Tag Archives: J.R. Graves

J.R. GRAVES, LIFE, TIMES AND TEACHINGS 17


 

Chapter III

 

TROUBLES AND TRIUMPHS

 

 

A CLASSIC ENGLISH WRITER has forcefully and beautifully said:

 

 

There’s untold power in him who knows a thing’s

 

of God’s own willing; though doubts may shroud

 

in cloud the transient hour.”

 

 

It is the unmeasured power of belief that a soul lives by. Give a man faith – unclouded, heartfelt belief – and though his brain be narrow, and his knowledge small, he will impress and have successes, while the man of great intellect and broad culture, who does not know anything of God’s own willing or purpose, will fail. But if such faith dwell in any earnest soul, a clear strong mind, a trusting, fearless heart, mountain difficulties melt before him, he can tunnel or explode or scale them. He can stand in the very storm center, beneath the black clouds and the thunder strokes with uplifted face and fearless heart, and where that faith is in the reasonable, vital, soul-lifting, sanctifying, God-revealed, eternal truth, he is always irresistible. Fixedness, firmness and fearlessness will mark his course. His spirit will be caught by those with whom he comes in touch and conviction and acceptance will follow, or else opposition and even sometimes hate.

 

 

This kind of faith distinguished J.R. Graves, a modest, quiet, unassuming person, reticent in company and not specially gifted in social conversation. But he flashed forth whenever God’s truth was attacked, or when it was his opportunity to preach the word, or when intelligent converse lay along such lines.

 

 

Here are some of his words, which carry conviction with them to every candid mind, that the loftiest impulses controlled him. When charged with perverse notions he replied: “I can only deny this, because I cannot show my heart to my readers. But to my God I can, without fear of condemnation, lay my hand upon it and appeal to him to believe the rectitude of my intentions. When I obeyed the voice that spoke to my conscience, I gave up all the cherished plans of my life to preach the gospel of the Son of God. Nor did I find the limit to stop at this point, i. e., simply teaching the positive commands of Christ. These words burnt themselves upon my eye, rang with weighty import upon my ear, fixed themselves ineradically in my heart: “Every plant which my Father hath not planted shall be rooted up.” I am conscious of no other motive. I appeal from my accusers to my master and Judge.”

 

 

When he penned these fervid words, he stood before the world as the disturber of religious peace, the foe of Campbellites as well as of Methodists – and other communions whose erroneous teachings he attacked. He stood almost alone, and like Luther before the Diet of Worms, said: “I can do no other, God help me.”

 

 

“Th age,” as wrote Carlyle at that time, with lightening force and glare, too, was called “the age of shams.” The age of heroes, according to him, of real genuine men, had gone, and in their room had come forth shadows, masks, make-believes, unrealities. All this was to a great extent itself a sham – a caricature. Yet there is some truth in it. It cannot be denied that then and now much of so-called Christianity is a form – an image – a masquerade – a sham. Alas, there are sham ministers and sham church members, whose prayers (repetitions of dead men’s) are a sham, whose contributions to the name of Christ are a sham – a show, a pretense, a lie; in short, a wicked mockery. What a sham to call the Roman pope and his priestly hierarchy a church, that is, an assembly of believers in Christ Jesus! What a sham to call the General Conference “the Methodist Church of Christ.” What a sham to call the sprinkling of a few drops of water on the face of an unconscious babe, baptism into Christ’s death, a burial with him by baptism, and then call that babe a member of the church! What a sham to say that the eternal destiny of a soul is conditioned upon the action of a mortal man, who gives absolution at the confessional of the remission of sins in immersion!”

 

 

These shams stared J.R. Graves in the face. He felt called of God to meet them, expose them, and as far as he could do it, banish them from the earth. He had a mission and a message, and steadfast was his aim to fulfill the one and to deliver the other; making no pause, no compromise, whether in the vigor of young manhood or beneath the burden and infirmities of old age. His was a conflict unto death.

 

 

At that time, be it remembered, the Methodists had a chosen champion who lectured from place to place, attacking with denunciations, and misrepresenting with unscrupulous attacks, the principles and ordinances which distinguished the Baptists. These lectures, often mere tirades, were given mainly by an Irishman, of force and sharpness, whose name was Chapman (with several others in different southwestern states). To leave the truth thus perverted and slandered and travestied and shamed was to forsake the truth when humiliated, was to play the smirking coward when God and his cause demand men, real, red-blooded men, stalwart, heroic men who, like Tennyson’s Light Brigade at Balakalava: “Their’s not to reason why, their’s but to do and die.”

