My Personal Experiences In Seeing, Hearing Dr. Truett
May 6th, 1979 @ 10:50 AM
MY PERSONAL EXPERIENCE IN
SEEING AND HEARING DR. TRUETT
Dr. W. A. Criswell
5-6-79 10:50 a.m.
A text: Paul said to the pastors of the church in Ephesus, "Take heed therefore unto yourselves, and to all the flock, over the which the Holy Spirit hath made you overseers, to feed the church of God, to shepherd the church of God, which He hath purchased with His own blood" [Acts 20:28]. The service today is dedicated to our far famed pastor, Dr. George W. Truett; preached behind this very pulpit desk for forty and seven years. He died the seventh day of July in 1944. And on the anniversary closest to that Sunday, I always deliver an address on some facet of Dr. Truett’s illimitable ministry. For example, it would be Dr. Truett and Baylor University; another year, Dr. Truett and our Baylor Hospital; another year, Dr. Truett and the Annuity Board – the Annuity Board was organized here in our church – Dr. Truett and Foreign Missions – he was God’s ambassador to the whole world – Dr. Truett and Evangelism; Dr. Truett and Christian Education; Dr. Truett and the Buckner Home; Dr. Truett and this Beloved Church. Every year on the Sunday closest to the anniversary of his death, I prepare an address on his great ministry, as he furthered some facet of our denominational and ecclesiastical life.
Dr. Truett was born the sixth day of May in 1867. So today is his one hundred twelfth birthday anniversary. And at 9:25 this morning, in the generosity and kindness of A. Webb Roberts, one of our fellow members, we dedicated our church library to the memory of the great pastor. And because this is his birthday and because we dedicated the library to his memory, I thought that I would deliver my annual address today instead of the first Sunday in July.
In preparing the address, I have changed its turn and its subject many times. There is so much that I would like to speak of in the assignment of describing the ministry of the great pastor here in this wonderful church. So, I may have made a mistake in the choice; we’ll just see. Finally, I thought that I would follow a personal review of the times that I saw and that I heard the incomparable pastor. To me he’s the greatest man I ever saw, both in his personal appearance, in the stentorian voice that God gave him, and in his marvelous spiritual dedication to preaching the gospel of Jesus Christ. I have seen presidents, justices of the Supreme Court, men of state in the other nations of the world; I have never seen anybody like Dr. Truett. So I thought this morning that I would just follow through the times that I saw him and heard him and watched what he did.
The first time I ever saw him and heard him, I was a little boy living in Texline where I grew up, a very small town in the northwestern corner of the Panhandle of Texas. I was visiting in Amarillo, and the great pastor was holding a revival meeting in the First Baptist Church of Amarillo. And I sat in a window in the crowded church and listened to Dr. Truett preach. That was the first time I ever saw him. As I went to church one day, there was a boardwalk between the sanctuary at ninth and Polk Streets, and the wooden educational building on the town side, and as I walked to the church, I met Dr. Truett face to face, as he was entering the sanctuary. Such a small and inconsequential thing, but I remembered it so well, and his looking at me as he was walking into God’s church.
The second time that I saw him I was in high school in Amarillo. And Dr. G. L. Yates, pastor of our First Baptist Church in Amarillo, invited Dr. Truett to preach at the morning hour and to make an appeal for money for the construction of a new church building. So he delivered the message at that hour, and he raised about one hundred thousand dollars for this construction of the new church house that you now will see if you worship with the congregation in Amarillo. He was used, insofar as energy would allow, to further the financial appeal of our Southern Baptist people all over our Baptist Zion. And the second time I heard him, he was there in the First Church at Amarillo, raising money for the building of a new sanctuary.
The third time I heard Dr. Truett I was a freshman in Baylor University. And the state BSU convention was held here in this church in Dallas. There was a big placard, a big banner, across the proscenium of the church, and it read, "Christ Adequate." And Dr. Truett preached on that subject that morning, "Christ Adequate." And I sat right there, listening to the inimitable preacher deliver God’s message to the students that day.
