IN inimitable strains has Goldsmith sung the life and virtues of the village pastor: -
“Remote from towns he ran his godly race,
Nor e'er had changed, nor wished to change his place,
Unskilful he to fame or seek for power
By doctrines fashioned to the varying hour,
Far other aims his heart had learned to prize,
More bent to raise the wretched than to rise;
Thus, to relieve the wretched was his pride,
And even his failings leaned to virtue's side,
But in his duty prompt to every call
He watched and wept, he prayed and felt for all.”
Many such, “unknown to fortune, and to fame unknown,” have gently meandered through life's vale, fertilizing and cheering it with the waters of life. Such an one, preeminently, was ABSALOM GRAVES.
“The lives of pious individuals illustrate the truth of the Christian religion, presenting to the observing eye a picture of the New Creation in its liveliest colors; and exemplifying the declaration of Jesus Christ, that his kingdom is not of this world. They prove a powerful defence of the Gospel, insurmountable by the infidel, and a continual source of encouragement to the believer. In their lives, they testify the divine faithfulness, that the Lord does, as he has promised, give grace and strength equal
to the day. In their deaths, they confirm to the believer the consolatory assurance, that the Lord will be his support when he walks through the valley of the shadow of death. It becomes, therefore, a source both of pleasure and profit, to review the lives of such saints after their departure, that we may hear them, though dead, yet speaking, and ever retain a lively declaration of what they were through Divine Grace, and of what they have done in the cause of the Redeemer.
“The subject of this brief memoir was a verification of these remarks. He was extensively known and beloved in the Churches, and has left a memorial in the hearts of his numerous acquaintances, that will not soon be effaced.
“As the selection and publication of these Hymns was one of his last efforts in the service of Christ, it has been thought the most suitable place in which to give a short sketch of his life and character. It is, however, to be observed, that his passage through life, in both civil and religious society, was so regular and smooth, as to present very few incidents that would interest the generality of readers; and even some of the most striking events of his life have not been preserved with sufficient minuteness to render them particularly advantageous.
“He was born in Virginia, November 28, 1768. In his childhood the same engaging turn of mind and sweetness of disposition was noticed in him, which so peculiarly marked his character through subsequent life. He was remarkably sedate, avoiding every appearance of rudeness and immorality in his conversation; neat yet plain in his apparel, and temperate in his diet. The mildness of his disposition, the evenness of his temper, and the regularity of his manners, were such as to give him a decided influence over his brothers, sisters, and associates, though older than he was; so that they generally referred their little disputes to his arbitration, and cheerfully submitted to his decisions. When among them, his presence was a sufficient check upon any disposition to rudeness or impropriety of behavior; they preferring to restrain their own irregular propensities rather than give him any uneasiness.
“His attachment to books, anxiety to procure useful information, studious habits and close application, co-operated to form
him a good English scholar, without much aid from regular tuition.
“In July, 1788, he was awakened by Divine Grace to a sense of eternal realities, at Rapidan meeting-house, under the ministry of Rev. George Eve. Of the particular exercises of his mind at that time, and of the manner in which he was led by the Holy Spirit to embrace the truth as it is in Jesus, we have no information; but the want of minute circumstances attending his conversion, is amply compensated by the knowledge of his godly walk and conversation throughout his subsequent life and we are assured by a life of nearly forty years of fervent piety and exemplary devotion, that in him was the work of the Lord perfect. All the particulars we have learned on this subject are, that early in the ensuing month, August, he found peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ; and shortly after, was baptized by Rev. George Eve, in Rapidan river, and united himself with the Baptist Church of Christ, meeting there.
