The Soul Cry That God Answers
November 23rd, 1980 @ 10:50 AM
THE SOUL CRY GOD ANSWERS
Dr. W. A. Criswell
11-23-80 10:50 a.m.
Just as a background, reading the sixty-first chapter of Isaiah; I have an unusual sensitivity about reading this sixty-first chapter of Isaiah [Isaiah 61]. Our Lord read it in Nazareth when He began His messianic ministry. He was given the scroll of the prophet Isaiah— this is in Luke 4—and He turned to the place and then read the text [Luke 4:16-19]. When you read a text and preach from it, you are doing exactly as Jesus did, exactly.
And here in the First Baptist Church in Dallas, we love following the holy example of our Savior. And this is one of them, reading a text which is a background for the message this morning; Isaiah 61:
The Spirit of the Lord God is upon Me; the Lord hath anointed Me to preach good tidings unto the meek; He hath sent Me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, the opening of the prison doors to them that are bound;
To proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord . . .
To appoint unto them that mourn in Zion . . . beauty for ashes . . . joy for mourning . . . praise for the spirit of heaviness; that they might be called trees of righteousness, the planting of the Lord, that He might be glorified.
The title of the message is The Soul Cry that God Answers. And the meaning of the text for us, as you will see toward the end: God turning our mourning into joy, our ashes into beauty, and our heaviness into praise. The Soul Cry that God Answers. Our church faces a critical exigency, the cry of our soul. When we built our new building, our parking building on Ross Avenue, I supposed that we would have a debt altogether on our properties of about $9,000,000; on the Christian Education Building there, on the Spurgeon Harris Building, cater-cornered from the entrance of our Ervay Street sanctuary, on the Easterwood Building on Akard, and then on the new parking building.
In the middle of last summer, on a Sunday afternoon, a special called meeting of our deacons met here at the church, and to my great surprise, they announced that we had to borrow an extra $1,500,000. This extra borrowing forced us to place a second lien on the Spurgeon Harris Building. The interest of that enormous debt, now over $10,500,000, went over $1,300,000 a year.
In these last few weeks, I have watched with deepening and increasing sorrow the rising of these interest rates. “Experts Believe Prime Will Rise.” “Major Banks Boost Loan Rate to Fifteen-and-a-Half Percent.” “Prime Hike Dampens Euphoria, the Hope of a Recovery.” “Prime Rate Rises Again.” “Interest Rates to Soar after the Election.” “Prime Hits Sixteen-and-a-Quarter Percent.” The executive who visited this last week from the Chrysler Corporation: “High interest rates are killing us in the automobile industry.”
It is a rule of thumb, and of hand, and everywhere else, that when interest rates are high the industry suffers. In 19 states interest rates are above the usury ceiling. Even GM, General Motors, is being brought to its knees. Then the next big headline, “Bank Hikes Prime Rate to Seventeen Percent.” It climbed last spring to a record 20%; and then the next, inevitable headline, “Housing Crisis Possible.”
Our debt is whatever you read the paper, a prime rate plus 1%, which means we are now paying 18%, and it is still rising. If we could just pay the debt we owe, it would be simple. We just, month by month, send the money for the debt. But the interest kills us, as it has the automobile industry and the housing industry. We can pay that interest forever and still owe the debt.
A committee was appointed to study our financial situation; and they, after long consideration, prayerful, loving God and us, they brought back the option recommended by them that we sell the Spurgeon Harris Building. They called me to a meeting and explained to me the deepening crisis, and the only way they could see out was to sell the Spurgeon Harris Building, the building right there.
That meeting plunged me into deepest despair and indescribable sorrow, and I have been unable to raise my spirits out of it ever since that meeting several months ago. I have prayed. I have sought the face of God. I have laid it before the Lord and cried, “O God, what shall we do?”
Why is my personal response to that option a soul cry of sorrow? I feel like Naboth when he was asked to sell his inheritance [1 Kings 21:2], and Naboth replied, “God forbid that I should sell the inheritance of my fathers” [1 Kings 21:3]. I feel exactly like that concerning the Spurgeon Harris Building. I think it came to us from God and for us to dispose of it is a betrayal of the trust we have received from God.
