Benjamin Franklin and Preachers

Cecil Willis
Akron, Ohio

Recently I had the leisure during a gospel meeting in Louisville to read the interesting new book, THEY HEARD HIM GLADLY, by Brother Otis L. Castleberry. The book is about the pioneer preacher, Benjamin Franklin, the nephew of the statesman and scientist by the same name. One of the chapters of the book gives Brother Franklin's comments, randomly made over a lifetime, about gospel preachers. Many of these observations are not only pertinent and impressive, but they are much needed today.

I have given heading titles to these remarks. An unfortunate weakness of Brother Castleberry's otherwise very good book is its lack of documentation. I therefore cannot give the original sources from which these quotations are taken. But they are nevertheless good. He gives us preachers some things to think about, and his remarks shall certainly occasion some soul searching.

Humble Men

"We have lately been reflecting upon an opportunity for doing great good perfectly within our reach, to which many are paying but little attention. Who among our brethren are thinking how many humble, unassuming and comparatively obscure men we have, who are actually doing it at their own charges, but doing it without thanks or even credit from their brethren? While we are paying much attention to a few men of popularity, influence and fame, we are overlooking a large number of the best, truest, most self-sacrificing men the Lord has given us. These, too, are the men who are doing the main body of the work, and they are the main supports of the cause. They are men of good sense, piety and devotion; men of excellent character, an honor to the cause and a credit to the brotherhood, who are penetrating the private neighborhoods, preaching in private houses, school houses, barns, shops and open groves, and bringing thousands to the fold every year; and in the place of the brethren making any arrangement to support them, or even saying anything to encourage them, they are saying discouraging things of them, such as that 'they can't preach--they are little preachers,' etc., etc."

Detrimental Men

"It is not inventive genius we need in the Church, nor explorers to invent something new, or to make discoveries; but we need humble and honest men, who know and love the truth and will press it on the world. We know humble men, of but limited talent and information, who are building up churches, reforming men and women, and bringing them to God. We know also men of considerable learning and talent, who do not turn a bare dozen to the Lord in a year, and who build up no churches nor anything else, but who are starting subtleties, speculations and questions to no profit, but only tend to subvert the hearer."

Suitable Men

"Men brought up in school houses, fed and clothed from their father's pockets, without ever knowing what it is to earn a dollar, or a coat for their backs, without knowing anything about the hardships and buffetings of the world, no matter if they become scholars and learn to say a few fine things, never will and never can do the work we are speaking of. They have not the constitution, the physical energies to do it. They have not the knowledge of the world, the ways and manners of the people to do it. They know nothing of the toils, hardships, and burdens, of the masses of mankind; are incompetent to sympathize with them, mingle with them, become a fellow creature with them, and preach the Gospel of Salvation to them, in an acceptable and successful manner and save them. They not only are wholly incompetent, incapable, and could not, if they would; but it is not their atmosphere, not their congenial sphere, and they never will do the work in the Lord's great Evangelical field. They never have done the work, and never will."

Educated Men

"If a man's learning is combined with piety, devotion, and consecrated to Jesus Christ, and he is possessed with humility and meekness inculcated in Christianity, and his learning enables him to unfold the unsearchable riches of Christ, with the sincerity and devotion necessary to commend it to the hearts and consciences of men, it is of great value. If the Lord dwells in a man, if the great matters of the kingdom of God fill his soul, and if his learning is used in presenting the simple gospel of Christ in meekness, it may be of great service to him; but it requires much care to keep the Lord in front of it, so that the hearers will see nothing but him."

"Nine tenths of all the churches built up, owe their existence to uneducated preachers-- that is in the popular sense. It is true, if these men had all been finely educated, they might have done much more good. We are in favor of educating men as fast as possible; but we have no sympathy for discouraging the humble efforts of good men, though illiterate or uneducated."

"Education, extended information and natural ability are of immense value, when consecrated to God through Jesus Christ our Lord but for a man to assume that he is educated, and that, because he is educated, he is worthy of great consideration, while the uneducated should be frowned from his presence, when he has never succeeded in any great undertaking, nor achieved anything valuable, is an utter absurdity. What does education amount to, if it does not adapt man to the world in which he is placed and show itself in the accomplishment of anything great and good?"

Persevering Men

"He must be a man of perseverance. A man who cannot preach a week without any success, and not become discouraged, had better go home. He is not the man. It is nothing strange to preach a dozen or fifteen discourses without success. Let him preach again. If he still has no success, let him humble himself before the Lord, in most fervent prayer, and make another effort. If he shall still fail in one place, go to another, and try again. Remember N o a h, w h o preached one hundred and twenty years, without an addition, and preach on and pray on. Trust in the Lord, and work on."

Dedicated Men

"When the British general found General Marion living on roots, and his men fighting without pay, he admitted that the prospect of overcoming such men was gloomy. So, when our opposers see the glorious army of which we speak, of faithful young men struggling with only a half support, and, in some instances, not that, and behold the love for the gospel, the Lord Jesus and their fellowmen that impels them on; and when they witness their determination, zeal and energy; that they cannot be discouraged, disheartened, and turned back, they give up all ideas of ever conquering them or withstanding them."

Part-Time Men

"Not that we are left without material to make efficient evangelists--for we have got with us Rickets, Rice, Gano, Williams, Pinkerton, Rogers, and a host of others, who might take the field with as much hope of success as crowned the pioneer efforts of our early fathers. But where are these? They have suffered themselves to be counted among the non-descript class of co-operants in the kingdom of Messiah, unfortunately known as--monthly preachers--a class so universally known, too, that we shall give their character an official identity only in a single brief sentence. Authentically considered, they are one-fourth pastor, without pastoral authority; one-fourth evangelist, without evangelistic efficiency; and two fourths nothing--a fungous growth unknown to scriptural precept or scriptural example, and which we pray God may not be longer known to us--super induced by evils and errors on the part of both preachers and people as we most humbly submit."

