What Matters To America
April 5th, 1982 @ 12:00 PM
WHAT MATTERS TO AMERICA
Dr. W. A. Criswell
4-5-82 12:00 p.m.
And welcome to the great group here this high noon who have turned aside from busy tasks to spend this moment with us. If you have to leave at any moment, at any time, you feel free to do so. You will not bother me at all, and everyone understands. This is a lunch hour and we are so grateful that you took time to come.
As Mr. Bristow announced, the theme of the five pre-Easter messages this year is “America, Meet the Master.” It is five addresses built in our national thought and interest and in our own personal soul’s relationship with God. Tomorrow, What Matters to Me; and the next day, Moving America Toward the Master; and the next day, Moving Me Toward My Lord. And Friday, The Marvelous Message of Jesus; and today, What Matters to America.
Reading from the twelfth verse of the thirty-third Psalm to the end of the psalm; Psalm chapter 33, beginning at verse 12:
Blessed is the nation whose God is Jehovah the Lord; and the people whom He hath chosen for His own inheritance.
There is no king saved by the multitude of a host: a mighty man is not delivered by much strength.
A horse is a vain thing for safety: neither shall he deliver any by his great strength.
Behold, the eye of the Lord is upon them that fear Him, upon them that hope in His mercy;
To deliver their soul from death, and to keep them alive in famine.
Our soul waiteth for the Lord: He is our help and our shield.
For our heart shall rejoice in Him, because we have trusted in His holy name.
Let Thy mercy, O Lord, be upon us, according as we hope in Thee.
“Blessed is the nation whose God is the Lord” [Psalm 33:12]. The might and the strength of America is a miracle in the story of humanity and in the civilizations of mankind. There has never been an empire, much less a nation, who ever approached the might and the strength of America. Nebuchadnezzar’s golden Babylonian Empire [Daniel 2:37-38] would be a drop in the bucket compared to the might and the strength of America.
The material blessings of God upon our nation is fantastic. If you travel much, and compare the standard of living of the ordinary American to the life of the people who largely inhabit this globe, you’ll see how much we have: more bathtubs, more telephones, more cars, more TV sets, more refrigerators, more gadgets, more everything, and a higher standard of living to sustain it than the world has ever known.
There is a reason why these marvelous, mighty, material blessings upon our people; it is found in the history of our nation, in its reverence and devotion to God. If expanse, if resources made a nation great, Russian Siberia would be the greatest nation in the earth. If vast population made a nation great, India would be the greatest nation in the earth. If ancient civilization made a nation great, China would be the greatest nation in the earth. But American greatness is not found in its resources, or in its vast population, or in its ancient civilization. As Lyman Abbot said, “America was a great land when Columbus discovered it. Americans have made of it a great nation.”
As we look at the history of our country and its spiritual foundations, there are two or three things that are most characteristic. Number one has been our reverence for God. I stood recently in the national park called Valley Forge in Pennsylvania, and there in that park is one of the most effective pieces of bronze statuary I ever saw. You have seen pictures of it if you haven’t looked upon it yourself. It’s the picture of George Washington, then general of the Revolutionary Army, kneeling in prayer. Typical, reflective, of the American attitude; nation-wise, state-wise, political-wise, home-wise, every-wise.
I so well remember the announcement made in our church where I pastored in Oklahoma, in Muskogee, that when the day came that our troops were to storm the bastion of continental Europe, no matter what the hour, we would gather for prayer. Those were terrible days. When we entered that war, it looked as though it was suicidal itself; Hitler had apparently conquered the whole civilized world.
The telephone rang at the parsonage at two o’clock in the morning, and I immediately dressed and went down to the church for prayer, asking God to be with our troops on D-day. When I entered the sanctuary, I was overwhelmed by the throng that had already packed it. The church is built like this, with a horseshoe balcony all the way around. And the people were there, asking God’s blessings upon our soldier army and upon the cause for which we had entered that terrible conflict; that has been America.
Our spiritual foundations are also found in our reverence for human personality, the worth of an individual soul. To us, a man is not a pawn of the state or cannon fodder; he is made in the image of Almighty God [Genesis 1:27]. And no small source of our greatness can be found in our respect for the Puritan ethic.
The Pilgrims came to America and with others carved out of the howling wilderness this great nation. And that Puritan ethic is: each one of us has the right to strive, to work, to achieve, to excel. The last four letters in American is: I can—Amer-i-can—and the labor of our forefathers built this country.
As I stand, as you do, and look at modern America, I am appalled at the decay in our national life and in our national spirit. I speak of the economic decay that now characterizes our nation. Through the years, when I was a young man, I could take this twenty-dollar bill and go to any bank in America and exchange it for a twenty-dollar double eagle gold piece. Or I could exchange it—if it was a greenback, I could exchange it for twenty silver dollars. A yellow back—which you’ve never seen—a yellow back was a gold certificate, and I could take it and exchange it for a double eagle, a twenty-dollar American gold piece. A greenback could be exchanged for silver. If I had a ten-dollar silver certificate, I could exchange it for ten silver dollars, or twenty dollars as I hold in my hand, I could exchange it for twenty silver dollars. Today, it is backed by nothing, and it is printed by the uncounted billions and billions and billions of certificates. The decay in the economic life of America bodes chaos for us in these days that unfold.
