“Once Smith was asked if he was not embarrassed by speaking before judges and lawyers in Sparta, Tennessee. ‘Not in the least,’ said he, ‘for I have learned that judges and lawyers, so far as the Bible is concerned, are the most ignorant class of people in the world – except for Doctors of Divinity” (Dabney Phillips: “Raccoon” John Smith, RESTORATION: THEN and NOW, 9th annual East Tennessee School of Preaching and Missions Lectureship, p. 139).
Wow! A person might think that was a harsh remark. Granted that it can be interpreted that way, I would say that it is not really. Many of our learned community members stand in judgment of the Lord and His word frequently. John Smith simply took note of those who did the same in his day and concluded they are just as uninformed as many in our day—feigning knowledge when they have little to none.
Is this how a preacher is to carry himself, speaking boldly and harshly?Consider what makes a Gospel Preacher: first, he must be a Christian man; second, he must be loyal to the Lord above all loyalties to people; third, he must be a man who desires to know the Lord’s will; fourth, he must know the Lord’s will well enough that he can teach it.
Some preachers, however, fail in one or more of the above. They are preachers, but not Gospel Preachers. They are recognized by many in the community as people of good standing, but the Lord does not recognize them. To be a preacher of the Gospel, one must count the cost, because it can be high. As I read what was said by “Raccoon” John Smith, I could not help but be reminded that not every preacher is motivated by the virtue of teaching the Lord’s way faithfully (cf. Gal. 4:16), that is, helping others learn His way, calling upon them to live holy lives.
Our society puts a great deal of emphasis upon formal education after the high school years – but for what spiritual purpose? Formal education is a good thing, but it’s not an end to itself. Broadly speaking, for some in our community, without a formal, post high school education, you are considered less informed than those who went to school and received that formal education.
Fortunately, the Lord does not look on these mundane matters in a similar way.
“Raccoon” John Smith was not a man who received a formal education after high school; in fact, during his day, “What was high school?” He was a self-taught man, a Baptist preacher who learned the Book of God; he took what he learned and taught others. He was devoted to the Lord, and when he could not harmonize his Baptist-Calvinistic learning with the Bible he made it clear to the congregation to whom he was speaking that he was in the dark and knew not how to lead them out of the darkness. This honesty served him well through the years.
So consumed was he with the Lord and His way, he took advantage of an opportunity to hear and learn from another preacher, one who was speaking some distance away. He made plans to go hear him, but after hearing him he expressed to one sitting by him that he was disappointed he only got thirty-minutes from the preacher in his preaching when he came such a long distance to hear him. His companion said, “Look at your watch. What you think to have been thirty-minutes was actually two hours and thirty minutes.”
John Smith devoured the Lord’s teaching when he heard another share it, and he devoured the Lord’s teaching when he read the Scriptures. Occasionally, it has been said, when he ate his meals, he would also memorize Scripture.
Learning from the Lord made all the difference in the world to John Smith. When he stood in the presence of great people of the community, those with formal education—he was not embarrassed or intimidated by their great learning because he had the greatest education any person could or can receive—he had the Lord’s learning. One’s formal education will be of great benefit in this life, but once life is over, without the Lord’s learning, that formal education goes to the grave with the deceased, and it certainly will be of no benefit then. On the other hand, the one who learns from the Lord not only benefits in this life, the Lord’s education graduates him and her to that Glorious Home of a “diploma” gained by the Lord’s grace and mercy.
I long for graduation, do you?