FAITHFUL TO THE PREACHING WORD
Dr. W. A. Criswell
Dallas Theological Seminary Chapel
That is the second best introduction I ever had in my life. The best one was when the fellow who was to present me didn’t appear, and I introduced myself. I just remind you that through the years and the years, the decades, I have always felt close to this glorious institution. For fifty-one years I have lived right up Swiss Avenue; passed by you several times every day, just looking at you, and have seen practically all these buildings built. And when we launched our Criswell College, it is just about a block and a half away from you. And I am so grateful that we are going to be close together for the unending years.
And of course, many of your professors through the years and the years have been with us in our dear church. For example, Dr. Ryrie, all last month has conducted our Wednesday evening services. And Dr. Merrill over here has taught a Sunday school class in our wonderful church for so many years I cannot count them. He is still a boy. And, oh dear! I just love the thought of you “funny-damn-mentalists,” which includes me. I believe in the inspired, inerrant, infallible Word of the living God [2 Timothy 3:16], and that’s what you believe.
Well, we are going to do something a little different this morning. I go back in memory, long, long time ago, when I think of you. My mother took me to Baylor in 1927. And there was a gifted man there who came up here to Dallas to visit the president of this school, and the founder of it, Lewis Sperry Chafer; and he took me with him. And that was my introduction to that gloriously gifted theologian. He was small in stature, but a giant in heart and in mind. And there in my library I have the eight volumes of his
Systematic Theology. One could never forget the brilliance of Lewis Sperry Chafer.
So when I think back on those days of my beginning, I just turned over some of the incidents that have shaped my ministry for these over sixty-eight years. So, I was called as pastor of Pulltight out there in Coryell County. They had no church house, but they had a tabernacle. And in the summertime, back yonder in those days of a long time ago, in the summertime when the crops were “laid by,” as they called it, everybody under creation came to the revival meetings. Well, I was the member of the missionary club in the university down there. I had never felt called, ever, to be a missionary; always felt called to be a pastor. To give you an example of my commitment to that, I have been asked to be president of three different universities, and I don’t even bother to ask God about it, don’t even pray about it. I have given my life ever since I was a little elementary child; I have given my life to the ministry of a pastor.
So I started out at Pulltight; didn’t have a church house, I say, but had a tabernacle. And the whole creation in those days came to the revival meetings. Well, those kids that I knew in that mission volunteer band came out to hear me preach. They had a bus that was open, and there were about, oh, twenty of us that belonged to the band. And when I got through preaching, you should have listened to what they had to say to me. I didn’t realize it, I didn’t know I was that way, but when I stood up to preach, I preached all over creation: up and down, back and forth, loud—you could hear me ten miles on any clear night—so when I got through, why, they gathered round me and said, “Criswell, we never heard anything like that. And if you don’t change, there’s no church of any consequence in the world that will call you as its pastor.”
So in Waco was a famous woman named Martha Folks Hawn. She was a dramatic teacher, and she was so greatly appreciated by the people of Waco that they had built for her a little theater, right back of her house. Well, they took me to Martha Folks Hawn and told her that they’d gone to hear me preach and that if I didn’t change there was no church of any consequence in the earth that would call me as its pastor, and they wanted Martha Folks Hawn to teach me how to preach. Wonderful! So twice a week I appeared at the home of Martha Folks Hawn and took those declamation lessons.
Well, after I’d been there a while, she said to me, “Would you preach me one of your sermons?” Well, by that time I’d become well acquainted with her. She was a socialite, and didn’t go to church. So I said I’d love to. And the next time for my lesson, I brought my Bible, and to a congregation of one; I preached to her. She never said a word, not a word. And when I got to the door to leave, she said, “When you come back for your next lesson, would you preach me another sermon?” I said, “I’d be delighted to.” So the next lesson I preached a sermon to a congregation of one.
