Rev. George Gibbons--His Call, Pastorate and Death.
[Rev. George Gibbons]
Rev. George Gibbons was born in Thorny Island, Barnwell District, S. C., November 13th, 1819. He was a slave and belonged to Mrs. Telfair, who was very kind to him. He was baptized by Rev. Andrew C. Marshall in 1844. He was elected a deacon of the First African Baptist Church, January 29th, 1860. He was licensed to preach by the First African Baptist Church about 1870, and he was ordained in 1871, and served as an assistant of Rev. W. J. Campbell in the pastorate. He was called to the pastorate of Bethlehem Baptist Church of Savannah about 1875 or 1876. He was much beloved by said church. He was a man of pleasing manners, dignified bearing, refined culture, and was a model Christian gentleman. He was humble and very polite. He was brought into prominence by the call to the First African Baptist Church in 1878. He was called at the time when great excitement prevailed, and it was next to impossible for his administration to have met with much success. He had as much as he could do to keep what he had. He could not have been expected to make advances on the world when the church was not united. The old pastor (Rev. W. J. Campbell) was still alive and his influence was still living, and all militated against Rev. George Gibbons' success. The friends of Mr. Campbell were the enemies of Mr. Gibbons, and vice versa. Rev. Gibbons served the church under these disadvantages for six years. He had not been visiting the annual sessions of the Baptists and hence knew very few of the brethren and practically nothing of the workings of the Baptists outside of Savannah. He had been so confined at home with the affairs of the old white people who raised him that he knew next to nothing of what was going on among the negroes in everyday life. Therefore, he was unprepared to deal with them successfully in church as a pastor. He did not know enough about them. He had traveled extensively with these white people, having visited Europe. He had a fine mind and possessed sublime thoughts. No one could justly point the finger of blame at Rev. George Gibbons. Everybody united in calling him a good man. Even those who disliked him for filling the pulpit which they felt justly belonged to Mr. Campbell would unhesitatingly call him a nice man. His home was very happy, quiet and dignified, and everything he wished for he had at his hand. He was a man of means. The white ladies with whom he stayed died and left him more than seven thousand dollars. His estate is worth upward of twelve thousand dollars. He had a great, generous heart, and was a friend to mankind and an honor to society. In 1884 his health began to fail him, having been undermined by his laborious work and perplexity of mind. The church granted him leave of absence to travel in the up-country for his health. He visited Columbus, Rome, Marietta, Atlanta and Athens, and returned in October, 1884. He was thought to have improved greatly, but this was only imaginary. On his arrival he expected to enter with vigor upon his work. On Thursday night, November 12, 1884, he undertook to preach, and selected for his text, Psalm XVI, 11: "Thou wilt shew me the path of life: in Thy presence is fullness of joy; at Thy right hand there are pleasures forever more." He read very distinctly his text once and read it a second time, and his hands fell by his side, his mouth closed, and he never spoke again in life. It was evident that his work was over. He had been shown the path of life and would be soon ushered into the presence of the King. He was taken home, where the best medical aid was summoned, but his case baffled medical skill, and after nine days' suffering he breathed his last. He was buried on Sunday, November 23d, 1884. Rev. Alexander Harris preached his funeral sermon. Revs. A. Ellis, U. L. Houston, S. A. McNeal and E. K. Love also took part. The funeral was very large, being attended by not less than five thousand people. This good man ended gloriously the life he so well lived. Mr. Campbell only preceded him four years one month and eleven days to the saints' rest, where they would make no more mistakes. Rev. Bryan preceded Rev. Marshall forty-four years, one month and one day. Rev. Marshall preceded Rev. Campbell twenty-three years, eleven months and four days, he also having died in October. It is a little singular that all of these great men died about the same time of the year. The church never had a better man than Rev. Gibbons, so far as quietness, gentleness and pleasing manners are concerned, but all were abler preachers than he was. He was a living example of the gospel which he preached, and had a high sense of honor and right. He did not believe in worldly amusements and had no patience with the idea of begging money for the cause of Christ, nor giving entertainments to raise money for the church. He believed that people ought to give from a sense of duty and from a principle. He was an hundred years ahead of the age in which he lived. Perhaps his ideas of that dignified order of Christian work may be realized in the next hundred years. His idea of church work was on the most dignified order. It could hardly have been otherwise, owing to his cultured rearing. He was progressive in church work and in church order. He was actually at one time opposed to accepting, upon the part of the church, $70 from a party of sisters because it was raised from a supper given for that purpose which had music. He contended that the gospel did not warrant raising money in that way for the church, and instead of accepting the money he was in favor of expelling the sisters. This created quite a sensation, and for a while made him unpopular with many. If he could have enforced his ideas he would have had a model gospel church. But this was at least an hundred years too soon for the inaugurating of such plans. It would have been like rooting up the tares in the wheat, which would have done more harm than good. The day must come, however, when his ideas must be adopted. When this grand man died the church had just cause to mourn.
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