Dr. Truett and God’s Call to America
July 4th, 1982 @ 8:15 AM
DR. TRUETT AND GOD’S CALL TO AMERICA
Dr. W. A. Criswell
7-4-82 8:15 a.m.
Welcome, the great throngs of you who are listening to this hour on radio. This is the pastor of the First Baptist Church in Dallas. On the Sunday closest to the anniversary of the death of the great pastor, Dr. George W. Truett, who was undershepherd of this church for forty-seven years and my immediate predecessor, on the Sunday closest to the anniversary of his death I prepare a message on some facet of kingdom life to which he gave his devoted energy. This is the thirty-eighth year that I have done so. Sometimes the sermon will be on George W. Truett and Foreign Missions, Dr. Truett and Home Missions, Dr. Truett and Baylor University Hospital, Dr. Truett and the Annuity Board, which is organized in this church; many, many facets of the kingdom, Dr. Truett and Evangelism, Dr. Truett and this First Baptist Church. And because this is the Fourth of July, the address is entitled Dr. Truett and God’s Call to America.
I wonder how many of you were here in the days when Dr. Truett was pastor of the church. Would you stand? If you were a member of the church in the days of Dr. Truett, would you stand? Would you remain standing, and look around you to see these others who have been in the congregation for this generation? Thank you, and the Lord be wonderfully good to you and give you many, many years yet to serve and to honor our great Lord and Savior.
You can turn to the passage, Romans 13:1-7; and then 1 Peter 2:13-17. First, Romans 13:1-7, Romans 13:1-7:
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 the evil. Wilt thou then not be afraid of the power? Do that which is good, and thou shalt have 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 him 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: 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.
And lest we might think that that is a unique commandment, an obedience laid upon us by the Spirit of the Lord, Peter writes in the same vein, in 1 Peter 2, verses 13-17, 1 Peter 2:13-17:
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 evildoers, and for the praise of them that do well.
For so is the will of God, that with well doing ye may be 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, what impresses me beyond any way that I could place it in syllable and sentence is that both of those admonitions were written when the most despicable ruler of all human history was the Roman Caesar. His name was Nero. We name our boys, our sons, after Paul; we name our dogs after Nero. He was a dog of the lowest order. Nero reigned from 54 to 68 AD, and Paul was beheaded by him. This letter to the church at Rome was written about 58 AD, about ten years before Nero was forced by the Roman people to commit suicide. Paul was beheaded by him; Peter was crucified by him. Paul, being a Roman citizen, could not be crucified; he was beheaded. But Peter, being a citizen not of Rome, was crucified. Yet Paul writes about Nero, “He is the minister of God to thee for good” [Romans 13:4]. Then he repeats it, “For he is the minister of God, a revenger to execute wrath on him that doeth evil” [Romans 13:4]. And then he repeats it again, “For these rulers are ministers of God, attending upon this very thing” [Romans 13:6]. And Simon Peter no less writes the admonition to honor the king [1 Peter 2:13-17].
What you find in the Bible when you read an amazing admonition like that, what you find in the Word of God is always the lifting up before the human eye the ideal, always that. This, written to the rulers under the aegis of Nero, yet it was written with the ideal state in mind. God’s intention is that the state be a perfect demonstration of His law and His order; and the ideal is always held before us.
The same thing is true about marriage. In the nineteenth chapter of the Book of Matthew, the Lord will hold up the ideal marriage [Matthew 19:4-9]. He will say, “God created one man for one woman.” And the church and the pastor are to hold up that ideal. However the sorrows, and disappointments, and frustrations, and weaknesses that tear apart the home, the church and the pastor are always to hold up that ideal. When you marry, you marry for life, until death [Matthew 19:4-9]. It’s an ideal held up before the hearts of the people.