The invitation for our church to move out of the downtown city of Dallas has been pressed upon us for many, many years. When this building was remodeled and the educational building we call the Truett Building was erected, there was pressure upon Dr. Truett to sell this downtown property and move out, away from the heart of the city. Dr. Truett replied, “We are staying downtown.” And when I came to be pastor and undershepherd the church, I came to a downtown congregation.
Many years ago I had the loving friendship of a Jewish man named Fred Florence. He was the president of the Republic National Bank and built that institution into the greatest financial—the largest bank in the South. Mr. Florence called me into his office one day and said, “I would like for Dallas to have the most beautiful church in the world, and I would like for it to be yours. Let’s take what you can get from the sale of your downtown property, and I will help you raise millions of dollars in the city of Dallas, and we will go out and we will build the most beautiful church in the world; it will belong to Dallas and to you.”
After praying about that a long time, I went back to Mr. Florence, and I said, “We cannot do it. God placed us here.”
After several months, he called me back again, and he said, “I don’t mean that you go way out on the edge of town. I just mean that we go somewhere where there is ample opportunity for a campus and for space, and that we build the beautiful church in that space.” I thought of it at length and went back to Mr. Florence and said, “God placed us downtown, we cannot move out.”
It happened again, in the strange providences of God, when J. Howard Williams, a truly great denominational statesman, was the executive secretary of our Baptist General Convention of Texas—he grew up in this church, he loved this church, and he said to me, “Let us take the Baptist Building and the First Baptist Church and go out somewhere and build a beautiful and impressive Baptist complex.”
I considered it as earnestly as I could, and I told Dr. Williams, “God has placed us downtown in the heart of this city, and we can’t move. It is a betrayal of a trust from heaven.”
Practically all the cities of America have lost their downtown church, practically all of them. Houston has, Chicago has, St. Louis has, Kansas City has, Richmond has. This is one of the unique exceptions in America, this thriving, growing, God-blessed downtown church. And the Lord has graciously honored that commitment to stay downtown. All one needs to do is to look upon the vast properties that the Lord has given us; from Federal, street on this side to Akard Street on that side. From St. Paul Street on this side, to Ross Avenue on that side, to Akard Street on that side; we own more property, six blocks, than any other corporation in the city of Dallas.
And the Spurgeon Harris Building especially came to us in a gracious providence of the Lord. The building was brought to us, and we took it over. We paid nothing for it. The IRS at that time was four stories above it. And all of that vast area was given to us for nothing, and immediately we began the use of the building seven days a week; a trust from God.
A soul cry, a business response, looking at it, hard-headed, hard-nosed. The size of that building is big enough for a giant skyscraper. It is not like the Salvation Army Building on a small corner there. It’s not like the Baptist Building on a narrowing and constricting lot. It is an enormous building. And the location of the building is one block from the center in the heart of Dallas. And in about a year or two, the heart and the center of Dallas will be that building. The arrangement of the structure is marvelously felicitous for us.
It is a parking building. And parking in this burgeoning city is increasingly at a premium. It has a large ground floor area, one solid block long, and a half block the other way. A building can go up and up and up, as the Sears [Tower] in Chicago, one hundred and five stories high, but the ground area remains the same. However high you go up, that ground area is always exactly alike, and the vast ground area of that building is an incomparable blessing.
The upper floors of the building are used for our Singles division, by our Meridian Adult division, by many other areas of life in our church. You heard an announcement from Dr. Patterson just now. This afternoon and all day tomorrow, on the tenth floor of that building, you are welcome to come to see a Christian presentation.
The vast size of the building affords expansion for the future. We cannot know the desperate need of our church for area or for space, in ministering to the whole family and to the whole life in these future years. If we own it, no one can ever put us out. If we own it, no one can ever quadruple our rent.
We are at home in it, settled with the Lord. Sell it? That is like a rancher selling his land. That’s like a farmer selling his seed. That’s like a surgeon selling his scalpel. By that he lives, and without it he ceases to be. Sell it, and we will never have it back. A skyscraper will be built on it, or else the price will rise so astronomically that we can never hope to retrieve it. It is gone forever. That’s the place where the First Baptist Church building was built, on the Spurgeon Harris property.
