Our Golden Tomorrow (37th Anniversary)
October 4th, 1981 @ 10:50 AM
Dr. W. A. Criswell
10-4-81 10:50 A.M.
This is a great day as I look forward to The Golden Tomorrow. And in keeping with this anniversary and with the church as it faces a marvelous future, the sermon is prepared, an anniversary sermon, The Golden Tomorrow. As a background text in Philippians 3, verses 12 through 14, “Not as though I had already attained, either were already,” to us the word “perfect” means “sinless”; the word teleos, translated “perfect,” means “reaching the goal,” like an acorn is perfected when it becomes an oak, or a child is perfected when he becomes a man:
Not as though I had already arrived, or had already achieved the thing for which God purposed for me: but I follow after, if that I may apprehend, literally get hold of, that for which Christ got hold of me. Brethren, I count not myself to have got hold of it, to have achieved it: but this one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind, and reaching forth like a runner unto those things which are before, I press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus.
This time last year I was never more burdened or heavy laden in all of my life. Because of the spiraling interest rates, our church was taking out of the gifts that we bring to God one million four hundred thousand dollars a year in interest. Sending to the bank one million four hundred thousand dollars a year did not lighten or lessen our debt; that was just interest. And the crippling, maiming effect such a disastrous burden had upon our church made the future look dim and dark and foreboding. As though after the blackest night the glorious sun were to rise, so is the miraculous change between this time last year and now. No church has ever had so glorious a turning and so marvelous an open door as our church has this moment. Every continuing victory is assured us; and maybe it will come to pass this wonderful encouraging word that Dr. T. L. Holcomb wrote to me when I was called as pastor of the church in 1944. Dr. Holcomb at that time was the secretary of our Sunday School Board in Nashville, Tennessee. He had been pastor of the First Baptist Church in Oklahoma City, and I had come to the pastorate from Oklahoma. And in the letter of Dr. Holcomb, he wrote these words to me, thirty-seven years ago:
Never yet has there been a downtown church that really has done the job, reached the people commensurate with the great business houses, skyscrapers, movements of the masses. We are watching your church, your program, your staff, your organization; maybe you will do it.
I believe we might be able to do it such as no other downtown church has ever achieved a marvelous work for God in these days and centuries that are past. What a wonderful thing the Lord has done for us! And as I think of the unfolding future, a golden tomorrow, there are several ministries to which I pray that our church can lovingly, prayerfully, devotedly, energetically, zealously give itself.
One is a ministry of soulsaving, life saving, that this might be a great lighthouse by the side of a stormy sea, that it might be a lifesaving station. I turned over in my mind a long time whether to tell this or to read it. Finally I decided to read it, lest others think that I am carrying on a vendetta against other churches or other people. So I read it:
In a dangerous seacoast where shipwrecks often occur, there was once a crude little lifesaving station. The building was just a hut, and there was only one boat; but the few devoted members kept a constant watch over the sea, and with no thought for themselves went out day and night tirelessly searching for the lost. Some of those who were saved, and various others in the surrounding area, wanted to become associated with the station, and give of their time, money, and effort for the support of its work. New boats were bought, and new crews were trained. The little lifesaving station grew.
Some members of the lifesaving station were unhappy that the building was so crude and poorly equipped. They felt that a more comfortable place should be provided as the first refuge of those saved from the sea. They replaced the emergency cots with beds, and put better furniture in the enlarged building. Now the lifesaving station became a popular gathering place for its members; and they decorated it beautifully and furnished it exquisitely because they used it as a sort of club. Fewer members were now interested in going out to sea on lifesaving missions, so they hired lifeboat crews to do the work. The lifesaving motif still prevailed in the club’s decorations, and there was a liturgical lifeboat in the room where the club initiates were held.
About this time, a large ship was wrecked off the coast, and the hired crews brought in boatloads of cold, wet, and half-drowned people. They were dirty and sick, and some of them had different colored skins and spoke a strange language. The beautiful new club was in chaos, so the property committee immediately had a shower house built outside the club, where victims of shipwreck could be cleaned up before coming inside. At the next meeting there was a split in the club membership: most of the members wanted to stop the club’s lifesaving activities since they seemed unpleasant and a hindrance to the normal social life of the club. Some members insisted upon life saving as their primary purpose, and pointed out that they were still called a lifesaving station. But they were finally voted down and told that, if they wanted to save lives of all the various kinds of people who were shipwrecked in those waters, they could begin their own lifesaving station down the coast. This they did. As the years went by, the new station experienced the same changes that had occurred in the old. It evolved into a club; and yet another lifesaving station was founded. History continued to repeat itself; and if you visit that seacoast today, you will find a number of exclusive clubs along the shore. Shipwrecks are frequent in those waters; but most of the people drown.
