My students are sometimes surprised (and, to be truthful, sometimes encouraged) to learn that I failed Greek the first time I took it. Passing the course was not a question of ability, but of motivation. During my first year and a half at Faith Baptist Bible College, my heart was far from the Lord. For reasons that I will not explain now, I was in a school where I did not want to be and studying a subject that I did not want to learn. I was spiritually cold and lethargic, worldly, and carnal.
The last thing that really interested me was a course in Greek at 7:00 in the morning. I was listless, sullen, obnoxious, and poorly prepared. It’s no wonder I flunked. The professor didn’t give me a failing grade—I earned it.
The professor’s name was Arthur Walton. He was a recently-minted Th.D. from Grace Theological Seminary whose dissertation (as I recall) dealt with issues in Stephen’s speech in the book of Acts. I remember being impressed with his heavy eyebrows, which (to me) made him look like he was always scowling, even when he was smiling.
In spite of my poor performance and the chip on my shoulder, Walton treated me kindly. In my shallowness, I took his charity for granted, assuming that my rudeness should be rewarded with forbearance as a matter of course. I was living my life according to the first half of Psalm 119:99, “I have more understanding than all my teachers.”
God did not leave me in that condition. During that year He sent chastening that brought me to the end of myself. Broken, I finally made it my desire to do His will, though I did not yet know what that might entail. To my amazement, God began to shower upon me the greatest blessings that I had ever received. For the first time I found myself trying to understand the Bible. For the first time I found myself pouring out my heart in prayer and receiving specific answers.
For reasons that don’t bear mentioning, I left college after my sophomore year. While out of school I married, then began to wrestle with the question of vocation. To my surprise, God led in definite ways to a conviction that He wanted me in lifelong ministry. Of course, I knew that ministry would involve preparation, and that preparation would involve Bible college. But that led to another question: would I even be welcome? I had not exactly proven myself to be an exemplary Christian.
The first class that I took was a night course on Psalms, taught by Gilbert Braithwaite. Under his instruction the Bible seemed to come alive. It was like an entirely different book, filled with beauties and mysteries that I had never previously glimpsed. But Gilbert had not known me before. He just took me as I was—dumb, but eager.
What about the professors who had known me when I was not only ignorant but obstinate? How would they feel? When I stepped on campus for my first day of regular classes, this question felt like a big fist gripping and twisting my stomach.
And wouldn’t you know, the first person I saw was Art Walton. More to the point, he saw me. He altered his course and headed directly toward me.
“You coming back to school?” he asked.
“Yes,” I replied. It was the only word I could get out.
Walton gave me one of his broadest scowly-smiles and said, “Good! I always thought we’d see you again. It’s good to have you back here.”
He probably never knew how much those few words meant. The fist let go of my stomach and I began to look forward to the things I was about to learn. I learned many of them in Walton’s classroom. From him I received my first understanding of the gospel of Matthew, of the book of Acts, of the Thessalonian epistles, and of Daniel and Revelation. That’s a lot of the Bible to learn from one man. Of course, my understanding has grown since those days, and I don’t hold to every view I was taught (for example, Walton distinguished the kingdom of heaven from the kingdom of God), but everything I know about these matters is built upon what I learned from him.
When I took the course in Acts, I wrote a paper on speaking in tongues. After reading the paper, Walton came to me and asked whether I’d ever considered going to seminary. He said that he thought I was capable of doing graduate-level work. While he was not the only person to encourage me toward seminary, his comment definitely helped to tilt the balance in that direction. It was another of those casual but pivotal conversations.
Once I graduated, I seldom saw Arthur Walton. I heard that he studied for a second doctorate at Central Baptist Theological Seminary of Minneapolis, the school where I would someday teach. Occasionally I caught news of events in his life. But our paths seldom crossed.
A few years ago, we met for what would be the last time, though neither of us knew it then. I was preaching for a Bible conference at Bob Jones University. After one of my messages, Walton found his way backstage and walked up to me. His opening line was, “You may not remember me.”
That might be the only really dumb thing he ever said. How could I ever forget the man?
So we spent some moments together rejoicing in the goodness of the Lord. I tried to say something about how he had affected my life and how grateful I was for his ministry. Then we said goodbye.
Last week I received word that Arthur Walton had been called home by our Lord. I do not know the circumstances of his death. I do know that the world is poorer without him.
He was one of a handful of men whose lives affected me deeply at an important turning point. God certainly used their learning to help furnish my mind. More than that, God used their character to help shape my soul. God knew that I would need a learned gentleman to instruct me at a pivotal stage of life, and in His goodness he prepared Arthur Walton. I can only be grateful.
This essay is by Kevin T. Bauder, Research Professor of Historical and Systematic Theology at Central Baptist Theological Seminary. Not every one of the professors, students, or alumni of Central Seminary necessarily agrees with every opinion that it expresses.
Through the night of doubt and sorrow
Bernhardt S. Ingemann (1789-1862), trans. Sabine Baring-Gould (1834-1924)
Through the night of doubt and sorrow
Onward goes the pilgrim band,
Singing songs of expectation,
Marching to the Promised Land.
Clear before us through the darkness
Gleams and burns the guiding light:
Brother clasps the hand of brother,
Stepping fearless through the night.
One the light of God’s own presence,
O’er His ransomed people shed,
Chasing far the gloom and terror,
Bright’ning all the path we tread:
One the object of our journey,
One the faith which never tires,
One the earnest looking forward,
One the hope our God inspires.
One the strain that lips of thousands
Lift as from the heart of one;
One the conflict, one the peril
One the march in God begun:
One the gladness of rejoicing
On the far eternal shore,
Where the One Almighty Father
Reigns in love for evermore.
Onward, therefore, pilgrim brothers,
Onward, with the cross our aid!
Bear its shame, and fight its battle,
Till we rest beneath its shade.
Soon shall come the great awaking,
Soon the rending of the tomb;
Then the scatt’ring of all shadows,
And the end of toil and gloom.