Providences Along the Way

Providences Along the Way

October 2nd, 1994 @ 7:30 PM

Acts 14:27

And when they were come, and had gathered the church together, they rehearsed all that God had done with them, and how he had opened the door of faith unto the Gentiles.
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Dr. W. A. Criswell

Acts 14:27

10-2-94    7:30 p.m.


I would like to think through the Providences of God along the pilgrim way that I have experienced in these many, many years throughout this century.  And just reading a background text in the Book of Acts, chapter 14, when Paul does the same thing:

And after they had passed throughout Pisidia, they came to Pamphylia.

And when they had preached the word in Perga, they went down to Attalia.

And from there they sailed to Antioch, where they had been commended to the grace of God for the work which they had completed.

Then when they had come and gathered the church together, just like this, they reported all that God had done with them, and how that He had opened the door of faith to the people.

[Acts 14:24-27] 

So we will just do that same thing.

First: my ancestors.  It is hard for me to believe the changes that have come to pass in the history of our beloved America.  I preached a sermon on changes that I have seen.  This is something that I can hardly believe.  My great-grandfather, John Yancey Criswell, left Knox County, Kentucky, in the 1820s and came to live in the golden state of Texas.  It took him three months to negotiate in a covered wagon the journey from Kentucky to Texas, three solid months.  I got on a plane at Dallas.  I had a speaking engagement in Virginia.  We flew over Knox County, Kentucky.  We had a tail wind and I timed it.  It was one hour and thirty-five minutes.  What my great-grandfather, John Yancey Criswell, negotiated in three solid months, I did it in one hour and thirty-five minutes.  What an amazing change in the life of the people!

So in Texline, a little town of about three hundred people, the evangelist was the pastor of the Baptist church in Dalhart, in Dallam County.  And up there right in the corner, he came to hold a revival meeting in our little church, a little white crackerbox of a church house.  He stayed in our home.  He talked to me every night as my mother would prepare for him a glass of buttermilk.  So I gained permission from mother and from my schoolteacher to go to the ten o’clock revival service.  I just happened to be seated back of my dear sainted mother.  And when the preacher gave the invitation she turned around to me and said, “Son, today, will you take Jesus as your Savior?  Will you give your heart to Him?”

I answered with many tears, “Mother, I will.”  I stepped out in the aisle, couldn’t even see the preacher for crying, and gave my heart to the Lord, and was baptized as a ten-year-old boy into the fellowship of that precious little Baptist congregation.

The following Wednesday night at prayer meeting they had testimonies.  If you wanted to say something in gratitude to God for His goodness to you, you were privileged to do so.  So I stood up, and I started to say something of the gratitude of my heart to Jesus, and broke down and cried, and couldn’t continue.  I turned to my mother who was seated there by me for encouragement, and she was crying.  I couldn’t go on, so I sat down.  And on the other end of the pew was an old-time, old-fashioned pioneer preacher named Brother Gant.  And when I sat down in tears, he stood up and pointed to me, and he said, “Son, that was a wonderful beginning, a wonderful beginning.”  Oh, I’ve thought of that!  Think of how many years since; that was the beginning.

So in television, in the theater, in novels how many stories do you read of cowboys?  But I’ve never yet heard on television or read in a novel nor have I seen presented in dramatic form anything such as I knew as I grew up with those cowmen.  The town was on the XIT Ranch in those years past, and was a line camp for the XIT, the largest ranch in the world, composed of many millions of acres.  And when I was a boy, I grew up all of my life with those cowpokes and those ranchers.

And upon a roundup, one of the cowboys came back to the camp for a fresh mount.  He went to the corral, picked out a pony, roped it, saddled it, bridled it, started out.  But the pony was fresh and unbroken.  And it began to buck and to sidestep.  You never threw a real cowboy, never.  But once in a while a boy would be thrown when it wasn’t his fault.  And that pony lost its step and fell back on the cowboy and crushed him.  He was bleeding from the mouth and he couldn’t get up.

Well, Jake, the cook in the camp, had watched it.  He ran over there to the lad and picked him up, and brought him back to camp and laid him on a cot.  But what could a cook do with a boy who was crushed internally and bleeding from his mouth?  As the lad lay dying he said to Jake, “Jake, you know that big, black Book the bossman is always reading to us?  Jake, would you get it for me?”  And Jake went to the chuck wagon, dug among the things of the bossman and found the Bible, and brought it to the dying cowboy.  And the lad said to Jake, “Jake, you know that Book of John that he’s always reading to us?”

“Yes,” and he found it; and the third chapter, and he found it; and the sixteenth verse, John 3:16, and he found it.  And the boy said to Jake, “Jake, when the bossman comes in the evening, you tell him that I died with my finger on John 3:16.”

One glad smile of pleasure

O’er the cowboy’s face was spread

One dark convulsive shadow

And the brave young lad was dead.