 

 

Dr. Graves was everywhere appealed to by his brethren to come to their help in conflict in which they felt themselves no match for those who attacked them, and he went, for “one blast of Rhoderick were worth a thousand.” He did not quit the field until the truth was vindicated. There were so many of these calls that people got the notion that such conflicts were his delight, but he sought not his own pleasure, he was God’s chosen defender and he halted not when God’s cause called for a champion. As we have said, Dr. Graves was frequently called to meet these men, and meet them he did, with sweeping overwhelming force. Indeed the swelling tide of Methodism was checked, and the Baptist cause was strengthened and greatly extended by his discussions. He was “A Sampson amongst the Philistines.” He felt called to this particular work, and he delighted greatly in his calling. Of one of his contest debates we let a competent witness speak: Major Penn, the great lay-evangelist, has left his “footprints on the sands of time.” He was once a successful lawyer of Humboldt, Tennessee, and later an active member of the Jefferson Church, Texas; respected and influential. He abandoned all to become an evangelist. God blessed his work and thousands were led to the Lord Jesus through his instrumentality. In his meetings he preached Christ only – justification by faith, and the Holy Spirit’s work in man’s renovation and salvation. None was any more free from everything like ritualism of church salvation than he. But he was the inestimable friend, and to some extent, imitator (I may say disciple) of J.R. Graves. He preached, as Dr. Graves did, the immediate duty of baptism by every convert; never hesitated to proclaim that “the immersion of a believer in Christ, saved persons, was the only baptism known to, or commanded in God’s Word.” In his early life he attended a debate in which Dr. Graves was the Baptist champion. Describing that debate, some fifty years after, he wrote: “Soon after my conversion I attended for one term the Male Academy in Trenton, Tennessee, and then for a single term the Union University of Murfreesboro, Tennessee, of which the distinguished J.H. Eaton, father of T.T. Eaton of Tennessee, was president.

 

 

About this time, while living in Humboldt, we heard of a great debate that was to be in Lexington, a town fifty miles east of us, between J.R. Graves, Baptist, and I.L. Chapman, Methodist. My mother and myself were anxious to attend and at once decided to go, although it was quite a journey and a one-horse buggy was our best means of conveyance. We arrived the morning the debate opened, and heard the first speech.

 

 

“I wish I could describe the grand old hero of Baptist faith. These were his palmiest days. In robust health, eloquent in speech, graceful and attractive in manner, he swayed the multitudes that were in constant attendance during the three days’ debate. Dr. Graves, as I thought, completely demolished the Methodist champion” (Life of Penn, p. 40).

 

 

The debate was adjourned to Canton, Mississippi, and was followed up several times in different places with unvarying results.

 

 

In these debates Dr. Graves was always at ease, and always self-possessed. He could not be thrown off his guard and never lost his temper. His intensity at times was overwhelming. Carlyle says some of Luther’s sentences had Austerlitz battle in them.” The same might be said of the red-hot logic of J.R. Graves. His words were like chain-shot from a rifle cannon, and nowhere, so far as we could learn, but the Baptist cause was aided where these discussions took place. Great revivals often followed.

 

 

But, be it remembered, that in the logical and scriptural arraignment and denunciation, too, of the errors he combated, especially of the unscriptural forms of church government and of the ordinances, he would always announce and repeat that he did not question the true standing of his antagonist as a believer in Christ. In his last great debate with Dr. Ditzler he said (as was usual with him):

 

 

I may unchurch an organization, i.e., deny that they possess the scriptural characteristics of a gospel church and not thereby unchristianize its members. If my opponent should attempt to make the impression upon you that I deny that you are Christians because I deny your society is a church, he will pursue a course both unwarranted and unprincipled” (Debate, p. 927).

 

 

But even if he had not uttered this denial of any such charge, the whole scope of his writings, his known views, and teachings were sufficient.

 

 

That master of pure English, Dr. Channing, has well said: “Human language does not admit of entire precision. It has often been observed by philosophers that the most familiar sentences owe their perspicuity not so much to the definition or the definiteness of the language as to an almost incredible activity (in the heart of the reader) which selects from a variety of meanings that which each word demands, and assigns such counts to every phase as the intention of the speaker, his character and situation require.” If readers would only remember this.

 

 

What meaning does the term kingdom in Dr. Graves’ vocabulary demand? An organization of churches. What does his language demand when he emphatically says: “I may unchurch an organization (that is deny that it possesses the scriptural characteristics of a gospel church and hence kingdom) and not unchristianize its members?”

 

 

His whole life, his character, the drift of all his writings, and his denunciation of any charges, demand in all manly fairness that no such meaning be put on his language or his mistaken view of the kingdom.

 

 

If it had been done during his lifetime he would have denounced it, in his own fiery language, as a malicious falsehood. But he has gone. That eloquent tongue is silent. That wonderful instrument, from which every tone of varied music went forth, is broken.

 

 

He hears not, he heeds not, he’s freed from all pain,

 

He has preached his last word, he has fought his last battle,

 

No sound should awaken him to conflict again.”

