The Soul Cry that God Answers
November 23rd, 1980 @ 8:15 AM
THE SOUL CRY THAT GOD ANSWERS
Dr. W. A. Criswell
11-23-80 8:15 a.m.
And we are grateful to the thousands of you who are sharing this hour on the two radio stations that bear it. This is the First Baptist Church in Dallas; and this is the pastor bringing the message, a special message entitled The Soul Cry that God Answers.
The reading of the passage of Scripture – a background – is the one that our Lord read when He began His messianic ministry in Nazareth, where He was brought up [Luke 4:16]. When He went into the synagogue they delivered unto Him the scroll of the prophet Isaiah, and He turned to this passage, this one [Luke 4:17-18]. I have a feeling in my heart about reading the same words that our Lord read; He in Hebrew, and we this morning in English.
The Spirit of the Lord God is upon Me, because the Lord hath anointed Me to preach good tidings unto the meek; He hath sent Me to bind up the broken-hearted, 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, the garment of 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 Soul Cry that God Answers. "Giving to us beauty for ashes, joy for mourning, praise for heaviness, that we might be called the planting of the Lord, that we might magnify Him" [Isaiah 61:3]. The Soul Cry that God Answers.
All of our people and even many of the visitors who are acquainted with us know the critical exigency that we face, the soul cry of our hearts. We had a debt of about nine million dollars on the Christian Education Building, the Spurgeon Harris Building, which is cater-cornered from the front door of our church, on the Easterwood Building, and on our new parking building. And about the middle of last summer, on a Sunday afternoon, there was a called meeting of the deacons. And to my surprise, they were told that we must borrow $1,500,000 more in order to complete the work of our new parking building. And because of that additional unlooked for debt, we were forced to place a second lien on the Spurgeon Harris Building. The interest of this enormous debt went over $1,300,000 a year. And in these last few days, I have been watching that interest, day after day; and I cut out the articles that I read. "Experts believe prime will rise"; that was the beginning. "Major Banks boost loan rate to 15½%. Prime hike dampens euphoria, the hope of a recovery. Prime rate rises. Interest rates to soar after the election. Prime hits 16¼%." And then just a day ago, the executive director of Chrysler Company, "High interest rates are killing us in the automobile industry. It’s a rule of thumb, and of hand, and everything else," and that includes us, that when interest rates are high, industry suffers.
In nineteen states, the rates exceed the usury ceiling. Even GM, General Motors, will be brought to its knees. "The banks hike prime rate to 17%. The prime rate climbed to a record 20% last April; Housing crisis possible." The same high cost of borrowing that is destroying the automobile industry and the housing industry is beginning to destroy us. This debt is tied to an interest rate prime plus 1%, which means now we are paying 18% on the debt; and it is still rising. If all our assignment was just to pay the debt, it would be simple; but the interest rises and rises and we can pay that interest forever, and the debt be still the same; paying over $1,300,000 a year just on the debt.
There was appointed some time ago, long time ago, a committee of dedicated men who love God and love us, a committee was appointed to study the financial situation of the church. Then they called me to the meeting and announced to me that the option they recommend is that we sell the Spurgeon Harris Building; that’s the large parking, IRS building used to be there, right cater-cornered from the front door of the church. I cannot describe for you the despair into which my heart was plunged. That’s been a long time ago, comparatively, and I have not been able to raise my spirits out of it. I have prayed, I’ve pled, I have laid it before the Lord. O God, what shall we do?
Why do I have a personal response, a soul cry of sorrow? I’m exactly like Naboth in 1 Kings 21, when he was asked to sell his inheritance. "God forbid," he said, "that I should sell my inheritance, the inheritance of my fathers" [1 Kings 21:3]. I think this Spurgeon Harris Building is an inheritance from God, and I feel it is a betrayal of the trust from God for us to dispose of it. Why do I feel that way? Going back to the years of this church, when Dr. Truett was pastor of the congregation, and especially when they remodeled this auditorium, and built what we call the Truett Building, pressure was brought on Dr. Truett to move the church out of the downtown part of the city. But Dr. Truett replied, "We are staying downtown." When I came to be undershepherd of the church, I found it where you have found it: in the heart of this great city. In the providences of God, long time ago, I had the close friendship of a Jewish man named Fred Florence, president and builder of the tremendous Republic National Bank, our neighbor right there. Mr. Florence was better to me than practically anyone I’ve ever known in my life. And one time he called me into his office, and said, "I would like for the most beautiful church in the world to be in the city of Dallas. And I’d like for it to be your church." He said, "For us to build a church like that and I’ll help you," he said, and he had access to uncounted millions of dollars in this city. For us to build a church like that, we’d have to go out where we could have a large spacious acreage, and you agree to go out, move the church out, and I’ll help you build the most beautiful church in the world. I’d like for it to be in Dallas, and I’d like for it to be yours.