Far from his home and family,

They laid him down to rest.

With a saddle for a pillow

And that Bible on his breast.

[adapted from “The Dying Ranger,” traditional]

Now that was the way I was brought up.  And that was the context of the life in which I lived as a boy.  So at seventeen years of age, I began preaching under brush arbors, under open tabernacles.  I was the pastor of two little country churches.  And one of them did not have a church house; it just had an open tabernacle.  And in the summertime when the crops were laid by, beginning the last of July, we had those tremendous revival services.  And they were attended from the ends of the earth.  Everybody came, everybody, the infidel, the unbelievers, everybody came.  They came by horseback.  They came by wagon.  They came by walking.  They just, from the ends of the earth they were there.  So I didn’t know I was like that.  It was as amazing to me as it was to anybody else.  When I started out to preach at seventeen, I preached all over creation.  Loud, you could hear me ten miles on any clear night.  I just preached all over the thing.

Well, on Saturday night nobody came forward.  And I said to my congregation—all of them there under that tabernacle, and all of them, just oh, man—I said to them, “If anybody will come down that aisle, outside, inside this tabernacle, if anybody will come and ask God to save him, if he is not saved, I will quit the ministry and I’ll never preach again.  All right, singer, heist the tune.”

And when I made that appeal, from the outside of the tabernacle came a bowlegged boy like that, with his arm extended, and he said, “Preacher, I’ll take you up on that.”

So I said, “Now, let’s everybody sit down and, Bob, you get down here on your knees, and I’m going to pray that God will save you.”

“All right,” said that bowlegged cowboy, “I’m ready.”

So I prayed for the Lord to come into his heart and his life and extended my hand to him.  And I said, “Bob, if God has saved you take my hand.”

He looked at me, and he said, “Preacher, there ain’t nothing happening to me.  I’m just the same as I was.”

Well, I said, “All right.  We’re going to pray again and ask God to save you.”  So I poured out my heart to the Lord.  I extended my hand.

And he looked at me and he said, “Preacher, I swear, there ain’t nothing happening to me, I’m just the same.”

So I said, “Bob, we’re going to try it one more time.”

So I poured my heart to the Lord God there on my knees, extended my hand.  “If God has saved you, has come into your heart, take my hand.”

And he said the same thing, “Preacher, I swear there ain’t nothing happening to me, I’m just the same.”

Well, I couldn’t stay all night long, so we had the benediction.  I got in a T-model Ford, belonged to Uncle Alec Davidson.  I was staying in the ranch house.  And when I got in that Ford to go back to the ranch house for the night, oh, they thought that was the funniest thing they had ever seen in their lives.  They began to kid me about what I said.  “If anybody who had come forward, if he wasn’t saved, I’d never preach again.”

Well, when they found out I was about to die, they never said a word.  And we made our way in that T-model Ford up to the ranch house.  I got out.  I bid them goodnight.  I went up there to my room, I got there down on my face, and I said, “Lord, this is the end of my ministry.  This is it.  I said publicly, and to those people, that if a man would come forward and ask God to save him, if he’s not saved, I will never preach again.  I will quit the ministry.  And that boy came forward, and he wanted to be saved, and You didn’t save him.  So, Lord, there is nothing else for me to do but to quit the ministry.”  And I rolled and pitched in agony all that night.

The next morning, Sunday morning, I got up and dressed and I got in the T-model Ford.  And they drove down to the tabernacle by Coryell Creek.  And when I got out of that Ford and put my foot on the ground, there was a young fellow up the road hollering at me to the top of his voice, “Say, preacher!  Say, preacher!”  And the guy came a-running to me, and it was that bowlegged cowpoke.  He came up to me and he said, “Say, preacher!” and grabbed me by the hand.

And I said, “Bob, what?”

And he said, “Preacher, I’ve been saved!  I’ve been saved!  Last night on the way home, Jesus came into my heart, and I am so happy and glad!  I have been saved!”

You know what I did?  When enough of those people had gathered under the tabernacle to have a quorum, we took him into the church by faith and by vote, and both of us got out there in Coryell Creek, I baptized him, and we dried out in the congregation at the noon hour.  And I’ll never forget that.  Oh, boy!  Oh, dear Lord!

So I went to Kentucky.  And for six years I attended the seminary, Southern Seminary in Kentucky.  And upon a day I went to the Green River Baptist Association.  Sixty-four quarter-time churches, sixty-four churches, not even one half-time, sixty-four churches that had service just once a month.  They were country people.  They lived out there in the knobs.  And they were just untutored and untouched and unspoiled.  I attended their annual association.  And they gathered under a great big grove, a big grove of trees.  And they had split logs right down the middle, and turned them over, and you sat on a split log.  And there was a throng of them there, the Green River Baptist Association.  And right in the middle of the carrying on of one of those business sessions of their annual association a critter stood up, a guy stood up, right in the middle of the programming, right in the middle of what was going on.  He stood up and he began to sing.  And you know the song.