 

 

 

 

 

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J.R. GRAVES LIFE, TIMES AND TEACHINGS 14


 

REACTION TO ENVIRONMENT

 

 

The influence which his surroundings had upon his mind and upon his character and upon his methods of warfare has been hastily glanced at, but into that great burning heart of his, into that intense and fearless soul we cannot pierce. His sorrows and his joys (for he had them), his hopes and his fears (for he had them), his knowledge of his defeats and mistakes and above all, the shining into that soul of the supernal light and the strengthening power of God’s grace; the tried and trusting spirit that never showed fear of mortal man and never a momentary wavering in his grasp of vital truth, as he grappled with deadly errors – into that depth we cannot look but to all outward seeming his was the serene soul of a heroic, true godly, and self-reliant man. No wonder he influenced his generation, as we shall see later.

 

 

CAMPBELLISM BELLIGERENT

 

 

There was no man who delivered such trip hammer blows on the system of teaching called Campbellism as did J.R. Graves. While Dr. Graves was in the heat of his conflict with Methodism, Mr. Campbell, as a general thing, sought to ignore him or treat him as a non-representative of the Baptist people, and claimed to have evidence that the Baptists generally disapproved of Dr. Graves’ course. So frequent and emphatic were these statements made by the leader of the “current reformation,” that the General Association of Middle Tennessee and North Alabama, at its session in Winchester in 1854, felt it necessary to pass the following preamble and resolution:

 

 

INVINDICATION OF DR. GRAVES

 

 

Whereas Alexander Campbell, in a late number of his Millennial Harbinger has asserted that the doctrines contended for by the editor of The Tennessee Baptist are not the doctrines held by the Baptists, and that he is in possession of letters from many distinguished Baptists, even Baptist ministers, condemning the course of Brother J.R. Graves as editor of The Tennessee Baptist, in his recent controversy with Mr. Campbell, and conceding to Mr. Campbell as much orthodoxy as they claim for themselves; and

 

 

Whereas, we believe that the doctrines advocated and enforced by the editor of The Tennessee Baptist are sustained by the Word of God and are the same which have distinguished Baptists in all ages from the beginning of the gospel; and

 

 

Whereas, we believe that the so-called “current reformation” as represented and propagated by Mr. Campbell and his followers is a system of gross heresy opposed to the teachings of the gospel, subversive of all spirituality in religion and destructive to the souls of men; and

 

 

Whereas, we regard the charge put forth by Mr. Campbell as an unjust imputation upon the character of the Baptist ministers and churches in this State:

 

 

Therefore, resolved that we fully endorse the position of the editor of The Tennessee Baptist in his recent exposure and triumphant refutation of the dogma of baptismal regeneration and kindred doctrinal errors of the so-called ‘current reformation.’

 

 

Resolved that it is due to the Baptist ministry in Tennessee that the injury which Mr. Campbell has done the by the published imputation of secretly harboring heretical sentiments and giving aid and sympathy in his war upon the doctrines of our whole faith, should be atoned for on the part of Mr. Campbell by a publication of the letters and names of those ministers and brethren he refers to, and should be persistent in casting suspicion on our ministers by withholding publication, that we shall treat Mr. Campell’s charge as false and unfounded.

 

 

Resolved, that we recommend to Tennessee Baptists, J.R. Graves, as an able and valiant defender and advocate of the faith of the gospel, and faithfully devoted to the interest ot the Baptist denomination.

 

 

Resolved, that the foregoing preamble and resolution be incorporated in the proceedings of this body and a copy of the same forwarded for publication to The Tennessee Baptist.

 

Signed, john W. King, Chairman.”

 

 

 

 

To this sweeping and, we may say, this criminating denial of Mr. Campbell’s repeated assertions, and also to the challenge to give the names of distinguished Baptists and Baptist ministers condemning the course of J.R. Graves, Mr. Campbell made no reply. Those who knew Alexander Campbell or were familiar with his writings and general course as an incessant controversialist did not question the correctness of his statements. He was a man whose veracity was above suspision and, at the time these statements appeared in The Harbinger, it was pretty well known that there were influential men in the Baptist ranks who desired and planned a union of the Reformers and Baptists, based upon or growing out of the co-operation and fraternity of the two peoples in the Bible Revision Movement. This fact gave boldness and credibility to Campbell’s averments, and he prudently let Dr. Graves alone and was silent in regard to the implied challenge to discuss the questions at issue with Dr. Graves, either orally or through the respective periodicals. Dr. Graves pursued his fearless course of argument and at times of denunciation of the dogma of “Baptismal regeneration,” insisting always on the scriptural truth of justification by faith only and salvation independent of any ordinance or church connection. This finally culminated in a challenge, through one Elder Fall, to hold a public debate with Elder Fanning, a scholarly and able man of the Reformation. The challenge was accepted. P.S. Fall, of Nashville, who had been pastor of the First Baptist Church there, and who led pretty much the whole church into the ranks of Reformation, was selected by Mr. Fanning and Mr. S.H. Ford was selected by Dr. Graves to arrange the propositions and the preliminaries. A volumnious correspondence ensued, but the correspondents could never agree upon the wording of the propositions and so the debate was never held.

