THEOLOGICAL SEMINARIES AND WILD GOURDS,
THE PROBLEM OF MINISTERIAL EDUCATION
A Sermon by B.H. Carroll.
TEXT: “O man of God, there is death in the pot.” II. Kings 4:40.
CONTEXT: “And Elisha came again to Gilgal. And there was a dearth in the land; and the sons of the prophets were sitting before him; and he said unto his servant, Set on the great pot, and boil pottage for the sons of the prophets. And one went out into the field to gather herbs, and found a wild vine, and gathered thereof wild gourds his lap full, and came and shred them into the pot of pottage; for they knew them not. So they poured out for the men to eat. And it came to pass, as they were eating of the pottage, that they cried out, and said, O man of God, there is death in the pot. And they could not eat thereof. But he said, Then bring meal. And he cast it into the pot; and he said, Pour out for the people, that they may eat. And there was no harm in the pot.” II. Kings 4:38-41 (Revised Version).
There are in the world to-day multitudes of theological seminaries. They were founded by the various Christian denominations for the purpose of educating their preachers.
I do not mean that they are for the purpose of giving them a literary education, since they are supposed to obtain that in the academies, colleges and universities. But for training them in theological studies, the studies which bear directly on their life-work as ministers and will likely promote efficiency in that work.
Just now no other subject is more striking and startling than the attitude of many theological seminaries toward the Holy Scriptures, which is confessedly the text-book of these schools,unless it be their attitude toward the purposes for which and the constituencies by which the funds were contributed with which these schools were established and supported.
It is a lamentable and appalling fact that every book, doctrine, prophecy, promise or fact in the Holy Scripture be brought under grave suspicion by some one or another teacher in some one or another of the theological seminaries. It is a fact no less alarming that when any one of these teachers conceives it to be his duty to tear down what he was appointed to build up, and paid to build up, there is no practical way to get at him by way of rebuke or removal.
Indeed, it has become the fashion to treat any protest against his revolutionary teachings as downright persecution. He is classed with New Testament martyrs and those who protest, as inquisitors refurnishing the medieval rack and thumbscrews and fagots for a burning at the stake. The situation calls for the gravest consideration ever given to human affairs.
It has seemed to me, therefore, not untimely should we call attention to first principles; to inquire into the scriptural authority, preceptive or exemplary, for the institution and scope of theological seminaries. So far as I am able to gather scriptural authority for theological seminaries they must depend for example upon the Old Testament school of the prophets and the New Testament school of the Apostles. There is direct, preceptive authority. Yet an inferential argument in their favor, of great force, may be constructed from various biblical principles, to which attention may be given on another occasion.
Just now, in expounding the bit of history contained in our context, it must suffice to answer certain important questions concerning the schools of the prophets: When, why, by whom and for what they were established? What was taught in them? How were they supported ? How long did they exist? What they influences for good or evil did they exert? To what dangers were they exposed? What warrant do they afford for modern theological schools? And what profitable lessons does the history suggest to our people to-day?
It may be impossible in one discourse to answer all of these questions satisfactorily, yet something of value may be gathered by an hour’s consideration of the subject. First then,
WHO WERE THE SONS OF THE PROPHETS?
They were companies, or schools, of young men in training for the prophetic office. They were called sons in the sense of disciples or pupils. “Sitting before him” is a phrase equivalent to “receiving instruction from him.” The chief prophet before whom they sat and learned was called their father, or master, in the sense of teacher.
It is evident from the history that the object of the instruction was to qualify them for greater efficiency in the prophetic office to which it is presupposed they had received a divine call. While the history clearly implies that this training for his service had the approval of God, it does not imply that his exclusive method was to use only trained and educated men for the prophetic office. Sometimes he called into this work men who were utterly without training in the schools. And the record shows that these rough men did thorough and acceptable work. For example, Amos, who says: “I was no prophet, neither was I a son of a prophet; but I was a herdsman, and a dresser of sycamore-trees: and the Lord took me from following the flock, and the Lord said unto me, Go, prophesy unto my people Israel.” Amos 7:14-15 (Revised Version).
