I received word yesterday that the health of an aging minister in another state is failing rapidly. I have known him for years, and to know him is to love him. He has preached, he calculates, in 23 different states over a 60-year ministry. He has the respect and profound affection of saints all across the country. His going will leave an enormous hole in Zion, and great sadness among the churches.
I think back over the able men who have labored in years past among the Primitive Baptists, and I wonder how acute were the feelings of the churches when those household names passed from the field of battle: men such as the Hassells, John R. Daily, T. S. Dalton, the Cayces, J. R. Respess, Lemuel Potter, and S. N. Redford, to name only a few. One measurement of the usefulness of a man is the depth of the feeling of loss caused by his passing.
Going back even farther, imagine the feelings of the Israelites when it was told them, "Moses my servant is dead." Through the power of God he had led them out of slavery, organized their nation, borne their complainings and rebellions. As he had aged, his contemporaries were dying, until he was 120 years old and Caleb was the only person in the entire nation even half as old as he. If any man was ever a "father in Israel," surely Moses was it. He led a people who were now young adults and who had known no leader but him. And then Moses died. "What will we do? How shall we go on?" The people of Israel wept for thirty days at the loss of their leader, their father, and their friend.
When Moses dies, however, there is always a Joshua to take his place; and there will be until Joshuas are no longer needed. Oh, certainly there are men of such preeminent gifts that we are not likely to see their equal again - but they all died, and the church survived. It did not survive, however, without great sorrow and pain and a vast feeling of loss. May we treasure the aging gifts God has given us; and it is good to tell them of our love and respect sooner rather than later, lest we wait too long.