He Being Dead Yet Speaketh: Dr. Truett
July 5th, 1981 @ 10:50 AM
HE BEING DEAD YET SPEAKETH: DR. TRUETT
Dr. W. A. Criswell
7-5-81 10:50 a.m.
On the seventh day of July in 1944, the far-famed pastor of this congregation, Dr. George W. Truett, was translated to an eternal home and reward in heaven. And since that day, on the Sunday closest to the anniversary of his translation, I deliver a message on some phase of kingdom work in which he invested his life; such as Dr. Truett and the United States Constitution; or Dr. Truett and American Freedom; or Dr. Truett and Baylor University; Dr. Truett and Baylor Medical Center; Dr. Truett and the Foreign Mission Enterprise; through the forty-seven years in the many ministries to which he gave himself, on this Sunday, I prepare a message. And this Lord’s Day it concerns Dr. Truett and His Beloved First Baptist Church, the great pastor and this congregation. As a background text, and a beautiful one, in Hebrews, chapter 11, verse 4; Hebrews chapter 11, verse 4:
By faith Abel offered unto God a more excellent sacrifice than Cain,
by which he obtained witness that he was righteous,
God testifying of his gifts: and by it he being dead yet speaketh.
That beautiful concluding clause of that fourth verse in Hebrews 11, “he being dead yet speaketh” [Hebrews 11:4].
The closing year of Dr. Truett’s life was spent in insufferable agony. For seventeen years, I was on the board of trustees of our Baylor Hospital, and the chairman in those days was Harvey Penland. He was the son of Dr. Truett’s sister. He was Dr. Truett’s nephew. I was with him, of course, many, many times. He was a devout member of our church. But I was never with Harvey Penland any length of time at all but that finally he would ask me, “How is it that so wonderful and so marvelous a Christian witness should suffer so?” The answer will be found in some of the things that will be presented this morning as we speak of Dr. Truett and his beloved church. I was called as pastor of the church the twenty-seventh day of September, in that year of 1944. And the reason for the extending of the call so soon after the death of Dr. Truett was because of the long days, the solid year, in which the doctor said that the great pastor could not live.
His devotion to this congregation was as deep as life itself. He was a close, personal friend of John D. Rockefeller, Sr. Rockefeller was a deacon and the superintendent of the Sunday school in the Euclid Avenue Baptist Church of Cleveland, Ohio. And when the church became pastorless, John D. Rockefeller did all that he could to persuade Dr. Truett to come to be pastor of that congregation in Ohio. Dr. Truett told him, as Valine Turner reminded me this morning—Dr. Truett told him, “No, but when I die, you will find the First Baptist Church of Dallas written on my heart.” John D. Rockefeller was not to be dissuaded, so he sent a committee here to Dallas to persuade the great pastor to come. And they offered him anything. By the word of John D. Rockefeller, “Any amount of money you say, we will be happy to pay it, your salary.” And Dr. Truett refused. Finally, the chairman of the committee said to the pastor, “Could you not be moved? Is there nothing that could move you?”
He said, “Yes, I can be moved.”
And with some hope of affirmation, the chairman of the committee eagerly asked, “Well, what would it be, Dr. Truett?”
And the great pastor replied, “Just move my people, and I will move with them.”
I was seated at a Southern Baptist convention by the side of John L. Hill, a layman, but one of the tremendous men of our Baptist Zion, an executive, head of the Broadman Press in our Sunday School Board. And Dr. Truett was preaching, and as he preached, John L. Hill turned to me and said, “Do you see and hear that man? He is the only man that I know who cannot be moved.” No elective office or no invitation could ever dissuade the great pastor to leave this beloved congregation. When he was invited to be president of Baylor University, he replied in one of the most beautiful sentences I have ever heard: in declining the presidency of that great school, Dr. Truett said, “I have sought and found the shepherd’s heart.”
And thus, he lived his life for forty-seven years as the undershepherd of this dear church. On his eighteenth anniversary, he delivered on that second Sunday in September an anniversary message, and he closed it with these words:
Oh, my fellow Christians of this church, a church dearer to me than my own heart’s blood, I summon you anew today to give your best to Christ, to be done with all playing at religion, to be done with all lukewarmness. I summon you to come and give your best to win this city and this state and this world to Jesus.
Dr. Truett was committed to a ministry in a downtown church. When this church was renovated and rebuilt in the years before 1924, the original church was that way. It was on that corner, and those tall windows you see there were on that side of the church. And this part of the church edifice was the educational unit. That is why the windows there are Gothic, and the windows here are square. They gutted it out and created this great sanctuary in which we now worship. And also at that time, they built the building, the educational structure immediately back of us, which in that day was the largest in our Southern Baptist Zion. It cost a great amount of money for that time to do this. And when the conversations were held concerning the going into that great program, why, Dr. Truett was faced with the invitation to move the church out of the downtown city. And he replied to all of those who thus spoke to him, “No, God has placed us downtown, and we are going to stay in the heart of the city of Dallas.” That is a commitment on the part of our church that has been unswerving and unchanging.
