TRUETT AND THE BIBLE
Dr. W. A. Criswell
7-3-88 8:15 a.m.
And once again welcome to the throngs of you who share this hour on radio. This is the pastor of the First Baptist Church in Dallas delivering a message in keeping with a tradition that I began forty-four years ago. On the Sunday closest to the anniversary of the death of the great pastor George W. Truett, I seek to deliver a message on some facet of the Christian ministry to which he gave his life.
George W. Truett was born the sixth of May in 1867, in a little house on a small farm in Clay County, North Carolina, near the village of Haysville. He was the seventh of eight children. In his nineteenth year, he was converted and was baptized into the church there in Haysville. That is in the mountains of North Carolina. The Truett family moved to Texas in the summer of 1889, and settled near Whitewright in Grayson County, just north of us, and joined the church at Whitewright. In the summer of 1890, at a Saturday afternoon conference, a deacon in the church made a motion that they ordain young George Truett to the gospel ministry.
Dr. B. H. Carroll, then head of the Bible department at Baylor University and pastor of the First Baptist Church of Waco, asked the young man to join him in an effort to raise ninety-two thousand dollars to pay the debt on Baylor University. During that campaign, Texas discovered Truett; and it was a great success.
In 1893, George Truett enrolled in Baylor and was graduated in 1897. During his years as a student, he pastored the East Waco Baptist Church. After his graduation, he was asked to be president of the university; but he declined, saying, "I have sought and found a shepherd’s heart." That’s one of the most beautiful sayings I’ve ever heard. Declining the presidency of the university, "I have sought and found a shepherd’s heart." Within a few weeks after his graduation in 1897, he was called as pastor of the First Baptist Church in Dallas. He began his ministry here the second Sunday in September, in 1897. And he continued as undershepherd of this great and wonderful church for forty-six years.
At the end of his forty-six years, he became tragically ill with bone cancer, and lay suffering and dying for the entire year. After forty-seven years, he offered to resign when he became ill and the church refused to accept his resignation; and he died as pastor of the church, the seventh of July, in 1944. It was because of the long illness of Dr. Truett that so soon after his death they called me to be the undershepherd of the congregation.
In the fifty-first chapter of Isaiah, "Look unto the rock whence ye are hewn, and to the hole of the pit from whence ye are digged. Look unto Abraham your father, and unto Sarah that bare you: for I called him, and blessed him, and increased him" [verse 1 and 2]. Isn’t that a magnificent tribute? These old prophets had a habit of calling the people back to the remembrance of their forefathers and foremothers. "Look unto the rock whence ye are hewn, and to the hole of the pit whence ye are digged; to Abraham, and to Sarah."
And we’re doing that this morning. And in preparing this address on Dr. Truett and God’s Call to America, I had intended, I had planned a patriotic message. But as I read his messages, I became distinctly aware of something in his life of dedication and tribute that moved my heart. Time and again the great pastor would go out of his way to magnify the Word of God. And the reason I was so sensitive to it was because of the confrontation in our present Southern Baptist Association of churches over the Bible, the Word of God. And I want you to notice in this address, God’s Call to America delivered by Dr. Truett at the close of the Baptist World Alliance, meeting in Philadelphia, on Sunday evening, the twenty-fifth of June in 1911, after naming the factors, the providences that menace America, such as our fast growing cities, and immigration, such as you have from Latin America into Texas, and the virus of the "get-rich," and the lawlessness and the crime among our people, and the irreverence in religious formalism; then after speaking of our challenge to win America to Christ, the preeminent call of the hour, and the call of God to give the gospel to all the people of the world in a great worldwide mission commitment, I want you to notice how in the address he goes out of his way to magnify this Holy Book, God’s Bible.
Speaking of the basis for unity on the part of all Christian denominations, he said, quote: "That source of unity, the basis of unity for all who call upon the name of God, is found in the Bible, the Word of the Lord." Then, this:
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, ‘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 a little 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 Bible.’ Some things in this world are unchangeably true, and others are just as unchangeably false; and never did truth win her battles on any land or in the midst of any people by compromising the truth.
Again in that same address: "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 another address by Dr. Truett entitled The Leaf and the Life. It was delivered in May 23, 1902, at an annual meeting of the American Baptist Publication Society. It was placed in the congressional record. This is what he said:
The Word incarnate, Jesus Christ, and the Word written, 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 –
those two great pillars in front of Solomon’s temple –
they’re the Jachin and the Boaz in 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.
And again in that address: "Put it down as an inevitable and unauthorable truth, that wherever God’s Book has been honored, there the national life has been glorious. And wherever it has been dishonored, upon such people have fallen blight and shame and death."
And in that same beautiful address, Dr. Truett said,
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 in spots and nobody knows where the spots are, we are not to waste our lives in caviling with them; we’re not called upon to answer every fool who has escaped from the mortar in which he was betrayed. When the old Book is attacked, we are just to go on printing and scattering it all the more. To be sure, it has been unceasingly attacked through all the passing generations, and is sorely attacked today. Foes without and within have plotted for its destruction. The Trojan horse is sometimes carried within our gates. In a company of clever gentleman, some of whom even wear the garb of theological leaders and call themselves the ministers of the Word of the New Testament, have been attempting to draw the bolts of the citadel gates. Numbers of these clever gentleman have sought to play the role of Jehoiakim, but the old Book has not been harmed: its bonfires may be read through the passing centuries, but out of all of it has come without the smell of fire upon its garments. The old citadel stands, though every stone in the wall has been attacked. Like any stone, despite all the swirling tides and buffeting storms, the old Book stands to cast its steady light over all the broad and storm-swept seas. Like Gibraltar it stands, while the wreck of uncounted hostile fleets like shivered about its base. Gloriously does their coming speak of its triumph. The empire of Caesar is gone; the legions of Rome are motoring in the dust; the avalanches that Napoleon hurled upon Europe passed away; the prize of the Pharaohs is fallen, the pyramids they raised for their tombs are sinking every day in the desert sands; Tyre is a rock for bleaching fishermen’s nets; Sidon has scarcely a wreck left behind; but the Word of Gods still survives.
