Elder J. N. Hall's Last Sermon
J. A. Scarboro
The sermon was preached by Brother Hall in the meeting house of the First Baptist Church, Texarkana, Texas, at 7 p.m., November 24, 1905, by appointment of the preaching committee.
He told me that morning he had a chill the night before. We worked in the committee room on the Statement of Principles of the General Association, some in the morning and all the afternoon. He was weary and so haggard many remarked it and expressed their fear for his life.
He began his sermon by a brief introduction on the importance of settling in our minds the question of confidence in the Scriptures, and expressing his own interest and the possibility of dissolution at any time. The tender emotions awakened by the hopes and promises for the Christians held forth in the Bible and what effect these hopes had upon him from boyhood.
Then he said he would give them some reasons why he believed the Bible was inspired and given to us by God.
1. There is a God. All the universe proclaims this truth.
2. The Bible is the only book in the world in the language of God, and the best language of men. The Old Testament was written in Hebrew, the language of religion and law. The Old Testament is now a text book in Hebrew and a student cannot graduate from a university of languages unless he has read the Old Testament in Hebrew and no man is considered educated by scholars unless he reads in Hebrew. God is master of languages, and he selected the Hebrew as the language in which to give us his will as revealed in the Old Testament.
The New Testament was written in Greek, the best and purest human language. It puts the largest thoughts into the shortest sentences and words, and God selected that language in which to complete his revelation. When God had completed his revelation in these tongues he petrified them. Other languages change. These do not. So perfect are they that one who can read or speak Hebrew or Greek now could have conversed intelligently with speakers of those languages in the time of David and our Savior.
3. Because there are mysteries in the Bible. Men are too ignorant to comprehend God's thoughts, and for this reason many things which God says men cannot understand. Shall we refuse to believe it because it is mysterious? Since it claims to be a revelation from a God of mysteries, how could we believe it was from him if it contained no mysteries? Nature is from God, and we know nature is mysterious. If, the Bible is from God, it, too, will therefore contain mysteries. What is the attraction of gravitation? We are told it is the natural tendency of free bodies to move toward the center of the earth. But what makes Mother Earth reach out her hands to call her children to her breast? Nobody knows or can tell. What is death? Who can tell? What is life? We do not know. Scientific men have argued eighty-five principles to explain the mysteries of life, no two of which agree. What is electricity? How does it work? Marconi and Edison say they do not know.
There are thousand of such mysteries within and about us - nature is full of them. We do not refuse to believe in nature because she is mysterious and refuses to yield up her secrets to our weak minds. Shall we refuse to believe the Bible because we do not understand it? "The fool hath said in his heart, there is no God." (At this point in the sermon the interest and attention were intense, and when the quotation, "The fool hath said," fell from Brother Hall's lips, the audience was fairly electrified, and there were amens and sobs and smiles, as the moods of the hearers expressed their feelings.) The mysteries convince me the Bible is from God.
I read Butler's Analogy of Religion and went to sleep over it. Then I read Bogarty's Analysis of Butler's Analogy and he woke me up. He understood Butler.
Men could not have indicted or invented the Bible, because it is above human comprehension, just as nature, the other book of God, is above it, and therefore I know that both nature and the Bible are from God.
(1) God is. It makes that perfectly plain.
(2) I am a sinner. It makes that perfectly plain.
(3) Man needs salvation. That is perfectly plain.
4. Because it is so simple. It makes all that is necessary for our happiness for us to know, perfectly plain.
Jesus came to die for us and give us eternal life. That is perfectly plain.
Thus God in the Bible makes present conditions and needs plain, and promises to make the future plain when we need it.
5. Because the Bible is so brief. If God wrote it then it will be pregnant with truth. It is pregnant with truth. Therefore God wrote it.
McClaren preached one hundred and sixteen sermons from one text. How long would it take a man to explain all the truth in the Bible, even if he understood it, on that basis?
Lofton preached or wrote sixteen sermons on the word "so" in the text "God so loved the world." How that word "so" does grow and expand as the preacher goes on with it. But how long would it take him to preach all the truth in all the words of the Bible?
When I was a boy, quite young, not more than twelve, perhaps, I heard an old Methodist preacher preach from the word "eternity." He said it was used one time in the Bible. But as he preached and the thought and truth grew on me, I felt I was but an infinitesimal atom in God's universe and God's "eternity."
The Bible is not like any other book. If men had written it would have been like other books. Therefore, we know that God wrote it.
Addison's History of the Creation of Light is one of the finest books man ever wrote. But the Bible puts more in one verse than there is in Addison's history. "God said, Let there be light."
One man wrote an evolutionary history of the world. The Bible tells the whole story in one verse: "In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth."
Another wrote five volumes on the life of Washington. The Bible puts the biography of Enoch who lived much longer than Washington, into one verse: "Enoch walked with God, and he was not, for God took him."
