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THE ROAD NOT TAKEN
by Dr. R. L. Hymers, Jr.
A sermon preached at the Baptist Tabernacle of Los Angeles
“What then? are we better than they? No, in no wise: for we have before proved both Jews and Gentiles, that they are all under sin; As it is written, There is none righteous, no, not one: There is none that understandeth, there is none that seeketh after God” (Romans 3:9-11).
The Apostle Paul says that we Christians are no better than others, “No, in no wise [not at all!]: for we have before proved both Jews and Gentiles, that they are all under sin” (Romans 3:9). He goes on to say,
“There is none righteous, no, not one” (Romans 3:10).
“There is no one that understands, no one that seeks God” (Romans 3:11 NIV).
“There is no fear of God before their eyes” (Romans 3:18).
I went into the ministry on Easter Sunday morning, 1958. I was 17 years old. I didn’t go into the ministry because I was righteous! I was not righteous. I was a sinner! I didn’t go into the ministry because I was seeking God, either! I was actually running away from God! I was trying to make myself feel good! I was like the boy in the nursery rhyme,
Little Jack Horner
Sat in the corner,
Eating a Christmas pie;
He stuck in his thumb
And pulled out a plum,
And said, “What a good boy am I!”
That describes me pretty well. I was trying to be a Christian by being good. I thought becoming a preacher would make me good – and I would be a Christian. The fact is – I was a miserable sinner who didn’t understand the Gospel at all. There was no real fear of God before my eyes. I thought He would see how “good” I was, and that would be it! I would say to God, “See what a good boy am I!” And yet I don’t think I would ever have been saved if I had not surrendered to preach – and then failed. It was in the heartache of my failure that Christ came to me. But even then I knew what needed to be said. And if I didn’t say it, no one would, or at least they wouldn’t say it very well.
I can say to you this evening that I was finally saved, three years later, by the sheer grace of God! After that I still went on preaching, but now I did it as a debtor. “O to grace how great a debtor Daily I’m constrained to be!” Then I didn’t preach to earn salvation, but to show my gratitude to God for saving me through the Blood of His Son! So I have nothing to boast about. I can only boast in the Blood of Christ that cleansed me and saved me.
When I saw President Reagan’s son on TV the other night, I have to admit I felt like twisting his nose. That feeling did not come from my new nature, though. Afterwards I felt sorry for the poor man. He looked so old and weird, so twisted and angry. He had it all! They bought horses for him, sent him to private schools, and gave him the best of everything. After all, his father was the President of the United States! But Ron Reagan hated his father. He did the one thing he knew would hurt his father more than anything else. He became an atheist. That worried President Reagan for years, and Ron knew it. He delighted in jabbing at his father’s heart. He smiled a wry smile as he poked his father in the eye and twisted his father’s nose. I saw Ron on TV, in a commercial, last week. He said,
I’m Ron Reagan, unabashed atheist, and I’m alarmed by the intrusions of religion into our secular government. That’s why I’m asking you to support the Freedom From Religion foundation, the largest and most effective association of atheists... working to keep the church and state separate... [wry smile] Ron Reagan, life-long atheist, not afraid of burning in hell.
His father has been dead more than ten years – but Ron is still poking him in the eye – with a “wry” smile on his twisted face. Yet Ron Reagan does not look like a very happy man to me. His face seems to be melting, like Oscar Wilde's painting of Dorian Grey, or a liquefying head in “House of Wax” with Vincent Price, whom he is beginning to resemble. I would not like to spend the night alone in a dark house with Ron.
It’s easy to be like Ron Reagan today. There are so many people like him. In fact they are becoming the majority. Like the boy who shot all those people at a college in Oregon last week. He asked each one what their religion was. If they said they were Christians he shot them in the head. If they said they didn’t believe in God, he let them go. It’s easier and easier to be like Ron Reagan today because more and more people think like that. It’s what sociologists call the “bandwagon syndrome.” Everybody’s doing it – let’s get on the bandwagon. That’s the way smoking became popular. During World War I the armed forces began giving cigarettes to our soldiers. By the end of World War II nearly everybody was smoking. When I was in high school they thought you were kind of weird if you didn’t smoke. Today, when I tell young people I smoked for about seven years their eyes open wide, like that was strange. Actually, it wasn’t. I got on the bandwagon. Everybody else was smoking, so I went along with the crowd. I finally stopped smoking to become a Baptist preacher.
