DR. TRUETT AND GOD’S CALL TO AMERICA
Dr. W. A. Criswell
7-3-88 10:50 a.m.
And once again, welcome, those who are listening to this service beyond the confines and walls of this sanctuary. You are a part now of our dear First Baptist Church in Dallas, and this is the pastor bringing the message entitled Dr. Truett and God’s Call to America.
Each year—and this is the forty-fourth year—each year I prepare a message on some facet of the Christian faith to which the great pastor and predecessor in this pulpit devoted his glorious and Christ-honoring life. And on that anniversary Sunday before the remembrance of his death, it has been a holy privilege to do this in memory of the greatest preacher ever produced on the North American continent. In our world there was none like him in voice, in stature, in influence, in the mighty message that he so effectively brought on the presence of the Lord.
How many of you in the congregation here today were members of the church in the days of Dr. Truett? Would you stand if you were a member of the church when Dr. Truett was here? Each year I do this there are fewer and fewer. But God bless you. Thank you. You may be seated. God bless you for your faithfulness to our Lord and to this congregation to which he devoted his life.
In the fifty-first chapter of Isaiah, the old prophet called his people to a remembrance of the days of the forefathers and foremothers who founded their nation: “Look unto the rock whence ye are hewn, and to the hole of the of the pit whence ye were digged. Look unto Abraham your father, and unto Sarah that bare you” [Isaiah 51:1-2].
And that is what we are doing this day. “Look,” said the prophet, “unto the rock from whence ye are hewn, and to the hole of the pit from whence ye are digged” [Isaiah 51:5].
George W. Truett, George Washington Truett, was born the sixth of May in 1867, in a little house on a small farm in Clay County near Hayesville, North Carolina, up in the mountains. He was the seventh child of eight. In his nineteenth year he was converted in a revival meeting in Hayesville and was baptized into the fellowship of that village church.
The Truett family moved to Texas in 1889 and settled near Whitewright, Grayson County, north of us, and joined the church at Whitewright. In the summer of 1890 at a Saturday afternoon conference of the church—even I, in my generation, I pastored churches, and the conferences of the church were on Saturday afternoon—at one of those conferences a deacon made the motion that young George Truett be ordained to the gospel ministry.
Dr. B. H. Carroll, head of the Department of Bible at Baylor University and pastor of the First Baptist Church in Waco, asked the young Truett to join him in an effort to raise ninety-two thousand dollars to pay the debt on Baylor University, and during that campaign Texas discovered Truett. The campaign was greatly blessed.
In 1893 Truett enrolled in Baylor, graduating in 1897. During his years as a student he pastored the little East Waco Baptist Church. Upon graduation from Baylor University they asked him to be president of the school, and he answered in one of the most beautiful sentences I’ve ever heard. He replied: “I have sought and found a shepherd’s heart.”
Within a few weeks after his graduation from Baylor in 1897 he was called as pastor of this First Baptist Church in Dallas, and the second Sunday in September was his anniversary, beginning in 1897, and he continued until his death July 7 in 1944. He preached here behind this sacred desk for forty-six years, and in the beginning of the forty-seventh year he was stricken down with bone cancer; agonizingly lived for a year; offered to resign from the congregation, but they refused to accept it. So he was pastor of the church for forty-seven years. As Eugene Green said in his prayer, for ninety-one years our dear church has had two pastors.
The address of Dr. Truett entitled “God’s Call To America” was delivered at the conclusion of the Baptist World Alliance in Philadelphia on Sunday evening, June 25, 1911. And as I read that address, and then the volume called by the name of that sermon, I was amazed how the great pastor would turn aside from some of the tremendous points that he was making to magnify the authority and infallibility of the Word of God. And the reason I became sensitive to it was because of the confrontation in our Southern Baptist Convention. It was over this—whether the Bible is the Word of God or not—that the American Northern Baptist Convention divided. And in a little while I’ll be preaching at that Northern Conservative Baptist Convention in Minneapolis. I say the reason I was sensitive to what Dr. Truett did was because of the same confrontation in our Southern Baptist communion, and it is illustrated poignantly in this tremendous and concluding address at the Baptist World Alliance, “God’s Call to America.”
