The Old Time Religion
April 1st, 1979 @ 7:30 PM
THE OLD TIME RELIGION
Dr. W. A. Criswell
4-1-79 7:30 p.m.
And it is an uncounted, untold, immeasurable blessing for us in the First Baptist Church in Dallas to welcome the uncounted thousands of you who are listening to this service on KRLD and on KCBI. This is the pastor of the church bringing the message entitled The Old Time Religion. We have the services at night sponsored by different divisions in the church; and each one of those divisions picks out a sermon that they have heard the pastor preach in years past, and they ask him to deliver that message. Now, the Young Married division, sponsoring the service tonight, asked me to preach the sermon entitled The Old Time Religion. You must remember that it is not an exposition of the Word of the Lord; it is actually a personal testimony. It is the kind of religion that I got, and it is the only kind of religion anybody knows is the kind of religion that he got. This is the way I grew up, and it is this kind of a faith to which I was introduced as a boy, and then in the first years of my preaching.
You see I was not reared in the city; I was reared in a small, little rural community. And for the first ten years of my pastoral life I was not in even a town; I was in an open country, or a very small village. So for all of those years, when I was so malleable and impressionable, this is the kind of religion that I saw, in which I was converted, and of course in which I began to preach.
Now will you turn with me to the eighth chapter of the Book of Acts? And as a background text we shall read together verses 5 through 8. Acts, chapter 8, and we shall read out loud together verses 5 through 8. We all have it? And on the radio, if you have a Bible, read it out loud with us. The eighth chapter of Acts, verses 5 through 8, now together:
Then Philip went down to the city of Samaria, and preached Christ unto them.
And the people with one accord gave heed unto those things which Philip spake, hearing and seeing the miracles which he did.
For unclean spirits, crying with loud voice, came out of many that were possessed with them: and many taken with palsies, and that were lame, were healed.
And there was great joy in that city.
And of course, the background text, "And there was great joy in that city" [Acts 8:8]. Anytime you have an outpouring of the Spirit of God, anytime you have people coming to the Lord, anytime you have a gathering of the saints to hear the Word of God, you’re going to have great joy. The Old Time Religion: I shall speak of the church. Then I shall speak of the services. Then I shall speak of the Book.
First: the church. I never went to a church in all of those days and the years past but that had in it a big potbellied stove. And I never went to a church but that the men chewed tobacco. That was a part of the way of life; they chewed tobacco. Now, in the little churches in which I began to preach, the fellow seated there in his seat, chewing his cud, finally would almost drown, so he had to do something. Well, what he did, he’d go to the stove, and take off the lid, and nearly put out the fire. That is what they did in the church service. I can remember thinking of the day when I could be pastor of a church that was rich enough to buy some beautiful cuspidors to save the fire. Nor was I ever pastor of a church that did not have in it somebody who was always in the objective mood and the kickative case. There are just people who are born that way: they object to everything. And it reminds me of that old, old story when a fellow stood up in the church conference and made a motion that the church buy a chandelier. And a guy stood up, as usual, opposing it. And he said, "I’m agin’ it." And they said, "Why?" Well, he said, "For three reasons. First, we ain’t got nobody in this here church that can play it. Second, I ain’t in favor of buying anything the name of which I can’t spell." And he said, "Third, what this church needs is more light." There’s never a church anywhere in the earth but that has people in it just like that, and they are very noticeable in a little tiny country church.
Now, the big event, oh, the overwhelming event in those churches in the long ago was the revival meeting. All you had to do was to announce it, and everybody came from all of the regions and coasts round about. Nor could you ever be saved except beginning Friday before the fourth Sunday in July. But when that time came, everybody got religion. Standing by the side of one of those tabernacles, I listened, and I said to a fellow standing by my side, "What is that?" And he said to me, "Those are the Hammondses." Well, I said, "Who are the Hammondses?" He said, "Don’t you know the Hammondses?"
"No," I said, "I don’t know the Hammondses."
"Well," he said, "those are the Hammondses. They load up all of their wagons with all of their tribes and kinspeople, and they come to the revival meeting. And they come singing and shouting and praising God. And they’re there every night during the meeting, shouting, and singing, and praising God. Then you never see them again, and you never hear them again until Friday before the fourth Sunday in July."
