These Forty-eight Years
October 11th, 1992 @ 10:50 AM
THESE FORTY-EIGHT YEARS
Dr. W. A. Criswell
10-11-92 10:50 a.m.
This is the senior pastor bringing the message entitled These Forty-Eight Years. As a background text, when Paul and Barnabas returned from their first missionary journey, "when they had come and gathered the church together, they reported all that God had done and how He had opened the door of faith to the people" [Acts 14:27].
These Forty-Eight Years: speaking of the joys and sorrows of an extended pastorate; first, the sorrows, the death of our dearly beloved fellow pilgrims in the faith. In forty-eight years, how many, many have I buried. The pulpit committee of seven, years and years ago has been called to our heavenly home. One of them Ralph Baker, representing the young people in the church, I so dearly loved and both of us loving Dave Wicker, the father, along with the mother of our sweet boy and vice-chairman of the deacons, David Wicker. And the members of the church, thousands and thousands of them, have we laid to rest; a sorrow of a long pastorate – to see these whom we have loved and lost for just a while.
Just for a minute, just to look; how many of you in the choir were here when I came to be pastor of the church, would you stand up? How many of you in the choir were here when I came, and in the orchestra? Bless you. You all remain standing just a moment. How many of you in the great congregation were here when I came to be pastor of the church, would you stand? How many of you were here? God bless you, each one. Amen. Amen. Amen.
And in the sorrow of a long pastorate, to see the tragic change in American life; by law in the state of Texas, we are forced to teach evolution in all of our public schools. There is no doubt but that there is progress and advancement in technology, in science, in medicine, in invention, in discovery, but there is also advancement in evil and in disastrous and cultural life.
For example, I do not recognize today the entertainment world; its lack of morality and devotion to what is good and right. Sodomy is almost universal. Some time ago there were three hundred thousand people who marched down the streets in San Francisco, supporting sodomy. And, of course, that carries with it herpes and AIDS and venereal disease.
And this is the day of almost universal acceptance of drugs. Some we drink like alcohol. I grew up in the Eighteenth Amendment, in the days of Prohibition. I was well grown when I saw my first liquor store. Some of them we smoke like marijuana. Some of them we inhale like cocaine. Some of them we swallow like methamphetamine. Some of them we inject like heroin. But drugs, up and down the streets of our cities and throughout our nation, is increasingly a characteristic of our culture.
And certainly modern American is secular and humanistic. When I came to the city of Dallas, I held chapel services in particularly, if not all of the high schools of our city. By law, [today] I could not hold a chapel service, or open the Bible, or read it, or make an appeal. One of the sorrows, I say, the change for evil in American culture and American life; the sorrows of a long pastorate, the discouragement and the disillusionment in our denominational life.
As a boy, our denomination, our fellowship of churches, was monolithic. Everybody that I ever knew or ever heard of believed the Bible to be the Word of God; inspired and infallible. Today, world without end, are our schools and our colleges and in many instances seminaries that deny the inerrancy and the infallibility of God’s Holy Word. For example, in these days past, I published a book entitled Why I Preach That The Bible Is Literally True. The censure of me by the Southeastern Association of Professors of Religion was almost unquotable. That censure, for example, was published in a state Baptist paper with these added words:
Biblical literalism, to believe the words of the Bible, the stories of the Bible, the miracles of the Bible, biblical literalism, to believe the Bible, is blasphemy against God. Biblical literalism accuses God of using men as tape recorders, a notion that dishonors God and destroys men. Literalism martyrs inspiration for mechanics. It tramples on elementary honesty.
That is just one of the little paragraphs in that vicious censure of me because I believe in the inspiration and infallibility, the literalism of the revelation of God. As I look back on the day of then and today, I cannot but think of the poem by Thomas Hood:
I remember, I remember
The fir trees dark and high;
I used to think their pointed spires
Were pressed against the sky:
‘Twas but a childish fancy,
But now ’tis little joy
To know I’m further away from Heav’n
Than when I was a boy.
[Thomas Hood, "I Remember, I Remember"]
The sorrows of a long pastorate.
I turn now to the joys of a long pastorate; marrying children whose parents I have married. I have been doing that for years now; one of the sweetest experiences of human life. These darling young people that I am now binding together in vows of love and devotion; the children of parents that I married in the years gone by. The joys of a long pastorate, seeing our people grow in grace and in the knowledge of the Lord.
