Prayer of Jesus
thee, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that thou hast hidden these things
from the wise and understanding and revealed them to babes; yea, Father,
for such was thy gracious will.
I could never
fully integrate the message of Paul with that of Jesus. I understood
that to confess Jesus as Lord, as Paul urged, was the initiation of a radical
commitment. I had been reading and pondering the gospels and I knew
that Jesus had said, Why do you call me "Lord, Lord" and not do what I
tell you? (Luke 6:46). Then Jesus followed with the Parable of the
Two Builders, which clearly indicated that those who call Jesus "Lord,"
and who yet do not obey him, are in for a great surprise when the storm
comes. The one who does not obey is the one who builds his house
on the ground, without a foundation. Naturally, it collapses.
So, in my heart I knew that a third step was essential: obey. The
formula then becomes, “Believe, confess and obey.” But when I sought
confirmation from my brethren, both old and young, the answer was always
the same: confession and faith are all the Lord requires for salvation;
obedience enters in only as the basis of rewards in the hereafter.
That was the way they had resolved the problem, but it never satisfied
me. Evidence of my concern is the fact that my first sermon, delivered
in June of 1948 at Toonigh Baptist Church a few miles north of Atlanta,
Ga., was drawn from a text found not in Paul but in James:
does it profit, my brethren, if a man says he has faith but has not works?
Can his faith save him? If a brother or sister is ill clad and in
lack of daily food, and one of you says to them, "Go in peace, be warmed
and filled," without giving them the things needed for the body, what does
it profit? So faith by itself, if it has no works, is dead (James
I entered Southern
Seminary thinking that this issue would very soon find a resolution.
It did not. It only became more intense and prominent as the seminary
years progressed. The hard commandments of the Sermon on the Mount
increasingly seemed tailor made to my central interests in the violence
of Christendom that was World War II. But to my dismay, the Seminary
faculty did nothing to relieve my growing concern. A typical response
was to assure me that no one could keep those commandments. "They
are only meant to convict us of sin so that we will trust in the blood
of Jesus for forgiveness." I could never match those assurances with
anything from the utterances of Jesus but found them contradicted on every
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