Everybody got religion. And everybody went to everybody’s revival meeting. All the Baptists went over to the Methodists. And all the Methodists went over to the Baptists. And everybody for sure went to the Pentecostal services. They were something to behold! They had a preacher named Bud Robinson, and he lisped when he preached. And here is one of the things that he said: he stood up and he said, he said, "Brothers and sisters, before I was saved, and before I was sanctified, I used to drink and I used to cuss, and I used to run around with wild women. But," he said, "praise God, after I was saved, and after I was sanctified, I just about cut out all that." Maybe not quite, just somewhat.
And the services were filled with deep and moving emotion. The people shouted. I have heard people shout all over the little town. Shout in the services, and shout all the way home, just going down the road shouting and praising God. The services were very moving; they were filled with emotion. When I was saved, I could not see the preacher for crying. When I would go to church, many times because I was a boy and felt that a boy ought not to cry, I would bow my head between the pews and just weep my heart out, so moved. I remember when I was saved, the following Wednesday night we had a testimony service. And people stood up at the midweek service and spoke of what God had done for them. Well, I felt that I should stand up and say how grateful I am that the Lord had saved me. Well, I stood up, and I got about five words or half a sentence, and then began to cry. I was seated by my old sainted mother, and I looked to her for comfort and encouragement, you know, to say what I had in my heart. So I looked down at her, and instead of being an encouragement to me, she was crying. Well, that just ended me. I couldn’t say anything else, so I just sat down. Well, when I did, an old pioneer preacher named Gant, an old pioneer preacher stood up, and he turned and he pointed to me, and he said, he said, "Young fellow, that was a fine beginning, a fine beginning." And I have relived that moment ten thousand times as through the years that have followed after I have preached literally all over this world. "That was a fine beginning," he said, and it was not more than four or five words – what God can do with something so small; as He says in the Book, we’re not to despise the day of small things [Zechariah 4:10].
Well, there has been a great change in the aspect, the public presentation of religion, as I have lived through it. And the change so largely is in this category. Whereas when I was a boy, and when I began to preach, there was no picture show, there was no radio, there was no television, there were no cars, and there were no roads on which to use them if you had a car, and there was no entertainment, and the people found the emotional outlet of their lives in the church, the pent up feelings that all of us have were expressed in the house of the Lord. Today, people go to a theater, and I think one of the appealing facets of a movie house is that you can sit there and look at a cheap melodramatic picture and just cry all that you want, and nobody think anything about it. But in church, if people were to weep, why, they would think they were somewhat touched in the head, or somewhat emotionally unstable. So our emotions today are expressed as we look at movies and at television and especially in the world of sports. My, my! You’ll go out there to the stadium, the Texas Stadium, and one of those Cowboys will make a touchdown, and you will think all heaven and hell has broken loose. The whole thing just comes apart. And in all of the sports, you find people exulting and excited and emotionally involved. But when you come to church, you’re supposed to sit down in your skin and jam there, you’re supposed to be non-committal, you’re supposed to sit there and be quiet, and if you were to express yourself, why, it would be almost unthoughtedly done, and it would break up the service.
I don’t know of anything more true in my life than that old, old story of the fellow who had been wonderfully converted, and he happened to go to one of those high liturgical churches. So he was seated there, and the officiating minister said something good about Jesus, and the fellow who’d just been saved and was happy in the Lord said, "Glory." Well, the preacher forgot his message, so he paused and started over again. And after he was going a little bit he said something else good about Jesus, and that fellow who’d just been saved said, "Praise the Lord." And the preacher just got off balance completely. And one of the ushers came over and tapped him on the shoulder and said, "Shut up. Don’t you see you’re bothering our preacher?" And the fellow said, "Well, I was just praising the Lord." And the usher said, "Well, you can’t praise the Lord in this place." And the man said, "But I got religion." And the usher said, "Well, you didn’t get it here. Shut up!" The church, typical church today, has moved away from its expressions of emotion, and the services are increasingly conservative, and I say, dry and dreary and uninteresting. But the old time services, oh dear, some of them would last for hours and hours as the people praised the Lord, prayed together, shouted together, loved God together.
Now third: the Book. I never knew an old time preacher, never in my life, who doubted the Word of God. It was only when I became a young man that I was ever introduced to the fact that there are ministers and professors and a world of academia that does not accept the Bible as the inerrant, infallible, inspired Word of the Lord. I never knew that when I was growing up. I never saw, I repeat, an old time preacher who doubted the Bible. Everything in it they believed. Could not maybe explain it, but they believed it just the same.
