The Old Time Religion

The Old Time Religion

April 27th, 1975 @ 10:50 AM

Acts 8:8

And there was great joy in that city.
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THE OLD-TIME RELIGION

Dr. W. A. Criswell

Acts 8:8

4-27-75    10:50 a.m.

 

This is the biggest country church in the world, they tell me, so we are having preaching all day long and dinner on the grounds.  Somebody said to me, "Why don’t you preach that sermon we heard you deliver a long time ago on The Old-Time Religion?"  Well, I thought about it and it appealed to me.  So I have announced that today, I’m going to preach that sermon on The Old-Time Religion.  I left off a little part of it this morning at the 8:15 service.  And one of my fellow ministers said, "Why did you leave out that part about the cemetery?"  Well, I thought, I just didn’t know people would notice, so I’m going to put it in this morning.

I lived at the passing of the old.  I was born in 1909, and I lived in the passing of the old, when people shouted – I have heard people leave the church and shout all over the little town, just up and down the streets; when they wept before the Lord, when they mourned over their sins.  I lived in the days of the passing of that old-time religion, and lived into the new, which is sophisticated, and removed, and unemotional.  But I remember the old: the old-time church, and the old-time revival, and the old-time services, and the old-time Book.

The old-time church, almost without exception, those old-time churches had in them a pot-bellied stove.  Always that pot-bellied stove was there.  And the men came to church chewing tobacco.  They didn’t spit it out at the door.  They came into the Lord’s house, chewing their cud, chewing their cud.  And all through the service, there they were, chewing their cud.  Now, when you do that there comes a line of demarcation when you are going to drown or face a catastrophe.  So what happened was, they went to that pot-bellied stove and opened the door and spit out in there until they nearly drowned the fire.  I can so well remember when I looked forward to the day, being a pastor of an affluent church, where I could have brass spittoons – brass cuspidors.

That boy Herschel Creasman said to me, as I was coming into the church – now can you imagine this kind of a thing to inspire the preacher to be spiritual – he said, "A man went to the judge in the court house and said, I miss those brass spittoons. And the judge said, Well, that’s the reason we took them out – because you always miss them."

Our conferences were on Saturday afternoon.  I dare say most of the people today who go to church never heard of a Saturday afternoon conference.  But the old-time church had its business meeting, its conference, on Saturday afternoon.

And you never had a church – I have never been in one – where there was not somebody born in the kickative case and the objective mood.  No matter what was proposed they were "agin" it.  So this was the cemetery story: they proposed at the church conference that they build a fence around the cemetery.  And this same fellow that was against everything stood up and said, "Do you know anybody on the outside that wants in?"

And they said, "No."

And he said, "Well, do you know anybody on the inside that can get out?"

And they said, "No."

"Well," he said, "then why build a fence around the cemetery?"

The old-time revival meeting, it was an epoch, it was an event.  We never had any picture shows.  Never had any radio, it was not invented.  Never had a television; no one ever imagined such a thing as that; didn’t have any entertainment of any kind; didn’t have any automobiles; didn’t have any roads on which they could run if you had one.  So there was one thing we did.  We all went to church, and especially the revival meeting.  That was an event in the yearly calendar when time came, the Friday before the fourth Sunday in July, and the whole world got religion.

Down the road I listened to a sound and I said to the fellow standing next to me, "What is that?"

He said, "Those are the Hammondses."

"Well," I said, "who are the Hammondses?"

"Oh," he said, "if you don’t know the Hammondses, you’ll know pretty soon."

He says, "When the revival fires begin to burn, they fill up their wagon with all of the clan and the tribe of the Hammondses, and they come to the services, singing, and shouting, and praising God.  Then," he said, "after the meeting is over, you won’t see them again, and you won’t hear them again, until Friday before the fourth Sunday in July."

But they all came, and everybody went to the revival meeting.  All the Baptists went when the Methodists had their meeting.  All the Methodists went to the Baptists when they had their meeting.  And sure enough, without fail, we all were there at the sanctified Pentecostal Holiness meeting.  We never missed that.

