Baptist and Reflector, June 29, 1893, p. 9.
It is with a sad heart we chronicle the decease of Dr. J. R. Graves, L.L.D., Monday morning, June 26th, at 1 o'clock, at his home near Memphis, Tenn. The bare fact was telegraphed the Baptist and Reflector, but too late for an extended notice of his life and work in this issue. He was an important factor in the Baptist denomination in the South for more than half a century and one of the ablest exponents of Baptist faith in the world. He was a great warrior in the cause of truth. He was indeed a valiant soldier of the cross of Christ. But his warfare is over and his triumph is now complete.
Dr. J. R. Graves
By Edgar E. Polk, Editor
Baptist and Reflector, July 6, 1893, p. 8
Only brief mention could be made last week of the death of Dr. Graves, for so long the editor of this paper. But for the absence of the editor in Chicago at the time he would have attended the funeral of his former associate and honored friend. Bro. Hailey, however, has given some account of his last hours and also of his funeral services. It only remains for us to give a brief summary of his life-work and pay some tribute to his memory.
James Robinson Graves was born in Chester, Vt. April 10, 1820, and was consequently a little over seventy-three year of ager at the time of his death. His father was of Huguenot extraction, whose family fled to America at the revocation of the edict of Nantes. Young Graves was converted at fifteen and was baptized into the fellowship of the Baptist Churchy at North Springfield, Vt. At first he was a teacher and taught in Ohio and Kentucky. On July 3, 1845, a the age of twenty-five, he came to Nashville and opened a school on Vine street, and shortly afterward united with the First Baptist Church. But from the time of his conversion he had felt called to preach, though he had tried to put the feeling away from him. But while in Kentucky the church, against his desire, had called for his ordination. When he first to Nashville he did not attempt to exercise his gifts as a minister. In a long and pleasant conversation with last summer he told us how he had been forced against his protests to begin preaching here, and how from the first crowds attended upon his ministry and success followed his labors.
In the fall of 1845 he took charge of the Second Baptist Church on Cherry street, now the Central Baptist Church, this city, and the following year, in 1846, he was elected editor of the Tennessee Baptist, which had been started by Dr. R. B. C. Howell. This paper he conducted at Nashville with signal ability and growing influence until the war, at the close of which he removed it to Memphis, but in 1887 it was consolidated with the Baptist Reflector, then published in Chattanooga, and again removed to Nashville. In 1848 he originated the Southwestern Publishing House at Nashville, and afterwards the Southern Baptist Sunday-school Union, both of which were destroyed by the war. In 1874 he originated the Southern Baptist Publication Society, which, owing to the financial crisis, soon afterwards suspended.
As an author Dr. Graves was quite prolific. The following books are published of his pen, besides numerous sermons and articles and innumerable editorials: "The Trilemma," "The Great Iron Wheel," "The Middle Life," "Modern-Spiritism" "Old Landmarkism," "Intercommunion," "The Seven Dispensations," "The First Baptist Church," "John's Baptism," and other smaller ones.
As indicated by this bare outline of his life, Dr. Graves was no ordinary man. In fact, he might be called great. Certainly he was great as a preacher, one of the greatest, we think, America ever produced. His fire, his logic, his simplicity, he eloquence made him peculiarly powerful before an audience, and altogether with the fact that he always gave them something to think about, enabled him to hold their attention as long as he pleased. We spoke recently of having once heard him preach for two in succession, twice each day and two hours each time without becoming tired. Dr. Eaton told of having heard him preach three hours and a half once, without wearing the people. What other preacher of modern times could have done it? Even in Dr. Graves later years, when enfeebled by disease, he still retained much of his power over an audience. In the last sermon we heard him preach, the one preached at Brownsville before the big Hatchie Association three years ago, though sitting in a chair, he thrilled and moved his audience as but few men in perfect health could have done. His "Chair Talks" after his paralysis have been a source of the greatest delight to many people. It is a matter of regret that he was not able to write them out before his death and so give them to the public in a permanent form.