[“Parable of a Lifesaving Station,” by Thomas Brackett]
Could you think of a more severe and yet truthful indictment of the modern church than that? We have forsaken our lifesaving mission, and we have turned our churches into an optional club. If you would like to join, why, welcome. If you would not like to join, it is a matter of taste or affinity or choice. No longer is it a matter of life and death, of heaven and hell, of judgment or salvation whether a man accepts Christ or not; and no longer is the church given to its lifesaving ministries, but it has become a social organization like any other social club. And whether you join or not is optional. God deliver us and God save us!
And as one little and small token of that renewed commitment to our lifesaving ministries, we are beginning this day our revival meeting. Our preacher and evangelist will be here tonight, speaking the message of Christ at seven o’clock. And every night next week we’ll have our love feasts, like they did in the New Testament; they called them “the agape feasts.” We’ll have them under those big tents out there, and the whole creation is invited to come. We’ll break bread together, we’ll visit together, we’ll shake hands, we’ll sit down at tables with pretty tablecloths and pretty flowers in the center, and we’ll welcome our friends and our neighbors; and then we’ll come inside the sanctuary for a gospel feast, a love feast inside. And we’ll pray that in that prayerful effort, that evangelistic outreach, that God will save these who face an inevitable judgment without the Lord, without a Savior, without Christ. The greatest, most awesome, and yet marvelous truth in the world is this: that men without Christ are lost [John 3:16, 36]; but in Him we have an everlasting assurance! [Ephesians 1:13-14]. Giving ourselves in this golden day and tomorrow to a lifesaving, soul-saving ministry.
Again, in these days of the tomorrow, giving ourselves to a ministry of caring; do you often think, what becomes of the members of the church who for years and years and years have built this sacred place, and have supported its gospel ministry, and now they have grown old? They’re not able to attend, and they can’t share in the work any longer. Do you know what becomes of them? I’m afraid this is what becomes of them: we forget them. We pass them by. I would love to think that in a new remembrance that we honor them as never before; and when they get old, having poured their lives into this church, that we also pour the love and gratitude of our souls into their hearts and into their lives, that their golden years might be their finest. A caring church, a ministering church; how grateful would I be to God, if when people think of us, they think, “There is a congregation and a family in the body of Christ who help me. They’re my friends.”
I don’t know whether it’s because of the multiplied years that I have been here or what, but it seems to me that there is more heartache and more sadness of soul and disappointment in life among families today than ever I ever knew in the generation past. Maybe it is because I’m more sensitive to it, but it just seems that way to me. People have troubles. Oh, I would love for our church to be a ministering, caring, praying church! If there is trouble in the home with children or family, if there is heartache, if there is disappointment, hardship, I would love for our church to bear the burden with you, and to be a prayer partner and encourager and helper through those difficult and trying days. I would love for our church to be a real friend to the least among us. For the most part that would be the poorest among us. It’s hard to forget that our Lord said, “Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these,” not one of the greatest of these, but, “one of the least of these, ye have done it unto Me” [Matthew 25:40]. Ministering to the least among us, they have a friend in us.
“Well, how would you achieve a ministry like that, pastor, with these thousands in the congregation, and with this vast metroplex in which our life and lot are cast? How would you do that?” I think that God gave us the Sunday school; it’s an invention of heaven. And when we take our great multitude of people and divide them down into small groups, and over them we have directors and pastors and leaders, there is no one in the family of our Lord who will be overlooked or forgot. In keeping with that, the last Sunday of this month we’re going to have a minister of adults—David Humphrey is the first addition to our staff to help us minister—and he’ll be the second one. And his especial responsibility will be to remember our people as we grow older, and maybe as we stumble in our steps, and hesitate in our work, and finally face the inevitable hour of death. Lord, Lord, how blessed it would be if when people arrive to a deepening hour of need, their first thought is we: “I’d love to have them by my side to pray, to encourage, help make it easier to cross that last, dark, swollen river of death.” A ministering, caring church; it would matter to us how you fare, how you are, how you doing.
