THE CHANGES I HAVE SEEN IN MY LIFE
First Baptist Church, Swannanoa, NC
Dr. W. A. Criswell
1 Timothy 3:1
I had not thought of any particular expectancy in my coming here to speak tonight, but after that introduction I am filled with anticipation. God bless you, Pastor Jerry. Oh, there are ten thousand memories that crowd my heart just being here and just looking at thee. I can never forget the first time I met T. W. Wilson, and then his sweet wife and family, and Pastor Jerry has enough sense to marry a beautiful girl, and that doesn’t hurt, you darling child. And then back yonder, in oh, 1950, it was something like that; I had a dear friend who was in San Antonio, an educational music director at the First Church in San Antonio. And he came to me up there in Dallas upon a day, and said, “I have a friend, and I would like to recommend him to you to hold a revival meeting in your church.” Well, I said, “Who is he?” And he said, “His name is Billy Graham.”
Well, I never had heard of Billy Graham, nor had anybody else. So upon a day, he had Billy Graham there in our church, and I met him. Well, I was so impressed with the boy, even though he was just beginning. I was so impressed that I made a date with his coming to Dallas to hold a revival meeting. And before that day arrived for Billy Graham to come to hold a revival meeting in our church, why, William Randolph Hearst in California, played up the great crusade that Billy Graham was holding in Los Angeles. So when the hour came for him to hold the revival meeting in our dear church, you couldn’t begin to start to commence to accommodate the people. So we took Billy Graham to the Cotton Bowl, and he held the revival meeting, the crusade, in the Cotton Bowl: one of the tremendous beginning ministries of this century. And best of all and sweetest of all and dearest of all, in that crusade, on Sunday morning, down the aisle came Billy Graham and joined our church. And I have been his pastor ever since.
God love you, son, you dear, wonderful boy. And the whole world rejoices in the unbelievable power and dynamic of the Spirit of God upon your ministries. I read in the paper, and I cannot believe what is happening in Russia, the hundreds of thousands of people that were saved in your ministry there; and in Germany, and in Eastern Europe, and all over the world. Dr. Graham, God be praised for you, and for these marvelous men and women that are around you.
Well, you wouldn’t expect me to come here and not say something to you about Texas. So I bring you greetings from the Empire State; Texas, where every molehill is a mountain, every dry wadi is a river, every hole in the ground is an oil well, and every man is a liar. That’s Texas. That’s Texas. Oh dear!
Pastor Jerry, in your kindness to me, I am going to do something tonight that I have never in all of my life done in a church. I have never done it before. I am going to speak of the changes that I have seen in my life. I have been a pastor over sixty-six years; my next birthday I will be eighty-four years of age. I told Billy Graham, “You’re my son. You’re just getting started good.” And I am going to speak of the changes that I have seen in my life. And Pastor Jerry, I am going to use your congregation as an experiential group, just to see how it comes out. I have never done it before. But I sat down, as I thought about being with you and your dear people, and I thought, “I’m just going to make notes here of the changes I have seen in my life.”
So, starting off with a text in 1 Timothy 3:1: “This is a true saying, If a man desire the office of an episkopos, of a presbuteros, of a poimēn”; those three words are used interchangeably to describe the same man, your pastor, Jerry. He is called an episkopos; that refers to the glorious rulership of his office. And there never was a great church that didn’t have a great pastor. God calls him an episkopos, translated “bishop.” God calls him a presbuteros, translated “elder”; that refers to his dignity. And he’s called a poimēn, a “shepherd”; that refers to his compassionate love for each one of you. So he says, “This is a true saying, if a man desire that office of a pastor,” we call him, “he desires a good work” [1 Timothy 3:1]. So we’re going to start off with the things I have seen in the years I have been a pastor.
First of all, I speak of his personal call to the ministry: I speak of his work. And that includes his habits of study. Every morning he is to be in his study, preparing his message. “For the time will come,” says the apostle, “when they will not endure sound doctrine; but after their own lusts shall they heap to themselves teachers, having itching ears” [2 Timothy 4:3]. And that pastor is to stand in the pulpit with the Word of God in his hand, proclaiming the infallible, inerrant, inspired Word of the Lord [2 Timothy 4:2].