In other words, the Lord will have trained men and he will have untrained men. And mark you, there were not two orders in his ministry, one higher than the other. Amos was as high as anybody. Applying the case to our own time, the mistake would be serious to have only an educated ministry, or for churches to seek for pastors only those trained in a theological seminary.
The mistake is equally hurtful to say, “Trained men only for the cities and untrained men only for the country”. The Lord never allows himself to be limited in any such arbitrary fashion. It would help many a city church to have occasionally for a pastor some stalwart soul fresh from nature and God and innocent of any touch of art, who would hit straight from the shoulder at fashionable sin and who would call sin by its own name. Again it would oftentimes profit a country people to secure the services of ministers highly educated in both literary and theological lore.
One thing certain the Bible teaches in both Testaments, that however much it can be shown to favor the ministers in the schools, it never contemplates that these school-men shall drive the unschooled men off the field or gloat over them. That man’s schooling has failed in a vital point when it is allowed to separate him from his unschooled brethren. Indeed, in every case of such separation the learned man may have reasonably concluded that he is most in fault. Of what avail is his training if it puffs him up with pride, if it does not enable him to be more charitable, more humble, more pious and more confident than an untrained man? Paul would classify him at once with “Sounding brass and tinkling cymbal.”
The crown of Dr. John A. Broadus, that crown which none can take away from him, that crown which proves his true greatness, was his ever unbroken touch with unschooled preachers; they love his memory for it to-day. It was no affectation with him. With all his devotion to a high order of scholarship and ministerial training, he could preach as well and touch the heart as well at a corn-shucking as in a cathedral. Many times I have read, and every time I read it I love him more, what he says on this subject in the History of Preaching and in this sad time, so soon after his death, which seems to draw a line between seminary men and those never in a seminary, it may do good to quote it again. Perhaps in hearing it, we may, in fancy, see again his dear face, hear again the tones of his loving voice, and catch again something of his sweet spirit. Here are his words:
“Let us at least bear in mind that the early progress of Christianity, that the great and wonderful progress to which we still appeal as one of the proofs of its divine origin, was due mainly to the labors of obscure men, who have left no sermons, and not even a name to history, but whose work remains plain before the all-seeing eye, and whose reward is sure. Hail ye unknown, forgotten brethren! We celebrate the names of your leaders, but we will not forget that you fought the battles and gained the victory. The Christian world feels your impress, though it has lost your names. And not only are these early laborers now unknown, but most of them were in their own day little cared for by the great and the learned, most of them were uneducated. Throughout the first two or three centuries, it continued to be true that not many wise according to the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble, were called to be Christian ministers or Christians at all. It was mainly the foolish things, weak things, base things, that God chose. And what power they had through the story of the cross, illuminated by earnest Christian living! Not only in the first centuries, then, but in Chrysostom’s day also, there were these uncultivated but good and useful men ; and such preachers have abounded from that day to this, in every period, country and persuasion in which Christianity was making any real and rapid progress.”
Dr. Wayland in his Principles and Practices of the Baptists makes it very clear that our great success as a denomination is due very largely to the fact that, unlike the Presbyterians, we have not made the capital mistake of confining our ministry to trained men, but welcome both learned and unlearned alike, even as many as the Lord our God did call.
Returning now to the schools of the prophets, it will be found quite easy to determine with approximate accuracy both the time and occasion of the establishment of these earliest theological seminaries.
You will not understand me to affirm that the prophetic office began with them, but that a school for training prophets did begin then. Two great events of Israel’s history serve as landmarks to fix in the memory both the time and the occasion:
First, Israel’s rejecting of God as King over the nation, that they might have a human king like other nations, and second, the moral defection of the priests who as a trained class, so far had charge of public worship and instruction. In the days of Eli, and largely through the immorality of his sons, there came about a general corruption of the priesthood. The worship of God had drifted into mere formalism and ritualism. Spiritual power had departed from both life and worship. Nor did it ever return, in any great degree for any considerable time, to the priesthood throughout the entire history of the nation. There was some light in them in the times of David and Solomon, but it soon waned.
