Samuel Robert Cassius: “I Had Rather Preach the Gospel for What I Can Eat”

"I had rather preach the gospel for what I can eat..."

Samuel Robert Cassius (1853-1931) was an African-American preacher and part of what is known as the Restoration Movement. He spent most of his years preaching in Oklahoma. During this time, he often struggled to support his family and, of necessity, engaged in other work than just preaching to provide for them. The following excerpt from the book, To Save My Race from Abuse, contains an appeal he made for others to support his work.

In 1907, Cassius disclosed a plan to wipe out his monetary debts so that he could ‘devote all my time to the ministry’ the following year. ‘This is my earnest desire. Not that I am not willing to work, but because I love to preach.’ Giving his most articulate expression about his passion for preaching, he continued, ‘I had rather preach the gospel for what I can eat, than to live in plenty at anything else. God has raised me up for this very work, and I am not happy or contented at anything else’” (To Save My Race From Abuse, p. 86).

Aside from what appears to be a misconception about God directly calling him to this work, there are some good lessons in Cassius’ statement, particularly for those who preach the gospel.

Recognize the importance of preaching – The gospel is “the power of God for salvation” (Romans 1:16) and the way that the gospel is spread is through preaching. Paul wrote, “God was well-pleased through the foolishness of the message preached to save those who believe” (1 Corinthians 1:21). When the Lord sent His apostles out on the Great Commission, their mission was simple: “Go into all the world and preach the gospel to all creation” (Mark 16:15). After reminding the saints in Rome, “Whoever will call on the name of the Lord will be saved,” Paul said, “How then will they call on Him in whom they have not believed? How will they believe in Him whom they have not heard? And how will they hear without a preacher? […] ‘How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news of good things!’” (Romans 10:13-15). Cassius recognized the importance of preaching. We need to remember that the work is still vitally important today.

Be willing to sacrifice – Cassius recognized that he could quit preaching and have a better chance to “live in plenty” by pursuing some other work. While there is certainly authority for preachers to “get their living from the gospel” (1 Corinthians 9:14), those who preach must be willing to sacrifice. Paul told the church in Corinth, “I will most gladly spend and be expended for your souls” (2 Corinthians 12:15). Paul told the young evangelist Timothy, “Suffer hardship with me, as a good soldier of Christ Jesus” (2 Timothy 2:3). Later in the same chapter, Paul spoke of his willingness to suffer in order to help save others: “For this reason I endure all things for the sake of those who are chosen, so that they also may obtain the salvation which is in Christ Jesus and with it eternal glory” (2 Timothy 2:10). Those preachers who are faithful and diligent in their work, if they were to direct those same efforts toward secular pursuits, would most likely do better financially than they ever could in preaching. But for Cassius, this was not a trade he was willing to make. Those who preach the gospel must be willing to make sacrifices for the work.

Realize that time spent in secular work is time spent away from preaching – Just as there is authority for preachers to “get their living from the gospel” (1 Corinthians 9:14), there is also authority for preachers to work to provide for themselves when support is insufficient. Paul often had to engage in secular work in addition to his preaching work (Acts 20:34; 1 Thessalonians 2:9; 2 Thessalonians 3:8). While in Corinth, he worked as a tent-maker and preached “in the synagogue every Sabbath” (Acts 18:3-4). Luke then recorded: “But when Silas and Timothy came down from Macedonia, Paul began devoting himself completely to the word, testifying to the Jews that Jesus was the Christ” (Acts 18:5). The implication is that Silas and Timothy brought support to Paul from Macedonia so that he could devote all of his time to preaching (cf. 2 Corinthians 11:8). While preachers should be “willing to work” (2 Thessalonians 3:10) when necessary, the demands of secular work always limit the time one can devote to the work of preaching. Like Cassius, preachers should be willing to work, yet desiring to be unhindered in order to devote themselves “completely to the word” (Acts 18:5).

The work of preaching is essential in spreading the soul-saving gospel of Christ (Mark 16:15; Romans 10:13-15). It is best accomplished when preachers are willing to sacrifice for the work (2 Corinthians 12:15; 2 Timothy 2:3, 10) and churches and individuals are willing and able to support their work (2 Corinthians 11:8; Galatians 6:6).

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