The Heavenly Vision
October 1st, 1989 @ 10:50 AM
THE HEAVENLY VISION
Dr. W. A. Criswell
10-1-89 10:50 a.m.
And God be praised for the multitudes of you who are sharing this hour on radio and on television. You are now a part of our wonderful First Baptist Church in Dallas. This is the pastor bringing the message entitled The Heavenly Vision.
On this forty-fifth anniversary, I had a choice in the message prepared; either to look back and to recount some of the heavenly, miraculous interventions of God in building this wonderful downtown lighthouse for Christ, or to look ahead and see the hand of the Lord in calling, in challenge, and in assignment before us. So of the two, I chose the latter, looking ahead, The Heavenly Vision. As a background text, in the twenty-sixth chapter of the Book of Acts, Paul recounts before King Agrippa the meeting of the Savior in the way to Damascus and his high calling in Christ Jesus. And beginning at verse 16, in Acts 26:
But rise, stand upon thy feet: I have appeared unto thee for this purpose, to make thee a minister and a witness both of those things which thou hast seen, and of those things which I will yet appear unto thee;
Delivering thee from the people…unto whom now I send thee, to open their eyes, to turn them from darkness to light, from the power of Satan unto God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins, and inheritance among them which are sanctified by faith that is in Me.
Whereupon, O King Agrippa, I was not disobedient unto the heavenly vision:
But showed first unto them of Damascus, and at Jerusalem, then throughout the coasts of Judea, and then to the nations, that they should repent and turn to God, and do works meet for repentance.
“Whereupon, O King Agrippa, I was not disobedient unto the heavenly vision” [Acts 26:19].
It is a new world, and a so different America in which we live now. It could not be recognized by someone who had died in the beginning of my ministry sixty-two years ago and had been resurrected to look upon the nation now. It is a different world; it is a different life. I was grown before I ever saw a house locked. Now, not only do we lock the house, and bar the windows, and bar the doors, but we have alarm systems. Burglary and crime and thievery are everywhere and increasing like a floodtide.
We have just bought, and I will mention the 505 North Ervay Building; right there cater-cornered from the post office, an eleven story building. On the inside of that building has been built a marvelous nightclub. The owners spent thousands and thousands of dollars on that nightclub. And having bought the building we inherited that also; a wonderful stainless steel kitchen, tables and chairs, all of the things that go with a gorgeous evening club.
So I announced to our teenagers, and I announced to our minister to those young people, we are going to turn that into a club for our youngsters. We are going to have a wonderful time there together. It will just be a great thing, the misfortune of this man that went broke. No such thing as having people come to downtown Dallas anymore; they are afraid to come. When I came here to be pastor of the church, the theaters, the churches filled this downtown area. There is nobody here at night now, so he went bankrupt. And I thought we would take all of those beautiful accouterments over there, and we would use them for a wonderful club for our teenagers.
About two or three nights ago, in the middle of the night, thieves came and gutted it out! All of that stainless kitchen is gone. All of those tables are gone. All of the chairs are gone. Everything is gone. That is the world in which we live. If you get by without somebody breaking into your house and stealing your furniture and everything you have got in it, you are fortunate. And not only is this a day of thievery, debauchery, and theft, it is a day of violence and of crime.
You have heard all of your life; the people are reflected more in their music than in any other way. Amid growing drug-related violence, rap musicians are posing with weapons on their album covers. And they say their work just reflects the reality their audience can relate to. This is America! What kind of an America? All right, here are the songs they sing. Go to the Cotton Bowl and listen to that bunch of rock stars out there. Or go to some metal banging on a guitar and listen to those rock stars singing. What are they singing?
I got a shotgun and here’s the plot.
Taking niggers out with a flurry of buckshot.
Boom, boom, boom. Yeah, I was gunning.
And then you look, all you see is niggers running
And falling and yelling and pushing
And screaming and cussing.
I step back and I keep a bussing.
[N.W.A., “Gangsta Gangsta” from the album Straight Outta Compton]
All right, another song:
I knew a crack dealer by the name of Peter
Had to buck him down with my nine millimeter.
He reached for his pistol, but it was just a waste.
Because my nine millimeter was up against his face.