 

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J.R. GRAVES LIFE, TIMES AND TEACHINGS 13


 

CONFLICT WITH METHODISM AND

 

CAMPBELLISM GROWING

 

 

Dr. Graves is not to be charged with bringing on the conflict with Methodism. It cannot be said that he sought to shun it, but he could not have avoided it if he had so desired. There was the choice, either to accept the challenge or quit the field. Dr. Graves would have left the plumed knight of Methodism to go his own way when the Baptists were left with the same freedom, but when the proud champion “shook his javelin in challenge to personal combat,” this ruddy youth who had come to make his home in the West “laid his lance in rest and accepted the challenge.”

 

 

However, much their successors may deplore this combat, some things would inevitably happen. Here is how it came on. Dr. McFerrin, in The Christian Advocate, said that “Baptists believed that infants were lost because not baptized by them.” Dr. Howell, in The Baptist, indignantly denied this, averring that baptism had nothing to do with the salvation of anyone and that, in the case of adults, the saved were fit subjects for baptism. This has ever been the position of the Baptists. Dr. McFerrin said, in reply, that the Disciples taught baptismal regeneration and showed his proof by saying: “Are these men, when a Baptist urges upon believers the duty of baptism as the approved form by which the unholy assumes religion and as an expression of love and obedience to Christ, to exclaim, ‘Cambellism, Campbellism?’”

 

 

Dr. Howell responded that no Baptist believes that baptism is a saving ordinance or that the unbaptized are necessarily unsaved.

 

 

Things were in this shape when Dr. Graves, on becoming editor of The Baptist, took up this charge as well as the McFerrin denial that the Methodist taught Baptismal Salvation. Here are Dr. Graves’ ringing words: “Mr. Wesley says, ‘by water as a means – the water of baptism – we are regenerated and born again,’ that this teaching utterly denies that faith is the only condition or medium of justification is self-evident. It needs no argument. If baptism is ever in any case an instrument of justification, it is always so, for there is but one medium. If it is always by faith it is never by baptism – and if by baptism then it is always by baptism and never by faith.

 

 

According to the above teaching (in the Methodist Advocate), no adult ordinarily can escape original sin or attain to justification or regeneration except in or by the water of baptism as a means. Is not this the old Roman dogma to all intents and purposes? Is it not a rejection of the vital doctrine, by all its far-reaching and powerful machinery, by its itinerary, its mammoth book concern and its capital, to subvert the gospel of Christ, to abolish from the land the great and only soul-saving doctrine of justification by faith?”

 

 

It was thus that Dr. Howell practically turned over the challenge of the Methodist to his young associate, who was, at the same time, really his pupil. Dr. Graves took up this defiant call. He wrote, lectured, preached to thousands all over Tennessee, Mississippi, Louisiana, portions of Georgia and Kentucky in attack and defense before thronging multitudes. He, like a knight clad in full armor and grasping his glittering sword, stood in the arena ready to do battle with any who denied the truth. He debated over the whole territory with the champions of Methodism and turned the tide, we may say, in a way to an extent that no one in those states had previously done. And Methodism still remembers that Dr. Graves lived.

 

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J.R. GRAVES LIFE, TIMES AND TEACHINGS 12


CONFLICT WITH CAMPBELLISM

At that time there was a general pause in the conflict with Campbellism in most of the territory, but in Nashville, the heart and center of this agitation, the First Baptist Church had been swept into “the current reformation” under the leadership of its pastor, Rev. S.P. Fall, and so the battle was kept up. The fact is that in Nashville, more than any other spot on the continent, the religious discussions were constant, bitter and personal, and with the Baptists it was a battle for existence.

In the forefront of this swirling conflict was this young man placed when he was but twenty-six years old, as editor and leader. Well might he hesitate as he did and ask himself the deep, soul-searching questions, “Is this my work” Has God called me to it?”

There are depths in many a soul, capabilities and powers of which a man in life’s quiet avocations know little or nothing. How little did Luther know the resources and capabilities of that great soul of his when tremblingly he caught the faint rays of gospel truth as there echoed through his being “Justification by faith” and “Romanism is false.” it is so with all brave spirits, not only in those whose world battles change the course of history, but in the heart of every lover and defender of the truth, who sees it with the clear eye of faith and will not give an inch in its defense, nor compromise one iota with that which is false. This was so with the soul of this truly great man. Trial, soul-conflict, faith in God, love of the truth and the determination to fight the battle to the end reveal to him forces and weapons and powers of defense and of endurance of which he little dreamed until the necessity was laid upon him. This was the experience of Dr. Graves. He explored his own inmost soul under the conscious eye of the Lord and said “I will.”