When the preacher preaches about life, he is to hold up the ideal. In the Sermon on the Mount in chapter 5, the Lord will say, “Therefore be ye perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect” [Matthew 5:48]. Well, who is able to be perfect? All of us fall short of the ideal, but the church and the pastor are always to hold it up. This is the will of God for us, our perfection. So it is with the state: the failure of the state and its rulers are not to take away from our ideal. We’re to hold it up and to pray that we might be like it, to attain to it. The state is a part of the divinely ordered appointment of God. It is a part of God’s universal government.
The Lord has law and order established in all of the planets of the universe. They obey certain mandates of God. The earth and its seasons obey the law and the order of Almighty God. And the human race is to be a part of that mandate from heaven. And a part of the mandate of God is human government. That’s why Paul writes as he does in Romans, and Simon Peter writes as he does in his epistle. So when the minister speaks, and when the preacher preaches about the state and about our government, he is true to his calling; he is presenting the words and the will of the great Almighty Sovereign who sits above the circle of the earth [Isaiah 40:22].
Now, Dr. Truett was a great patriot. He was a representative citizen, an almost ideal one. And I’m going to take a leaf out of his life. It will be from the Second Congress of the Baptist World Alliance, which convened in Philadelphia in the year 1911. It met in the Grace Baptist Church in Philadelphia, where the far-famed and inimitable preacher Russell H. Conwell was pastor. This is the man who became world famous because of his address on “Acres of Diamonds.” The man who was the president of the Alliance was John Clifford of London. At that congress, his successor was elected, Robert Stewart MacArthur, who was pastor of the Calvary Baptist Church in New York City.
When you read the addresses and all of the proceedings of that world congress in 1911, you cannot but be overwhelmed by the spirit of unbounding and hopeful optimism that characterized every address. And I’m going to take that and show you something in human history, and something that God says that is oft times hard for us to believe. We have a tendency to underestimate the awesome power of evil in the world. In 2 Corinthians 4:4, Paul says that the god of this world is Satan—the god of this world, this present world, is Satan—and that he has blinded the hearts of men. In the great Apocalypse, the Revelation, the unfolding of the denouement of the age, in chapter 11 we have the sounding of the seventh angel and the worldwide proclamation that “The kingdoms of this earth are become the kingdoms of the Lord, and of His Christ” [Revelation 11:15]. And in the tenth chapter of the Apocalypse, it says, “In the days of the sounding of the seventh angel, the mystery of God shall be finished” [Revelation 10:7]. But until then, until the sounding of the seventh angel, until the denouement and the consummation of the age [Revelation 11:15], until then, this world is under the power of the evil one. This is Satan’s domain, and we have always a tendency to forget it. Not until then will it belong to Christ [Revelation 11:15]. It is under the aegis of Satan now [John 12:31; Acts 26:18].
Now with that in mind, I want you to listen to these men. Russell H. Conwell, that incomparable pastor of the Baptist Temple in Philadelphia: “We have here our dear brethren from Russia—God bless them, every one. 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 that nation.”
Listen to Dr. John Clifford, the president from London: “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 J. G. Lehmann, a Baptist leader from Germany: “The report not only from Germany, but also from Bohemia”—now you listen as I name these—”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 have flowed all over Europe.” There’s not even an Estonia, and a Lithuania, and a Monrovia today; they’ve been obliterated by the communists. And of course Bulgaria and Russia and Romania are all in that atheistic society.
Now listen to A. U. Kawaguchi of Japan: “A few days ago the Japanese minister at Washington said that there had been wars of the roses, but pointing to the Stars and Stripes of the United States, and then to the sun flag of Japan, he said that there never had been war between the stars and the sun.” Then he said, “There will not ever be war between the sun flag and the flags represented here.’” Within about thirty-six months, on June 23, 1914, Archduke Franz Ferdinand, the heir to the throne of Austria, was assassinated in Serbia; and the whole world was on fire. And I so well remember listening to the awesome report on December 7, 1941: Japan attacked Pearl Harbor, and the United States was plunged into the Second World War. Just a reminder: we have a tendency to underestimate the awesome powers of evil.
