First [of all] what are we to do? You are to preach, not run a moving picture show. I glory in the power of the printed pages. But, brethren, the one thing to which God called men is to preach and teach. That is your mission. Hundreds may lecture; but the greatest work in all the world is to preach. I believe in the printed page and in organization; and yet you have to have an organism before you can have an organization. There is a danger that we may have over-organization and trust, too, that more than to a Holy Spirit’s power to give results.
I rejoiced to hear that every member of your faculty here is required to hold two evangelistic meetings a year. If you will apply that test to the theological seminaries of the world you will have to build additions for the students for many of the other seminaries will have to go out of business. A man cannot teach me how to lead a lost soul to Christ if he has not done the thing himself. Let it be so. Then, I say your business is to preach the Word. Why preach the Word? Because you are called to preach. Oh, there is not a greater tragedy in all the world than that of a man preaching whom God never called to preach.
I was counting up, to 16 2/3 per cent of the class that attended the last year with me at the Seminary are now no longer doing they thing they were educated to do. Better your tongue should cleave to the roof of your mouth than for you to stand, my brother, at the sacred desk of God and preach something God never called you to preach. You were called before the stars were born, before the anthems of the sky were sung or the angels of God shouted together for joy, called, for He loved you err you knew Him. Therefore the command to preach the Word.
The preacher is somewhat discounted now. He is discounted because he discounts himself. The average preacher is discounted because he is going up and down the world leaving the impression that he is an object of charity. I always try to make my people believe that in getting me as pastor they are getting a little more than they are paying for. God pity you when the world pities you. I do not want the world’s pity. Quit pitying yourself, my friends. Let the world feel that you are one of God’s heroes or heroines that can look the world in the face and not be afraid.
I realized that it is not always the popular thing to preach the truth. IT is a long way from a Virginia jail to the White House, but Baptists have traveled just that distance. Were the President of this institution to ask me, “Doctor, give our men and women one word of caution in one sentence,” it would be this: “Do not let popularity be the dominant note in your life.” The longing for popularity has ruined more men and women than any other single cause in the world. I had rather be crucified and die a man of God with a conscience unsullied than die as President of the United States without such a conscience.
Preach the Word because God has called you to do it. You do not appreciate this hour. Go back a hundred years and let any man have related this hour and an asylum would have awaited him as a dreamer. This hour has cost some thing; in fact, nothing that is worthwhile has come to us without great cost to somebody.
And what are you to preach? Now, preach the Word. You are not to preach literature and literary achievements, though I wish you might have a splendid story of the literature of the ages; but the main thing you must preach is the Word. You are trustees of the Truth. We are hearing a good deal about stewardship. Let me emphasize this side of stewardship. You are stewards of dollars and likewise of doctrines. Dollars without doctrine, a curse upon them? And the coming men and women of the future will rightly adjust these things.
Know the Book; know the Word. God was a good hater. Do not be stunned at that. He said, “I hate the abominable thing.” “Oh, well,” you say, “the men and women of this day must be men and women of compromise.” I never knew a compromise to amount to anything. Henry Clay, in 1854, thought he did one of the greatest things in all the world when he proposed the Missouri Compromise. Friends, nothing is ever settled until it is settled right. Therefore, I say the Word of God is not a compromise. The Word, and when I say the Bible I mean all of the Bible. “Why,” some will say, “you do not mean the book of Genesis with all of that folk lore and myths.” Well, my friends, no, I don’t mean any of that folk lore and myth, but I have never yet found any such thing in the book of Genesis or in any other part of the Bible. When you find such a man or woman, one who believes only in certain parts of the Bible, you will find also down beneath it all that there is a fundamental lack of faith in Jesus Christ. Show me, if you will, a man of the destructive criticism who has lead ten souls to Christ in ten years.
One day an old farmer had twelve horses. One of them was sick. It therefore became necessary to hitch up an ox with one of the horses. In the very beginning the ox balked and would not pull an inch. They had to take him out. That night the ox said to the horse with which he had been hitched, “Well didn’t I put it over on the old farmer today? I am not going to pull his wagon for him.” The next day the farmer hitched the ox up again and tried to make him pull. Again he balked and refused to pull the load. When night came the ox boasted to the horse again, and finished by asking the horse, “Have you heard that old farmer say anything about me today?” The horse said, “No, I have not heard him say anything about your not pulling, but I saw him talking to the butcher over the fence.” The day, my friends, of the destructive criticism is done and with Southern Baptists it is done forever and ought to be done.
