The State of the Church

The State of the Church

January 5th, 1986 @ 10:50 AM

Acts 14:27

And when they were come, and had gathered the church together, they rehearsed all that God had done with them, and how he had opened the door of faith unto the Gentiles.
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STATE OF THE CHURCH

Dr. W. A. Criswell

Acts 14:27

1-05-86     10:50 a.m.

 

Every year, and this is the forty-second year, every year on the first Sunday of the new year, I prepare and deliver a message on The State of the Church.  It concerns the blessing of God upon our people, and this time especially as we face the unfolding future.  Every year, I take the same text.  It is the report of the apostles, from their first missionary journey, when they returned to the sending, praying, commissioning church at Antioch.  And the text is Acts chapter 14, verse 27:

And when they, Paul and Barnabas, were come and had gathered the church at Antioch together,

they rehearsed all that God had done with them,

and how He had opened the door of faith unto the Gentiles

[Acts 14:27]

The mighty work of the apostles ensued in the establishing of churches, the organizing of churches.  And in this first missionary journey, we are introduced to the churches they founded in Salamis and Paphos, which are cities on the either end of the Isle of Cyprus, and then in southern Asia Minor, in Pisidia Antioch, in Iconium, in Lystra, and in Derbe.  The apostles’ love for the church and our love for the house of the Lord, but reflects the love of Christ for His church.  In Ephesians 5:25: “Christ loved the church, and gave Himself for it.”

In the Scriptures there are two images under which especially, beautifully, particularly the church is presented.  Number one: it is referred to as His body.  In 1 Corinthians 12:27: “Now ye are the body of Christ, and members in particular.”  In Ephesians 1:22-23: “God gave Christ to be head over all things to the church, which is His body, the fullness of Him which filleth all in all.”  And in Ephesians 5:30: “For we are members of His body, of His flesh, and of His bones. . . . This is a great mystery; but I speak concerning Christ and His church” [Ephesians 5:32].  And in the Book of Colossians 1:15: “Christ is the image of the invisible God.”  Would you like to see God?  Would you like to know what God is like?  Look at Christ.  He is the incarnation, the visible image of the invisible God [Colossians 1:15].  “And He is the head of the body, the church… that in all things He might have the pre-eminence” [Colossians 1:18].   In Colossians 2:17, “the body is [of] Christ.”

There is another image under which the church is presented in the New Testament.  It is referred to, described as, His bride.  In Revelation 19:7-9:

Let us be glad and rejoice, and give honor to Him: for the marriage of the Lamb is come, and His wife hath made herself ready.

And to her was granted that she should be arrayed in fine linen, clean and white . . .

And the angel saith unto me, Write, Blessed are they which are called unto the marriage supper of the Lamb.

In Revelation 21:9: “And there came unto me one of the seven angels… and he talked with me, saying, Come hither, I will show thee the bride, the Lamb’s wife.”  And in the last invitation in the Bible, Revelation 22:17, “The Spirit and the bride say, Come.”  Come to the Lord Jesus.  The Spirit of God and the bride, His church in the earth, issue that welcoming invitation, “Come, come to the Lord Jesus” [Revelation 22:17], and this is our sacred commitment to the viability, and vitality, and vibrancy, and vigor of our church.

I love Thy church, O God!

Her walls before Thee stand,

Dear as the apple of Thine eye,

And graven on Thy hand.

[“I Love Thy Kingdom Lord,” Timothy Dwight]

We seek here a growing witness with a growing congregation.  Do you remember the last verse that closes the Pentecostal chapter of the Book of Acts, the second chapter of Acts?  “And the Lord added to the church daily those who were being saved” [Acts 2:47].   This is our commitment: to keep it a growing lighthouse for our blessed Savior.  In keeping with that commitment, we are inviting—and he has accepted our invitation—an executive administrator for our congregation.

