Dr. Truett and God’s Call to America
July 4th, 1982 @ 10:50 AM
DR. TRUETT AND GOD’S CALL TO AMERICA
Dr. W. A. Criswell
7-4-82 10:50 a.m.
On the day that is closest to the anniversary of the death of the far-famed pastor, George W. Truett, undershepherd of this church for forty and seven years, I deliver an address on some phase of kingdom work to which he devoted his wonderful life. This is the thirty-eighth year that I have done such a thing.
His interests covered, literally, the world, and certainly in the building of our tremendous denominational witness. I have delivered an address, for example, on Dr. Truett and Baylor University Hospital, founded by the leadership of this church; Dr. Truett and the Annuity Board, the board was organized in this church; Dr. Truett and the Foreign Mission Enterprise; Dr. Truett and Our Witness Here at Home and Home Missions; Dr. Truett and Evangelism; Dr. Truett and This Dear First Baptist Church.
So through the years I have presented those addresses. I love to do it. I love to keep alive the memory of that greatest of all of our Southern Baptist preachers. And it does my heart good to think that we worship God in this same place and are carrying through to a noble fruition the work that he so marvelously founded and furthered.
First of all, how many of you here were members of this church in the days of Dr. Truett? Would you stand up, wherever you are? You who were members of the church in the days of Dr. Truett? Look around just for a moment and see who else among you is here when Dr. Truett was your pastor. Thank you. Our ranks are so decimated, but some of us are still abiding in the pilgrim way into which he so beautifully guided this dear congregation.
Because this is the Fourth of July, the title of the address is Dr. Truett and God’s Call to America. Turn in your Bible to Romans chapter 13—reading the first 7 verses—Romans, chapter 13, and then, 1 Peter chapter 2. Romans chapter 13, beginning at verse 1:
Let every soul be subject unto the higher powers. For there is no power but of God: the powers that be are ordained of God.
Whosoever therefore resisteth the power, resisteth the ordinance of God: and they that resist shall receive to themselves condemnation.
For rulers are not a terror to good works, but to evil. Wilt thou then not be afraid of the power? Do that which is good, and thou shalt have the praise of the same:
For he is the minister of God to thee for good. But if thou do that which is evil, be afraid; for he beareth not the sword in vain; for he is the minister of God, a revenger to execute wrath upon them that doeth evil.
Wherefore ye must needs be subject, not only for wrath, but also for conscience sake.
For this cause pay ye tribute also, taxes also: for they are God’s ministers, attending continually upon this very thing.
Render therefore to all their dues: tribute to whom tribute is due; custom to whom custom; fear to whom fear; honor to whom honor.
Unless someone might think that this is unique and just separate and apart in Holy Scripture, we read now 1 Peter chapter 2, verses 13 to 17,
1 Peter 2, chapter 2, verses 13 through17:
Submit yourselves to every ordinance of man for the Lord’s sake: whether it be to the king, as supreme;
Or unto governors, as unto them that are sent by him for the punishment of evil-doers, and for the praise of them that do well.
For so is the will of God, that with well doing you may put to silence the ignorance of foolish men:
As free, and not using your liberty for a cloak of maliciousness, but as the servants of God.
Honor all men. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honor the king.
[1 Peter 2:13-17]
Now the reason this passage is so poignantly meaningful to me is this. Those words were written about Nero, emperor of the Roman Empire from 54 to 68 AD, and the most unworthy of all of the rulers of any empire in the history of the world. We name our sons Paul. We name our dogs Nero, and he was a dog if ever there was one.
The Book of Roman was written in 58 AD. The Book of Peter was written somewhere around 64 AD. This Nero beheaded Paul; because he was a Roman citizen, he couldn’t be crucified. But Simon Peter, being not a Roman citizen, was crucified by Nero. Now that is the man to whom Paul addresses the word, “He is the minister of God to thee for good” [Romans 13:4]. And Simon Peter wrote, “Honor the king,” the Roman Caesar [1 Peter 2:17].
What you find in the Bible is very apparent. The Bible always holds up the ideal; however men may fall below it. The ideal is ever presented and should be, not only in the Scriptures but in the exposition of that Holy Word in the pulpit in the church.
The ideal is ever held up before men. For example, marriage: in the nineteenth chapter of the Gospel of Matthew, the Lord speaks of marriage.
And going back to the beginning, He avows, “God made it one man for one woman. And the covenant is to be eternal; it is to be until death do us part” [Matthew 19:4-9].
