Preaching Christ In Gospel Journals: The Work Of Roy E. Cogdill

By Ron Halbrook

The power of the printed page as a medium of gospel preaching can be seen in the religious journalism of Roy E. Cogdill. For almost sixty years, the articles he was constantly writing were read by sinners and saints who were willing to search the Scriptures. Many thousands of people yet continue to study his books and tracts which are still in print, and not a few of us have the joy of finding his articles preserved in journals. We are not to think of men above that which is written (1 Cor. 4:6), but we are to learn from them and to emulate them-in so far as they walk by faith (Heb. 11-12). There are many good things to learn and to emulate in the journalistic endeavors of brother Cogdill.

Preaching In Journals During The 1920s-30s

Roy E. Cogdill was born 24 April 1907 and began preaching 26 November 1922 at Hobart, Oklahoma, as a young man of fifteen. He began writing almost immediately in the Herald of Truth, edited by E.M. Borden from Oklahoma City, and later wrote in the Firm Foundation. Roy Cogdill held many gospel meetings “in the open air, with an ‘acre of people’ in attendance,” and consequently developed throat problems which suspended all public speaking. Foy E. Wallace, Jr. was editing the Gospel Advocate and appointed brother Cogdill to handle Texas subscriptions, which he did from an office in Dallas (Gospel Advocate, 30 Apr. 1931, p. 516). Many subs were raised. From 30 April through 26 November 1931 he wrote the “Texas News and Notes” column.

Religious journalism was, in Cogdill’s view, “simply another effective way of preaching the gospel.” He explained that brethren ought to read gospel papers:

I have always insisted that when people are able to take the daily papers and current magazines, in which they read so much that is not fit to read, they are doing wrong to say they cannot afford our good religious papers (Gospel Advocate, 30 Apr. 1931, p. 517).

His urgent desire to spread the gospel was expressed in these words:

The tendency in the past has been too much toward the establishing of a place of worship and limiting our efforts at preaching the gospel to that particular place. Even in some of our larger towns the gospel has never been preached outside of the building of worship . . . the work has not been given the opportunity it should have and God’s word has not been spread as it should be until every particular part and community of the town has been reached…. When people do not hunt out the church house and come to bear the gospel preached, we are not relieved of our responsibility for their souls; rather, we are bound to take the gospel into their homes (Gospel Advocate, 25 June 1931, p. 773).

After visiting Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, where he had successful surgery on his throat, he was especially moved to urge brethren not to neglect the centers of great populations in preaching Christ. Since Paul went even to Athens, Corinth, and Rome, it is unthinkable that he would say of “our Northeastern cities . . . ‘Too wicked,’ ‘Too large,’ ‘Too many foreigners.'” We should not hesitate to go anywhere “scattering gospel literature and preaching on streets, in houses, from home to home, and elsewhere,” as we can find the opportunity. He concluded,

My brother, you need not worry about the right effort in spreading the gospel producing the proper results.

Countless millions wait the light whose dawning

Maketh all things new.

Christ also waits; but men are late.

Have we done what we could? Have I? Have you?

These lines ring in my ears over and over again since my visit to this city. Will we do what we can? (Gospel Advocate, 13 Aug. 1931, p. 997)

Foy E. Wallace, Jr. edited the Gospel Advocate during 1930-34, but was forced out on 5 April 1934 by personal financial problems and pressures from some prominent brethren who were displeased at his militant responses to premillennialists. The latter challenge was largely responsible for his publishing the original Gospel Guardian, a monthly which lived from October 1935 through June 1936. Never afraid to be counted when the bulwarks of truth faced attack, brother Cogdill contributed two excellent articles: “The Present Position of Jesus Christ” (Oct., 1935, p. 33) and “The First and Second Coming of Christ” (Feb., 1936, p. 27). Both were reprinted in the Guardian of Truth (15 April 1982, pp. 225, 249 and 1 July 1982, pp. 397-98). When the Gospel Guardian failed to continue because of Wallace’s financial woes, it was merged with Firm Foundation.

The Writer Becomes Printer, Publisher, And Editor

Subsequently, brother Wallace was moved to start the Bible Banner to meet premillennialism, institutionalism and centralization in the work of churches, worldliness, and others forms of compromise which threatened the spiritual health of God’s people. This paper ran as a monthly and sometime quarterly from July 1938 through April 1949. Cogdill’s articles appeared from time to time, including his material on “The Church and Worldliness” (Jan. and Feb. 1949, pp. 1-8 and 11-16 respectively). These articles reappeared in the Guardian of Truth (20 May and 3 June 1982, pp. 290-93, 308-11 and 325, 330).

The only time Roy officially edited a journal was when he started Ancient Landmarks, a subscription monthly devoted to first principles of the gospel. It was published in Houston beginning in March 1946. Roy soon moved to Lufkin and within a couple of years made Yater Tant editor. (Even after starting the Gospel Guardian, they continued publishing Ancient Landmarks as a first principles paper but finally merged the two after several years.) Roy had done some printing in a shed behind his house in Houston, but after moving to Lufkin in 1946, he bought a printing business and financed his religious publishing with commercial work. Beginning in March 1947, Cogdill took on the printing and publishing duties of the Bible Banner, and even many editorial duties although brother Wallace continued in the official capacity of editor.

In 1949 brother Wallace agreed for the Bible Banner to become the Gospel Guardian, with Yater Tant as editor and Roy Cogdill as owner. A weekly paper was needed to counter the growth of liberalism. The Firm Foundation gave permission for the Guardian’s name to be resurrected. The Cogdill Publishing Company owned the Gospel Guardian Company as a religious publishing arrangement until late 1962-early 1963 when Cogdill sold the latter to Tant.