After that he never feared a foe nor shrank from his responsibility.

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J.R. GRAVES Life, times and Teachings 11


METHODISM IN TENNESSEE

Nashville was then and, indeed, is still the center and stronghold of Methodism in the South. They had there their great book concern in which every Methodist preacher was said to have a pecuniary as well as a denominational interest. Their one paper published in the Southwest was there. They had other important and thriving business establishments. They outnumbered the Baptists in Nashville at that time five to one and they really claimed this territory as peculiarly belonging to them, resenting the activities of the Baptists as invading a territory which should have been left alone. Above all, they had as the editor of their paper, The Christian Advocate, a man of varied attainments, one of surpassing ability and fierce prejudices. He was regarded as unscrupulous as he was talented; and he was a cordial hater of all the peculiarities that distinguish Baptists. That this practical polemic should at once turn his guns on the young editor was to be expected, and the manner in which he would do so might have been foreseen by his attacks on the dignified Dr. Howell:

The inflated bird of Nashville, bigoted, presumptuous enough for anything; lacking only the power to be come a pope; in a state of putridity, i.e., that in morals we understand that Brother Howell is in a state of putridity.”

This reflection was passed upon Dr. Howell just after he had delivered a masterly address at the annual commencement of the Nashville University in which he greatly enhanced his already growing popularity.

Again:

We (McFerrin) understood him (Dr. Howell) to say that he does not consider it a matter of importance always to state the plain truth.”

Once more:

To deny that Baptists have asserted that they believe that there are children in hell is more than madness, if lying is worse.”

We here give only one response from Dr. Howell, to show his estimate of the man and also his manner of making reply:

What we have said is enough to prove beyond question all that we propose, and that is that Mr. McFerrin will and does adopt any expedient, however repugnant to moral principles, if he thinks he can by such means do any injury to the Baptist denomination.”

DR. GRAVES GETTING HIS STRIDE

In the course of his editorial work, Dr. Graves, having become editor of The Baptist, set forth the Baptist view of baptism, insisting upon its meaning in the original Greek. In order to enforce his argument, he quited from namy authors. Among these were John Wesley and Adam Clark.

The editor of The Christian Advocate upbraided him as ignorant and as publishing “lies” in order to mislead his readers concerning “well known and fully accepted teaching.” Then the doughty editor of the Methodist organ challenged the editor of The Baptist to show his authority, and added: “If he failed, he would denounce him as an ignoramus and a liar and prosecute him for libel.”

Many people have been led to believe that Dr. Graves deliberately and wantonly attacked other denominations, thus seeking to draw them into debate, either oral or written. This was far from the truth and the above and the above experience indicates the ordinary course. But a challenge like that, followed by such a threat, was not the sort of dare that Dr. Graves would decline to accept. He replied, giving from Mr. Wesley’s writings and from Dr. Clark’s Commentaries their own language, making the statements which he had credited to them. He gave the volume and page from the authentic works of these great Methodist leaders and copied the quotations accurately. It was thus that the conflict with Methodism began. Dr. Graves was not the aggressor, but responded to the most vicious attacks. The same is practically true concerning Dr. Graves’ decision with respect to all denominational leaders, Baptists and others, who complained so loudly at him.

DR. McFERRIN’S LIEUTENANTS

Then there was in the state the notorious Parson Brownlow, of whom little need to be said here, a desperado in politics as in religion. This turbulent man was a heart foe of Baptists and their principles. He attacked them constantly in his political organ, The Knoxville Whig. Then throughout Tennessee and Mississippi wnt two traveling lecturers and disputers whode manin work was to attack and misrepresent Baptists. One of them was named Chapman, an Irishman, who was the bitterest and most unscrupulous man who at that time wore the ministerial garb. These were the men whom Graves, the newly elected editor, had to meet in the defense of himself and the principles which he intensely loved, and he had to meet them almost alone, as his was the only Baptist paper being published in the Southwest, for John l. Waller, of Kentucky, had retired from the Baptist Banner and Pioneer and its publication was then suspended. The Christian Advocate had been transferred by Dr. Mercer to the Georgia State Convention and was merely a medium of denominational news. The Biblical Recorder, of North Carolina, had been suspended for want of patronage and was struggling to renew its existence. It will help to understand the situation if it is remembered that there was no Baptist paper being published at that time in Mississippi, Louisiana, Arkansas, or Texas. The whole Southwet was dependent upon The Baptist as a denominational exponent.

