The Sword of the Lord Revisited

post date: September 4, 2010

While surfing the Internet yesterday, I happened to run across a reference to a magazine called The Sword of Lord. Presbyterian minister Mark Roberts recounts his negative exposure to the magazine this way:

I can’t hear the phrase “sword of the Lord” without thinking back to an odd experience during my college years. For no apparent reason, I started to receive a newspaper in the mail. It was called The Sword of the Lord. It was jam-packed with articles representing very conservative Christianity. The founder of The Sword of the Lord was John R. Rice, a Baptist evangelist from Texas. An unabashed fundamentalist, Rice graciously shared his condemnation of the sinfulness and heresies of others. Not only did he judge the secular world, but also many prominent, theologically conservative Christian leaders. Rice and his fellow journalists were proud to wield the “sword of the Lord.”
Yet in their denouncements of the manifold sins of others, I failed to hear the good news of Jesus Christ. It was as if they had grasped the “sword of the Lord” in Jeremiah, forgetting how that sword is described in the New Testament book of Hebrews.

 A paragraph later he describes it as “a newspaper filled with judgment and condemnation.”

Well now. 

I would like to file a dissenting opinion on one crucial point. When he implies that the magazine did not contain the Good News of Jesus, Mark Roberts overstates his case. I know this is true because it is largely through The Sword of the Lord that I came to understand the gospel of Christ.

My own story goes like this. Although I was raised in a Baptist church, during my early years I never clearly understood the gospel message. When I joined the church at the age of 9, no one asked  me if I was born again. No one inquired whether or not I knew the Lord. I walked the aisle, signed a card, stood with the pastor facing the congregation, was voted into the church, and later was baptized. And so I became a church member in good standing who did not know Jesus.

About five years later I began in earnest to seek some form of spiritual reality. A local pastor named Ed McCollum recognized that I was a seeker and began to talk to me about the things of the Lord. I remember having late-night conversations with my friends about Bible. It was during those years that I fell into the habit of visiting Ira’s Gift and Book Shop, located on the Main Street of the small town in Alabama where I grew up. One day the proprietor, Ira Schnell, a genial and patient man, showed me a magazine printed like a newspaper, filled with sensationalistic sermon titles such as “When Skeletons Come Out of Their Closet” and offering paperback books with titles like “Bobbed Hair, Bossy Wives, and Women Preachers” (that’ll get your attention for sure). Mr. Schnell said he didn’t even subscribe. They just sent him the magazine for free. “If you want me to, I’ll save my copies and give them to you.»

So I began to read The Sword of the Lord every week. Here’s the thing. I understand what Mark Roberts is talking about. Dr. Rice had a flair for the dramatic and certainly didn’t shy away from controversy. He loved to “stir the pot.” But every edition always contained at least one full-length evangelistic sermon, sometimes by Dr. Rice, sometimes by great preachers of the past like Moody or Spurgeon. 

And that’s where I first learned the gospel of Jesus Christ. 

To be sure, I heard it from others as well. But reading those evangelistic sermons week after week implanted in my soul the certain knowledge that I was a sinner in need of a Savior, that Jesus had died for me, and that I needed to be saved and could be saved by trusting Christ. From Dr. Rice I learned the urgency of salvation, the importance of not delaying, that I must be saved or I would be doomed to hell forever.

It was old-fashioned evangelism at its best, and it found a place in my heart.

I have written elsewhere about how I came to Christ in June 1969 after my junior year of high school. Reading The Sword of the Lord helped bring me to that moment. I now understand that salvation is all of grace all the time, and that God was calling me through his Spirit. But God uses human means to accomplish his purposes. In his kindness, he used many people to bring me to himself. I am sure that I will never understand this side of heaven all the people and the means he used to make me his child. 

One part of the story involves Dr. John R. Rice and The Sword of the Lord. I understand why Mark Roberts wrote as he did. That’s okay because we all see things differently or they hit us in different ways. I found the Good News on the pages of a magazine that was given to me by a bookstore owner who didn’t have time to read it. I had the time and so I did read it, and that one’s part of the story of God’s sovereign grace working in my life to bring me to Jesus. 

So I’m happy today to recount this story, with due thanks to Ira Schnell and to John R. Rice, and with the ultimate credit going only to the Lord. 


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Ray Pritchard
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