Vance Havner was born in Jugtown, North Carolina, in 1901, began preaching at the age of 14, and spent the next 70 years preaching, pastoring, writing, and speaking in revival services and Bible conferences. How much of a legend did he become? Billy Graham preached his funeral. Is that enough of a legend for you?
Havner was probably best known for his “Havner-isms.” These were pithy, folksy quotes and illustrations that were uniquely him. Preachers have been using these for decades. As Billy Graham said in that eulogy:
Of course, we’re going to miss him. Especially those of us who preach, for his books are on all our shelves and his illustrations are in our sermons. Someone has said everyone is born an original and dies a copy. That wasn’t true of Vance Havner. Vance Havner was born an original and he died an original.
Here are a few quotes from Havner, just to give you the flavor of the man and his ministry:
- (on church): “If things are quiet and undisturbed in your church, that is not necessarily a good sign. Things are usually pretty quiet around the sick and the dead and especially in graveyards.”
- (on preaching): “You can’t tell it like it is, if you don’t believe it like it was.”
- (on marriage): “Switch two letters in the word ‘united,” and it reads “untied.”
- (on the so-called “social gospel”): “If they had a social gospel in the days of the prodigal son, somebody would have given him a bed and a sandwich and he never would have gone home.”
- (on science): “Sin has gotten men into more trouble than science can get him out of.”
- (on prayer): “The measure of any Christian is his prayer life.”
- (on Christianity): “We have been inoculated with such a mild form of Christianity that we are immunized against the real thing.”
I myself own two books full of Vance Havner quotes, but recently I ran across one of his extended quotes that I hadn’t read. So, I thought I’d offer it as the heart of this post. The quote is entitled “Our Downfall Is Plotted”:
Every Christian is a contradiction to this old world. He crosses it at every point. He goes against the grain from beginning to end. From the day he is born again until the day he goes on to be with the Lord, he must stand against the current of a world always going the other way. God expects him to be “beside himself,” “a fool for Christ’s sake.”
If he allows it, men will tone him down, steal the joy of his salvation and reduce him to the dreary level of the general average. If the Devil cannot keep us from being saved, he next endeavors to make average Christians of us; and in this he usually succeeds. He tames the holy recklessness of God’s dare-saints until they sink into the drab pattern of most of us, “faultily faultless, icily regular, splendidly null.”
The Devil does not mind our joining the church if we behave like most of those who are already inside. But when a real, wide-awake Christian breezes along, taking the Gospel seriously, the Devil grows alarmed and begins plotting his downfall.
What Havner was talking about in that quote was one of his favorite themes: the idea of the Christian being radically different (in a good way for God) from the rest of the world. Think about Havner’s description of the Christian. Such a person: contradicts this world, crosses it at every point, goes against the grain, stands against the current, and alarms the Devil to the point where the Devil begins plotting the person’s downfall.
Tell me, Christian, does that description of how the Christian is supposed to live describe your life? I mean, seriously, when was the last time you living out your faith caused you to be looked upon as “weird” or at least “different”? The fact is, if your Christianity isn’t frequently setting you at odds with this world, then you either don’t have the real thing or you aren’t putting it into practice correctly. Even Jesus said, “Woe unto you when all men speak well of you” (Luke 6:26). And He certainly knew what He was talking about, didn’t He? After all, Him living out His faith got Him not just criticized but also crucified.