Listen to my nine millimeter go bang!
[“9mm Goes Bang,” from the album Criminal Minded, Boogie Down Productions]
These are American songs. Take another one:
There was a street hero named Stagger Lee.
Stagger Lee, started out. He give his wife his hand
Goodbye, darling, I’m going to kill a man.
Stagger Lee killed a man and laid him on the flo’.
What did he kill him with? That same ole forty-fo’.
Stagger Lee killed a man and laid him on his side.
What’s daddy killed him with? That same ole forty-five.
Out of house and down the street, Stagger Lee did run.
In his hand he held a great big smokin’ gun.
[“Stagger Lee,” traditional]
That’s America today. I don’t recognize it. I used to think of missions in terms of Africa, or China, or Indonesia. Our mission field now is down every street in the cities of America and of the world. And the aura of catastrophe beclouds this entire Western world, if you have sensitivity of your heart to feel it and to see it.
Right after World War II I was in Munich, bombed out. In a half-destroyed opera house went to see Götterdämmerung, that Wagnerian opera, a trilogy; the first one, Die Walküre; the second, Siegfried; and the third, the last one, Götterdämmerung, the demise, the eclipse of the gods. And when that thing ended, the god Wotan’s spear is broken, Siegfried is slain, Brünnhilde casts herself upon the burning fire, and Valhalla is on fire. The heavens and its earth are aflame.
The tragedy of our nation is we could care less; we couldn’t care less about things of God and things of Christ and things of the Lord. If I were expecting a big football game, when would I expect it? I would expect it on the Lord’s Day. If I were looking for things that pull people together, I’d expect it on the Lord’s Day evening. It would not occur to America or the Western world, that this might be a holy day and the church might be a place for the assembly of the people, and that this might be a time when we call on the name of the Lord.
And the judgment that inevitably follows such secularism, and materialism, and godlessness, and drunkenness, and debauchery is inevitable! Jeremiah lifted up his voice and cried saying, “Repent ye! Get right with God” [Jeremiah 3:12-14]. And the Chaldeans came in 605 BC, carried away Daniel and the seed royal [Daniel 1:1-6]. Jeremiah lifted up his voice and cried saying, “Repent ye! Get right with God” [Jeremiah 3:12]. And the Chaldeans came in 598 BC, and carried away Ezekiel and the priests [Jeremiah 52:28; Ezekiel 1:1; 2 Kings 24:11-14]. Jeremiah lifted up his voice and cried, saying, “Repent ye! Get right with God.” The Chaldeans came in 587 BC [Jeremiah 39:1-10, 52:4-30], and they didn’t need to come again. Jeremiah cried:
The harvest is past, the summer is ended, and we are not saved.
Oh that my eyes were a fountain of tears,
that I might weep day and night for the slain of the lost of the daughter of my people!
[Jeremiah 8:20; 9:1]
I don’t think any nation ultimately can escape the judgment of Almighty God. “The wicked shall be turned into hell,” says the psalmist, “and all the nations that forget God” [Psalm 9:17].
Far-called, our navies melt away;
On dune and headland sinks the fire:
Lo, all our pomp of yesterday
Is one with Nineveh and Tyre!
Judge of the Nations, spare us yet,
Lest we forget, lest we forget!
[from “Recessional” by Rudyard Kipling]
This is God’s call to us in this dear church. This is a time in which we answer the challenge of God to recommit and reconsecrate and regive our lives to the ministry and the work of our Lord. And we do it in His church. “Christ loved the church, and gave Himself for it” [Ephesians 5:25]. And set as we are in the heart of this great metroplex, O Lord, that it might consume the love of our souls and the devotion of our lives. We desperately need God’s church!
In these years gone by, I started at Tokyo in Japan, and for two and a half months held crusades in every city in Japan, clear down to Ijuin in the last prefecture of Kagoshima. Didn’t have any churches; so, I held those crusades in big civic auditoriums. If I could say an aside, there were thousands of people who responded—so much so that many times I would send them back to their seats thinking they didn’t understand; explain again the plan of salvation and give the invitation. The same throng would come.
