“BUT GOD” – THE GREATEST SERVICE IN THE HISTORY OF THE FIRST BAPTIST CHURCH
Sermon by Dr. J. Frank Norris, First Baptist Church, Fort Worth, Texas
DR. NORRIS: I invite your attention to four Scriptures:
The first is found in Ephesians second chapter, fourth verse, “But God, who is rich in mercy, for his great love wherewith he loved us.”
The second is found in the last chapter of Genesis-the words of Joseph to his eleven brethren, Genesis 50:20, “But as for you, ye thought evil against me; but God meant it unto good, to bring to pass, as it is this day, to save much people alive. Now therefore fear ye not.”
The third Scripture is found in I Cor. 15th chapter and 38th verse, “But God giveth it a body as it hath pleased him, and to every seed his own body.”
The fourth Scripture is found in the book of Daniel on the momentous occasion when Daniel stood before Nebuchadnezzar and interpreted his dream, that the wise men of Babylon could neither tell nor understand, “But there is a God in heaven that revealeth secrets, and maketh known to the king Nebuchadnezzar what shall be in the latter days.”
A very interesting thing happened last week, two of the best women in this church, neither knowing what the other said, said to me, “You preached a sermon many years ago on two words that linger in my soul, I wish you would preach that sermon on those two words again.” Unfortunately I did not make any notes on the sermon, and when I had the sermon looked up – it was gone – I guess it’s all right.
Those two words – I counted them at one time – and they occur 252 times in the whole Bible – there may be more than that number.
The two words are found in the four Scriptures which I read to you.
First, found in Ephesians 2:4.
Second, found in Gen. 50:20.
Third, found in I Cor. 15:38.
Fourth, found in Daniel 2.28.
Around these four statements can be summed up all the destiny of the soul of man.
There are four things that a man needs:
- He needs salvation.
- He needs comfort and grace in the struggles of life.
- He needs to have an answer to the question of what is beyond this life.
- He needs to understand what is going on in this present turbulent world.
If you answer those four questions you will have a true philosophy of life.
I repeat them.
1st. A man must know that he is saved-Saved from something to something – Saved from sin to righteousness. – Saved from hell to heaven. – Saved from death to life; and
2nd. After he is saved he must have the answer to the problems of suffering in this world; in other words, a daily supply for his needs as he journeys through this pilgrimage here below; and
3rd. When he looks into the open grave he must have an answer to, “Is there a life beyond this life?”
4th. When he sees that all civilization is going down, governments crashing right and left, he must understand that there is the Hand that guides it all.
The first of these expressions is found in Ephesians 2:4, “But God” – as I said before I counted them once, and they occur 252 times, I marked them in my Bible, but it was lost in the fire.
That chapter begins, “And you hath he quickened, who were dead in trespasses and sins: Wherein in times past ye walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that now worketh in the children of disobedience: Among whom also we all had our conversation in times past in the lusts of our flesh, fulfilling the desires of the flesh and of the mind; and were by nature the children of wrath, even as others. But God, who is rich in mercy, for his great love wherewith he loved us, Even when we were dead in sins, hath quickened us together with Christ, (By grace ye are saved;) And hath raised us up together, and made us sit together in heavenly places in Christ Jesus; That in the ages to come he might shew the exceeding riches of his grace in his kindness toward us through Christ Jesus. For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God: Not of works, lest any man should boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God before ordained that we should walk in them.”
There is our salvation – as I said to a dearly beloved friend a while ago, when we walk through the pearly gates wondering angels will say, “How did you get here, you so great a sinner?”, our answer will be “By the grace of God” – By grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God.” – and in a world that shall never see the setting sun, we will join the innumerable throng in singing,
"When we've been there ten thousand years,
Bright shining as the sun,
We've no less time to sing His praise,
Than when we first begun."
Then we will know the height and the depth of the exceeding riches of His grace, and the meaning of the language of Paul when he said, “That in the ages to come he might shew the exceeding riches of his grace in his kindness toward us through Christ Jesus.”
Then this glorious sunlit text of Scripture, – after it describes the darkness of death, “Wherein in time past ye walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that now worketh in the children of disobedience; Among whom also we all had our conversation in times past in the lusts of our flesh, fulfilling the desires of the flesh and of the mind; and were by nature the children of wrath, even as others” – born in sin, doomed to die-helpless-then like an over arching rainbow on the bosom of the storm, these words: “But God.”