In Acts 11:25-26, when Barnabas was sent from the apostles at Jerusalem to Antioch to see what had happened there, that was the first time that the gospel was preached to out-and-out heathen; to Greeks, to idol worshippers.  Heretofore, it had been preached to the Jewish nation.  It had been preached to proselytes of the gate.  It had been preached to proselytes of the temple.  But the first time the gospel was ever preached to idolatrous, heathen pagans was in the city of Antioch: “and a great throng of them turned to the Lord [Acts 11:21].  And when news of that came to the ears of the apostles in Jerusalem, they sent Barnabas to Antioch” to see what God had done.  “And when Barnabas saw it, he rejoiced” [Acts 11:22-23].   Now I follow the text, Acts 11:25: “Then departed Barnabas to Tarsus,” the capital of Cilicia, the Roman province on the southern part of Asia Minor:

Then departed Barnabas to Tarsus, for to seek Saul:

And when he had found him, he brought him to Antioch.  And it came to pass, that a whole year they assembled themselves with the church, and taught much people.  And the disciples were called Christians first in Antioch.

[Acts 11:25-26]

And that is what we have done.  We have sought a Saul, a Paul of Tarsus to come to help us, and he is coming to begin his work the second Sunday in February.  He and his little family will join the church the first Sunday in February, and he is coming to direct the ministries and the programs of the church; all of it will be under his surveillance and his direction.  We shall set goals in Sunday school and seek to reach them.  We shall seek goals in baptisms: the people we win to the Lord and baptize in the name of God.  We shall set goals before us in stewardship, to honor God with the firstfruits of our increase, and we shall set goals in the building expansion of the church.  He is coming to be an assistant shepherd and an assistant pastor.  He has asked us to wait until after the middle of January, this month, until he can tell his own people where he now serves as a minister of music that he is leaving and coming here to be with us.

May I add one note concerning that assignment?  It is one that I would love to do, personally.  I would rejoice in attempting to do it.  Like a general, up and down the battle line, he surveys, and reconnoiters, and looks, and sees the course of the conflict.  I would very much like to do that.  I would rejoice in it.  Nothing would please me personally better than to be that general, up and down the line of all of the many-faceted ministries of our church—and they are multitudinous.

But I cannot do it.  I am chained out there at that study desk.  If I do not study and prepare, I cannot preach.  If you speak to the same people for over forty years, you have to study.  And it is my predilection and affinity anyway.  I love to study.  I love to pore over those Hebrew and Greek Scriptures.  I love to pray as God speaks to my heart in preparing the messages.  I am chained, I say, to that desk.  When I come down to the church in the afternoon, I am buried alive under the things that are thrust upon me; the avalanche of mail that comes every day and all of the things attendant to being pastor of the church.  Somebody needs to be here all day long, seven days out of the week, and to preside over and to look after and to guide through all of the things that we do for God in this great congregation.

And we have chosen a young man—he is very young to me; he is thirty-three years old—we have chosen a young man who is in a church that is my ideal of what a church ought to be, a great praise-worthy church.  They have four services a week in that church, three on Sunday and one on Wednesday night.  The church seats three thousand six hundred people, and it is jammed at every service.  And their praising of God in their singing is something that honors the very angels in heaven who sing with them.  I do not tell you anything that you don’t know when I say I love the work of music in the church.  Our choir, our orchestra, our singing: I think it is of heaven.  I think it is like the services in glory.  I think it is of God.

That is the way God did it in the Old Covenant, those Levites and their orchestras praising God [1 Chronicles 9:33, 25:3-4], and their hymnbook we have in the Bible.  It is called the Book of Psalms.  And in the glory of the world that is yet to come, they sing in heaven, “everything that hath breath praises the Lord” [Psalm 150:6], and one of the songs they sing in heaven, we have just sung: “Worthy is the Lamb” [Revelation 5:12].  That is a song in heaven.  I just love that kind of a praise-worthy service before God.  My heart thrills with it.  My soul responds to it.  My very inner being is lifted up in praise when we have a glorious praise-service in the church.