But great as was Dr. Graves as a preacher, he was if anything still greater as a writer, both as author and editor. His style in writing was, we think, not so interesting as in speaking. But his writing produced even greater effect and exerted a wider audience. Bold, uncompromising, with the strongest convictions himself, he toned up the conscience of Southern Baptists and gave to them a moral backbone, such as they had not before possessed. And the fact that the Baptists of the South are more loyal to Baptist principles, more orthodox, as they believe, than their brethren of the North, can largely be traced to the influence of Dr. Graves. There are some even in the South who believed that Dr. Graves was too strict and too partisan in his views, but there are none who will deny the influence which he exerted upon Southern Baptists. This we may say: However stern he may have seemed in his writings, in his [personal relations he was as gentle as a woman. For our part we have always found him exceedingly pleasant and companionable in all of our personal intercourse with him, extending over some ten or twelve year, and it was always a pleasure for us to be with him. Others also found him the same way, often to their surprise. In his family he was kind and compassionate. To young ministers especially he showed much sympathy and always stood ready to help them to the extent of his ability. Many young ministers in Tennessee to-day owe their education to his efforts and will feel his loss as a benefactor and a friend.
Dr. Graves had his faults. We shall not deny it. To admit it is not to admit that he was human. But he only claimed to be a "Sinner saved by grace." Salvation by grace through faith in Christ, not by works nor by water, was the constant theme of his tongue and pen, and he was never more powerful as a speaker and writer than when discussing this theme. He was a man of the deepest piety and always, but especially in his last years when the hand of affliction was laid heavily upon him, he loved to talk about the religion of Jesus and the great salvation which it had brought to him.
But he had finished the work God gave him to do. The only desire he expressed for living longer was to write out his "Chair Talks" for publication, which. We believe, was denied him. But his life work was unusually well rounded out so far as human appearances go, and from his bed of suffering the Lord called him home on June 26th, and from Him he has received the welcome, "Well done, good and faithful servant, thou hast been faithful over a few things, I will make thee ruler over many things enter thou into the joy of thy Lord." Upon his seventy-third birthday, April 10th, he wrote a short note to the Baptist and Reflector, the first he had been able to write in some time and the last publication, we believe, which came from his pen. He closed by quoting that beautiful little poem, which will be of interest here
[The poem located here is too poor in quality on the copy to transcribe it here.]
He waited and the blessings have come in all their fullness. He had fought a good fight, he had finished his course, he had kept the faith and now he has received the crown of righteousness.
A Tribute to J. R. GravesThe death of J. R. Graves marks an era in our denominational history. The stamp of his genius on Southern Baptists stands out in clear cut distinctness. The bulwark raised by his tongue and pen against latltudinarianism dammed up the current of Baptist inconsistencies, and caused Baptist thought to flow back to the channel of Biblical correctness. The time was when J. R. Graves was the mightiest man among us. For years be enjoyed the distinction of being the champion of strict Baptist principles. For at least a score of years he was foremost among the Baptists of the world as a defender of their faith. He was also a great orator. Where has there been another man in modern times who could enthrall vast audiences for so long a time as could J. R. Graves? Where was his match as a debater? Where his equal as a polemic writer? Where his superior as a logician, orator, editor, or as an upright Christian gentleman?
Baptist and Reflector, July 13, 1893, p 2.
J . R. Graves will grow larger as time goes by. He came when mostly needed. He did his work and did it well, and has gone to his reward. If he, in his latter days, advocated some views not wholly in line with those of many of his brethren, it only manifests the truth that he was human. And these divergencies [sic] disappear under the light of his shining excellence.
The heart of this writer prompts him to say that he feels personally bereft in the death of this good and great man. His hand on my head, in the first year of my ministry, was an inspiration never to be forgotten. How nobly did be stand by the lone missionary to the wild Indians, and what cheering words did he write. In these last days of his patient suffering, what sweet words of comfort did he pen to his younger brother who was bearing the heat and burden of the day. I loved him; I shall love him when we meet again. May his memory be cherished, his principles observed, his example be followed by generations yet unborn.
A. J. Holt, Palestine, Texas. __________
Baptist and Reflector, July 13, 1893, p. 4.
