DALLAS (BP) — Jack Pogue grew up in a liberal Protestant church where “I never heard an altar call, I never heard an invitation, I never heard how to be saved.”
Pogue, a Dallas real estate broker — recounting what led to his close friendship with the legendary preacher W.A. Criswell — said he had stopped going to church but later became acquainted with “an old cattleman down in East Texas” who challenged him to start going to church again, to pray and to read the Bible.
“I started reading the Bible and came to church here in Dallas,” Pogue said. “The church I was in was very liberal, but I had started reading the Bible, and I never missed a day. As I read that Bible, I wanted to be in a church where the pastor preached from the Bible, not on the social issues of the day, not why alcoholics are alcoholics, not how bad the government was.
“I wanted to learn what God said. I just wanted to be in a church where the preacher was preaching from the Bible because he could preach from any verse and it would help me,” Pogue said.
One of Pogue’s friends at the time, Jim Ray Smith, was a deacon at First Baptist Church in Dallas, where Criswell was pastor for a half-century. Whenever Smith came by his office, Pogue would ask about Bible passages he was finding difficult or hard to understand.
“I said, ‘What does it mean in the Bible when it says this?’ I had read it that morning, and Jim Ray would always say, ‘Well, Dr. Criswell says it means this. Dr. Criswell says it means that.’ It went on day after day.
“Finally, one day I said to Jim Ray, ‘Who is Dr. Criswell?’ I didn’t know who he was. And he said, ‘He’s the pastor of the First Baptist Church, and you ought to come and hear him preach someday.’
“So one day I decided if I’m ever going to learn what God means in the Bible, I’ve got to get in a church where the preacher is preaching from the Word of God,” Pogue said. “So one Sunday without telling anybody, I went to the First Baptist Church.”
When Criswell got up to preach, he said, as Pogue recalled, “‘Before I preach my sermon, I want to say something. I have been your pastor for 30 years’ — or 35 or whatever number of years it was — ‘and every sermon I’ve ever preached has been from the pages of this holy book.’
“Then he held up that Bible and he said, ‘I promise you as long as I am your pastor, every sermon I will ever preach will be from the pages of this Holy Bible,'” Pogue said. “And when he said that, the Lord spoke in my heart that ‘This is where I want you. I want you in this church under this pastor.'”
Criswell enlisted Pogue as a church member to help negotiate some real estate deals for the church as it grew, and the two developed a friendship. Criswell lived with Pogue most of the last four years of his life and died in Pogue’s house.
“I happen to think that Dr. Criswell is the greatest preacher who ever lived,” Pogue said. “From the time he was a little boy of 9 years of age until he died at 92 years of age, he had his eyes on Jesus, on the cross, and on lost souls. His last words, coming momentarily out of a coma were, ‘Oh, are you here for the revival?’ As sick as he was and as close to death as he was and as medicated as he was, he still had his eyes on Jesus, on the cross and on lost people. He went to be with Jesus two days later.”
Because Pogue knows that millions of people are like he was, not knowing how to be saved, he established the W.A. Criswell Foundation and its W.A. Criswell Sermon Library, an online collection of more than 4,000 of Criswell’s sermons in audio and video form. Also available are transcripts and handwritten notes corresponding to the sermons. The sermon library can be accessed, free of charge, at wacriswell.com. The foundation also is in the process of establishing W.A. Criswell chairs for expository preaching at four Southern Baptist seminaries.
Criswell, who lived from 1909 to 2002, was a former president of the SBC and patriarch of the Conservative Resurgence. He preached more than 5,000 sermons at First Baptist and founded Criswell College there. Criswell held a doctorate from Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Ky., and published 54 books.
Erin Roach is assistant editor of Baptist Press. Get Baptist Press headlines and breaking news on Twitter (@BaptistPress), Facebook (Facebook.com/BaptistPress) and in your email (baptistpress.com/SubscribeBP.asp).