Voices from the Past

The Christian Ministry

Benjamin Franklin
ca. 1856

The church of Christ was not made for the preachers, but the preachers of Christ were made for the world and the church [Rom. 10:14-17]. The church of Christ does not belong to the preachers of Christ--it is not their property but they belong to the church--are its property [2 Cor. 4:5]. The church is not the servant of the preachers, but preachers of Christ are servants of the churches [Eph. 4:11-16]. The church of Christ is not called and sent by preachers, but preachers are called and sent by the church [Acts 11:22]. Preachers in the kingdom of Christ are no more dignitaries, kings, and priests, than any other members [Gal. 3:28; 1 Cor. 4:6]. They are the Lord's instruments, put forth through the church to do his work, and mighty instruments too, while the Lord is with them, but the poorest, most useless and miserable creatures on this earth when forsaken of God. Or, in other words, when they are doing the Lord's work, with an eye single to His glory, there are no such instruments for good among men; but when they become selfish, engage simply in their own work, or that which they can turn to their own personal aggrandizement, their usefulness ceases, and they are dead weights upon the cause. Our Lord's own life is the model of all perfection in human character, both public and private. No community need look for any permanent good from any preacher who does not imitate the character of his Lord and Master. He may be much of a gentleman, very fine, pleasant and interesting to worldly-minded persons, and not do anything or say anything that would remind anyone of the Saviour of the world [Lk. 6:26]. But to come under the name of a preacher of Christ, a disciple of Christ, and not be like Him, not make men think of Him, love Him, and desire to come to Him, is a deception upon the church and the world.

No saying of our Lord needs enforcing upon us in all its amplitude, at the present period, more than His declaration: "My kingdom is not of this world." Paul says: "The wisdom of this world is foolishness with God." "The Lord knoweth the thoughts of the wise, that they are vain." Again, he says, "He taketh the wise in their own craftiness." The holy John says, "Love not the world, nor the things of the world"; and again, "If any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him." Our Lord says, "Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth." The New Testament abounds with the same sentiment, and no man that heeds it can fail to be impressed with its anti-worldly character throughout.

But what is the legitimate deduction from all this? Is it not, if the kingdom of God is not of this world, and its subjects not allowed to love the world; but a spiritual kingdom, a divine institution, that its interests can not be promoted by worldly means and appliances? The kingdom of Christ being a spiritual kingdom, not of this world, not of the nature of the kingdoms of the world, it can not make conquest by this sword--by the arm of flesh. It is unlike all the kingdoms of this world; is separate and distinct from them, and does not make any direct issue with them, and its subjects may be good citizens and peaceable subjects in any civil government in the world, and indeed are required to be such. But it is as probable that the citizens in the kingdom of Christ could take the sword and with the arm of flesh go forward, build up and propagate His kingdom among men, as that it can be done by resorting to worldly policies, appliances, and appeals to the flesh--to the lusts of the eye, and the pride of life.

The holy apostle says, "I came not to you with excellency of speech or of wisdom, declaring unto you the testimony of God." What reason does he assign for this? His reason follows: "For I determined to know nothing among you save Jesus Christ, and him crucified." He did not come among the Corinthians with a flourish of excellency of speech and of wisdom, that might dazzle the eyes, elate the mind, and prevent the cross of Jesus from appearing; but he determined to make known nothing but Christ and Him crucified. His own soul was under the power of the cross of Christ; his Redeemer was uppermost in his mind, was his all, and he had counted all things but dross that he might win Christ. He believed that the power to attract, convert and save men was in the cross, or in Him who hung upon the cross, and not in the excellency of his speech, or the wisdom of men's words, and he desired all men to know that the work was of God and not of man.

By calling illiterate men of Galilee to the apostleship, without worldly wisdom and accomplishments, and placing them before the world as the Lord's instruments to speak to man, a full assurance was given that the work was not of man, or of the wisdom of men, but of the wisdom and power of God. The excellency of their speech, the attraction of their personal appearance, and all that pertained to them was merely human; it was manifest to all men, could not have moved the souls of men and produced such a revolution in the hearts and lives of such vast multitudes. The work done was too great, too opposite to all movements known among men, too little like this world to be attributed to a human, and therefore must be sacrificed to a divine cause.

The apostles had no worldly influence upon the masses of society upon whom they operated; they had no worldly attractions; they needed none, desired none, and used none. But when they approached men, it was with strong confidence in that prime articles of their creed: "The gospel is the power of God unto salvation to every one that believeth." Their confidence was in the grand transcendently great and stupendous fact that "Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures, that he was buried, and that he rose again the third day according to the scriptures." They spoke of these great facts as sufficient in magnitude to move heaven and earth, and doing so, spoke of them as they really are. But in speaking of them, they were not contriving how they might round off a pretty period, make an oratorical display, or show their eloquence. The story they had to tell was so vast in itself, so vital to all the best interests of all nations and people, and so perfectly filled their own hearts and absorbed their whole powers, that it only appeared necessary to them to tell it in the plainest, simplest and most artless manner, which is always the best, most powerful and effectual way of telling anything great in itself.

Nothing appears more contemptible to one who realizes the transcendent glories and majesty of our glorious Redeemer and His gospel, than to see some poor, feeble worms of the dust, with a few fine words, flowery speeches, and well-rounded periods, trying to paint the gospel of Christ, to commend it to the children of men. Some flowers are so infinitely exquisite in all the perfections of beauty, attractions and loveliness, that an effort of the finest artist to paint them would only spoil them, obscure their beauty and attractions. The same is true of any attempt to paint the glorious gospel of the blessed God. A human artist would not appear more ridiculous in attempting to add to the beauties and attractions of the hues and symmetry of the rainbow, than he who would attempt to paint, polish and beautify the gospel of Christ. Such a man may show himself, may show his fine skill, what a workman he is in his art; and spectators may see him and his fine painting, and admire both, but they will not see the Redeemer, His word, nor His glories, nor will they worship Him.