This part of the country among Baptists is mourning over the death of our great hero. We think we will never have another like him. Sister Jones of Auburn Church fell asleep in Jesus July 2nd. God comfort the sorrowing.
Bro. McNatt of Fayetteville will assist me in three meetings and we are expecting great things of the Lord.
G. A. Ogle Milton, Tenn. __________
Dr. J. R. Graves.
Baptist and Reflector, July 13, 1893, p. 5.
The following resolutions on the death of Dr. J. R. Graves were adopted by Philadelphia Church, Wayne County, Tenn; A prince, a hero, is fallen, and Baptists all over our country are mourning. Dr. J. B. Graves, after suffering long and patiently, passed peacefully to his reward on the morning of June 20th. "Though dead, he yet speaketh," and his work and influence will live on until time shall be no more. Believing that no more able and faithful advocate of the doctrine of our Lord has lived since the Apostle Paul, and desiring to put upon record an expression of our high appreciation of his eminent labors; therefore
Resolved, That we, the church at Philadelphia, would join the Baptist hosts in our regret at the loss of so able a defender of the cause of our Master.
Resolved, That our prayers and sympathies are hereby extended to his bereaved family.
Resolved, That a copy of these resolutions be furnished the Baptist And Reflector for publication.
In conference July 2, 1893.
A. O. Montague, C. C.
Dr. Graves delivered his five chair talks to our church in September, 1888 and we all fell in love with him.
A. O. M. __________
From the Religious Herald, (Richmond, VA)
For many years Dr. J. R. Graves has been a confirmed invalid, and now the tidings of his death reach us. He was a man of great and varied gifts. As a preacher and lecturer and writer, and as a magnetic leader, he was known far and wide. Under his control the Tennessee Baptist was for many years one of the most widely read Baptist papers in existence. In connection with that paper Bro. Graves was also at the head of a great Baptist publishing house in Nashville. The disastrous losses which came upon him with the civil war, and later on his impaired health restricted considerably Bro. Graves' influence, but he continued to write books and tracts and to aid in editing the BAPTIST AND REFLECTOR until recently. But his infirmities have hindered him for many years from going among the churches as he had previously done, and he had to be heard to be rightly appreciated. At his best he spoke with resistless power, carrying almost everything before him by his persuasive and captivating voice. Book after book, large and small, he wrote, and they were widely read. As is well known by all who are acquainted with Baptist controversies in the South, the Religious Herald had constantly antagonized the Old Landmark theory, of which Bro. Graves was the chief champion through all his public career, and we differed widely from him also on some other things. Pretty generally we were upon opposing sides, but through these two-score years of occasional earnest controversy we have never failed to give our deceased brother full credit for his candor, ability and enthusiastic devotion to what be believed to be the teaching of God's Word, and now that he has closed his busy and brilliant career, we tender to his bereaved family and to the multitudes to whom the announcement of his death will come as a personal affliction our profound sympathy. -
Religious Herald via the Baptist and Reflector, July 27, 1893, p. 7. __________
From the Baltimore Baptist
The telegraph last week brought to us news of the death in Memphis of Rev. J. R. Graves, D.D., LL D. Dr. Graves was one of the best known men in the Baptist denomination. For several years before the war he was the leader of that noted triumvirate, Graves, Pendleton & Dayton, which made the old Tennessee Baptist newspaper such a power throughout the South and Southwest. They were champions of the land-mark theory, and published a great many tracts and books in advocacy of their peculiar notions. Dr. Graves was the last to pass to his reward. For several years previous to his death he suffered partial paralysis and was unable to perform editorial work. His paper was consolidated with the Reflector, and is now known as the BAPTIST AND REFLECTOR, of Nashville. Dr. Graves was a fine writer, an able debater, a preacher of rare gifts and always won adherents whenever heard. We shall not see his equal soon. - Baltimore Baptist via the Baptist and Reflector, July 1893, p. 7.
