ARCHIVES: Robert Naylor on the dignity of man


In 1958, Dr. Robert Naylor, then chairman of the trustees at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary and soon-to-be the school’s president, preached the annual sermon at the Southern Baptist Convention. He took as his texts John 1:40-51 and John 2:23-25.  The title: “The New Horizon.”

At the time, Naylor was the first president of Southwestern Seminary asked to preach the annual convention sermon.  Since 1958, two other Southwestern presidents have been elected to preach it: Russell Dilday was chosen in 1983; and Paige Patterson was chosen in 2017.

But only two Southwestern presidents have actually fulfilled the preaching assignment in convention history. It seems that not many are called, and even fewer are chosen.

Today, one of our research associates visited the Southern Baptist Historical Library and Archives in Nashville, TN, to assist us with some of the work on one of our present writing projects.  Below is an excerpt from Naylor’s 1958 convention sermon.

“…Jesus knew what was in man and therefore knew him to be worth saving. We say, correctly, that salvation is by grace. It is not of works lest any man should boast. There is no merit by which a man may claim salvation.

In our emphasis on man’s lack of merit in salvation we may have missed his basic worth. Certain it is that the dignity of man and human worth have reached an all time low in our generation. Unfit, undeserving, unmerited, we undoubtedly are, but there is something in man which, in the eyes of Jesus, was worth the price of his redemption.

The chief charge leveled against Jesus in the days of His flesh was that He mingled with sinners. His reply was that He came to seek and save that which was lost. In the 8th Chapter of John there is the story of a woman taken in adultery about to be stoned by her accusers. Jesus comes to her defense saying, ‘let him that is without sin among you cast the first stone.’ As he stands there defending the woman, presently to say to her go and sin no more, His is a startling divine affirmation that she was worth saving.

The repentant thief on the cross is assured, ‘today thou shalt be with me in paradise.’ It would seem that Jesus was too busy dying to bother with a guilty thief. More to the point, it would seem that a man like this is not worth any consideration. Jesus indicates that he is worth saving, even worth dying in order that he might save him, even worth stopping the processes of death that he might assure him of his salvation.

Calvary, the cross of Jesus, establishes the par value of man. We know that the cross presents the sinner’s substitute. There is no theory of the atonement that should be satisfactory to the believer that does not make Jesus our substitute. ‘Jesus tasted death for every man,’ we are told. ‘The Lord hath laid on him the iniquity of us all,’ the prophet said. Sure it is that he bore our sins on the tree . . .

. . . But it begins to dawn on us that there is something here that we may have missed. Having said these other things we have not said it all. God knows something we do not know.

He knew what is in man but he went right ahead and died for him. He knew what was in man and he continued to rescue him. He knew that which was in man and gave himself for him. Man is worth more than any other man has dared to believe.

What if this new horizon of knowledge should be opened to us? What if we began to make relevant inquiry into the worth of a man? If we discover the answer that lies basic in the cross, the result would be to make war impossible.”