There have been two times in the years that I have been here that we have been invited in a beautiful way to do that. One invitation came through Dr. J. Howard Williams, who was the executive secretary of the Baptist Convention of Texas, and later president of Southwestern Seminary in Fort Worth. At that time, the Baptist Convention headquarters were located where the Republic National Bank now is. And when the time came and the decision was made that the Baptist Convention would sell that property to the Republic Bank for that tall building erected on it, Dr. J. Howard Williams came to me and said, “We will sell this property at a handsome price, and you can sell your property here at a far larger price, and we can go together out and build one of the most effective Baptist complexes in the world. We will build our headquarters there, and you can build the sanctuary and the educational buildings of the First Baptist Church. And it will be one of the greatest and most impressive edifices in the earth.”
Well, I considered it and thought about it the best I knew how. But Dr. Truett said, “We are committed to this downtown city of Dallas, and we are going to stay.” So I told Dr. Williams it would be impossible for our people to move. God has planted us in the heart of the city.
The second time a like opportunity was presented was through Fred Florence, the president of the Republic Bank. In the providences of God, I never had a better friend in the earth than Fred Florence. He was a Jew; he was married to the daughter of Rabbi Lefkowitz, one of the great rabbis of America and the head of Temple Emmanuel here in Dallas. One day, Fred Florence said to me, “I would love to say that the most beautiful church in the world is in our queenly city of Dallas, and I would like for it to be yours. If you will sell your downtown property, I will personally raise the money, the millions of dollars beside, to build the most beautiful church in the world, yours.” Fred Florence had access to some of the tremendous trust funds and endowment funds and himself was a most wealthy man.
That was one of the most appealing invitations I ever received in my life; to go out. And he said to me, “I am not saying far out; I am just saying somewhere out where we have plenty of space and plenty of room, and build a magnificent church, the most beautiful in the world.” I told him finally, “Dr. Truett said we stay downtown, and we are committed to that ministry in the heart of the city.” He pressed it upon me for a period of time, and finally I replied, “Mr. Florence, more than you know, thank you for offering to help and the money to support it, but we cannot do it. We are staying downtown.”
There is no day, but that the properties that we have in this city arise in value more and more and more. We have six blocks in the heart of this city, and every day the price of its value goes up and up. It already is worth many, many millions of dollars, and in the days and generations to come, will be worth many, many more millions and millions of dollars. I am just saying and importuning and humbly asking that the commitment that Dr. Truett made to keep this church downtown and the commitment we have known through the years that I have been an undershepherd, you keep faithful until Jesus comes again; don’t move this church. Keep it in the heart of this great and growing and queenly city.
Edgar A. Guest was the beloved poet laureate, if we could name him such, of America. And he wrote,
I like to see the downtown churches holding their own. It seems good to me that here and there amid the rush of traffic there should remain a building that has no bargains to offer and no shop window display. This is a hospital for sick and weary souls; it is making a battle, not for our own sake, but for the sake of others. A church in any neighborhood is an asset, but none so much as a downtown church.
And he wrote a poem to accompany his conviction:
God bless the church on the downtown street
That hears the city’s cry,
The church that sows the seed of the Word,
Where the masses of men go by.
The church that makes ‘midst the city’s roar
A place for an altar of prayer,
With a heart for the rich and a heart for the poor
And rejoices their burdens to bear.
The church that’s moved by the call of Christ
Who wept o’er the city’s need,
Who sent His disciples to work for Him,
Where the forces of evil breed.
The church that gives and the church that lives
As seen by the Master’s eye.
God bless the church on the downtown street
That answers the city’s cry.
[adapted from “The City Church,” Ralph Walker]
We have been, we are—and I pray forever committed to remain—a lighthouse for our Lord in the heart of this great and growing city.
Dr. Truett was the greatest man that I ever saw or ever looked at or ever heard. He was everything majestic and noble. If I were a director in Hollywood and were presenting a play about heaven and God, and I was casting around for somebody to play the character of God, I would not choose George Burns. I would choose George W. Truett. He looked the part. He spoke the part. I never saw anyone like him, never heard anyone like him. Houston used to say, “There is only one skyscraper in Dallas Houston would like to have, and that is George W. Truett.”
