The young depend on the choices made for them by their elders. An heir is not somebody who can choose what he will inherit; if he could make his choice, he could be self-made. But in so far as his inheritance is determined, he is an heir, and under the laws of heredity. And to his heredity a man may say either yes or no, but he is caught in this one alternative which is not creative.
— Eugen Rosenstock-Huessy, The Christian Future
I was born into a devout, Bible-believing Christian home. Aside from my salvation, this was the greatest act of divine grace in my life. As a young Baptist evangelist, my father met my mother, a profoundly gifted church soloist, in southwestern Ohio. I was the first of four offspring of that marriage, whose longevity is now moving toward forty years. Like most people, the greatest influence in my life has been my parents. That influence for me was overwhelmingly beneficial. While, like all of Adam's seed, I was born into sin, there was never a time that I can remember not knowing of the saving gospel of Jesus Christ. I was converted at a remarkably young age; so young, as a matter of fact, that I do not even remember the experience. This is quite common among Christian children raised in devout homes, and it testifies to the great fact that God's preventive grace is even greater than His reclaiming grace. (I am amused by the pious little "gospel tracts" I sometimes receive from humanist Arminian types who are convinced that if one cannot remember his "conversion experience," there is no way he can be converted. They can offer no Scripture in support of this view, of course; and their comments testify to their woefully deficient view of the grace of God. May God grant us more conversions of Christian children who are swept into the kingdom of God by His sovereign grace at such an early age that they can never remember the experience!)
The influence of my father on my life (like that of my mother) has been incalculable. He has been a fervent, dogged preacher in every sphere possible: pastorate, missionary, on street corners, in Christian day schools, in homes, as an itinerant minister, and so on. He has given his life to preaching the Word of God and training others to greater devotion to God, and all over the globe Christians who have been decisively influenced by his ministry live and themselves minister. My father's chief themes of training faithful, dedicated Christians continually echo in my mind: learn to blame yourself, anything worth doing is worth doing right, you are either master or mastered, make your stumbling blocks stepping stones, take care of little things, the greatest ability is dependability, learn to say no, and on and on. He never backed down from a fight, theologically or otherwise, and never feared to face any man or any problem. Men of lesser character have resented him for this. All of this made a profound, lasting impression on my life.
Nonetheless, in assessing how profoundly my father has influenced my life, three themes stand out in particular.
The Bible Is the Word of God
First, my father always taught me that the Bible is nothing less than the very inspired, infallible, and preserved Word of God. This was a matter about which there was no dispute. We could be mistaken in many things, but we could never be mistaken in our faith in the Bible as God's Word. My father read, studied, marked, loved, consumed, obeyed, and defended the Bible. (He has purchased and given as gifts to young preachers more Bibles than most people actually see in a lifetime.) I have always accepted this simple faith in the Bible without question. It is for this reason that when I first encountered the writings of Cornelius Van Til and Rousas John Rushdoony in my late teens, I was so quickly convinced of the truth of their teaching. They set forth an entire system of life and thought based entirely on the Bible; in seminal form, this is exactly what my father had taught me. When later I was exposed to the supposedly sophisticated, intellectual attacks on the Bible by liberals, neo-orthodox, and evangelicals, I remained adamant in my simple faith in the Bible. Like most Christians, my faith has suffered Satanic attack and has wavered at times, but I have never doubted one word of the Bible's truth: from literal, six-day creation, to the universal Flood, to the plagues of Egypt and parting of the Red Sea, and the miracles of the Old Testament prophets; to the virgin birth, miracles, substitutionary atonement, and bodily resurrection and ascension of Jesus Christ; to the inspired teaching of the apostles; all the way to the glorious promise of the physical return of Christ and the eternal abode, heaven and hell. I do not claim to understand all of the Bible, or why God said and required everything He did; but I believe the Bible; and, from a human standpoint, this belief exists because my father taught me that it is possible to believe nothing else. Everything else may be wrong; the Bible could never be wrong.
Unreserved Dedication Is the Only Kind
Second, my father taught me that the only sort of Christian to be is an unreservedly dedicated one; half-hearted Christianity is worse than none at all. He would often remark, "Isn't it amazing that as hell-bound sinners, men can get sloshy drunk, be out until four or five in the morning and still get up for work the next day, knock themselves out in sin, but that when they get saved, these same men want to be 'moderate' and don't want anybody to think of them as religious fanatics." There was never a time in my father's home when I felt that Christianity was something only for Sunday school and morning worship, that it was anything less than the entire passion of life. In my upbringing, the lordship of Christ was not a matter of lip-service. Children can forgive parents for many sins and errors in judgment, but they expect them to live according to what they say they believe. In other words, children despise hypocrisy. I never detected a hint of hypocrisy in my Christian upbringing. This fact had a powerful influence on my unquestioned commitment to the Christian Faith.
I was given my first job (I believe the pay was $5.00 a week) trimming the hedges around the church building. When I first got paid, my father sat me down and told me, "Son, God requires ten percent of all the money you make, this is the tithe, and it belongs to Him. If you start tithing on $5.00 a week, one day you will have no trouble tithing on $500.00 a week." He was right. The tithe of my income has never been difficult for me, not because I am in any sense virtuous, or "spiritual," but because I was trained from a youth that there was simply no other legitimate alternative. An objective of Christian parents should be to train their children from infancy in such a way that Christian obedience is natural. This is what my father did.
To my father, Christianity is entire life. Jesus Christ is not a helpful appendage to life's plan, but the center of everything. This is another reason I so readily adopted the Reformed Faith at a relatively young age: it is a faith that declares, "There is no secular-sacred distinction; the Word of God is designed to govern all of life in every dimension. If Jesus Christ is Lord of the individual and church, He should be Lord of every aspect of life and society. There is no neutral territory over which He does not claim absolute, sovereign jurisdiction."
But I learned this first from my father.
Gratitude Is Essential
Third, I learned from my father the necessity of gratitude. There are few people worse than ingrates, he always told me. God graciously blesses men, but they are often not thankful to God for His goodness. Christians help an individual, but he does not express gratitude. Ingrates are people who constantly take, who constantly benefit from others' friendship, kindness, generosity, wisdom, instruction, and so forth, but somehow think they are entitled to these benefits. This is an evil attitude, but it is all too pervasive. We must constantly be on our guard against taking advantage of those who have helped us: parents, friends, schoolteachers, spouses, children, pastors, authors, and so forth. If today each of us enjoys any measure of success, a strong marriage, faithful children, a steady income, health, friends, prestige, etc. — it is because, first, God has been gracious to us and, second, somebody helped us. No man is an island; every man has been helped by someone else. Those who have helped us deserve gratitude, and they deserve to hear our gratitude expressed.
Which reminds me: Thanks, Dad, for all you have been and done for me.
Thank God for all godly fathers whose influence on their children is incalculably profound.
"[T]o his heredity," observes Rosenstock-Huessy, "a man may say either yes or no."
I have chosen to say yes.
And that has made all the difference.
- P. Andrew Sandlin
P. Andrew Sandlin is a Christian minister, theologian, and author. He is the founder and president of the Center for Cultural Leadership in Coulterville, California. He was formerly president of the National Reform Association and executive vice president of the Chalcedon Foundation. He is a minister in the Fellowship of Mere Christianity.. He was formerly a pastor at Church of the Word in Painesville, Ohio (1984-1995) and Cornerstone Bible Church in Scotts Valley, California (2004-2014).