It was under such national circumstances and to supply the deficit occasioned by the defection of the priesthood that the Lord, through Samuel, established a school of men to act as God’s mouthpiece in dealing with both King and nation. Thus Samuel, and clearly with the divine approval, founded the first theological seminary at Ramah.
At a later date there were several of these schools, with rather shifting headquarters, according to emergencies. It appears that Ezekiel was president of one in the land of captivity. The great historic presidents were Samuel, Elijah and Elisha. Of these Samuel was the most cultivated, that is, he had a systematic training from his childhood. Elijah was the roughest and sternest, the Old Testament John the Baptist. A glorious and heroic part did he play in public affairs, until he got frightened at Jezebel and ran so fast and so far to find a juniper tree to die under, that it became necessary to appoint a successor.
In those days the Lord God himself elected the presidents of his theological seminaries, and a right strange choice did he sometimes make. Instead of electing one of the young theologues as Elijah’s successor, his choice fell upon a ploughman in the field. Perhaps he concluded that if Elisha could plow a true furrow with twelve yoke of oxen in one trained team, or while plowing one yoke himself, successfully superintend eleven other laborers plowing with yoked oxen, he thereby demonstrated his executive capacity to yoke and train, so that they would pull together, a lot of raw, unbroken theologues. In the process of time these sons of the prophets became not only numerous, but formidable to tyranny, immorality and idolatry.
You will recall that Jezebel thought it necessary to her safety and essential to immunity from overthrow of all idolatry to break up these schools and exterminate the sons of the prophets who were trained for God’s service. At this perilous juncture, Obadiah hid and supported one hundred of them in the caves, True, he could give them only bread and water, rather thin diet and not at all satisfactory to modern theologues. Yet this bread of affliction was sweeter to these brave, hunted men of God, than the luxuries Jezebel was ready to bestow on apostates. Ah me! the Devil is wiser now than in Jezebel’s day. He no longer seeks to break up theological seminaries. He captures them and turns their guns on the Holy Book and its doctrines and promises. Indeed, even in Jezebel’s days he had learned to capture as well as to slay. For it appears that four hundred of these sons of the prophets, rather than take to caves and Obadiah’s diet, preferred to prophesy smooth things for Ahab. Yet even then, according to Ahab’s own testimony, there was one man bitterly hated because he would not prophesy good but rather evil to Ahab. Let now consider
WHAT WAS TAUGHT IN THESE SEMINARIES
Looking through the Old Testament from Samuel to Malachi, we may determine with reasonable certainty the main points in their course of study. This course at any rate included sacred music, instrumental and vocal; poetry, history and the word of God. Their training in music filled the world with the fame of the songs of Zion. Even in the captivity, when their silent harps were hanging from the willow trees, when sadness made the tongue of praise cleave to the roof of the mouth, when disuse robbed the right hand of its cunning in striking the chords of the harp, even there, the idolaters who wasted them, longed to hear one of the songs of Zion. And their poetry – it is matchless now. God was their muse and his works of creation, providence and grace was their theme. We may affect to depreciate it; we may prefer in our families and schools to teach our. children the secular songs of inferior bards, but transcendentally above Homer, Milton, Virgil, Horace, Dante, Bryant, Byron and Longfellow is that sublime, God-inspired word of Hebrew Poetry.
These prophets, were also the historians of their times and to them as human agents we are largely indebted for the sacred chronicles of the past as well as the forecasts of the future. But mainly were they taught the Word of God. They were instructed to hold it as the supreme standard of human conduct and creeds. To look no other where for a revelation of secret things. To this instruction of the sons of the prophets Isaiah probably, refers:
“Bind thou up the testimony, seal the law among my disciples. And I will wait for the Lord, that hideth his face from the house of Jacob, and I will look for him. Behold, I and the children whom the Lord hath given me (sons of the prophets) are for signs and for wonders in Israel from the Lord of hosts, who dwelleth in Mount Zion. And when they shall say unto you, Seek unto them that have familiar spirits and unto the wizards, that chirp and mutter: should not a people seek unto their God? on behalf of the living should they seek unto the dead? To the law and to the testimony: if they speak not according to this word, surely there is no light in them. Isa. 8:16-20 (Revised Version).