In the beginning of his forty-fifth year as pastor of the church, the second Sunday in September, 1941, a newspaper—a newspaper reporter published in the paper, “Bob Coleman,” who was Truett’s right-hand man and assistant, “Bob Coleman, at one juncture of the services, recognized the forty-five old-timers who attended Dr. Truett’s first service in the Dallas pastorate forty-four years ago.” In 1941 there were forty-five old-timers who were present when Dr. Truett’s first service was conducted in this sanctuary. I just wonder how many of you were here when Dr. Truett was pastor of this dear church. Would you stand up? Would you stand up? Thank you. Our ranks are thinning, but God has blessed us through you through the years.
In those days, in the latter days of Dr. Truett’s life and ministry, at a Southern Baptist Convention, I was one, and I don’t know why—I was one of about thirty pastors invited to a luncheon honoring the far-famed preacher. And at that luncheon, Dr. Truett said—and I remembered it so well; I wrote it down—Dr. Truett said to that little group of about thirty preachers,
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.
Then he quoted:
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. 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 could not ask for anything better.
On his forty-fifth anniversary, the Dallas Morning News had an article, a long one, by Dr. J. B. Cranfill. It was entitled “George W. Truett, the Best-loved Preacher in the World.” And out of that long article are these words:
Today, George W. Truett begins his forty-fifth year as pastor of the First Baptist Church. He came here when he was thirty. Spurgeon died when Dr. Truett was twenty-five years old. He never saw the great English preacher, but he has preached many times in the Spurgeon Tabernacle in London.
In 1897, I was editor of the Baptist Standard, which I had founded in 1892 in Waco. Among my intimate friends, and until his death many years later, was Colonel W. L. Williams, senior deacon of the First Baptist Church of Dallas, and one of the pioneers who founded this congregation.
While visiting with him in the spring of 1897, he asked me to give him the name of a man who would qualify as pastor of the First Baptist Church in Dallas—the former pastor, Dr. C. L. Seasholes, having recently resigned.
Without a moment’s hesitation, I gave him the name of George W. Truett, then of Waco, the young pastor of the East Waco Baptist Church, for which he had recently built a splendid new edifice, and a member that year of the graduating class of Baylor University. Soon, the call was made to Dr. Truett.
They called him several times, and he refused, so they just called him anyway.
Soon, the call was made to Dr. Truett; and on the second Sunday in September, 1897, he preached his first sermon as pastor. Thirty years old, married, and the father of one little girl.
At that time, the First Baptist Church was worshipping in a new church building, that one right there, on which there was a vast indebtedness. Honey, you know what it was? Twelve thousand dollars. I have often thought what Dr. Truett is thinking when he looked down on our church and knew that we had ten million, five hundred thousand dollars indebtedness on all of these properties, and they were struggling under a twelve thousand-dollar debt. And the total membership when Dr. Truett came was seven hundred fifteen. But after he came, everything Baptist-wise followed Dr. Truett, by Dr. Cranfill’s word here. The Baptist Standard moved here, and the Baptist State Convention headquarters moved here. The Baylor College of Medicine was founded. The Baylor Hospital was begun. The Baylor Nurses’ Training School, the College of Dentistry, then came the Annuity Board. That is the only board of the Southern Baptist Convention west of the Mississippi River; it was organized in this church. These loved and honored the great pastor all the days of his life.
The Dallas Morning News headline on the eighth of July in 1944 read, “Dr. George W. Truett, Minister to the World, Dies.” Then the article:
Dr. George W. Truett, the prince of preachers, whose jeweled gospel penetrated to the world’s corners, died at 11:50 p.m. Friday. Seventy-seven at his death, Dr. Truett was born on the sixth of May, 1867, in the Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina, and spent the last forty-seven years of his life as pastor of the First Baptist Church, here in Dallas.
Then, on Sunday morning of July 9 in 1944, there was a long editorial in the Dallas Morning News concerning the translation of the far-famed preacher, and I quote a part of it:
A heart that encompassed the world in its solicitude and a voice that stirred the souls of men with regenerative power were stilled Friday night when the messenger of death called George W. Truett from his earthly labors.
Yet the influence of this man of God will persist like a river of living water. His words and his works will be remembered through generations to come not only here in Dallas, where as pastor of the First Baptist Church for forty-seven years, but three short of half a century, Dr. Truett won the esteem and confidence of all mankind. A day at the First Baptist Church in Dallas will restore any man’s confidence in the vitality of the Christian faith. Throughout the Christian world, there will be sorrow at his passing, yet grief will be assuaged by gratitude that such a man has lived and labored among us. His life was a contribution to the good of mankind.