All right, now the changes. When I was a boy, when I began my own ministry, people shouted in the church services. “A shouting Methodist” was a phrase universally employed. In the town in which I grew up, I have heard those Methodists pour out of their Methodist church and shout all over the town. And in revival meetings, when I began my ministries under brush arbors and in open tabernacles, people would stand up and shout in the services. I would say to you, you haven’t heard anybody in your lifetime shout in a church service. I’d say to these kids they wouldn’t know what you were talking about—the tremendous changes.
One of the things that I was told in our First Church in Dallas; Dr. Truett, in these years past, Dr. Truett was preaching a sermon, and in the middle of the congregation stood up a woman and began to shout. Well, his brother-in-law, Dr. Oscar Marchman, thought that she had a seizure of some kind; and he ran over to her and was escorting her out of the church. And Dr. Truett watched it, and finally raised his hand, and said, “There, there, Oscar, leave her alone. She’s just happy in the Lord.” And then turning to the people, he said, “My dear people, we need more of that in this church.” What a change from the days when people expressed themselves and shouted and praised God, and the days of the present, when everybody sits down in the congregation, like a carpenter’s job in woodwork. Oh my! What a difference, shouting!
And a difference in revivals; when I began preaching, one of my little churches didn’t even have a church house: they had a tabernacle. And in those days, we had summertime revivals. And the people came from the ends of the earth. The crops were laid by, everybody attended, and I’d stand there in the pulpit of those brush arbors, or those tabernacles and people would be pouring in horseback, muleback, by wagon, by buggy, by walking. Everybody came to the revival meeting. And today, outside of the crusades of Billy Graham, I do not know of the spirit of revival in the earth today. The last revival meeting we held at our church, for a solid week we had one convert, one, one!
I think of my father, who was an uneducated cowpoke, and bought a farm in eastern New Mexico, and went out there and plowed it up, and built the house with his own hands, dug a thing in the ground for water, with a windmill, fenced it, everything my dad did that with his own hands. In that dry and burned up land, see further and see less than anyone spot in the earth. Well sir, I was in the house, I was five years old, and my father was standing in the doorway at the back of the house. And standing there in the doorway, he began to shout to the top of his voice. Now had you known my dad, he was very quiet and reticent, and very, very much timid, very much so. And when I heard him shout, I couldn’t believe it. And as a little five-year-old boy I looked up into the face of my father, and said, “Daddy, what you shouting for?” And my father replied, “Son, look. God hath sent us rain! God hath sent us rain!” It was raining on that dry and parched land.
Oh, for the floods on the thirsting land!
Oh, for a mighty revival!
Oh, for a fearless, sanctified band,
Ready to hail its arrival!
[“Under the Burdens of Guilt and Care,” W. Leslie]
The need of the land is revival,
A freshen of grace from above;
Repentance toward God and forgiveness,
More trusting in Christ and His love.
[author and work unknown]
I am asked a thousand times, “What do you think about America?” And my answer always is the same: “America needs a great revival, a turning to God, an outpouring of the Spirit of Jesus!” And Billy Graham, God bless you, our wonderful emissary from heaven, bringing revival to America.
The changes I have seen: did you know, when I was a boy growing up, I never heard a preacher who was not a postmillennialist, not one. George W. Truett was a postmillennialist. B. H. Carroll, who founded the great Southwestern Seminary in Fort Worth, Texas, was a postmillennialist. Every preacher I ever heard in my life was a postmillennialist. They believed that we were going to preach the kingdom of God down from heaven into the earth. They believed that. Did you know, I have not heard a postmillennialist since the Second World War, not one? I believe that the Bible teaches premillennial doctrine: that the Lord can come any day, any time; the church is going to be raptured, we’re going to meet Jesus in the air [1 Thessalonians 4:13-17]; and He brings in the kingdom. We can’t do it; He has to do it. We are premillennial today. And I thank God for the change.
The things I have seen in my life—sweet people, you won’t believe this: I never saw anyone divorced until I was grown. I never saw a divorced woman or a divorced man until I was grown. Today, recently in Dallas, seven out of ten marriages broke up in divorce. Right now the statistical number in our city of Dallas is fifty-two percent; fifty-two percent of the marriages break up in divorce in our city. It is still more than half of the people that marry in our city—and in our America; it is nationwide—break up in divorce.