My heavenly home is bright and fair.

And I feel like traveling on.

No harm or death can enter there.

And I feel like traveling on.

Yes, I feel like traveling on

I feel like traveling on

No harm or death can enter there

And I feel like traveling on.

Well, as he was a-singing, another guy stood up and started singing it with him and then another and another one.  And finally, everybody there was standing up, singing, and shaking hands, and hugging one another.  I had no idea of anybody there, and they didn’t know me, but I was right in the middle of them.  I was standing up and singing and hugging and shaking hands.

Oh, the Lord has been so good to me

And I feel like traveling on.

Until those mansions I can see,

And I feel like traveling on.

Yes, I feel like traveling on.

I feel like traveling on.

Oh, the Lord has been so good to me,

And I feel like traveling on.

Now, singer, let’s see what you can do.  You come up here.  You come up here.  And that. . . you got an organist over here?  And you all just—whatever you want to do—now: My heavenly home is bright and fair and I feel like traveling on.  All right:

My heavenly home is bright and fair

And I feel like traveling on.

No harm or death can enter there.

And I feel like traveling on.

Yes, I feel like traveling on,

I feel like traveling on.

No harm or death can enter there

I feel like traveling on.

Oh, the Lord has been so good to me

I feel like traveling on.

Until those mansions I can see,

I feel like traveling on.

Yes, I feel like traveling on.

I feel like traveling on.

The Lord has been so good to me,

I feel like traveling on.

[“I Feel Like Traveling On,” by William Hunter,]

Pastor, you don’t need to worry about my taking his place now, as minister of music.

So I came to Chickasha, Oklahoma.  That is about, oh, fifty miles southwest of Oklahoma City.  And I noticed that every Saturday the farmers from the ends of the earth came to town.  And I got me a Bible, and I stood on the courthouse lawn.  And twice every Saturday I preached just the loudest that I could standing on the courthouse lawn.

Well, what happened was the warden of the state penitentiary over there in McAllen, no, McAlester, that’s it, the warden of the state penitentiary in McAlester took a model prisoner to Robert S. Kerr, who at that time was the governor of the state and a leading deacon of the First Church of Oklahoma City, and later was senator, and stayed there so long that he died as senator.  He was a marvelous Christian man.  So the warden of the penitentiary in McAlester took this model prisoner to Governor Kerr there in Oklahoma City, and asked that the governor pardon him.

So the governor took the record of his life and looked at all of those things that he had done, and in amazement turned to the warden and said, “You want me to pardon this man?  Murder, robbery, violence, on and on and on, you want me to pardon this man?”

And the man replied, “Sir, I need to tell you why I am a changed man.”  He said, “I was run down, I was arrested, and I was sentenced to a life term in the state penitentiary.  And as they took me from West Texas to McAlester to stick me in the state pen, they put me up there in a maximum prison cell at Chickasha, Oklahoma, on top of the courthouse.”

And he said, “I had to stay there until they got ready for me in the penitentiary.  And on Saturday, there was a young fellow down there on the courthouse lawn, just yelling to the top of his voice, preaching out of the Bible.”  And he said, “I did my best to close my ears and not listen, but I couldn’t.  No matter how I tried, I still had to hear him preaching down there.”  And he said, “As the time went on, I got down on my knees.  I confessed my sins, and I asked God to forgive me, and He saved me.”  And he said, “Your Honor, when I entered the penitentiary at McAlester, I was a changed man.  I entered as a child of God.  I entered as one who had been forgiven and been saved.”  And it so moved the governor that he pardoned him.

I think that is one of the dearest things that ever happened to me in my life.  And I happened to stop at Blanchard, which is right down between Oklahoma City and Chickasha, and ate a lunch.  And as I was eating there at the little place where the bus stop was, why, a woman came and sat down by my side.  And she said, “Brother Criswell, did you know that I had a beer joint right across the street from the courthouse in Chickasha?”  And she said, “You got there on that courthouse lawn, and you preached so loud that everybody in my joint had to hear you, and I had to hear you.”  And she said, “No matter what, I couldn’t drown it out.”  And she said, “You know, I got converted, I got convinced, and I gave my heart to Jesus.  And I closed up that beer joint and came up here to Blanchard, and now I have this little shop at the bus station.”  Oh, dear, what can happen when the preacher preaches just anywhere, just anywhere, such as on the courthouse lawn.

So I went to Muskogee.  And Muskogee is the home of the Five Civilized Tribes.  And right up there north of Muskogee is a town named Tahlequah, and Tahlequah was the capital of the Cherokee nation.  The Cherokees, as you remember, were removed by the federal government from their home in North Carolina, and over the Trail of Tears were forced to remove to the eastern part, those counties on the eastern part of Oklahoma, and they were resettled there.