I love to hear a man expound the Word of the Lord.  If he is a scholar and a student, and he studies, I love to hear him unfold the deep meaning of Holy Scripture.  I love just like that the praise service of the Lord, and to divide it in those two parts.  The first part we gather as a people, as a choir, as an orchestra, and we praise God in melody and music and song.  And then the man of God opens the Book of the Lord and expounds the Word of heaven.  That is what I love.  And that is what we increasingly shall seek to do here in this great congregation.  And I pray that soon our sanctuary will be packed, people have to come early to get in.  The worship of God is so wonderful in this place.  And I believe it will come to pass.  God is good to us.

Now, may I speak of the future of our church in these immediate and unfolding years?  I pray above all things else, I pray for continuity, and continuation, and sequence, and uninterruption in the glorious ministries of our dear church.  May I say it negatively?  With no hiatus, and no aperture, and no lacuna, and no fissure, and no gap, and no interruption, and no empty space, and no lessening; but that the church continue in its many ministries, as in the past, so in the days that lie before us; the great, mighty pastor Dr. Truett was here forty-seven years.  This is the forty-second year of my pastoral work.  In eighty-nine years, the church has had two pastors.  And I pray above all things else that it continue in power and in grace, with no lessening and no interruption—that it go right on, in powerful, God-honoring continuation.

May I speak of just a few places where I have been?  I think first of the Metropolitan Baptist Tabernacle in London, England.  Spurgeon built that house of the Lord.  And when he built it first, it had six thousand seats in it.  And every time Spurgeon stood up to preach, it was packed with six thousand people and others seeking to enter in.  I have never been in that church—and I have counted the people present, counted them by heads—I have never been in that church when there were more than one hundred twenty-five worshippers in it.  Think of the hiatus, of the lacuna, of the gap, of the lessening!

I think of another congregation.  Twice in these years past when I took my vacation, I spent the month preaching at the Temple Baptist Church—the Tremont Temple Baptist Church on Tremont Temple in Boston.  I love to be there.  Right across that river MIT and Harvard, and I just love being there.  In the days of Courtland Meyers, in order to get into Tremont Temple you had to have a ticket.  If you did not have a ticket, you could not get in.  It has two balconies and there was no room for the people that strove to enter into the sanctuary.  Today, when you visit that great Baptist temple, there will be somebody seated there, and a few there, and a few there, and you have a sense of its emptiness—a great lessening.  There was no successor to the mighty preacher.

I think of another.  Out of a multitude that I could mention, I think of the Temple Baptist Church in Philadelphia.  Its pastor was Russell H. Conwell—world famous because of his lecture on “Acres of Diamonds.”  He died in 1925, at the age of eighty-three.  While I was walking through the church one time, I stood before a picture of the great preacher.  And as I stood there, an aged janitor came up.  And I turned to the old Negro white-headed janitor, and I pointed to the picture, and I said, “Sir, did you know him?”

He said, “Yes, he was our pastor.”

“Well,” I said, “what kind of a preacher was he?”

“Oh,” said that aged janitor, “he was a man of God.  It was like—it was like being in the presence of the Lord to be in the services.”

There is no Temple Baptist Church in Philadelphia today.  They have torn it down.  It does not even exist.  There was such a lessening and such an interruption that the church had ceased even to be.

May I speak of just one other?  Forty years ago I visited with a pastor of the Euclid Baptist Church in Cleveland, Ohio.  John D. Rockefeller had been the Sunday school superintendent of that glorious congregation.  The man was a liberal—stand in the pulpit and deny the virgin birth [Matthew 1:20-25]; stand in the pulpit and deny the inspiration of the Scriptures [2 Timothy 3:16-17; 2 Peter 1:20-21]; stand in the pulpit and deny the personal return of our Lord Jesus Christ [Acts 1:10-11]—and the church died, and it is torn down.  There is at this moment no such thing as that great lighthouse for Christ in the heart of Cleveland.  This has been a pattern of the great churches of this earth.  They lessen.  They are interrupted.  They fall into fissures.  They fall into empty spaces, and in some instances, as I say, actually cease to exist.

