These Forty-Seven Years
October 6th, 1991 @ 10:50 AM
THESE FORTY-SEVEN YEARS
Dr. W.A. Criswell
10-6-91 10:50 a.m.
Bless you wonderful, glorious choir and orchestra. And welcome to the multitudes and the throngs who share this hour on radio and on television. You are now a part of our precious First Baptist congregation in Dallas. And this is the senior pastor bringing the message entitled These Forty-Seven Years. Our background Scripture is the famous, beautiful psalm of Moses, Psalm number 90:
Lord, You have been our dwelling place in all generations. Before the mountains were brought forth, or ever You had formed the earth and the world, even from everlasting to everlasting, Thou art God…
A thousand years in Your sight are like yesterday when it is past, and like a watch in the night…
The days of our lives are seventy years; and if by reason of strength they be eighty years, yet their boast is only labor and sorrow; for it is soon cut off, and we fly away … So teach us to number our days, that we may apply our hearts unto wisdom … Let Your work appear to Your servants, and Your glory to their children. And let the beauty of the Lord our God be upon us.
After I was graduated from the seminary, I have been undershepherd of three churches. In the first one, my predecessor was J. W. Bruner who was there fifteen years; and I thought what a long, long time. I was then called to my second church. Dr. A. N. Hall was my predecessor, and he had been undershepherd of that congregation for twenty-eight years, and I thought, “How very, very long!” Then I was invited to come to be pastor of this dear church in Dallas. And my predecessor, the far-famed George W. Truett, had been undershepherd of this church for forty-seven years; and I thought, “How long, how long!” In the morning on Monday, I shall begin my forty-eighth year as a fellow pastor of this precious congregation. And it seems to me, as I look back over the years, they are but as yesterday and as a watch in the night [Psalm 90:4]; they are so very, very brief.
And you have been so preciously kind in writing to me. From afar, a couple in Missouri:
It’s the pastor’s anniversary.
We’re grateful to heaven,
Could it be possible, Lord,
It’s number forty-seven?
Some call him the pope.
Most call him pastor,
With style and with charm,
No man is his master.
He preaches loud and clear
To each on the pew
And pleads for the Lord
For that one somebody, you.
We wanted to send greetings,
Though no doubt you’re in a hurry,
So we send hugs and best wishes
From Lebanon, Missouri.
And from a sweet family, the Gerestungs in our dear church:
How very gracious God has been
To let us keep you through the years
To share with us so tenderly
Our many joys and tears.
No undershepherd other
Has our soul so greatly fed.
How lovingly you preach the word
Where ere the Holy Spirit led.
And soon, Lord willing,
We shall reach the year of ‘93,
In which to praise the Lord for you,
We start a jubilee.
But, the most wonderful, and marvelous, and indescribably incomparable accolade in tribute I ever read in my life was written by our pastor Dr. Gregory and published in his “Pastor’s Pen” in the Reminder. Never have I read such words of love, and encouragement, and tribute as you have written to me; you sweet, precious, boy; God love you. Oh, dear!
And the beatenness thing I ever looked at in my life also, last Monday night I was watching television; and a demonic looking critter who is the so-called president of one of our defecting universities referred to our beloved pastor as “a low-level liar and a high-handed, hell-bound hypocrite.” And you know, when I heard that, I thought, “Oh, what a loving liar and what a heavenly hypocrite is this pastor!” Bless you, son. Oh, dear!
And we face a tremendous challenge in the Holy Scripture that you read. In Philippians, “Brethren, I do not count myself to have katalambanō.” That’s a word describing the Greek, tremendous athletic events; katalambanō, to achieve that success, to seize that prize:
I do not count myself to have arrived, to have won it. Just this one thing: Forgetting those things that are past, and reaching into those things that are before, we press toward the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus.
In our church, in our outreach ministries, our thirty-one different chapels, and in the building of our schools, our academy and our Criswell College, and we face the great calling of God with buoyant optimism, and with gratitude that the Lord has assigned us so heavenly a place in His divine program, and with commitment to the work of our Lord till He comes. So we face our task lying before us with buoyant optimism.