Later, when I was in college, I had a very close friend named Ben. We did a lot of things together. He even brought my mother up to San Francisco when I graduated from Golden Gate Seminary. We wrote to each other. We were really good friends. But he decided to become a psychologist. As he worked his way toward a degree, he gradually, little by little, left me behind. I did not get on the bandwagon with the others at the liberal seminary. But Ben did get on the bandwagon with the secular psychologists he studied with. Today I’m just about the same as I was 40 years ago, because I did not go along with the crowd. But Ben got in with the secularists. Today I’m a Baptist preacher and Ben is an atheist. He wouldn’t even talk with me when I phoned him a few years ago. I had never argued with him, but he just didn’t want to hear my voice any more. That made me think of Robert Frost’s little poem, “The Road Not Taken.”
Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as long as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth...
I shall be telling of this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence;
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I –
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.
Ben got on the bandwagon and went down the easy road. Dr. A. W. Tozer said, “It is easier to follow degenerate public taste than to think for oneself” (God Tells the Man Who Cares). “I took the road less traveled by, and that has made all the difference.”
Jesus said, “Because iniquity shall abound, the love of many shall wax cold. But he that shall endure unto the end, the same shall be saved” (Matthew 24:12, 13). Those who study history say that our civilization and way of life are coming to an end. I think they are right. And so I became a contrarian, a person who has a contrary opinion, a different view of things. The liberals said I was obstinate, stubborn, headstrong, unruly. But I saw myself taking the road less traveled. They told me I would lose everything if I didn’t get on the “bandwagon” and go along with them. I defended the Bible, when they spoke against it. I answered the critics until one professor said, “If you don’t stop you will never be the pastor of a Southern Baptist church.” I said, “I don’t want to be one if that’s what it costs!” When I said that, and believed it, I was free – free to be a slave to no one but Jesus, bound by no institution, a captive only to the Word of God, as Luther was.
They said I would be ruined. But they were wrong. One hundred thousand people read my sermons every week – in 32 languages on the Internet. Now that I am 74 years old they are beginning to say, “Maybe Hymers was right after all.” And after I am dead they will all speak well of me.
I did not start out to be contrary. I started out to be a missionary, a preacher, nothing more. But they kept telling me I had to say things I did not believe, and to believe things I knew were wrong. They said, “Who are you to speak with such authority? You come from a broken home! Your parents are divorced. You have no backing! You have no money! What right do you have to speak up, like some great personality, against the status quo? Sit down and shut up, Robert Hymers!”
When I would not sit down and shut up, they hurled accusations against me and told lies about me. I felt alone. I felt I could not go on. But Jesus whispered, “You are on the right road, the road not taken by the rest, but it is the right road. Don’t give up. Go on.” Then I understood what David meant when he said,
“The Lord is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear? the Lord is the strength of my life; of whom shall I be afraid? When the wicked, even mine enemies and my foes, came upon me to eat up my flesh, they stumbled and fell...When my father and my mother forsake me, then the Lord will take me up. Teach me thy way, O Lord, and lead me in a plain path, because of mine enemies. Deliver me not over unto the will of mine enemies: for false witnesses are risen up against me, and such as breathe out cruelty. I had fainted, unless I had believed to see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living. Wait on the Lord: be of good courage, and he shall strengthen thine heart: wait, I say, on the Lord” (Psalm 27:1-2, 10-14).
Thus, Psalm 27 became the story of my life, my "life-Psalm."
I did not become who I am tonight because of any goodness in me. There was a time when there was no fear of God before my eyes. There was a time when I did not seek God. There was a time when I had no righteousness, no real faith, no hope. There was a time when I was an alien from the commonwealth of Israel, a stranger from the covenants of promise, “having no hope, and without God in the world” (Ephesians 2:12). But Jesus called me to Himself. He opened my eyes. He poured oil and wine into my wounds. He lifted me up, “For by grace [I was] saved through faith; and that not of [myself]: it [was] the gift of God” (Ephesians 2:8).