In the actual living of our lives, that marriage vow is so off torn asunder. And the home is filled with diverse contradictions and frustrations. But, however the human family may fall short of the expectation and the program of God, the minister in the church and the church should always uphold the ideal. The ideal is one woman, one man, forever, linked together in a covenant vow.
It is the same thing in the regard of Holy Scripture to our lives. For example, the Savior will say in the Sermon on the Mount, in chapter 5: “Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect” [Matthew 5:48]. There’s not one of us but that falls beneath that ideal, but the minister, the pastor of the church, should always hold it up. This is our ideal, our vision, our high calling, to be perfect in our lives, as our heavenly Father is perfect.
So it is in the state. The state is many times oppressive; it is always filled with corruption. There’s hardly a government that is at all pure and holy, but however men fall short in their national, political, or local offices, the minister—as the Scriptures—should always hold up the ideal, even though the head of the government is a Nero and before whom these two apostles were martyred. Yet, the ideal is always raised. This is the goal and the vision God hath set before us. Well, the state is a part of the great ordinance of the Lord God in the world. And as such, in the ordinance of God, it is under law and order, mandated by the omnipotent Potentate who created us.
You find that in His universe: all of these planets in their vast orbits move according to law and order, how God created them. The earth is like that in its seasons and in all of its manifestations of life. It works according to law and order.
It is thus with our state. Government is ordained of God, and as such, is presented in the Bible. And it is right for the minister of Christ, standing before his people, to expound to them what God says concerning our duties to the government: to pray for our rulers, to pray for peace, to pray that we might be good citizens, loving the brotherhood, honoring the king [1 Peter 2:17].
When we therefore face this assignment of Dr. Truett and God’s Call to America, we are following in the train of the apostles of Christ and, of course, of the theocracy, the God-government of the Old Testament. Now, in the life of Dr. Truett, I have chosen an address that he made to the second Congress of the Baptist World Alliance, delivered the closing message on Sunday in 1911 in Philadelphia.
The Congress met in the Grace Baptist Church of which Russell H. Conwell was pastor. He was world famous because of his lecture on “Acres of Diamonds,” a magnificent, marvelous preacher. The president that presided over the Congress was John Clifford of London. And the president-elect was John MacArthur, pastor of the Calvary Baptist Church in New York City.
Now, I want to point out to you, in the reading of the addresses at that World Congress, something that is of a weakness in human nature. And that is our tendency to underestimate the awesome power of evil. In 2 Corinthians 4:4, Paul says that the “god of this world” is Satan and that he has blinded the minds of men. The god of this present world is not Christ, nor even our heavenly Father. The god of this present world is Satan. For example, in Revelation 10:7, in the great Apocalypse, the unfolding, the unveiling of the denouement of the age, the consummation of the age; in Revelation 10:7, the apostle writes that in the days of the sounding of the seventh angel, the seventh trumpet, the mystery of God shall be finished—in the days of the sounding of the seventh angel at the end of the age.
Then in chapter 11, verse 15, the apostle writes in the Apocalypse that the seventh angel sounded; and there was a great voice, saying, “The kingdoms of this world are become the kingdom of our Lord, and of His Christ; and He shall reign forever and ever” [Revelation 11:15].
Not until the sounding of the trumpet of the seventh angel—the end of the age—are the kingdoms, and nations, and peoples of this world subject to God, and His Christ. Between now and then, we are taught in the Bible, that the god of this world is Satan, and he blinds the minds of men and deceives our human hearts [2 Corinthians 4:4].
Now with that in mind, I want to point out something to you, reflecting how easy it is for a man to be deceived into thinking that righteousness will prevail in this earth before the appearing of the Lord Christ—before the blowing of the seventh trumpet [Revelation 11:15].
Russell H. Conwell said at that Congress 1911, quote, “We have our dear brethren here from Russia. God bless them everyone. Let us say to the people of Russia that these brethren are sent back from this great convention with the prayer that they may have Christ going with them, throughout all of that great nation.”
Listen to Dr. John Clifford of London, who presided over the Congress: “Is not our outlook bright? Ought not we to be full of hope? We are looking forward in the old country; the freedom we possess today shall be everybody’s possession, and the justice which rules in our land shall rule in all lands.”