That’s when Douglas MacArthur was the head of the nation and his chief chaplain was a Southern Baptist preacher. Japan could have been won to Christ and could have been a Christian nation today, had we listened to the call of God. Even General MacArthur made appeal to our own denomination: “Send us thousands of preachers,” he said. Japan, I guess, is the least Christian of all of the civilized industrial nations of the world today. There is not one percent of them that is Christian. When I came back years later to hold a crusade, if I would give an invitation, they’d stand up and walk out.
Great God, what is happening to us? In one of those crusades, a Japanese man who came forward to give his heart to Christ, held the card, and looked at the card and asked me, “Sensei, if I sign this card, then what?” No church, no Sunday school, no discipling. “If I sign this card, sensei, then what?” How desperately we need the church! God look upon us in grace, in mercy; and we need it downtown!
I read a survey this last week. They went through all of the cities of America and made this report: practically all of the downtown churches in the cities of America have either moved out or have ceased to exist. Since I have been pastor here, nine churches downtown Dallas have either moved out or have died, leaving the great thronging, teeming metropolises of our nation to Satan, to darkness, to crime, to violence, to materialism, to secularism. Satan has his throne in these cities. How God needs us!
One of the ministries that we seek to further and ask God’s blessing upon is our teaching ministries, our Sunday school. O Lord, how we need to gather the people together and teach them the living Word of the living God! How desperately it needs to be taught! But not only Sunday school, but Monday school, Tuesday school, Wednesday school, Thursday school, Friday school, Saturday school; every day school for God.
You were introduced a moment ago to Dr. Nolan Estes. I tried for years to organize an academy, teaching the children the Word of the Lord down here every day of the week; failed ingloriously. And when Dr. Estes came to be head of the Dallas Independent School District and a leader in our fellowship of deacons, he stood up there and he said—I will never on earth forget this sentence—Dr. Estes said, “If education is ever the sole prerogative of the state, disintegration is just around the corner.” We need God in the teaching of our children and in the teaching of our youth. And so far has America gone, away from the Lord, they say by law, you can’t even pray; by law, you can’t teach the Word of God; and by law, you couldn’t have services, chapels in our public school system.
I sat a few weeks ago in a waiting room by a distinguished man—layman from Wisconsin. He found out I was a preacher and began to talk to me. And he said to me, “Up there in Wisconsin I live in a little city. And in our Catholic church, the Christian school enrollment descended, sank, wasted down from 1400 to 200.” And he said, “Just now our Catholic bishop is going from church to church to church, throughout the diocese, and he’s teaching our people to tithe. They have never tithed; they have never been taught tithing. They have never been introduced to tithing. Then the bishop says, as a concomitant and a corollary, he says, “And we are going to do away with tuition in our Christian school. It will be free. If you want your child to have a Christian education, send the child to our Christian school. There is no tuition. It is free.” And he says, “We are going to pay for it by the tithes of our people.” And the layman said, and this is back yonder when school just began, he said, “This last week, we opened the school for the winter semester for this year, and on the first day, our attendance was doubled.”
O God, how I wish that our people would tithe! And how I wished before God in heaven, I could stand here in this pulpit and over television and radio say, “You could send your child to our Christian academy for nothing. The tuition is free. We are paying for it out of the tithes and gifts of our people.”
Our wonderful college: as you know, we have just bought, through the kindness of the Hunt family—we have just bought a campus for our college. This is a unique institution. Oh, I wish I had the ableness to get our people to see that! It is not a seminary; we have seminaries. It is an accredited college, like Texas University is accredited, SMU is accredited, TCU, A&M, these great institutions are accredited. Our college is accredited also.
But our school is in another category, in a different world. If you are going to be a doctor, you go to a doctor school. If you are going to be a lawyer, you go to a lawyer school. Our school is a Bible school; it is a Bible college. And if there is someone who would like to be taught the languages of the Holy Scriptures, Greek and Hebrew, all of the things that obtain to doctrine and Christian life, come to our college; it’s that kind of a college. It is unique in the world. I do not know another like it in the earth.