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J.R. GRAVES Life, Times and Teachings 9


AN INCIDENT OF HIS HOME-GOING

An incident occurred during this visit to his mother’s family which was so characteristic and so sets forth the young crusader, that it is deemed worth while to mention it here. To appreciate it all, it is important for the reader to remember that he was small of stature, some five feet eight inches tall, of slight build, and being a blonde, was quite youthful in appearance, looking for all the world like a schoolboy, in fact, In the town whither he went there were not many church buildings, but in one of these a brilliant and blatant young man had been portraying his infidelity in such a fluent and eloquent fashion that the people who believed in God were greatly disturbed and humiliated. When Sunday arrived, the brother-in-law, Prof. W.P. Marks, who, until that time, had never seen the young man, took him to hear this brilliant infidel, and introduced him as a young Baptist preacher. At the close of the discourse, the speaker asked this boy student for the ministry to lead in prayer. That was an interesting situation, indeed. If this blatant speaker could succeed in capturing this young man and steal him away from the Christian ministry, it would be quite a “feather in his cap”’; and, indeed, if he could have seen down the coming years he would have regarded it as a whole plume. Young Graves prayed, and such a prayer! Anyone who ever heard him pray after some other brother had preached a sermon can readily imagine what happened, for he was a most remarkable man in prayer. He would take up the truth in the message and clothe it with life and magnify it and hold it up before the throne of God in exaltation until the preacher himself would be asking whether or not he had preached such a sermon; or if there was error in that discourse, woe to the man that had spoken it. That, too, was matched with the truth and answered, for Dr. Graves clothed his prayers with the truth as with a garment, even with the habiliments of worship. That hapless young infidel preacher was driven to cover, seeking some refuge for his smitten soul.

The people of Ashtabula came to Professor Marks and asked if that young stripling would preach from the pulpit what he had prayed from the pew. Because that was the truth they wanted to hear. Professor Marks had never heard the young man preach and he did not know whether he had the courage or the ability, but he said he would ask him and let him answer. Young Graves was not a lad to shun an issue, and when asked if he would preach according to the things he had said in his prayer, he said he would. Enough said.

The appointment was made; the report ran through the town like wildfire. The thronging crowds could not get into the house on the next Sunday. For two hours there poured forth from that young man a steam of eloquence, wisdom, and truth and fiery denunciation such as they had never heard and such as had never been spoken there before. The whole town was aroused. Infidelity was overthrown, the champion unhorsed and put into retreat. The Baptists were cheered and strengthened, the Church confirmed and the field cleared for their progress.

This experience was doubtless largely a result of Dr. Graves’ connection with Dr. Dillard, in regard to Alexander Campbell and his “current reformation.” Campbell had risen into sudden fame and acquired controlling influence among Baptists first, in Kentucky. His debate with McKellar, during which Jeremiah Vardeman, the most popular Baptist minister in the state, was one of the moderators, made Campbell “a conquering hero.” He passed triumphantly through the central and northern portions of Kentucky preaching his “ancient gospel,” and led in his train many of the leading Baptist ministers, as Creath, Vardeman, Noel, Smith, Fall, of Nashville, and others. He became emboldened by success and preached “the gospel in water” – baptismal remission. A reaction followed. Nearly all of those leading Baptists who had followed him thus far revolted and antagonized his unscriptural views. None took a more decided stand in this than Dr. Dillard. The issue possessed his whole soul; and none more than he boldly stemmed the sweeping current of Campbellism. He impressed his thoughts and spirit on young Graves, and a fearless, persistent opposition to that system marked the ministry of J.R. Graves throughout his life.

There was no fitting field there for the young minister and thus partly through the agency of John L. Waller, Dr. Graves was invited to Nashville, Tennessee. Here he again engaged in teaching for some years, but was soon called to the pastorate of the Second Baptist Church, which afterwards became the Central Baptist Church, of Nashville.

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J.R. GRAVES Life, Times and Teachings 8


CHANGE IN HIS LIFE PURPOSE

Hitherto, his life was what may be termed undefined. His purpose was to make a living, improve his mind, and support his mother; but there comes a period in every man’s history which affects the course and color of its life-stream. The current rushes on headlong until some obstruction, some opening, some opposition meets it. It dashes over the rocks or flows around them and becomes a brilliant cascade or quiet rivulet, perchance a stagnant pool; or with gathered accession and impetus, a widely sweeping current. It is an epoch – a crisis – in the individual’s It may be ambition or love or business or bereavement or temptation, or the voiceless breath of God’s Spirit upon the inmost soul. Thought is awakened, the mind is directed in upon itself, and life in all its stern realities is disclosed as never before. Life is before him, a lone sea to be navigated for himself, a long voyage, and he must choose his course.

Carlyle has with facile pen described this soul crisis in his “Sartor Resartus,” but in this book is no voiceful expression from the living Word; no inspiring breath from the Holy Spirit; no smile of love from the Lord Jesus; no cloudless dawn upon the soul, wrapping the whole being in light and clothing every natural gift and power with a beauty and a radiance not of earth. God’s call to the ministry of his own blessed Word and Spirit is, indeed, a crisis whose record will endure when sun and stars have gone out. Blessed is he who has received and heard and obeyed and fulfilled that call, who has met God alone, and goes forth with a message given him.