Did you know, in our academy—we’ve got a thousand kids in our academy—in our academy, for the first time in the history of the world, most of the children who come to the elementary division come from single-parent homes, most of them? And in our Sunday school, for the first time in the history of the world, most of the children in the elementary division of our Sunday school come from single-parent homes. I do not know the number of illegitimate wives, mothers, who come down the aisle at our church, bringing little children. They’re not married, but they are mothers.
“Now, pastor, what do you do?” I have a very humble and simple reply to that question: I love them, I am moved with compassion for them, and I welcome them into the kingdom of Jesus and into our dear church with all my heart. But I cannot but be sad at what is happening to the life of America. Things are so changed that I hardly recognize our people and our nation.
The changes I have seen in my life: I remember the first radio I ever saw. Had a neighbor across the street named Jim Miller; he had a contraption over there, and I went over there to listen to it. It had static on it beyond anything you could ever hear in your life, but I heard for the first time in my life a radio. And did you know, in 1933, when I attended the World Fair in Chicago, in Chicago there was a room right there and it had a program going on, and there was a room right here where you could sit before a contraption and look at it. And the beam of that television, the first television, the beam of that television went thirty feet, went thirty feet. And as I looked at that thing, I said in my heart, “If they can beam a program thirty feet, the day is going to come when a Billy Graham will stand up in Moscow over a television station and preach to the whole world.” And that has come to pass. Amen. What God has done!
And I want to tell you something in my heart about radio and television. There’s a prophecy in the twenty-fourth chapter of the Book of Matthew saying, “This gospel shall be preached in the whole world; and then shall the end come. This gospel shall preached in the whole world; and then shall the end come” [Matthew 24:14]. Well, you can’t send out enough missionaries that they hear the name of Jesus in the whole world: four or five billion people, you can’t do it; it’s not possible. How in the world is that prophecy coming to pass? “The whole world will hear about Jesus; and then shall the end come.”
For example, I stood one time outside of Bangkok, in Thailand, and a missionary made a wave of his hand like that, and he said, “You see that great mountain chain?” Right down through the nation of Thailand is a mountain chain, a big backbone. And he made a wave of his hand like that, and he said, “You see that big mountain chain?” He said, “Up there in those mountains are between four and five million people who have never heard the name of Jesus.” How are they going to hear the name of Jesus? You will never send out enough missionaries for them to hear the saving gospel of our Lord.
Well, I’ll tell you how. I was meandering around, just gawking around, walking around the Fiji Islands one time. And there lay a Fiji islander, lying prostrate on the ground with his ear to the earth. Well, I went over there to look at him. What in the world was he doing, just lying there? He had a little radio about that big. He had a little radio about that big, pressed against the ground, and his ear pressed against that radio. Well, I got down there by his side and put my ear down there, just to listen to what that Fiji islander was a’listenin’ to. You know what he was listening to? He was listening to a sermon by Billy Graham! That Fiji islander! That’s the prophecy in its fulfillment and coming to pass. This whole world, Jesus says, will hear the gospel message, and then shall the end come [Matthew 24:14]. And that prophecy is going to be fulfilled with radio and television: the whole world hearing the blessed saving name of Jesus our Lord.
The changes I have seen in my life; I’m not going to take time to speak of something you so well know. The movies, and the television, filled with sex, explicit, and violence, and language that does not become the people of God. It hurts my heart as I see the repercussion of that in the lives of our young people: what they see on television.
And what is happening to the Lord’s Day? When I was a youth, the Lord’s Day was sacred; there was no athletic contest ever played on Sunday. Today, if you were to ask me, “When will the Super Bowl be played?” I would tell you without even knowing, “When the Super Bowl football game is played, it will be played on Sunday.” The whole world has taken the Lord’s Day and profaned it. What a tragedy in our lifetime!
The changes I have seen in my day; I never saw a homosexual growing up. I never heard of homosexuality when I was growing up. Today they have churches organized for homosexual churches. As Billy Graham one time said, “If God doesn’t judge America, He will have to apologize to Sodom and Gomorrah.” That’s the Lord’s truth.