Why? Because it is easier for a congressman to telephone the Bureau of Engraving and say, “Print us fifty billion dollars.” It’s easier to make the telephone call than it is to take to the people the program that we’re trying to support and ask the people to be taxed to pay for it. Consequently, you read in the papers of the federal deficits rising each year, fifty, sixty, eighty, ninety, one hundred billions of dollars. That doesn’t sound like much to us: billions.
Do you know the difference between a million and a billion? If you had a stack of one thousand crisp one [thousand]-dollar bills, a million would be six inches high. One thousand-dollar bills stacked six inches high is a million dollars. A billion dollars is a stack of those same one thousand-dollar bills one hundred twenty-seven feet higher than the Washington monument. That’s the difference between a million and a billion. And our country, our government, is printing money, these certificates, by the billions and the billions and the billions, and the economic chaos that follows after is almost indescribable.
We are decaying in moral righteousness. Young people, I was grown before I ever saw a house locked. I never saw our home locked in my life. Not a door locked. When I grew up, any woman could walk down any street in America, day or night, and be perfectly unafraid. Today, there is no woman who will walk down even the streets of Dallas at night without trepidation and fear.
And as though crime on our city streets was not tragic, I read a study of the United States Congress which said that there is a greater percentage of crime—of indictment, of criminal activity that carries with it a court judgment—there’s a greater percentage of crime in the American Congress than there is in the lowest black ghetto in Detroit, the decay and moral righteousness in America.
And not only that, but the decay in the cultural and spiritual life in our educational institutions; I think your presence, young people here today, is a rebuke to the law of America. By law, we can’t pray in our public schools. By law, we can’t have chapel services. By law, our Lord is read out of the life of our boys and girls in the public school system. Somebody gave me a McGuffey Reader, and I looked at it to see if the thing that I had read was true: when the public school system was founded in America, ninety-five percent of the McGuffey Reader was from the Bible and the other five percent was moral stories. Today, in the textbooks of the public school system, there is evolution, atheism, materialism, humanism—the decay of America. The decay of America brings sorrow to the human heart; we have lost our will even to exist.
For the first time in history, we have witnessed the hauling down of the American flag, sullied by ignominious defeat, and that by a little communist nation called Vietnam. And we left behind fifty thousand American boys who were slain in that war and who died in vain, for nothing. You know what I think? I lived through the Depression in 1929 to 1939. I think that if America faced a like depression, the country would be torn up by blood, and by riot, and by fire! I think you’d see mobs roaming up and down Main Street in the city of Dallas, breaking the windows, looting the stores. We don’t have the moral strength today to face a Depression.
We live on welfare, and if it ceases because we’re bankrupt? Welfare has become, in America, a way of life, and we have a third generation now living off of the largess of the government: we have lost the Puritan ethic, “I can, for myself.” What we need is a return to the faith of our fathers, a rebirth of the religious faith that made this nation great.
And the Lord God whispered and said to me,
“These things shall be, these things shall be,
Nor help shall come from the scarlet skies
Till My people rise!
Till My people rise, My arm is weak;
I cannot speak till My people speak;
When men are dumb, My voice is dumb—
I cannot come until My people come.”
From over the flaming earth and sea
The cry of My people must come to Me.
Not till their spirit break the curse,
May I claim My own in the universe;
But if My people rise, if My people rise,
I will answer them from the swarming skies.
[adapted from “God Prays,” Angela Morgan, 1917]
A return, a rebirth, of our national faith, and a personal commitment in each one of our own souls.
A summer or so ago, a pastor in London, England, took me to the place—Kelvedon—where Spurgeon, the great English preacher, was born, and then took me to Colchester, where Spurgeon was converted on a snowy day in a primitive Methodist chapel. The weather was so bad the preacher wasn’t even there, and a layman, standing before a little handful of people—one of whom was Charles Haddon Spurgeon, a boy, a youth—took his text, Isaiah 45:22: “Look unto Me, and be ye saved, all the ends of the earth: for I am God, and there is none else.” Look and live! And that day, that young man looked, and he lived.
While I was in Colchester, I walked up the marble stairway into the city hall. And there I read the names of the martyrs who had been burned at the stake in Colchester because of their faith, their commitment to Christ. And one of them—John N-o-y-e-s, Noyes, John Noyes—one of them, when they burned him, was heard to exclaim: “I bless God that He hath thought me worthy of this high honor, that I should die for Thee,” a personal commitment.
Our fathers, chained in prisons dark,
Were still in heart and conscience free;
How sweet would be their children’s fate,
If we, like them, could die for Thee!
Faith of our fathers! holy faith!
We will be true to Thee till death!
[from “Faith of our Fathers”; Fanny Crosby]
And in no other way will the ills of our country ever be healed; “We hope,” said the evangelist and the psalmist, “in Thee” [Psalm 33:22].
And our Lord, in the persuasion that God is able to do above all that we ask and think [Ephesians 3:20], we bring ourselves at Thy dear feet, we bring our nation at Thy throne and ask humbly upon us individually, and upon our people as a country, that we might be saved [Romans 10:1], in our Lord’s dear name, amen.
WHAT MATTERS TO AMERICA
Dr. W. A. Criswell
I. The greatness of America
A. Material greatness
B. Foundation for blessing is God
II. The decay of America
C. Culturally, educationally
D. In the national will
III. The rebirth of our nation
A. Renewal of our religious faith
B. A personal recommitment in each one of our souls