Well, I had in my church there at Muskogee Roe Beard, who was the home missionary to the Cherokee nation, and I just loved that guy.  And he and I went regularly, just all the time, out there to the Cherokee people, and I just loved being with him preaching to those Cherokees.  And when they had their annual associational meeting, you can’t imagine it.  There were thousands of Cherokees there.  It was the only time that the nation ever came together.  They had a big round house on this side full of all kinds of beef and hundred-pound sacks of flour and potatoes, just a round house there.  And then a hundred yards down, they had a table that went down to another round house.  And the squaws met in each one of those round houses and provided, cooked the food, and then those Cherokees by the thousands came up to the table to eat.  I never saw anything like it in my life.  They were there by the thousands, I say, and the only convocation of the Cherokee nation in a Baptist association.

Well, right up there at Tahlequah, four miles east was a beautiful overview of the Illinois River.  And I said to Roe Beard, our missionary, I said, “If I raise the money for you to purchase the property and build a big enclosed tabernacle that will seat three thousand people for the Cherokee nation will you get your people in the Cherokee tribe to build it, if I got the money for you?”

“Oh,” he said, So we went out there and on the fifth Sunday meeting, made the proposition, and they rejoiced.  “You get the money,” and I did.  The president of the Commerce National Bank in Muskogee was a deacon in my church and one of the best men in the world, and I got the money, several thousand dollars.  Had no trouble raising it at all, and put it in the bank, and then made the announcement to the Cherokee nation: “The money is in the bank.  You go out there and buy that property four miles east of Tahlequah, and let’s build this big enclosed tabernacle.”

So I gave them a little time and went out there.  And they had it about, oh, eighteen inches high on this side, and it went down to nothing on the other three sides.  So I said, “Roe, you tell that bunch of trifling, lying, good-for-nothing Cherokee Indians that I never was so disappointed in my life.”

Well, he went out there, and they sent word back.  “Oh, you tell that pastor, don’t you worry.  We are going to build it.”

So I waited about, oh, three weeks, four weeks, and went out there.  And what they had was, they built it on this side about up to my waist, and down to about fifteen inches on the other side, and nothing on the other two.

So I said to Roe Beard again, I said, “You tell that bunch of lying, good-for-nothing, lazy Cherokees that they have got to get at that!”

“Oh,” he said, “I’ll tell them.”

So the missionary went out there and told him them what I said.  And they sent word back.  Well, after about three or four weeks, I went out there, and it was just about that way on three sides, and nothing on the fourth one.

So I said to Roe Beard, “Roe Beard, you have these big convocations every fifth Sunday.  You tell that bunch of lying good-for-nothing lazy Cherokees I’m coming out on the fifth Sunday and I’m going to tell them what I think about them.  After I went to all of the trouble to raise the money, and they promised to build it, and they’re not doing anything.”

And so the fifth Sunday came and I went out to the Cherokee nation.  Law me!  You couldn’t even begin to start to commence to get in the church house.  They filled the yard.

And the time came for me to speak.  So the man, the Cherokee who introduced me, did it like this: now, I don’t know any Cherokee, but this is the way it sounded.  When he stood up, this is the way he introduced me, he said, “Yoohawaahooooooooo!  WaWaheeWaaah, Yoohawwaahwahwah [etc.]”

And when he got through with that, he made a big gesture to me.  And I was to speak.  Law me, I had been with those Cherokees for three years and I never saw any one of them smile or laugh, but when he got through with that introduction of me they just burst into an uproar of laughter.

So when I stood up I said, “Now listen, what did you say when you made that introduction of me?”

Well, he said, “I’m not going to tell you.”

Well, I said, “You are, too.  What did you say that made those people, those Cherokees, laugh so?  Now what did you say?”

Well, he said, “Well begging your pardon, I’ll tell you.”

He said, “My great-grandpap came over the Trail of Tears from North Carolina to Oklahoma.  And he was out in the field plowing.  And while he was plowing just suddenly, the ox that he used just sat down in the furrow and wouldn’t get up.  And it was a matter of life and death.  My grandpap had to get the plowing done to raise the crop.  So he had to get that ox up, and he looked at him, and he kicked him!  And the ox wouldn’t move.  And he got him a stick and jabbed him!  And he wouldn’t move.

“And then my grandpap had an inspiration.  He reached down and tied a knot in that ox’s tail and yanked on it, and when he did, the ox got up and went plowing right down the furrow.”  Then he used the gesture, “And our brother has come to tie a knot in our tail!”  Oh, my.

If you go up there any time, the most beautiful encampment that you will see in America is right there, four miles east of Tahlequah.

So the First Baptist Church in Dallas sent word that they wanted me to come to be their pastor.  And on the first Sunday of October—they called me the twenty-seventh of September, and on the first Sunday in October, fifty years ago, I stood here and preached my first sermon as pastor of the church.

Dr. Truett was very staid.  He was the most sublimely serious of any preacher I have ever heard in the world.  And he never made a gesture.  He never moved.  Just once in a while he would lift his hand.