And the services were full of feeling and full of emotion.  When I was saved, I could not see the preacher for crying.  On the Wednesday following my conversion – and on Wednesday night, most of our midweek services were testimony meetings when we stood up and praised God for what He had done for us – on that first Wednesday night after I was saved, I stood up in the midweek prayer service to testify what God had done for me.  I got out about four or five words and broke down and began to cry.  I struggled to continue the testimony, what the Lord had done for me and saved me, and I could not speak.  I looked at my dear old mother who was seated there by my side to gain strength and encouragement to continue, looking down at her, she was crying and that undid me.  So I just sat down, couldn’t speak a word.

When I did – in the church was an old pioneer retired Baptist preacher, an old, old man.  When I sat down in tears, he stood up and turning to me, pointed to me with his finger and said, "Son, that was a good beginning.  That was a good beginning."  You know, I’ve often thought – I wish he could have lived to the day when I became pastor of the First Baptist Church in Dallas.  "That was a good beginning," he said to a small-town country boy.

Many, many times in the services, I would bow my head between the benches of the church and cry.  I felt that maybe a boy should not cry in public.  And I would be so moved, I would bow my head between the benches and just weep before the Lord.  So oft times, and so many times, were the services filled with feeling, emotion, and weeping.

Today, we are too sophisticated for all that.  Nobody would weep in public in church today lest he be considered emotionally unstable or intellectually weak.  Consequently, since we don’t change, we are still feeling beings, emotional beings, we express our feelings now in other areas and in other places.  I think one of the reasons the picture show is as popular as it is, is that people can go there and look at some sorry, melodramatic drama and weep, and nobody will say or think anything about it.  In the darkness of the theater, they can cry unobserved.

And our enthusiasm, we are still enthusiastic beings.  We just don’t show it at church.  We’re not enthusiastic about anything in the house of God.  So we will go to the Cotton Bowl, or we will go to Texas Stadium, and when one of those men makes a touchdown, why, the whole roof of the stadium comes off, or the Cotton Bowl rocks from side to side.  And you can hear the people whoop and holler for miles and miles – enthusiastic, responsive.  But in the house of God, you’re to sit jammed down in your skin.  And if somebody were to say, "Praise the Lord!" or "Amen!" or "Glory!" or "Hallelujah!" why, they would usher you out of the house, something wrong with you.

I heard of one of those men that loved the Lord, been wonderfully saved.  He went to one of these high churches.  And up there, the preacher in his sermon said something good about Jesus.  And he said, "Amen!"  And the preacher got off the beam.  When he got started again, he said something else good about Jesus and that fellow said, "Praise the Lord!"  And that preacher forgot his sermon altogether.

The usher went over there and tapped him on the shoulder and said, "Sir, shut up.  Can’t you see you’re bothering our preacher?"

And the man replied, "Well, I was just praising the Lord."

And the usher said, "Well, you can’t praise the Lord in this place."

And the man said, "But I got religion."

And the usher said, "Well, you didn’t get it here.  Shut up!"

Those old-time services were so full of feeling, and emotion, and tears, and expression.  One time I was seated in southern Kentucky on a split log, out under an arbor, enjoying the services of an old-time country meeting.  And the preacher was up there just preaching about Jesus.  And in his sermon, one of those men seated right there to my left and in front of me, became happy in the Lord.  And he stood up in the middle of the service; he stood up and began singing a song.  And as he sang the song, he turned to a man to his right and shook hands with him, singing that song.  And he turned to the man to the left and shook hands with him, singing that song.

They stood up, and they shook hands with the men and the women around them and caught the spirit of the song, singing that song.  It was not long until the whole throng of them were standing up, shaking hands with one another, crying, the tears falling off of their faces, singing that song.

I was a stranger there.  I did not know one single person in that throng.  But I found myself also standing up and I sang that song with them, even though I did not know it, and went around shaking hands with all of those people, singing that song, crying with them – one of the most moving experiences of my life, a stranger in this world, but a brother in Christ, in the Lord.  You know that song.  I have never forgotten it.  As they went around, shaking hands, crying, singing a song, this is the song they sang:

 

My heavenly home is bright and fair

And I want to be 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.