Then the really bad time came. I was alone now, far from home, in the liberal seminary. It was very late at night. I woke with a start. An inner voice said “accepted in the beloved.” “What?” I said. “You are accepted in the beloved.” Wiping the sleep from my eyes, I opened my concordance and looked up the word “accepted.” There it was, in Ephesians 1:6, “he hath made us accepted in the beloved.” The dormitory was quiet. Not a sound. I walked out into the night. The wind whipped in from the ocean and chilled me to the bone. Whipping, whipping, whipping – the wind blew in my face and through my hair. And in the wind God said to me, “You will never forget this night. Long years from now you will remember this, and you will remember I told you that your main work will then begin, when you are old. Go back to your bed. Now you will speak for me. You will not be fearful then. I will be with you. Now go back to bed.” Was that my call to preach? No, it was more of a prophecy than a call. The only “call” I had was knowing that if I didn’t speak it wouldn’t be said. And it desperately needed to be said – and others were afraid to say it, so if I did not say it, no one would, or at least they wouldn’t say it very well. I felt like the prophet when he said,
“O Lord...I am in derision daily, every one mocketh me. For since I spake, I cried out, I cried violence and spoil; because the word of the Lord was made a reproach unto me, and a derision, daily. Then I said, I will not make mention of him, nor speak any more in his name. But his word was in mine heart as a burning fire shut up in my bones, and I was weary with forbearing, and I could not stay” (Jeremiah 20:7-9).
Again and again, down through the years, I have thought, “Don’t speak about that (whatever it was). Let it go. Let others speak. You’ve done enough.” And then God whispers, “That’s all right. You don’t have to do it – but remember, if you don’t say it no one will, or at least they won’t say it very well.” As a modern translation puts it,
“But if I say, ‘I will not mention him or speak any more in his name,’ his word is in my heart like a burning fire, shut up in my bones. I am weary of holding it in, indeed, I cannot” (Jeremiah 20:9 NIV).
That is my call to preach. There were no flashing lights, no thunder, no emotion – only this, “If you don’t say it no one will. It’s all right, you don’t have to do it, but if you don’t say it no one will, or at least they won’t say it very well.” That simple thought has been my call to preach since I was a teenager – even before I was saved – even until tonight, when I had no desire to preach this sermon, and no idea where to start. Beginning only with a flash of anger at Ron Reagan, and a thought of defending the honor of the President – I said to God, “How can I make a sermon out of that?” And God whispered, “Just start writing, and I will tell you what to say.”
As with every other sermon, I must plead with you to turn to Jesus. He is there, alive and well, seated beside the throne of God. It is not just out of duty, but with joy, that I ask you to come to Him. He has pardoned my sin – and I know Jesus will pardon yours as well. He has given me life and joy and hope – and I know He will give that to you also. He gave Himself to be crucified in your place, to ransom your soul from judgment and from Hell. He poured out His Blood to cleanse you from all sin, and clothe you in His righteousness.
Jesus! the name that charms our fears,
That bids our sorrows cease;
‘Tis music in the sinner’s ears,
‘Tis life, and health, and peace.
He breaks the power of canceled sin,
He sets the prisoner free;
His blood can make the foulest clean;
His blood availed for me.
(“O For a Thousand Tongues” by Charles Wesley, 1707-1788).
Dr. Chan, please lead us in prayer! Amen.
If this sermon blessed you Dr. Hymers would like to hear from you. WHEN YOU WRITE TO DR. HYMERS YOU MUST TELL HIM WHAT COUNTRY YOU ARE WRITING FROM OR HE CANNOT ANSWER YOUR E-MAIL. If these sermons bless you send an e-mail to Dr. Hymers and tell him, but always include what country you are writing from. Dr. Hymers’ e-mail is at email@example.com (click here). You can write to Dr. Hymers in any language, but write in English if you can. If you want to write to Dr. Hymers by postal mail, his address is P.O. Box 15308, Los Angeles, CA 90015. You may telephone him at (818)352-0452.
(END OF SERMON)
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Scripture Read Before the Sermon by Mr. Abel Prudhomme: Romans 3:9-18.
Solo Before the Sermon by Mr. Benjamin Kincaid Griffith:
“Jesus Loves Even Me” (by Philip P. Bliss, 1838-1876).