“In the year 1797, he removed to Boone county, Kentucky, and joined the Bullitsburgh Church. In 1810 he commenced his ministerial labors, though with great reluctance. In all his deportment he was modest and unassuming, but in preaching the Gospel he was more particularly diffident. The exercise of mind which led him into the ministry is thus stated in general terms by one who was well acquainted with him: ‘There is no thanks to the man for preaching; for although he was a man of good information, yet his native modesty and timidity of mind kept him back so long, that it seemed as if agony of soul would kill him, and it was preach or die.’ A deep anxiety, that all around him might partake in the blessings of the Gospel, filled his soul. This anxiety was increased by having his attention directed to the destitute condition of the heathen world, which gave him increasing boldness and confidence in his ministrations. He was one of the first among the Baptists in Kentucky who imbibed the spirit of foreign missions; ‘and this,’ says one who was opposed to missions, ‘gave him a growth in the ministry which (possibly) he never otherwise would have had.’ So true is it, that ‘he who watereth shall be watered himself.’ He was thus one among the ten thousand evidences that a zeal for the salvation of the heathen
is always accompanied by a corresponding zeal for the efficacy of the Gospel at home, and they who are most liberal in behalf of those who sit in darkness in remote parts of the world, are evidently most engaged in ameliorating the condition of those immediately around them. But neither the missionary zeal of our departed brother, nor the affectionate welcome with which he was everywhere received, nor the evident blessings that attended his ministry, could ever entirely overcome that retiring modesty for which he was so remarkable. His discourses were delivered in a plain, affectionate manner; they evinced a calm, unabating zeal, for the success of the Gospel, and an ardent desire to be useful as a servant of the Redeemer. He had a clear view of the Gospel plan of salvation, and occasionally exhibited its leading features in his sermons; but the peculiar turn of his mind seldom led him into (what is termed) doctrinal preaching, and always kept him at a distance from the field of controversy. He had a lively sense of the goodness of God in saving sinners, and a bright view of the work of the Holy Spirit in translating them from the power of darkness into the kingdom of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. These were the themes on which he delighted to dwell. His soul was baptized into the love of Christ, and he recommended Him to others with an affectionate earnestness that seldom failed to have a solemnizing effect. But if any particular object might be said to have the ascendency in his mind, it was the prosperity of the Churches of Jesus Christ; that they might be maintained with peace and purity; that all their members might abound in love, be established in the truth, and walk in all the ways of the Lord, blameless. For the accomplishment of this desirable end, he labored continually. In his public ministrations he urged the necessity of practical piety, and of peaceful, affectionate demeanor, in a style so candid, so simple, and so impressive, and in the whole tenor of his life displayed such a lively comment on this part of his public instructions, that his exertions were generally crowned with success.
“His continual care for the Churches, in all their concerns, was a distinguishing feature in his character. He felt interested in all their affairs. It could be truly said of him, that if any member of Christ suffered, he suffered with it, and if any was honored
he rejoiced. This disposition eminently qualified him for the office of peace-maker, and he was very useful in settling differences, and in cultivating a spirit of forbearance and affection among brethren.
“The Church at Bullitsburg, of which he was for many years, in fact, though not in name, the Pastor. enjoyed unexampled prosperity. It was the oldest, and by far the largest in the North Bend Association; was blessed with several remarkable revivals, when it had large additions by baptism. But it was still more conspicuous for its uninterrupted harmony and the regularity of its discipline. It exhibited such uniform skill and was attended with such constant success in the management of its own affairs, that its advice was sought by all the neighboring Churches, in all their matters of importance and difficulty. Although that Church had many excellent members, and had raised up a number of useful and distinguished Ministers, yet there can be but little doubt, that under the divine blessing, his mild, pacific, and prudent exertions, had a salutary effect in continuing them in this highly favored condition.
“He was a Messenger from this Church at the formation of the North Bend Association in 1803, and was chosen Clerk of that body, in which office he continued until the year 1823, at which time he was appointed Moderator, and so continued until his decease. He was frequently appointed to write their Circular Letters.
“He was distinguished and beloved, not only in the bounds of this Association, but by many other Churches in Kentucky, Ohio and Indiana, (and individuals,) by whom his memory will be long and affectionately cherished. In his intercourse with the world, he maintained the same inoffensive and conciliatory demeanor, and invariably maintained the respect of all who had the pleasure of being acquainted with him.
