|Posted by John Suttles on April 2, 2012 at 6:40 PM|
As our congregation has prepared itself for our constituting as a church, we have been reflecting much on the history and significance of those who have gone before us and upon whose shoulders we stand. Especially have we thought about our spiritual forefathers who were the founders and early leaders of the Southern Baptist Convention.
To borrow a Biblical phrase, there truly were “giants in the land” in those days, spiritual giants who stood unflinchingly in the “old paths” of sound doctrine, but to whom (unlike so many who came after them) Truth was not some cold, lifeless, formal system disconnected from the daily reality of Christian experience. These men – men such as Johnson, Dagg, Howell, Mell, Boyce, Furman, and Mercer, to name but a few – were consumed by passion for Christ and His Church. By the example of their lives they demonstrated that doctrine was the “throne upon which Christ is seated” and to them it was in Christ that every doctrine found its meaning and significance.
This carried over into their concern for their churches. These were men who were not content with simply preaching a homiletically perfect and finely illustrated sermon, yet having their hearers go away as dead as when they came in. Above all, they desired that Christ be glorified in their preaching and that the churches be roused to greater love and zeal for Him who was their life.
This is no more graphically illustrated than in an incident related in a forgotten old book recently acquired by our pastor. This brief account from the early days of the Flint River Baptist Association, which he read to us one recent Lord's Day, involved Jesse Mercer, founder of Mercer University. It draws a clear contrast between the zeal of our Southern Baptist founders and those who claim to be their spiritual descendants today.
The record begins, “In 1833, while a leaden lethargy was settled on the churches, [Jesse] Mercer and [Adiel] Sherwood in a preaching tour came to Walnut Creek Church in Jones County, of which the venerable Edmund Talbot was the pastor. There was a large week-day congregation, and it was Sherwood's lot to preach first. Mercer followed, but was not warm in his discourse, yet there was some feeling manifested among the older members, and especially by the pastor himself. When Mercer sat down, Talbot rose to say a few words, but his feelings overpowered his utterance, and he was about to take his seat when Mercer caught hold of him by the lapels of his coat, and held him in this position, saying, 'If you can't talk, stand and cry! That is the loudest kind of preaching you can do!' The aged man tried again, but in vain. Utterance was choked. And he did stand and weep over his congregation, but not alone, for nearly all in the house were affected to tears, and were weeping in sympathy. Mr. Mercer led in prayer, deeply affected. Those only who have heard him pray under such circumstances know how he was an importunate beggar at the footstool of mercy.”
How we ought also to weep – under deep conviction for the “leaden lethargy” in the churches of our day! Where are the men today who will come to the pulpit with such burden over the coldness of heart and absence of zeal for the things of God within their churches, that they can only “stand and cry!”? Where are the pastors in our day who will, like Nehemiah, weep when they hear the reports of the desolate condition of our Jerusalem? Or, are they so many Samsons, who “knew not that the LORD had departed?”
Mercer and Talbot's example should serve as a stinging rebuke to all of us who can continue in the same course day after day, year upon year believing all is well and never experiencing a moment's concern that the Lord's Church is “groveling here below, fond of these trifling toys” yet having “our love so faint, so cold to Thee,” as the hymwriter Isaac Watts so aptly phrased it.
May we yet have grace to pull the blinders from our eyes and see the great need of our day – not more programs, better advertising, more “relevant” activities, or more impressive facilities. The great need of our day (and every generation) is that, again to quote Mr. Watts, we would cry out: “Come, Holy Spirit, heavenly Dove, with all Thy quickening powers; kindle a flame of sacred love, in these cold hearts of ours.”
May the Lord again be gracious to His Church to give us men who will encourage their fellow servants “if you can't talk, Stand and Cry! That is the loudest kind of preaching you can do!”