When I think of our church, this great church, I pray that in power and in unction it will continue without a lessening, without an interruption, without a hiatus; that it continue.  It is so strategically located.  It is here in the center of this vast metroplex.  There are hundreds of thousands of people all around us in every direction.  A neighborhood church will grow so large, then no larger.  The reason it grows is because it is a neighborhood church, and the people in the neighborhood attend the church.  But after it grows so large and ministers to that neighborhood, the people who attend it a way off will go to their neighborhood church.  That is why they attend it in the first place—was because it is a neighborhood church.  And when the neighborhood grows and grows and expands and expands, finally they will attend their neighborhood church.

There is no limit to the massive ministry of a downtown church if the Spirit of God is in it.  There is no limit.  And this church should never, ever even entertain the idea of moving out to some salubrious clime, where it is easy and soft and without commitment and sacrifice.  If we take this church out of the city—look what is happening now.  Right there—I mean right there, they have already announced a housing development for ten thousand people, right there.  Right there—I mean, right there they are preparing another large housing development in the heart of this city, and right there—right back of us, there is already developed a beautiful housing project in the heart of this city.

As the city grows, and people seeking to find homes go further out, and out, and out, and out, finally that will reverse.  People are not forever going out and out and out to find a home.  When they have to drive an hour into work and an hour back, it becomes tedious, and wearisome, and sterile, and profitless.  There will be a tendency always to move in, to move in, to get closer, to move in.  That is universal.  It is not just something that is beginning to happen here in Dallas.  It is universal in the whole earth.  People have a tendency always to move in to the center, to move in closer to their work.

I am told for example, that here in the heart of Dallas there are eighty thousand singles who work in these vast office buildings.  We have an incomparable, an incomparable open door set before us.  It is God’s will that He has matched our church and our souls and our ministries against this illimitable opportunity.  God hath set before us an open door and effectual, and by His grace, by His help in our commitment, we are praying God to bless us as we minister to these dear, wonderful people who are our fellow citizens in the city of Dallas.

May I make an aside?  There is a great First Baptist Church in our Southern Convention that decided to move out of the city, and they moved out to a fashionable neighborhood.  Wonderful!  There they are.  But what has happened is the neighborhood is changing, and instead of being a fashionable neighborhood, it is a deteriorating neighborhood.  You take this church and put it anywhere in this city and give it another hundred years out there—you have no idea what kind of a neighborhood into which you have thrust the congregation.

If we stay downtown, we are here forever, no matter how the changing, no matter what the geographic, no matter what the neighborhood.  It does not matter to us.  We are here in the city, ministering to every part of the city.  And if it grows north and south and east and west, glory to God!   This is a central station, where people can be saved and the children can be taught and from which, as I say, we are going up to heaven.  We are going to heaven from right here, and I facetiously add, “Brother, if you are not here, you are going to miss it.  You had better get down here.  We are going to be raptured from right here.” Oh, I love the wonderful open door God hath set before our precious church.

Could I say another aside?  Before I came here, about once a month—for I do not know how long, I was called to other churches.  I was a young fellow; I was in my thirties, early thirties.  And I cannot—I cannot describe the number of churches to which I was invited to be pastor in those days.  When the invitation came from the committee of this church to come to this downtown First Baptist Church of Dallas, I just got on my knees and thanked God for it.  I love being here in this place, in this city, in the heart of this town with this ministry, with all of the things that are attendant.  I love this place, and I pray humbly that we commit ourselves to staying in the heart of this city until Jesus raptures us to heaven.  This is God’s house, and this is the door to glory.