These sons of the prophets were taught to be watchmen on the walls of cities and sentinels on the spiritual frontiers, to warn against external enemies and to fearlessly denounce spiritual traitors within, whether king, courtier, priest or peasant. And in the main, right heroically did they do their work. For centuries they were the conservators of national patriotism, purity of life and worship and were foes of tyrants, idolaters and all corrupters of public morals.
Yes, we may not deny it, the Old Testament theological seminaries did well. They had no buildings, no fixed endowment, nor certain headquarters. They were seminaries on wheels or in tents. Seldom were they in great cities. Usually their habitat was the country village, the fields or the wilderness far remote from luxuries and where quietness and nature led to prayer. contemplation and study. How often do we hear their voices correcting the dead formalism of the priests in sacrifices and feasts and fasts:
“Hear the Word of the Lord, ye rulers of Sodom; give ear unto the law of our God, ye people of Gomorrah. To what purpose is the multitude of your sacrifices unto me? saith the Lord: I am full of the burnt offerings of rams, and the fat of fed beasts; and I delight not in the blood of bullocks, or of lambs, or of he-goats. When ye come to appear before me, who hath required this at your hand, to trample my courts? Bring no more vain oblations: incense is an abomination unto me; new moon and sabbath, the calling of assemblies,I cannot away with iniquity and the solemn meeting. Your new moons and your appointed feasts my soul hateth: they are a trouble unto me: I am weary of bearing them. And when ye spread forth your hands, I will hide mine eves from you; yea, when ye make many prayers, I will not hear: your hands are full of blood. Wash you, make you clean; put away the evil of your doings before mine eyes; cease to do evil; learn to do well; seek justice, relieve the oppressed, judge the fatherless, plead for the widow.” Isa. 1:10-17 (Revised Version).
“Behold, in the day of your fast ye find your own pleasure, and exact all your labors. Behold, ye fast for strife and contention, and to smite with the fist of wickedness: ye fast not this day so as to make your voice to be heard on high. Is such the fast that I have chosen? the day for a man to afflict his soul? Is it to bow down his head as a rush, and to spread sackcloth and ashes under him? wilt thou call this a fast, and an acceptable day unto the Lord? Is not this the fast that I have chosen: to loose the bands of wickedness, to undo the bands of the yoke, and to let the oppressed go free, and that ye break every yoke? Is it not to deal thy bread to the hungry, and that thou bring the poor that are cast out to thy house? when thou seest the naked, that thou cover him; and that thou hide not thyself from thine own flesh? Then shall thy light break forth as the morning, and thy healing shall spring forth speedily; and thy righteousness shall go before thee; the glory of the Lord shall be thy reward.” Isa. 58:3-8 (Revised Version).
So had Samuel spoken to Saul. What a holy terror to lip-service, empty ritualism, hollow professions and heartless hypocrisy were these prophets, and what sublime conservators of true spirituality and genuine morality and unbought justice and heavenly mercy. Yes, these Old Testament seminaries did well.
What think you must have been the characteristics of the sons of the prophets in training for such office? Was not veneration necessary, a reverence for sacred things and persons? Was not personal piety a prerequisite? Was not a devout spirit? And above all must they not be men of sublime courage? Could a jelly fish be a son of a prophet? Did their office call for straddlers and trimmers and time-servers? Were they to be pliant weeds swaying to and fro according to the whippings of the wind? Were they to be men of soft clothing and effeminate habits? Could such men walk into the jaws of a lion or hold out their hand for fetters or confront exile or embrace death in order to deliver a message from God? Was it theirs to feel the popular pulse and gather the drift of public sentiment before they dared to speak God’s message? Were they to halt between two opinions and wait in silence until science, falsely so-called, could rectify their message or until higher criticism could inform them how much of it was inspired? Never! That trucking belongs to our degenerate day. And of what do many of the modern schools of the prophets remind you? What similitude exhibits their outline? Let a plain man tell you.
