B. H. Carroll, The Titanic Champion of the Truth
(A funeral discourse delivered by Dr. George W. Truett of Dallas, Texas,
in the First Baptist Church, Waco, Texas, November 12, 1914.)
Scripture Read: Acts 20:17-38.
In the days of John Chrysostom, the golden mouthed preacher, the people said, "It were better for the sun to cease his shining than for John Chrysostom to cease his preaching." Something of that same feeling must be in our hearts today as we are called to face the exodus of the greatest preacher our State has ever known. How difficult it is to realize that B. H. Carroll has fallen on sleep! When did death ever deal Texas Baptists before such a staggering blow? Shall we ever see his like again?
This is an occasion when our personal feelings might easily lead us far astray from the right use of this service. I shall not dare to trust myself to speak of my personal relations to him since first I knew him. It was just 24 years ago to-day, that is, on November 12, 1890, that I had my first interview with him, an interview which was vitally to affect every day and duty of my life thereafter. Some other day on some other occasion, I may speak out of my heart something of my personal feelings for him, but I dare not, cannot, will not do so to-day. Whose heart here to-day does not cry out as did Elisha when he watched the ascending Elijah, "My father, my father, the chariots of Israel and the horsemen thereof?"
The sense of our unspeakable loss is very much mitigated to-day by the sense of his gain. It is literally, gloriously true that "to die is gain" for a Christian. Such gain is immediate, indescribable and eternal. When Bunyan watched his pilgrim pass through the gates and join the heavenly throng within the celestial city, he turned away from the vision with words that sob with homesickness, "which, when I saw, I wished I were among them." Through the long and weary and suffering months, preceding our great brother's homegoing, he had many visions of the world celestial that filled him with longing to be within the heavenly gates. He is there now, thank God, more alive now than ever before, in the land of infinite peace and love and life. "For we know that if our earthly house of this tabernacle were dissolved, we have a building of God, an house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens." All that it means for God's child to be summoned hence is to be "Absent from the body and to be at home with the Lord."
"There is a land of pure delight,
Where saints immortal reign;
Eternal day excludes the night,
And pleasures banish pain."
Surely we would not be so selfish as to call our great brother back to earth, even if we could. He is forever well now, and doing, it may be, a far larger work than he ever did on earth in that land where there is no death, neither sorrow nor crying nor any more pain.
Since his departure, one passage of Scripture has burned within my heart continually. I read you such Scripture a moment ago Paul's parting address to the Elders at Ephesus. In such address, Paul, like a true seer, looks both forward and backward. He made one statement in the address, found in the 24th verse of the chapter, upon which we would do well to fix our thoughts this hour: "But none of these things move me, neither count I my life dear unto myself, so that I might finish my course with joy, and the ministry, which I have received of the Lord Jesus, to testify the gospel of the grace of God."
In such sentence Paul vividly sets forth the dominating passion and inspiring motive of his incomparable life and labors. He tells us frankly what is the one dominating passion of his life. It was to finish his course and accomplish the ministry committed unto him, according to the will of his Divine Savior and Lord., Paul valued his life only as a means to an end. He was living simply and only to bear testimony to the gospel of the grace of God. Paul was no cynic, contemptuously asking the question: "Is life worth living?" He knew the value of life and prized it beyond all human speech. He urged upon us all that we redeem the time because the days are evil. He sought to fill the twelve hours of his earthly day to overflowing with service to his fellows. He was one of the most prodigious toilers that earth ever saw.
What was the purpose of it all? It was that he might live literally and utterly to accomplish the mission Divinely appointed for him.
From his remarkable conversion until the hour of his martyrdom, his only question was: "Lord, what wilt thou have me to do?" He did not hesitate on any and every occasion to state: "For me to live is Christ." "This one thing I do" was the spirit that characterized every step of his Christian career.