There was an old southern preacher, typical of that kind of a man who preaches the Bible and believes the Bible, and unknown to him some mischievous boys glued some of the pages of his Bible together. So, he stood up to read his text, unaware that some of the pages had been glued together. And he started out reading the Word of the Lord: "In those days, when Noah was a hundred forty-seven years old, he took unto himself a wife." And he turned what he thought was one page, and he continued to read, "And she was forty cubits broad, so many cubits long, made out of gopher wood, and daubed on the inside and out with pitch." He scratched his head, and he said, "Brothers and sisters, that’s the first time I ever saw that in the Word of God." He scratched his head, and then added, "But if it says it in the Word of God, I believe it. And it just goes to prove," he said, "that we am fearfully and wonderfully made" [Psalm 139:14]. If God says it, I believe it. That’s the old time preacher; never doubting, never hesitating, just declaring the saving message of this Book.
Now, where I grew up, in northwest Texas, in a little tiny town on the line in the years and the years gone by, it was a line camp for the XIT Ranch. As you know, when Texas built its capitol, the c-a-p-i-t-o-l, the building down there in the c-a-p-i-t-a-l of Austin, when Texas built their capitol building, they gave its construction to a Chicago company, who said that they would build it if Texas would give them three million acres of land in the Panhandle of Texas. So the trade was made and the capitol building in Austin was erected by this land company, who, out of Chicago, was given three million acres of land in the Panhandle. It was the largest ranch in the world, and it is the largest ranch in the history of ranching; it covered ten Texas counties. It was two hundred miles long and about twenty to thirty miles wide. The ranch ceased to be in 1913. So, in my father’s shop, that I grew up in – also as a little boy – in my father’s shop, beginning in 1915, I used to sit there in my father’s shop, and I would listen to those old time cowboys tell stories by the hour and the hour, stories such as you see, at least used to see, in these Westerns on television.
It is a very rare thing that you will ever see a western story that is deeply religious. I do not understand that because, if you listen to those old time cowmen, so many of the things that they would tell would be deeply religious, moving religious. I don’t know why they leave that out of the pioneer life. All the facets of pioneer life that you will see on television or in a Western movie will usually be violent; it will be war, or murder, or cattle rustling, or fighting, or confrontation. Actually there was, I’m sure, some of that, but far more than the violence that you find in those Western movies, far more would you find religion. You would find the preaching of the gospel, you’d find conversion, you’d find the love of Jesus, you’d find the building of a Christian home and the rearing of godly children. Now I want to show that to you. This is a story that came out of my father’s shop, when I was a little boy listening to those men talk, Oh, by the hour and the hour.
There was a Christian bossman, a Christian ranchman, and he took his boys and every night after the work was done, why, they would sit around the campfire, and he would read to them out of his big, black Book. He would read to them out of the Bible. And he would seek to lead his cowboys to the Lord. And God blessed him in it. Now, when the fall roundup came – and as you know, they had roundups in the spring and in the fall – they’d gather all of those cows together, and they would brand on the calf the brand that was on the mother cow, in the roundups in the spring and in the fall. Well, in the fall, the bossman, the Christian ranchman, and his cowboys were out in the roundup. One of the young men, one of the young cowboys, came back to the camp to get a fresh mount, to get a fresh horse. So, he went to the corral that enclosed the horses, and he chose one of them, roped it, bridled it, saddled it, opened the gate, and started out. But the horse was fresh and largely unbroken. And when the cowboy started to ride out through the corral gate with the horse, it began to buck and to side step and to sun step. Now, you never throw a real cowboy, never. A real cowboy is never thrown off of his horse. He knows how to ride. But once in a while a cowboy will be hurt, not because of him, but because of the loss of footing of the horse. And this fresh horse, as it began to buck with that cowboy, the horse lost its footing and fell back on top of the lad. Now, the horse got up and scrambled away. But when the boy sought to get up, he couldn’t; he had been crushed internally. The cook over there in the camp had watched it, and when he saw that the boy could not get up, he ran to him, and picked him up in his arms, and carried him back to the camp, and laid him on a cot. But what could a cook do with a boy who was crushed internally, and profusely hemorrhaging from his mouth? As the boy’s life ebbed away, he turned to the cook and he said, "Jake, you know that big black Book that the bossman is always reading to us? Jake, would you get that Book and bring it to me?" Jake went to the chuck wagon and found in the personal effects of the bossman that big black Book, the Bible. And he brought it back to the boy. And the boy said to him, he said, "Jake, do you know that verse that the bossman is always reading to us, John 3:16? Can you find that verse?" And Jake the cook went through the Bible, and found John; went through John, found verse, found the third chapter; went down through the verses to 16. And the boy said, "Now Jake, read it to me." And Jake read John 3:16, "For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life." And the boy said to Jake, "Jake, would you put that Book on my breast, just so?" And Jake put the Book on the boy’s breast. And he said to Jake, "Jake, will you put my finger on that verse?" And Jake put the boy’s finger on John 3:16, that verse. And the boy said, in his last dying breath, "Jake, when the bossman comes in the evening, tell him that I died with my finger on John 3:16."