“Well, pastor, we understand that. It is very plain. But how are we going to keep from selling it? How are we going to liberate the church from the death-dealing mortgage debt, how?”
That is the purpose of what I have named “The liberation appeal, a soul cry.” We can carry the debt on the other properties we own if we can pay the obligation we owe on the new parking building. And the timing of the erection, the construction of that beautiful new parking building, was most excellent. If you were to seek to erect it now, it would cost much more. And in this growing area, parking is increasingly needed. It was a blessing of God, a providence that led us to construct that beautiful, beautiful building.
If we can care for the obligation on that building, God will give us a victory. The cost of the new parking building is $7,500,000. It contains 1,100 parking spaces. That means that each parking space costs about $7,000.
The liberation appeal is that we take a parking space, $7,000, and pay for it, that some of us take several parking spaces, that some of us, maybe, take a part of a parking space and pay for it.
A lawyer said to me, “Why do you call your appeal a liberation appeal?”
The reason I called it a liberation appeal is, it is to liberate a parking space for our people to use. The announcement was made that Tuesday our WMU women will be down here at the church. When they come, we will liberate a parking space for each one of those women to use, and anyone that comes down to the church in the weekday will have a place to park.
Why do we call it a liberation appeal? It is to liberate us from the debt we owe the bank. The bank has told us in no uncertain terms that before you do anything, you must get our permission. We don’t ask God what we can do or what we cannot do; we ask the bank. They tell us what we can do and what we cannot do—to liberate us from the debt we owe the bank.
Why do we call it a liberation appeal? It is an appeal to liberate us from the rising interest rates. As I say, we can pay the interest rates forever and still owe the original debt. Every dime and every penny and every dollar that we give to this liberation fund will be placed on the principal, and that will cut out that much of the interest forever.
Why do you call it a liberation appeal? It is to liberate us from the blood-draining of our church program. The interest we pay the bank, over $1,300,000 a year, is taken out of the offerings that our people bring to the Lord. All of that money, taken out of the offering we bring to God, is taken away from our ministry and our program before the Lord.
Why do you call it a liberation appeal? It is to liberate the funds generated by the parking rentals in the Spurgeon Harris Building and the new parking building to maintain our properties. With the Veal Building, the Spurgeon Harris Building, and the new parking building, we will have over 2,000 parking spaces. We don’t need that many during the days of the week. We can rent them out in the Spurgeon Harris Building, in the new parking building, and the proceeds that we receive from the rental of those spaces can maintain and keep up our properties.
Our properties now are deteriorating. They are increasingly looking like a congregation that doesn’t care. We need a continuing funding to maintain our properties. The elevators in parking in the Spurgeon Harris Building desperately need replacing. They are worn out. We don’t have any money to replace them. It takes money to keep your properties up and nice, painted and in repair. And these vast mechanical machine rooms here, they need to be maintained. And we could take the income from those rental properties, and we could maintain all of our properties forever.
Well, what kind of an approach can we make for the implementation, the realization, the achievement of such an appeal? This is what we are doing. The Sunday school is divided into groups of seven, and each group is to strive toward the liberation of a parking space, $7,000.
With our staff, our superintendents, our teachers and officers and our pupils—dividing all of us up in Sunday school into sevens; each little group of seven is to strive for the liberation of a parking space, $7,000. We have three thousand, about, church members who are not in Sunday school. And under Ed Creel we are going to write to each one; we are going to call each one, Monday through Friday, December 1-5, Monday through Friday, December 8-12—twenty each evening will be calling. Our fellow elders will help us, the men in our Academy, the men and women in our Bible Institute, from Mrs. C’s class—we will ask those people to help us.
There are two groups we are asking to meet who will seek help beyond our church. Our church is greatly loved. I have never asked anyone, yet, in this city of Dallas to help us in this but that they have graciously responded.
One of the men said, “I will give you $50,000.”
I asked one man for $7,000 a parking space, and he gave me $25,000. I have never been turned down.
One of these groups will meet Tuesday at five o’clock under Billy Fair. Another group will meet next Sunday afternoon at five o’clock under Ray Williamson. And these will seek help beyond our church. The gift can be placed in two tax years. It can be placed in this year of 1980, or next year of 1981, or it can be placed in both of them. And we are hoping that by January, if it is possible, that the gift be completed. The appeal is to everyone, the young and the old; the rich and the poor.
