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PREACHERS WHO WERE STRANGELY DIFFERENT!

by Dr. R. L. Hymers, Jr.

A sermon preached at the Baptist Tabernacle of Los Angeles
Lord’s Day Evening, March 1, 2009

“They departed from the presence of the council, rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer shame for his name” (Acts 5:41).


Strangely some of the greatest preachers I have heard were not really good speakers – not at all! They did not embrace all the points of Reformed theology. But they were closer to the spirit of the Reformation than they may have realized. Dr. A. W. Tozer had a way of whistling through his false teeth when he spoke. Pastor Richard Wurmbrand had to take off his shoes and sit on a chair – because of scars on the bottoms of his feet from beatings given by Communist guards when he was in prison in Romania. He spoke with a heavy accent, somewhat difficult to understand. Dr. John R. Rice was a quaint little man with a “snuffle” in his speech that made him quite hard to understand, especially as he grew older. None of the three were what you would call “great” or even “good” preachers. Yet people by the thousands still read their books, decades after they died. Most of what they wrote is still in print, and a generation now living, who never heard them speak, still eagerly reads them. And when they were living, even in deep old age, all of them could hold the attention of several thousand people at a time in large meetings. I said this is a strange fact, yet it is certainly a true one. What was their secret?

I think they were powerful preachers for two reasons (1) they were in dead earnest when they spoke. There was never any slipshod pandering, or jokes to “warm up” an audience. People could tell “This man really means what he says.” That goes a long way toward holding the attention of an audience. Tozer, Rice and Wurmbrand all had that quality. They were so serious that it made you almost afraid not to give them your full attention. (2) They were men who prayed a great deal, and you could feel the weight of God (I use the word “weight” on purpose) when they spoke. I should add that Dr. Lloyd-Jones had these qualities as well. It was obvious that they had deep prayer lives, and the smoke from the “incense” trailed after them as they went from the prayer closet to the pulpit. They had an other-worldly quality. So it didn’t matter that Tozer, Rice and Wurmbrand were poor public speakers, because they were God-anointed preachers. The power of God’s Spirit cancelled out their human failings and, strangely, used those human failings to make them even more interesting – powerful preachers of the Gospel.

They had an apostolic feel to them. And there can be no question that the Apostles received their calling and power in the Seminary of Suffering, the same school where Tozer, Rice and Wurmbrand learned their craft. Like the Apostles, these three twentieth-century preachers were, in their own way, martyrs – as Wurmbrand would have called them “living martyrs.” Ernest Hemingway said that the Russian author “Dostoyevsky was made by being sent to Siberia”…as a prisoner in solitary confinement (L. W. Phillips, Ernest Hemingway on Writing, Scribner, 2004, p. 20). This “made” Dostoyevsky a writer of great human understanding. In a similar way, apostolic preachers are forged as a sword is forged – by plunging it into red-hot fire. The fire that forges an apostolic preacher is the flames of persecution.

Yes, Tozer was often called “a twentieth century prophet” by those who garnished his tomb, especially after his death. But there were many others who didn’t like him for having that very quality while he lived. He had a tendency to point out faults in Evangelicalism that made them feel uneasy in his presence. They called him a “mystic,” and often they didn’t mean it in a kind way. The English author Peter Jeffrey said of him,

Tozer did not count popularity and was not afraid to stand alone. He once said that he had preached himself off every major Bible conference in the country…Like Thoreau, whom he admired, Tozer marched to a different drummer; and for this reason, he was usually out of step with many of the [leaders of] his religious parade (Peter Jeffrey, Preachers Who Made a Difference, Evangelical Press, 2004, p. 91).

Here are a few quotations from Dr. Tozer, the kind of preaching that made him unpopular with many church leaders.

The whole evangelical world is to a large extent unfavorable to healthy Christianity. And I am not thinking of modernism either. I mean rather the Bible-believing crowd…that bears little resemblance to that of the New Testament. The average so-called Bible Christian of our times is but a wretched parody (A. W. Tozer, D.D., Of God and Men, Christian Publications, 1960, pp. 12-13).

A widespread revival of the kind of Christianity we know today in America might prove to be a moral tragedy from which we would not recover in a hundred years (A. W. Tozer, D.D., Keys to the Deeper Life, Zondervan Publishing House, 1957, p. 12).

We must have a new reformation. There must come a violent break with that irresponsible, amusement-mad, paganized pseudo-religion which passes today for the faith of Christ (A. W. Tozer, D.D., We Travel an Appointed Way, Christian Publications, 1988, p. 118).

It is an open question whether or not the evangelical movement has sinned too long and departed too far from God to return to spiritual sanity…We have actually seen a major shift in the beliefs and practices of the evangelical…church so radical as to amount to a complete sellout…and for a preacher or writer to challenge this heresy is to invite ridicule and abuse from every quarter (A. W. Tozer, D.D., Of God and Men, pp. 18-19).