I want to make a comment, and it’ll be blunt, but you will understand. I was talking to a general in the United States Army about this thing of President Bill Clinton leading a movement to involve homosexuals in the military. Now I’m just going to be blunt with you: that general talking to me, he said to me, “Pastor, let me tell you what will happen when the homosexuals are inducted into the military forces of America.” He said, “In a barracks, where these military enlisted men are fed and clothed, in the barracks, if you had a woman in there, and time comes to bathe, and she undresses, a woman, she’s naked, there where the men bathe under the showers, and she goes to bed with them,” he said to me, “I don’t care who you are or what you are, you’re just made on the inside where you will be responsive, can’t help it, in looking at that naked woman, and watching her go by your side in bed. You can’t help it. That’s the way you are made.” And the general said to me, “When a homosexual is inducted into the army, and they are naked and bathing together in the common shower, and they sleep side by side, you’re going to have an impossible confrontation in the military forces of America.”
I don’t see anything in that but common sense and common observation. It’s a new day. It’s a new world. And that the president of the United States would lead in a departure like that is unthinkable to me.
The changes I have seen; let me speak of legislated atheism. Dear me! I can’t believe it. When I went to Dallas forty-nine years ago to be pastor of that First Baptist Church, I held meetings and chapel services in every high school in the city of Dallas, every one of them. When I was a boy, they had revival meetings in the high school auditorium. When I was a boy, the Bible was read in school; and we bowed our heads in prayer. By law today you can’t pray, you can’t read the Bible in public schools. And you sweet people, you don’t have it here in North Carolina, but in Texas, by law you have to teach evolution. And by law spelled out, you cannot teach creation. That’s one of the reasons, Pastor Jerry; we organized that First Baptist Academy: teaching those children not only reading, writing, and arithmetic, but teaching them the Word of God. Oh! I can’t imagine what is happening in the educational institutions of America. I can’t believe what has happened to the classrooms of America.
Sweet people, you can’t stay here all night, even though you might be kind enough and gracious enough to invite me to do so. I turn now to some things that don’t change; things that don’t change: sin, and lostness, and our need of a Savior, never changes. Jesus our precious Lord, the same yesterday, and today, and forever [Hebrews 13:8]; He doesn’t change, and the call of our Savior for an open, public confession of faith in the Lord Jesus never, never changes [Romans 10:9-10; Matthew 10:32-33]. And the Christian life and all of its kingdom promises never changes.
When I was a boy and in high school, under the sponsorship of the University of Texas, they had what they called “declamations,” and they were statewide contests in declamation, in declaiming. I won a silver loving-cup in those days, declaiming. Well, one of the great speeches, one of the great declamations was by Henry W. Grady, who was the editor of the Georgia Constitution and one, talking about William Jennings Bryan, one of the true silver-tongued orators of the South. And the declamation by Henry W. Grady, the sum of it was like this: he said, speaking of the greatness of America, the secret of the greatness of America, he said in that declamation, he stood on Hampton Road—I was there last week, up there at Norfolk—he stood on Hampton Road, and saw pass by the naval might of America, those mighty ships passing by. And he said, as he stood there on Hampton Road and saw those great ships passing by, he said in his heart, “Truly the greatness of America lies in its military might and in its naval power.” Later he said he stood in the halls of Congress and looked upon the deliberations of the Senate and of the House of Representatives. And he said, as he looked upon that institution of democracy, he said, “No, the might and the strength and the glory of America is found in its democratic institutions, in its Congress, and in its House of Representatives.”
Then he said in that declamation, “Later, I was the guest of a humble farmer in Georgia. And when the evening came, the farmer gathered his children together, read to them out of the infallible, inerrant, inspired Word of God, and knelt down and prayed with his family.” And the mighty orator said, “As I looked upon that kneeling farmer, the might of naval power and military power of America passed away.” He said, “The democratic institutions of America represented by Senate and House of Representatives, passed away.” And there before him was the sight and scene of that humble Georgia farmer down on his knees with his family, asking God to bless his house, his heart, his home, his children, his work. And he said, “There stayed in my heart and memory just the sight of that praying father.”
Dear people, I think the strength and the might and the glory of America can never be found in its military or naval might; it can never be found in its democratic institutions, political, whether they are Democratic or Republican; I think the might and the strength of America lies in you, in your heart, in your house, in your home, in your Bible, and in your prayers in behalf of your family and your children, and this dear church, and that godly pastor, and the future and destiny of our beloved nation of America.