All this kind of thing is of the world, and shows that the preacher's own soul is not filled with the glories of His Lord, and the power of His gospel; that he has no confidence in the attractions of His Lord, who is lifted up to draw all men to Him, and in His gospel, His power to salvation to the believer. Hence men listen to such efforts and are frequently highly pleased, while their hearts are not in the least touched with the power of the Lord, and their souls are no more moved to cry out, "What must we do to be saved?" than if they had listened to a fine lecture on astronomy or anatomy. The reason is obvious: The Lord is not in it. His cross is hid by the fine painting, flourishing and display of the mighty man. The Lord is kept back, that the man may appear; the gospel of Christ is not seen or felt, but the mere show of a poor mortal that would have served a better purpose at a school exhibition, than to have strayed into the place of a gospel preacher, is all that appears.

"But do you intend to discourage classical literature learning, and refined, elevated, liberal attainments?" Not when consecrated to God; but when used for mere worldly show, and not a means to bring men into notice ignorant of God, there is no greater injury to the church. If a man's learning is combined with pity, devotion, and consecration to Jesus Christ, and he is possessed with the humility and meekness inculcated in Christianity, and his learning enables him to unfold the unsearchable riches of Christ, with the simplicity, sincerity and devotion necessary to commend it to the hearts and consciences of men, it is of great value. If the Lord dwells in a man, if the great matters of the kingdom of God fill his soul, and if his learning is used in presenting the simple gospel of Christ in meekness, it may be of great service to Him; but it requires much care to keep the Lord in front of it, so that the hearers will see nothing but Him. The more gifted the man, the more learned and powerful, the better, if all his powers are engaged in setting forth and honoring the Lord, sanctifying Him in the eyes of the people. At the same time, he should rely upon no learning, no talent, or power that he possesses, but upon the Lord, upon His gospel, the power of God unto salvation to everyone who believes. He must look to heaven for the means to move men to repent; he must appeal to God, and keep God and His works before his audience, and in this way show that his confidence is in Christianity itself and the Author of it, and not in himself, not in man. Whether men have what the world calls learning or not, they must know God, and have the love of God in their hearts, if they would induce others to love Him and turn to Him.

American Christian Review, Vol. I, No. 3, March 1856, pp. 75-77

[Reprinted in The Gospel Guardian, Vol. 27, No. 15, August 1, 1975. Slightly edited to add some scripture references. - sfd]

Editor's Comments

First, we added some scripture references in order to aid the reader in finding book, chapter, and verse for some of the points made. In times past writers did not put a reference (i.e. Acts 2:38) as much as we do today, perhaps because they and their readers KNEW the scriptures extremely well. Wish we could say the same of all today.

Second, we wish to call attention to brother Franklin's frankness! He did not "sugar coat" his articles, nor did many men in the last century who fought long and hard for the cause of truth. In this, he followed the apostles and prophets (Amos, Obadiah, Nahum, Paul, etc.).

Third, the above article makes some great points which are worth repeating today. The world is ever an allurement to saints, not just sinners. Preachers are not immune to Satan's devices. He will appeal to their ego and desire for acceptance. It is sad, but true, some of our brethren have given in to such. Some preachers have dipped from the well of denominationalism and thereby been infected with the "worldly-bug." That is, some men now fill their "speeches" (not sermons) with cute tales and quaint anecdotes, when they should be filling them with the word of God (1 Pet. 4:11; Jn. 8:32; 2 Tim. 4:2).

Fourth, the author made the point that some in his day could stand before an audience, deliver a "message," and never really point men to Christ and His word. We believe he had in mind those who were, on the surface, "speaking" without "preaching" (2 Tim. 3:5). There are some of those among us even today. In fact, it may be worse, as we have some preachers and elders who advocate the church supporting lessons in which no scripture is used and the name of God is not even mentioned--ON PURPOSE! Let us explain.

In early February the University Heights church of Christ in Lexington, Kentucky, held a "lectureship" focused upon evolution vs. creation. In this series of lectures, only scientific evidence was presented, no scripture, to show that creation is more "reasonable" than evolution. The elders and local preacher were questioned about the authority for such. They said there was. Basically, their defense has been that God has two bodies of truth--the Bible and creation. Thus, to reach an atheist who does not believe in the Bible, we must first teach them that which would lead them to believe in God who revealed the Bible, then study the Word. On the surface that sounds plausible. However, the Bible still says, "So then faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God" (Rom. 10:17). One gains Biblical faith by hearing (or reading) the word of God--period! Too, the Bible still says, "For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ, for it is the power of God to salvation for everyone who believes, for the Jew first and also for the Greek" (Rom. 1:16). For a church to hold a week's meeting and purposely not present any Bible to go along with scientific evidence or even mention the name of God, is a sad and abhorrent thing. Any atheist who attended, heard lessons lacking the revealed word of God, void of rebuke, and destitute of the Redeemer. Dear reader, does that strike you as being a problem? Yet, there are brethren who defend it and imply that those who oppose it are Pharisaic and following the traditions of men!

Christians need to realize that the Bible is anti-worldly, as brother Franklin wrote. It is against doing things which seem right unto man (Prov. 14:12). It is against using the tools of men, science or otherwise, to attract the lost to the Lord (1 Cor. 1:18-2:5). "Now we have received, not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, that we might know the things that have been freely given to us by God. These things we also speak, not in words which man's wisdom teaches but which the Holy Spirit teaches, comparing spiritual things with spiritual" (1 Cor. 2:12-13).

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