When R. G. Lee pastored the First Baptist Church of Edgefield, South Carolina, he gave a devotional during a prayer meeting called “Payday Someday.” A deacon told him afterwards that he had some pretty good material and needed to work on it some. Lee did! He ended up preaching Payday
more than 1,200 times! As a part of honoring the past, we want to make young Southern Baptists aware of what is arguably the greatest American sermon in the twentieth century. Lee is perhaps the greatest Southern Baptist preacher of all time, and Payday is perhaps the greatest Southern Baptist sermon. Payday is a narrative sermon. Lee masterfully tells the story of Naboth, Ahab, Jezebel, and Elijah (from 1 Kings 21 & 2 Kings 9) as a theater tragedy with eight scenes: the real-estate request, the pouting potentate, the wicked wife, the message meaning murder, the fatal fast, the visit to the vineyard, the alarming appearance, and payday itself.
Ahab and Jezebel cheat Naboth out of his vineyard, and Jezebel signs a letter ordering his assassination. It looks as though evil will triumph and go unnoticed by God. Lee erupts, “Where is God? Where is God? Is He blind and He cannot see? Is He deaf and He cannot hear? Is He dumb and He cannot speak? Is He paralyzed and He cannot move? Where is God?” Then, Lee assures his audience, “Wait just a minute, and we shall find out.” As a result, Elijah announces God’s judgment sentence upon Ahab and Jezebel, “Ahab, as the Lord God liveth before whom I stand, God sent me here to tell you that someday, someday, where the dogs licked Naboth’s blood will the dogs lick thy blood, even thine. And Ahab God sent me here to tell you that someday, here, by the walls of Jezreel the dogs will eat Jezebel.” All happens according to God’s word. The sermon is about God’s judgment. God must and will judge sin. He may not punish today or tomorrow, but He will punish eventually.
Lee pauses the story after Elijah passes God’s judgment sentence and begins to drive home application. He tells his audience that “Payday Someday” is written “in the constitution of God’s universe.” God has revealed the reality of judgment in His Word, and it cannot be sidestepped or avoided. Sin will be repaid. It may not be today, but it will happen “Someday.” Lee lists certain sins and the payday God promises for them, “Oh, you can take God’s name in vain, if you will, if you’re indecent enough to be a profane swearer, but I have a book that tells us about the cursers payday, ‘God will not hold him guiltless who taketh His name in vain.’ You can tell lies, if you will, forgetting that lying lips are an abomination unto God… Here’s the payday, ‘All liars,’ says this book, ‘shall have their part in the lake that burneth with fire and brimstone.’…You can live to flesh and sex, if you will, like thousands do, but I have book that tells us about the payday for that, ‘the works of the flesh are these: adultery, fornication, uncleaness…’ Well, what’s the payday? God says that, ‘He who soweth to his flesh will of his flesh reap rotten flesh, corruption, carrion, which buzzards love.’”
Lee presses play on the story and describes how God’s payday came on Ahab and Jezebel. An arrow kills Ahab. He is stood up on the chariot while the bottom fills with his blood. Then, the dogs leap up in the chariot and lick his blood, “according to the word of God spoken by Elijah the Tishbite… God said it, and it was done. ‘The wicked shall be turned into Hell with all the nations that forget God.’ God says that, and it shall be done!” Lee’s point is that just as God’s promised payday came upon Ahab, so God’s promised payday will come upon all sinners. God’s payday continues to come to bear as Jehu, the newly anointed king of Israel, is told to blot out the house of Ahab. Jehu kills Jehoram, son of Ahab and Jezebel, and soldiers place his body in the vineyard Jehoram’s parents stole from Naboth. Lee points out the irony, “Listen, the vineyard they got by shedding Naboth’s blood is now stained with their own blood as it flowed in the veins of their son Jehoram. God’s payday train is coming into station, and all the powers of men and hell can’t put on the brakes…” Finally, Jehu commands eunuchs to throw Jezebel down from a palace window. They do, and the dogs eat her, leaving her head, feet, and hands. Lee pleads with his listeners to escape the sinner’s payday for the Christian’s payday though Jesus Christ saying, ““The only way I know for any man or woman on earth to escape the sinner’s payday on earth and the sinner’s hell beyond – making sure of the Christian’s payday – is through Christ Jesus, who took the sinner’s place on the cross, becoming for all sinners all that God must judge, that sinners through faith in Christ Jesus might become all that God cannot judge.”
One cannot adequately set forth “Payday Someday” as it deserves. “Payday” is a masterpiece. It is meant to be heard. I encourage everyone to listen to it. If you have heard it before, I encourage you to listen again with fresh ears. If you have never heard it before, listen for the first time to maybe the greatest sermon from perhaps the greatest preacher in the long line of Southern Baptist pulpiteers. May we be terrified at the reality of God’s judgment on sin. We deserve the fate of Ahab and Jezebel, and much worse. May we be brokenhearted over the lost who are certain to face the dogs of judgment let loose by a holy God. May we be overjoyed and awestruck that King Jesus received the full force of God’s payday on our behalf. May we resolve to plead with sinners to be reconciled to Christ, because there will be a payday, someday!