The Debt of Faith

by Tom Wacaster

How many times have we read the words of Paul in Romans 1:14-15? A dozen? Fifty? Perhaps a hundred? How many times have we listened to the preacher, or a Bible class teacher call our attention to the words in that passage? Now let me ask you: “How many times have you seriously meditated on those words, giving full thought to the implications of the message provided to us by the Holy Spirit?”

It is unfortunate that the general attitude that prevails among so many is what has been often called the “punch-card” mentality. Clock in, clock out! In secular word, the eight hours or so between that first and second punch of an employee, between one’s arrival and departure, belonged to the company; all else belonged to him. And while there were those who “punched the clock,” there were also those men and women whose position with the company cannot be measured by time but by commitment and dedication.

Now look again at those words in Romans 1:14-15: “I am debtor both to Greeks and to Barbarians, both to the wise and to the foolish. So, as much as in me is, I am ready to preach the gospel to you also that are in Rome.” Paul was an individual who felt a strong compulsion in his own conscience that was so great that he was willing to turn his back on the things of the world and devote himself wholly to the advancement of the cause of Christ and the salvation of the souls of men. His attitude toward the things of the world represented a 180-degree change, as expressed in his own words: “Howbeit what things were gain to me, these have I counted loss for Christ. Yea verily, and I count all things to be loss for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord: for whom I suffered the loss of all things, and do count them but refuse, that I may gain Christ” (Phil. 3:7-8). The apostle considered himself dead to the world because he had “been crucified with Christ” (Galatians 2:20). With the old man of sin dead and buried, Paul from henceforth focused his attention on Christ, the lost, and the preaching of the gospel. He was willing to suffer all things for the cause of Christ; and suffer he did. The catalogue of those sufferings is listed in 2 Corinthians 11:23-28. It is unlikely that any of us have had to endure the things Paul endured. Which makes me wonder how severely the tree of God’s faithful saints would be pruned if we had to endure those hardships of the apostle Paul.

The early church likewise endured great tribulation and persecution for the cause of Christ. For almost three centuries following the establishment of the church in Acts 2 the Roman Empire engaged in open warfare against Christ and His church. The Christian religion was declared illegal and multiplied thousands were hounded, tortured, and hunted down like common criminals. There was a literal blood bath of the martyrs during that time. Why did they endure? What compelled them to refuse to submit to the order of Caesar and cease to declare the gospel? Why? It is because of the debt of faith they owed to the lost and to the Lord.

Fast forward now to the last three centuries in our country. Men and women suffered much for the cause of Christ in the early years of the movement to restore the ancient order of primitive Christianity. Thomas and Alexander Campbell were opposed furiously by denominational groups and charged frequently with heresy. They endured persecution and violence at times. Attempts were made to break up their services. Rocks, sticks and clods of earth were thrown into the water during their baptismal services. The clergy denounced them openly. Waymond Miller shared the following information regarding Campbell:

Once when Alexander Campbell was riding his horse home after a service, he encountered a severe rainstorm. He stopped at a farmhouse to ask for shelter. With the flickering light of a candle, a woman peered through a partly open door and asked cautiously, “You Alexander Campbell? I would soon give shelter to the devil. My preacher said you should drown!” She then slammed the door in Campbell’s face.“

Raccoon” John Smith (1784-1868) is a classic example of a rugged frontier preacher who endured great hardship because of the debt of faith that he felt within. He had a meager formal education but a sharp intellect and a unique style. Campbell said Smith was the only man he knew who would have been spoiled by a college education. He never lived in anything but a crude log cabin, part of which had only dirt floors. He supported his family by farming and received little money for his preaching. John Smith never attained to any wealth, but he was, without doubt, rich in faith. Like the apostle Paul, he would endure great hardship so he could preach the gospel of Jesus Christ. Once while Smith was away preaching, his wife was ministering to a sick neighbor. While she was there the Smiths’ cabin burned, killing two of their children. Mrs. Smith never overcame the emotional trauma and died herself.

The late Joe Gilmore used to tell of Joe Blue, with whom he was personally acquainted. When brother Blue began preaching in the Ozark hills of northern Arkansas, he was painfully impoverished. During his first year, 1897, he baptized 75, established one church, and received $19.00 for his work. While traveling, he went without food many days because he had no money. For his meeting with one church, he received one dollar and a bushel of seed corn. After the meeting he walked home through the snow 46 miles! During his career he baptized 10,000 people.

I have had the blessed privilege of travelling to India more than a dozen times over the past thirteen years or so. Those men who have equipped themselves to preach the gospel have endured some of the same kind of hardships that the early pioneers in our country went through. They travel by foot, bicycle, train and motorcycle; and yes, even on the backs of donkeys! To this day the hardships they face are an example of the degree of dedication that is rare in our country and in some cases non-existent. I have personally invited preachers to go with me to India. At least some are honest enough to tell me that they just don’t think they could put up with the inconveniences that would go with such a journey.I could go on. But let us return to the present. How many of us feel the same debt of faith that Paul felt? How many of us would be willing to endure the same hardships that the pioneers in the early years of the restoration movement endured? Who among us would suffer the hardships that men (and women) have to endure in India at this very moment so that they might advance the boarders of the kingdom of our Lord Jesus Christ?

The simple fact is all of us are indebted to God for His wonderful salvation. Each one of us owes a debt of faith that we can only attempt to repay. Spiritually speaking, your obligation to serve God in the interest of the salvation of others will never be discharged until the time comes for you to lay your armor down at the foot of the cross. One author so eloquently addressed our sacred obligation toward the lost, with which I will close:

No matter how long you live, no matter how diligent you are in teaching others the truth, no matter how many sermons you might preach, or how much service you might render to the Lord or how faithful you might be in it, the time will never come while the strength is yet yours and while life still exists that you can say, “I do not have any obligation that has not been fulfilled entirely to the souls of all men or to the soul of any man; my debt is paid.” It never will be! (Roy Cogdill).

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