And on Friday, July 7, 1944, he died. On Monday, July 10, at 4:00 o’clock in the afternoon, the memorial service was held in this sanctuary. The casket was brought to the church here at 11:30 and lay in state just there. The stream of people passing by—the Dallas news headline said, “Over Twenty Thousand Friends View His Body.” By 3:00 o’clock in the afternoon, this vast auditorium was filled, and the city and the county and the federal offices and the courts were all closed, as well as many of the retail stores. The floral display was enormous, one of which, in flowers, depicted an open Bible with the words “Thy will be done” worked into its flower arrangement. The funeral address of Robert H. Coleman, his assistant for over forty years, was as beautiful a tribute as I have ever read in my life. I quote from part of it:
George W. Truett was the greatest soul I ever touched. I came to Dallas in February, 1901, and for more than forty-three years I have been his—I have been very close to him. I became his assistant in December, 1904.
I loved him and honored him above any man on earth, except my honored preacher father. For many months, Dr. Truett has been a great sufferer, and while we cannot understand it, yet we know that God knows and cares. Suffering is part of God’s plan for building and enriching life.
The world’s greatest Christians have been the world’s greatest sufferers. We are told that Christ was made perfect through suffering.
And then he quotes, “If we suffer with Him, we shall also reign with Him” [2 Timothy 2:12]. We might remember that when we fall into trouble and heartache and difficulty. God’s great servants have been God’s greatest sufferers. Then Bob Coleman continued:
In the evening, we say of the sun, “It is gone.” Gone where? It has simply disappeared from our view to shed light on some other part of the globe.
We say of the ship that passes over the horizon, disappears, “It is gone.” Gone where? It is just winding its way across the pathless waters to find a shelter in another harbor.
Our pastor has gone to find rest in another harbor and to shine in another realm. It is not darkness the pastor has gone into, for God is light. It is not lonely, for Christ is with him. It is not unknown country, for the Savior is there.
O angel, bearing the everlasting gospel to the people, fly faster, fly faster. And if you cannot fly faster, then commit your precious mission to the beloved pastor. He will bear it to the praise of the glory of God and to the joy of humanity.
We cannot but feel today how rich we have been and how poor we now are. In the words of Elisha, we say, “My Father, my Father, the chariot of Israel and the horseman thereof!” God’s command stirs us today. “Moses My servant is gone; now therefore arise, and go over this Jordan.”
And that was my text; I didn’t know of this message by Bob Coleman. That was my text when I came here and began this gospel ministry.
A newspaper reporter wrote in the paper:
At the simple service before the grave, Robert H. Coleman read the Scripture from 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18, a comfort concerning the resurrection of the Christian dead.
Then he quotes Bob’s Coleman’s last words at the grave:
As Dr. Truett was finally laid to rest in the grave which stands on a hill, his most intimate friend, Coleman, left him with these words:
Warm summer sun,
Shine brightly here.
Gentle southern breeze,
Blow softly here.
Green sod above,
Lie light, lie light.
Good night, great heart, good night.
We’ll see you in the morning.
[from “Warm Summer Sun,” Mark Twain]
Do you believe that? “We’ll see you in the morning.” This is the substance and the burden of the Christian message. There is more to life than just the grave and the darkness of the infinitude beyond. In Christ there is life, and light, and immortality [2 Timothy 1:10], and the hope and the assurance and the promise of a better life, and a better world: “God having provided some better thing for us” [Hebrews 11:40].
All of our lives face that inevitable conclusion, but surely, surely, the end of life is not in the darkness of an assigned plot in a cemetery. The end of our life is with God in heaven, and in our blessed Lord. And in His holy, and infinite, and everlasting promise, we are heirs with Him of eternal life, to be with Him and with one another forever and ever, world without end [Romans 8:17]. Amen, and amen. Now, may we stand together?
Our Lord in heaven, what a comfort Thou art to us, not only in the days of our earthly pilgrim, but at the end when we face a certain and inevitable death, “If in this life only we have hope in Christ, we are of all men most miserable. But now—but now is Christ raised from among the dead, and become the [first fruits of them that sleep”] [1 Corinthians 15:19- 20]. And as the power of the Spirit of God raised up our Lord from the dead, the same Holy Spirit also shall raise us up to the praise of His glory [Romans 8:11]. He will not leave in the dust of the ground, the least of His saints who have found hope and refuge in Him. O blessed Lord, we praise Thee and honor and bless Thy name, for Thy marvelous promise to us.
And while our people stand in the presence of our living Lord, and as the Holy Spirit makes appeal to your heart, down one of those stairways, down one of these aisles, “Pastor, today we have decided for God, and here we stand.” A family you, to come; a couple you; or just one somebody you, “Today I’m accepting Christ as my Savior, and I’m coming forward” [Romans 10:9-13]. Or, “Today I’m joining the church by baptism, following Jesus through the waters of the Jordan [Matthew 3:13-17]. I’m coming.” Or to put your life with us in the fellowship of this dear congregation, come and welcome. And our Lord, as we sing the song, give us a precious and beautiful harvest, and we shall love Thee for the answered prayer, in Thy dear and saving name, amen. While we sing, welcome.