Washington Irving in his allegory of Diedrich Knickerbocker’s History of New York might well have had them in mind. You remember how those good old Dutchmen of New Amsterdam found out the direction of the wind. Every morning the governor sent a little servant to his housetop to set his weathercock with the wind. And then the people set their vanes by the Governor’s. So now these modern devotees of higher criticism must wait each week for the mail from Germany to know what to believe or preach, to find how much, if any, of their Bible remains.
Modern higher criticism is hardly old enough to pass on such matters and in that small period of less than a quarter of a century it has turned more somersaults than a child’s jumping-jack on a stick, assumed more shapes than Proteus and shown more colors than a Kaleidoscope. “Dew of June,” the Indian woman of Cooper’s Pathfinder, when asked where was Saltwater,” the hiding sailor, said, “He hides so well he don’t know where he is hisself.” And so in modern parlance, this new higher criticism itself never knows “where it is at.” If it knew to-day, it could not tell where it would be next week. It changes places so often and crosses over so fast one has only to stand still to be scientific and higher-critical half the time. At least on a stand one may get m0re shots at it, passing in range while flying hither and thither, than if he were to lose his breath trying to overtake it. Indeed, to use an old soldier’s expression, when you see it, it is so like a hornless McClellan saddle, “you don’t know whether you are meeting it or overtaking it.” You don’t know whether it is just emerging from the graves of the ancient heathen philosophers or just going to be buried with the dead past.
The bread and meat question, the financial question, is always an important one. The priests and Levites were sustained by a regular tax of the tithe, but the prophets had to rely on voluntary contributions. An uncertain quantity, you say? Indeed yes, but marvelously potent in cultivating a sense of entire and everyday dependence upon God. In hard times, particularly, these voluntary springs of liberality are liable to dry up. Our context tells us about just such a time. There was a dearth in the land, and quite naturally the people began to economize in voluntary offerings. In President Elijah’s day famine had pressed them sorely, until the head of the school was fed by ravens or found sustenance with a foreign widow, her own provisions reduced to a dust of meal and a few drops of oil in the cruse. And now, in Elisha’s time, they were reduced to the herbs of the field and wild squashes to supplement their pottage. It sounds encouraging to the hungry to hear the command, Put on a great pot and seethe pottage for the Sons of the Prophets!” But what if there was nothing to put in that pot? And yet it has often been noted, that theological schools do their greatest work in days of poverty, when teachers live from hand to mouth, not knowing whence food for to-morrow shall come to their families.
Perhaps we may be able to designate some of the reasons for this strange thing. One reason doubtless is the realizing sense of every-day dependence upon God. Another may be found in necessary cultivation of the bond between teacher and his patrons or constituency. Where there is no endowment it is life itself to the institution to maintain sympathetic touch with the people. Yet another lies in this fact: Until endowment comes the mere professional teacher does not apply for the office. Only the called of God will remain and work in hunger and thirst and cold and heat, only these occupy the chairs. But when an institution has grown rich and independent, then intellectual culture is deified. Ambition to win a place among the learned paralyzes the desire to save souls. I repeat that it is often the case that theological schools are found to have done their best and greatest work in the days of poverty, when teachers are living from hand to mouth, before endowment has broken the bond of sympathy with the people at large and invited mere professionals to the chairs, professionals who love self more than the cause and whose ambition is scholarship more than soul-saving.
The school is already dead to influences for good when the lust of intellectual culture has bred that most invincible and incorrigible of all prides, the pride of human attainment, and has lost sight of the simplicity of the Gospel and the great purpose of the ministry. Professing themselves to be wise, they become fools and the Lord pours contempt on their pride and folly by His choice of plough-men and herd-men to become the heralds of His saving love. Having thus glanced at the time and occasion for these Old Testament schools, by whom and for what they were established, their curriculum, their support and their Presidents, it is worth while to consider somewhat the dangers to which they were exposed. This leads up to
THE WILD GOURDS
The history in our context is a simple, straightforward narrative of facts with no occult, symbolic meaning. I shall not attempt to read such meaning into it in order to draw it out by ingenious spiritualizing. The facts are that whoever went after herbs to put in the pot was ignorant of natural history and could not discriminate between a squash and a gourd. And so death got into the pot with wild gourds.