I thought upon it a long time, then went back to Mr. Florence and said, "We cannot do it. God placed us downtown." After the passing of many months, he called me to see him again and encouraged me to do it. He said, "I’m not talking about going a long way out, not to the edge of town, but just somewhere out where we could have a large area, a campus, and build there the most beautiful church in the world." After long prayer and searching the face of God again, I went back to Mr. Florence and said, "We cannot do it. God has placed us downtown."
The same kind of an invitation arose again with Dr. J. Howard Williams, who was a great true denominational statesman. He was the executive secretary of our Baptist Convention here in Texas, later president of Southwestern Seminary, and died there as president of the seminary. J. Howard Williams, who grew up in this church and loved us deeply, said, "Pastor, let’s go out and build a Baptist building. And in the heart of that Baptist complex, the great, beautiful, new First Baptist Church; let’s do it together. Let’s go out." Here again I took it before the Lord the best that I knew how and came back to Dr. Williams and said, "God placed us in the heart of this city; we cannot do it." He pressed me about that over a long period of time, but never did God ever open a door for us to move.
I think that God has honored that commitment that we stay in the heart of the city. Houston has lost its downtown church. Kansas City has lost its downtown church. St. Louis has lost its downtown church. Chicago has lost its downtown church. Richmond has lost its downtown church. Practically all the cities of America have lost their downtown church. The exception is the First Baptist Church in the heart of the city of Dallas; and God has greatly honored that commitment that we stay downtown. Look upon these vast properties that the Lord has given us. From Federal Street to Akard Street, and from Federal Street to Ross Avenue, and from St. Paul Street to Akard Street, we have six city blocks. We own more property downtown than any other corporation in the city of Dallas. And the Spurgeon Harris Building especially came to us as a special providence of God. We placed nothing in it. We took over the parking building. The IRS was up above it in those tremendous floors. And finally the IRS Building came to us without anything of our money being placed in it. And immediately we began to use the building seven days a week. That’s just a personal heart cry about the possibility of the disposition of that building.
I now speak of a business response, looking at it hardheaded, hard-nosed. And here again is no less a soul cry. The size of that building is enormous. It’s big enough for a giant skyscraper. That’s why people want it. It’s not like the Salvation Army Building on a small corner there. And it’s not like the Baptist Building on a narrowing and constricted lot. But it is long, one solid long block, and half a block wide. And the location of that building is one block away from the present center of the city; and the city is growing toward it. In a year or so, the heart of the center of the city of Dallas will be that Spurgeon Harris Building. The arrangement of the structure is an unusual Godsend for us. It is first of all a parking building, a large parking building; and parking will be increasingly at a premium as the heart of this city is burgeoning. It has a large ground floor, one block long and one-half block wide. A building can go up and up and up and up 105 stories, as the Sears Building in Chicago; but the ground floor, the ground area remains the same. However that building goes up, the tremendously valuable part is how much space you have on the ground. The upper floors of that building are used by our Singles Division, our Meridian Adult Division, and by many others of our activities. Dr. Patterson’s just announced one this afternoon and tomorrow.
The size of the building affords the possibility of future expansion. We cannot know what the future needs for space in our ministering to the whole life and to the whole family. If we own it, no one can ever put us out of it. If we own it, no one can ever quadruple our rent. We are at home in it. We are settled in it. It belongs to us. Sell that building? It’s like a rancher selling his land. It’s like a farmer selling his seed. It’s like a surgeon selling his scalpel; by it he lives, and without it he ceases to exist. Sell it, and we will never ever get it back. A skyscraper will be built on it, or else the price will rise so astronomically that we would never be able to retrieve it.