The trials and sufferings of life were regarded by him as mere incidents to an end. They did not daunt him. He had a race to run, a ministry to accomplish. Like his Master before him, he had a baptism to be baptized with, and how was he straitened until it should be accomplished. Every changing experience of his life was subordinate to the one aim and end, that he might go where, and speak what, and live as his Savior and Master might designate. He scorned ease that he might accomplish his mission. He abjured the tears of his devoted friends that he might properly run his race. He defied death itself, declaring that he did not hold his life of any account as dear unto himself, compared with the right doing of the task God had asked at his hands. Lead on where it might, cost what it would, Paul's heart was fixed on the doing of his Master's will. Because every power of his brain and heart and tongue and will and life ranged itself to the one aim of living literally to do the will of Christ, Paul stands out as the greatest single credential of Christ's gospel, since Christ was crucified on Golgotha's hill. Paul here tells us what was the inspiring motive, the one passion that absorbed all his energies. He had received a ministry from the Lord Jesus to testify the gospel of the grace of God. He was called of God to be a preacher of the glorious gospel of His grace. He was put in trust with that gospel. He had a sense of his Divine vocation. No more could he be swayed by the little, and superficial, and transient, and groveling; and unworthy things of earth. He was called of God and separated unto the incomparable task of telling the world the meaning of God's grace to mankind. His work was not simply for to-day, but it dipped away into the eternities. He was an Ambassador standing in Christ's stead, to beseech a sinful world to be reconciled to God.
He accounted his task so valuable that he was willing, any moment, to die for it. His life was nothing in comparison with the ministry which he had received from the Lord Jesus, to testify the gospel of the grace of God. The gospel which Paul preached was a Divine gospel. It was, therefore, able to produce and deserve such enthusiasm at Paul's hands. Some gospels are mere novelties, the passing fancies of restless men, who seek ever for something new. Some gospels are but essays, with a moral flavor to them. Some gospels are merely a gilded humanitarianism seeking to satisfy mankind with fruits altogether superficial and external. Paul's gospel was a gospel of facts, of eternal meaning, and of Divine authentication. He declared those facts unto men, just as he had received them from Christ, how that Christ had died for our sins, according to the Scriptures; and that he was buried; and that he rose again the third day, according to the Scriptures. Paul called the gospel that he preached the gospel of the grace of God. The word "Grace" was ever upon the lips of this chiefest preacher of the ages. It is the very essence of Christ's gospel. It is the one hope of a sinning world. It is the sole comfort of mankind as they face eternity. We are saved by grace, we are established by grace, we are justified by grace, we are taught by grace, we are sanctified by grace, we are enabled to grow because of grace, and are comforted in the tribulations of life because of grace. That was Paul's gospel forevermore. Such a gospel is timeless and changeless. It reaches to the elemental and fundamental. Sin remains the same, and human nature the same, and the need of God to save through the passing centuries. Nothing but the gospel of the grace of God can heal the hurt of a needy world.
Paul was especially qualified to "testify" concerning such gospel. That word "testify" means much more than to proclaim. It means to bear personal testimony to what one has seen and heard and felt and known of the thing concerning which he speaks. Everywhere that Paul went he gave his personal testimony to the gospel that he preached. He had tried it and proved it. He possessed it and was possessed by it. He had found it to be the power of God in his own personal salvation. He knew Whom he trusted, and was not ashamed, anywhere, to bear witness to the hope that animated his spirit. The grace of God had not only brought him salvation, but had taught him, and comforted him, and sustained him through all the trials and experiences of his eventful life.
Paul was not only a witness to the gospel but he was also a watchman on the walls of Zion. None other voice equaled his in summoning the people to be faithful to the truth. See how his words breathed and his thoughts burned in this farewell message that he gave to the Elders at Ephesus. He reminded them that he was pure from the blood of all men, because he had not shunned to declare unto them all the counsel of God. Always and everywhere, he exhorted Christ's witnesses to take heed to the truth, to hold fast the form of sound words, to be true in the defense and proclamations of the gospel of Christ, whatever the cost of such fidelity. Thus Paul lived and died, the outstanding spokesman for Christ of all the ages.
