The Most Quoted Preacher of the 20th Century

I doubt many Christians can name the preacher that Billy Graham claimed to be the most quoted in the 20th century.

Vance Havner doesn’t readily come to mind.

If you never heard him preach, you really missed something.  Rather you missed someone who was a passionate conveyor of the Word of God, the “Dean of America’s Revival Preachers,” who often had a humorous way of choosing the right words to express a poignant truth.

It was 1971 when I first heard this revivalist preacher speak at my Baptist Church. I was a relatively new Christian and was overwhelmed with his rapid-fire style of preaching, hurling quips and quotes that had only one purpose — to convict your heart to follow Christ. When asked about the role of a minister, he stated, “The preacher is to comfort the afflicted, and afflict the comfortable.”

This short-in-stature, thin beanpole of a man was God’s way of disguising a master communicator whose powerful preaching would have you running down the aisle to confess your sins and accept Christ as your Lord and Savior.  Billy Graham wasn’t wrong in his assessment of this itinerant preacher man. 

I prefer to call Rev. Havner America’s Apostle of Aphorisms.

Over the years, I have collected his quotes.  Reading them periodically transports me back to a 1971 springtime revival in Decatur, Georgia.  Reading them also serves as yet another altar call to renew my faith and remind me that, as Havner put it, “A wife who is 85% faithful to her husband is not faithful at all. There is no such thing as part-time loyalty to Jesus Christ.”

Havner’s gift was packing an entire sermon in a single sentence.  Whether you consider these one-liners proverbs, adages, or aphorisms,  you cannot ignore the pearls of wisdom, these memorable insights offer. 

So, in the event you have never had the delight of being showered with Havner-isms, here are a few of‘s favorites.  If you are afflicted, prepare to be comforted, if you are comfortable, prepare to be afflicted.  

Finally, beloved, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.”  Philippians 4:8 (RSV)‘s  Favorite Quotes of Vance Havner

The church is a hospital for sinners, and not a museum for saints.

Too many church services start at eleven sharp and end at twelve dull.

The church is so subnormal that if it ever got back to the New Testament normal it would seem to people to be abnormal.

Church members too often expect service and never think of giving it.

The thermometer of a church is its prayer meeting.

The alcoholic commits suicide on the installment plan.

Faith doesn’t wait until it understands; in that case it wouldn’t be faith.

God uses broken things. It takes broken soil to produce a crop, broken clouds to give rain, broken grain to give bread, broken bread to give strength. It is the broken alabaster box that gives forth perfume. It is Peter, weeping bitterly, who returns to greater power than ever. 

If you are a Christian, you are not a citizen of this world trying to get to heaven; you are a citizen of heaven making your way through this world.  

The hope of dying is the only thing that keeps me alive.

A soft and sheltered Christianity, afraid to be lean and lone, unwilling to face the storms and brave the heights, will end up fat and foul in the cages of conformity.

We are suffering today from a species of Christianity as dry as dust, as cold as ice, as pale as a corpse, and as dead as King Tut. We are suffering not from a lack of correct heads but of consumed hearts. 

We are not going to move this world by criticism of it nor conformity to it, but by the combustion within it of lives ignited by the Spirit of God. 

Let it never be forgotten that, although we may do nothing about the Word we hear, the Word will do something to us. The same sun melts ice and hardens clay, and the Word of God humbles or hardens the human heart. 

When the Lord’s sheep are a dirty grey, all black sheep are more comfortable. 

Worry is like a rocking chair. It will give you something to do, but it won’t get you anywhere. 

It used to be called the Lord’s Day, now it is the weekend and if we group all holidays on weekends the devil will have scored another move against Sunday worship.

The temple of truth has never suffered so much from woodpeckers on the outside as from termites within. 

We may never be martyrs but we can die to self, to sin, to the world, to our plans and ambitions. That is the significance of baptism; we died with Christ and rose to new life.

You can’t tell it like it is, if you don’t believe it like it was.

Salt seasons, purifies, preserves. But somebody ought to remind us that salt also irritates. Real living Christianity rubs this world the wrong way.

We are the salt of the earth, mind you, not the sugar. Our ministry is to truly cleanse and not just to change the taste.

Too many Christians are stuffing themselves with gospel blessings while millions have never had a taste.

Sometimes your medicine bottle has on it, “Shake well before using.” That is what God has to do with some of His people. He has to shake them well before they are ever usable.

We are not bearing our crosses every time we have a headache; an aspirin tablet will take care of that. What is meant is the trouble we would not have if we were not Christians.

Where are the marks of the cross in your life? Are there any points of identification with your Lord? Alas, too many Christians wear medals but carry no scars.

Our Lord sent His disciples out as sheep among wolves; now the wolves are being invited into the sheepfold.

It is possible to fraternize with unbelievers until false doctrine becomes less and less objectionable.

If you lack knowledge, go to school. If you lack wisdom, get on your knees! Knowledge is not wisdom. Wisdom is the proper use of knowledge.

Taking it easy is often the prelude to backsliding. Comfort precedes collapse.

Some missionaries bound for Africa were laughed at by the boat captain. “You’ll only die over there,” he said. But a missionary replied, “Captain, we died before we started.”

The primary qualification for a missionary is not love for souls, as we so often hear, but love for Christ.

What our Lord said about cross-bearing and obedience is not in fine type. It is in bold print on the face of the contract.

Popularity has slain more prophets of God than persecution ever did.

Some preachers ought to put more fire into their sermons, or more sermons into the fire.

If you want to be popular, preach happiness. If you want to be unpopular, preach holiness.

We have suffered from the preaching of cheap grace. Grace is free, but it is not cheap. People will take anything that is free, but they are not interested in discipleship. They will take Christ as Savior but not as Lord.

When I pastored a country church, a farmer didn’t like the sermons I preached on hell. He said, “Preach about the meek and lowly Jesus.” I said, “That’s where I got my information about hell.”

A preacher should have the mind of a scholar, the heart of a child and the hide of a rhinoceros. His biggest problem is how to toughen his hide without hardening his heart.

I know that some are always studying the meaning of the fourth toe of the right foot of some beast in prophecy and have never used either foot to go and bring men to Christ. I do not know who the 666 is in Revelation but I know the world is sick, sick, sick and the best way to speed the Lord’s return is to win more souls for Him.

Men love everything but righteousness and fear everything but God.

Salvation is a helmet, not a nightcap.

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  1. Jay Hager

    Thanks Buddy! Very convicting and also encouraging. Thanks for sharing- my day will have a better focus.

    Jay Hager


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