"Well, we understand that, pastor, but how you going to keep from selling it? How you going to liberate the church from the death-dealing mortgage debt? How? We be very much in sympathy about everything you’ve said about keeping it, but how are you going to pay this enormous debt?"
This is the liberation appeal and the soul cry.
We can carry the debt on all the other properties we possess if we could pay the obligation we owe on the new parking building, the one on Ross Avenue. The timing of the construction of that building was of God. It’d cost you far more now to erect it, and we started building it just at the time that the downtown heart of the city of Dallas began furiously to rise. It’s going to be surrounded by skyscrapers, and parking will be increasingly at a premium. The cost of that new parking building is $7,500,000. It has one thousand one hundred parking spaces. That means each space costs about $7,000. And the appeal is that we take a parking space and pay for it, that some of us take several parking spaces and pay for them, that we, everybody, at least take a part of a parking space and pay for it.
A lawyer said to me, a brilliant man in the congregation, "Why do you call that appeal a liberation, a liberation?" I call it a liberation first because it liberates a parking space for our people to use. Each one we pay for, each $7,000 gift, it liberates that parking space for our people to use in the day of the week. The announcement was made about WMU on Tuesday. When the women come down here to church, there will be a place for them to park. When anybody, anyone, comes down to the church, there will be a place for them to park. It is the liberation of a parking space for the one who comes down to the church.
Why do I call it a liberation? to liberate us from the debt owed the bank. The bank has said to us, "You can do nothing in this church unless we permit it." We don’t ask God, we ask the bank what we can do and what we cannot do! They hold us in a vise just like that. I call it a liberation because it is an appeal to liberate us from the rising interest rates. We can pay that interest forever, as I said, and still owe the debt. Every penny and every dime and every dollar that we give in this liberation appeal is going on the principal; not a dime, not a penny on the interest. By paying the principal, we stop the interest on that much that we paid for; we’ve stopped it forever.
Why do I call it a liberation appeal? Because it liberates us from the blood draining of our church program. Can you imagine what happens to our church when we pass the offering plate, and out of that offering we give, over $1,300,000 of it goes to the bank for interest? It takes away from our ministering before the Lord. And last of all, it is called a liberation, I call it a liberation, because it affords us to liberate the funds generating by the parking rentals in the Spurgeon Harris Building and the new parking building in order to maintain our properties. We will never have to use, ever, all of those parking spaces that we have. There are over two thousand of them all together, in the Veal Building, in the Spurgeon Harris Building, in the new parking building. In the day of the week, we’ll never have to use all of them. We can rent them out, what we don’t use, in the day of the week; and the money generated by those rentals can keep up our properties. Our properties are beginning to deteriorate. They’re beginning to look like properties that people don’t care about. The elevators in the Spurgeon Harris Building need desperately to be replaced. We don’t have any money to keep up these properties; but we can have, and forever, if we will pull that debt down where our money does not go for interest.
Well, how are you going to do that? How are you going to pay that debt? First of all, we are dividing the Sunday school into sevens; and each group of seven is to strive toward the liberation of a parking space. With our staff members, our superintendents, our teachers, our pupils, everybody in the Sunday school will belong to a little group of seven. And each seven is to strive toward raising $7,000 to liberate a parking space. We have about 3,000 members in the church that are not in Sunday school. Each one of them, under Ed Creel, will be written a letter and will be talked to personally Monday through Friday, December 1-5, Monday through Friday December 8-15; twenty calling each evening. Those callers will be the fellow elders of our church. It’ll be the academy, people in the academy, it’ll be people in the Bible Institute, and it’ll be in Mrs. C’s class. All 3,000 of those members will be contacted personally, asking them to help. There will be two groups to meet, in order to seek help beyond our church membership. I’ve never asked anyone yet in the city of Dallas who hasn’t helped me; there’s been no exception to it. One group will meet this Tuesday at five under Billy Fair; and one group will meet next Sunday at five under Ray Williamson. And then our deacons will be encouraged to respond by a team under Wilmer Froese.
When the gift is made, it can be placed in either one of two tax years: it can be this year or next year. We just pray that the gift could be made by the end of January in 1981, next year. The appeal is to everybody, young and old, rich and poor, that all of us reply, respond, as 1 Corinthians 16:2 said, the passage that you read, "Let every one of you," a child is somebody, a child is one, a feeble old man is one, "Let every one of you." The debt is so enormous that a few of us cannot achieve its liquidation. It will take all of us to do it; the thousands of us to do it.
