The Influence Of Roy E. Cogdill On Young Preachers

By Ron Halbrook

(The following is a revision of my remarks to the assembly at the Fry Rd. church of Christ, Katy, TX on 23 April 1985, the day before brother Cogdill’s 78th birthday. We came to express our love for him for helping all of us to love and serve the Lord, just as Paul commended faithful brethren by name in Colossians 4:7-18. Sitting in a wheelchair, pale and wearing a neck brace, all because of injuries received in a fall, brother Cogdill gave and received the refreshments of spiritual fellowship. Below, I excerpt letters written for this occasion; many such letters are preserved in an add-on book for future generations.)

Brother and sister Cogdill have made a deep impression on me and my family in many ways. We became especially close during his meeting of 30 July-5 August 1973 with the Broadmoor Church in Nashville, TN, where we lived. Holding our young Jonathan in his lap, brother Cogdill barked so convincingly that the puzzled boy would get down, circle the chair, and even look under it in search of the dog! The two have been fast friends ever since. The Cogdills have made us feel like a part of their family as they have exemplified Christianity through their hospitality, love, and tenderness toward us.

Steve Wolfgang of Danville, KY, who is working on a biography of Roy Cogdill, spoke for many young preachers when he said, “Roy Cogdill has ever been a end to young preachers.” This is because, Steve observed, Roy began preaching at the age of 17. Knowing well the trials “encountered by many other young men just beginning to preach,” he has blessed young preachers around the world with moral, financial, and spiritual support. Steve “can personally attest to the matchless encouragement of hearing brother Cogdill expound the Scriptures in his able manner. . . “

Militant Gospel Preaching

When I think of Roy E. Cogdill, I think of passages which emphasize the vital importance of a militant proclamation and defense of the gospel. I think of Philippians 1:17, “I am set for the defense of the gospel,” and of 1 Timothy 6:12, “Fight the good fight of faith, lay hold on eternal life.” I see a valiant soldier girding himself to do battle for the right and against all wrong. Yet, his warfare is dominated by love — love for the Lord, for the truth, for the church, and for the lost.

I think of 2 Timothy 4:2, “Preach the word; be instant in season, out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort with all longsuffering and doctrine.” How often brother Cogdill reminded me that “true gospel preaching is both positive and negative!” Contradicting a slogan which is as popular as aspirin, he warned me often that we must not so “accentuate the positive” as to “eliminate the negative.” To Roy Cogdill, Norman Vincent Peale’s over emphasis on “the positive” is appalling and the clarion call of the apostle Paul for balanced instruction is appealing.

1 Peter 4:11 comes to mind: “If any man speak, let him speak as the oracles of God.” Brother Cogdill has impressed young and old alike with the need for positive, divine authority in all that we preach and practice. How often and how well he has taught us that such authority is found in direct statement or command, apostolic example, and necessary implication. We must speak where the Bible speaks and be silent where it is. If we cannot produce “Book, chapter, and verse,” we dare not act or speak.

I think of John’s warning, “Whosoever transgresseth, and abideth not in the doctrine of Christ, hath not God. He that abideth in the doctrine of Christ, he hath both the Father and the Son,” and of the warning lest we bid God speed to false teachers (2 Jn. 9:11). When Cogdill protested Bill Banowsky’s violation of this passage, Leroy Garrett took Cogdill to task. But Garrett followed William Barclay and C.H. Dodd in the claim that John himself went too far by penning such a passage (Gospel Guardian, 6 Apr. 1967, pp. 737-38; Restoration Review, Apr. 1967, pp. 76-80; Barclay, Epistles of John; Dodd, Johannine Epistles in Moffatt N. T. Commentary). Garrett denies the inerrancy of the Scripture in fact and application (R.R., Jan. 1982, p. 218). Cogdill emphatically affirms it! That is the difference between compromisers and true gospel preachers.

I think of Jude 3, “that ye should earnestly contend for the faith which was once delivered unto the saints,” and of Galatians 1:8-9, “But though we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel unto you than that which we have preached unto you, let him be accursed. ” Brother Cogdill is not afraid to rebuke and refute false doctrine even if an angel delivers it in person, because of his love for the gospel of Christ in its purity and simplicity.

As Counselor And Friend

During 1973-74, I wrestled with my convictions and emotions in an effort to speak the truth in love so as to counteract the false teaching of Edward Fudge on grace and unity. In a few minutes one day, my wife and I listed over twenty preachers — mostly young men of our generation and personal acquaintances — who had made shipwreck of their faith because of Ed’s influence. Many others followed. My conscience required me to deal with these problems in the best way I could, but Ed and a few others charged me with personal ambition, lying, and malice. In the face of these charges, I lay awake at nights wondering and worrying about whether my motives and methods were honorable.

By the providence of God, brother Codgill became my counselor and friend during this turmoil. He explained that false teachers generate sympathy by playing the martyr, by crying crocodile tears, and by hiding beneath claims of “misunderstanding.” I asked how to deal with false doctrine in a way which would preclude such tactics on the part of a false teacher. “You can’t,” he said. “When you have to spank a baby, there is no right way to do it from the baby’s viewpoint. There arc many ways to skin a cat, but the old cat won’t think any of them is the right way to do it!” He also explained that false teachers try to intimidate you by charging you with the very things of which they themselves are guilty, such as misrepresentation and dishonesty. I will always be indebted to brother Cogdill for helping me to understand the nature of our warfare with sin and evil and every false way.