Dr. John R. Rice would have agreed with Tozer’s hard assessment of today’s evangelicalism. Dr. Rice went through many painful experiences to earn the “prophetic mantle.” He was “blackballed” from Baylor University for defending the inerrancy of the Scriptures. He was called “an extremist” by Southern Baptist leaders and the doors to most of their churches were closed to him. Later he was “blackballed” by Dr. J. Frank Norris, who said he was influenced by Aimee Semple McPherson, a Pentecostal “preacher” in the 1930s, because of his emphasis on need for the Holy Spirit in evangelism. Late in life he was again “blackballed” by certain Fundamentalists for his book, Why Our Churches Do Not Win Souls (Sword of the Lord Publishers, 1966). Dr. Rice went through many trials and lost many friends for taking a stand on the Bible and the Fundamentals of the faith. To this day some preachers openly mock his songs and the stands he took for Christ. No wonder the last verse of his song, “All My Heart’s Love,” which Mr. Griffith just sang, says,

Why should I murmur, Hold back from sorrow,
   Dread to lose money or friends in His name?
Oh, I should welcome prison or scourging,
   If I might thus have some part in His shame!
All my heart’s love, all my fond dreams –
   Make them, Lord Jesus, Only for Thee.
All that I am, all I could be –
   Take me, Lord Jesus, Thine e’er to be.
(“All My Heart’s Love” by John R. Rice, D.D., 1895-1980;
   Songs of John R. Rice, Sword of the Lord Publishers, 1976, p. 46).

Who among those that knew him would dare to say that he didn’t mean exactly what he wrote in that song?

Why should I murmur, Hold back from sorrow,
   Dread to lose money or friends in His name?
Oh, I should welcome prison or scourging,
   If I might thus have some part in His shame!

That verse was true of the Apostles and, had the occasion risen, it surely would have been true of Dr. Rice.

“They departed from the presence of the council, rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer shame for his name”
      (Acts 5:41).

The Apostles and early Christians suffered willingly. But today very few evangelicals are willing to suffer for Christ in America and Europe. Why? The answer is simple – many of those evangelicals are only nominal Christians. The dictionary says that “nominal” means “in name only, not in fact,” not in reality. Millions of these evangelicals are just nominal Christians – Christians only in name, not in reality. Nominal Christians are described in the Bible:

“Thou hast a name that thou livest, and art dead”
      (Revelation 3:1).

Nominal means “in name only.” Such evangelicals have “a name” that they are real Christians, but in fact they only have

“a form [Greek: outward form] of godliness” (II Timothy 3:5).

We sometimes tend to think that all “believers” in Muslim or Communist lands are real Christians. But even in those places most are only nominal, not real Christians. Pastor Richard Wurmbrand told us what happened when the Communists took over Romania:

      Protestant church leaders competed with each other in yielding to Communism…Rapp, deputy bishop of the Lutheran church in Romania, began to teach in the theological seminary that God had given three revelations: One through Moses, one through Jesus, and the third through Stalin, the last superseding [replacing] the one before! [Yet Stalin was the mass-murderer of many thousands of true Christians.]
       I attended the Congress of the Baptists in the town of Resita – a congress under the Red flag, where the anthem of the Soviet Union [was] sung with everyone standing. The president of the Baptists praised Stalin as a great teacher of the Bible and proclaimed that Stalin did nothing but fulfill the commandments of God!
       It must be understood that the true Baptists, whom I love very much, did not agree and were faithful to Christ, suffering much…Those who became servants of communism instead of Christ began to denounce [those] who did not join them (Richard Wurmbrand, Tortured for Christ, Living Sacrific

e Book Company, 1998 edition, p. 16).

Notice that Wurmbrand said, “The true Baptists…were faithful to Christ, suffering much.” The “nominal” Baptists became Communists, or Communist sympathizers, but the “true” Baptists suffered greatly and joined the “underground church” (ibid.). This is also true in China and other Communist countries. The nominal Christians join the government-sponsored Communist church, but the “true” Christians join the “underground church” or “house churches,” as they are called in China, and are persecuted for being real Christians. To read more about persecution in restricted parts of the world, go to www.persecution.com.

Tom White, director of Voice of the Martyrs, said,

Western Christian personalities travelling to China are wooed and flattered by large church buildings, choir robes, beautiful singing and easy access to the [Communist] Three Self Patriotic Church, founded by an atheist government. The travelers return home ignoring the plight of 100 million persecuted Christians who worship outside the Communist law. On October 29, 2008, our contacts discovered 32 additional house church leaders were found in one prison system alone! Some of the women were at No. 1 Female Prison in Zhengzhou City. More than 20 men and women are still held at No. 3 Prison of Henan Province, sentenced by the court as “evil cult members” who participate in “illegal religious gatherings” (Tom White, The Voice of the Martyrs, March 2009, p. 2).

In Hubei Province on November 1, 2008, house church Christians…were standing on a platform at Jingmen Train Station when they were beaten by multiple plainclothes officials from the Bureau of State Security. They were handcuffed and detained at a hotel across the street. The authorities took their Bibles saying, “We persecute you, confiscate your Bibles and our purpose is not to allow you to believe in Jesus…This persecution of you is to thoroughly destroy your church, get rid of the missionaries and disband you believers” (ibid.).

The “real” Christians are willing to withstand persecution, as did the Apostles and early Christians,

“And they departed from the presence of the council, rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer shame for his name” (Acts 5:41).

Anyone can become a “nominal,” name only, Christian by saying a “sinner’s prayer,” or by believing correct doctrines. But you can only become a real Christian by going through a real conversion. You must feel the weight of your sin and the deadness of your soul. Only when you feel lost in sin, unable to do anything to obtain salvation, will you see the need for Christ to redeem you by His Blood and resurrection from the dead.

(END OF SERMON)
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at www.realconversion.com. Click on “Sermon Manuscripts.”

Scripture Read Before the Sermon by Dr. Kreighton L. Chan: Acts 5:40-42.
Solo Sung Before the Sermon by Mr. Benjamin Kincaid Griffith:
“All My Heart’s Love” (by Dr. John R. Rice, 1895-1980).