Young Graves had met God and joyfully surrendered to him, and God gave him his life message to his own generation.

He resigned his school and returned to his mother’s home in Ohio. He gave his time to thought, to study and to prayer. For some months which he said were the happiest of his life and the most important, he studied for the ministry, “making the Bible the man of his counsel and Paul his instructor in theology and logic.”

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J.R. GRAVES – Life, Times and Teachings – 7


HIS ORDINATION

Young Graves was so timid and retiring that he shrank from taking any active part in public services, but his pastor had a keen appreciation of the young man, although he was a little severe in his treatment of the youthful school teacher, who could not be easily induced to take part in public worship; but the pastor, like Eli with Samuel, “perceived that the Lord had called the lad.”

So, upon one occasion, the pastor besought the young man to go with him into the pulpit and read the Scriptures for him, as “he was not feeling very well.” While young Graves was reading, the pastor feigned a sudden illness and said to Mr. Graves, “You will have to preach as I am sick,” and without waiting for his protest, he escaped through a door beside the pulpit and did not return until the services were closed. Young Graves, being unexpectedly left in charge of the services, was startled and cast about in his mind as to what he should do. He said he selected the longest hymn he could find and called on the people to sing it. Then he arose to speak and took the text that came uppermost in his mind, which was, “Adam, where art thou?’ Dr. Graves refused to call that a sermon, but they who heard him insisted that it was great preaching, and, having heard him, they insisted that he be licensed to preach. This the church did without his knowledge or consent, and soon called for his ordination.

He was in great distress over this, as we have often heard him say. His idea of a minister was so high and his estimate of his own powers as a speaker was so small that he sought to avoid the responsible position. He pleaded that Jesus waited until he was thirty years old before he began his public ministry and so he would do. It was a trying time.

Those who knew Dr. Graves intimately will appreciate this representation of him by a friend of many years, Dr. S.H. Ford, who says” “With all the heroic fearlessness which distinguished his after life, he was always bashful, sometimes to awkwardness, when he arose to speak. He would hesitate. He seemed to lack for a vocabulary. He has been likened to some large bird, especially a water fowl,, which seems to rise from the earth with great effort, flapping its wings and struggling to slowly rise, but once risen and the body in the air, it moves with graceful curves, darting with unimpeded swiftness or floating in the air without effort. He toiled at the start, but when once entered into his subject there was a mastery of all his powers and a command of all the elements of oratory equaled by few. He was, owing to this peculiarity, unable to make a short telling speech in a convention and, consequently, rarely took part in one. It was in a two hours’ address or sermon that his great powers appeared and the latent fires within him burned.”

His bashfulness, often the sign of greatness, made him shrink from becoming a preacher, although in his soul was the belief that God had called him to that work. In the end he consented and was ordained to the gospel ministry. Dr. Dillard was chairman of the presbytery, as pastor of Mt Freedom Church, of which Dr. Graves was a member. He preached the ordination sermon and gave counsel and caution and encouragement which young Graves never forgot. Who can estimate the influence of one wise, genuine, gospel man when exerted over a young minister like he? Dillard relived in Graves as Graves still lives in many others.

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J.R. GRAVES Life, Times, and Teachings 5


HIS HOME LIFE

Young Graves, as has been said, was left fatherless in his infancy, being the youngest of three children. A mother of energy, piety, and integrity, with an unswerving faith, gave character to the boy. At the age of fifteen the light dawned upon his inmost soul and disclosed to him his guilt and helplessness. His conviction was deep, his struggle was intense, and his surrender and trust in the atoning work of Christ was full and complete and joyful. He was baptized and joined the North Springfield Baptist Church, Vermont.

He had to make his own way and earn his own living from his early youth. Perceiving that it was impossible for him to take a college course, he began teaching. He was then but eighteen years of age, an age when boys are usually undecided as to their future and in need of paternal direction and support, but this fatherless youth struck out for himself and, with the aid of an older brother, Z.C. Graves, supported his mother and gained character as a promising school teacher.

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J.R. GRAVES Life, Times, and Teachings. 4


THE ESTIMATE OF WORTHY

CONTEMPORARIES

Dr. E.T. Winkler, one of the most distinguished men among Southern Baptists, intellectual, scholarly, and consecrated, whose name still lives in the annals of the denomination and who, on several occasions, had antagonized and defeated extreme propositions introduced by J.R. Graves, wrote in The Alabama Baptist, of which he was then editor, and just after one of those direct conflicts had occurred in the Southern Baptist Convention at St. Louis in 1871:

Extreme as the views of Dr. Graves have been regarded by some, there is no question but that they have powerfully contributed to the correction of a false liberalism that was current in many quarters many years ago.”