From the American Baptist
It was our privilege to enjoy the personal acquaintance and friendship of Dr. Graves since 1858. He was one of the ablest preachers we ever heard. He held his vast audiences spell-bound for hours. His controversial discourses were eloquent, logical and overwhelming. Even those who were intensely opposed to his doctrine usually listened to him with great interest and profit. His revival sermons were able and profitable and resulted in winning many souls over to Christ. Dr. Graves ranked among the ablest Christian editors in this generation. However, his ability in the pulpit was greater than that of his pen. Owing to the fact that he assailed error with a strong hand, he had many foes. Many among Baptists regarded him as altogether too belligerent and aggressive. However this may be, it will scarcely be denied that be made his impress upon the Baptists, especially of the South, as no other man baa done. Though it was our fortune, or misfortune, to differ from him on some denominational points over which we vigorously crossed swords, yet we have continued to cherish for Brother Graves the kindliest feelings. In his family relations, J. R. Graves was one of the kindest men we ever knew. As we have enjoyed the hospitality of his home, we speak from personal knowledge.
For quite awhile it had been our purpose to visit Brother Graves once more before he passed over to the other shore; but press of business prevented. Brother Graves has been a great sufferer from paralysis and other afflictions for quite a number of years. Ha has borne his afflictions with heroic fortitude, and died in the triumphs of Christian faith. Even after he was unable to stand and preach, his "chair-talks" were made a blessing to thousands. This veteran soldier rests from his labors and his works will surely follow him. His bereaved family have our warmest sympathy and earnest prayers that God may sustain them in their sad bereavement.
American Baptist via the Baptist and Reflector, July 1893, p. 7.
From the Baptist Observer
This great man passed away on the morning of the 26th of June. He was active in labors for the glory of the Master for about fifty years. We think it the just verdict that he has done more for the Baptists of the South than any man for a century past. He made many enemies as he passed through life, but it was because of his strong and unswerving convictions of truth, and the faithful advocacy of the same. He has left is impress upon the world and the world has been made better by his having lived in it. He will be held in grateful remembrance by thousands. - Baptist Observer via the Baptist and Reflector, July 1893, p. 7.
From the Baptist Record, 1893
There has been but one J. R. Graves in the last half century. However many shadows may have been cast in the way of imitations, he stands out and alone as the one unique, clearly defined, unmistakable and unapproachable J. R. Graves. As self poised as the great Pyramid, as well based as the Matterhom, as singled-eyed as the morning star, and as alert as the electric flash. He was the Bismarck of diplomatists, the Washington of conservatives, and the Napoleon of debaters. He possessed, perhaps, more of the true elements of leadership in his composition than any other man of the century in which he lived. In the many conflicts he has maintained at different times, with some of the strongest men as opponents, it is confidently claimed that he never came off "second best," and on no occasion nor by any one has he ever been worsted in debate. He constantly wore the "whole armor" of the gospel, and through a long and eventful life he fought, "not as one that beateth the air," but in "contending earnestly for the faith once delivered to the saints;" "and having done all," he stood, with his armor on and face to the foe to the last moment of his life, an honest, fearless and efficient defender of the truth. The only reason he ever assigned for the armed conflicts with others was that he believed himself to be right and they wrong, and up to this good day we know nothing to the contrary. It was always our opinion that it was his manner of putting things, as much as the things he put, that awakened the antagoniama of his brethren. And that after awhile - perhaps when he was dead - they would come to see many, if not most of those things as he saw them, which we now have good reason to know was quite true. We believe that if our preachers could be fashioned somewhat after the J. R. Graves pattern in piety, ability, belief, fearlessness and backbone consistency for the next two or three decades, there would be a revolution in the character of the religious newspaper literature that now entertains the Lord's saints. Instead of so much wailing over the looseness of church members as to doctrine, living and work, we would be told - it may be of fewer "conversions" - but of substantial gains to the churches, solid growth and genuine Christian developement [sic]. Our prayer is that God will raise up a great and strong man, or some such men, in this age of higher criticism, endless latitudinarianism and general anti-Christism, who, like J. R. Graves, will "put on the whole armor of God" and with God's help lead hid people fully back into the path of gospel truth and duty. -
Baptist Record via the Baptist and Reflector, July 1893, p. 7.
[From Baptist and Reflector, June 29, 1893, p. 9; CD edition. Scanned and formattted by Jim Duvall.]
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