The fourth time that I ever heard and saw Dr. Truett was while I was in Baylor, and the Texas Baptist Convention met in Amarillo. Since my father and mother lived there, I went to Amarillo to attend that convention. And at the evening hour in that Baptist General Convention of Texas, Dr. Truett made appeal for the organization of the Texas Baptist Foundation. It was a dream dear to the heart of Samuel Palmer Brooks, who was the president of Baylor University. And Dr. Truett pled for and spoke for the organization and the founding of a Baptist Foundation in Texas that night. The Texas Baptist Foundation is a holding organization. All of the endowments of our Baptist institutions are in the Foundation. And they invest it and seek to make it profitable for the support of our Baptist institutions. And people, who would love in their estates to see that what they have is devoted to the work of God when they’re translated to heaven, can do so through that foundation. Dr. Truett made appeal for the organization of that foundation; and it was so voted in that session of the Baptist General Convention of Texas.
I cannot help but make a little aside here: as I would listen to Dr. Truett, I would weep. There was something so of pathos in his voice, and so moving to me in looking at him, that I’d just cry as I would listen to him speak. And that night was one of them. I sat there in that convention in Amarillo, and he was speaking of a financial program for the state, the Baptist Foundation, and then I just wondered at myself, as I sat there and just listening to him, I wept, just moved by the presence and the spiritual dedication of that wonderful, wonderful man. And I castigated myself for it. I thought, "What in the world is the matter with me, sit here and just weep, listening to Dr. Truett?"
The fifth time I heard him was in Baylor in a chapel service, speaking on the four laws of Christian character. While I was in Baylor, the sixth time I heard him, he held a revival meeting in the First Baptist Church of Waco, and Dr. Joseph M. Dawson was the pastor of the church. And in those days, I ate in the Baylor cafeteria. I would not allow myself but ten cents for breakfast. I would not allow myself but twelve cents for lunch. And I would not allow myself but eighteen cents for dinner. I never would allow myself to go over that price of that for breakfast and lunch and dinner. When I see these youngsters today and they have their automobiles, and they have their clothes given to them, and they have all of these things bestowed upon them, I just wonder at them. When I went to school, oh dear, I had to take care of every little penny and to be careful with every cent that I spent in order to go to school. So, I went into the cafeteria at noon when Dr. Truett was holding the meeting in the First Church at Waco. And there he sat with Dr. J. M. Dawson. And he was always so very, very solemn. And he sat there in solemnity in the cafeteria. So when I got my twelve cents for lunch, when I went through the line, why, I sat down where I could look at him. And as I ate, I looked at the wonderful pastor.
The seventh time I heard him was after my first pastorate out of the seminary, my first full time pastorate in Oklahoma. I was invited to preach in a simultaneous revival campaign in Atlanta, Georgia. I was at the Kirkwood Baptist Church and at the same time in that simultaneous revival, Dr. Truett was preaching in the First Baptist Church, where Dr. Ellis Fuller was pastor. And while we were there in that simultaneous effort, all of the city and all of the churches came together in Georgia Tech Stadium. And Dr. Truett brought the message that day to all of that throng that filled Georgia Tech University Stadium in Atlanta. And then during that simultaneous week of revival, all of the civic clubs came together. And at noon, in a big, big hotel in Atlanta, Dr. Truett spoke to them, and I was there listening again to the voice of the incomparable pastor.
Then my eighth time to see him and hear him was at a Southern Baptist Convention. There was somebody there – and I have lost track of the name – there was somebody there who was going to be married and they asked Dr. Truett to marry them. And Dr. Truett acquiesced, and so in some way I can’t remember, I was invited to go with the wedding party up to Dr. Truett’s suite of rooms in the hotel and to watch the wedding. So I stood there and I watched Dr. Truett as he married that couple. And the way he did it made a profound impression upon me. And at that convention, the Southern Baptist Convention, there was a small group of preachers, about thirty, who were invited to a luncheon. And for some reason that I cannot explain, I was invited to be one of those at that luncheon. And Dr. Truett was the speaker. And I copied down, I wrote down, when I went to my hotel room after that luncheon, I wrote down what the great preacher said. This is just a little part of the message he brought to us at that luncheon meeting. I quote, this is what he said:
The Christian gospel and work grow dearer and sweeter every day that I live. I was ambitious to be a lawyer, but God wanted me to be a preacher. Now, if God should give me a thousand lives and should say to me, "You wanted to be a lawyer, but I wanted you to be a preacher, now choose what you will be with a thousand lives," without a moment’s hesitation I would choose to preach to the end of every one of them.