Dr. S. Boykin has these kind words to say of Dr. Graves:

He is a preacher who insists strongly upon water – that is, baptism and baptism properly administered – yet he places the blood of Christ above water. In play of fancy, in power of illustration, in earnestness of denunciation, in force of logic, in clearness of presentation, in naturalness of delivery, in boldness of thought, and at times tenderness of spirit, he hardly has a peer.”

A certain presiding judge in the city of Memphis, when on “brief” day, in lecturing the bar upon the importance of clear statement of propositions, once remarked:

The gift is as rare as genius, but is still susceptible of cultivation. Of living ministers I know of no one who possesses it in a higher degree than Dr. Graves of the First Baptist Church in this city. He lays down his propositions so clearly that they come with the force of axioms, that need no demonstrations – you can see all through and all around them.”

The Nashville American:

Dr. J.R. Graves, one of the most quiet and unassuming men in the Convention, is a great landmark champion and upholder of the most strictly Baptist principles. He formerly lived for many years in this city, but is now living in Memphis, editor and proprietor of The Tennessee Baptist.

A paper published in Macon, Georgia, has this to say of Dr. Graves:

As an orator he is very powerful, and as a writer he unites strength, pointedness, and clearness. He is fearless where he thinks himself right, as he generally does, and boldly avows his sentiments and opinions though they may differ much from those of others.”

In the Georgia Baptist Convention, Honorable Joseph E. Brown, the Governor of that state, said:

There is one man who has done more than fifty men now living to enable the Baptists of America to know their own history and their principles and to make the world know them, and that man is the brother to my righ,”

bowing to Dr. Graves, who was seated in the convention.

Dr. John H. Boyet, a prominent minister of the South, wrote upon the occasion of Dr. Graves’ death, saying:

There was something in Dr. J.R. Graves grander than ever shone out in his writings. He was a hero in the defense of the Baptist faith, but he was a greater hero than that – he could take a young and trembling brother by the hand and help him up.”

At Dr. Graves’ death, Dr. R.C. Burleson sent this wire to Mrs. Graves:

Ten thousand Texans mourn with you the loss of your now sainted dead.”

As showing the estimate which the denomination put upon Dr. Graves, the following letter is here inserted:

Domestic Mission Room

Marrion, Alabama

October 14, 1853.

Dear Brother Graves:

“Doctor Fuller having declined the appointment of this Board as missionary to New Orleans, we deem it to be our duty, under the instruction of the Convention to make every effort to secure the services of some minister who shall be able to build up the cause of our denomination in that great city. Our minds have been directed to you, and you have received the appointment, with a salary of three thousand dollars. I herewith send you a commission. What say you, my dear brother? Will you go for us? An early answer is desirable.

Yours affectionately,

J.H. DeVOTIE, Cor. Sec., pro tem.”

While living he was followed and feared, hailed and confided in as a great teacher and leader, and denounced, if not shunned, as a disturber of religious peace. Three-fourths of a century have passed since his public career began and thirty-five years have borne their message into the confines of eternity since he fought his last battle, but his name is still fresh among his brethren, his labors still producing fruit, his teachings still discussed, and his influence still widely felt. The echoes of his voice still linger in the valley and responses to his battle cry are heard on many sides, while condemnations of his life work are not infrequent and often severe.

These things could not have occurred with an ordinary man; with any but a heroic, persistent, intensely, and earnestly sincere man of ability, whose life purposes were seen with a clear vision and pursued with unfaltering step; whose inner soul responded to the appeal of old Ignatius which has bee rendered:

Stand like an anvil while the stroke

Of stalwart men fall fierce and fast;

Storms but more firmly root the oak,

Whose brawny arms embrace the blast.”

That such a man living and dead, should be misunderstood; that in the impetuosity of his life battle, with watchful antagonists on every hand, should have sounded a consistent and valiant note in which no dullness should confound his utterances, and that prejudice should misconstrue his teachings and adverse criticism should adduce odious conclusions from his arguments is no more than might be expected. And throughout the Baptist denomination today the question is still asked with intensity and answered diversely, “Was J.R. Graves’ life a blessing or a blight – for good or for harm?” The answer to this question can be given only by a review of his life and his teachings by one who knew him well and labored beside him for many years, and such is our purpose in undertaking this too long delayed biography.

The true biography of a man is not simply the record of his birthday, his school days or his death day. These but mark the boundaries of the field where he wrought. How he toiled, what were his struggles, his defeats and his victories, his triumphs and his failures, how he was influenced by his surroundings and how far he influenced all those around him, how vital truth, eternal verities impressed him and how he impressed these on those he met with. These, could they be given, are his life picture, his inner soul voiced in actions that never die.

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