Incidents in Travel and Soul Winning – By Elmer & Julia Shelhamer

Chapter 21

Conscientious But Inconsistent

There are two classes of people I especially admire. One, class are those who have real convictions and are conscientious enough to try to live up to them. The other class are those who perhaps are not so conscientious, but, are magnanimous enough to fellowship others, though they may not fully agree. In either case it requires a big soul to qualify.

In this chapter we do not want to take the compromise position and cool off those who are “holy enthusiasts,” but we hope to help balance them. After nearly fifty years in the ministry, I fear there are few who are properly balanced on every line. We are too fast or too slow; too high or too low; too emotional or too conservative; too constructive or too destructive, and ad infinitum. In fact, I fear the writer himself is more or less lopsided.

At a great camp meeting, I was preaching one night to about 3,000 souls, on the subject of hell. The mighty power of God was very manifest and over 100 people flocked to the penitent form. Many ministers came and congratulated the speaker and wanted to know if that particular sermon was in any one of our four volumes of sermons. Plenty of praise! In fact too much! But in the midst of it one preacher was very indignant, perhaps jealous, and after jerking my coat vigorously, said, “I don’t like your preaching a bit, you get the people all excited.” I could have come back at him for his criticism and indifference to the wails of the penitents, but instead replied, “I don’t blame you a bit, Brother, I don’t like it myself, but I am doing the best I can.” This broke him up and he then wanted me to pray for him.

Yes, most of us need a little balancing. For instance: I was invited to another camp where the Elder was very strict on certain lines. He would not invite an evangelist who rode on Sunday street cars, or wore a tie. But on the other hand he thought nothing of gathering a few of his favorites together and criticizing us or certain brethren who differed with him on certain points. I told them that God hated whispering and sowing discord ten times more than worldliness in dress. He had been so vulgar toward the fairer sex that it was simply abominable. In short, he was conscientious on a few points and very inconsistent on others.

Another case! After my first arrest in Florida for preaching without a permit (though application was made five times), a certain zealous preacher read of it in the papers and came to join me in my battle for free speech. My second arrest included him and we were both locked up, bail being refused. This good brother was a pattern and example of humility while in jail. He sometimes spent four hours on his knees with his Bible, and we were like David and Jonathan. He said he had confidence in me as in no other man.

But the strength of a chain is not that of the strongest link, but of the weakest one. The taking of reproof or criticism nicely is a weak link with most of us. After our release and victory, I suggested to him that we hire someone to paint a nice bulletin to place on the front of our little church which we had purchased. He replied that he knew how to paint signs and would do it. I thanked him and promised to pay him for his outlay and trouble. Finally he said the bulletin was ready, and now for the first time I had a good glance at it. He had a hammer with which to put it up, but I stopped him saying, “Wait a moment, Brother! Let us touch up some of those letters. See! Some of them are too large and some too small. They ought to be uniform. We are being criticized at the best and if people see this sign, they will laugh in derision.”

At this he threw down the hammer with a bang and walked off, saying, “Put it up yourself.” I pled with him to come back, that mine was a friendly, not a sarcastic criticism. But he broke fellowship with me, went out into the country, and finally landed in California. Here he continued to preach, then got a divorce from his good wife and married a poor excuse for a preacher’s wife, whom he later left. I sent him money several times, trying to renew our friendship, but all in vain. He was so conscientious (?) he would not ask for a penny but lived “by faith.” He let his beard grow, because he declared if God had given a man a beard, he had no right to “shave off the corners” thereof. (Lev. 21:5.) Later, he went to India as a missionary and there died with fever, having never apologized. I fear he lost his soul. Yes, he was conscientious in spots, but lacked magnanimity.