Happy if, with my latest breath,
I may but speak His name,
preach Him to all, and gasp in death
"Behold, behold the Lamb!"
[from "His Nets Were Set"; Thomas Spurgeon attributed to George Whitefield]
"My grandfather died preaching," that’s his mother’s father, named Kimsey:
My grandfather died preaching. When the doctor said he had but a few moments to live, he asked to be propped up in bed, called in the neighbors, and died talking with them about the gospel. I couldn’t ask for anything better.
That’s a marvelous, marvelous word. It was to me.
The ninth time that I saw him was at the Baptist World Alliance, again, this time, meeting in Atlanta, Georgia in 1940. The great convocations were held in a ball park. And Dr. Truett, of course, delivered the president’s address, one of the greatest statesman like addresses that you could ever hear, or today ever read. The executive secretary of the Baptist World Alliance was Dr. J. H. Rushbrook, who lived in London, England. And I remember after Dr. Truett died that Dr. Rushbrook came here to Dallas, and I asked him, "Why, why are you here?" and he said, "I’ve just come to see the successor of my great friend and to see how he is faring." Well, I said, "Dr. Rushbrook, by the grace of God, the Lord is helping us." And he said, "I can see it; and for it I am so grateful and glad."
The tenth time that I saw and heard Dr. Truett was again at a Southern Baptist Convention. And he was getting into the latter years of his life. And I could sense that the brethren of the convention could also sense that these were the closing days of the great preacher. So, every session of the convention was closed with a devotional by Dr. Truett. And he spoke around the great theme "Thy Will Be Done."
At a Southern Baptist Convention, the eleventh time that I saw and heard him, at a Southern Baptist Convention I was seated in the balcony, just like that, I was seated by Dr. John L. Hill. John L. Hill was himself a most impressive layman and the book editor of our Baptist Sunday School Board book section, the Broadman Press. He named the Broadman Press. And seated by Dr. Hill, up there in the balcony, listening to Dr. Truett preach, he turned to me and he said, "Look at him. Listen to him. He’s the only man I know who could not be moved." That is, Dr. Truett was so given to the pastoral ministry and so loved this church that all of the other invitations that could ever be made to him never pulled him away from his pulpit and his pastorate and his immeasurable love for this congregation.
I remember his saying one time that he was riding in a limousine with John D. Rockefeller, Sr.; they were dear and close friends. And John D. Rockefeller did everything that he could to persuade Dr. Truett to come to Cleveland, Ohio, where he was superintendent of the Euclid Avenue Baptist Church Sunday school, and to be pastor of the church to which John. D. Rockefeller belonged. So, John D. Rockefeller and the church sent a pulpit committee down here to the First Baptist Church in Dallas with the instructions that they were to bring Dr. Truett back to be pastor of the church in Ohio. The pulpit committee talked to Dr. Truett, and he refused even the thought of leaving this church to go to be pastor of Rockefeller’s church.
So the pulpit committee said to the great pastor, "We are instructed to give you anything that you want. Money is no question. You just set the figure, and it will be given to you. Whatever figure that you would like, any figure you choose, you just say it, and we will pay it to you as your salary, and come to be pastor of our church."
And Rockefeller refused,I mean, George Truett refused the Rockefeller offer. So the pulpit committee said to him, "Dr. Truett, can you be moved at all? Is there anything that we could do to move you?"
He said, "Indeed, indeed there is."
And with great hope the pulpit committee said to the pastor, "You can then be moved. What would it take?"
And Dr. Truett replied, "Just move my people, and I’ll move with them."
When he was offered the presidency of Baylor University, he replied to the committee of invitation one of the most beautiful sentences I have ever heard. When they were trying to persuade him to leave this church to be president of Baylor, refusing, Dr. Truett said, "I have sought and found the shepherd’s heart." I’ve never heard of anything more beautiful than that. "I am staying with this church. I have sought and found the shepherd’s heart." And as you know, he died here pastor of the church, seventy-seven years of age.