 

Just think of that!  In a service, just start out singing, and praising God, and weeping before the Lord, and shaking hands with all of the people.

 

The Lord has been so good to me,

I feel like traveling on.

Until those mansions I can see,

Yes, I feel like traveling on.

Yes, I feel like traveling on.

Praise God, I feel like traveling on.

Until those mansions I can see,

And I feel like traveling on.

["I Feel Like Traveling On," William Hunter]

 

That is the old-time religion; full of expression, full of meaning, full of gladness, full of praise, and full of joy.  It never occurred to me, even as a boy, that I had to go to church.  It was never a burdensome assignment to me.  I loved the day.  "I was glad when they said unto me, Let us go into the house of the Lord" [Psalm 122:1].  It was my life.  It has been my life ever since.

The old-time religion; the old-time Book; I never in my life, growing up, I never heard of an old-time preacher who doubted this being the Word of God.  It was only after I was practically grown that I was ever introduced to men who were supposed to be preachers and teachers of the Book who didn’t believe it; who doubted it but not an old-time preacher.  I never saw one, nor did I ever hear of one, who doubted this to be the Word of God.  From the first verse in Genesis to the last verse in the Revelation, from "kiver to kiver," as they’d say, they believed it to be the inspired and infallible Word of the living God. 

Now sometimes, I grant you, that created some instances, and some scenes, and some happenings that were sort of interesting.  The old-time preachers believed in the Word of the Lord.  For example, there was an old southern preacher that stood in the pulpit, opened the Book to read his text.  And unknown to him, some mischievous boys had glued some of the pages of his Bible together.  So he started out reading in the Word of God, and he read: "And in those days, Noah was one hundred forty-seven years old and he took unto himself a wife and she" – then he turned what he thought was one page and he continued to read – "and she was forty cubits broad, seventy cubits high, and a hundred cubits long, made out of gopher wood, and daubed on the inside and out with pitch."  He scratched his head, and he said, "Brothers and sisters, that’s the first time I ever saw that in the Word of God.  But," he said, "if the Bible says it, I believe it!"  And then he added, "That just goes to prove that other marvelous text in the Bible which says we are wonderfully and fearfully made" [Psalm 139:14], but he believed it, and he preached it, and all of us were blessed and encouraged by it – the old-time Book.

I grew up, as some of you know, in extreme northwest Texas.  I grew up in a little town that in the years past, was a line camp on the XIT Ranch.  A line camp was where the cowboys would stay, and they would go up and down the border of the ranch, look after the cattle, mend the fences, see that the windmills were pumping, that there was water for the cattle; a line camp.

In my father’s shop by the uncounted hours and hours, as a little boy, did I listen to those old cowmen tell stories about the days of the long ago.  Rather than tax the people, the state of Texas gave to a British Company all of this land in northwest Texas in exchange for their building our capitol – the capitol building in Austin, Texas.  And it was a very large spread.  Some of them say XIT meant "ten in Texas" because it covered ten counties.

Well, I grew up in a little town that was a line camp, originally, of the XIT Ranch.  And in my father’s shop, I would listen, hour without number, to those old cowmen tell stories about the days of the long ago.  Had you seen a western picture on television, or on in the theater on the screen, why, you have many of those stories dramatized, and you look at them and they are always interesting.  The only thing about the modern retelling of those western stories is, it will be rarely, rarely ever seen or heard that one concerns the faith, concerns religion, concerns Jesus, concerns the church, concerns conversion in the household of God’s people.  And yet, as I listened to those men, many, many of their stories were about conversion, and about Christ, and about Jesus, and about heaven, and about home.