Well, when I got through preaching, when I got through preaching—and by the way, I say to these preachers when I exhort them to be yourself; I said I think the reason I succeeded: no one to this day has ever thought to compare me with Dr. Truett.  I am no little Truett.

Anyway, when I got through preaching, I knelt down here on the right side of the pulpit, right here, to pray.  And I don’t know what happened.  I cannot explain it.  But when I knelt down to pray there were three thousand people in this sanctuary that burst into tears.  Did you ever in your life hear three thousand people cry aloud?  That happened right here, and I don’t know why, just when I knelt down and prayed.

So I took off thirty days into the wilderness in eastern Oklahoma, in the Cookson Hills, and stayed by myself, and prayed and prayed, getting ready for my ministry here in the First Church in Dallas.  And some of the most unusual things came to pass.

We were building the building here that the deacons insisted on calling the Criswell Building, it was going up.  And they had called, they had, oh, they were in debt somewhat.  And at that time, at that time the Central Christian Church which was right there, covering one quarter of a block, the Central Christian Church put a big sign, “For Sale.”  They were going out of business.  They were quitting.  They were moving out.  And one quarter of a block covered by the Central Christian Church was right there.

So I came to the deacons with an “Oh, boy!” exhilaration and optimism and asked them to buy it.  No, they wouldn’t even think about it. They were in debt over here on this building.

I was standing on Patterson Street—that street right there—I was standing there with Billy Souther, who was our minister of education and music.  I was standing there looking at that sign, and I said to him, “You know, that is one of the greatest tragedies of life.  There will be a corporation buy that property, build a fifty story building on it, and we will never possess it.  Oh, I am just so crushed!”

And Billy Souther turned to me and he said, “Well, preacher, why don’t you ask God for it?”

Ask God for it?  Ha!  It had never occurred to me to ask God for it!  So I thought I’d try it, just experiment, just see what would happen.  And I got a telephone call.  There was a rich, rich woman, the daughter of Colonel C. C. Slaughter, named Minnie Slaughter Veal.  She called me on the phone and said, “Pastor, I hear that you are down on your knees praying.  What are you praying for?”

“Well,” I said, “Mrs. Veal, I’m praying for that property right there, the Central Christian Church.”

Well, she said, “What do they want for it?”

And I said, “I don’t know, but I’ll tell you real soon.”

I found out, and I called her back.  And she said, “Well, you buy it and I’ll give you the money.”

So she gave me the money and I bought that Central Christian Church.  Then I got a telephone call from sweet Mrs. Veal and she said, “Pastor, I forgot to ask you.  What do you want to do with it?”

Well, I said, “Mrs. Veal, I would love to build a parking building there and on top of the parking building, I’d like to build a wonderful facility, a gymnasium on top of the building.”

“Well,” she said, “What would it cost?”

And I said, “I don’t know, but I’ll tell you real soon.”

So I got an architect and I got a contractor, and they drew a plan for me, and they gave me the price of it.  I called Mrs. Veal and I said it cost thus and so, many, many hundreds of thousands of dollars.

And she said, “You build it, and I’ll give you the money for it, but I have just one request, that you don’t tell anybody where you got the money, and you don’t tell anybody what you are doing.”  Can you believe that?  I bought that Central Christian property, that quarter of a block.  We built that building over there, and the church here had no idea what was going on.  They didn’t have any idea.

Well, the funniest thing, right in the middle of that construction of that building, all of the people in the contracting business went on strike.  And every building program here in Dallas stopped, and they sent men to go up and down and around; you know, picketed.  They sent pickets down here.  And the pickets went around and around that building, you know, “Unfair,” and on and on.

So you know what I did?  I just got me a little step, and I walked right by the side of them as they walked around that building.

And I said to them, “Did you know this is God’s business?  Did you know this is God’s building?  And did you know that you are interfering with the work of the Lord?  And do you have a family?  Did you know God may judge your family because of what you are doing here?”  And I’m not exaggerating when I tell you, those men laid down those picket signs out there, and they went to the boss and said, “Listen, we are not going back there, and I don’t think anybody else would want to go back there.”

And this is no exaggeration when I tell you, the whole world here quit in its building program except that one right there, and it went right on up, right on up.  Oh, it was something!  It was something.

You know, seeing you right down there, before all of this was changed up here, the pews were right down here, just right down here.  And I preached, you know, right down there they sat.  And Judge Ryburn, you know, in the congregation for thirty-five years, Judge Ryburn was married to Anne, who had a hearing problem.  And they sat right down there on the second row.

And one day I said to Judge Ryburn, “Judge Ryburn, I notice you sit right down there underneath me.  Doesn’t that hurt your neck?”

He said, “No, pastor, just my ears.  Just my ears.”