A call to prayer! I cannot sleep!
I hear His Word that I must keep.
To prayer! To prayer! Prevailing prayer!
The need for such is everywhere.
Oh folks, I say—again I say—
A truth has burned in my heart today:
It’s the need of prayer; let come what may.
We shall prevail, if we will pray!
[author and work unknown]
Preacher, if you will reconsecrate and rededicate yourself to the gospel message of Christ, calling men to faith and repentance [Acts 17:30, 20:21], and the building of Christian homes in loving intercession and prayer and reading the Word of God, if you will reconsecrate yourself and rededicate yourself to that holy and heavenly calling, would you get down here on your knees? By that communion table, get down on your knees, and ask God to bless the recommitment of your life to the Lord.
Do you have, in this church, consecrated and dedicated deacons? Are there deacons upon whom hands of separation and consecration have been laid? If you have deacons in this church, would you get out of your seat and come down here, and kneel around that pastor, and say, “Pastor, we’ll be upholding your hands as you preach the infallible, inspired, inerrant Word of God, calling our people to repentance and faith and prayer”? Would you deacons come and kneel around him? Are there deacons in this church, in this congregation? Would you come and kneel around that pastor? “Pastor, you just stand there in that pulpit, and you call us to repentance and faith in the Lord Jesus, and we’ll be holding up your hands, and asking God’s power and dynamic presence to rest upon you.” And if you can get close enough to him to put your hands on him, you do it, you do it, you do it.
Oh, the Lord bless you precious men, you godly men, you sanctified and consecrated men, standing by your pastor. There’s not anything in this world that has in it the heavenly dynamic as a pastor and the deacons hold up his hands, and pray for him as he proclaims the everlasting presence and love of Jesus our Lord.
Now, sweet people, with the rest of us, would you take your hand and put it on the pew in front of you, and bury your face in your hand, while I lead in the prayer of consecration?
Our Lord in heaven, never in the history of our nation was there a time when we so desperately needed the preaching of the gospel of the Son of God. O Lord, bless this pastor as he stands in this sacred pulpit, opens that Bible, the infallible, inspired, inerrant Word of the revelation of God, and on the basis of the presence of the Lord calls to repentance and faith [Acts 20:21]. O God, send revival. And if it can begin in the heart of this pastor, and among these godly deacons, and in this praying congregation, O God, let it begin. May the fire fall. May a Pentecost be present here in this church, and then beyond [Acts 2:1-47]. O Lord, how America needs it! And we pray humbly beyond our own national borders for the preaching of the gospel that is, O Lord, what a day! When the nations that have been closed to the message of Christ now welcomes the preacher, as they have Billy Graham in Russia. O Lord, may there be on the part of Thy people in this beautiful land a marvelous spirit of response. The preachers going, laypeople going, proclaiming to these who have never even heard the name of Jesus, the marvelous hope we have in life and in death in Him. Lord, look upon this pastor, look upon these godly men who place hands of love and consecration upon him; and as they pray for him, and as he is true to the faith, God give him souls and a great outpouring of the Spirit, and a revival from heaven in this wonderful church, and in Thy wonderful name, amen, amen.
Now you brethren can stand up. You deacons can go back to your seat. And pastor, I want you to stand there. I want you to stand there.
And sweet singer, I want you to heist us a tune. You heist us a tune.
And while that singer leads us and the choir in a song, if you’d like to come and say anything to this pastor, do it. If what you want to do is to say, “Preacher, I love you, and you mean so much to me,” wonderful, come. If you want to give your heart to the Lord Jesus, you come [Romans 10:9-13]. If you want to put your life in the fellowship of this dear church, you come. Just anybody you, just somebody you, come. And I want to see some of you come and put your arms around him, and say, “Pastor, we love you and are praying for you.” Do it. We’ll have a little love fest right here in this dear church. We’re going to remain seated, and the choir is going to sing. And while the choir sings, to tell the pastor you love him and are going to pray for him, or to give your heart to Jesus and put your life in this dear congregation, you come and make it now. And bless you as you come, while they sing, and while you come.