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, how enduring is the least word that God has spoken. Tradition has dug for it many a grave, and tolerance 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 as grass: the grass withereth, the flower fadeth, but the Word of God shall stand forever. The mouth of the Lord has declared it!
Now that’s Truett! Wonder how he’d be received today among these half-infidels?
In that same book he has published a message at a Baylor homecoming, quote: "The truths of the Bible should form a fundamental part of the instruction of a college curriculum." That sounds strange today.
Its literary merits alone entitle the Bible be a textbook in every school of the world. Why should a student 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 for 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, it is also His book for society and civilization. Even Huxley was perplexed to know whence would come our aspirations to heroic conduct if the study of the Bible should be abandoned. The surprising task of any and every people is the worthy religious training of the young; and without such training a country is palsied in its heart, and ere long must disintegrate and perish.
In a revival, in one of his sermons, in an evangelistic series, Dr. Truett said:
If you 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 compliment 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, sing no more at the open grave Psalm 23, sing no more by the grave the fourteenth chapter of John, ‘Let not your heart be troubled.’ You are done with Christ if you are done with the Bible. And if done with Christ, you are done with the Bible.
In one of those unusual providences that I cannot explain, when I was a youth attending one of our Southern Baptist Conventions, I was invited to a lunch, a little group of preachers, at which Dr. Truett was speaking. And in that message, which was published, he said that he wanted to a lawyer, and if he had a thousand lifetimes he’d give every one of them to being a preacher. Then the quote:
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 unwaveringly 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. It is too much given to little scraps of discussion about the transient and the superficial. It does not stretch out into the eternities: it fails to have the tone of the preaching of God’s Book.
And on and on – I haven’t time to continue – does Truett magnify the Word of God.
One of the instances that he tells here is a young man who gave his heart to the Lord, brilliant young fellow, came down and confessed his faith and was baptized, was a devout Christian. But as time went on, his heart cooled toward the faith; and finally came to Dr. Truett and said, "I want you to take my name off of the church roll. I don’t want to be a Christian. I don’t want to be a member of the congregation of the Lord." And Dr. Truett said to him, "Son, I’ll be your servant, and present it to the church, and we’ll take your name off the church roll. But before I do, I haven’t time to go see an old gentleman here who’s dying, and is a wonderful Christian. And I want you to take this Book," and he gave him the Bible; "I want you to take this Book, and I want you to go read to him out of the Book." And the boy, the young man, said, "Why, what would I read?" And Dr. Truett said, "You read to him the twenty-third Psalm. And you read to him the fourteenth chapter of John. And you read to him the eighth chapter of the Book of Romans. And then after you’ve read the Book of God to him, why, you come back and tell me, and we’ll take your name off of the church roll."
So the boy hesitatingly but obediently took the Book, went to see that old dying saint, read to him the twenty-third Psalm, fourteenth chapter of John, eighth chapter of the Book of Romans; and the old dying saint shouted, "The glory of God!" while he read out of the Holy Book. And the old man said to the boy, "Now, I want you to kneel down here and pray." And when the boy got through praying, he stood up, came back to Dr. Truett, said, "Dr. Truett, don’t take my name off the book. No, I have never felt in my life as I have reading the Word to that old dying man, and kneeling by his side to pray."
When Sir Walter Scott lay dying, he turned to his son-in-law Lockhart, and said, "Son, bring me the Book." Sir Walter Scott had an enormous library, and his son-in-law said, "Father, what book? Which book?" And the great Scottish bard said, "Son, there’s just one Book. Bring me the Book." And Lockhart brought him the Bible. And Sir Walter Scott died with that Bible in his hand.
"There’s just one Book!" cried the dying sage;
"Read me the old, old story."
And the winged words that can never age
Wafted his soul to glory.
There’s just one Book.
[Author and Work Unknown]
And to magnify it, and to glorify it, and to preach it, and to avow it, and to affirm it is the highest calling and the supreme dedication of the man of God and the pastor of the church. And it is the infinite, indescribable heavenly joy of my heart to think that for ninety-one years and still continuing, this pulpit, this sacred desk, has had behind it a man who magnifies the revelation of God in this holy and heavenly Book.
Now may we pray?
Our Lord, to follow in the tradition of that man of God who held aloft this holy Word, and who delivered it with such love and compassion, O God, who could be worthy to stand in his train? Thank You, Lord, for the congregation that loves to hear the Word of the Lord expounded. And thank You, Lord, for the power and blessing of God upon that ministry of Holy Scripture. And as we study and learn and seek Thy face and will through the revealed Word on the sacred page of Holy Scripture, may we grow in grace and the image of our precious Lord, in whose wonderful and saving name we pray. Amen.
Now in this moment that we stand and sing our hymn of invitation, somebody you to give himself to the Lord Jesus, the God of the Book; a family you to come into the fellowship of our dear church; a one somebody you to give his heart in answer to the call of God to your life; what a beautiful day and what a precious moment in which to do it. Come and welcome, while we stand and while we sing.