Growing lovely, growing graceful,
So many fine things do.
Silks and satins and lace and gold,
These need not be new.
There is healing in old trees
Old streets a glamour hold.
Why may not we as well as these
Grow lovely, grow graceful, growing old?
[Author and title unknown]
And I see that among our people; a fellowship, a sweetness of spirit, a love for Jesus that is almost indescribably dear.
The joys of a long pastorate; it was in this church that we implemented a deep persuasion that the church ought to be a family of God. As Moffatt translates Philippians 3:20: "We are a colony of heaven." In all of these generations past, the church was looked upon as being a meeting place in which a great preacher like Dr. Truett delivered the message of God. But another idea was presented and implemented in this precious place – that the church ought to be a place where the entire family life is centered and nurtured. Consequently, we did, for the first time in the history of ecclesiasticism, we built our Sunday school in parallel layers. We had a Cradle Roll department; we had a Nursery department; we had a Beginner department; we had a Primary department; we had a Junior department; we had an Intermediate department; we had a Youth department; we had a Young Married department; on and up and over.
And we had a leader over each one of those divisions. And we built here a whole area of church life – the Wicker gymnasium; the Veal gymnasium; our camp – the whole consuming interest of all of life in the church, and finally an academy. Come to Sunday school – ten, fifteen minutes of study. There, all day long. And God blessed it. And the Lord abundantly worked with us. Many, many times our Sunday school would go over eight thousand present and we were on the way up. What a glorious thing! And the first and only time that was ever done was in this dear church. Now, it has been copied all over the world. But it was done first here and to see that a part of the blessing of God upon this congregation, one of the joys of a long pastorate.
And, of course, my heart, the music program of our congregation; when I came here, the choir was back of that proscenium. The organ was in the middle and the choir numbered eighteen. Might have been good singers; but there were only eighteen of them. And in August, there wasn’t anything. They all quit in August. But in my heart, there has always been – and this is the reason why a love for the sounds of music and the praises of God in beautiful hymns – I grew up as you know on those vast empty, wind-swept plains of eastern New Mexico and the northwestern Panhandle of Texas. My father played a banjo. He bought every published song book of Stamps-Baxter. He sang with shaped notes. And my father would start at the first hymn in that Stamps-Baxter song book. And with his banjo, he would sing every song in the book. And as a little boy, I would just sit there and listen to my father as he sang those songs. And one of the strangest of all of the providences in life, he sang one of those songs to me just before he died. It was this –
I will meet you in the morning by the bright riverside
When all sorrows have drifted away
I’ll be standin’ at the portals when the gates open wide
At the close of life’s long dreary day
[Anonymous, "I’ll Meet You In The Morning"]
My father sang that song to me and then died. I say I grew up loving music of God; the hymns of the Lord; the songs of the saints.
And as you know, if you’ve been to church here, when I stand up to preach after the choir has sung, I have difficulty saying the words. My heart is so full of the praise and blessing of God, moved my heart in the music of our choir. And of course, as you know, I played the trombone in the little church where I grew up. Where – where is the trombone? There we are. I did that when I was a little boy. I played the trombone in the church. I was the entire orchestra, there wasn’t anything else. Well, I just loved it all and love it still.
Then, we come to our present day; facing the future – our college. O Lord, how grateful we are for that school; training young men and young women for their role and calling among the households of the Lord. This last weekend, I was preaching at the evangelism conference in northwestern Arkansas, I planned to leave, and the pastor of the leading church there in that association asked me to stay over the next morning and eat what you would call a brunch. He said, "There are two preachers, graduates of your school, that want to talk with you – just want to be with you." So I remained, and they drove in, one from eastern Oklahoma, where Poteau is the county seat; and the other from northwestern Arkansas.
The one from Poteau, Oklahoma, accepted a little church up there, and now it’s the largest church in that part of the world. And they baptize more people than any other church in eastern Oklahoma. Oh, listening to him as he recounted the blessings of God upon him just lifted my soul heavenward. And the other one, from northwestern Arkansas, he is the pastor of a church in a town of one thousand members. And he has five hundred in Sunday school every Lord’s Day. Now Dave, Charles, Tim, you do that here in Dallas, and you will have six hundred thousand in Sunday school every Sunday. Oh, to listen to those young men. And they say and avow, "We got our inspiration and our commitment to win people to the Lord down there in that school." Oh, thank God for it.