“He was blessed with an ample competency of this world's goods, and saw his descendants prospering around him. In the discharge of his relative and domestic duties, he evinced the same amiable disposition. But though domestic life seemed most congenial to his disposition, yet his earnest desire for usefulness drew him from the peaceful shades of retirement into a course of
extensive and laborous activity. His constitution was naturally feeble, but he never consulted his own ease, or even health, when he heard the urgent calls of distant and destitute Churches, saying, “come over and help us.” For many years he statedly visited several Churches, besides many others occasionally, in doing which he was often compelled to travel late in the night, and in very inclement weather, which, in all probability, affected his health and hastened his dissolution. But all this he bore with patience, being anxious for nothing but that he might faithfully discharge the great trust reposed in him, and finish his course with joy. That course he has now finished; and perhaps few men who have been so long and so actively engaged in public time have passed down the stream of life with a more unruffled current. Thus viewing the whole tenor of his life, we feel justified in saying, “he was a good man, and much people were added to the Lord’ through his instrumentality.
“The illness that terminated his removal from this lower sphere of action was considered to be an affection of the liver. It was first noticed in November, 1825, though he attended meetings and preached several times during the two succeeding months.
“During his illness he suffered much pain, yet he suffered patiently. But his bodily pains were not more oppressive than a burden which bore heavily on his mind through a long and gloomy season. Even in this, his strong and deep anxiety for the prosperity of the Redeemer's kingdom was observable, rising above every earthly and selfish consideration. He saw his end approaching, but to him death bore not a terrifying aspect, for he felt that his redemption was drawing nigh. His mind, however, labored intensely with a dark foreboding for the Churches around him. He saw them languishing, iniquity abounding, and the love of many waxing cold, the rising generation unconcerned about their immortal interests, and vice and infidelity assuming a bold and daring aspect. To him, it appeared that the Lord was withdrawing the light of his countenance from those among whom he had so affectionately labored, and his spirit could take no rest, day or night. After long laboring in this state of mind, he came to the resolution to give up, in a solemn manner, entirely into the Lord's hand, every thing for which he suffered such distressing concern.
In pursuance of this determination he drew up and subscribed the following impressive instrument:“‘I, Absalom Graves, of Boone county, State of Kentucky, born in Culpepper, now Madison county, Virginia, on the 28th of November, 1768, being now in the 58th year of my age, and laboring under a bodily infirmity which seems to indicate the approach of my dissolution, but calling to mind the amazing and unbounded goodness of my great Creator and gracious Redeemer, in calling me by his grace, in the 20th year of my age, when a wild and thoughtless youth, from the paths of vanity and earthly pleasures, to see the folly of my pursuits, and that real pleasure and solid joy were only to be found in Christ, who was revealed to me in the hour of my deepest distress, as a Saviour every way suited and qualified to relieve me from all my wretchedness and wo: I feel myself, therefore, under the strongest obligations to love and adore Him, and these obligations are heightened by the consideration, that I hope He has committed to me a dispensation of the Gospel, that I should preach among the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ, and that I have been enabled, for the last fifteen years, (though a poor unprofitable servant) to labor in the Lord's vineyard. I now here solemnly commit myself, soul and body, to Him, as my Judge, my Saviour and my Friend, hoping I shall realize his faithful promise, I will never leave thee nor forsake thee, but find, in a dying hour, strength equal to my day - believing He is able to, and will, keep what I have committed to him. I also surrender up to Him my stewardship, with all my ministerial labors, (and the fruits thereof, if any,) and all the Churches among whom I have labored, particularly Bullitsburg, Mud Lick and Salem. With the former, I have lived as a member, and walked in fellowship and harmony nearly twenty-nine years, enjoyed many happy privileges, gracious revivals and considerable additions. With the two latter, I have labored in my imperfect manner, and think I have long travailed in birth for them. All of these I hereby give up and resign into His gracious hand, to provide for and take care of them, and supply all their wants, to bless them with an evangelical and faithful ministry, and abundantly add to their numbers such as shall be saved. Also, the North Bend Association, with all the Churches of it, I humbly
recommend and commit to His divine hand, with my sincere prayer for their happiness and prosperity, and that no jar, division or contention, may ever be seen or felt among them; but that peace and love may abound more and more, until the great decisive day, and final dissolution of all terrestrial things, when I hope this poor, frail, dying body of mine, will rise with the righteous, at the sound of the trumpet, in the likeness of the Lord Jesus, and join the happy throng in praising Him to endless duration.