Caleb, eighty-five years of age, said to Joshua and the Israelites [Joshua 14:10], “Give me this mountain” [Joshua 14:12]. It was Hebron. It was a great walled city; and it was inhabited by the Anakim, the children of Anak, nine feet tall. But forty years in the wilderness had not dimmed his vision; it had not lessened his faith [Joshua 14:11]; it had not destroyed his youthful zest and enthusiasm; and it had not diminished his trust in Jehovah God. So the passing of the years have done nothing but given us a fullness of the drink of the elixir of God; the holiness of His glorious presence and the might of His power to save.
When I was a youth, medicine shows came through the little town in which I was fetched up. And there would be a medicine man on the platform, and he would extol this elixir: “Drink it, buy it, add years to your life. Maybe live for no telling how long.” And he said, “If you don’t believe what’s on the label, look at me; I’m 390 years old!” And an incredulous listener said to his assistant, “Did you hear that? He says he’s 390 years old. Is that true?” And the assistant said, “I don’t know. I’ve only been with him 140 years.”
How wonderful to be buoyant and expectant, like that old codger who married at the tender age of eighty-nine and immediately, hastily, began looking for a bigger house close to an elementary school. That’s optimism! You know what I’m talking about.
At eighty, Goethe wrote “Faust.” At eighty-two, Tennyson wrote “Crossing the Bar.” At eighty-four, Gladstone, prime minister, delivered the greatest messages to the parliament of England. At eighty-five, Verdi wrote his “Ave Maria.” At eighty-seven, Michelangelo did his greatest work, the dome of St. Peters. At eighty-seven, Vladimir Horowitz was playing that concert piano. At ninety-eight, Arthur Rubinstein was giving concerts. At ninety-eight, Titian painted his historic picture, “The Battle of Lepanto.” And at a hundred, the sainted apostle John was writing the Revelation and the Gospel and his three inspired epistles.
What a glory God hath surrounded us and encouraged us in the mighty work of the Lord. As such, we give Him praise and thanksgiving for including us, all of us, in His program for mankind in human history. That history can be dour, and down, and defeated, and discouraged; you remember the poem by Lord Byron?
My days are in the yellow leaf.
The flower and fruits of love are gone,
The worm, the canker and the grief
are mine alone.
[“On This Day I Complete My Thirty-Sixth Year”]
Do you remember the title of that poem? “On My Thirty-sixth Birthday,” and he died. How different the exuberance of the Christian poet, Robert Browning. At seventy-seven, still writing and, after a half of century of authorship, wrote these words:
Come, grow old along with me.
The best is yet to be.
The last of life for which the first was made.
Our plans, our times are in His hand
Who set the whole life plan.
Youth shows but half
Trust God, see all
Nor be afraid.
[from “Rabbi Ben Ezra”]
And thus we face the great calling and assignment of our Lord. And we do so in the love of Jesus, dedicated in the work until He comes.
A plowman was asked, “If you knew the Lord was coming in the next few minutes, what would you do?” And he replied, “I would finish plowing this furrow to the end of the road.” When He comes, He finds us at our task [Matthew 24:46].
In one of my village pastorates, I went to see Mrs. Ed Davidson, [the wife of] one of my wonderful deacons. She was baking bread and had flour up to her elbows on each arm. And she said, “Oh, young pastor, had I known you were coming, I would have prepared. I would have dressed.” I said, “No, no, I love to see you just like this. We’re getting ready, I can see, to break bread together.”
At work until He comes; and that means for our church; and that means for our missions, and that means for our glorious schools, the academy and our Criswell College. Thank God for that academy. In that school, we read the Bible. We pray. We teach the Word of the Lord. We sing hymns. We have chapel. Thank God for our academy.
And beyond any way I could say it or verbalize it, praise God for our college; teaching there the infallible and inspired Word of the Lord. Last Sunday morning, our beloved and gifted pastor delivered an address about the defection of our senior university in the state of Texas. And after the service was over, there were eight young people from Baylor who came up these steps and formed a semi-circle around me right here. They had come, having heard that there was an address to be made about the school; they had come to attend that service at 11 o’clock; and afterward, standing around me. And I asked them, “Do you go to the classes taught by the professors of Bible in the university?” “Yes,” they said, “yes!” Well, I asked them, “Does your teacher tell you that the Bible is the inerrant and inspired and infallible Word of God?” And they said to me, “No, not at all.” Well, I said, “What do they teach you?” And those youngsters replied to me, “They teach us that the Bible is not infallible and is not inerrant because it is full of contradictions, and errors, and inconsistencies.”
