FATHER’S DAY 2005
Prepared by Dr. John E. Marshall
Psalm 78:2b-7 (Holman) “I will speak mysteries from the past ( things we have heard and known and that our fathers have passed down to us. We must not hide them from their children, but must tell a future generation the praises of the Lord, His might, and the wonderful works He has performed. He established a testimony in Jacob and set up a law in Israel, which He commanded our fathers to teach to their children so that a future generation ( children yet to be born ( might know. They were to rise and tell their children so that they might put their confidence in God and not forget God’s works, but keep His commandments.”
The key phrase is in verse 5, “He commanded our fathers to teach to their children.” God intended for fathers to be the primary conveyers of spiritual truth to their children. This was the case in my life.
On a cold snowy night, Dad pulled his 1929 Ford Model A Coupe up close to the front porch of our house and helped my pregnant mother get in. A few hours later, on December 22, 1951, I was born.
I arrived, and grew up, in a wonderful environment. For the most part, Godly precious women nurtured me, men admonished me.
The latter fact was an unspeakable blessing, because children usually follow the religious practices of their fathers. I’m grateful for the men in my heritage who did not abdicate this spiritual duty to the women.
I was blessed to have all four of my grandparents till I was 28. Grandpa Hill was quiet and soft-spoken, a southern gentleman preacher. He felt his greatest life work was as a World War II chaplain. He followed our troops into France after D-Day, and spent many hours transcribing letters dictated by dying soldiers for their families at home.
Grandpa instilled a deep sense of holiness in my mother. At age 15, she married Dad, who was not walking closely with the Lord. Early one Sunday morning, Mom rose and dressed. Dad asked, “Where are you going?” Mom matter-of-factly replied, “To church.” Dad angrily complained, but Mom went to church anyway. She has never quit. Dad soon adopted her way of thinking.
Grandpa Marshall was a fireball, a backwoods, mule-farming, in-your-face preacher. While preaching one Sunday at Crossroads Baptist Church, near Blytheville, Arkansas, a dog entered the front door, ran up the aisle, and bit him. He kicked the dog, told a man, “Get that dog out of here,” and while the yelping dog was hauled out went on preaching as if nothing unusual had happened.
Grandpa once preached a revival at a public school where he was the teacher. Every lost student in the school became a believer.
Grandpa preached a brush arbor meeting in Northeast Arkansas. After a couple of nights with no results, Grandpa stopped the invitation and said, “Someone in this crowd is living in sin, quenching the Lord’s ability to work in this meeting. Many in this community are lost. If they go to Hell, the guilty man will forevermore bear the blame.”
Instantly a man on the third row cried out “I am the man!” He jumped over two rows of chairs and landed face-down at Grandpa’s feet. Revival broke loose, resulting in Cole Ridge Baptist Church being founded.
About this time, one of the darkest clouds ever to overshadow our family arrived. Grandpa decided to read the writings of a famous atheist to refute him.
Unfortunately, the opposite happened. Grandpa’s faith was badly shaken. He spent a decade in this wilderness wandering. Some of his children were affected negatively, and scarred spiritually for life.
Seventy years later our family still suffers fallout from Grandpa’s period of unbelief. Men, footsteps of failure can last as long as footsteps of success.
Grandpa regained his bearings and spent the last 30 years of his life serving Jesus. When I left for seminary, I stopped to tell him farewell. As I was getting back in the car, Grandpa looked across the top of my blue 1972 Ford Maverick and said, “Son, I believe in God as much as I believe you and I are standing here.”
When we gathered at the funeral home to view his body, Grandma was displeased. Something wasn’t right. She sent home for his Bible. When it was put under his hands, she said, “Now he looks like himself.” When we are gone, what will people most associate with us?
Long before Grandpa died, he and my dad were one day driving between Manila and Leachville, Arkansas. Dad had been struggling against the call to preach, but finally relenting, said, “Dad, I feel I need to get out in these farmhouses and preach the Gospel.” With tears, Grandpa replied, “That’s all that matters, Son, all that matters.”
When I cried at birth, Dad, who had just started preaching, said, “Sounds like one crying in the wilderness.” He named me for John the Baptist.
When Dad preached my ordination sermon, he used as his text John 1:6, “There was a man sent from God, whose name was John.” Dad enumerated from the ministry of John the Baptist certain traits I should imitate.
Holiness always mattered most in our household. Dad was a Godly husband, always treating Mom like a Queen. Men, here’s a wonderful gift we can give our children. Honor their mother.