Now let’s listen to Dr. Truett. Dr. Truett presented the closing address of the Alliance, Sunday evening, June 25, in 1911. Listen to him as he begins:
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 he began to point out our perils. Now you listen to this—you’d think he’s talking today. He’s talking in 1911, before most of you were ever born. Then he began to point out our perils, quoting:
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 the 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 he was! More than seventy percent of America now lives in the cities. “The best and the worst meet in the city.” And that’s one reason why he taught this church to dedicate itself to staying downtown, to minister to the city; not in the suburb where the green pastures, or where it’s soft and easy, but to stay downtown and to wrestle with all of the problems that face a great, mighty, growing city. And I have picked that up from him, and for thirty-eight years I have tried to build into the hearts of our people that same dedication: a ministry to the city, where these great empires of banking and insurance and corporate life have their pulse beat, we also are holding up a standard for Christ.
I was listening to a conversation this last week, and one man said—I think he exaggerated it—one man said, “Did you know the day is soon coming when you can sell these properties you own for two hundred million dollars?” That’s an astronomical sum to me, and I think it’s exaggerated; but if it were half of that—think of the vast wealth the First Baptist Church has in these downtown properties—you could build a hundred story skyscraper on each one of the six blocks where we’re located. A forty-five story one is going up right there in front of our door. Well, they were talking about it, and one man said to another, “You know, the day may come when they will sell those properties and go out somewhere and build some kind of a super cathedral.” And the other man replied, “It’ll not be done until the generation dies that has been taught by their present pastor.” We would never do it, never do it. We are dedicated to staying downtown. And however hard it is, or difficult or frustrating or discouraging, we are staying downtown. And after my generation and the people that I have taught and preached to for thirty-eight years, after we’re all gone and in heaven, maybe another generation will do something else; but we are staying downtown.
Now he closes the passage on our perils with this—and you listen to it: “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 the proliferation of musicals and theaters and shows and all the rest. Think of that. “In our great country the social world is filled with frivolities and vanities”—this is before the cocktail party—”and the business world crowded with dishonesties, and the political world saturated with graft”—all of this before the headlines we read about ABSCAM and all the rest of the congressman and senators that are being sent to prison and dismissed from office—“Oh, 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 chant 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.
Just look at even IBM, one company can’t keep its secrets—Japan has them all now:
The world is a whispering gallery. 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.
Now he said that in 1911, before there was an airplane, before there was TV, before there was radio, before there were all of those satellites and a thousand other means and ways of communication and travel. This world is a little tiny globe now. And this discussion of a Christian America is so pertinent to us today when the Civil Liberties Union, and the atheistic society, and above all the humanists are literally eating away at the very foundations of our Christian life.
You know, I have preached in Russia twice, in Leningrad, in Moscow, in Kharkov, in Odessa, in Kiev; and on my word, I don’t see any difference in the atheism in Russia and the atheism in the United States. I don’t see any difference in the socialism in Russia and the socialism in the United States. I don’t see any difference in the indifference to God in Russia and the indifference to God in the United States. The only difference I know between us and Russia, us and the communists, is God, that’s all; just God. I think of what Ben Franklin said when the Constitutional Convention had met in Independence Hall in Philadelphia, and they had for months and months worked against insuperable odds. He said, “If the world cannot find law and order without the Almighty, how can we hope to build a nation here without His blessing? I make a motion,” said Ben Franklin, “that we ask God in prayer to help us write this instrument, this Constitution of the United States.” Well, we must hasten.
The marvelous moving climax and peroration of Dr. Truett at that congress was on the second coming of Christ. Here are his words; this is the way he closed that address:
Many are the stories they 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 the 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 replied, “Oh, sir, what you said about the coming again of the world’s rightful King.” And he said, “Why are you so moved?” And she said, “I could wish to be here when He comes.” And he said, “And why do you wish to be here when He comes?” And with emotion indescribable and sublimely glorious she said, “That I might lay this crown at His blessed feet.”
Then he quotes: when the kingdoms of this world shall have become the kingdom of our Lord and of His Christ [Revelation 11:15],
. . .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 who is the world’s blessed and only Potentate, Him whose it is here and forever to be King of kings and Lord of lords [Revelation 17:14, 19:16]. Even so, come, Lord Jesus [Revelation 22:20].
