THE ESTIMATE OF WORTHY
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
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.
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.