That time, she never even uttered any kind of a comment. And I walked out of the house. When I came back for my next lesson, she said to me, “Would you come into my living room and sit down by my side on the sofa?” I said, “I’d be delighted to.” We went into the living room, and I sat by her side on the sofa. Then she started off: she said, “Now I want you to remember as long as you live what I’m going to say to you.” Then she started out, “This week,” she avowed, “I had my best friend from Kansas City, Missouri to come to see me. And I was thinking about you, and I said to her, ‘Do you go to church?’ And she said, ‘Yes.’ Well, I said, ‘What church do you attend?’ And she told me. And I said, ‘Well, you don’t belong to that church, and you don’t belong to that denomination. Why do you go there?’ And my friend answered me, saying, ‘When I go to church I love to hear a man preach! And that pastor preaches, and I love to hear him preach.’”
Then she said to me, and repeated it, “I want you to remember what I say, and don’t you ever forget it. I don’t go to church, but if I did, I’d love to go to a church where the preacher stands up there and preaches. Now,” she says, and then repeated that, “Don’t ever forget what I’m saying to you. When you stand up to preach, you preach exactly as you feel. If you feel like doubling up your fists, you double up your fists. If you feel like stomping on the pulpit floor, stomp on the pulpit floor. If you feel like yelling and crying to the top of your voice, do it!” Then she said to me, “I’m not saying to you that the people, all of them, will like it; but I am telling you they’ll listen to what you have to say. Now,” she says, “you go out that door, and don’t you ever come back.”
Well, I was just seventeen years old then. And I to this day have never forgotten it. When I stand up to preach, I preach exactly as I feel. And I want to tell you a little aside. Dr. Truett, George W. Truett, was the greatest preacher our Baptist people have ever produced. He was the pastor of the First Baptist Church here in Dallas for forty-seven years. And when Dr. Truett stood up to preach, he never made a gesture, he never moved; he just stood there in all of his dignity, and he spoke with such authority. And when I got up there to preach, they never heard or saw anything like that. And do you know why I have succeeded in that church for fifty-one years? There is nobody that has ever compared me with Dr. Truett; just never entered anybody’s mind.
Just be yourself. Be yourself. If you feel like hollering, holler. If you’re moved in your heart to cry, cry. If you feel like stomping on the floor, stomp on the floor. If you feel like getting out there and walking up and down the aisles, do it. And I repeat what Martha Folks Hawn said to me: “I’m not saying everybody will like it, but I am saying to you everybody will listen to you.”
Well, going back, going back through the years, in that tabernacle at Pulltight—throngs; oh, my! everybody there on Saturday night—on a Saturday night, preaching there, nobody came forward, nobody. Well, it kind of moved my soul and heart. And when I made appeal and made appeal, and nobody responded, I finally said, “I want the choir to sing another stanza, and while we sing that stanza, if anybody here will come forward and ask God to save him, if God doesn’t save him I’ll never preach again. I’ll resign my pastorate, and I’ll quit the pulpit. If you come and ask God to save you and He doesn’t save you, I’ll never preach again.” Well, down from the outside came forward to me a bowlegged cowpoke named William Weir. He stuck out his hand, shook hands with me, and he said, “Preacher, I’ll take you up on that proposition.” Well, I said, “William, you really mean it?”
“Yes,” he said, “I’d like to be saved.” So I had all the people stand. I had him kneel down there by my side, and I told the Lord, “Lord, You heard what I said. And this cowpoke says he wants to be saved. And You said in Your Book, ‘Whosoever calls upon the name of the Lord shall be saved’ [Romans 10:13]. Now, Lord, You save him, and save him now. Come into his heart and regenerate him, and make him a Christian.” Then I put forward my hand, and I said, “William, if God has saved you, if He has come into your heart, take me by the hand.” He shook his head, and said, “Preacher, I swear there ain’t nothing happened to me yet.” Ah! Well, I said, “All right, son, we’re going to ask Him again.” And I got down there by his side and prayed for him. Oh, brother! Then I extended my hand, and I said, “Son, if God has come into your heart, if He has forgiven your sins, if you’ve been saved, take me by the hand.” And he said the same thing, “I swear, preacher, ain’t nothing happened to me. I’m just the same.” So I said, “We’re going to try this one more time.” And I poured out my heart to the Lord for that cowpoke, “O God, come into his heart, wash away his sins, save him, make a Christian out of him. Do it now, Lord, do it now.” Extended my hand, and he said that same thing: “Preacher, I swear, there ain’t nothing happened to me. I’m just the same.”
