into bankruptcy, and necessity, and poverty.” Well, I did not know what to say because that man belonged to the church—he and his family—and he was poor. He had lost everything that he had in the Depression; and he had been a tither.
Do you know what happened? In front of that chest that you’re looking at, while I was standing down there, having preached and made appeal to the people—as I always do, as you hear me do here, pleading with people to give their lives to the Lord, to accept Jesus as Savior—standing in front of that chest, that man that the dean always referred to as “one who had tithed,” that man came down the aisle. He was weeping, just crying his heart out. He put his arms around me and this is what he said. He said to me, “In the years past, when I was tithing, God prospered me, and I became affluent.” Then he said, “I came to the place where I decided that it was too much to give to God; my tithe was too much. So I began to keep it, and I began to withhold it, and I began to use it for myself.” And he said, “From that moment on, my business began to deteriorate, and my whole Christian life began to disintegrate, and finally,” he said, “I fell into bankruptcy and into poverty.”
And he said to me, “I think that began when I first started to rob God, to withhold what I knew belonged to the Lord” [Malachi 3:8-10]. And he said to me, “The reason I’m here this day—down here at the front this day—is I am reconsecrating my life to the Lord, and I am going back to that day when I faithfully gave a tenth; of everything God gave to me, I gave a tenth to the Lord. I am going back to that day.”
Sweet people, you cannot know how happy I was. When the congregation had sung its invitation hymn to its close and they were seated, I had that man stand up before the people, and before that chest, and tell his experience of grace: how God had blessed him in days past; how he had fallen into poverty when he ceased to tithe; and that now he was beginning again with the Lord. And the rest of the story you would know: when he started again, making God a true partner in his life and in his business, he began to prosper again and won back all that he had previously lost.
Well, that’s just one of the things about that chest. When you look at the back of it, there is a large drawer. It is velvet-covered and when the people put in their gifts, it fell on that velvet drawer and then after the service was over, the deacons came and took the drawer out, and took it to the treasury and counted it, and dedicated the gifts to the Lord. I haven’t seen that but one time in forty years. It’s been forty years ago since I designed and had Carl Richardson to make that chest. I saw it when it was brought to me here in Dallas. They were building a new church house there, and they said, “This was so dear to you that we wanted you to have it.” And they brought it especially from Chickasha, Oklahoma down here to Dallas and placed it in our care. It has so many memories to me.
Now Bill, I want to say one other word about our giving. I was so proud of myself. I filled out my pledge card and sealed it in that envelope. And I put up there my tithe, as it says. And then down below, my more—I added one-third to my tithe—and I just felt so proud of myself. Oh, I was just congratulating myself every step of the way, coming down here to the church, “Just imagine what a good thing you’re doing, pastor, you increased that one-third; that’s your more.” Well, I met one of our humble members of the church and talking to that member, that member had added one-half to the pledge. I had added one-third, and I thought I was doing so good, and that member down there put one-half more. And how humbled I was when I knew that!
Then one of my church members wrote me a note—wrote me a letter—and the letter concerned something dear to her heart. And in the letter she said, “I’m a Sunday school teacher,” which I knew, “and I am supposed to be there tonight to place in my pledge. But I can’t be there tonight, so I’m enclosing my pledge for you to place in the Joash chest tonight for me.” Well, I couldn’t help but look at it. I don’t look at anybody’s pledge, but this was a letter addressed to me about something else, and the pledge card was included in it. So, I looked at the pledge card, I couldn’t help but look at it. And you know what I found out? In this sweet teacher’s pledge, up there at the top—up there at the top—she has my tithe: $85,000. And then below, my more: $85,000. That’s $190,000; that’s a tithe of $1,900,000.
And then she wrote a little note down there at the bottom of it, saying, “I’m just doing this by faith. I am in litigation and I may lose the case, and I don’t know whether I can do it or not, but I’m trusting God to do it.” Now you look at that; her more is as big as her tithe. That’s a beautiful and precious thing to do. And God looks at it, the Lord looks at it: and if it’s two mites, or if it’s the much from those who are affluent, when we love God and put ourselves in prayer and devotion, ah, it makes a church great! And it blesses the Lord and His work to the ends of the earth. God bless us as, one by one, we offer to Him our tithe and gladly, prayerfully, beautifully, our more.