As I was leaving the building last week, a young man met me at the door. He had just been married, just a young fellow here in the church. And he said to me, he said, "Pastor, there are thousands of us out here that are for you. We are little people," he said, "but," he added, "don’t count us out." And that rang in my ear. "There are thousands of us little people out here, but we’re all for you and don’t count us out." It’s the thousands of us, the thousands of us that make this response possible.
In this Wednesday of last week, our Wednesday Reminder, I notice they have a turtledove Sunday, December 7, this coming December, a turtledove Sunday. When I saw the headline, I knew immediately what it was because, in a previous sermon, I spoke of the fact that every time in the Bible when it speaks of people coming before the Lord with an offering, the Bible will always add, "But there are poor among you who cannot bring a bullock," they don’t own one, they cannot bring even a lamb, they don’t own one; so for the poor, God said, bring a turtledove or a young pigeon [Leviticus 12:8, 14:22, 30; Luke 2:24]. That’s God! I’m overwhelmed by the heart of God that has as deep and deepening an interest for the helpless and the poor as for the strong and the able. That’s the Lord. So, these children, and it says, "Nursery children, primary children," this is the day they’re going to bring their offering for the liberation fund; a turtledove day. Never heard of such a thing, but how precious and how beautiful.
We are to respond, we’re to give anything; just so it is a sacrifice, that it costs us something, that we feel it. As I have quoted so often, when the gift of the land for the temple was offered to David for nothing by Araunah the Jebusite [2 Samuel 24:21-23], David said, "No, I will not offer unto the Lord that which doth cost me nothing. I will not do it" [2 Samuel 24:24]. The gift is to be at a price, at a cost, at a sacrifice; we are to feel it.
Friday, one of our staff members came to me and said, "I don’t know if I have ever made a real sacrifice to the Lord in my life; but I am doing it now." And that staff member placed in my hand a check, saying, "This is a real sacrifice; I have gone to the bank and borrowed it." At a meeting this last week, Dr. Patterson gave me a list of the people who work in our Bible Institute and their gifts. And I looked at it, and one of the professors, a gift of $3,200, and I pointed it out to Dr. Patterson. And he replied to me, "Pastor that is a real sacrifice for that professor. They live on a pittance."
I looked out here this last week on our San Jacinto Street, and there was a camper for sale. Well I thought, "This is strange that people use that street over there, people out in the city park a car there, a camper, a little truck." And I asked about it. And one of the men in our church gave us the camper in order that we could sell it and place it in the liberation fund. Anything, anything, from the smallest child to the tottering old man, anything, just so it costs us something; that we feel it.
Now, I conclude. The answer of God to a soul cry: God’s mathematics are a strange mathematics. It’s not like our mathematics; it’s a different kind of mathematics. A little is much if God is in it. Look at this mathematics. Leviticus 26:8, possessing the Promised Land, every inch of which had been given to them, but they had to fight for it. The Lord said to Israel, "Five of you shall chase an hundred, and an hundred of you shall put ten thousand to flight." What a strange mathematics; five for a hundred, but a hundred for ten thousand. As though that were peculiar or unique, the Lord said in Deuteronomy 32:30, "One shall chase a thousand, and two shall put ten thousand to flight." What strange mathematics. If one chase a thousand, two would chase two thousand; that’s what you’d think. That’s not God’s mathematics. "One shall chase a thousand; two shall put ten thousand to flight." In the passage of my text, the verse before, Isaiah 60:22, "A little one shall become a thousand, and a small one a whole strong nation." That’s God. How could such a thing be? Only God can do it. And that is true with us. How can we save this building? Only a miracle of God can do it. But He is a God of miracles, that He may be glorified [Exodus 14:31; Daniel 3:29; John 2:11, 11:4, 11:40-42; Acts 19:11, 17; Hebrews 2:4].