Therefore, I say, preach the Word. There is but one way to preach the Word. There is but one way to tell the truth. I can put that book down there. I can tell five hundred stories about it. The truth can only be told one way. You say, “If I preach the truth I will be considered narrow.” In other words, you want to be called liberal. I never aspired to see my wife liberal. I may be wrong. Probably it is just my way of looking at it. It is easy to be liberal with another man’s money. This much is true that when you widen a thing you make it shallow. What this world is dying for is depth.
Next let me say it is going to take courage to preach the Word. No man ought to be a bully, but it is going to take courage. One day the people will applaud you; the next they will try to down you. But when my master was ready to be crucified they said, “Come down from the cross.” That is the meanest thing ever said to my master. “You saved others, you cannot save yourself.” No, “Truth crushed to earth will rise again. The eternal years of God are hers, while error wounded writhes with pain and dies among its worshippers.”
I went to preaching the night after I gave my life to the Lord. Two days after I preached my first sermon, I met a little boy on the street, and he said, “Mister, is you the man what’s preaching up to the Baptist church?” “Yes.” “Well,” he said, “Sister wants to see you.” I said, “All right, let’s go.” “Is you goin’ now?” I said, “Yes.” Young men, young women, do not die monuments of unfulfilled expectations. Do it now. I went with the little fellow, up the rickety stairs into the humble room high above the street. On a pallet of straw in one corner of the dingy room lay a girl of perhaps eighteen years of age, her cheeks flushed in a way that told only too plainly that she was dying of the terrible malady tuberculosis. Her eyes had that unnatural glare. I said to her, “Sister, are you a Christian?” I thought surely she wanted to talk about her soul. Now and then coughing violently, she said, “I didn’t send for you for that.” Imagine my feelings. Then she went on, “A good woman told me that in your sermon the other night you said you loved everybody. I thought if you meant it I wanted to ask you something. That little boy there is the last one of my family. All of the others have died with consumption. I am dying. And,” she said, “I thought maybe you would take him and try to look after him.” I have never yet been able to refuse the request of a dying woman. I said, “I will do my best.” And her eyes said, “Thank you. I will die happy now.” And she reached around and pulled from beneath her pillow a copy of the New Testament. And she said, “This is my hope.” I could never sing. (Oh, I am so thankful your great institution has a strong department of Gospel Music here.) And so the little boy and the dying girl and I did not sing; we sobbed together rather than sang:
“How firm a foundation,
Ye saints of the Lord,
Is laid for your faith
In His excellent word!
What more can He say
Than to you He hath said, To you who for refuge
To Jesus have fled?”
Preacher, preach the Word. Now, then, I say, why preach it? For mercy’s sake never take the text for a point of departure. “The time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine.” People do not respect the niceties of speech. The man who says he doesn’t like doctrine, doesn’t like sound doctrine; he likes false doctrine. Everybody will endure doc trine, but the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine. You say, “If we dare to preach what we think is a doctrine then people will not hear us. All right, you will have less to account for when you get to the Judgment. “Be thou faithful unto death, and I will give thee a crown of life.”
Let us notice, then, some of the reward of obedience to the command to preach the Word.
First is God’s presence, Paul said, “But the Lord stood with me.” Ladies and gentlemen of the graduating class, there may come a time when you will have to stand alone, so far as the men and women of the world are concerned. But I had rather stand alone with God than to stand with a multitude of this earth without God. That shall be your reward-the Lord shall be with you. Poor Paul. He said, “Having preached to others, I wonder if I will ever be a castaway,” and then that old man said, “Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword.” And then he says, “Shall height separate me?” “No.” And then the grand old man, “Shall death separate me from the love of God?” “No, not even death.” Then as he views earth, sea and sky, he exclaims, “No, thank God, nor any other creature shall be able to separate me from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” I know not what awaits each one of you. You know not. We only know we cannot drift beyond God’s loving care. Paul now writes, “I know him whom (not in whom) I have believed,” for the Lord was with him. Stand alone, and if needs be die alone; and the holy angels will say, “Hail! The conquering hero comes!”
A crown of righteousness. It won’t be long until you may be in some forgotten grave. May you carry the old blood stained banner of the Gospel and plant it a little further on. Yes, you will die. You may be forgotten; but Paul says that a crown of righteousness awaits you. The winds of the centuries may sweep over your forgotten grave, but the crown awaits you. I had rather be your age, I had rather be on the rising sun without a penny on earth, than to be my age today with every dollar that John D. Rockefeller possesses. There never was such a time, such a day for heroism and chivalry in the cross.