The first part of his message he speaks: America is menaced by fast growing cities, by immigration—such as the Latin Americans pouring into Texas; the day will come soon when the Hispanics will outnumber the Anglos here in our state—by the virus of the get-rich-quick, by the lawlessness, the crime among the people, by irreverence, by religious formalism. Then he would speak of our challenge to win America to Christ; “the preeminent call of this hour,” he described it—to give the gospel to all the world, a worldwide mission commitment. Now that’s what he’s preaching about. Then he speaks of the source of unity: if there is any possibility of such a unity among the people of God, the source of unity is the Bible, the Word of God, and this: “Thrilling was that scene in 1870…” Now the reason it made such an impression upon me was, he’s not talking about this at all. He’s talking about God’s call to America. But you listen to him as he turns aside to speak of the authority and infallibility of this Holy Bible. He says, “Thrilling was that scene in 1870, when in the Vatican, the dogma of ‘papal infallibility,’ was passed. In the awful excitement and clamor of that hour, Archbishop Manning—later Cardinal Manning—sought to quell the tremendous agitation of his fellow ecclesiastics, when he got their attention, holding in his hand the paper pronouncing papal infallibility to be the doctrine of the Romanists. Holding that dogma in his hand, he said, Cardinal Manning, ‘Let the world go to bits, and we Catholics will reconstruct it on this paper.’”
What has the Baptist to say when he hears that? Taking up the Book and holding it aloft, his word to the world is:
Let all the world go to bits and we will reconstruct it on the authority of this Holy Bible. Some things in this world are unchangeably true, and others are just as unchangeably false, and never did truth win her battles upon any land or in the midst of any people by compromising the truth.
Now that’s Truett!
Again, in that same address he said:
We Baptists come back to the Word of God as the absolute authority for the people of the Lord. And again, my brothers, we shall come back to the authority of His Word, and with that authority, we shall go forth to the warfare into which we are called by Him.
In that same volume, God’s Call to America, is an address entitled “The Leaf and the Life.” It was delivered before the American Baptist Publication Society in St. Paul, Minnesota, the twenty-third day of May in 1902. It was placed in the Congressional Record. Listen to the great pastor as he speaks:
The Word incarnate—that’s Jesus, and the Word written—that’s the Bible—stand or fall together. The two storm centers of all religious history and controversy have been Christ and the Bible. They are One and inseparable, the binomial Word of God. The leaf and the life: the Word written and the Word incarnate are the Jachin and the Boaz, the two great pillars in front of Solomon’s temple. The Jachin and the Boaz, and the whole of Christian religion, they must stand or fall together, for the veracity of the one stands pledged for the perpetuity of the other. The leaves of the Word of God, like the leaves of the tree of life, are for the healing of the nations.
Then he continued:
Put it down as an inevitable and unalterable truth that wherever God’s Book has been honored, there national life has been glorious. But wherever it has been dishonored, upon such people have fallen blight and shame and death.
In that same address, “The Leaf and the Life”:
What is to be our reply to all the attacks made upon the old Book? It is just to print and scatter it all the more. When men tell us that it is not inspired; or, if inspired, it is only inspired in spots and nobody knows where the spots are.
If I were to comment on that: there are those who say the Bible is inspired in spots, and they’re inspired to pick out the spots.
We are not called upon to answer every fool who has escaped from the mortar in which he was buried. When the old Book is attacked, we’re just to go on printing it and scattering it all the more. To be sure, it has been unceasingly attacked through all the passing generations and is sorely attacked today. Those without and within have plotted for its destruction. The Trojan horse is sometimes carried within our gates in a company of clever gentlemen, some of whom even wear the garb of theological leaders and call themselves ministers of the Word, have been attempting to draw the bolts of the citadel gates. Numbers of these clever gentlemen have sought to play the role of Jehoiakim, but the old Book has not been harmed. Its bonfires may be read throughout the passing centuries, but out of them all it has come without the smell of fire upon its garment. The old citadel stands, though every stone in the wall has been attacked. Like Edison, despite all the swirling tides and buffeting storms, the old Book stands, casts its steady light over all the broad-swept and storm-swept seas. Like Gibraltar it stands, while the wreck of uncounted hostile fleets lie shivered about its base. Gloriously does [its] coming speak of its triumph: the empire of Caesar is gone; the legions of Rome are moldering in the dust; the avalanches that Napoleon hurled upon Europe have passed away. The pride of the Pharaohs has fallen. The pyramids they raised to be their tombs are sinking every day in their desert sand. Tyre is a rock for spreading fishermen’s nets. Sidon is scarcely direct behind, but the Word of God still lives! All things that threaten to extinguish it have only aided it, and it proves every day how transient is the noble monument that man can build, but how enduring is the least Word that God has spoken. Tradition has dug for it many a grave. Intolerance has lighted for it many a fagot. Many a Judas has betrayed it with a kiss. Many a Peter has denied it with an oath. Many a Demas has forsaken it; but the Word of God still survives! “All flesh is grass… The grass withereth, the flower fadeth: but the word of God shall stand forever” [Isaiah 40:8]. The mouth of the Lord has spoken it!