Dad was a Godly father. He daily told me Bible stories, and lived a Bible life before me. His telling me the story of Jesus’ death on the cross led to my being saved at age 6. Dad was a Godly pastor, the greatest soulwinner I ever knew.
I repeat, holiness mattered most. We never carried a cigar, pipe, cigarette, can of beer, or suggestive magazine across the threshold of our house. We never owned an ash tray. We said grace before every meal. This would later be the trait about Ruth that first attracted my attention to her.
We always attended church ( Sunday morning, Sunday night, Wednesday night. I can never remember an argument about going to church. It was a given. Dad even made my deaf sister go to church, with no interpreter.
I repeat again, holiness mattered most in our house. No profanity, no off-color jokes, no racial slurs, no humor at God’s expense.
One night I was watching on TV a chorus line dancing to the tune of “When the Saints Go Marching In.” Dad arrived home, saw what was on, immediately walked over, turned off the TV, turned around, and said, “If I left that on, I’d be afraid God would strike me with lightning.” He then marched out of the room. I don’t remember hearing thunder that night, but do recall learning something about the holiness of God.
Not long after I started preaching, I saw Dad one very late night looking sad and forlorn at the kitchen table. This was a rare sight. Dad was born with a perpetual smile. He can hardly frown.
I’m the opposite, born with a scowl on my face. Dad says it was God’s gift to me to make me a better preacher. He thinks people show more respect to preachers with a serious countenance. I have nothing smart to say about that.
When I asked Dad what was wrong, he said, “Son, my generation has failed to win our country for Jesus. We’re counting on your generation to do a better job.” I fear the expectation was too high. The years have made me more sympathetic toward his feeling of failure.
I have tried to convey the heritage of righteousness to my children and grandchildren. My life motto is, holiness matters most.
Our family lived by the same household rules I was raised with. My attitude was summarized in what I one day told my children, “If you grow up to become President of the United States or Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, if you don’t love Jesus, we will have precious little to talk about.”
If I asked your children what their dad’s number one desire for them was, would they say, growing up to please Jesus? Have you articulated this to your children? Do your children know that to you holiness matters most? Does it?
A final story will emphasize the significance of passing on the heritage of righteousness to our children. When Grandpa Marshall died, I lost a grandparent for the first time. Devastated, I had a thousand questions I wish I would have asked him. I began doing genealogical research to help me work through my grief.
This research is how I learned I’m a sixth generation preacher. Our family’s heritage of righteousness began before the Civil War. My great great great grandfather was a Methodist circuit riding preacher. His son, William Jonathan Couch, as best we can tell, became a Baptist during the revival that swept through the Confederate Army. He was one day scrounging for food on a garbage heap when a Union soldier saw him and shot him. The bullet destroyed his upper lip. To cover the deformity, he wore a mustache the rest of his life.
William Jonathan Couch remained a steadfast faithful preacher of the Gospel for some 60 years. His spiritual shadow still looms large across our family, though he has been dead 81 years.
Fascinated by his story, I traveled to Illinois to find his grave. When I asked, at the cemetery office, the precise location of his grave, they would not tell me because money was owed against his account. During the Great Depression, poverty forced his family to quit paying what they owed on his grave.
Our family later paid the debt in full, but on this first visit to the cemetery, I went back to the car dejected. The cemetery being huge, I had no reasonable chance of finding the grave, but I began driving slowly and aimlessly down the main cemetery lane.
To my left I saw a large granite grave marker, inscribed in huge letters, “Sinner Saved By Grace.” I stopped the car, and told Ruth to look. I said something to the effect there was a believer who though dead, yet speaketh.
I then saw written on the marker, “William Jonathan Couch: 1844-1924.” I had found my great great grandpa’s grave.
Excited beyond containment, I rushed to my parents’ house in St. Louis. I returned to the grave with my dad, brother, and cousin Rod.
We stood on the grave, marveling at how this man had lived in such a way that the heritage of righteousness he conveyed was still alive and well. As we were about to leave, Rod said, “I pray our great great grandchildren will someday stand on our graves and still be talking about the things of God.”
I intend to take my grandchildren someday to William Jonathan Couch’s grave and tell them this story. Their grandchildren will be my great great grandchildren, the ones I pray will fulfill my cousin Rod’s prayer.
Fathers, let’s not allow the heritage of righteousness to die on our watch. Our children will probably become what we are spiritually. Don’t fail them.