A third in this tomorrow that unfolds before us, a ministry of education; time without number am I asked, “Why is it that you are so persuaded to give the energy of your heart and life and prayer to the building of these two educational institutions, our First Baptist Academy and our Center of Biblical Studies, why?” The best that I could answer would be to point out a fact, a tragic one, in this present world. For several times—and sometimes at length—several times I have been in Russia, and in those countries in the eastern part of Europe, referred to as the satellites of Russia—like East Germany, Poland, Czechoslovakia, Romania, Yugoslavia—those countries. And when I see, and watch, and listen, and visit among those people, I can’t believe how their minds and their souls are warped. I wish I had an hour to explain what I mean by that. I can hardly believe that truth could be so twisted, and that the plain historical facts of history and of life can be so distorted that the whole nation has given itself to a lie, to a denial of the truth, to a perversion of the purposes of God. Well, how do they do it? When you look at it closely, it is very obvious.
Those totalitarian governments—and they’re all alike—those communist governments take the children when they are small, small, small; they take the children, and they call them Octobrists, and they wear a little red star. Then when they get a little older, they call them the Young Pioneers, and they wear a red kerchief around their necks. Then when they get to be older—and they’re teenagers now—they call them Komsomols; then grown they become card-carrying communists. And when you walk through the cities of those communist nations, down the streets and in the parks and everywhere, you’ll see those little Octobrists hanging on to the coattail, the shirttail of the little child in front, and they walk single file like that crossing the streets, walking through the parks; little bitty guys, little bitty kids. And the communists take them, and from the days of their birth until they die, they drum into their heads all of those evil doctrines of Karl Marx, and Lenin, and Engels, defining life completely in terms of economic determinism.
Then I think of us: why, my dear sweet people, in America—can you believe it?— in America we can take that child and train it every day of its life; we can do it in the church. We can take the child and educate the child, we can; we can. And that’s our First Baptist Academy. We take the child in kindergarten—nay, we have a day nursery here—we can take the child as a baby, then to the kindergarten, then in the first grade, and through all the twelve grades of school. We can do it. When we began, I could never forget my first chapel service. We had one hundred twenty students. We now have seven hundred twenty-six. We could have one thousand like I snap my finger, if we had a place for them. And if we really went all out, we could have a school of two thousand youngsters right here in our church! Think of that: a child coming to Sunday school will have about thirty minutes of actual teaching once a week. We, my brother, we can have that child every day of the week and teach the youngster the truth of God; that is America. It’s an open door incomparable!
That first chapel service I sat there—we were in Embree Hall—I sat there in the pulpit, and there those youngsters were singing the songs of Zion. And then in honor of the pastor, they all stood up and in unison they quoted my favorite verse, Isaiah 40:8. Then they had me speak a message about the Lord. I couldn’t keep the tears from my eyes as I looked upon that little group of boys and girls. We started off with seven grades; ah, what an open door! Then if one of them wants to answer God’s call to give his life, there’s a place for him to be trained for the ministry. Last night, Dr. Tal Bonham, the executive secretary of Ohio, was talking to me from Columbus, Ohio, and he said, “We are organizing one new church every week up here in Ohio, but we need preachers. Do you have any down there in that school of the Bible that you can send to us? Do it.”
I worked in the Baptist World Alliance for ten years; and we have money in the Baptist World Alliance to build a seminary in Russia, never been able to do it. I can understand, if I were a communist, do you think I’d have a Christian school? No! If I were a communist, do you think I’d have a seminary for the training of preachers? No! For the life of communism depends upon its ability to be mean and to demean and to degrade the life of a man into the life of an animal. To take God out of the image, and God out of the hope of the soul, and what is left is nothing but animal.
God in heaven, what an open door we have; and may the Lord bless us as we attempt to make it great for God!