Over the guiltiest sinner that ever stumbled and fell arches the word of grace:
“But God”, in contrast, not the work our puny hands can do, not the rivers of briny tears that might come unbidden from our anxious souls, “But God,” the Great, the Man, the Omnipotent, the Everlasting One has a listening ear, a forgiving heart, He who is rich in mercy, forgives and makes us His.
That is the first thing we need – Our salvation.
"With broken heart and contrite sigh,
A trembling sinner, Lord, I cry:
Thy pardoning grace is rich and free:
O God, be merciful to me.
I smite upon my troubled breast,
With deep and conscious guilt oppressed;
Christ and His cross my only plea:
O God, be merciful to me.
Far off I stand with tearful eyes,
Nor dare uplift them to the skies;
But Thou doest all my anguish see:
O God, be merciful to me.
Nor alms, nor deeds that I have done,
Can for a single sin atone;
To Calvary alone I flee:
O God, be merciful to me.
And when, redeemed from sin and hell,
With all the ransomed throng I dwell,
My raptured song shall ever be,
God has been merciful to me."
Second: Having been saved we are on our wilderness journey – with many troubles we do not understand – the problems of suffering never will be understood.
Some sorrows come because of our own misdeeds. Only a few minutes ago I saw the quivering, trembling, broken, weeping form of a little wife and mother. The worst thing that could happen to a wife is to have a drunken husband; he not only breaks her heart, but he takes the stars out of her sky. This particular case, like millions of others, has been of long standing through the years. Tell me not her sufferings are for any wrong she has done; it is because of another. Therefore, we have to come and plant our feet on the Rock in the midst of the storms of life.
Here is a most outstanding case: Joseph, loved of his father, envied, and hated by his brothers – and that is a sure way to earn the hate of some of the people (and preachers) – if you are especially blessed or have a little more success, there are some people who will never forgive you for it – You recall the tragic story of how they took him and put him in the pit; how they brought him down to the Egyptian slave market; how Potiphar’s wife conspired and schemed to wreck and ruin him, and preferred false indictment against him for which he was put behind prison bars for two years, “But God!” –
“But God” was with him when the hour came for him to interpret Pharaoh’s dream of seven years of plenty followed by seven years of famine – Oh, to God that somebody in Washington had as much sense as Joseph! – Now some of you are not going to like that, but if you knew how little I care what somebody says – well, you wouldn’t say them – you just say what you please and I will say what I please, that is the way to get along – Oh, that somebody instead of destroying the crops of America had had the sense of Joseph, we would have plenty during this time of drought! (Applause.)
I will show you tonight how the judgment of God is on America because of it.
At last when the famine drove the brothers of Joseph to his throne, and old Jacob died-the brothers came together and they said – their guilty conscience was at work – “he will kill us now that our father is dead,” and when they came and stood before him, and asked forgiveness, Joseph said, “But as for you, ye thought evil against me; but God!” – “Ye meant to do me evil when you put me in that pit – I cried all night; and when those iron bars clanked behind me and left me alone – ye meant to do me evil. ‘But God!’ You didn’t reckon with God, but I did. Let me tell you something, brothers, God was with me that first night in the old dark pit – He whispered, ‘Don’t be uneasy Joseph’ – When you sold me, God said, ‘Don’t be afraid’ – Oh, brothers, God and I have a special understanding you fellows didn’t know anything about. Ye meant to do me harm, but I am the head of the empire now; I forgive you – Ye meant to do me evil, but God.”
I am going to give you a very interesting story that happened since I was last here – the next time I come to the pulpit I am going to bring me a towel (mopping perspiration) – Last year when I went to Detroit – there are three great daily papers there, either one of which has a larger circulation than all the daily papers here put together. The editor of one of these papers went to see the other two and said, “Let’s put a boycott on Frank Norris. He stirs up trouble everywhere he goes, and the only way to stop him is to put a boycott on him. Boycott him and he won’t be here long. He won’t get any crowds and he will have to leave, but let him get loose here, give him publicity, and he will stir up trouble.”
One of the papers, instead of putting on a boycott went back and published a lot of things that had happened here, for the past 25 years – well I didn’t say anything about it – then there came out another story about me – wel1 I went to see the head of that paper who is a Roman Catholic, but he is very big hearted. I said, “Now if you are making anything by that, all right.”
