Letters To Young Preachers (2)
Dear brethren __________ and __________,
Your letters to me, printed in the July 4, 1985, issue of Guardian of Truth, were appreciated greatly. In this "letter" to you, I will especially address only one of you. In planning to write five or six "letters" in this series, there will be matters discussed which each of you suggested or raised in your letters to me. It is my hope and prayer that by publicly printing your letters, and mine to you, that the cause of Christ may be benefitted and well-served as brethren read and think on these things.
Your letter, brother ___________, seems to convey your great discouragements as you set out to be a "full-time" preacher, with all the sincerity and zeal which should accompany preaching the gospel, whether we are younger or older. Yet because of the initial discouragements which came to you, and which come to all preachers who really try to do God's work of preaching the truth, you have chosen to "never be a full-time preacher again," unless you are financially independent. You have gone back to college to work "on my master's degree," and to "preach part-time with the brethren" in _________, Texas.
I doubt, brother __________, that you gave yourself enough time as a "full-time" preacher to really understand the life, work and problems of a preacher, to learn how to deal with discouragements and problems, and, on the other hand, to know and realize the blessings and joys that come to those who fully give themselves to the Lord's work. I am now in my thirty-ninth year of preaching Christ in this world, thirty-six of those years being in "full-time" work as a "full-time" preacher, fully and completely supported by wages from my brethren. (I have never had any business or sources of income in addition to wages paid to me by brethren. More on this later.) In looking back over those years now, from the vantage point of more maturity, understanding, and experience, I know for sure that the joys have far outweighed the sorrows, the friends are far more numerous than the enemies, the blessings of God far greater than any sacrifices I have made, and the encouragements from kind, loving brethren to do my best have far exceeded the discouragements of unthinking, unkind brethren who would hurt if they could. The Lord has blessed me a hundred-fold as He promised. "There is no man that hath left house, or brethren, or sisters, or father, or mother, or wife, or children, or lands, for my sake, and the gospel's, but he shall receive an hundredfold now in this time, houses, and brethren, and sisters, and mothers, and children, and lands, with persecutions; and in the world to come eternal life" (Mk. 10:28-30). 1 believe all faithful preachers of age and experience can and would say the same.
Yet, as a young preacher, like you, I had so many discouragements. People whom I loved and trusted proved untrue in many cases. Brethren turned against me in various places and at times when my intentions only were to preach the truth, save souls and build the church of Christ, and when I only wanted to do good to and for those people. I, and other preachers of my age and time, caught the full fury of the liberal-institutional-orphan home-college in the budget-Herald of Truth-centralization of churches and funds-social gospel-modernism controversies in the late forties, and through the fifties and sixties. As young preachers, inexperienced, so many of us had to learn so quickly, preach and teach on these issues, take a stand and fight, and then suffer the consequences of loving Christ, His truth and His church more than the wisdom, praises and institutions of men. To be fired for preaching the truth, to have wages cut off, to have meetings cancelled (I had seventeen meetings cancelled in 1958-60), to be ostracized, black-balled and quarantined by churches and brethren who had previously been close friends and beloved brethren in the Lord, brethren whose homes, hearths and hearts had been so freely given and shared, and then to be treated as a heathen and enemy by such brethren made for most-trying times for so many of us. In fact, about 1953-54, when I had preached for six or seven years, I became so discouraged with all that was happening in the churches and among the brethren and to me personally, that I seriously thought of quitting preaching, going back to college and completing my pre-medical studies, and trying to be a doctor. A kinsman offered to pay my way, all my expenses, even with my wife and child, if I would do so. But I didn't. My wife would have none of it and stood her ground that I must preach. I have never since regretted that decision. These experiences were a part of maturing and enduring, and were beneficial to me. Yet, at the time, like chastisement (Heb. 12:5-11), none of these problems and events seemed to be joyous or helpful. Yet, in time, they yielded the joys and "peaceable fruit of righteousness" which our loving Father intends (Heb. 12:11).
I said all of this, brother _________, not to give you a history nor to claim any hardships more than others, but just to let you see that all of us, all brethren, and especially preachers, have trials and temptations, difficulties, and problems. We must learn to face them and overcome them. None of us, younger or older, ever escapes them. We all need to face and defeat discouragements that beset us so we can learn patience and wisdom, and cultivate the hope which our God and Father desires, so we can have a crown of life at the last day (Rom. 5:1-8; Jas. 2:1-12; 2 Tim. 4:5-8, Rom. 8:24-25). There are still times in my life when I become discouraged and heartsick when I see sin and unnecessary strife, divisions, ill-will and fightings among so-called "sound" and "conservative" brethren who once stood shoulder to shoulder, as one man, in the truth and in vital controversies which really were worth fighting for. Now so many brethren are fighting over foolish ideas and opinions, and majoring in minors. If I were a young preacher at the present time, I imagine I would be far more discouraged over these divisive matters than I was thirty-five and forty years ago over those far-reaching digressions from God's word. With the prophet I still sometimes want to say, "Oh that I had in the wilderness a lodging place of wayfaring men; that I might leave my people and go from them" (Jer. 9:2). Yet never do I entertain the idea of quitting or changing or doing less than the best I can. To do that would mean the loss of eternal life, for which "we both labor and suffer reproach, because we trust in the living God, who is the Savior of all men, specially of those that believe" (1 Tim. 4:10).
