It is now almost impossible for the Baptists of to-day to conceive the high esteem in which Dr. J. R. Graves was held fifty years ago. I have known of persons riding horse-back for one hundred miles just hear him preach one time. I rode sixty miles, fifty-nine years ago just on purpose to hear him preach.
He was at that time the editor of "The Baptist" published in Memphis, Tenn. He was noted far and near as the redoubtable champion of Baptist views. He did not hesitate to challenge the highest functionary of any religious organization who championed views different from the Baptist position. He had addressed a series of letters to "Bishop Soule" of the Methodist Episcopal Church, South, in a series of papers which were afterwards published in "The Great Iron Wheel". His most famous debate was with the great Dr. Ditzler, a noted Methodist champion. That was published in a great volume and widely read. Dr. Graves was widely known as a champion who had never been defeated in public discussion.
His personal appearance was engaging. Of medium size, prominent classic forehead, with a long black beard, always carefully trimmed, with a piercing black eye. His delivery was deliberate; his enunciation distinct; his logic was convincing; his speech was never of the braggadocio sort, but logical and persuasive. If the hearer would accept his promises, his conclusions were inevitable. He was never in a hurry. I have heard him preach on several occasions when he was three hours preaching, and yet he held the attention of his hearers chained from his opening sentence to his final word. He championed what was known at that time "The Landmark Doctrine." That should not be confused with what is now termed Landmarkism. Dr. Graves was a trained orator, a profound scholar, a keen logician, with a voice that never seemed to grow hoarse, or fall so low as not be clearly understood by his remotest hearer.
Personally Dr. Graves was a most pleasant and friendly Christian gentleman. From his well known penchant for debate, one might conclude that he was fractious, irritable, unfair to an adversary, abusive, or ungentlemanly. Just the contrary was his character. A more urbane, courtly, fair-minded, Christian gentleman I have never known. All through the South and in fact wherever Doctor Graves was known, he was highly honored and respected if not loved. But he was uncompromising. He opposed with all his powers of logic and his wide knowledge of the Scripture teaching, "Pulpit Affiliation", "Alien Immersion", "Open Communion", among his own brethren, and sprinkling or pouring for baptism, autocratic church government, Infant baptism, and apostacy on the part of people not Baptists.
From any angle one might view J. R. Graves, he was a great man. I think I may say with confidence that no man in the South in the sixties and seventies, had such a grip on so large a constituency as J. R. Graves. Not only did I admire his genius, his fearless advocacy of Baptist views, but I loved the man. When I was driven out of my field by persecution in the Indian Territory, he proffered to guarantee my support through "The Baptist." While co-operating with the Southern Baptist Convention, he was never bound to the organized work as I felt that I should be. I felt then and feel now that herein is our hope for permanent success as a denomination, that we shall stand staunchly by the board system, as distinct from individual missionary enterprises. In this alone at that time did I differ from my distinguished friend.
When J. R. Graves was stricken with paralysis, he was preaching, and he testified afterward that he veritably thought he was immediately to be summonsed to meet his Lord. He did not then think of anything but "On Christ the Solid Rock I stand; All other ground is sinking sand". He lingered a few years after his first stroke, and gave many of his famous "Chair Talks"; but he was, as he said, only half man then. I recall his attending for the last time the Southern Baptist Convention. It was in Augusta, Georgia in 1885. It was my distinguished privilege to walk by his side and to support his enfeebled frame to his seat and to sit by his side.
Dr. Graves had many strong opponents among his own brethren, who dissented from his extreme views. But not one among them but respected his consciencious [sic] opinions, and admired his great intellect, and bowed before his unquestioned genius. He has had very many followers who copied his extreme views, but without his intellectuality, or his powers of logic, or his unsurpassed ability nor yet of his sweet and gentle spirit. I honor the memory of God's great friend, J. R. Graves.
[From the Western Recorder, May 10, 1928. Document provided by Ben Stratton, Farmington, KY. Scanned and formatted by jim Duvall.]
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