One of the things that Dr. Truett pled with this church was to stay downtown, stay downtown, stay right here. The city needs a lighthouse. God will bless you if you stay downtown. And we are staying till Jesus comes; this church will be here to welcome Him when He comes down in glory from heaven. We’re not going to move. If they were to offer us forty million dollars for these properties to go out to the green pastures, and take it easy, where people come to church for the sake of convenience, we wouldn’t even think about it. We wouldn’t even pray about it. We wouldn’t even ask God about it. We’re going to stay right here till Jesus comes.
I want to read for you a very typical appeal that Dr. Truett would make to our church, to these people. Listen to it:
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."
This would be a typical appeal of the great pastor to our church. And when I say that we are seeking to turn our church to a great soul-saving ministry, I’m just keeping it as the great pastor would have delighted to see it. A summon to give our best to win this city, and then through our mission program, the state and the world to the blessed, blessed Jesus.
The twelfth time that I heard the great pastor was in Ridgecrest, North Carolina. Every summer they had a preachers’ week at Ridgecrest, and Dr. Truett was the preacher. So I listened to him in Ridgecrest that week. He had such a beautiful and sweet and moving spirit. In one of his sermons that week, he said that when he left home to go away to school to be a preacher that his mother went to the gate with him. And as he left, he spoke, he said she spoke words he could never forget, "And they live in my heart forever." And he said, "They are words too holy to be repeated." What a beautiful spirit the man always evidenced!
His long illness and death was filled with intense suffering. Dr. Truett was ill and in bed, confined to his bed for a full year as he gradually died. And the reason for the awesome suffering lay in the fact that he was allergic and had a violent reaction to any kind of medicine that would kill the pain. He had cancer of the bone. And he suffered all that full year without any medicinal help or alleviation.
Harvey Penland, for the years that I was on the board of Baylor, Harvey Penland was the chairman of the board, the one here in Dallas. Harvey Penland was the nephew of Dr. Truett; his mother, Mrs. Penland, was Dr. Truett’s sister. I ate lunch with Harvey Penland; he was a sweet member of this church. I ate lunch with Harvey Penland many times. I was with him upon many occasions. He was a worthy and wonderful man. I was never with Harvey Penland, never, ever, I was never with Harvey Penland but that he would describe for me the brokenness of his heart over the long suffering of Dr. Truett, and then ask me, "Why? Why? Why?" He asked me that every time I was with him over the years and the years until I buried Harvey Penland himself. "Why did the great prophet of God, why did he suffer so? Why?"
I face that question so poignantly, so many times. Yesterday, visiting out at Baylor Hospital, a man stood in the hallway a long time, waiting for me. I thought he wanted to see the doctor I was talking to. "No," he said, "I want to see you." So when I got through with my visit with Dr. Yulevich, a Jewish doctor who is one of the dearest friends I had in the earth, why, I walked over to him. And he said, "Would you come and have a prayer with my wife?" "Why," I said, "I would love to."
So we walked down the hallway together. And as he talked to me, he said, "My wife is dying of cancer. And she is allergic to any kind of pain killing medicine. And she just lies there in intense suffering. And I thought it might bless if you’d pray with her." So we came to the door. And he broke down, and he put his hand on me, and he said, "Wait a minute. Wait, wait a minute. We mustn’t go in and she see me cry. I must dry the tears so that I’ll be brave." So I stopped, and he dried his tears. And then he said, "Now I’m ready." So I walked in. Dear me, how do you, how do you say, what do you say? There is that precious little wife, the cancer is in her spine, and she is suffering immeasurably. Well, I put my arms around her, and petted her, and said every word that I could to her, lying on her side with her face lying on the bed itself. And when I left – I walk up and down the steps of the hospital when I visit for exercise, I lead a sedentary life so I walk wherever I can – I went to the stairway and just unconsciously, as I walked down the stairway, I raised my hands to heaven, "Dear God, why such infinite and immeasurable suffering? God, why?" Oh, the tears and the heartache and the brokenness of the people, why? Why? And as I raised my arms, this verse came to me as though it were read to me from heaven: it’s in the fifth chapter of the Book of Hebrews:
In the days of His flesh, when He had offered up prayers and supplications with strong crying and tears unto Him that was able to save Him from death,Though He were a Son, yet learned He obedience by the things which He suffered; And was made perfect, and thus the author of eternal salvation unto those that call upon Him.
