IV. SERMON PREPARATION
V. SERMON DELIVERY
Robert Greene Lee was born on November 11, 1886 in
York County, South Carolina. He was born the fifth child of
poor share-croppers and was delivered with the help of a
Negro nurse and midwife named “Mam” Lindy. It is said that,
upon little Robert’s birth, Lindy danced around the bedroom
of the Lee log cabin and shouted: “Praise Gawd! Glory be!
The good Lawd done sont a preacher to dis here house.” (Lee:
A Chosen Vessel, E. Schuyler English, p. 25) Those proved
to be prophetical words indeed, for Robert Greene Lee grew
up to become one of the best known and loved preachers in
Baptist history. What follows is a brief look at the life
and preaching of the man who became known as “Mr. Southern
Baptist” and “The Prince of Preachers”.
Lee’s humble birth proved to be only the beginning
of a life characterized, at least in the early years, by
poverty and hard work. Although Lee was later blessed to
the point of overcoming his poverty, he never ceased from
his hard work. Being a poor share-cropper in South Carolina
in the late nineteenth century meant hardship and hard work
for parents and children alike. Lee’s father, David Ayers
Lee was known as a hard-barked, deeply religious man who
raised his family with sternness and emphasis upon devotion
to God and family. His mother, Sarah Elizabeth Bennett Lee,
was described as a hard-working, deeply devout woman who was
likewise devoted to her God and family. Hard times meant
that the Lee family grew very close together and depended
upon each other for love and strength.
During his early years, young Lee routinely worked
along with his father and other family members in their
efforts to grow enough cotton, wheat, corn, and watermelons
to sustain the family from year to year. Lee’s father
rented his land from a Frank Massey and worked it on the
halves, which meant that the Lees did all of the work and
received half of the crop.
Later on, the Lees had the good fortune of living in
an eighteen room “mansion” which was owned by David Lee’s
new wealthy employer, Eli Springs. The atmosphere of this
stately home, with its staircase and grand entrance, became
the only bright spot in the life of a little boy who would
later be known for his flare for the grand and magnificent.
While living in this home, Lee got a taste of life as lived
by the “serious minded and civilized” people in society.
Although still poor, R. G. Lee seemed to gain a sense of the
high value of the gift of life. This may partly explain his
later love for people and the more refined things in life.
(English, pp. 25-69)
Robert Lee was saved in a fence-corner while plowing
behind a mule. After a time of conviction for several days,
he finally fell on his knees and prayed: “If one must accept
Jesus to be saved, then I accept Him.” Thus, at the age of
twelve, a plow-boy named Robert G. Lee got on the path which
would lead him from a field of dirt to a field of souls.
(Robert G. Lee, John E. Huss, p. 29)
Lee was always aware of the value of education.
From the moment of his conversion, he reports that he felt
the call to preach. He realized that education was very
important if one was to preach the Gospel in power and
truth. Unfortunately, during his younger years, there was
no money for books and supplies. Lee responded to this
problem by taking on work for himself and spending the money
on private tutoring and textbooks. He especially liked to
study the English language. It is said that his two favor-
ite books were the Bible, and the dictionary, in that order.
(Huss, pp. 26-70)
All in all, the heritage from which Robert G. Lee
came gave him an appreciation for the finer things in life,
along with a love and appreciation for the simpler things.
His background as the son of poor, hard-working, God-fearing
South Carolina parents left him well prepared for the
ministry which God had prepared for him.
Later in his life, R. G. Lee was able to provide for
himself a quality education and, through a series of sacri-
ficial and well-planned steps, he became well prepared and
trained for ministry. Among other things, at the age of 21,
Lee worked on the Panama Canal for the purpose of raising
money to further his schooling. Although Lee’s days in
Panama were hard and lonesome, his labor on the Canal helped
him get what he wanted most from this world, an education.
Some time after his work in Panama, Lee was able to
enter school at Furman University in Greeneville, SC. He
received an A. B. degree from Furman in 1913. After gradu-
ation from Furman, Lee married Bula Gentry. Their marriage
was happy and long-lived. After his marriage to Miss
Gentry, Lee continued his education while his preaching
ministry began in earnest. Six years later, Lee earned a
Ph.D. in international law from Chicago Law School.