So I received an invitation from Grady Cothen, later head of the Sunday School Board.  Grady Cothen, who at that time was executive secretary of the Baptists of California.  He wrote me a letter, and then he called me.  And he said, he said, “Preacher, our pastors here in California are greatly discouraged.”  And he said, “If I were to call them together, no business, no anything, and you come and preach to them for a week, just preach to them, would you come?”

Well, you couldn’t say no to a thing like that.  And he said, “I’ll pay for the coming of each one of those pastors, and they’ll be there, I promise you.”

So I accepted the invitation.  And I flew to San Jose and that’s here right at the bottom of that San Francisco Bay, San Jose.  And on the coast is Santa Cruz, and about halfway between San Jose and Santa Cruz is absolutely one of the most effective, kept parks, Beulah Park, that you ever saw in your life.  It is a Nazarene campground.  And those tall trees, man I am not exaggerating, all of those trees over two hundred feet tall.  Oh!  I just never saw anything like it.

Well, anyway, every one of those pastors in California were there.  There were over  four hundred of them, between four and five hundred of them.  And all they did was have me preach to them.  They had no business; they didn’t do anything at all.  They just had me preach to them.

Well, it was a Nazarene assembly ground.  And under an enormous Quonset hut, great big thing like that, I stood up to preach.  Paid no attention to the surroundings, just, you know, turned loose preaching to those preachers.  Well, on Thursday night, on Thursday night, right in the middle of my sermon, on Thursday night there was a preacher that stood up right back there.  He stood up and came down, and that’s the first time I paid any attention to the mourner’s bench.  He came down and fell at that mourner’s bench and began to cry.

Well, I thought maybe he was a nut, he was a screwball, or whatever you had.  So I just paid no attention to him.  And I just started out preaching all the louder.  And while I was preaching, another one stood up, and came and got down on his knees at that mourner’s bench, and began to cry.

“Well,” I thought, “they got two of them here.”  So I just preached all the louder.  And then another one stood up, and another one, and another one, and another one.  And finally, from one side of that Quonset hut clear over there, and clear over to the other side, those preachers were down there on their faces weeping.

Well, I had to stop.  There wasn’t anything to do but to stop.  So when I got back here to Dallas, I received a letter.  Now preacher, I want to thank God for something you told me you were going to do, and you will see it right now.  I received a letter from one of those pastors there, and he said, “I want to apologize to you, and I want you to forgive me.”  He said, “I’m the preacher that stood up in the middle of your sermon, and came down there to that mourner’s bench, and fell on my face and knees, and cried to the Lord.  “But,” he said, “I want you to understand.”  He said, “My wife and I had agreed the week before that we were going to resign the church, and I was going to quit the ministry and go into secular work.  And in that week,” he said, “I got this letter from Grady Cothen.  And I showed it to my wife, and I said, ‘Dear, look, my way will be paid.  Won’t cost anything at all.  I’ll go to the camp, and then when I come back this Sunday I’ll resign.  I’ll quit the ministry and I’ll enter secular work.’“

“So,” he said, “on Thursday night, I didn’t plan to do that.  And if you knew, you would be surprised that I would do such a thing.  But I just was called of God again and anew to the work of the Lord, and I just found myself down there at the mourner’s bench, and I gave myself again to the work of Jesus.  So,” he said, “I want you to know the following Sunday, I told the people of my church what had happened to me, and how I had once again consecrated my life to the preaching of the gospel of Christ, and that I would be their pastor.  And,” he said, “I want you to know the blessings of God are upon me and upon our church beyond description.  But,” he said, “I ask you to forgive me for interfering with your sermon.”

I wrote him back, and I said, “Son, that is one of the greatest things that ever moved my heart, and I’m asking you to pray for me, because I’m going to do something.”  I didn’t tell him what it was.  But what it was, I was going to ask the deacons in the church for a mourner’s bench, from one side of this sanctuary to the other.

Well, I went to the deacons’ meeting, and planned to tell them what had happened to me in my soul.  And all of my energy and strength and resolve just oozed out my fingertips.  I couldn’t do it.  And I went to the next deacons’ meeting the next month and all of my resolve just oozed out.  And it took me about six months to stand up there and tell those deacons what had happened to me in California, and how I wanted a mourner’s bench in our First Baptist Church.

At that time there wasn’t a Baptist church in the world that I ever heard of that had an altar rail or had kneelers in the pew.  So when I told the deacons about what had happened there was an interminable stillness.  Oh, dear!  It seemed to me it lasted forever.  Finally, an old white-headed deacon stood up and said, “My brethren, if God has put it on the heart of our pastor that we have a mourner’s bench, I make a motion we let him do it.”  And it passed.

And I only had one thing to observe about it.  When they built it, it was pretty just like this.  I was thinking about just a bench down here.  It was a beautiful altar rail from one side to the other.  And then we put kneelers there where you’re seated, and this is the first Baptist church I know of in the earth that had an altar rail from one side to the other, and kneelers there in the pew.