Let us now turn away from Paul, to dwell for a little while, upon the life and labors of our great brother, whose body now sleeps before us. Is it saying too much that B. H. Carroll was the most Pauline preacher our beloved denomination has seen and known for many a day? He possessed and was possessed by the great truths of the Bible, as was no other man personally known to us. He was, as was no other man personally known to us, "mighty in the Scriptures." His preaching took hold, alike, of men with and without culture, because it possessed the attribute of timelessness. It appealed always to the elemental and fundamental. The hidings of his power may be more or less clearly discerned as we carefully look upon his life.
He was a man of heroic mould. Like Saul, he towered physically, head and shoulders above his fellows. His presence was imperial. In any company his presence, at once, arrested attention and secured an audience in advance of any word that escaped his lips. Both nature and grace concurred in a remarkable way, to endow him for the marvelous work to which his life was devoted. His moral manhood towered in majesty, like some glorious mountain. What a man is himself, counts for far more than what he says or does. Tolstoi was far greater in character than in anything he ever spoke or wrote. It was so with John the Baptist, and with Paul. It was equally so with B. H. Carroll. He was a genuine man, true to the core of his being, sincere as the sunlight. I would have trusted my life in his hands, without hesitation or fear. As a friend, he was staunch, steadfast, ever inspiring, never failing. He had the moral courage of Knox and of Luther and of Elijah. When causes of great moment hung in tremulous suspense, awaiting perilous decision, his voice ever rang out like a trumpet that gives no uncertain sound. His inspiring presence was like that of the plumed Knight at the battle of Ivry, when he cried
"Press where you see my white plume wave
Amid the ranks of war,
And be your oriflamme to-day
The helmet of Navarre."
And the record goes on to say that,
"In they burst and on they rushed,
Like a guiding star,
Amid the thickest carnage blazed.
The helmet of Navarre."
The presence and championship of B. H. Carroll, for any cause, immediately put heart and hope and courage into the advocates of such cause.
I would speak of him as a Christian. He was God's man. Like Moses, he endured as seeing Him who is invisible. The gospel of Jesus Christ was a vital reality to him and the Bible was his authoritative and final revelation. He loved his Savior and Lord with a Pauline devotion. He knew whom he believed, and his conscious apprehension of the things eternal was a fact so simple and so manifest in his life as to be marvelous in the eyes of all who knew him. He witnessed, without wavering, to the sufficiency of the grace of God for every exigency and crisis in his life. His life, as you well know, was marked again and again by experiences nothing short of epochal. In all such hours, his faith, and courage, and devotion shone with ever-increasing luster. I cannot trust myself, to-day, to speak of him as he was seen in some of these epochal experiences. As a preacher, he seemed to be in a class all to himself. The pulpit was his throne and he occupied it like a king. He was a prophet of the Most High God. Often, while he spoke, his convictions were at white heat; he was logic on fire. There was no hesitation in his preaching, but the declaration always of triumphant and eternally important certainties. He testified ever concerning the gospel; like Paul, he had had an experience of the grace of God in his own heart, so wonderful as utterly to transform and revolutionize his life. He believed, and therefore did he speak. His preaching, often, was so irresistible that the stoutest sinners were convicted of their sins and were made to cry out to God for mercy. As you listened to him preach, you had never a doubt that he had unhesitatingly and joyfully stayed his all upon the gospel that he was commending to others. Of course, he stayed by the great themes of the Bible in all of his preaching. A great preacher is never a novelty monger. It would be impossible for him to turn away from the vitalities and centralities of the gospel of God's grace, to be a huckster with the passing sensations of the hour. B. H. Carroll was a true watchman on the walls of Zion. From his high place, with clearest vision, he swept the whole horizon, and with a mental and spiritual alertness almost incomparable, he discerned the false and warned the people against it. The limits of this hour will not allow me to specify, just here, some of the mighty occasions when this titanic champion of the truth flung himself into the breach, and saved our zion from most tragical schisms and wounds and long lasting hurts.
The place and work of this watchman for the faith must more and more be apparent and appreciated by our beloved denomination.