Jesus, God’s Son, learned obedience by the things which He suffered [Hebrews 5:8]. Suffering has an elective part in the life of every Christian. We learn to lean upon the strong arm of God in our weakness. We learn to find comfort and help for the way in our sorrow. It is in the disciplines of the hurts and heartaches of life that we find our greatest likeness to Jesus our Lord.
I often think when John describes heaven as a place where, "And there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, nor tears; for these things are all passed away" [Revelation 21:4], what would that mean to somebody who had never cried? What would that mean to somebody whose heart was never broken? What would that mean to someone who had never stood by an open grave and saw lowered into the heart of the earth someone they loved as life itself? "Heaven," he says is a place where "there is no more death; neither sorrow, nor crying, nor any pain or tears, for these are all passed away" [Revelation 21:4]. God fits us and trains us and prepares us for the heaven of glory by the heartache, and the years, and the pain, and the sorrow that we know in our lives. This is God’s will, "Though a Son, yet learned He obedience, submission, by the things that He suffered" [Hebrews 5:8].
Was he ever criticized? Was Dr. Truett ever criticized? Isn’t it strange how people are? I read an editorial in one of our Baptist magazines. Dr. Truett had led in the building of this, what we call, the Truett Building. Very expensive by, if you had to pay for it today, it’d cost millions of dollars. So the editorial was criticizing him. In the face of world hunger and world missions and world needs, this great pastor takes the money of the First Baptist Church in Dallas, and he builds an expensive and expansive and large educational building. And they were criticizing him for it. I thought as a youth, when I read that, I thought as a youth, "How nearsighted and small-hearted can men actually be?" That is the same thing as if a farmer had seed corn, and he took his seed corn, and, in the face of the starving millions of the world, he put it in the ground. What we need is the vision to see that in planting the seed corn the farmer raises a crop to feed the hungry mouths of the world. And it is so in the building of a great church. We can take everything we have each Sunday and send it to the mission fields; but if you did, the home church would die! We need the seed corn to plant in the ground that it might bear fruit to the glory of God. And that’s what we do when we build this building, and we build that building, and we gather these people together, and we win them to Christ and baptize our converts. We are building for a greater support and a greater ministry and a greater outreach for our blessed Lord. So it was that the week before Dr. Truett died, on his deathbed, the deacons of our church went out to the parsonage, and they presented him the mortgages all paid for. And Dr. Truett, with infinite gratitude and gladness received it as a gift from heaven on the part of this wonderful church, paying off its entire debt.
Powhatan James, his son-in-law and biographer said, "The First Baptist Church of Dallas abides as Dr. Truett’s most enduring monument." And the Houston Chamber of Commerce said, "The only skyscraper that Dallas has that Houston wants is George W. Truett." What a fine and magnificent thing for a great city to say: "The only skyscraper we’d like to have is that incomparable preacher and pastor of the First Baptist Church in Dallas." Dear people, what a wonderful heritage we have! What a marvelous foundation on which we build! What a glorious vision lies before us! And in the grace of God, if He tarries, we have just begun.
Beyond these years, God may bury the workman, but He carries on His work. And it will rise in sublimity and glory from height to height, till He says it is enough, and He welcomes us into the presence of the great King.
And that’s our invitation to you this morning. To give your heart to that blessed Lord Jesus, to join your life with us in this precious and wonderful church, "Today, I take Jesus as my Savior too." And come, and stand by us. "Today, the whole family is coming into the fellowship of the church." Or just a couple, or just one somebody you; in the balcony round, on the lower floor from side to side, down one of these stairways, down one of these aisles, "We have decided for God, and here we stand." Make the decision in your heart. Do it now. And when we stand to sing this appeal, take that first step. You and your wife, you and your friend, you and the family, or just you by yourself, "Here I am, pastor, I’m on the way." Do it. Angels attend you as you come, while we stand and while we sing.