One glad smile of pleasure
O’er the cowboy’s face was spread;
One last convulsive gesture,
And the fine young lad was dead.
Far from his darling family,
They laid him down to rest
With a saddle for a pillow,
And that Bible on his breast.
[adapted from "The Dying Ranger," traditional]
That is the old time religion, one that believed the Bible, one that believed the promises of God, one that accepted the offered grace of the blessed Jesus. It was unsophisticated. It was plain. But it had the power of the Lord in it. And it was that kind of religion that built our nation, that built all the Christian institutions that we are blessed with today, that built our churches, and that won our fathers and our mothers to the Lord Jesus.
I am glad that I grew up in that kind of a faith. As you know, I have been introduced to ten thousand things in the academic world, most of which is negative and critical and derogatory to the Word and the revelation of God. But what I do is, always, I go back in my heart, in my mind, in my soul, I go back to those days when I was introduced to the Lord Jesus: a Savior who gave His life for me [Galatians 2:20]. I go back to those days of the preaching of the gospel, believing the infallible, inspired Word of the Lord. I go back to those days when I saw those pioneers sustained by the presence and the grace and the goodness of the wonderful Jesus, and I am anchored again. However the critic may criticize, however the infidel and the unbeliever and the secularist may write and criticize and ridicule, however a rejecting world may pass by our Lord, for me and for my house, I choose Jesus. Plain, simple, humble, accepting the Word of God for what God says it is, accepting Jesus for all that He said He could do, and believing that He will take care of me and mine in this world and in the world that is to come. I have never seen, I have never found, in all of life, anything sweeter, dearer, more comforting, more sustaining, more strengthening than that old time religion. It will take us all to heaven. God has promised it, and He never changes [Malachi 3:6; Hebrews 13:8].
And that’s our invitation to you tonight; in your heart, to accept the promise of God, that, if we will look in faith to the blessed Lord, He will save us [Ephesians 2:8]. If I give Him my life, He will give to me eternity with Him, never die [John 10:27-30]. There’s no defeat in the Christian faith. Through our tears, we see His face. Through our trials, we have His presence. In every decision, we have His wisdom. In age, we have His sustaining presence [Hebrews 4:14-16]. In death, He sends His angels to bear our souls to glory [Luke 16:22]. And in heaven, we have a home with Him and with God’s redeemed forever and forever [John 14:1-3; Revelation 21:1-3]. This Jesus has done for us. And He commissioned us, and sent us, to preach it, to invite you to believe it, and to find everlasting life in Him [John 10:27-30]. And that is our invitation to your heart tonight.
Somebody you to accept Jesus as Savior; somebody you to follow Him through the waters of the Jordan to be baptized, a family you to come into the fellowship of the church; as God shall speak and the Holy Spirit shall open the door, to answer with your life, make the decision now in your heart. And when we stand up, stand up walking down that aisle, walking down this stairway, "Preacher, I give you my hand; I have decided for God, and here I stand." Do it now. On the first note of the first stanza, take that greatest step in your life. Come. May God’s angels attend you, may the Holy Spirit strengthen you as you make that decision. Come. God bless you, angels rejoice with you [Luke 15:10], all of us are praying for you as you respond with your life, while we stand and while we sing.
THE OLD-TIME RELIGION
Dr. W. A. Criswell
1. Lived between old shouting, mourning, weeping and beginning of new sophisticated but the old is most remembered
2. Pot bellied stove
3. Heartfelt with many tears
II. Religion of the Book
III. Religion of the blood, Hebrews 9:22, redemption
IV. Religion of the blessed hope