Well, I have a little comment to make about that. In the years of the closing ministry of Dr. Truett, he never mentioned the second coming of Christ. What happened was, not to go into detail, but in his personal life the things that happened pulled him away from what he felt were excesses in the preaching of that blessed hope, the words of Paul, “the blessed hope” [Titus 2:13], the coming again of our Lord. So when I came here to Dallas to be pastor of this church, I asked about that. He never referred to it. And I said to one of the wonderful men in the church—a pastor, a preacher who having retired spent the rest of his life here in this church, and died in this church, I buried him, a godly man—I said to him, “Did Dr. Truett ever preach on the second coming of Christ?”
“Oh, yes,” he said. “Yes,” he said, “yonder years and years ago he’d preach often on the second coming of Christ.” And he said, “I’m going to bring and place in your hand the notes I made on a sermon that he preached on John chapter 14, ‘If I go away, I will come again; and receive you unto Myself’” [John 14:3]. And then this followed: “While Dr. Truett was preaching that sermon on the second coming of Christ in this very place, a dear old mother in Israel stood up and began to shout and to praise God.” I’d be afraid to ask how many of you ever heard anyone shout. When I was a boy, and when I began my ministry as a young preacher, people used to shout all the time, just happy, just overflowing, just clap their hands and praise God. Well, while Dr. Truett was preaching on the second coming of Christ, that dear old mother stood up and began to shout and to praise God.
One of the deacons here in the church thought that she was ill, that she was sick. So he ran over to where she was shouting and began to usher her out the door. And Dr. Truett, standing here watching it, raised his hand and said, “There, there,” and called his name, “leave her alone. Leave her alone. She’s just happy in the Lord”; and then turning around said to the great congregation, “My brothers and my sisters, we need more of that in our church.”
That has stayed like a reverberation in my heart. Dull, dead, dry, dreary religion is the opposite of New Testament faith. They were glad in the Lord. They praised His name. And a religion that is not overflowing, filled with love and adoration and thanksgiving, is as dry as a morsel without taste, and without strength, and without sustenance.
Lord, Lord, I believe in heart-felt religion. I just do. It was the kind I got when I was a boy. It was the kind I experienced when I began to preach. And I haven’t moved away from it to this present day. It’s wonderful to love Jesus. It’s great to be a Christian. And it’s the highest dedication to which we can give our lives, that others come to know that saving grace [Ephesians 2:8], and abounding mercy [Titus 2:5], that reached down and lifted us up.
God bless the memory of the great pastor. God bless this wonderful church to which he ministered for forty-seven years. God bless America that he loved. And the Lord hallow and sanctify our devoted efforts to win our country to Jesus.
But the nation cannot turn if I do not turn. The nation cannot repent if I do not repent. The nation cannot believe if I do not believe. The nation cannot be baptized if I am not baptized. God doesn’t win nations or companies or crowds or throngs; He wins souls, one by one [Matthew 18:12-14]. And the only way we can lift our nation God-ward is if I am moved God-ward; and the only way God can bless our people is if I let God bless me. And that’s our appeal this morning for you. A family you, a couple you, a one somebody you: “Pastor, this day we have decided for God, and here we stand, here we come.” May we pray? May we stand for the prayer?
Our great and mighty and wonderful Lord in heaven, the King of all creation, the omnipotent God of the universe, and the rightful Sovereign of this world, and our Lord and King, we bring to Thee the destiny of our nation. God bless America. We bring to Thee our own hearts. God bless each one of us.
And in this moment when we stand in the presence of God in prayer, make that decision in your heart [2 Corinthians 5:20; Ephesians 2:8]; and then when we sing, down that stairway from the balcony, down this aisle on this lower floor, “Pastor, we have decided; and here we stand.” And thank You, Lord, for the sweet harvest You will give us this great meaningful Independence Day. In Thy saving name, amen. While we sing, and welcome, welcome, welcome.