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Heroes of the faith: Baptists from the past can be inspiration today


Edmund Burke is generally attributed as the person who said, "Those who don't know history are doomed to repeat it."

While that is an admonition to avoid repeating failures of the past, it's also good to know history so we can learn from and be encouraged by the successes of the past.

Some of those successes are well documented in a recently-published book by the J.H. Spencer Historical Society, Nineteenth Century Kentucky Baptist Biographies.

Bill Whittaker, retired pastor of Glasgow Baptist Church, is the editor and compiler of the 180-page hardbound book that includes histories of 25 Kentucky Baptist churches and one association, plus 181 biographies chronicling the influence and work of 19th century leaders.

Whittaker, a past president of Clear Creek Baptist Bible College, said some familiar names are seen in the biographies while others are of men and women who many people have not heard of.

Whittaker, who has been a missionary to the Philippines and pastored several Kentucky Baptist churches, praised the contributing writers who helped with the project. This is the third volume of biographies published by the J.H. Spencer Historical Society — the first two were in 2012 and 2016 and were devoted to 20th century biographies.

Some of the people profiled in the book include:

Benjamin T. Blewett moved to Russellville in 1853 to be in charge of Bethel High School, which needed $8,000 to complete its building. He gave a note of $6,000 — thought to be the full amount of his savings — to see the building completed. By 1855, the school opened with 125 students. That success encouraged him to consider opening a Baptist college in southern Kentucky, which materialized into Bethel College.

Through his efforts, the college was free from debt and had an endowment of $100,000 when he left in 1861. Blewett raised the money, taught classes, exercised discipline, planted ornamental trees on the lawn with his own hands and "directed the minutia of a thousand nameless transactions necessary to the proper conduct of a young, growing institution of learning."

John A. Broadus began his ministry as a bivocational pastor of Charlottesville (Va.) Baptist Church and assistant professor of classics at the University of During his last year there, a young Lottie Moon — the legendary Baptist missionary to China — was converted under his preaching. He joined the faculty of the new Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Greenville, S.C., but its viability was threatened by the Civil War.

After the war, Broadus and three faculty members returned to determine if the seminary could reopen.

Broadus famously said, "Suppose we quietly agree that the seminary may die, but we'll die first." He remained at Southern even though he was in great financial need.

After several years, he began more administrative duties at the seminary. He turned his classroom lectures into textbook form so successors could more consistently teach what he had taught. A Treatise on the Preparation and Delivery of Sermons was published at his own expense of $1,000, but it was widely accepted and his investment was recouped.

He was superb in the pulpit, his writings were widely embraced and he gave scholarly lectures across the country. In 1889, he became the second president of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, which had moved to Louisville in 1877.

Broadus died in 1895. The Courier-Journal reported, "There is no man in the United States whose passing would cause more widespread sorrow than that of Dr. Broadus."

William Calmes Buck was "one of the leaders of God's best … at a period when a wise, bold leader was most needed," said historian J.H. Spencer, II. "The Baptists of this commonwealth, and of the whole Mississippi Valley, owe, more than to any other man, their deliverance from the narrow prejudice against missionary operations.

"Possessing great physical strength and remarkable powers of endurance, he traveled on horseback among the churches, winter and summer, day and night, and urged upon them the solemn duty of supporting their pastors at home and sending the gospel to the perishing abroad.

Perhaps no other man ever preached in Kentucky which could command the attention of so large an audience in the open air."

John Tyler Christian was labeled "the greatest Baptist historian America has ever produced," according to the Western Recorder's Dec. 24, 1925 issue. At age 16, he was converted under the preaching of J.H. Spencer. He pastored East Baptist Church in Louisville from 1892- 99, and during those seven years the membership grew from 500 to 1,300, planting two new congregations during that time.

In 1915, the Southern Baptist Convention appointed a committee to look into the possibility of establishing a new seminary in New Orleans, and Christian was appointed chairman.

When the Baptist Bible Institute of New Orleans started in 1918, Christian was president of the board of directors. He joined the faculty the next year. When he died in 1925, he had the largest Baptist history library in the world. He donated more than 25,000 volumes to the New Orleans seminary.

James Smith Coleman was elected sheriff of Ohio County at age While looking at a possible run for Congress, he attended a revival where God called him to preach. He preached his first sermon in May 1854. He pastored numerous churches and helped organize churches in Greenville, Madisonville and Hartford.

During his ministry of almost 50 years, he baptized 5,013, married 1,002 couples, preached 14,000 sermons, witnessed the conversion of 15,000 people, helped organize more than 60 churches, dedicated 63 church houses of worship and assisted in ordaining 67 ministers and more than 100 deacons while preaching more than 2,000 funerals.

He was editor of the Green River Baptist and helped save the Western Recorder following the Civil War.

As a revivalist, he saw 132, 105 and 72 additions to membership at Whitesville Church. At a seven-week revival meeting in Owensboro, more than 250 people were saved. During his tenure as pastor of Owensboro Baptist Church, eight men entered the ministry.

Thomas Jefferson Fisher lived up to his name — it is estimated about 12,000 people were converted during his 35-year ministry. He preached a revival in 1861 in southern states, recording more than 600 conversions. He died in 1866, wounded in the back of his head by an unknown assassin.

Samuel Howard Ford excelled as a writer and editor. He edited The Christian Repository & Home Circle newspaper for more than 50 years. He wrote on the history of Kentucky Baptists, publishing many historical sketches. The Civil War forced him to stop that work.