I have a last word, a ministry of assurance: my brother and my sister, we’re not going to fail, not we. Victory is assured us, Jesus is with us [Matthew 28:20], and He is coming again! [Acts 1:11]. And just between now and that consummating day, we are working, and watching, and waiting, and praying. Do you know how this chapter ends out of which I’ve read this background text? Remember the text, “I press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus” [Philippians 3:14]. This is the way it ends, that chapter:
For our citizenship is in heaven; from whence we look for the Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ: Who shall change us into the likeness of His own glorious self, according to the working whereby He is able to subdue all things unto Himself
[Philippians 3: 20-21]
Now isn’t that remarkable? When he speaks of his work, and his pressing and reaching and striving toward the prize of the call of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus [Philippians 3:13-14], then he closes it, “For our citizenship is in heaven; from whence the Savior is coming to subdue all things unto Himself” [Philippians 3:20]. We cannot fail! Jesus is with us [Matthew 28:20], and He is coming soon! [Philippians 4:5]. A thousand years in His sight are but as yesterday, a day” [Psalm 90:4]. Maybe in God’s clock He has been gone two days, and He will come back the third; Jesus is coming again! [Hebrews 9:28].
In these years gone by, I was in Jerusalem and on Mt. Zion. The tomb of the king David is there on Mt. Zion, the upper room is on Mt. Zion where the apostles were praying [Acts 1:13-14], when Pentecostal power was poured out upon them [Acts 2:1-4]. And as I walked around, I didn’t know this was there: there is an exhibit of the tragedies of the Holocaust, the destruction of the Jewish people in Germany and Poland and Eastern Europe; there’s a great extensive exhibit of the terror of that tragedy. There is room after room after room of those tragic exhibitions. Here will be a dress, the robe of a presiding rabbi, with his Levitical mantle, and it’s soaked in blood. He was slain while he was conducting services for his people. And on and on, room after room, and the last exhibit I just couldn’t imagine it. There on a large table, boxes of soap made out of those persecuted and slain Jews, turned into soap. And there would be a lampshade with the tattooed numbers, skins of Jewish people. And what overwhelmed me was the last exhibit of all, the end of it. It was a plaque about like that, and written in Hebrew was the song that those persecuted people sang as they faced the gas chamber, or the gallows, or the firing squad, or the dogs let loose to tear them apart. I copied down that song. In Hebrew it flows beautifully; when you translate it in English, literally it goes like this:
Of all truth, this is the truth that we believe:
The Messiah is coming soon
Despite the fact that He is not come today,
Despite any other fact of life
This is the truth that we believe:
Messiah is coming soon
And singing that song, they marched to the gas chambers, or to the gallows, or to the firing squad. We have a like persuasion with those dear and persecuted people; and this day is a recommitment of our lives to the ministering and the caring and the soulsaving of our Lord:
Out of the shame of my coward heart,
Out of the night of defeat,
Lift me, O God, to do battle again,
Cover my bitter retreat!
Beaten, but still undefeated, I pray
Thou of unconquerable hand.
Reach me, my poor, broken saber again,
I pledge Thee to die or to stand!
By the wonders of heaven’s forgiveness,
By the lovely lure of Thy light,
By Thy Spirit of victory eternal,
God, fling me again in the fight!
[“Undefeated,” Ralph S. Cushmon]
This is our dedication: until we die, to the day of our death, we are offering to God the strength of our hands, the worship and love and devotion of our lives, the zeal and the commitment of our souls. Jesus the Messiah is coming soon [Philippians 4:5]; and we’re waiting, and watching, and working until that glorious and triumphant day [Matthew 24:45-46].
Now may we stand together?
Our Lord who reigns in heaven [Matthew 26:64], and who works by our hearts and hands in earth [Philippians 2:13], may Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done [Matthew 6:10], where we live down here in this earth as it is up there in heaven where You live, dear Lord Jesus. And we pray that the Holy Spirit of God will work with us mightily as we preach the gospel of His grace. Save us, Lord, from death. Write our names in the Lamb’s Book of Life [Revelation 20:12, 15, 21:27]. Seal us, Lord, with the Holy Spirit [Ephesians 4:30]. And bless our hearts and homes and children and family, the work of our hands, and this dear and precious church.
And in this moment that our people stand before the Lord, a family you to put your life with us in this dear church, a couple you down one of those aisles, a one somebody you, “Pastor today I accept the Lord as my Savior, and here I stand.” As the Spirit shall press to your heart the appeal, make the decision now. And when we sing our hymn of invitation, come. That first step will be the most meaningful you’ll ever make in your life. Down one of those aisles, down one of those stairways, “Here we come, pastor.” God bless you, and welcome.
And thank Thee, Lord, for the sweet harvest You give us. In Thy saving and keeping and wonderful name, amen. Welcome. While we sing, come, come.