Listen to G. G. Lehman of Germany: “The report not only from Germany but also from Bohemia, and Bulgaria, and Estonia, and Lithuania, and Monrovia, and Poland, and Russia, and Romania is a marvel in my eyes and in the eyes of my German brethren. From these countries, blessings flow all over Europe.”
Why, my brother! Estonia, and Lithuania, and Monrovia are not even anymore, they are swallowed up by the communist colonial empire. And Bulgaria, and Poland, and Russia, and Romania are a part of that dark evil system.
Look again, A. U. Kagawachi from Japan: a few days ago, the Japanese minister in Washington, said that there had been wars of the roses. But pointing to the Stars and Stripes of the United States, and to the sun flag of Japan, he said that, there never had been war between the stars and the sun. “There will not be war between the sun flag of Japan and the Stars and Stripes of America represented here.”
Within thirty-six months, June 23, 1914, the archduke Francis Ferdinand, heir to the throne of Austria, was assassinated in Serbia, and the whole world was aflame. And on the seventh day of December in 1941, I could never forget standing before that radio, listening to the description of the attack of Japan on Pearl Harbor.
This is an evil world in which we live. And we need to recognize the awesome powers and the driving marches of evil—and that’s why our call to prayer and to the strong intervention of God, “Except the Lord deliver the city, the watchman waketh but in vain . . .” [Psalm 127:1].
The closing address of the Alliance was delivered, as I said, by George W. Truett, the pastor of this church, Sunday evening, June 25, in 1911. He began:
This week may well be likened to a great council of war, where God’s men have surveyed the battlefield and have taken cognizance of their forces. But what of America in this great program? The eyes of all the world are on America.
Emerson said that America seems to have been the last effort of divine providence in behalf of the race. The noble Spurgeon said to one of our American brethren a little before his death, ‘Go back to your country and tell your men that the hopes of the world are centered in your country; the free church in a free state.’
Then, in the address, Dr. Truett begin to point out our perils. Now, you listen to him as a prophet:
America is threatened today by manifold perils. Optimism is a very stupid and hurtful thing, if it fails to face the facts. We are menaced, for one thing, by our vast and fast growing cities. The challenge for our civilization and the test of our Christianity are these same cities. As go the cities, so shall go the states and the nation.
The populations of our country are rapidly hurrying to the cities. In 1800, only three percent of the people were in cities of America. Now, something like forty percent are in the cities. And in another short generation one may easily calculate the myriads of people who shall live in the cities.
What a prophet! Today more than seventy percent of all Americans live in these great cities. The best and the worst meet in the city.
Now, may I pause? Dr. Truett poured his soul into the heart and life of this congregation. And one of the dedications to which he led the church was that we stay downtown in the heart of this great city, where Satan has his throne, where there is an empire in every facet of merchandising, financial, economic life: these great banks, these great financial institutions, these vast corporations, these great insurance companies. In the heart of it, he felt there ought to be a living, viable, shining, burning for Christ.
And for thirty-eight years, I have tried to carry through that same dedication. I was listening to a conversation this last week, and they were talking about the properties we have here in this First Baptist Church. I think it is an exaggeration, but one of the men said—who is a gifted real estate broker—he said, “The First Baptist Church in Dallas could take their properties and sell them for two hundred million dollars. And you could build a hundred-story skyscraper on any one of the six city blocks that we own.”
One forty-five stories is going up right in our front door. Well, the other man said, as they were talking in the group—one man said, “You know, the day will come when the church will sell those properties for that vast amount of money and go out somewhere and build a super cathedral.”
And another man said—who knew this congregation—he said, “You may be correct in that prognostication, that prophecy, but it will not be until the generation that Brother Criswell pastors shall have died, for he has done like his predecessor. He has built into the hearts of the people a dedication to stay downtown and to build a lighthouse and a witness for Christ for this whole city.”
I, of course, do not know what our successors will do. All we can do is just pray that the great dedication of Dr. Truett that we have continued for these thirty and eight years will continue until Jesus comes again. I would love to think that when the Lord comes at the consummation of the age, He would see this great church holding high the gospel message in His blessed and saving name.
Well, he closes the passage on our perils with this prophetic word. You’d think he was talking today; he’s speaking in 1911! He says:
In our great country, lawlessness, to a fearful degree, stalks like a pestilence through the land. In our great country, the craze for amusement threatens the destruction of things serious.
