By Ron Halbrook
(A Reflection On Franklin Puckett’s Passing)
Awake, young men, and fill in the gaps! Now is a time to sing with understanding, “Soldiers of Christ, arise, And put your armor on; Strong in the strength which God supplies, Strong in the strength which God supplies Thro’ His beloved Son.” That song should be a constant prayer of God’s people. Yet this is a time when we can well afford to be especially conscious of its need.
At 2:07 A.M. this morning (January 16, 1975), Brother Franklin Puckett of Florence, Alabama, laid down his sword and rested from his labors. His death follows a massive heart attack several weeks ago. When I first received word of that attack with the expectation of impending death, something forced itself immediately into my mind. It was the memory of a serious discussion with Brother Puckett in the not-so-distant past.
In the discussion, Brother Puckett was recalling what an able, educated, articulate, young preacher and scribe had told him in recent times. They were exchanging thoughts on whether preaching should be positive or negative or both, whether it should be “distinctive” or “tolerant.” Brother Puckett related to me with genuine sadness and deep concern how the young man made one thing perfectly clear. He let brother Puckett know the time was coming when his style of preaching would pass off the scene. Already the older men were passing and younger men arising to take their places-men of broader views and more tolerant sentiments. In other words, this young preacher felt it was not necessary to say much publicly in direct opposition to the kind of preaching done by men like Brother Puckett. It was sufficient to let time and nature remove such men from the pulpits. After the passing of several years, such men would quietly and unobtrusively be replaced by broader, more tolerant spirits. That, then, is the hope entertained by some in the church today.
“One generation passeth away, and another generation cometh: but the earth abideth for ever” (Eccl. 1:4). It is certain that time will remove an older generation of preachers from the scene. But does that mean that good, plain, direct gospel preaching (such as was done by Brother Puckett) will pass with them, to be replaced by something less distinctive and more tolerant??? That depends, dear reader, on you and me-especially those of us who are younger in years. It depends very much, as well, on older and more experienced men who are laboring in the fields today.
Just when Israel needed most to hear teaching on the distinctive nature of divine religion as opposed to human, and on specific sins being tolerated in daily living, she was treated instead to “broader views” and “more tolerant” sentiments. Ezekiel said of her prophets, “Ye have not gone up into the gaps, neither made up the hedge for the house of Israel to stand in the battle in the day of the Lord” (13:1-16). These prophets were cunning as “foxes in the deserts,” lacking in courage and plainness, and said, “The Lord saith . . . ,” when He had not spoken (vv. 4,5,6). “. . . they have seduced my people, saying, Peace; and there was no peace; and one built up a wall, and, lo, others daubed it with untempered mortar . . . . So will I break down the wall that ye have daubed with untempered mortar . . . . Thus will I accomplish my wrath upon the wall, and upon them that have daubed it with untempered mortar . . . to wit, the prophets of Israel which prophesy concerning Jerusalem and which see visions of peace for her, and there is no peace, saith the Lord” (vv. 10-16). The wall thrown up by false teaching was defective both in workmanship and materials, but it was whitewashed “to hide its defects and give it a semblance of solidity. They come, that is, with smooth words and promises of peace” (Pulpit Commentary).
Distinctive presentation of truth and scathing denunciation of error is not much appreciated in some quarters today. The awful sinfulness of sin and the awesome perils of false doctrine are being whitewashed. Someone has suggested these perils which accompany false doctrine: (1) carnal ambition, (2) self-assumption, (3) sophistical arts of speech, (4) lack of courage, (5) final collapse and defeat (“The frog that would swell its dimensions to the size of a bull destroyed itself.”). This failure to uphold the truth in all its distinctive features and fullness is crucial! Ezekiel points out concerning the weak-as-water prophets, “They have not taken their place in the breach, they have not helped in the defense of the city, they have not stood in the van of the battle, when the enemy has made an assault. Here is the practical test, which reveals the worthlessness” of all their claims and professions of loving the truth (Ibid., emph. added, RH).
“There were breaches in the walls of Jerusalem, literally and spiritually . . . .” But in the face of “arduous toil” and “serious danger,” the false prophets “were conspicuous by their absence. Truth makes men at all times courageous, but falsehood corrodes the metal of a man’s bravery. These pretentious prophets desired the honor and advantage; the risks they devolved on others” (Ibid., emph. added, RH). It is ever characteristic of such teachers to bide their time in a bid for advantage. It is never characteristic of them to face crucial issues at the risk of some imagined honor or ambition. A message of “peace and brotherhood” is “all the rage” with such men. They hope to multiply their number by the sugary seeds of sweet sentimentality and judicious silence. Such men today do not rise to stand in the gaps, but make themselves conspicuous by their absence in the face of danger, denominationalism, and false doctrine.
God’s people in the long ago needed exactly what God’s people need today. “Cry aloud, spare not, lift up thy voice like a trumpet, and show my people their transgression, and the house of Jacob their sins.” As the seed falls into good and honest hearts, others will rise up in faith and courage to join in rebuilding “the old waste places: thou shalt raise up the foundations of many generations; and thou shalt be called, The repairer of the breach, The restorer of paths to dwell in” (Isa. 58:1-12).
Men like Brother Franklin Puckett have been standing in the gaps left by others who passed off the scene in days gone by. He was standing and planning to stand and calling others to stand right up until the end. The class for young preachers he was planning on Calvinism for February 25-March 7 of this year is just evidence. Who will arise as he and others pass off the scene today? Will it be those who are unwilling to go up “into the gaps . . . for the house of Israel to stand in the battle”? Such men are biding their time and sowing their seed toward that end, as one of them made abundantly clear to Brother Puckett himself. Will there not be others-and by “others,” I mean you and me, dear reader-who will say, “Here am I, Lord, send me”? (Isa. 6:8).
Let us who are young pledge ourselves to fill in the gaps, no matter what the cost. We dare not do it simply in memory of a mortal man like Brother Puckett, but his passing can justly force us to see the need, and to ask, “If I will not go, who will?” Not merely to perpetuate “a great tradition,” but because the same God who called Franklin Puckett to preach the gospel is calling young men today to preach the same gospel. Awake, young men, and fill in the gaps!
Truth Magazine XIX: 15, pp. 237-238
February 20, 1975