"Can men who have the ability to preach Christ, who have tried it and know they can succeed, and whom the Lord has blessed in their efforts, turn from this great work to the pursuits of the world, at will, with impunity? We do not believe you can. It is a fearful thing for them to do so. We know men of great ability--men who can shake up society from its center to its circumference, if they will try, whose talents are measurably buried, or what is the same thing, devoted to the world. These will certainly give a most strict account."

Needed Men

"We have never seen such an opening for good since we first commenced exhorting men to repent. All the parties around us, are becoming anxious to know what we believe, and are desirous for hearing for themselves. But where are the preachers? Who is able for these things? We have plenty of talented men -- able men of excellent character; but where are they? Why then, are they not engaged in this the greatest and noblest of all the works of earth? In all other enterprises there are plenty of men; but where are the men for this grand and godlike calling? And again we exclaim, where are they? The case is, as of old, one is gone to his farm, and another to his merchandise and a third has married a wife, and therefore cannot go."

"It is the work of a Christian bishop to develop and bring out the talent in the congregation, and apply it to the work of the Lord. Here is where our preachers are to come from."

Sacrificing Men

"They know their Bible and they are devoted to it. There is a grand army of these, we believe, as true as the needle of the pole. We cannot say that there are seven thousand in the field, public preachers, but we are astonished wherever we go to find such numbers of them, and to find their firmness and determination in the faith; and to learn, too, of the sacrifices they are making and the additional sacrifices they are determined and willing to make. They are many of them living as economically as we did thirty years ago, in our incipient work of opening the way.

"The pioneer men in this country felled the trees, cleared away the forests, built their houses and barns, and made a living. Many of their sons cannot make a living with the farm and all the balance fitted to their hand. In the same ways, the first preachers went out at their own expense, turned the people to God and built up churches, and now the preachers, with their fine salaries, houses in which to meet and everything prepared to hand, are not accomplishing as much, in proportion to their number and ability. Why is this ? Is it because they cannot? Not at all. It is because they are not as devoted. They are not as enterprising. They are not as industrious. They are not as self-sacrificing."

Prepared Men

"There are two things we should like to impress on the minds of young brethren desiring to preach.

1. They must, by the assistance of the Lord, after all the aids good men can afford them, in furnishing them with the means to attend college, instructing in the regular course, or lecturing, learn to preach themselves and make preachers of themselves. To do this they must give themselves to reading, to meditation, and to the real practice of preaching the word.

2. They must know that displays of learning, knowledge, philosophy, and so on, have not one particle of power to turn the world to God and save it--that nothing but the preaching of the gospel has any power to save man--that all knowledge, except how to preach the gospel of Christ to the salvation of man, and teach the saints, so far as this great work is concerned, is nothing."

Young Men

"The main body of our young men are true and noble in the highest sense, as humble and faithful as can be found anywhere. They are studying to know and do the will of God. We are not sure that, as a class, they are not generally sounder than their instructors in the gospel."

Faithful Men

"Let every man be for the Bible, or against it; on the Lord's side, or against him; for Christianity, or nothing; for heaven, or hell. We want no man who stands in doubt. If a man cannot define his position, so that all can tell which side he is on, we have no use for him. We count no man whose position is doubtful. All men whose position is doubtful, are really on the enemy's side, and would surrender any post we have, if the opportunity would offer. We are not to be gulfed by these, nor induced to depend on them. We would greatly prefer that they stand where they belong so that all would know where to find them."

Hired Men

"They are the men who think the largest offer in money is the loudest call from God, and the call which they obey most implicitly. They can be bought and sold like sheep and oxen. God never calls such men as these. They are a burlesque on the religion of Jesus Christ; the plainness, simplicity and humility of our Lord. The idea has never entered into their heads to be servants of Jesus Christ. Their idea is to be masters. They are not thinking of obeying; unless to obey the men with the largest purses; but their idea is to be obeyed. They are not thinking of adoring, but of being adored . . . Some of these may be reformed, and others will go to their own place. They are not the men that run the world; the world runs them."

Lazy Men

"It is utterly useless for a man of idle habits, addicted to loafing, wasting his precious time in useless gossip to speak of his wants, his lack of support, or to try to induce persons of industrious habits to feel that he is in need. They will throw the whole matter off by saying, 'Let him make an effort and apply his energies, as I have to do, and he will have plenty.' But let a preacher apply himself to his calling; persevere in it, making every effort in his power; thus showing to all who know him, that his labors are actually arduous and incessant, and he will receive full credit from not only his brethren, but the community, generally, for his industry and faithfulness, and his temporal wants will as certainly receive attention, as that his work is of God."

"Men do not get support, or do much good, in any calling, without work, and there is no calling on earth where the distribution is wider, between the industrious and indolent, than in the Christian ministry. We cannot be supported in the ministry without work, and it is not right that we should be. The Lord puts us upon the same footing as other men."

"Those old preachers needed no 'innocent amusements,' 'innocent games,' 'healthful exercises,' 'pastime,' 'social dance,' 'croquet,' etc., etc. They knew nothing of torpid liver, indigestion, nervous prostration, etc., etc. Those afflictions were left for a later class. They obtained plenty of healthful exercise in clearing off, breaking and cultivating their land, in their long rides on horseback, or trips on foot, and faithfully preaching and the Lord blessed them."

Truth Magazine IX: 11, pp. 2
August 1965