He had more than his share of difficulties. He lost two wives. He became embroiled in a major controversy where his moral character and ethics were attacked. Eventually his name was cleared. In 1871, he sustained a serious injury involving a horse and buggy.

James Robinson Graves was "arguably the most influential minister in the history of the Southern Baptist Convention," according to T.A. Patterson in The Theology of J.R. Graves and Its Influence on Southern Baptist Life.

In the 1958 two-volume Encyclopedia of Southern Baptists, more words are devoted to Graves than any other person. He was ordained into the gospel ministry in 1842.

B.H. Carroll would later say that Graves was the greatest Baptist evangelist in the antebellum south. At a revival in Memphis, more than 200 were converted. R.G. Lee said Graves was the greatest preacher Southern Baptists ever produced.

He became editor of the Tennessee Baptist newspaper in 1846. It had barely 1,000 subscribers, but he grew it into the largest Baptist periodical in the world.

During the Civil War, Graves supported the Confederacy and published a New Testament for distribution among Southern troops. After the war, President Andrew Johnson granted amnesty for Graves, allowing him to resume his work as a Baptist pastor and editor.

Graves wrote articles encouraging Southerners to look upon African-American believers as brothers in Christ and encouraged newly-formed churches to hold to Baptist principles. Graves fought staunchly against infant baptism and the belief that baptism was essential for salvation.

John Newton Hall was in constant demand to preach He estimated he preached more than 600 times a year.

In 1901, two associations voted to start a school in Martin, Tenn., naming it the Hall-Moody Bible Institute in honor of J.B. Moody and J.N. Hall.

It trained multitudes of preachers, including several men who became early professors at Mid-Continent Baptist Bible College in Mayfield. The Moody-Hall Institute was purchased by the University of Tennessee, and a photo of Hall still hangs in the administration building.

Mordecai Ham pastored Bethlehem Baptist Church for more than 40 years. For much of his ministry, he pastored six churches, preaching to two of them on weekdays. It is estimated that more than 2,000 people were saved under his preaching.

Today his name is most widely known through his grandson, Mordecai Ham II, under whose preaching Billy Graham came to saving faith in Christ.

That grandson was reluctant to enter ministry after seeing the sacrifices and poverty of his father and grandfather. When he did surrender, in over 30 years of preaching, he saw at least 300,000 profess faith in Christ.

Amanda Melvina Hicks oversaw the women's programs at Clinton She became principal of the college in 1880, a rarity for a woman in that era. A tribute by a former student said, "Many of my fellow students would agree — she was the greatest teacher we ever had."

Mary "Polly" Hollingsworth was matron and internal manager of the Louisville Baptist Orphan's Home.

William Hopper was one of the most prominent and useful pioneer preachers in the region composed of Knox, Whitley, Laurel and Clay counties.

Julia McKenzie was the first person to serve as a foreign missionary from Daviess County Baptist Association. She served more than 20 years in China. She was quite fond of dancing, but said she was converted as a result of listening to one of Fred Hale's characteristic dancing sermons.

After uniting with Owensboro First Baptist, she organized a large class of boys in Sunday School and began active work in the church. On her furlough trips home, she "did more perhaps than anyone else to create a great missionary spirit among the churches of Daviess-McLean Baptist Association."

Joseph Burnley Moody was called to preach at age 36 and ordained in 1876. While an exceptional preacher, his greatest gift was his writing He wrote dozens of books and was a newspaper editor. In the early 20th century, Moody, along with B.H. Carroll and J.H. Anderson, were considered the greatest Baptist theologians in the south.

James Madison Pendleton was called to preach in 1830. In 1852, J.R. Graves invited Pendleton to preach to his Bowling Green congregation. The four-week revival resulted in many converts, so many that a new sanctuary had to be built. But then came the Civil War — Pendleton believed slavery was wrong and should be gradually

When Tennessee seceded from the Union in 1861, Pendleton could not support that move. He was relieved of his duties as pastor in Murfrees- boro and as co-editor of the Tennessee Baptist. He pastored in Ohio and Pennsylvania, the latter being some of his most productive years. Many of his classic works were written during that time.

John Henry Spencer was an avid learner and teacher. His parents weren't members of any church, but on Jan. 19, 1849, Spencer was converted at a "protracted meeting" and joined the church the next day.

He was licensed to preach April 1853, and ordained at Hopewell Baptist Church (Allen County) the following month. For most of his active ministry, he served as an evangelist — helping organize new churches, revive dead churches, strengthen weak ones and help pastors in revivals.

On Sept. 15, 1861, he married. On that day, he said to his bride, "My darling, you are all of this world to me; but my duty to the cause of Christ is all of the next world." He kissed her on the lips for the first time, then left for a preaching appointment and did not see her again for six days.

As early as 1866, he began studying the history of churches where he preached. He determined that a factual account of Kentucky Baptists should be published. He was appointed by the General Association of Baptists in Kentucky to write a history of Kentucky Baptists. In April 1885, he completed a two-volume history book.

During his active ministry as an evangelist, he preached as many as 572 times in a year, traveled as many as 5,679 miles and had an estimated 5,000 people professing faith in Christ.

"Nineteenth Century Kentucky Baptist Biographies" can be purchased at a cost of $20, plus $4 for postage and handling, by contacting Whittaker at brwhitt@glasgow-com.

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