by David Sisler

One of the greatest Christian sermons ever preached was heard for the first time in Edgefield, SC, in February, 1919. A young Baptist preacher named Robert Greene Lee walked to the pulpit and delivered "Pay Day Someday." Before he died in 1978, the victim of a mugging, Dr. Lee had preached his signature sermon more than 1,000 times.

"Pay Day Someday" is the story of four people (their descriptions are as Dr. Lee gave them): Naboth, a devout Israelite who lived in the town of Jezreel; Ahab, the vile human toad who squatted upon the throne of his nation — the worst of Israel's kings; Jezebel, the king's wife, the beautiful and malicious adder coiled upon the throne of the nation; and, Elijah, the Tishbite, the prophet of God.

Naboth owned a small vineyard. It was his heritage, passed down through his family for generations. Ahab offered to buy the vineyard and Naboth refused. The king pouted and refused to eat when his offer was turned down. Jezebel hatched a plot and accused Naboth of blasphemy and had him murdered. At the moment when Ahab began to enjoy his bloody field, Elijah appeared and pronounced God's judgement on the wicked pair. It was a judgment that took decades to fulfill, but it was a judgment that they could not escape.

In one of the most haunting parts of the sermon, Dr. Lee tells of being called to a New Orleans hospital, to the death bed of a young man who identified himself only as "The Chief of the Kangaroo Court."

Dr. Lee said, "In a place by itself, somewhat removed from all other cots and beds, lay a young man about nineteen or twenty years of age — big of frame, though the ravages of disease had brought a slenderness.

"As kindly as I could, I spoke, saying 'Hello.'

"'Howdy do?' he answered in a voice that was a discourteous and furious snarl — more like the voice of a mad wolf than the voice of a rational man.

"'Is there something I can do for you?' I asked as kindly as I could speak.

"'No. Nothing! Not a thing. Nothin' 'tall! — unless you throw my body to the buzzards when I am dead — if the buzzards will have it!' he said, with half a shout and with a sort of fierce resentment that made me wonder why he had ever sent for me.

"Then his voice lost some of the snarl — and he spoke again. 'I sent for you, sir, because I want you to tell these young fellows here something for me. I sent for you because I know you go up and down the land and talk to many young people. And I want you to tell ‘em, and tell ‘em every chance you get, that the Devil pays only in counterfeit money.'

"Oh! I wish I could tell all men and women and all boys and girls everywhere to believe the truth that Satan always pays in counterfeit money, that all his pearls are paste pearls, that the nectar he offers is poisoned through and through. Oh, that men would learn the truth and be warned by the truth that if they eat the Devil's corn, he will choke them with the cob.

"I stayed with this young man nearly two hours. Occasionally he spoke. There was a desperate earnestness in the young man's voice as he looked at me with wild eyes where terror was enthroned. I felt his hand clutch at mine as a drowning man would grab for a rope. I held his hand. I heard the raucous gurgle in his throat. Then he became quiet — like a forest when the cyclone is long gone.

"The Devil had paid the young man off in counterfeit money."

When the sermon ends, Ahab and Jezebel are dead, the sentence thundered out by Elijah is fulfilled. In a voice that the listener can easily imagine might be the prophet himself, Dr. Lee preaches the sermon's conclusion.

"Pay Day — Someday! God said it — and it was done! Yes, and from this we learn the power and certainty of God in carrying out His own retributive providence, that men might know that His justice slumbereth not. Even though the mill of God grinds slowly, it grinds to powder.

"And the only way I know for any man or woman on earth to escape the sinner's payday on earth and the sinner's hell beyond — making sure of the Christian's payday on earth and the Christian's heaven beyond, the Christian's payday — is through Christ Jesus, who took the sinner's place upon the Cross, becoming for all sinners all that God must judge, that sinners through faith in Christ Jesus might become all that God cannot judge."

Dr. Lee's sermon, and this column as it appeared in print, ended with the above paragraph.

I put the subject of this column on my schedule of "upcoming events to write about" in November, 1998. I actually wrote it in early January, and submitted it to The Chronicle on February 10. It appeared in print the day after President Clinton was acquitted of perjury and obstruction of justice — crimes of which many believe he should have been convicted, had the Senators voted on the basis of the evidence instead of on the basis of opinion polls.

Neither the House impeachment proceedings, nor the Senate trial, nor its outcome were ever in my thoughts when I wrote this piece.

Then I picked up this morning's newspaper and read "Clinton acquitted." I turned to page four, and the lead editorial headlined, "Senate: profile in cowardice." The editorial cartoon showed Lady Justice "Trampled in the mad rush." And my column appeared beside and below those two commentaries.

I have long believed, and have written about it in an earlier column, that "luck" is another name for God. I now add "irony" to that list of other names for our Heavenly Father.


Published in the Augusta Chronicle 2/13/99

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