He said, “I pay very little attention to the news department, but I think you are right about it.”
And the next Sunday morning there came out, in double column, a very flattering write up about me. From then on up to last Saturday there were fine reports made in the Detroit Times, and soon the other papers began to do likewise. The Detroit Free Press, one of the great dailies, is owned by one man, Mr. Ed Stair. He wrote me a letter, and very kindly said he hoped my stay there would be profitable. He and I had a very happy visit afterward. – About a month ago our annual report was carried to the Free Press and they didn’t publish it. I said, “Well that’s funny.” – and two or three things like that happened – so two weeks ago Mr. Entzminger carried my address down to the paper. He thought it would be a good piece of news, and the city editor, named Barnhardt, lit in and said some severe things about me. Mr. Entzminger told me what he said.
I said, “That accounts for some things.”
The next morning I went into Mr. Ed Stair’s office on the 13th floor of the Free Press Building – a newspaper that has 300,000 circulation.
I said, “I have come here to take up a matter with you, that I don’t believe you know about. There has been a certain amount of prejudice.”
He said, “I know all about it, and I am not going to stand for it. Anything you send down here, mark it personal to me.”
And now the three papers come out with news and headlines – “Ye meant it for evil, but God!”
That’s what happened; nothing to boast of, but the God of Joseph lives today as of old! That is just a commentary on Romans 8:28, “And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose.” – Sometimes we may not understand, but just await God’s purpose.
Third, after we have been saved, after we have gone through this life, we hear the breakers roar, and we wonder about the crossing ahead – we would like to know – I Cor. 15:38, “But God giveth it a body as it hath pleased him, and to every seed his own body.”
Two illustrations are sufficient I think. Years ago when crossing the old Coosa River in Alabama, as a boy only eleven years old, -another boy and I were driving two mule teams. As we went down on the old ferry boat I was afraid I would drive off of it – I was scared of the water – When we were on, the old ferryman unhitched a chain from a big tree on the bank, threw it on the flat bottom ferry and out we started – First thing I knew the old boat began to move and soon began to turn around. I was scared. The mules were scared – you know a mule gets scared when he gets out of place – the first thing I knew instead of crossing the river as I thought we should, we were going down the river – down and down we went, the trees were passing on either side – I said to myself, now that old ferryman has taken a drink, and he doesn’t know where we are going – I could hear the roar of the falls a short distance below – I thought, I can’t swim, but I will unhitch one of the mules and hold on to him – I was scared. That old ferryman let the boat drift – and after a while he put out an oar and began to paddle, first on one side, then stroke on the other side – and the first thing I knew we came right up to the bank on the other side where there was a graveled road, and the man walked off and threw that chain around a big tree, and we drove off, safe and sound.
Oh, I have seen that a million times – sometimes I wonder whether or not my little boat will make the landing – sometimes it begins to whirl around and drift down, and sometimes there is a dreadful load – sometimes I begin to cry – sometimes I feel God himself has forsaken – sometimes I can’t see the Pilot – sometimes darkness overtakes. “But God!” is on board, and my little ferry boat will land safe on the other side! (Shoutings.)
A few days ago a very great tragedy happened – a four year old boy was on the Boulevard where there are two streets, with a strip of grass and trees which separate them – this little boy was playing with some children and they would run up and down and across – this four year old child ran behind one of the cars, just in time to be crushed to death by a powerful truck. His little body was so mangled they could not open the casket. He was the only child of this father and mother. The mother was a devout Christian, the father an unbeliever. He said, “It’s a new world, what shall I do? – When I go home in the evening and he doesn’t stand on the porch to meet me, what shall I do? – When I leave in the morning and don’t feel his embrace, tell me will I ever see him again?”
Thanks be unto God, Jesus will raise him up in the morning of the resurrection!
“But There Is a God”
This last word – There was a terrible condition, all the world was going to pieces, the king was in distress, Babylon was in confusion, all the wise men couldn’t tell what was going on. Daniel was in bed, but God revealed the secret to Daniel and when he stood before that old Pagan king here is the word, “But there is a God in heaven that reveals the secrets, and maketh known to the king Nebuchadnezzar what shall be in the latter days.”
