It is good for a preacher to have at least some sense of humor. This, though decried by some as of the flesh, is really a divinely-given faculty, and is found even in the Bible. Job had it in large measure, as witness his ironic, “Verily ye are the people, and wisdom shall die with you!” Micah was something of a punster. Note his, “The houses of Achzib (‘a lie’) shall be a deceitful thing (achzah) unto the kings of Israel” (Ch. 1:14, R. V.). Paul, too, could be keenly ironical at times, as when he grimly declared to the Corinthians, “Ye have reigned as kings without us!” (1 Cor. 4:8). And surely it was a home-thrust to the ungodly, hypocritical Pharisees when our blessed Lord exclaimed, “I came not to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.”
As I look back over nearly fifty years of service in the gospel, I can recall much that was sad, much that was cheerful, and much that was decidedly humorous. Of the last, one such incident may bear repeating here.
Shortly after having established the Western Book & Tract Co., in Oakland, Calif., for the dissemination of Christian literature, I was sitting one morning at my desk, which commanded a view of the entire store, when I observed a most singular-looking individual enter the door and walk up the center aisle toward the office. He was a tall, lean figure, with long, iron-gray hair worn “Buffalo-Bill” style, a grizzled beard that almost reached his waist, and a fanatical eye that would challenge attention anywhere. I scented a heretic of some kind, and the closer he came, the stronger the scent, for he evidently belonged to the “great unwashed!”
Coming briskly up the few steps that separated the shop from the office, he stood over me a moment or two while I went on writing, for I felt an instinctive aversion to him, which I had difficulty in overcoming.
Suddenly he broke the silence by declaring, “I perceive, sir, that you are evidently a truth-seeker!” “Not at all,” I answered, “I am not a truth-seeker, for I have already found Him who is the Way, the Truth and the Life.”
“Do you mean, then, that you have nothing more to learn, that you know all truth?”
“No,” I replied, “but I know Him in whom are hid all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge, so I am no longer searching for truth, but seeking to get better acquainted with the truth as revealed in Jesus.”
“Well, I, sir, am always seeking for truth and am ready to learn from anyone who can teach me.”
“Yes; well, I believe I was reading of you the other day.”
“Of me? Pray, where did you read of me?”
“In my Bible, in 2 Tim. 3:7, it speaks of those who are ‘ever learning, and never able to come to the knowledge of the truth.’”
“That has no reference to me, sir.”
“Well, I thought you said you were always seeking, so I presumed you had never yet attained to the knowledge of the truth.”
He looked at me rather severely, then said, “I don’t think you have any idea who I am, sir.”
“I do not,” I said. “I do not recall having met you or heard of you before.”
“Well,” he declared, very impressively, “I am one of the 144,000!”
It was hard to keep from showing my amusement, but I inquired as politely as I could, “Of which tribe, please?”
“Tribe? What do you mean?”
“Why, my Bible tells me the 144,000 will consist of 12,000 out of each of the tribes of Israel. To which of these do you belong?”
“The Lord knows, sir; I do not.”
“Then you can’t blame me if I do not accept your own unsupported statement that you belong to that mystic company.”
He paused a moment as if in deep thought, and then exclaimed, “Do you know that the first resurrection has taken place already?”
“No,” I answered; “I do not.”
“But it has, sir. I am now in my resurrection body and am no more subject to death.” He was almost vehement as he said this, and I wondered if I was dealing with a madman; but I ventured to inquire as blandly as I could, “Is that it, that you have with you?
“It is, sir. This body is now immortal and glorified!”
“I am very much disappointed if that is so.”
“Why do you say that, sir?”
“Because I thought the resurrection body would be very beautiful. I never dreamed it would look like that.”
The change in the “resurrected” man was startling. His eyes flashed, he swung his arms in indignation, and began to call down fearful maledictions on my head. For a “glorified” man his language was amazingly earthly and carnal. Then he exclaimed, “I shake off the dust of my shoes as a witness against you.” And he stamped down the stairs and out through the aisle of the shop, cursing and tapping his feet on the floor as a testimony against my unbelief.
I felt sorry for the poor old creature, but I knew it would have been useless to try to help him. He was obsessed with the notion that he was a divinely-appointed messenger whose proffered instruction I had refused.
I learned afterwards that he belonged to a group who called themselves “Christian Israelites,” and held to the teaching of a weird set of very unscriptural books called “Sermons from the Flying Roll,” which were supposed to be extracts from the “Flying Roll” of Zech. 5:1-4. This Roll was said by them to have been discovered in a cave in the Lebanon Mountains by an Englishman who was given the power to translate it, and who signed himself James J. Jezreel.
His followers all wore their hair Nazarite fashion and hoped to attain to immortality in the flesh. They held many strange and unbiblical teachings, but never made much headway, as few could be found to accept their peculiar system of interpretation of the mysteries of the Bible.
I afterwards met various adherents of this sect, but never found one who would consent to a careful and thoughtful analysis of his views in the light of the Holy Scriptures.
They preached against the marriage relation and were quite ignorant of the simplest principles of the gospel. When people came under their influence it seemed as though a strong delusion had laid hold of them and it was useless trying to help them.
How important it is that one cleave to the clear, definite teaching of the Word of God and thus avoid entanglement with sects of perdition, from which there may never be deliverance! And how thankful they should be to whom the Spirit of God has revealed Christ as the One who of God is made unto us wisdom, righteousness, sanctification and redemption. He who has found his all in the Lord Jesus will never be turned aside to vain and carnal speculations so long as he walks humbly with God and is dependent on the guidance of the Holy Spirit as he reads the Word of God, which alone guides into all truth.