Like Paul, his life was abundant in labors: It would take volumes to recount the valor and the value of his multiform labors. As the pastor of this nobly historic church, he wrought a work in this church and city and State, that will outlast the stars. He led you in the lifting up of a standard here that has immeasurably helped, and will ever help all our Texas churches. It seems sacredly fitting now that he has fallen on sleep, that this funeral service should be held here in the midst of those whom he led in the shining way, whom he baptized, whom he married, whom he counseled and comforted, for a generation.
His work for education in Texas makes one of the most significant chapters in all our denominational history. Baylor College, with her vast and ever-increasing ministry; all the other schools that our people foster in Texas, must always be distinctly indebted to this man for his notable services in their behalf. His services in behalf of our missionary operations have, likewise, been priceless in value. His service in behalf of struggling causes in cities, in villages, in the remotest country places, throughout all the vast domain of our imperial State, must be cherished by uncounted thousands forever.
He was indeed a very tribune of the people. Great as he was in an intellect which was remarkably disciplined and informed; in an imagination soaring, towering and creative; in a memory remarkably accurate and comprehensive; in a will so imperial that mountains were transformed into mole hills before his tread, yet this man joyfully devoted his life to the people. No needy cause was ever neglected by him. He loved the people and gave them the richest and best of his life.
The crowning work of his life, probably, was his leadership in the establishing of the Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. No other task in all his life seemed so completely to enthrall his thoughts and energies as the task of Ministerial Education. Like Cato of old saying over and over again to the Roman Senate: "Carthage must be destroyed," so this man, in season, out of season, pleaded forever for the better education of God's preachers. Like David whose one absorbing passion it was to build a worthy Temple for God, and who gathered from every quarter the choicest materials for such great undertaking, so this man has literally consecrated and dedicated his best, that Christ's preachers of to-day and to-morrow might be better fitted to testify concerning the glorious gospel of the grace of God. The great work so well begun by him, must go on, and on, and on. "God buries the workman but the work goes on."
When Moses died, his going made the largest gap in the history of Israel. The going of B. H. Carroll makes the largest gap in the work of our Baptist people in all this great Southwest, that they have known or shall know for many a day. What emotions surge through our hearts as we think of the gatherings of our assemblies with this man absent! But do you recall the words that were spoken to Joshua, the successor of Moses? They are the words for us to hear and heed to-day:
"Moses my servant is dead; now therefore arise, go over this Jordan, thou, and all this people, unto the land which I do give to them, even to the children of Israel. Every place that the sole of your feet shall tread upon, that I have given unto you, as I said unto Moses, so I will be with thee; I will not fail thee; before thee no man shall be able to stand all the days of thy life: as I was with Moses, I will be with thee; I will not fail thee, nor forsake thee... Only be thou strong and very courageous, that thou mayest observe to do according to all the law, which Moses my servant commanded thee: turn not from it to the right hand or to the left, that thou mayest prosper whithersoever thou goest.
"This book of the law shall not depart out of thy mouth, but thou shalt meditate therein day and night, that thou mayest observe to do according to all that is written therein: for then thou shalt make thy way prosperous, and then thou shalt have good success. Have not I commanded thee? Be strong and of good courage; be not afraid, neither be thou dismayed: for the Lord thy God is with thee whithersoever thou goest."
This is an hour, my fellow Christians, for a fresh consciousness of our Divinely appointed mission. This memorable hour, with all its solemn and meaningful significance, calls to us, challenges us, summons us to our best to-day and tomorrow, for our adorable King and His Kingdom.
And now, but only for a short while, we must say unto thee, great brother, faithful friend, valiant Christian, peerless preacher of the gospel of the grace of God, mightiest of the modern heroes of faith, hail and farewell!
"Servant of God, well done.
Rest from thy loved employ;
The battle fought, the victory won,
Enter thy Master's joy."
[From J. M. Carroll et. al., Dr. B. H. Carroll, the Colossus of Baptist History, pp. 67-76. Scanned and formattted by Jim Duvall.]
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