I say, he believed the Book! Isn’t that right?
In that same volume, God’s Call To America, at a Baylor homecoming, November 24, 1909, that was about three weeks before I was born, in 1909:
The truths of the Bible should form a fundamental part of instruction of a college curriculum—that sure would sound strange in modern ears—its literary merits alone entitle the Bible to be a textbook in every school of the world. Why should a student body study Herodotus and not Moses, who is the true father of history? Why should we study Homer and not Isaiah, who surpasses the epic poets of Greece? Why should we study Aristotle and neglect the noble Paul? No other book has given to the world such ethics; or man’s government, such assurances for man’s hope, and such atonement for man’s guilt. The Bible is the very soul of every high thing that characterizes human society. It is not only God’s Book of morals and mercy to the individual, but is also His Book for society and civilization. Even Huxley—he was an infidel in England—even Huxley was perplexed to know whence would come our aspirations to heroic conduct if the study of the Bible should be abandoned. The surpassing task of any and every people is the worthy religious training of the young. Without such training, a country is palsied at its heart, and e’er alone must disintegrate and perish.
He believed the great textbook of any school ought to be the infallible Word of God. And even in a revival meeting, he’d turn aside in an evangelistic sermon, appealing for souls, and say:
If you will go away from Jesus, you must give up this Book. Christ and the Bible are indissolubly linked together. If you can get rid of the Bible, you can get rid of Christ. The one is the complement and counterpart of the other. If you get rid of Christ, you get rid of the Bible. And if you propose to get rid of the Bible, don’t propose to sing the twenty-third Psalm at an open grave, and sing no more about the fourteenth chapter of John: “Let not your heart be troubled…” You are done with Christ if you are done with the Bible!
One of the things that I so well and poignantly remember: I was a youth, I was a student, and at a Southern Baptist convention, there was a little handful, a little small group of preachers who were invited to eat lunch with Dr. Truett. And he spoke to us. Oh, how the truth of God burned in that man’s soul, and how he voiced it with such incomparable eloquence. He spoke about his ambition as a youth to be a lawyer, and how God had put him in the ministry, then added, “If I had a thousand lives, I would devote all of them to the preaching of the gospel!”
Now, this is from his message to preachers at a noonday luncheon:
The preacher is divinely commanded ever to see faithfully to his message. It is to be God’s message. In season and out of season, the preacher is unwaiveringly to declare the whole counsel of God. He is to magnify biblical preaching. He must needs be a constant, earnest student and supremely a student of God’s Holy Word. Too much of our current preaching is too newspaperish—like preaching out of the Readers’ Digest; thousands and thousands of preachers get their sermons out of Readers’ Digest—too much of our current preaching is too newspaperish. It is too much given to little scraps of discussion about the transient and the superficial. It does not stretch out into the eternity. It fails to have the tone of the preaching of God’s Book.
However lastingly true. And in one of his addresses:
We must know the Bible better if we are to know Christ better. There can be only one best. The gift of His only begotten Son is God’s best gift to mankind, and the Bible is next among His precious gifts to humanity. The great sane, conserving Book of civilization is the Bible. All rational people should read it every day whether they read the papers or not. The supreme Book for human society is this Book from God. One of the greatest problems that confronts us is that many clever people are neglecting the Holy Word of God. That is true among groups of college students. I’ve been surprised, in the various colleges throughout America, to find how well informed the student body was with Shakespeare, Tennyson, and modern writers, but how little they know about the Bible. The Bible tells us that people are destroyed by their lack of knowledge of this great Book.
Chinese Gordon, that great English soldier, took with him his library when he went down into the Sudan. Later he wrote that he had need down there for only two books: one, the Bible, and the other, the concordance; those enabled him to find quickly any passage in it.
Dr. Truett tells the story, and rather than read it, I’ll just tell it. There was a young man, a brilliant young fellow apparently, who came forward in this church and gave himself to the Lord Jesus, and was a devoted Christian until the fires of love for Christ cooled. And he finally came to the great pastor and asked that his name be stricken from the congregational record. He didn’t want to be a Christian; didn’t want to be known as a member of the church any longer.
And Dr. Truett said to the young fellow, “I will do as you have said. We’ll take your name from the book. You’ll be no longer a member of the congregation of the Lord. But, before I do it, before I do it—I haven’t time: there’s an old dying saint in our dear church, and I want you to take this Bible, and I want you to go down and read to him out of the Book.”
And the young fellow said, “I will not know where or what to read.”