There is an analogy between food for the outer and food for the inner man. There is soul-food as poisonous as a wild gourd. Young prophets can not feed on it with immunity. It is not good to shred it into their pottage. The case of Ahab (I. Kings 22:1-23) shows that about four hundred of the prophets had been fed upon this wild gourd, prophesying smooth things to the wicked in power in order to have a place in court. It is a sore temptation to the young to be “in the swim” with the great, the learned, the fashionable, the rich; a wicked desire for the mantle of religion as a cover for their wickedness.
The preacher himself, perhaps, has an itching ear for applause or an itching palm for gain. Between these two a compromise is readily consummated. They will feed and praise him and he will be silent as to their sins.
Again, the young preacher likes to be considered broad and up-to-date. It pains him to be considered narrow and old fashioned. About this juncture in his affairs it is proposed to have a congress of religions. Why be so exclusive? Let Baal have a temple on yonder mountain, and Astarte, a bower in yonder grove, and Molech, a furnace in yonder valley. Why need Jehovah be jealous? Give us a few of your priests for Baal, a few of your maidens and young men to seek pleasures in the worship of Venus. Give us some of your children to pass through the fire of Molech. There is some good in all religions. Fraternize be broad.
Again, the doctrinaires of speculative philosophy or the apostles of destructive criticism invite you to accept them as rectifiers of the divine message and interpreters of the fragments of the book which their grace permits you to retain. Ah! these are all wild gourds. When they are shred into the pot with the pottage of the sons of the prophets, then well may they cry out: “O man of God, there is death in the pot.”
Very happy is that institution if there be one among its teachers who in spiritual things knows a squash from a wild gourd. And happier still if there be meal enough in the school to heal this unsavory mess and disarm death in the pot. Yet again, there may be an itching desire for notoriety, for discovering or exploiting a sensation.
There is one cheap, easy way to the attainment of unquestionable fame. It is to exploit something against your own denomination. What are the advantages of this course? You can be credited with originality and with having courage of your convictions, secure the applause of other denominations, obtain the support of the secular press, be advertised from Dan to Beer-sheba and pose as a martyr, persecuted by your own people. In such a case the judgment is more than doubtful that gives him credit for the courage of his convictions. This road to fame requires less courage than others I know and costs the least investment of capital. The presumption is against the credit of either courage or martyrdom.
Let a case illustrate: Who of all the faithful Presbyterian teachers and preachers can expect fame in the direction of fidelity to their people and doctrines beyond the approval of God and their consciences except by hard toil, great cost, and at the end of a long time? They will not likely be talked of or freely advertised, or win the title of broadness or liberality. But Dr. Briggs, of Union Theological Seminary, can hold his representative position and pay, and leap into greater notoriety than ever was gained by Hodge, or Alexander of Princeton, by exploiting his destructive criticism against the Bible and against his own people. But should not every man be free in his research and his convictions? Yea, verily, and let him follow them. But shall he be permitted to retain his representative position of steward as a citadel from which to bombard his own people who built the citadel? Nay, verily, not while common honesty remains.
Another wild gourd is undue deference to the fashions and maxims and exactions of worldly society. Not long since, I heard of a preacher’s saying, “I am bound to be silent about my members participating in dances and euchre parties, attending theaters and frequenting Saloons. Otherwise I would never hold these people.” Yes, and while he was holding the people. thus, the devil certainly was holding him.