Now may I speak of my pastoral ministry?  The old Puritan fell asleep over his Bible.  And as he dreamed with the open Bible in his hands, he dreamed through the pages of the sacred Book.  Moses and Joshua were years together.  Then Joshua carried on [Numbers 27:12-23].  David and Solomon were for years together, then Solomon carried on [1 Kings 2:1-4].  Elijah and Elisha were for years together, then Elisha carried on [2 Kings 2:11-14].  Paul and Timothy were for years together, then Timothy carried on [2 Timothy 4:6].  God buried Moses at the age of one hundred and twenty, and no man to this day knows of his sepulcher [Deuteronomy 34:5-7].  God allowed David to die at age seventy [1 Kings 2:10-11, 2 Samuel 5:4].  God raptured Elijah up to heaven [1 Kings 2:11], and God allowed Paul to be beheaded in Rome on the Appian Way.

Each time, in each instance in the Holy Scriptures, there was a charge to keep and one of continuance—of uninterruption in every instance.  Moses said to Joshua in Deuteronomy 31:

And Moses called unto Joshua, and said unto him in the sight of all Israel, Be strong and of a good courage: for thou must go with this people unto the land which the Lord hath sworn unto their fathers to give them; and thou shalt cause them to inherit it. Thou shall do it.

And the Lord, He it is that doth go before thee; He will be with thee; He will not fail thee, nor forsake thee: fear not, neither be dismayed.

[Deuteronomy 31:7, 8]  

And the last of the life of Moses, the last chapter in Deuteronomy; “And Joshua the son of Nun was full of the spirit of wisdom; for Moses has laid his hands upon him: and the children of Israel hearkened unto him” [Deuteronomy 34:9].   And Joshua beyond ninety years of age led the people into the Promised Land [Joshua 14:7, 10], and died at the age of one hundred ten [Joshua 24:29].

In the twenty-second chapter of the Book of Chronicles, David speaks in a charge to Solomon, and David said to Solomon:

My son, the Lord be with thee; and prosper thee . . .

The Lord give thee wisdom and understanding, and give thee charge concerning Israel, that thou may keep the law of the Lord thy God.  Then shalt thou prosper . . .

Be strong and of good courage; dread not, nor be dismayed.

 [1 Chronicles 22:11-13]

 

 

And Elijah to Elisha, in the second chapter of 2 Kings:

And it came to pass that Elijah said unto Elisha, Ask what I shall do for thee, before I be taken away from thee.  And Elisha said, I pray thee, let a double portion of thy spirit be upon me.

And Elijah said…if thou see me when I am taken from thee, it shall be so unto thee . . .

And it came to pass, as they went [on], and talked, that, behold, there appeared a chariot of fire, and horses of fire, and parted them asunder; and Elijah went up by a whirlwind into heaven.  And Elisha saw it—

he had his prayer request—

and he cried, My father, my father, the chariot of Israel and the horsemen thereof…And Elisha took up the mantle of Elijah that fell from him, and smote the waters of the Jordan and they parted…and Elisha went over.

And when the sons of the prophets which were to view in Jericho saw him, they said, The spirit of Elijah doth rest upon Elisha.  And they came to meet him, and bowed themselves to the ground before him.

[2 Kings 2:9-15]  

And the charge of Paul to his son in the ministry, Timothy, 1 Timothy 6:20: “O Timothy, keep that which hath been committed to thy trust,” and 2 Timothy 2:1:

Thou therefore, my son, be strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus.

And the things that thou hast heard of me among many witnesses, the same commit thou to faithful men who shall be able to teach others also.

[2 Timothy 2:1-2]  

 

My Puritan dream, as I think of the Word of God, and His work and His church—my Puritan dream: that there be no interruption, no cessation, no hiatus, no separation in this ministry, and in this work of the Lord, and in this growth of the church.  In God’s time and in God’s way, and in God’s wisdom, let us pray for, and seek for, and wait for, and believe for that Joshua, that Solomon, that Elisha, that Timothy, to come and work with us in this pastoral, preaching ministry; God’s man, in God’s time, in God’s choosing—where is that man?  He is somewhere this moment.  He is known to God.  God’s Holy Spirit must direct us to him, in God’s way and in God’s time.  The Holy Spirit must direct and choose.  The Holy Spirit is not the author of darkness, and confusion, and contention, and cacophony.  He does not say one thing to one of us, then contradict what He has said to another of us.  He says the same thing to all of us.  God’s way must be our way.  God’s time is our time.  It is God’s will and God’s wisdom that we seek—God’s.