Now this is before radio or television or all of the things that go on in the entertainment world. Nobody ever heard of rock-and-roll and the fifty thousand of those unbelievable creatures that meet out there in the Cotton Bowl and go crazy; none of that had existed when he said that. “In our great country, the social world is filled with frivolities and vanities”—that’s before the modern cocktail party—“and the business world, crowded with dishonesties; and the political world, saturated with graft.”
Now this is before the headlines of Abscam and all of the congressmen and senators that are de-frocked and de-officed and sent to prison and the Lord only knows what. “Oh!” he says:
This is no time, my brothers, for that negative, complacent, soft-going optimism, which says, soothingly, “All is well.” But for what have I said this? To chat a dirge? No! No! But to beat a charge!
He then turned to the challenge of America; what is the task of America?
The task of America is that she herself become thoroughly and truly Christian. Brethren, this mighty America can command the conversion of the world on one condition only. And that is that she be Christian through and through. And that is the preeminent call of this hour to America. We must remember that no longer are there any hermit nations, no national secrets. The world is a whispering gallery now. The nations have been brought into one great neighborhood. The seas have dwindled into little brooks and nothing anywhere can now be done in a corner.
Even IBM can’t keep its secrets from the Japanese. They steal them, they buy them, they know them. They manufacture in competition to them. The whole world is a little community. And what happens over there finds repercussion in us. They can’t whisper over there across the seas, but we listen to it here in America.
Now, Dr. Truett said all that before the airplane, before the radio, before the TV, before the satellites that circle this earth looked down on all of these countries, and a thousand other ways and means of communication and travel,
his plea for a Christian America.
My dear people I’m not infallible, but this is an observation on my part. Twice have I been on a preaching mission through Russia. I have preached in Leningrad, in Moscow, in Kharkov, in Odessa, in Kiev. And on my word, the best I can judge, I don’t see any difference in atheism in Russia and atheism in America. I don’t see any difference in socialism in Russia and socialism in America. I don’t see any difference in godlessness in Russia and godlessness in America. I don’t see any difference in desecration in Russia and desecration here. Drunkenness there, drunkenness here; it seems to me that the difference in people, whether it’s in Russia or in America, the difference is God! That’s all. That’s all.
And if our country is to be set apart or different from the atheistic countries of godless communism, it lies in the devotion of our people to the Lord. “God bless the people,” says the psalmist, “whose God is the Lord” [Psalm 33:12]. And for our people to be humble, and devout, and Christian, honors His name and glorifies our people.
I somehow think so often of Benjamin Franklin at the Constitutional Congress in Independence Hall in Philadelphia. After they had met endlessly, seeking to write a Constitution for those thirteen separate, sovereign colonies, it looked as though their work was filled with nothing but despair, futility, sterility, failure. And eventually, Benjamin Franklin said, “If this world cannot exist without the law and blessing of God, how much less could we hope to do a work for our colonies and our people and not have the presence of God in it?”
Then he said to the chairman, George Washington, “I make a motion that we begin every session on our knees in prayer.” And I can’t help but remember when a visitor from the British aisles came to America and asked, “Which one is General George Washington?” The answer was, “When the Congress goes to prayer, the one who kneels is General George Washington.”
What’s the matter with praying to God, asking God’s blessings upon the work of our hands, seeking God’s wisdom in all of the debates of state and in the decisions of national life? That’s the way we were! That’s the way we must be if we have any hope for God’s blessings upon us today and tomorrow.
Now I come to the marvelous climactic peroration of the great pastor. He closed that address in Philadelphia with this:
Many are the stories that tell of that world-famed queen, Victoria. But this one has appealed to me as none other. One day, as she listened to the chaplain preach a sermon on the coming again of Jesus to this world, those near the royal box noticed the noble queen as she shook with emotion, as her lips quivered, and as her eyes were suffused with tears. When the service was ended, she asked to see the chaplain alone. And when he was ushered into her presence and beheld her great emotion, he asked her its occasion and she said, “Oh sir, what you said about the coming again of the world’s rightful King.”
And the chaplain said, “Why are you so moved?”
And she said, “I could wish to be here when He comes.”
He said, “And why do you wish to be here when He comes?”
And with emotion, indescribable and sublimely glorious, she answered, “That I might lay this crown at His blessed feet.”