Well, you couldn’t stay there all night, so we had the benediction. I was staying in the home of Uncle Alec Davidson. And he had a little T-model Ford, and I got into that contraption with the rest of his family. And when I got in and they started off, they just started kidding me unmercifully. “You know what you said? You said if anybody would come forward and they weren’t saved, you’d never preach again, and did you!” Well, they thought that was the funniest joke that they’d ever lived to see. But I was a’dying. I was just killed! And when they found out how I felt, nobody said a word, nobody. And when we got up there to the ranch house, I dismissed myself, went to my room, got down on my knees, and I cried, saying, “Lord, I don’t know what to say. And I don’t know what to do, don’t know where to turn. You heard me in that tabernacle: I said if anybody would come and they weren’t saved I’d quit preaching, I’d never preach again. And Lord, that fellow came, that cowpoke, and he asked to be saved, and You didn’t save him. He asked You to come into his heart, and You didn’t come. And Lord, I don’t know what to do, or where to turn. I said I would quit preaching.”
Well, I went to bed, and rolled, tossed all—got up the next morning, Sunday morning, dressed, got in that little T-model Ford, and went down there. And when we came to the tabernacle grounds, I opened the door, and when my foot stepped on the ground, there was a voice up the way, hollering to the top of his lungs, “Say, preacher! Say, preacher!” And I looked, and it was that cowpoke. And he came running to me as fast as his bowlegs would take him, put his arms around me, and said, “Say, preacher!” I said, “William, what?” He says, “I’ve been saved! I’ve been saved!” Well, I said, “Son, when were you saved?” He said, “Last night, on my horse, driving back, riding back, Jesus came into my heart, forgave my sins, saved me, wrote my name in the Book of Life. I’ve been saved! I’ve been saved!”
Well, as soon as a quorum of the church family had come to the tabernacle, I had him stand up and make his confession of faith. And I baptized him that moment in that Coryell Creek that ran close by and both of us dried out in the service. Oh! if I lived a thousand years, I’d never forget that.
“Well, you believe that, preacher?” I do. I do. “Whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved” [Romans 10:13]. You know what? You won’t believe this, to me this is nothing but a modern miracle: I have been preaching at the First Baptist Church in Dallas for over fifty-one years; for forty-eight of those years I was the only pastor and only preacher. And three times every Lord’s Day I stood in that pulpit and preached the gospel, this infallible Book. I preached three times every Sunday: twice on Sunday morning, and once on Sunday night. I have done that for fifty-one years. And for fifty-one years I have never preached in that pulpit but that God has given me a harvest—for fifty-one years, never an exception—preaching the gospel of Christ, the infallible Word of God. And here is what I believe and did: I expound the Word the best I could, exegeting it, expounding it, preaching what God has infallibly and inerrantly revealed to us in the Scriptures. But no matter what the text, or the chapter, or the subject, I always drove toward an appeal. Always, no matter what, I drove toward an appeal: “This is God’s message to us, how we can be saved. And if you will listen to the infallible Word of God, He will save you now.
Now let’s stand and sing. And while we sing the invitation hymn, you come and accept the Lord as your Savior.” And I repeat, for fifty-one years there has never been a service at which God failed to give us a harvest.
Bring me my bow of burning gold!
Bring me my arrows of desire!
Bring me my spear! O clouds, unfold!
Bring me my chariot of fire!
We shall not cease from battle strife,
Nor shall the sword sleep in our hands,
Till we have built Jerusalem
In this fair and pleasant land.
[“And Did Those Feet in Ancient Time,” William Blake]
What a glorious, incomparable open door God has set before you in this administration and dispensation of the Holy Spirit! And God bless you, young men, as you proclaim it. And the Lord bless you, young women, as you hold up the hands of that preacher, and ask Him, “O God, give him power from heaven, and give us souls to lay at Thy dear and saving feet.” Thank you, precious professors, and you, for the privilege of just being with you this wonderful and precious hour.