In [Acts] chapter 1, the disciples by lot chose Matthias to be with the twelve [Acts 1:26].  They were Peter, James, John, the others and Matthias.  But in the ninth chapter of the Book of Acts, God chose Saul of Tarsus—Paul—to be the twelfth apostle [Acts 9:15-16].  They were Peter, James, John, the rest, and Paul.

We seek that Paul.  May he come and be with us!  My Puritan dream: that God’s man; that Paul of God’s own choosing, to come to work with us, to be with us, to go in and out before us, to preach with us, that there be no interruption, and no lessening, and no cessation in this work of the Lord.  Rather, that it go on in increasing power, all of us working together, praying together and serving our great Lord God together.

To summarize: that we pray and seek the face of God for that one man, God’s man, God’s Joshua, God’s Solomon, God’s Elisha, God’s Timothy, to come and to be with us, and that we work together, and that there be no hiatus, and no separation, no gap in this ministry before the Lord, but it continue on in increasing power, and growth, and heavenly blessing.

Now let me say a word about the immediate program.  Our appeal today, with the coming of this young man who is going to preside over the many ministries, and facets, and activities, and programs of the church, my appeal is that we pray for God’s blessings upon this work, and that we ask, believing.  We ask great things from the hands of God for today, for this moment, for this present now.  Said one man of God to a man of the world:

If you had been living when Christ was on earth,

And had met the Savior kind,

What would you have asked Him to do for you

Supposing you were totally blind?

The man considered and then replied,

“I suppose that without a doubt

I’d asked for a dog with a collar and chain

To lead me daily about.”

How often thus, in our faithless prayers,

We acknowledge with shamed surprise,

We have only asked for a dog and a chain,

When we might have had—OPENED EYES.

[adapted from poem by M. Colley]

God is complimented by a great faith and a great asking.  There is no limit to His omnipotence.  Ask!  He invites us to ask.  Ask!  And asking God’s blessings upon our immediate work, and underneath the hands of this gracious young dedicated man who is coming to lead us in it all, we ask God’s blessings upon our Evangel home groups.  I had prepared things to say, I don’t have time—our Evangel home groups.

To ask God’s blessings upon our twenty-five chapels, some of them being prepared to be organized into churches, and we are adding to them, all over this great metroplex.  We have twenty-five congregations with pastors and organized groups, and they are preaching the gospel, and the power of the Lord is upon them.  About two Sundays ago or so, they had nineteen hundred in Sunday school in those chapels.  We are praying God’s blessings upon that great work.

We ask God to bless our two schools; our First Baptist Academy, which is growing, and our Center for Biblical Studies, which also is growing.  It is an amazing thing to me, the blessing of the Lord, the presence of the Lord with those schools.

We are just now organizing our Performing Arts Center in the heart of this church.  In the goodness and grace of God, here in the middle of town, they are building a great art center.  What if we were way out, miles and miles and miles away?  While we’re here in the heart of this city, they are building a great Arts District right there.  And we are going to be a part of it; except that we are going to offer to the whole world here Christian drama and the performing arts in the name of Christ.  We are believing that God will work with us in that and every day of the week, we’ll have a performance and invite the whole earth to come and to look at it.  It will magnify the Lord and the gospel of Christ.

We’re asking God’s blessings upon our Sanctuary Choir.  They have been invited to sing in Jerusalem at the close of the Israeli annual musical festival, one of the greatest compliments I could ever think for.  You are going to have to sing in German.  Can you sing in German, Dale?  You’re going to learn.  Can you all sing in German?  You are going to learn, absolutely!  That keeps you young and vibrant, and keeps your mind alive and vital.  We’re going to learn.  We are going to sing in German.  They have forty dozen languages over there, so they are going to sing Beethoven’s “Ninth Symphony” in German, and we are going to do it.  Oh, that’s glorious!  I’m going to be there to lead the applause.  It is just going to be marvelous, wonderful.