Well, I said, “What do they teach you about the historicity and authenticity of what is described and presented in this Holy Book?” And they replied to me and said, “We are taught that the Bible is full of myths, and legends, and fatuous, unbelievable, inane stories like Jonah and the whale, and the virgin birth of Jesus Christ.”
So I hold in my hand a Book full of error, and myth, and legend, and lies, and inconsistencies, and contradictions. And I say in my heart, “O God, where is the infallible man, and where is that care of the theology that can show me what is truth and what is error, what is a revelation from God, and what is myth and fable? Where is the man that can show me what is true and what is false in this Bible? Because if I am to preach it and if I am to try to live it, I need somebody to show me in the Book where is the truth, separate and apart from error. And I do not know in the world where there lives an infallible man that can tell me what is true and what is false; what is myth and legend and fable, and what is the revelation of God.”
So I hold in my hand a Book that they tell me is full of falsehood, and error, and lies, and inanities, and misleading. And I know nothing to do except to cast it aside; that is for the janitors to sweep out and to place in the garbage and in the trash. Then I stand in my pulpit without a Bible; no foundation for the building of a Christian home; no revelation of God to give to our precious children. And what shall I do when Charles McLaughlin, just before I came into this service, says, “One of our precious, devoted members has died, and they want you to conduct the service tomorrow?” When that time comes and I stand with the grieving family, what shall I say? I don’t have a Bible, and no hope of heaven and no word from God.
When Sir Walter Scott lay dying, he turned to his son-in-law, Lockhart—who by the way, wrote the biography of the great bard of Scotland, one of the great stories of the language—Sir Walter Scott, dying, turned to his son-in-law, Lockhart, and said, “Son, bring me the Book.” In the thousands of books in his library, Lockhart said to his father-in-law, “Father, what book?” And the great Scottish bard, Sir Walter Scott, answered, “Son, there’s just one Book. Bring me the Book.”
And Lockhart went to the library and got the Bible, brought the Bible, placed it in the hands of Sir Walter Scott, and he 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 could never age
Wafted his soul to glory.
There’s just one Book.
Thou truest friend man ever knew.
Thy constancy I’ve tried.
When all were fault I found thee true
My counselor and guide.
The minds of earth no treasures give
That could this volume buy
In teaching me the way to live,
It taught me how to die.
And that is the dedication of our Criswell College; teaching the infallible, and inerrant, and inspired Word of God [2 Timothy 3:16-17; 2 Peter 1:20-21]; the virgin birth of our Savior [Matthew 1:20-25; Luke 1:26-35, 2:1-16]; His glorious resurrection from the dead [Matthew 28:1-7]; the power of His Spirit to change human heart, and home, and life; and the glorious and heavenly promise that He is coming again [Acts 1:9-10]. O God, for men who will believe in and preach the infallible, inerrant, inspired Word of God [2 Timothy 3:16-17; 2 Peter 1:20-21].
And to you who have listened on television, may this message be for your hearts a word of hope and heaven. Our life is so brief, just for a while in this pilgrimage, then we stand before the great Judge of all the earth, and when that day comes, are you saved, are you saved? If you don’t know how to accept Jesus as your Savior, call that number on your screen. There will be a dedicated, consecrated man or woman who will tell you how to enter the kingdom of heaven, and if you will listen and if you will give God your heart, I will see you in heaven some glorious and triumphant day.
And to the great throng in God’s house this holy hour, in the balcony round about, down one of those stairways, “Pastor, I’ve made up my mind and my heart. I’m standing with my life in faith and trust to the Lord Jesus.” And in the throng of the people on this lower floor, answering the call of the Spirit in your heart, “I want to take the Lord as my Savior,” or, “I want to come into the fellowship of this dear church.” Or, “I am answering the call of the Spirit of God in my heart.” On the first note of the first stanza, come, and may angels attend you in the way; while we stand and while we sing.
THESE FORTY-SEVEN YEARS
Dr. W.A. Criswell
The sweet gracious people
Our commitment to the great work of our Lord
In buoyant optimism
In gratitude, thanksgiving to God
The sweet gracious people
II.Our commitment to the great work of our Lord