Facing the future with our Lord, our dear church, every day we will be praying – every day interceding. O God, that man – that man that You have chosen and raised up to be undershepherd of this great church, dear God, may that pulpit committee find him and bring him to us, and we’ll love him and hold up his hands and look forward to the great glorious days that lie ahead for this wonderful church.
And above all, looking forward to seeing our precious Lord from heaven: "Whom have I in heaven, but Thee? And there is none upon earth that I desire besides Thee. My flesh and my heart fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever."
Could I take a leaf out of my life? Very soon after the Second World War, I was in Dachau, a Nazi extermination camp for the Jews. It’s been destroyed since. But when I was there, it had been untouched – just as it was – as it was a place for the extermination of thousands, and thousands, and thousands of Jews. The first chamber here – a large chamber, a large enclosure – there the Jews were forced to strip off their clothes and naked to stand there – men and women in that chamber. The second chamber – they were forced and herded into it. And there they are gassed with lethal gas. They were all put to death. And the third chamber – a large chamber, the floor made out of concrete sloping downward to a drain. And in that chamber, their teeth were knocked out, in order that they might retrieve what gold fillings might be in them. And then in that last chamber – row after row of burning stoves where their bodies were consumed – Dachau.
A few years after that, I was on Mt. Zion in Jerusalem. There you find the tomb of David; there the upper room where Jesus instituted the Lord’s Supper; and on Mt. Zion, a display of the holocaust; room after room after room presenting the awesome death and extermination and torture of the Jewish people – six million of them. Here would be a room where the clerical garments they wore were stained in blood. Here, a room were the Torah, their sacred Scriptures – mutilated, defamed. Here a room with pictures of corpses – high, high, high, and long trenches where they were buried. And the last room, piles of soap made out of their human flesh, and shades, lamp shades made out of their tanned skins – and you could see the numbers tattooed on those skins. And last of all, coming to the last display of all, was a large, large plaque, and on it in Hebrew a poem. That poem was what they sang – a song that they sang as they faced death. And a literal translation of that poem is this:
First line – Of all the truth, this is the truth that we believe.
Second line – Messiah is coming soon.
Next line – Despite the fact that He has not come today.
Next line – Despite any other fact of life
The next line – This is the truth that we believe.
Messiah is coming soon.
And when I hold up God’s Holy Word, the last verse of the last Revelation: "He which testifieth these things saith, Surely, surely I come quickly. Even so come, Amen" [Revelation 22:20]. Then the Bible closes looking to our Lord.
It may be at noonday, it may be at twilight.
It may be perchance, that the blackest of midnight
Will burst in the light in the blaze of His glory,
When Jesus comes for His own.
Oh, joy! oh, delight! should we go without dying,
No sickness, no sadness, no dread and no crying.
Caught up through the clouds with our Lord into glory,
When Jesus comes for His own.
O Lord Jesus, how long, how long
Ere we shout the glad song,
Christ returneth! Hallelujah!
Hallelujah! Amen. Hallelujah . Amen.
[H. L. Turner, "Christ Returneth"]
What a victory, and what a glory, and what a consummation we face in the Lord waiting for His sublime and triumphant return.
THESE FORTY-EIGHT YEARS
Dr. W. A. Criswell
I. Sorrows of an extended pastorate
A. Death of dearly beloved
1. Pulpit committee of seven
2. Members of the church
B. Tragic change in American life
1. By law forced to teach evolution in Texas public schools
2. Advancement in technology, medicine, discovery; but also in evil
1. Denial of inerrancy and infallibility of Word of God
2. Poem, "I Remember, I Remember"
II. Joys of an extended pastorate
A. Marrying children whose parents I have married
B. Seeing our people grow in grace and knowledge of the Lord
C. Implementation of persuasion that church ought to be a family
1. Built Sunday school in parallel layers
2. The interest of all of life in the church; our academy
D. Growth of our music program
III. Looking to the future
A. Our college
B. Praying for the next undershepherd
C. Looking forward to heaven(Psalm 73:25-26)
1. Hebrew poem sung as Jews faced death in World War II(Revelation 22:20)
2. Poem, "Christ Returneth"