Still another wrote two volumes on the life of Christ, showing he was both human and divine. The Bible tells the whole story in two words: "Jesus wept."
Men cannot write that way. God can. The Bible is written that way. Therefore the Bible is from God.
6. Because the Bible deals honestly with men and tells the truth on them faithfully and impartially. Fiction manufactures heroes and tries to produce faultless men.
If the Bible had been written by men evil would have been concealed. It is not in human nature for men to reveal their own evil thoughts and bad conduct. But the Bible tells the truth just as it is. It tells how that great and good man, Abraham, lied. It tells how Moses did not please God. Of David committing murder, adultery and falsehood. It tells the truth on Peter and Paul.. Some modern folks claim perfection, but we do not read of such folks in the Bible. God speaks the truth. You must face the truth just as it is, so you had best be careful.
7. Because it is adapted to every need. (Here the preacher, for illustrating this truth, referred to pride, riches, poverty, and gave a passage addressed to each class; to father, mother, wife, husband child and parents, preachers and church members, the tempted and afflicted, and quoted offhand, in perfect flood of earnest eloquence, warnings and promises from the Bible, precisely adapted and addressed to each.) Here is warning, instruction, help, comfort, guidance for everybody and every class and condition of men.
No man or men could write a book adapted to the needs of all men and conditions in all ages, covering their wants, material and spiritual.
The Bible is a book that does this. Therefore, the Bible is from God, not of men.
(Then he went back and stood with the prophets in the Old Testament and took a future look at the ages that have followed, by the Scriptures. The cross and the Christ was the climax. Then he came this side and took a look backward through history. Again the climax was the cross and the Christ. And then, with his hands reverently and tenderly laid on the Bible, he avowed his faith in the Book as of god, exhorted all to believe and obey its precepts and promises, and as his thoughts burned he grew sublimely eloquent as with trembling yet firm voice he marshaled all the sweep of eloquence, as pure as heart could wish, and turning from prose to poetry, he swept out and up to the very throne of glory, where that God reigns who gave us the Bible. I saw men look up, as if they could verily see God up there.
Then dropping his voice, he said: "I could go on thus much longer, but I must regard your patience and my strength."
Then seeming suddenly to think of it, he said, with a most delightful and astonished pleasantry: "Oh! I forgot to quote my text! Let me read it to you." And opening the Book he read these words:
"For this cause also thank we God without ceasing, because when ye received the word of God which ye heard of us, ye received it not as the word of men, but as it is in truth, the word of God, which effectually worketh also in you that believe." 1 Thess. 2:13.
When he ceased the hearers began to rise and press forward, without invitation or suggestion from anyone, to shake his hand, and as he met them they flocked about him, and while his eyes were weeping his face was lit up with the joy in which all shared. Many were the heartfelt "God bless you" and similar expressions uttered as they pressed forward to endorse what he had said.
Had we but known it was his last word in the pulpit! But how could we have borne it if we had known? From him and us the solemn truth was in mercy concealed.
Of course, this is only synoptic. The divisions and leading propositions are verbatim. The illustrations are in large part, his own language. But the earnestness, the logic, the eloquence, the pathos, the heart throbs, the climaxes, the man, could never be put on paper.
I am thankful it was my happy privilege to be there, and I am glad I took full notes of his divisions and leading points. The sermon will live in my memory as long as it does its office.
Believing many would be glad to have even a synopsis of it, I have sent this outline to Sister Hall.
I have thought how fitting was such a sermon and subject for a preacher's farewell to the world. And how fitting was that text for the man who used it. Those who heard him preach did receive his preaching as the word of God and not of men, for if mortal man ever preached the gospel with spiritual power and force irresistible that man was Brother Hall. And the word he preached did "work effectually in them that believed." He yielded himself fully to God and the Spirit filled and used him. Beside the dry academic and declamations of the scholastics, his preaching was like a roaring furnace beside fox fire. They declaimed; he preached. Brethren, let us try to do some better; let us pray and submit ourselves and so may God help us to preach. And you, dear brethren and sisters, who heard Brother Hall, don't kill us all off because we cannot preach as he did, but pray for us and help us all you can. If you do not think we can preach, please do not tell us so; give us some little encouragement. Brother Hall had the moral courage to investigate for himself, to reach, hold, speak, write, preach his convictions and conclusions, with all the earnestness and power God gave him. He was not a stereotyped edition of the modern preacher factory, but his mind, heart and will were cast upon the matrix of the word and will of God, and he was unlike the common form as a live man is unlike an automaton. If the ministerial stereotypes are envious of his ability and influence, we thank God that he gave us in Brother Hall a specimen of what he can do in the way of making a preacher without the adjunct of scholastic machinery. And right here there is comfort for those who look to God rather than men for the anointing and power to preach the word. He was not afraid of men; if he had been we should not have heard of him, perhaps, at all.