Through determination and hard work, Robert G. Lee was able
to accomplish what his friends had said would never happen.
His first pulpit was the Lima Baptist Church near
Greeneville, SC. He later pastured churches in Edgefield,
SC., Chester, SC., Charleston SC. and others. It was during
these years that he earned the Doctor of Philosophy degree
and first began to be recognized for his intelligence and
pulpit abilities. He was later called as Pastor of the
First Baptist Church of New Orleans; and after that, to
Citadel Square Baptist Church in Charleston. Eventually,
Dr. Lee was called as Pastor of the Bellevue Baptist Church
in Memphis. He preached his first sermon there on December
11, 1927. (Payday Everyday, Robert G. Lee, pp. 23-85)
Among his many accomplishments during his ministry
at Bellevue, Dr. Lee served three consecutive terms as
president of the Southern Baptist Convention. His good name
earned him the respect of all but his most adamant detrac-
tors. At times, the whole Convention would take a different
course merely upon the advice of its president. One example
of this was when an amendment was proposed in the Oklahoma
City Convention in 1949 which would have interfered with the
cherished independence of churches. This amendment was
reportedly defeated “largely by the influence of President
R. G. Lee, who, with other leaders, opposed its adoption.”
(The Southern Baptist Convention, 1845-1953, William B.
Barnes, p. 119)
Dr. Lee would spend the rest of his ministry as
Pastor of Bellevue. His ministry there is today known as
one of the greatest ministries of any Baptist pastor in the
IV. SERMON PREPARATION
Dr. Lee’s sermon preparation was, in a word, exhaus-
tive. His devotion to God and his acquaintance with hard
work led him to spend long hours both in general preparation
and in “fine-tuning”. Despite his humble birth, Dr. Lee was
a man of considerable education and even more considerable
intellect. His vocabulary was second to none and he was
able to select just the right word for his intended aim.
Dr. Lee’s preparation can best be ascertained by
consideration of his sermon content itself. First, his
content was Biblical. Dr. Lee preached the Word. His most
prized physical possession was his Bible, and he taught and
preached it as the inerrant Word of God.
Second his content was very “deep”. In fact some
modern readers of his fifty or so sermon volumes have
commented that Dr. Lee’s content just doesn’t seem to come
down to their “level”. This quality of “deepness” demon-
strates that Dr. Lee spent much time in creative meditation
and counsel with his Lord.
Third, his content demonstrated a thorough knowledge
of the Bible as a whole. Dr. Lee talked about people and
events in the Bible as one would talk about the people and
events in his personal life. His familiarity with the
Scripture gave Lee a wonderful ability to put the chosen
text of his sermon in context with the whole of Scripture;
and, thus, to help the reader really “feel” the impact of
the chosen text. Though Dr. Lee was known as a topical
preacher, his sermons were so infused with Scripture that
they were also known for their “exposing” of the whole Word
of God. This thorough knowledge of the Bible demonstrates
that Dr. Lee spent considerable time studying references, as
well as in general Bible study.
Fourth, his content was colorful and yet simple in
its choice of words and phrases. At first, this might not
appear to be so because of Dr. Lee’s apparent use of sophi-
sticated words and phrases, many of which were, and are not
now, in common usage. A close look will prove, though, that
Dr. Lee’s choice of words was not so much sophisticated as
it was colorful. He chose descriptive words which left no
doubt in the hearer’s mind as to his intended meaning. For
instance, in his famous sermon “Payday Someday,” Dr. Lee
described King Ahab as “the vile human toad who squatted
upon the throne of his nation – the worst of Israel’s
kings.” (“Pay-Day–Someday” sermon manuscript, p. 1) The
words in this statement, taken separately, are simple,
everyday words. Taken together, however, these simple words
paint a picture and seem to “sing a melody” in the ear of
the listener. Thus was Dr. Lee’s ability to take simple,
everyday words and put them together into colorful, eloquent
Finally, his content was well prepared and studied.
