The Preacher’s Practice, Even as Iron…

“Without experience it is hard to know whose words can be trusted and whose cannot. There is one sure way the Lord has counseled that we may know. In the Savior’s own words, ‘Ye shall know them by their fruits. Do men gather grapes of thorns, or figs of thistles? Even so every good tree bringeth forth good fruit; but a corrupt tree bringeth forth evil fruit. A good tree cannot bring forth evil fruit, neither can a corrupt tree bring forth good fruit. Every tree that bringeth not forth good fruit is hewn down, and cast into the fire. Wherefore by their fruits ye shall know them’ (Matthew 7:16-20). We all have trusted and been let down, by no fault of our own. Others have trusted us, and we have fallen short. Nevertheless, good fruit may come from each and every one of us as we strive to be trustworthy in the things we say, but more importantly, in the things we do. May good fruit may be our only intention and every effort.”

Daniel Joseph Malcolm, 28 October 2023

How important is it that we practice what we preach? I often think of the words of a poet I have known from my youth, Edgar Guest (1881 – 1959):

“I’d rather see a sermon than hear one any day;
I’d rather one should walk with me than merely tell the way.
The eye’s a better pupil and more willing than the ear,
Fine counsel is confusing, but example’s always clear;
And the best of all the preachers are the men who live their creeds,
For to see good put in action is what everybody needs.

Poet Edgar Guest on his radio program, 1935.

The Apostle Paul wrote to Timothy of teaching by example, “Let no man despise thy youth; but be thou an example of the believers, in word, in conversation, in charity, in spirit, in faith, in purity” (1 Timothy 4:12). Paul knew that if Timothy’s exhortations were not accompanied by the deeds of Christ-like living, love and charity, his words would not have the strength to convert and change lives for the better. “Take heed unto thyself, and unto the doctrine; continue in them: for in doing this thou shalt both save thyself, and them that hear thee” (1 Timothy 4:16).

Not one of us is perfect, and nor will our mortal works ever be a true reflection of the life and works of Christ, but we can make every effort to live as we speak. When that fundamental change can be witnessed by those we love, our neighbors, our children and our fellow saints, in first our deeds, our words become like iron, something that can be relied upon for strength and steadfastness, even like an iron rod.

I have long enjoyed a Clint Eastwood / Warner Brothers western film titled “The Outlaw Josey Wales” (1976) which I run through a Clearplay DVD machine to remove some objectionable content. In one scene, nearing the apex of the film, Josey Wales (Clint Eastwood) confronts Comanche Chief Ten Bears (Will Sampson) with a proposal to live forming an alliance of peace, or die waging war against one another. Ten Bears knows by reputation that the fictional character Josey Wales is a man who lives in accordance with his word, acting in deed as he speaks.

Clint Eastwood and Will Sampson in The Outlaw Josey Wales (1976) Warner Bros. All rights reserved.

Ten Bears replies to Josey’s proposal in a manner that I believe relevant especially in our day: “It’s sad that governments are chiefed by the double tongues. There is iron in your words of death for all Comanche to see, and so there is iron in your words of life. No signed paper can hold the iron, it must come from men. The words of Ten Bears carries the same iron of life and death. It is good that warriors such as we meet in the struggle of life or death. It shall be life.”

While I do not know if the real Chief Ten Bears of the Tamparika Comanche ever said words such as these, it does not make it less true that speaking with a double tongue, while acting under all together different motives, is neither admirable nor trustworthy. Our words should match our deeds and be both admirable and worthy of trust.

Chief Ten Bears of the Tamparika Comanche.

Again, as perfection cannot be counted on from mortals such as we, repentance and forgiveness need to come into play. When we fall short of living the exemplary life, we need to repent with haste and get back on the right track, and this means daily, lest our iron lose its cohesion and become as blowing sand. Without repentance our words fade like echoes in the wind. They cannot be counted upon.

Just like there is a need for repentance, forgiveness must be granted. We cannot hold old debts over the heads of our fellow children of God if we expect to hear the Savior’s voice when He speaks through His servants. Paul taught Philemon to forgive the trespass of his brother in Christ, and even offered to take his debt upon himself that Philemon might be able to put unforgiveness behind him.

The Savior indeed did that very thing and gave us a gift more precious than any other. He gave Himself a ransom that all may be forgiven. Being the benefactors of such grace, who are we to hold a grudge or demand the kind of justice for which we will never be held fully accountable? I am grateful for grace, for I am flawed and rely wholly upon my Lord for salvation. I pray that I may receive forgiveness for my weakness, especially for the weak use of the gifts with which I have been blessed so abundantly.

Gethsemane

How important is it that we practice what we preach? This poet’s answer is one we should abide:

Else how is Christianity known than by examples that we set?
Are mere words more important than deeds we won’t regret?
When think we to speak some phrase to change another’s path,
If our motive is not clear we may just stir another’s wrath.
If instead by our example we live and teach each precious day,
We more likely will be showing how to live our Savior’s way.

May we all live and set Christ-like examples. Let the truth of our lips be the truth of our ways, without hypocrisy, neither pretended brotherhood. May the words we speak not only be His, but be heard as His, the sincere preacher’s practice, even as iron. In the name of Jesus Christ, amen.


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Sermons We See
By Edgar Guest

I’d rather see a sermon than hear one any day;
I’d rather one should walk with me than merely tell the way.
The eye’s a better pupil and more willing than the ear,
Fine counsel is confusing, but example’s always clear;
And the best of all the preachers are the men who live their creeds,
For to see good put in action is what everybody needs.

I soon can learn to do it if you’ll let me see it done;
I can watch your hands in action, but your tongue too fast may run.
And the lecture you deliver may be very wise and true,
But I’d rather get my lessons by observing what you do;
For I might misunderstand you and the high advice you give,
But there’s no misunderstanding how you act and how you live.

When I see a deed of kindness, I am eager to be kind.
When a weaker brother stumbles and a strong man stays behind
Just to see if he can help him, then the wish grows strong in me
To become as big and thoughtful as I know that friend to be.
And all travelers can witness that the best of guides today
Is not the one who tells them, but the one who shows the way.

One good man teaches many, men believe what they behold;
One deed of kindness noticed is worth forty that are told.
Who stands with men of honor learns to hold his honor dear,
For right living speaks a language which to everyone is clear.
Though an able speaker charms me with his eloquence, I say,
I’d rather see a sermon than to hear one, any day.

Daniel Malcolm is an entrepreneur, journalist, photographer, husband to Monica and father of twelve. He is a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and is a witness of the gospel of Jesus Christ and His Atonement.