But, when I was a little boy, this is one of those stories that I heard.  There was a Christian boss man, a Christian ranchman, and he had a habit of trying to win to Jesus all of the cowboys who worked for him on the ranch.  Upon a time, in a roundup in the fall, one of the young fellows, one of the young cowboys, came back to the camp to get a fresh horse, a fresh mount.  So he went to the corral, picked out the horse that he wanted, roped it, bridled it, saddled it, rode out through the gate to go back to his assignment on the range.  But the horse that he was riding was fresh, and rested, and largely unbroken.  So when the cowboy started to ride away, the horse began to buck, and to pitch, and to sun-step, and to sidestep.  You never throw a good cowboy, never.  You couldn’t do it.  But once in a while, a boy will fall when it isn’t his fault, and it was so that day.  As the pony began to pitch and to buck, it lost its foothold and fell over backward on the lad.  The pony got up and scampered away.  But the boy, crushed internally, lay there unable to rise, bleeding profusely from his mouth.

The cook in the camp had watched what had gone on, and when he saw that the lad was unable to rise, he ran to him, and picked him up, and brought him to the camp, and laid him on a cot.  As the boy continued to hemorrhage, crushed internally, his life began to ebb away.

And in the twilight of his dying, he said to the cook, he said, "Jake, you know that big black Book the boss man is always reading to us out of?  Jake, would you find that Book and bring it to me?"  And the cook went to the chuck wagon and among the personal effects of the boss man, he found the Holy Bible.  He brought it to the injured lad.

And the boy said to him, "Jake, do you remember that verse he was always reading to us out, John 3:16?  Jake, see if you can find that verse."  And Jake went through the Bible and came to John, went down John to chapter 3, and followed the verses to verse 16.  And when he found it, the boy said, "Jake, read it to me."  And the cook read to the lad the promise of God, that those who trusted in Jesus would have everlasting life.  And when he was done reading the verse, the boy said to the cook, he said, "Jake, would you take that Bible and put it on my chest just so?"

 And when Jake placed the open Bible on the chest of the boy, the lad said to him, "Jake, will you take my finger and put it on that verse, John 3:16?"  And Jake took the boy’s finger and placed it on the verse in the Bible.  Then in the last breath, the lad said, "Jake, when the boss man comes in the evening, would 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 tall young lad was dead.

Far from his home and family,

They laid him down to rest.

With his saddle for a pillow

And that Bible on his breast.

["The Dying Cowboy," author unknown]

 

 

It’s the old-time religion.  Sing it with me.

 

Give me that old-time religion,

Give me that old-time religion,

Give me that old-time religion,

It’s good enough for me.

 

It will do when I am dying,

It will do when I am dying,

It will do when I am dying,

It’s good enough for me.

 

Give me that old-time religion,

Give me that old-time religion,

Give me that old-time religion.

It’s good enough for me.

 

It will take us all to heaven,

It will take us all to heaven,

It will take us all to heaven,

It’s good enough for me.

 

Give me that old-time religion,

Give me that old-time religion,

Give me that old-time religion.

It’s good enough for me.

 

Just once again –

 

Give me that old-time religion,

Give me that old-time religion,

Give me that old-time religion,

It’s good enough for me.

["Old Time Religion," traditional]

 

That is the way I grew up as a boy.  I wish that our children today had a like faith, and a like church, and a like service.  I could pray that God will help us to provide it for them, to give it to them in this church – that church is a wonderful place, the services are full of life and moving, and in it is the presence of the glory of God.  Lord, grant it.  If it was good for Paul and Silas, if it was good for our mothers and our fathers, if it will take us all to heaven, why wouldn’t it be good for our sons and our daughters?  The old-time religion.

We are going to stand and sing now our hymn of appeal.  You know that hymn is one of those old-time songs we used to sing:

 

There’s a land that is fairer than day,

And by faith we can see it afar,

For the Father waits over the way

To prepare us a dwelling place there.

["In The Sweet By And By," Sanford F. Bennett]

 

"In The Sweet By And By"; and while we sing the song, somebody you to give himself to Jesus; a family you to come, the whole lot of you, the children, the father, the mother; or just you, in the balcony round, down the stairway, in the throng and press of people on this lower floor, into an aisle and down to the front, "Here I come, pastor, here I am.  I have decided for Jesus and I am coming now."  Do it on the first note of the first stanza, while we stand and while we sing.