And my sweet pastor has said to me, “We are going to replace that altar rail, from there to here, and from there to the other side.”  Amen.  Amen.  Oh dear, oh dear!

I’ve never seen a church change as it changed when those altar rails were installed and those kneelers were placed in the pew.  The church changed, and did so triumphantly and gloriously.

Well, dear me.  What shall I do?  Let me just, [from the audience, “Preach on!” followed by applause]

One of the providences of life, Cameron Townsend, who founded Wycliffe, the Wycliffe Missionaries, chose to be a dear, dear friend to me.  And he insisted upon my going with him to visit his Wycliffe Missionaries down south, Central America and South America.

So they had won a headshrinker named Tariri, who died just a week ago, they had won Tariri to the Lord Jesus, and through him had won the tribe to the Lord Jesus.  And Cameron Townsend insisted on my going down in the heart of the Amazon jungle to visit Tariri, and to encourage him in the Christian faith.  So I flew down to Lima, Peru, over the Andes mountains to Pucalipa.  And about six miles down the Ucayali River is Yarinacocha, which is the largest Wycliffe camp in the world.

And they got a little plane, and put Floyd Lyon there to be the pilot.  Stuck me in it, just the two of us, and we went down the Ucayali with long pontoons.  At that time the Amazon jungle, as big as the United States, had not a road in it, not one, that vast continent, not one.  So they went with pontoons, and then they just lighted on the rivers.  And that’s the way they ministered to those people.  So we got in the little plane and went down the Ucayali for about, oh, I’d say an hour, and then a crossover, they call it, to the Marañón.

Tariri was on the Marañón, and where the Marañón and the Ucayali come together, from there on you call it the Amazon.  So right in the middle of that crossover, at six thousand four hundred feet, that engine, it sounded to me as though it exploded.  And the plane immediately began to fall.  Well, it just happened to be that the only village in a hundred thousand square miles was right there below us.  And if you fall in the Amazon jungle, they will never find you.  That thing is three hundred feet deep, and there is no way in the world they could find you.

So he guided the little plane as it fell.  He guided it into a little creek that went by that village.  Guy pulling a little canoe across it, missed him, hit the canoe.  The water was about three or four inches deep, skimmed along the water, hit a sand bank, stopped.

And the telephone was still intact.  So he called the Presbyterian mission on the Ucayali, who relayed the message to Yarinacocha.  And they prepared a little wheeled plane to come and to land in the middle of the village to pick us up and take us back.

So everybody in the village got that little area out there flattened out so that the wheeled plane— because it was full of all kinds of holes; wild hogs had dug it out.  Everybody worked, getting that thing planed and level so the wheeled plane could come in.  And about four o’clock in the afternoon, why, the little wheeled plane came down and landed there.  And then we got in and pulled it back as far as they could, and gunned it!  And it went out into the middle of that village and spun around like a top because of the soft, damp soil.  So he pulled it back into the jungle as far as he possibly could, bowed his head and prayed to God.  And then he gunned it one more time, and that plane jumped out into the middle, and it seemed to me the hands of the Lord lifted it up.

And did you know?  All the way back to Yarinacocha a beautiful rainbow went in front of us from one side of the horizon to the other.  It wasn’t raining, and it wasn’t cloudy, and yet that rainbow was there.  I took a picture of it.  And for years it was over there in the foyer of our educational building.  And it is around here somewhere now.  And preacher, I want you to find that rainbow picture and put it up.  That’s one of the most amazing things.  And people who know about these airplanes say that if any one factor of a thousand had been different, you wouldn’t have lived.

All I remember was that, when the plane was falling, I buckled the straps around me here and here, as tight as I could.  And I had a prayer: “Dear Lord, if this is my time to die, it’s all right.  I just ask of You one thing, dear God, don’t let me stay alive paralyzed, my neck broken, my body crushed.  Please, God, if I am not to live, then just take me without my going through a terrible seizure and life of invalidism.”  And God was good, so very, very good.

So preacher, you won’t believe this.  Upon a day the Foreign Mission Board sent Duke McCall and me around the world on a preaching mission, and it closed with a tremendous mission in Japan.  And I started up there at the top of Japan, and didn’t have any churches over there, and I preached in all of the cities in Japan clear down to the bottom.  I was gone four months.  I can’t imagine being gone from the church for four months.  I was gone four months, and held revival meetings in those big civic centers.  There were so many people that responded when I’d give the invitation, I’d tell them, “Now, you go back to your seat.  I don’t think you understand.”

So I would reiterate what it is to be saved, and send those people back to their seats.  And when I gave that invitation again, that same hundreds and hundreds of them would come forward.

Let me tell you what, there is only one and one half percent of Japan that is Christian.  General MacArthur was the head of the government over there, and he asked us to send missionaries to preach the gospel.  Had we done it, Japan would have been a Christian nation today.  We didn’t send anybody, one of the great tragedies of life.