We have a Criswell Foundation that is growing prodigiously.  People are building endowment funds in that foundation for the support of many, many of the ministries of our church.  That’s a marvelous thing to do.  The money you spend on a program now is spent forever.  The money that you put in a foundation supports it until Jesus comes again.  There are millions and millions of dollars already in that foundation.  And it’s not going to be long until there will be over thirty million dollars in it.  And it is not going to be long when I am translated to heaven, that we will have over one hundred million dollars in that foundation to support God’s work in this wonderful place.

We have our Sunday school, our visitation, our teaching ministries, our soul-winning ministries.  God bless our Sunday school!  We are going immediately into the renovation of our youth building.  We bought the Salvation Army Building, and when our deacons meet together the next time, they are going to set a date this spring when all of us can have a part in investing in our young people, in our teenagers.  We are going to make that building a youth building.  It has to be remodeled for them.  We owe some money on it.  We are going to pay the debt.  We are going to remodel that building.  We are going to have a ministry to our young people here that is incomparable.  You won’t find many churches that have a youth building.  We are going to have one, right there in the heart of this city, a great ministry for our teenagers and of course, our ultimate building appeal, by and by in the years to come, for our sanctuary center, which will be built right there.

May I close?  I pray for the Spirit of God in our great convocations; the services, the public worship of the great, living, majestic, marvelous, soul-saving name of Jesus our God in this place: that they be services that the people look forward to, and in anticipation; “We meet God there.”  “The Lord’s Spirit moves in that place.”  As Andrew and John said to Peter, “Come and see.”  Just come and see, as Philip invited Nathanael, “Come and see, look for yourself” [John 1:40-46].

I must close.  About a half dozen days ago I was listening to a man who is in this congregation, and he said to me, “The last thing in the earth that I ever thought for was that I would ever be a Christian—much less a Baptist, and least of all, a member of that downtown First Baptist Church.  But I accepted an invitation from a friend who pressed it upon me, and out of deference to him, I attended.  And while I attended the services,” he said to me, “God did something to my heart, and I found myself down there at the front confessing my faith in the Lord Jesus.  I was baptized.  I am now a member of the church, and I am pouring the strength of my life into its ministries.”

That’s what we seek for—God, do it—every time we gather here, that the wondrous soul-saving, convicting, uplifting changing power of the Spirit of God meet with us [1 Corinthians 3:16], that it be a felt and known presence.  And when we turn from the sacred place, we say to one another, “Wasn’t it marvelous?  Wasn’t it great to be in the presence of the Lord this day?”  Grant it, Lord, beginning now, beginning now.

May we bow our heads?  Our Lord, do that right now.  This minute, this service, in this appeal, in this invitation, may God send us souls, families: “Pastor, we’re standing here in the presence of the angels of heaven to join our hearts and home and house with this wonderful congregation.  And pastor, this is my wife and children.  All of us are going to seek the face of God in this wonderful place.”  Somebody: “Today, I accept the Lord Jesus as my Savior” [Ephesians 2:8].  Or answering the appeal of the Spirit in the heart: “God has spoken to us, and here we stand.”  Our Lord, make it now.  And in this moment when we stand and sing our invitation hymn, make that decision in your heart, nobody leaving in this precious, pivotal, destiny-determining moment, all of us staying and praying, and then after the invitation, why, we may do as providence might lead.  But now, we are going to stay here, nobody leaving.  We are going to pray.  We are going to ask God’s will in our hearts and lives.  And to give your heart to Jesus as Savior, to put your life with us in the church, to answer the call of the Spirit, on the first note of that first stanza, come, and may the Holy Spirit guide you and angels attend you as you answer with your life, as you come.  Thank you, Lord, for the sweet harvest.  Make a gracious moment of this now.  In Thy wonderful and saving and keeping name, amen.  While we stand and while we sing, welcome.