One time, we had a tremendous convocation here in the church. And clear across that proscenium was placed the leading words in 2 Chronicles 7:14, "If My people will,I will." That was across that entire front of the church. "If My people will,I will." I am persuaded that if we try, and respond, and pray, and sacrifice at a cost, I think God will perform a miracle for us. And I have a deep persuasion that we have a right to ask God for it, if we try. If we trust God for it, and believe God for it, and if we try in ourselves, I think we have a right to ask God for the miracle.
When I was a youth, I listened one time to George W. Truett, who for forty-seven years preached in this pulpit. I listened to him deliver a sermon. And in that message, he told of his preaching every year at the Cowboy Camp Meeting in West Texas. And he said, after a morning hour, the service at the morning hour, one of those cattlemen asked Dr. Truett if he would walk with him beyond the way. And Dr. Truett said that the cattleman took him by the arm, and without saying a word, they walked for about a mile and a quarter; the big cowman with his chest heaving like some internal furnace, never saying a word. And about a mile and a quarter from the camp, turning behind a large ledge of rock, they stopped. And the cowman said to Dr. Truett, he said, "Do you see these thousands and thousands of acres? I thought that they were mine, they belonged to me. And do you see these thousands and thousands of head of cattle? I thought they belonged to me. But I have learned, listening to you preach, that they belong to God, and I am just a trustee, a steward. You see," he said, "I haven’t been a Christian very long, and I didn’t know these vast acres and these vast herds belonged to God. But I have just learned that I am just the trustee, and I am to use it for God. Now," he said to the pastor, "I want you to kneel down here, and I want you to tell God for me, that beginning today, I’ll be His trustee, and I’ll use what God has given me for His glory. You tell Him that."
So Dr. Truett said the two men kneeled down together, and he told God what the man had said. "All of these thousands of acres and all of these thousands of cattle, they are Thine. And he’ll use them as a good steward and a good trustee." And the great pastor said, as he spoke that to the Lord, the man, with his head bowed on the ground, agreed and acquiesced. Then the preacher said the big cowman said to him, "Now, pastor, I want to say something to God for myself." And he wept a long, long time before he could get a word out of his heart; just sobbing before God. And when finally the big cowman spoke, he said, "Dear God, I have given You these vast thousands of acres of land; they belong to You. I have given You these thousands of acres of cattle; they belong to You. And I’ll be a good trustee. Now, Lord, may I also give You our bad boy? He has broken the heart of his mother, he has disobeyed his father, he has brought sorrow into our home; please, God, may I also give You our bad boy?"
And the great preacher said that that night, while he was preaching to those cowmen, in the middle of his sermon a young fellow came from outside the tabernacle into the tabernacle, and walking over to that big cowman said to him, "Father, I cannot wait until this man has done his sermon. I have decided for God." Think of that! Don’t we have the right to expect God to bless us if we offer to Him our highest, deepest, broadest, sincerest best? "If My people will,I will" [2 Chronicles 7:14]. Every time God speaks to us, He does it in a promise. And we can trust God for it. And it is in His gracious hands.
May we pray? May we stand?
Our dear Lord, have You changed? Are You any different than when Israel trusted Thee, and fought for every inch of the Promised Land, but You said, "I will go with you"? [Exodus 33:14]. Have you changed since the days of the great pastor Dr. Truett when that cattleman having given Thee everything that he had asked God if He would bless his bad boy? Have You changed? Are You not the same yesterday, and today, and forever? [Hebrews 13:8]. If we do this, Lord, do we have not a right to expect God to perform a miracle? Our Lord, we trust Thee for it. And the Lord be praised for the incomparable victory that is won when our heaviness is turned to brightness, when our mourning is turned to joy, and when our night is turned to day. Oh, bless the name of the Lord!
And while we pray and while our people stand in the presence of God, somebody you, to give your life to Jesus; a family you, to come into the fellowship of the church; a sole somebody you, to answer the Lord’s appeal for your life; in just this moment that we tarry, all of us in quietness, in prayer, and in invitation song, waiting for you, answer this morning with your life. Down one of these stairways, down one of these aisles, "Pastor, the whole family of us are coming"; or just a couple of you, or just one somebody you. And thank Thee, Lord, for the sweet gift of the harvest, in Thy wonderful and precious name, amen. Now while we wait, while we pray, while we sing this hymn of appeal, to answer God’s call and invitation, make it now. Do it now, come now; while we sing, while we sing, while our men are here.