Well anyway, I was never introduced to Japanese culture.  And oh, boy, was I introduced.  So the first home that I was guest in, why, they had something unusually fine for me because I was their guest.  They built a fire under a great big black pot, and then I was to take a hot bath.  That was the best thing that they could think of to do for a guest.

So they were all gathered there, the family, in a little, in a little thing, and they had a table about that high.  And they all leaned with the left arm around that table, a whole bunch of them there.  And when I first started it was the summertime, and they had taken out the walls.  They were all on rollers or whatever.  They had taken out the walls and stacked them up out there.  And it was open like a tabernacle.  You know, the thing was open.  And there all of them were, around the table.  So the time came for me to take my bath.  So all of them are around the table there, carrying on.  And the host brings me over here, and there’s the big pot, and I am to take a bath.  So I just stood there and stood there.

So he came to me and he said, “Now, what’s the matter with you?”

“Well,” I said, “see all of those people there?  I can’t undress in front of all of those people.”

“Oh,” he said, “I never thought about that.”

“Well,” I said, “I tell you what you do.  You go out there and get one of those partitions, and you put it in there and roll it up, and behind that partition, why, I’ll take off my clothes and take a bath.”

“Oh,” he said, “fine.”

So they went out there and got a wall, you know, and put it on the thing.  And I just stood there.

So he came back around and he said, “Now what’s the matter?”

“Well,” I said, “Look at that wall you’ve got here, it is panes of glass all up and down.  And I can’t take off my clothes.”

“Oh,” he said, “I never thought about that.”

“Well,” I said, “Do you have a sheet?”

“Oh, yes,” he said.

So he got a sheet and he put it over the wall.  And I took my clothes off.  I couldn’t begin to get in that hot tub.  I couldn’t begin.  So there was a little dipper there, and I picked up that dipper and I was pouring the water over me like this.  And while I was there pouring the water over me like this, his wife came around the wall.  Stood there in front of me with her hands behind her back like this.

I looked at her in amazement and she said, “Would you like to have some soap?”

“Oh, yes,” I said, “I would love to have some soap.”

So she put her hands around and gave me the soap.  And I learned something.  Did you know anatomically, I used to think that when you blushed, you blushed from your neck up.  I learned that day that when you blush, you blush all over.  Oh, dear!   Oh, my, my, my, my, my, my!

Well, having been a part of the pilgrimage for these decades through this century, the one that is yet to come is over on the other side.  And I look forward, of course, to that day of the great assize, the rendezvous, the gathering of God’s sweet people in the world that is yet to come, in heaven [Hebrews 12:22].

So I went to see my sainted father.  He was an unusual man.  He loved music.  He had a banjo and every edition of a sacred song published by Stamps Baxter here in Dallas, my father bought it.  And he sang with shaped notes.  Many of you don’t even know what they are, shaped notes.  And he would start at the front and he’d sing all the way through to the end.  Do you know what shaped notes are?  Surely you do.  He sang with shaped notes.  And with his banjo, he would play and sing those songs.  The last time I was with my father, he sang me a song.  It was this,

I will meet you in the morning, by the bright river side,

When all sorrow has drifted away.

I’ll be standing by the portals, when the gates open wide,

At the end of life’s long, dreary day.

I will meet you in the morning and welcome you there

In the beautiful city that lies four square.

[ “I’ll Meet You In The Morning,” by A. E. Brumley, 1936]

That’s the last time I saw my father.  He died right after singing me that song.

Well, my mother, she lived after my father had died, was stricken by a stroke and was invalid.  The last time I was with my sainted mother she struggled out of the bed in the little rest home where she was confined.  And there was a divan there, a couch there, and she said, “Son, you lie down on that couch and rest.”  I said, “Mother, I don’t want to lie down and I don’t want to rest.”  “Yes, Son, you have much to do.  You are very busy.  You lie down and rest.”  So, I laid down to rest.  And that was the last time I saw my mother.

And in the Book of Hebrews chapter 4, verse 9, God gives his beloved rest [Hebrews 4:9].  And in the Revelation, 14:13: “I heard a great voice out of heaven saying, Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord.  Yea, saith the Spirit, that they may rest from their labors; and their works do follow them.”

And as Rudyard Kipling said it in his poetry,

When Earth’s last picture is painted

And the tubes are twisted and dried

When the oldest colors have faded

And the youngest critic has died

We shall rest, and faith, we shall need it

Lie down for an aeon or two

‘Till the Workman of all good workers

Sets us to work anew.

[“When Earth’s Last Picture Is Painted,” by Rudyard Kipling]

Looking forward to the heaven that God is preparing for you and for us who love Him [1 Corinthians 2:9].  Thank God for Christian parents!  And thank God for you, and thank God for the beautiful gathering around the beautiful home in heaven.

Now, sweet boy, let’s sing us a song.