Who in times past suffered all nations to walk in their own ways. Nevertheless He left not Himself without witness, in that He did good, and gave us rain from heaven, and fruitful seasons, filling our hearts with food and gladness. (Acts 14:16-17)
Nevertheless He left not Himself without a witness. He has, in the most decollate times of spiritual famine, always provided the seeds of His grace and gave us rain from heaven. I am a debtor to so many people that God has used to carry His word and message. To those that He has provided to fill the hearts of His elect with food and gladness in times of most need. To those that in the face of true evil, God gave strength to continue to His glory.
John Staupitz (1460-1524), the Vicar-General of the Augustines in Germany, was unique in that within the ceremonial hypocrisy of the established church he was one who believed and preached God's grace. God led him to counsel a young monk concerning that plain truth of salvation. “I cannot and dare not come to God, till I am a better man, I have not yet repented sufficiently”. “A better man!”, would the Vicar-General say, “Christ came to save not good men, but sinners”. This message, by the grace of God, weighed heavy on the heart of this young monk whom we know by the name of Martin Luther.
Martin Luther (1483- 1546) preached grace, Christ, and scriptures alone in direct rebellion to the established church. And for this faced continual persecution and at times certain death for his belief. Many times he found himself on trail and alone in his message. But the Spirit protected him and guided him to write many articles and commentaries on various books of the bible. In addition to these, in 1517 he posted a list of problems (95 to be exact) he saw with the church. In this hard-hitting list he attacked the Church’s view of indulgences, which were the payments to the Church for attaining pardon from sin. Luther saw these payments as an abomination to the forgiving work of Christ. “The Ninety-Five Theses” were a call for debate, although a debate never took place. This call did, however, shake the people of Germany. Luther’s challenge went unnoticed for some time by the established Church, but the people did not let it die. Through the providence of God, a call of Sola Grata, Solo Christo, Sola Scriptura, as the Christians’ sole faith, hope, and authority began to ring throughout Germany and other parts of Europe. From this reformation came others like Ulrich Zwingli (1484-1531), John Calvin (1509-1564), and Henry Jacob (1563-1624) who for his preaching was thrown into prison. In the case of Henry Jacob, he fled to Holland and later in 1616 retuned to England to preach. After his death and from this church 6 people broke out to form the first particular Baptist church despite the inevitable persecution they were sure to face from the King.
During this time a young man by the name of John Bunyan (1628-1688) found himself in a struggle with his flesh and hungry for the truth that may ease his pain. He found a copy of Martin Luther’s commentary on the book of Galatians. Bunyan stated that he thought that “as if this had been written for my heart”. And by the grace of God, much prayer, and possibly the pages of this book he in time found peace. Though an uneducated tinker, he went on to be a great preacher and prolific writer. But his newfound grace filled heart came with a temporal price. Bunyan spent many years in prison for his preaching and this at the expense of a wife and blind child he was unable to care for when he was jailed. But the Spirit strengthened him and guided him despite the pain he felt not to compromise his message and the glory of God. John Bunyan wrote many books and among them were Grace Abounding the Chief of Sinners and the more well know Pilgrim’s Progress. Through his preaching and others of his time it brought forth other reformers of the Church such as John Gill (1697-1771), Alexander Carson (1776-1844), Joseph Philpot (1802-1869), C.H. Spurgeon (1834-1932), and A.W. Pink (1886-1952).
In what seems in contrast to these men, in Texas there was a young boy named Benajah H. Carroll (1843-1914) who had declared his own personal war against God. He hated the gospel and rejected Jesus and vowed not to believe. Carroll had a God fearing mother who prayed fervently for her son and finally convinced him to attend a church camp in 1865. Carroll came back more humbled and convicted. That night his mother stead up all night and read him John Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress. When she got to the part about doubters castle his heart was filled with such rapture as never before. His mother declared that next morning that her son had found the Lord. Benajah H. Carroll went on to become a preacher and wrote 33 different books and countless published sermons.
Ralph Barnard (1904-1969) became a preacher as well in Texas and was well received by many of the churches. He was a dynamic speaker with a gift of preaching and people never shied away from hearing him. But it was in the late 1940s that he happened to purchase (for a dime) a second-hand book of sermons by Benajah H. Carroll. As he said, just one sentence from a sermon on John 5:25 ‘unlocked everything and "ruined" my ministry’! It was through this book that the grace of God flowed and convicted Barnard and his message would change. As He found himself preaching Christ now he found that the reception to this gospel changed as well. One of the defining moments came at the Fundamentalist ‘Sword of the Lord’ Conference at Tocoa Falls, Georgia, in summer 1949. Ralph Barnard preached for an hour on sovereign grace and by the next morning the conference was in turmoil. By the middle of the week the other Pastors there had publicly denounced him and asked Barnard to leave. Bernard found many doors now closed to him and he was ostracised for his Calvinistic views. Despite that many of the congregations were deeply disturbed, the Spirit lead him to continue to find others that were hungry.
1950, Pastor Don Wells of Pollard Baptist Church in Ashland, Kentucky called a new assistant Pastor by the name of Henry Mahan. Henry was a young man, an excellent speaker, but in his words “didn’t know anything”. He had a command of words unfortunately without the Word to preach. In preparation to become the new assistant pastor Henry came up to Ashland to find a new house. In the true providence of God, at this same time Pastor Don Wells invited Ralph Barnard to come to speak that same Sunday. Henry Mahan attended that day and energetically set in the front row. As Barnard stood up to preach, he said in a low voice: ‘I don’t know why I am here, but I’m sure it has something to do with the foreordaining purposes of God’. Then he asked: ‘Can anyone here quote Romans 8:28?’ It was then that this young new assistant pastor, Henry Mahan, stood and quoted the verse, but left out the last phrase. Barnard asked him if that was all he knew of that verse. Henry replied: ‘Yes’. Then Barnard said: ‘Let me quote the verse for you’. He began quoting the verse slowly: ‘for all things work together for good to those who love the Lord, to those called according to his…’ Then, when he came to the word ‘purpose’, he bellowed it at the top of his voice. Then he looked at Mahan and said: ‘Young man, when you understand the meaning of that word "purpose" you will have the key that unlocks the Book of Romans and the whole Bible’. By the grace of God Henry learned the meaning of “purpose” and as it was ordained by God he was lead by the Spirit and Pastured the 13th Street Baptist Church in Ashland Ky.
There may be no greater temporal blessing that God can provide than to allow one to see in their lifetime the fruits of their labors. It was from those pews of the 13th Street Baptist Church that Henry Mahan Pastured that he seen a fruitful season and that so many others were called to Pastor other churches. Joe Terrell of Grace Community Church in Rock Valley Iowa, Paul Mahan of Central Baptist Church in Rock Mt Virginia, Charley Pennington of Grace Fellowship Church in Wheelersburg Ohio, Tom Harding of Zebulon Baptist Church in Pikeville Kentucky, Bill Parker who toke over for Henry and is the current Pastor of the 13th Street Baptist Church, and Todd Nibert of Todd’s Road Church in Lexington Kentucky all came from and sat under Henry before preaching to their own congregations. And it was the pulpit of a Sovereign Grace Church that God used and guided that preacher to deliver a message that convicted me and called me to His flock. It is these and other Pastors that I hunger to listen to and read that God has provided to fill my heart with food and gladness, and in that He did good….
To him give all the prophets witness, that through his name whosoever believeth in him shall receive remission of sins. Acts 10:43