Larry Hafley, one of the finest preachers, debaters, and writers of my generation, tells of first meeting Roy Cogdill in 1968. The fledgling debater, 25 years old, preparing to meet a Pentecostal on Holy Spirit baptism, asked the veteran a few questions.

Kindly and patiently, he set forth the context, meaning and application of each text. I drank it all in, but ventured a few questions and “comebacks” from a Pentecostal perspective. Brother Cogdill deflected each negative point with ease and reset “the truth.” But I persisted, in devil’s advocate style, in attempting to reply to his arguments.

I will never forget it. Brother Cogdill was seated on a sofa, New Testament in hand. When I continued to push the Pentecostal interpretation, brother Cogdill slid from his relaxed position, took a spot on the edge of the couch, looked at me and the passage through his bi-focals, jabbed “the truth” with that meat hook of an index finger, and let me know plainly that “the truth” could not be overthrown. (Unless you have heard brother Cogdill say, “the truth,” you have not heard it said with all its royal might and eloquence.) He was not being arrogant or overbearing. He was simply unsheathing his sword and doing battle.

That day, I sensed the strength of the man and his faith, but above that I was given greater confidence in the authority of truth and righteousness.

Power Of The Printed Page

Brother Cogdill has influenced many young preachers through books and gospel journals. Mike Willis has exerted a great influence for good in editing Truth Magazine and Guardian Of Truth for nearly 10 years. He has drawn upon and emulated brother Cogdill’s depth of conviction in preaching, writing, and debating. In expressing his love and respect for brother Cogdill, what Mike said is representative of what a host of young preachers can say:

Your writings have also been helpful to me. One of the first debates I ever read was the Cogdill-Jackson Debate. As a young gospel preacher, I was exposed to the arguments and dodges of false teachers on the plan of salvation and, more important, how to answer these false teachers through this book. Later when I read the Cogdill- Woods Debate, I learned that false teachers in the church also use some of the same tactics as those outside the church, Your summation speech in that debate was especially helpful to me.

I think that I have preached every sermon in The New Testament Church on many occasions. Walking By Faith has been studied in detail on several occasions. Many of its lessons have been incorporated into sermons which I have preached in various sections of the country.

The influence of your work in gospel journals should not be neglected. As a young boy, The Gospel Guardian was available in our home. Later when I began preaching, I read the material published in Gospel Guardian and Truth Magazine. Your writings and behind-the-scenes advice in these papers were especially helpful to many of us.

Legion are the young Christians and preachers who will benefit from those same books and articles even in generations yet to come.

Realizing the influence of the printed page, I am humbled and honored to be working with brother Cogdill in editing some of his sermons for publication. A volume entitled Faith and The Faith is about ready. I have given copies of his published books to my children, knowing that this can help them to be faithful Christians, and maybe even encourage my boys to be gospel preachers. The sermons to be published pleadfor the gospel of Christ in its original purity and simplicity.

Never were such sermons more needed! It is a well documented fact that much of American religion was awash in “optimistic inspirational literature” and superficial preaching by 1960 (Ahlstrom, A Religious History of the American People, p. 1031). Historian Donald Meyer has traced the rise of religion “as therapy, as cult of reassurance, as psychology of peace and positive thinking” in The Positive Thinkers (p. xii). The popularity of Robert Schuller, current “apostle of possibility thinking” and “of sunny thoughts” (Time, 18 Mar, 1985, p. 70), confirms the analysis of an exhaustive study entitled Ministry in America-our nation is delighted with the marriage of religion to pop psychology. Modern preachers, little concerned with sound doctrine “or otherworldly values based on the teachings of the Bible,” are mesmerized “with psychological jargon, interpersonal relationships and group dynamics” (Time, 29 Sept. 1980, p. 85).

Worried about shallow preaching which produces a brief emotional glow, brother Cogdill stressed the need for preaching based on Scripture and filled with Scripture. He vividly remembered Foy E. Wallace, Jr., saying, “You don’t build strong churches with 15 minute sugar sticks.” Rather than attempting to ride the coattails of vain and temporal philosophies of men, Roy Cogdill exalts the eternal value and truth of the Word of God in his sermons. Studying his sermons strengthens my faith in the gospel of Christ and fires my heart with determination to preach it “in season and out of season.”

Steadfast To The End

Brother Cogdill has exerted upon young preachers like myself a great influence for good by his resolve to be “steadfast, unmovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, ” during the sunset years of life. What tragedy and pathos are captured in Paul’s brief statement that his beloved friend and brother, Demas, “hath forsaken me.” Nothing has been more heartbreaking to brother Cogdill than seeing young men whom he has loved and helped, turn aside into sin. Nothing has been more disappointing to him than seeing older men waver and compromise toward the end of the way.

His devotion to the Lord and to the Word of God can be seen in these statements from the article, “Fifty Years As A Gospel Preacher”:

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.

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).

Young preachers need that unswerving devotion to the truth of the gospel. We love brother Cogdill for helping us to love and to sanctify in our hearts the Lord Jesus Christ as Savior and the church which He purchased with His own precious blood. Brother Cogdill teaches us to exalt Christ and His kingdom, not self. And, so, I close by quoting Galatians 2:20, which he quoted so often and exemplified so well:

I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live; yet not 1, but Christ liveth in me: and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself for me.

Guardian of Truth XXIX: 14, pp. 440-443
July 18, 1985