During the 1949-63 period, Cogdill played a vital role both by writing in and by publishing the Guardian, helping thousands of brethren to study the dangers of institutionalism and centralized cooperation in the work of churches. For his help in fighting these issues, more than any other one thing, he is known and loved by brethren throughout America and around the world. The name Roy E. Cogdill stands as a monument to the militant proclamation and defense of the gospel through the papers, especially the Gospel Guardian. The volumes of the Guardian from those years when he was the guiding force are much sought after and highly prized even today. The paper passed through the hands of several editors through 1980, after which it merged with Truth Magazine (1956-80) to become the Guardian of Truth.

When Cogdill sold the Gospel Guardian Co. to Tant, Cogdill set up a separate Gospel Guardian Foundation to keep a few books in print. In 1969 the name was changed to Cogdill Foundation and Truth Magazine became a part of this Foundation. From that time until his death, he became a guiding force in Truth as a medium for the militant proclamation and defense of the gospel. So close was his relationship to editor Cecil Willis that they worked handinglove in setting the overall thrust and tone of the paper. The new editor, Mike Willis, continued to seek Cogdill’s counsel. Articles from brother Cogdill’s pen continued to appear in Truth, though with less frequency after his serious illnesses began in 1973.

In December 1980 the Board of Cogdill Foundation accepted with regret his resignation and acquiesed to his advice that the name be changed to Guardian of Truth Foundation (rather than be tied to any one individual). His counsel and encouragement played a continuing role in the paper and other operations of the foundation. He has left an indelible imprint on the lives of many people through his efforts in religious journalism. Through the influence of his past labors and through people reading his articles in future years, he shall yet be “doing the work of an evangelist” in a faithful way – always proclaiming the Savior he loves.

Looking Back Over the Decades

Brother Cogdill has often been involved in controversy, just as Jesus Christ, His apostles, early Christians, and faithful saints have been throughout history (Matt. 10:32-38). Yet he never sought a fight for its own sake nor chased every jackrabbit who jumped up from the bushes. In responding to thrusts of G.C. Brewer, Cogdill once remembered the words of Abraham Lincoln:

If I were to stop to read, much less try to answer all the false accusations and uncomplimentary things said against me, I would not have time for anything else. I decided long ago to do the best I can to do right. If in this I succeed, nothing else matters, and if in this I fail, ten angels swearing I was right would not make any difference (Bible Banner, Sept. 1948, p. 9).

Some brethren disdain all controversy and plead that they are not “temperamentally” suited for it. But our having to fight openly against sin and error to proclaim the truth is a providential means of testing and deepening our faith in God. What Price Billingsly said thirty years ago of Cogdill’s preaching 9pplied to his writing as well, including the controversial:

Best of all, the fitting climax of this impressive total, this man gave indubitable proofs of unwavering fidelity to simple New Testament truth and principle. With no Straining for effect, he appeared lost in deep concern for the truth which he spoke, in whose faithful advocacy his whole being seemed committed (Gospel Advocate, 12 Dec. 1940, p. 1181, emph. added, RH).

After “Fifty Years As A Gospel Preacher,” brother Cogdill made several observations which ought to be inscribed indelibly into the hearts of all Christians, especially of men who devote their lives to the work of an evangelist:

There have been several occasions in my life when the temptation came to turn aside from preaching and get into some profession of business that offered tempting financial reward, but it has never been a problem to make the decision that I would continue to give my full time to preaching the word of the Lord (though he “plains that a time or two he temporarily “made tents” to provide for his family, RH).

I have earnestly tried to preach and contend for what I have believed to be the truth through these years without compromise. As I face the future I pray that it may continue to be so. Nothing has been sadder to me than to witness some stalwart servant of the Lord live to reach such years in which he destroys all for which he ever stood. I pray that I may not do so.

That does not mean that I have not erred in what I have believed and taught. On more than one occasion I have found myself out of harmony with what I have learned to be the truth and been brought to alter my position to bring it in harmony with the truth I learned. I intend to continue to learn and whenever I learn anything that is contrary to what I have believed, I win make whatever change may be demanded by truth. I pray that God may continue to give me the strength to do so. It does mean, though, that my convictions and conscience have not been for sale. Personal popularity, the influence of even the closest of friends, personal ambition to be a “big preacher,” financial advantage, nor any other personal consideration has been a determining factor in any stand taken or position occupied, or in any course of action.

On the other hand, there is the persuasion that in many cases a vastly different course would have been taken had such things entered into the decision. I have never rejoiced in making enemies but I have never weighed the preaching of the gospel by the measuring of its impression or result. Preaching it has been my obligation and the results of truth belong to God (Truth Magazine, 11 Jan. 1973, pp. 151-53).

Just as John expressed joy and thanksgiving to God for brethren who “walk in truth,” we rejoice and thank God for brother Cogdill’s work of preaching Christ in gospel journals and for the lessons we learned from that work.

(This article is a revision of the one which appeared in the Guardian of Truth XXVI, 16 [17 June 1982): 365-68. My original article gave 20 Nov. 1922 as the date of his first sermon, which is the date he always gave. A note on his first sermon outline checked with a calendar shows the true date to be 26 Nov. 1922. R.H.)

Guardian of Truth XXIX: 14, pp. 438, 442-443
July 18, 1985