In 1 Corinthians 16:2, Paul wrote, “Let every one of you”—a little child is one, a feeble old man is one—“let each one of you respond.” That means all of us, every one of us. A few cannot pay $10,500,000. But by the thousands of us, we are able. I met a young fellow last week, right there at the door, going out of the church. He had just been married, and he said to me, “Pastor, there are thousands of us little people out there. And we are all for you, and we are going to help you, and don’t count us out. Don’t count us out.”
I noticed in the weekly Reminder last Wednesday, a little notice about a “Turtledove Sunday.” It is for December 7. The nursery, the primary children, that day they are applying an offering for our liberation fund; a turtle day. That comes out of the sermon that I preached a few weeks ago. Wherever in the Bible God tells His people how to bring an offering, some of them bring a bullock, some of them bring a lamb, but God never forgets His poor. If they couldn’t bring a bullock or if they couldn’t bring a lamb, God said, bring a turtledove or a young pigeon [Leviticus 5:7, 14:21-22; Luke 2:24]. God’s loving care includes us all. We are to give anything just so it is a sacrifice, that it costs us something, that we feel it. So many times have I mentioned David’s response when Araunah the Jebusite offered him Mount Moriah, the threshing floor: “Take it and take these oxen for sacrifice and take these instruments for wood. I give it to you” [2 Samuel 24:22-23]. And David replied, “I will not offer to the Lord my God that which doth cost me nothing” [2 Samuel 24:24].
Our gift is to be out of sacrifice; one time in our life, a sacrifice. Last Friday, one of our staff came to me and said, “I do not know if I have ever made a real sacrifice in my life, but this one time I am doing it. This gift,” and she placed it in my hands, “is a sacrifice. I have gone to the bank and borrowed it. I don’t have it.”
At one of the meetings last week, Dr. Patterson gave me a list of all those over there in the Bible College. And I looked at the list and saw one of the professors—and they live on a pittance—had given $3,200. And I said to Dr. Patterson, “That is a large gift for a man who receives a salary such as he does.”
And he said, “Pastor, that’s a sacrifice.”
Last week I saw a camper out here with a big “For Sale” sign on it. And I thought, that’s unusual that the people of the city would put a truck there and have a sign on it, “For Sale.” And I asked about it. One of the members of our church had given his camper to the church for us to sell it, and it be placed in our liberation fund. Just so it costs us something, that it is a sacrifice from each one of us.
I conclude; the answer of God to a soul cry. That’s the reason I read the text. He turns our mourning into joy, our ashes into beauty, our sorrow into gladness, our night into day [Isaiah 61:3]. God’s mathematics is not like our mathematics: a little is much if God is in it.
In Leviticus 26:8, the Lord said to His people, to whom He had given the Promised Land, they had to fight for every inch of it. He said to them, “Five of you shall chase a hundred, and an hundred of you shall chase ten thousand.” Why, that’s not our mathematics! And as though that might be peculiar and unique, in Deuteronomy 33:30, the Lord said, “One shall chase a thousand, and two shall put ten thousand to flight.” Why, that’s not our mathematics: “One shall chase a thousand, and then two will chase two thousand.”
God says, “One shall chase a thousand, and two shall put ten thousand to flight” [Deuteronomy 32:30]. That’s God’s mathematics. In the verse before my text, in Isaiah 60:22, the Lord said, “A little one shall become a thousand, and a small one a whole, strong nation.”
That’s God. How could such a thing as that be? It’s God in it that does it. And how can we save this building? It is only in a miracle of God. Only God can do it. But He is a God of miracles, that He may be glorified.
If we pray, if we sacrifice, if we give, do we have a right to expect the blessing from the Lord? Do we? Can we trust God to help us and to bless us and to save us?
At a convocation in our church, clear across this proscenium, this front, there was 2 Chronicles 7:14: “If My people will,” and then . . . “I will.”
“If My people will . . . I will” [2 Chronicles 7:14]. If I sacrifice and if I give, do I have a right to expect a miraculous answer from God? Can I trust God for it?