Then the great pastor quotes:
When the kingdoms of this world shall have become the kingdom of our God and of His Christ, the enrapturing word shall be passed along the line that He reigns in America, and in Britain’s vast domains, and in the mighty dominions of the czar, and the emperor, and the sultan, and in all lands, and among all peoples. And all dominions, and all republics, and all governments, and all peoples shall be lost in that one kingdom of Him whose is the world’s blessed and only Potentate; Him, whose it is, here and forever to be King of kings and Lord of lords. Even so, come, Lord Jesus.
I have spoken several times about that, something that our people do not realize. Did you notice he closed his oration, his address, with a prayer for the coming of the Lord Jesus, and that it would be then that the kingdoms of this world would be the kingdom of our Lord, and of His Christ, and He would reign the only rightful Potentate forever and ever? [Revelation 11:15].
The second coming of Christ: in the latter years of Dr. Truett, he never referred to the coming of Christ. Because of a providence and providences, he swung away from it and never referred to it. I was talking to a minister, a preacher, who had been in the church for many, many years. I buried him, a truly great, godly man. And I said to him, “Did you ever hear Dr. Truett preach on the second coming of our Lord?” And he replied to me, “Oh, back there, in those early years, he preached on the second coming of Christ many times.” He says, “I will bring you, and I will give it to you, and I have it. I set in the congregation, when he preached from the fourteenth chapter of the Gospel of John, ‘If I go away, I will come again, and receive you unto Myself’” [John 14:3]. And he said, “I took the notes of the sermon, and I have them.” And he said in that service, while Dr. Truett was preaching on the blessed hope, as Paul calls it, the return of our wonderful Lord [Titus 2:13], there was a saintly mother in the congregation who began to shout and to praise God. I would think that our young people have never seen anybody shout. I would think that most of the people who are here this morning have never heard anyone shout. When I was a boy, I would listen to them praise God. When I began my humble ministry, people shouted in those revival meetings, just overflowing in heart, just too full to be still any longer. Well anyway, while Dr. Truett was preaching on the coming again of Jesus, a dear, sainted, old mother stood up here in this church and began to praise God and to shout and to glorify His name. One of the deacons in the church thought that she was beside herself, that she was ill, so he rushed over to her and began escorting her out of the congregation. And when Dr. Truett saw what he was doing, he raised his hand and said, “There, there,” and called the name of the deacon, “leave her alone. Leave her alone. She’s just happy in the Lord.” Then turning to the great congregation, he said, “My brothers and sisters, we need more of that in this church.” What do you think of that?
I have always felt that a dead, dull, dry, dreary religion is no better than none at all. The kind of religion that I got was heartfelt. The kind of religion that I preached when I started as a seventeen year old boy was heartfelt. I have never moved away from it.
I think it is something of love and devotion and commitment to Christ, to give your heart to Him. It’s meaningful. It covers everything that we do. It colors ever act of our lives. And to love Jesus, and for His sake one another, is the very heart and substance of the gospel. And as Paul said, “There is a crown reserved for those who love His appearing” [2 Timothy 4:8]. And as the great pastor concluded, “Even so, come, blessed Jesus” [Revelation 22:20]. And if I know my heart, I am ready any day, any time, any moment. Come blessed, blessed Jesus.
May we stand together?
Our Lord in heaven, someday, some glorious day, we shall see Thee face to face [Revelation 22:4]. And though through my skin, worms destroy this body, yet in my flesh, shall I see God: Whom mine eyes shall behold, and not another [Job 19:26-27]. Oh, to think of it, that though I fall into the dust of the ground and be counted with the grains of the soil, yet God shall speak to that dust and raise me to glory! Could such a thing be? O Lord, what a day! When there will be no more crippled! When there will be no more sick! There will be no more old! No more heartbroken or sorrowful, or sad. But we shall be new in the Lord [Revelation 21:4-5]. We shall have a new body. We shall have a new home [Revelation 21:1-3]. We shall have a new and precious fellowship with Thee and Thy children forever and ever [Revelation 1:5]. O God, how precious Thou art to us.
And while our people stand prayerfully before the Lord, a family you, a couple you, a one somebody you, “Pastor, we have decided for God and here we come, here we stand.” Out of the balcony round, down one of those stairways, in the throng on this lower floor, down one of these aisles, “Pastor, today we are coming, accepting Jesus as Savior.” Yes! Putting your life in this wonderful church, welcome. Or, answering God’s call in your heart, a thousandfold, gladness. And our Lord, thank Thee for the sweet harvest You will give us this hour, in Thy saving, keeping, wonderful, coming name, amen. While we sing, while we wait, welcome.