A short introduction regarding the spiritual beginnings of Vance Havner. Written by Michael Catt for “The Friends of Vance Havner.”
In the classic One Solitary Life there’s a line regarding our Lord, “He was born in an obscure village, the child of a peasant woman.” In some ways, this describes Vance Havner who was born in the hills of North Carolina between the towns of Hickory and Shelby on October 17,1901. Little did anyone know then that the child of Mr. And Mrs. Royal Pinkney would grow up to be one of the best known preachers and writers of the Twentieth century.
The little community was known as Jugtown. The mailing address was Hickory, N.C., R.F.D. Route One. Before his life was over, Vance Houston Havner would journey from Jugtown to some of the greatest pulpits and Bible conferences in the country. His path would take him from that small pottery community to places far and near. But, he never forgot his roots. He always remembered the lessons learned as a small boy growing up in a godly home.
Vance was the youngest of three children. A sister, Summie died many years before he was born and a brother, Irvin. Vance was named after Zeb Vance, a Civil War governor or North Carolina. His middle name was derived from the Texan Sam Houston.
During his formative years, Pinkney Havner did what many rural people did in those days, a little bit of everything. He was a Justice of the Peace, a leader in the church, a potter, the owner of a small country store and an insurance salesman. He also kept honeybees and did a little farming on their small piece of land.
Pinkney had a profound influence on his son. He would invite the country preachers to stay at the Havner home on their monthly visits to the Corinth Church just down the road. When supper was over, he would allow Vance to sit around the table long after bedtime to hear them talk about the things of God. Vance would say, “…it did something for me that television could never have done.”
His father was a disciplinarian who knew how to balance firmness with godly wisdom. He wasn’t afraid to discipline his children. Vance would say, “He was in favor of the posterior application of superior force when necessary.” He was a man full of God. One neighbor said, he couldn’t remember a time when they were together for over fifteen minutes before Pink would turn the conversation toward spiritual matters.
Pink Havner was not an educated man but he was a man of God, who knew the Word of God. His wisdom might be laughed at today. I believe Vance was thinking about his dad when he would often tell a story in his sermons about a doctor in Indiana. He said the doctor had a motto in his office that read, “It’s What You Learn After You Know It All That Counts!”
His mother was more of an introvert and kept to the home. She was soft spoken when she did speak but was also known for her keen sense of humor. Vance would say she was modest and timid and he could not remember a time when she ever spoke in public. In Three Score and Ten, Vance wrote, “…while I followed my father in my love for preaching, it was balanced by my mother’s shyness, else I might have talked myself to death.”
Vance wrote in his book, That I May Know Him, the house was a simple place and it was a simple time, before “the family was let out by auto and the world let in by radio.” Behind the house were woods filled with oaks and pines. There were hills where a young boy could romp and roam and sit by the spring. It was there that he developed a love for birdwatching that he carried with him all the days of his life.
He loved to read from a very early age. Classic books were a part of his early education. He read books like the Aeneid and the Odyssey, Little Women, and Through the Looking Glass. Christian classics like Pilgrim’s Progress, Alexander Whyte’s Bunyan Characters and Foxe’s Book of Martyrs were an even larger influence in his life. Of course, his love for the Word of God topped them all.
He came to Christ at an early age. It was during a meeting at the Old Corinth church when he was ten years of age. To put his conversion in his own words, “An accumulation of influences, were bearing on my heart. My father’s concern, my own reflections, the revival atmosphere – through all these the Spirit spoke.” At some point during that meeting, Vance went out into the woods and gave his life to Jesus.
His conversion was not a drastic emotional experience. For a number of years it bothered him that he had not had a dramatic encounter but soon settled on the fact that Jesus simply honored His Word that “whosoever will may come.”
I remember a sermon during the 1970’s where he talked about people wanting every testimony to be a dramatic one and how people often tried to top the previous testimony to make their experience sound more exciting. The wisdom of the old saint came through when he pointed out that we make a serious mistake if we try to copy someone else’s experience.
As a point of illustration he would use the story of the three blind men healed by Christ. One Jesus simply touched. Another he touched twice and the third he touched with clay. He said, “I”m glad they didn’t start three schools of thought – the One-touch, the Two- touch and the Siloam schools! The third might have insisted that mud be applied and we might have had the Mud-ites and the Anti-Mud-ites.” Only Vance Havner could have come up with a line like that.
Once he had made his peace with God, he ran to tell his father. Although a shy child, he went to the old shop, through the window and told his father of the decision. That night they went to the Corinth church and he made his public profession of faith in Jesus Christ. The next Sunday, he was baptized in the South Fork River. Thus began the spiritual pilgrimage of one simple life. A life that would impact hundreds of thousands of believers before the Lord would call him home.