I know your uncles and your cousin, brother ________, and I know they are men who have suffered for righteousness' sake, in hard places, one of them overseas for many years, doing the work of evangelists. Two of them are "full-time" preachers; one is a "part-time" preacher, as you now refer to yourself (more on these distinctions later). I know that the "part-time" preacher uncle of yours may be even now considering going back into "full-time" preaching. And I hope he does I All good men, giving all the time they possibly can find for study, visiting, working and preaching, are greatly needed.
More than any of us now, and more than any preacher since the apostolic period, were those great men of faith and obedience of old who suffered oppositions and endured persecutions in their lifetimes, yet they never turned back. I doubt anyone ever encountered more oppositions nor became more discouraged than Elijah and Jeremiah. Only our Lord Himself was opposed more, enduring even to the shedding of His precious blood. I try to remember the trials and temptations of Enoch, Noah, Abel, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Moses, Joshua, Samuel, David, Hezekiah, Josiah, Elijah, Elisha, Jeremiah, John the immerser, the apostles, Paul, and more than all, the Son of God Himself, our Savior. Had they not endured all things, had they become discouraged to the point of turning back or doing less than they could, they would have failed and we would be unsaved, lost forever in the endless eternity of a devil's hell. If the afflictions of the great apostle to the Gentiles were "light," how much more are ours infinitesimally so (2 Cor. 4:16-18). In all our national history, the United States of America has been by far the most materially blessed country which has ever existed, and the Christian in America, at any time, has been the most materially blessed person who has ever lived. But so many of us forget (or perhaps we never learned) that 6 'unto whomsoever much is given, of him shall be much required" (Lk. 12:48; Mt. 13:12). We never really have any great problems which God our Father cannot solve if we are devoted and entirely faithful to Him. We have never faced what the early pioneer preachers and brethren encountered in our own country, let alone other countries of the world. Materialism, to a great degree, blinds us to reality.
I do not mean to imply, brother __________, that a man must be a "full-time" preacher in order to serve the Lord and go to heaven. Every Christian must be a "full-time" child of God, putting the King and His kingdom first in her heart, life and work. Whether in the office, in industry, in school, on the farm, in the store, in the truck, on the highway, in the professional building, etc., he must be faithful and true to Him who called us to partake of His glory. "But rejoice, inasmuch as ye are partakers of Christ's sufferings; that, when his glory shall be revealed, ye may be glad also with exceeding joy" (1 Pet. 4:13; 2 Pet. 1:3-14; Heb. 12:10; 2 Cor. 1:7; Col. 1: 12). Yet the work of Jesus more and more needs to be done as the world becomes more sinful and people are multiplied upon the earth. Never have there been more people, souls in the world and therefore the increased need for laborers, preachers, students, elders, teachers, and all Christians giving all the time and effort they possibly can directly to the work of Christ.
In my own thinking and vocabulary, I've tried not to incorporate the terms "full-time" and "part-time" preacher. I know, and have known, men who work with their hands for their own livelihood, yet find more time to study, preach, visit, debate, and do personal work than many "full-time" men do. I know, and have known, many men who give their complete interests and time to study, preaching, visiting and working for Christ, and who depend upon brethren and churches for their livelihood (1 Cor. 9:1-19; Gal. 6:6; Acts 18:1-3; 20:33-35; 2 Cor. 11:8-9; Phil. 4:14-18). 1 fault no one in the path they choose and the route they take in life. (Truthfully, I have at times wished I was financially independent, and not dependent upon the brethren for wages and a livelihood.) Some "part-time" preachers and some "fulltime" ones are lazy, trifling, and indolent. But I do know that every one of us shall give account to God at the judgment bar of Jesus for our time, abilities, work and attitude toward Jesus and His kingdom (Matt. 25:1-13; Rev. 20:11-15; Ecc. 12:13-14; 2 Cor. 5:10; Rom. 14:10-12). For myself I long ago chose the course which you call "fulltime" preaching, completely dependent upon the brethren for my livelihood. I would not and could not now choose any other course. You have chosen, at present, the way of service to Christ by schooling, work or teaching for a livelihood. You hope to be an elder of a congregation sometime, somewhere, preaching the gospel all the while in these years of preparation. This is fine. I admire you and am happy for you. You can save your soul by so doing, if this use of your life and time is the very best use you can make of it, and you can render the best and fullest service to our Father in this manner.
In my observations, however, brother _____________, I have noted that it is generally true (there are exceptions) that the men who are "full-time" preachers are the ones who do the most, hardest, and best studying, the best writing, the best debating, the most teaching and preaching, and exert the most influence (for good or for bad) in the Lord's kingdom. This was true in the days of the apostles, and it has been true in the history of the church in our own country. Paul said to Timothy, "Give attendance to reading, to exhortation, to doctrine . . . Meditate upon these things; give thyself wholly to them; that thy profiting may appear to all" (1 Tim. 4:12-16). This inspired advice is the best advice. This is not to argue that such men ("full-time" preachers) are more valuable than others. I'm not saying that. But I am saying that in my judgment, in the over-all picture, the men who have the most time to use their minds, time, tongues and pens in learning and disseminating the truth of Christ, do the better job of it. So many, many brethren have told me through the years how they wish they had begun preaching I when they were younger, and wish they had given "fulltime" to the work of preaching. There are drawbacks and discouragements, problems and setbacks, no matter what we do in fife, whatever work, calling or profession we have, or try to accomplish. Even in being an elder of a congregation there are problems, as you will rind out later if you attain to your goal. Do your best. Do all you can. Be faithful, and endure hardships as a good soldier of Jesus Christ (2 Tim. 2:3-4; 1 Cor. 4:2). (To be continued.)
Guardian of Truth XXIX: 17, pp. 521-523