When Dr. Lee stood in the pulpit, he knew what he wanted to
say. Dr. Lee’s sermon “Payday Someday” contained over 30
pages of text and took about an hour to preach! Still, he
was able to deliver it practically word for word without his
manuscript. As was his usual practice, Dr. Lee had memo-
rized his manuscript. This represents a thorough and
tedious job as far as preparation is concerned. Dr. Lee was
a man of books and prayer, and it showed when he stood in
V. SERMON DELIVERY
Robert G. Lee is best remembered for his sermon
delivery. His heavy South Carolina accent, coupled with his
exceptional grasp of the English language made his a unique
and widely known delivery. These two distinct qualities in
Dr. Lee’s preaching style earned him the name of the
“silver-tongued orator” of the South. (The Wycliffe Handbook
of Preaching and Preachers, Wiersbe and Perry, p. 9)
Dr. Lee favored colorful and descriptive phrases
over the plain, stale phrases which preachers are so often
accused of using. His sermons made extensive use of adject-
ives and adverbs (Wiersbe p. 92) which he strung together in
a very eloquent presentation.
Even his dress was a well-considered part of his
sermon delivery. He was known for wearing only white in the
pulpit, as well as for the way he carried himself upon the
platform. Dr. Lee approached the pulpit, dressed in white,
under a spotlight, in a dimmed sanctuary. Before beginning
his sermon, he knelt at the side of the pulpit in silent
prayer. Naturally, when he did this, every eye was fixed
upon the Pastor. It was in the stillness and expectancy of
this moment that Dr. Lee began his message. While some have
scoffed at “such a show”, others have remembered it as a
very “worshipful” experience. In either case, Dr. Lee had
the attention of the audience.
Dr. Lee’s delivery was loved by some and loathed by
some, but admired by almost everyone. His accent made him
difficult for some to understand, but his voice inflection
and enthusiasm made him impossible to ignore. It could be
fairly said of his delivery that it was both interesting and
entertaining. While Dr. Lee was certainly not in the enter-
tainment business, his flair for the grand and magnificent
made “Lee” a household name; and it made his Lord a Name in
many households. For this reason alone, Robert G. Lee will
be remembered as one of God’s choice instruments.
A study of the life and preaching of a man like
R. G. Lee leaves one with two major conclusions. First, Dr.
Lee’s life illustrates without question that God can, and
does, mightily use those whom He has called to serve Him.
Ole Mam Lindy’s prediction at little Robert’s birth must
have sounded like the ravings of a woman gone mad. It is
truly an amazing testimony to God’s grace that a person of
such humble birth can reach such pinnacles in the kingdom of
God. First and foremost, Dr. Robert G. Lee is a testimony
to the perseverance of a good man and the power of a great
Second, Dr. Lee’s life and preaching teaches the
value of being yourself and becoming the best you can be.
Throughout his life, Dr. Lee maintained close ties with his
roots and simply used what God had given him to its utmost
utility. Although some have ridiculed Lee for his heavy
accent, try to imagine where he would have been without it.
It is interesting that Lee overcame the negative aspect of
the accent by studying the English language to the point
that he is remembered as a man with a “silver-tongue”.
When all is said and done, old Mam Lindy was right
all along. The Robert Lee whom she held in her arms on that
November day in 1886 was the same Robert Lee who did indeed
preach to thousands upon thousands about the “good Lawd” who
sent him to “dis here house”.
- Barnes, William W. The Southern Baptist Convention, 1845-1953. Nashville: Broadman Press, 1954.
- Bellevue Baptist Church. “30 Glorious Years”. Memphis: Church Publication, 1957.
- Burns, John A. “R. G. Lee, A Man God Fashioned,” Fundamentalist Journal (February, 1985): 42-44.
- English, E. Schuyler. Robert G. Lee: A Chosen Vessel.
- Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House, 1949.
- Lee, Robert Greene. Payday Everyday. Nashville: Broadman Press, 1974.
- Lee, Robert Greene. Pay-Day–Someday. Orlando: Christ For The World, Inc., 1985.
- Huss, John E. Robert G. Lee. Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House, 1967.
- Staff Writer, “There’s No Place Like Home For Humility Lesson,” The Commercial Appeal (May 1, 1971): 5.
- Wiersbe, Warren and Perry, Lloyd M. The Wycliffe Handbook of Preaching and Preachers. Chicago: Moody Press, 1984.