This wonderful announcement: we have a campus now. And if you want to be taught the Word of God in an accredited school, with an accredited degree, and you want to be a preacher, you want to be a missionary, you want to be a worker in the church, if you would like to be a staff member, if you would just like to be taught in the Word of God and learn the things of Christ, you come to this college; it is that kind of a college. It is not an institute—thank God for Moody Bible Institute and these great institutes, this is not an institute. It is a college, and to further it and to magnify it before God is one of the greatest privileges of the world.
The Lord works with us beyond anything I have ever seen in all of my life or ever heard of. Tomorrow, one more day, and we have the 505 North Ervay Building. Right there—eleven stories, cater-cornered to the post office, right next door to our Spurgeon Harris Building—we take charge of it; it is ours tomorrow. Think of buying that wonderful building. You men who own a home, you can’t decorate your living room for $9.00 a square foot. You can’t put things in the kitchen for $9.00 a square foot. We have bought that building over there for $9.43 a square foot; the entire skyscraper, $9.43 a square foot! It’s never been heard of in the history of creation. Ask any real estate dealer that you know; he will say that is nothing short of an intervention from heaven, a miracle of God. We have bought that building for $9.43 a square foot.
Well, what are you going to do with it? We are believing that if we labor for God, God’s going to be on our side, and He is going to help us through. That Ruth Ray Hunt Youth Building is filled. You can’t put another class in it. Just go across the street, there are eleven stories in which those young people can expand the ministries of God in their midst. We don’t have any place for the enlargement of our ministries to our Young Marrieds and our Young Adults. We are going to take the Median Adult and put them over there, and give the entire CEB building to the Young Marrieds and the Young Adults. And these organized independent classes, some of them in the Fairmont Hotel, and when they have a convention, put them out on the street; they are going to have a beautiful home.
We are getting ready; we are getting ready, under God for a great expansion of this ministry of preaching, and teaching, and soulwinning, and building a lighthouse for Christ in the heart of this great city. If we are ready, God is ready:
And the Lord God whispered and said to me,
“These things shall be, these things shall be.
No help shall come from the scarlet skies
Till My people rise!
Till My people rise, My arm is weak;
I cannot speak until My people speak;
When men are dumb, My voice is dumb–
I cannot come until My people come.”
For 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.
[from “God Prays,” by Angela Morgan]
I think of the mystic, English poet, William Blake:
Bring me my bow of burning gold;
Bring me my arrows of desire,
Bring me my spear, O clouds unfold!
Bring me my chariot of fire!
We shall not cease from battle strife,
Nor shall the sword sleep in our hand:
Until we have built Jerusalem,
In this fair and pleasant land.
[adapted from “Jerusalem,” by William Blake]
God is with us. The Lord is on our side. It’s just for us to arise and do His work and will in this earth.
And may I make appeal to the throngs of you who have shared this hour on television? The greatest decision you can ever make in your life is to give your heart, and home, and house to God. And if you don’t know how to accept Christ as your Savior, call us. You’ll find the number on your screen, and there’ll be a dedicated somebody there to answer the telephone and explain to you the way of salvation. It’ll be the greatest commitment you’ll ever make in your life, if you’ll accept the Lord as your Savior, and Guide and Keeper [Romans 10:9-13]; and someday I’ll see you in heaven.
And to the great throng in the sanctuary in God’s house this holy hour, a family you, to come into the church to love and to pray and to worship with us; or a couple you, or just one somebody you, “Pastor, the Lord has spoken to me this day and here I come.” Welcome! A thousand times welcome, while we stand and while we sing.
I. The new, so-different America
A. Violence, crime,
drugs, dissolution of homes, abortion
1. Our 505 North
Ervay building broken into
2. The songs that
are sung, rapped
B. Used to think of
mission field in Africa, Asia; but today down every street
1. Wagner’s Gotterdammerung
inevitable judgment that follows such secularism, materialism and godlessness(Jeremiah 8:20, 9:1, Psalm 9:17)
II. Our answer, commitment, and dedication
A. This downtown church
and its ministries(Ephesians 5:25)
1. Crusades in
Japan – “Sensei, if I sign this card, what then?”
2. Survey reveals
most downtown churches moved out or ceased to exist
B. Our teaching
1. Sunday school
2. Our Academy
3. Our College –
C. 505 North Ervay
building – expanding our youth ministries
1. Poem, “God