And Dr. Truett said, “You read to this old dying saint—you read to him the twenty-third Psalm. Then you read to him the fourteenth chapter of John. Then you read to him the eighth chapter of the Book of Romans.” And reluctantly, the young fellow took the Book and went down to the house where this old saint of God was dying. And true to his promise, he read to him the twenty-third Psalm, and he read to him the fourteenth chapter of the Gospel of John, and he read to him the eighth chapter of the Book of Romans. And the old man then said to the lad, “Will you now kneel down by my side and pray?”
And the boy, the young fellow, knelt down by the side of the old dying saint and began to pray. And as he prayed, apparently the old man of God saw heaven open, and he began to shout and to praise the Lord—and the face of Jesus!
And the young fellow came back and told Dr. Truett the story, and said, “Pastor, you forget what I said to you—not my name taken from the book. For pastor, when he shouted it, ‘Praise God,’ I shouted and praised God with him.”
Oh, the incomparable, marvelous effect this Book has upon the human life and the human heart. In these days gone by, there was a capable, able, gifted, middle-aged woman in our congregation—most attractive, personable—heading one of the institutions here in Dallas. She fell in love with—and he with her—she fell in love with a producer and director of plays on Broadway, and they were married, and she brought him to church here where you’re seated today. He was anything but a Christian. He’d never been introduced to the Lord, never gone to church in his life. And as he sat out there and listened to the Word of God, God entered his heart in conviction and opened for him the doors of salvation. And he came forward and confessed his faith in the Lord Jesus, and I baptized him into the fellowship of this wonderful church. I was so proud, and so glad, and so grateful to God.
We have, as you know, Ralph Baker Hall over here, made for drama. And this man had given his life to the direction and the presentation of dramatic plays on Broadway in New York City. He was one of the most personable conversationalists you could ever have met in your life—fine looking man with graying hair. And in the midst of every dream I had for what he would mean to the kingdom of God, he suddenly died with a heart attack. As I stood by his casket with his wife, there in the casket he was holding a Bible; the Word of God.
I said to the grieving wife, “I’ve never seen that in my life. Out of the innumerable memorial services I’ve conducted, I’ve never looked into a casket and there is a man holding the Bible in his hands.”
She said to me, “When he was saved, when he was saved, when he was converted, after you baptized him, he constantly read the Bible. He’d even prop it up,” she would say, “when he was shaving, and while he was shaving, he’d read the Bible, and he read it before we went to bed at night. He read it when we arose in the morning, and it was always by his side when he was seated in the car.”
She said, “When he died and I looked in the casket, the hand that I had so often seen holding the Word of God seemed so empty.” So she said, “I went upstairs to our bedroom, and I got his Bible, and I put it in his hands.” And I have made request that when I die, I want my Bible in my hands, a last witness to the infallible Word of God!
When Sir Walter Scott lay dying, he said to his son-in-law, Lockhart, “Son, bring me the Book.” And in the midst of that vast [library] that belonged to the poet, Lockhart replied: “Father, what book? Which book?”
And Sir Walter Scott replied, “Son, there’s just one Book. Bring me the Book!”
And Lockhart brought to his father-in-law, Sir Walter Scott, the Bible. And Sir Walter Scott died with that Bible in his hands.
There’s just one Book.
“Bring me, read me the old, old story.”
And the winged word that can never age
Wafted his soul to glory.
There’s just one Book! And I cannot describe for you in syllable and sentence the feeling of gladness and rejoicing I have in my soul that now for ninety-one years, with two pastors, we still preach, believe in, exalt, hold up the old Book—God’s enduring and everlasting Word [Isaiah 40:8].
May we pray? Our Lord in heaven, were it not for the Book, we’d never know Thee. It is on this sacred page that we see Thy face, read Thy words, are taught the way of eternal life. O God, in life, in death, in the world to come, this is our hope and our salvation [1 John 3:2-3]. Dear Lord, stand by us in truth, in commitment, as we preach this Holy Word, as we believe its sacred promises, and as we incarnate its truth in our daily lives. Make it regnant, Lord, in pulpit, in pew, in heart, in home. Magnify its meaning in every issue that we face. And our Lord, bless Thou the word we’ve sought to bring today honoring Thee and Thy infallible Scripture. Give us souls and we’ll love Thee, Lord, for the harvest. In Thy saving and keeping name, amen.
In this moment, when we sing our hymn of appeal, in the balcony round, you; in the throng on this lower floor, you: “Pastor, this is God’s day for me and I’m accepting the Lord Jesus as my Savior” [Romans 10:9-10]. Or a family you, coming into the fellowship of our wonderful church, or just you, answering the call of God in your heart and life, make that decision now in the quietness of this sacred moment. And when we stand in this moment to sing, on the first note of the first stanza, come: “Pastor, God has spoken to me and here I stand.” May angels attend you as you come, while we stand and while we sing.