When I was a youth, I heard this great pastor, Dr. George W. Truett, deliver a message; pastor here for forty-seven years, preaching behind this very pulpit. In that sermon that I listened to, he recounted an experience. Every summer, he said, he preaches for a week at a cowboy camp meeting in West Texas. And after the morning service, one of those big cowmen asked the pastor if he would walk with him a distance away. The cowman put his arm in the arm of Dr. Truett and they walked together about a mile and a quarter until finally coming to a large ledge of rock.
They went behind it. As they walked, the big cowman never said a word. He just heaved in heavy breathing, “as though,” as Dr. Truett said, “an inward furnace was burning within his heart.” When they came to the place, hidden behind the rock ledge, the cowman turned to the great pastor and said, “You see these thousands and thousands of acres? I used to think they belonged to me. And you see these thousands of head of cattle? I thought they belonged to me. You see,” he explained, “I have just been saved. I haven’t been a Christian. And I have just learned that all of this vast ranch and spread belongs to God. And I am just His trustee. I am just His steward. I just use it for Him.”
“Now,” the big cowman said to the pastor, “I want you to kneel down here and tell God that I give it all to Him, all of it. And that I will be a faithful steward and trustee of what God has placed in my hands. You tell Him that for me. Then when you are through, wait. I have something to tell Him myself.”
They knelt down and while the big cowman wept with his face to the ground, the great pastor told God all of those thousands of acres and all of those thousands of cattle, he gave them to God, and he promised to be a good trustee.
Then, when the pastor stopped, the cowman, continuing to weep with unbroken sobs, finally begin to pray, “O God,” he said, “all of this vast ranch and these thousands of cattle I have given to Thee, and I promise to be a good trustee. Now God, may I also give to Thee our bad boy. He has broken the heart of his mother, and he has disobeyed his father, and brought sorrow into our home. O God, will You not take our bad boy?”
The great pastor said, that night, that night, while he was preaching to the cowmen, in the middle of his sermon, there came into the tabernacle from the outside a boy. He came down to the front where his father was seated, and turned to the big cattleman and said, “Father, I cannot wait until that man is done his sermon. I have decided for Christ.”
Do you believe in that kind of a miracle-working God? Can we trust Him for the victory? Does He answer from heaven? If I try, if I sacrifice, if I give, will God answer from heaven?
We trust Him for it. “If My people will,” He says, “I will” [2 Chronicles 7:14]. It is a miracle we cannot do. The glory will belong to God. May we stand together?
Our great and mighty God, have You changed? When You said to the people of Israel, “You go into the land I promised You, and I will go with you. I will never leave you or forsake you” [Joshua 1:1-5]. Are You still the same God? Are You? When that big cowman said, “Lord, I give You all of this ranch and these thousands of cattle. Will You not take our bad boy?” And You wrought a miracle of regeneration, Lord are You still the same?
Do You hear Your people cry? Do You answer prayer? If we will, will You? Can we trust God for a victory? Will the Lord take care of us if we take care of Your work in the earth? O Lord, magnify Thy name in our midst. Bare Thy strong arm to save. May it be a miracle that could only be God’s work, redounding to the glory of the Lord. Please Lord, bless us in this appeal. Answer the cry of our souls. Give us that victory.
And in this holy and precious hour, while our people wait and pray, a family you, to give yourself to Jesus, to come into the fellowship of the church; a couple you; just one somebody you, “The Lord has spoken to me and I am answering with my life. I want to take Jesus as my Savior” [Romans 10:8-13]. Or, “I want to follow the Lord in baptism [Matthew 3:13-17], through the waters of the Jordan.” Or, “I want to put my life and membership in this dear church” [Hebrews 10:24-25]. Or, “I am answering a special appeal of the Spirit in my heart.” Make the decision now, and in a moment when we sing, down one of those stairways, down one of these aisles, “Pastor, here we are, here we are; we are coming now.”
And our Lord, thank You for the sweet harvest from Thy gracious and saving and keeping hands, amen. While our ministers here wait, while our deacons pray, welcoming you, as the Spirit of God shall press the appeal to your heart, make it now, come now, do it now, while we sing, while we wait, while we pray. “Here I am, pastor.”