“‘And as it has pleased a wise and gracious God to bless me with a bosom companion, children, grand-children, and servants, a deep concern for their welfare, soul and body, has devolved on me, and having served my generation, I now commit them all, with their companions and offspring, into the hands of my gracious Redeemer, to provide and take care of them here, to prepare for and finally to bring them to His right hand in worlds of immortal bliss, where parting is no more.
“‘With my own feeble hand I have written this, and in the presence of the great God, before whom I expect shortly to stand, I have subscribed hereto, this 25th day of April, 1826.
“Having executed this, his mind was at rest. He considered his last work as finished, and calmly and cheerfully waited for the solemn summons that was to call him to his eternal home. After this, his disease partially abated, and his friends were flattered with the idea that he was regaining his health. But the cheering prospect was soon overcast with gloom; his disorder returned with increased strength, and it was seen by all, that his end was rapidly approaching. Toward the close of his life his sufferings were severe, but he bore all with meekness and fortitude. II is eye was continually fixed, firm and unshaken, upon ‘that rest that remaineth for the people of God,” being well assured the blessed Jesus had prepared a mansion for him in the regions of eternal felicity.
“Thus, in the full enjoyment of the consolations of the Gospel, and a bright prospect of a happy immortality, he breathed his last on Thursday evening, the 17th of August, 1826.
“The North Bend Association had appointed its meeting for
1826, at Bullitsburg meeting house, to commence on the 18th of August. His absence was affectingly felt at the opening of the Association; his long and faithful services as a member of that body were fresh in every one's recollection, and their sense of the loss thus sustained was deep and solemn.
“His funeral was on the evening of the 18th, and was attended by a large concourse of his brethren and sisters. To many, who attended, there seemed something providential in his decease taking place at a time when so many of his brethren from various Churches and Associations, with whom he had been so long acquainted, and to whom he was endeared by the strongest ties of brotherly love, were thus called together, so that they might perform the last solemn office to his remains. It was a solemn season, but could not be said to be a sorrowful one. All who were acquainted with him felt so fully assured that he was now in that fullness of joy that is in the presence of Jehovah, that the sense of their own loss was almost overcome by the thought of the happy exchange he had experienced. Even his nearest relations, who are of the most affectionate disposition, seemed to feel something superior to resignation - a solemn, indescribable sensation, wherein much of sorrow is mingled with, and overcome by more of joy.
“There were two sermons delivered on the occasion. One by the Rev. James Suggett, from Revelation 14:13 - “Blessed are the dead, which die in the Lord from henceforth; yea, saith the Spirit, that they may rest from their labors, and their works do follow them.” The other by the Rev. John Taylor, from Isaiah 57:1, 2,-‘The righteous perisheth, and no man layeth it to heart; and merciful men are taken away, none considering that the righteous is taken from the evil to come. He shall enter into peace; they shall rest in their beds; each one walking in his uprightness.’ The exhortations, in these discourses, to a life of piety and brotherly love, of which the deceased had left so bright an example, were well calculated to make a lasting impression upon the solemnized hearts of the congregation. After which, his body was committed to the grave, in a part of his grounds near his dwelling, in that same hope of a triumphant resurrection, in which he lived and died.”
The foregoing sketch is from the pen of the venerable John Taylor, assisted by Robert Kirtly, who were associated with him for years in his labor of love.
Elder Graves, in 1825, compiled a collection of hymns, which were long used in the Churches of North Bend Association, and which do credit to his judgment and taste.
Long will his influence be felt among the Churches where he labored, and his name and his example held in tender recollection.
=========[From S. H. Ford, editor, The Christian Repository, 1856, pp. 25-34. Document from Online edition. Scanned and formatted by Jim Duvall.]
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