So today beloved, I tell you there is a God – I don’t understand the things that come, none of us can, but I believe profoundly that God, the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, has called me to do a specific work.
I stood the other day, yonder in upper New York state, when the thermometer was 104 degrees, and spoke to a great crowd of preachers who came from a long distance – when the afternoon session was over every thread on my body was wringing wet – a preacher whose hair was white – looked like he was past sixty, but he was just a little past forty, came to me and said, “I know you are tired, but I would like to have five minutes with you.”
I said, “You can have more.” I was rooming in Mrs. Miller’s home next to the church, and I said to him, “Come on and go with me to my room while I bathe and change clothes and we can talk.”
He did, and when he sat down in that room he bowed his head in his hands and poured out his soul, and said, “Oh God! Oh, God! I wish I had heard that message ten years ago.”
What had happened? He had come into a great tragedy, the devil had defeated him, and (as is the trouble so often) the deacons who ought to have stood by him stabbed him in the back. He was a heart broken man. His wife’s health was gone; his children had lost their faith in God because of what the church had done to him. I crossed over, put my arm around him and said, “God still lives” –
He said, “I know He does, but He has turned His face forever from me.” – I said, “He has not turned His face from you” – “He never did turn from one of His, when he gets down in the depths and cries out ‘Lord help, help, help!’ – That is what He has been wanting to hear.” And we had a season of prayer.
I received a letter from him and a good church he never thought of called him to be the pastor. He is one of the happiest men in the country. He says, “Come on and help me celebrate.”
God has called me to do that kind of thing. I want you to understand I am not going to forsake you. No. But God has prepared me to do that kind of thing.
I believe one of two things is going to happen – we are going to have a great revival, or Jesus Christ is soon coming again. There isn’t any doubt about it.
That thing in Spain may be the spark that will set off the conflagration – You read in the papers where France is ready to go to the help of the Communists. If they do Italy and Germany will go to the help of the other crowd.
I sent George, who as you know is aboard the Battleship Oklahoma which has been ordered to the rescue of American citizens in Spain – I sent a cablegram out of an anxious father’s heart, and asked him to cable at my expense – the answer was that I couldn’t send him a cablegram and he couldn’t send me one.
The condition, my friends, is terrible, but there is a God in heaven, and God knows what is going on, and God is going to take care of George. (Voices: Amen.)
Four things we need to know.
- But God,” reaches down and saves us.
- “But God” overrules everything to His glory and for our good.
- “But God”, in the morning of the resurrection gives us a new body, robs death of its sting, and the grave of its victory.
- “But God” even knows the workings of evil men and will bring their counsel to naught.
Oh, to God we knew how to sing those words our fathers and mothers used to sing, that martyrs inscribed on prison cells, and indelibly traced with their rich red blood:
"God moves in a mysterious way
His wonders to perform;
He plants his footsteps in the sea,
And rides upon the storm.
Deep in unfathonable mines
Of never-failing skill,
He treasures up his bright designs,
And works his sovereign will.
Ye fearful saints, fresh courage take;
The clouds ye so much dread
Are big with mercy, and shall break
In blessings on your head.
Judge not the Lord by feeble sense,
But trust him for his grace;
Behind a frowning providence
He hides a smiling face.
His purposes will ripen fast,
Unfolding every hour;
The bud may have a bitter taste,
But sweet will be the flower.
Blind unbelief is sure to err,
And scan his work in vain:
God is his own interpreter,
And he will make it plain.
Speaking of George, I would rather have this reward than anything I know. I had a letter from George the other day, and he said:
“I am on the other side, but I want you to know that I believe in the Bible I learned at home, and in the First Baptist Church, and when I come back I want to tell them that I have still that faith, and I want you to know, although far away, every night when I read the Bible and kneel and pray, my last word is “Oh God, bless dear old Dad as he works so hard, give him strength, and may I – when he is broken down – may I be a joy and a comfort to him’.”
But God lives!
Let us stand.
(Large numbers were saved and came into the church. The whole congregation broke and came to the platform and there were shoutings and rejoicings and streaming tears. Mr. John Hope stepped to the microphone and reported to the outside world what was going on. It was one o’clock when that scene, the greatest ever witnessed in the First Baptist Church, was over.)
[Note – based on the story about George Norris being on board the U.S.S. Oklahoma during the Spanish Civil War, it appears this sermon was delivered in 1936.]