The idea of a man in God’s pulpit standing there like a craven before society; letting society padlock the lips that were to speak for God; letting society dominate the utterance that should come from his full heart when he was sent to speak the message of the Lord. Of all the pitiful and contemptible and infinitesimal cowards that ever disgraced the name of man, one of these same dish-rag preachers is the most contemptible, and the very people that make him do that way have as much contempt for him as anybody else. They know that he is a purchased thing. In their hours of trouble, when sickness is in their house and death’s shadow is on their floor, they do not want such a man to visit them. They want some one to come who has religion, somebody that believes in God and believes in heaven and believes in a judgment, and that will speak the truth, and nothing but the truth.
Another wild gourd is science. I do not mean real science. I have great respect for real science. I mean science falsely so-called – speculative philosophy of any kind. Whenever the sons of the Prophets get to feeding on the wild gourds of earthly philosophy, and the theories and speculations of these scientific meta-physicians, O man of God, there is death in the pot! And yet there are some theological seminaries where that is actually fed to the theologians, and there are some so-called sons of the prophets that are really ambitious to be descended from simian apes, who find a particular pleasure in not being the production of divine creation, made in the image of God, but an evolution from protoplasm.
Now, what good can a man of that kind do in the way of saving souls? When did a man, that believed that in his heart, ever lead one successful revival of religion? When did his preaching ever awaken a human conscience? When did sinners ever tremble before his word? When did the dying in the valley of the shadow of death appeal to him for some glimpse through grace divine of the heavenly land beyond the clouds?
They do not go to this sort, but to those that the Scriptures teach that our Lord Himself established His first church and provided for the establishment of other churches through the labors of that one; that He established an order of ministry and provided that they should not only keep the faith delivered to them, but before their own death commit this treasure to equally faithful men who should come after them, and these in turn to others. The very commission under which we to-day carry on home and foreign work has no other idea but this. We must transmit what we receive. So also argued Paul: How can they believe except they hear; how can they hear without a preacher; how can he preach except that he be sent?”
And yet so sweet are the terms of science falsely so-called, we are now gravely informed that the churches of to-day are a result of “evolution.” Yea, more: that they started by “spontaneous generation.” And what is spontaneous generation? It is life that accidentally starts without any antecendent life. And what is its object? To dispense with God altogether. Even Darwin postulated a Creator for a few primordial germs, though having no further use for Him. Evolution does the rest. But spontaneous generation doesn’t even need Him as a starter.
I am sure when our Lord said that the gates of hell should never prevail against the church, He was not speaking merely of His people, for He had them in Old Testament times; nor about the heavenly church, for that house is not completed and cannot therefore be a habitat of the Spirit until the last soul is saved. And when it is thus organized, there will be no gates of Hades to threaten its perpetuity. Before it is organized, Hades itself will have been cast into the lake of fire. He referred to His church on earth; the church that must multiply and perpetuate itself and through all ages, by obedience of evangelization, make known His manifold wisdom to the angels.
I come now to say some sad things. That school of the prophets founded by Samuel, and in which Elijah and Elisha were so illustrious, that had among its pupils and chiefs Isaiah and Daniel and Ezekiel and Jeremiah, that glorious and sublime race of genuine heroes, that for hundreds of years stayed the incoming tide of ruin about to engulf the Jewish people, there came a time when their bravery succumbed. One by one the grander ones had died and a degenerate race succeeded: men unlike Daniel who dared to do right; men unlike Jeremiah; men who would prophesy falsely rather than be imprisoned; men that took counsel of their fears and of their covetousness and of their love of ease; men that cared more for their salaries than they did for the approbation of God.
There came a time, I say, when the order of the prophets had just one exponent, Malachi. Who could have anticipated, who could have dreamed, that when his voice was hushed in death no other prophetic voice would be lifted for 400 years? Four hundred years! Yet God foretold it: “There shall come on this land a dearth and a famine; not a famine of bread but a famine of the Word of God, because your prophets have stooped to divination and have said that they saw visions when they did not see them and have prophesied falsely, and have compromised my truth and have allowed fashion to dictate what they should preach from the pulpit. I will shut up the vision. There shall be no prophet.” See Amos 8:11-12.
