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Keep gospel message simple, seminary founder, 96, says

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (BP)–At 96 years of age, Robert Gee Witty has preached more years than many people have lived.

But Witty, founder of Luther Rice Seminary in Atlanta, shows no signs of slowing down. After more than 70 years of Christian ministry, he is still preaching and teaching. He even has his own website.

Witty preached at Southern Baptist Theological
Seminary Sept. 10, sharing insights from his many years of faithful service.

He told how he lives in a retirement community and once a week leads a Bible study of his peers.

“One of the things I want to teach them is that a senior … should be the happiest person in the world, because we’ve got a great future,” he said. “We will soon be with the Lord. It is better than this life. It is better than anything we have known.”

Witty told how after one of the Bible studies a woman came up to him and said, “Dr. Witty, you’re teaching us not to be afraid to die.”

Preaching from Ephesians 5:18 – where Paul gives the command to “be filled with the spirit” – Witty told a Southern Seminary audience how he was saved as an 8-year-old boy while listening to a sermon in Glasgow, Ky. All ministers, Witty said, should preach a message simple enough that even the youngest listener can understand.

“The preacher who preached the message that day was wise enough to preach a message that was so simple and so plain that an 8-year-old boy could get hold of it,” he said. “I sat there a sinner who knew he was a sinner. I sat there as a little boy with the realization that if I died I would go to hell. I was scared.

“But as the preacher expounded about the love of God, the Holy Spirit gave me the courage to get up from beside my grandfather and walk to the front and take the preacher’s hand and say, ‘What must I do to be saved?’ He told me, ‘Repent, confess your sin, believe in the Lord Jesus Christ and thou shalt be saved.'”

Witty challenged those in attendance to keep the gospel message simple.

“Let us praise God for this wonderful salvation that a little child can receive,” he said. “Let us preach it and let us testify to it … in such a way that a child can get hold of it.”

Witty’s childhood wasn’t easy. His family was so poor that a new pair of shoes seemed like a luxury. Once, he inserted cardboard into his shoes to cover up holes.

The family’s lack of money made Witty’s call into the ministry hard to accept. His call came at age 16, sitting in a church. Witty went home after the service and knelt beside his bed in prayer.

“I dropped to my knees and I said, ‘Oh, God, we’ve been poor. I want to be a lawyer. I want to be a doctor. I want … to make some money.’ God said, ‘You’re a preacher.’

“I received no peace. Hours passed by. I walked back and forth. I prayed. I did everything I knew. But I received no peace until I knelt beside that bed and said, ‘Oh, God, I’ll do what you want me to do.’

“What a gracious thing, what an incredible thing that the almighty sovereign God … would look down upon a 16-year-old boy and say, ‘I want you to be a preacher.’ What amazing grace, and I’m so grateful.”

But Witty said that when he accepted his first pastorate in Davenport, Fla., something was spiritually lacking. He learned what was missing while listening to an Indian missionary preach from Ephesians 5:18.

“As I sat there and listened to this man talk about the fullness of the Holy Spirit – which is the command from God’s Word for each one of us – I got so hungry,” he said. “I got so thirsty. I said, ‘Will this man never quit preaching? I want to get on my knees before God.’ Finally he quit. I didn’t go to the front. I simply fell on my knees there by the pew.”

Witty said he didn’t speak in tongues or see a vision and that he wasn’t slain in the Spirit. However, he said he “felt a fullness. It was not just a feeling; it was a conviction; it was a communion I felt within my soul that God was filling my house and my life.

“I walked from that place not with a new presence but with a new fullness. I believe there was one baptism. I believe there are many fillings. I confess to you that I have failed God time after time … But I thank God that when I surrendered and believed, I’m filled.

“Daily I lift up my hands to God and I say, ‘Take me and fill me with your Spirit.’ As that song says, ‘I’m learning to lean on Jesus.'”

Audio of this sermon is available on the seminary’s web page at:

    About the Author

  • Michael Foust