Three times in the first book of Maccabees is the mournful statement made, in that dark hour of trial when the patriots were struggling and grappling with Antiochus Epiphanes, when they were endeavoring to beat back this Greek tyrant and to snatch the yoke from the neck of their people, three times in that book the record is made, “There is no prophet in the land.” No prophet! No one that can speak as the oracles of God. And to that people turned away from the truth, who loved lying vanities rather than the truth, there came a time when they hungered more and thirsted more for just one faithful message from God than for everything else in the world, saying, “Oh, cannot some one deliver us a message from God?”
There was a famine of the Word of God. Thousands of eyes were lifted up but they had no spiritual vision. They saw nothing. Their souls had been so cloyed, their moral faculties so blunted, their spiritual natures so dwarfed and subordinated to the flesh and to the force of passion, that they could not see the mountain tops of the eternal world. Their ear could hear no voices from the beyond and there was silence, silence, dead and awful silence, throughout the land, and it lasted four hundred years.
And I will venture to say that when you despise God’s Word, when you count it a light thing, a thing not to be studied and loved, a thing that you can slight and turn away from, there will come a time with you, there will come a time to your boy, there will come time to your daughter, when, sweeter than cold water to a dying man of thirst will be just one message from God’s book, and they will not hear it. There may be a thousand prophets in the land but not for you. There may be visions; there may be a rift in the skies through which the heavenly glory down-pours in floods of radiance, but your children will not see it. Whosoever turneth away his feet from walking in the counsels of the Lord, shall die of thirst for God’s counsel.
Now, let me turn to the New Testament. We find that God in His mercy restored the prophetic office and our Lord Jesus Christ established a theological seminary. He gathered around him a set of men to be trained by Himself for a special work. There is no record of what they knew of Mathematics. I do not remember a single instance when our Lord Jesus Christ expressed any concern whatever as to the extent of their knowledge in the prevailing philosophies of the day, but I do know that for three years and a half He did drill them, day by day, by night as well as by day, in His word, and He illustrated that Word before their eyes every day in His life. He showed them what their great mission was, and when He had trained them He said, “Go and conquer the world.” And this world will not be conquered until you get the schools of the prophets of that kind, men that are willing, if need be, to go hungry; willing to endure hardships; willing to accept a hard field; men not seeking as the most desirable things in the world the places where they can get the biggest salary and have the easiest time and receive the most enjoyment and the most worldly praise, but men ambitious for God’s favor, with an ear ready to catch every word that He speaks, and with a bold, brave heart, willing to break, if need be and die, if necessary, but never swerve one jot or tittle from preaching the truth.
Now I do know and you know that the curse of this world to-day is a lot of cowardly preachers, that not as much backbone as a jelly fish; that have no distinctive character; that do not know how to reach a decision about any fact; men that do not know what they believe and have no strong, deathless conviction of heaven and hell and are insensible to their responsibilities at the judgment of God. That is the curse of the world to-day, and the sooner the wild gourds kill off that kind the better.
Oh, if the Lord would give us a few stalwart men! Oh, that there might be giants in these days, not men of mere physical or intellectual strength, whose feet are swift to shed blood, but moral and spiritual giants, who feel that they have a mission if the heavens fall! That is what we need. If there were one hundred preachers in Texas to-day, possessing the true spirit of the New Testament preacher, men educated at the feet of the Lord Jesus Christ, whose hearts were hot within them, whose souls were consumed with a desire to save the lost, why, we could take the state. Yea, the world.
I do want us to pray; I want this congregation to pray, for a more courageous, a more reverential, a more humble, and yet a more devoted ministry of our Lord Jesus Christ. We need it. We need it bad. The world needs it. They are the salt of the earth, but the earth will rot whenever that salt gets down so low that it can not overcome the corruption. It will rot in the sight of God. They are the light of the world, but whenever that light goes out then you may look for darkness, darkness that can be felt; darkness and coldness, darkness as if there was no sun and coldness as if there were no heat; until all liquids stiffen and freeze and the rivers become blocks of ice and all the world is dark and frozen.
And now let us pray for a ministry worthy of our Lord’s favor and faithful as stewards of His grace.