committed to historic Baptist & Reformed beliefs







Life, Times and Teachings of J. R. Graves
by Samuel H. Ford, 1899

Chapter 2

The first sermon preached by appointment by J. R. Graves, was at Mount Freedom, Jessamine County, Ky. His text was: "Adam, where art thou?" It was mainly on the indecision and the cowardice of those who have no fixed religious principles, or are too fearful to maintain what they believe. It was an earnest appeal to learn the truth, to obey the truth, to do battle for the truth. There are still some among us who heard that first sermon of his. It disclosed the character of the man. It was an earnest of his future movements. It declared that he was armed for a life-battle, and that he had already entered upon the fight.

None but Saul of Tarsus was the fit material, so to speak, to make a Paul the apostle. Between him and John, as seen in their lives and in their writings, what a difference! He who in loving tenderness leans upon the bosom of his Lord, never had occasion, it seems, to say, as Paul did, "Am I become your enemy because I tell you the truth?" The word fight is never once used by him, while war and weapons, attack and endurance, with every attitude of onset and defense, recur in Paul's writing with stirring word to animate victorious battle. He declared that he was set for the defense of the gospel, and his closing words were, "I have fought a good fight."

There was but one such a Paul so far as we can judge, amongst the twelve. There are not many whose nature and endowments fit them for such a restless, stirring life-conflict as his. There are more beloved Johns in the world, than aggressive Pauls or Luthers. Some men, as seen by their life and writings, are urged by an irresistible impulse or sense of duty to engage in a life-long contest with their fellow-men in the detection and destruction of error. They enter the labyrinth of human folly and Satanic wiles, and grapple with the Minotaur of falsehood in whatever form it appears. They know no fear, and make no pause. Conflict is their life-lot, and their element, and "to wax valiant in fight, and turn to flight the armies of the aliens" their inspiration, and their glory. They have no still life in them.

There are other souls that repose in blessed devotion and contemplation or on the moveless wings of love undisturbed by the rushing current of black poisoned streams bearing immortal souls down to the abyss. Saintly quietists are these, and resting in the peace that "passeth understanding," their thoughts are all in Heaven and the sounds and sights and sorrows of this sin-cursed earth are well nigh forgotten. Others deal in laborious research, in formulating propositions, deducing conclusions and elucidating great principles with no reference to the errors that mislead the masses, and no response to the attacks made upon their work; others look away both from the battle and the defense, and the research, and make orderly progress and beneficent ministry―work, work, their watchword and their goal. Oh, if these characteristics could be combined in the valiant, contemplative, loving, studious, ever-active man! But they are seldom, if ever, so embraced in poor fallen nature.

Graves was of the first class, to which reference has been made.

There was no still life in him. He had no idea of resting like the lark in the soft dawn of morning, where the sounds and sights of earth would be unheard. His tendency was to explore the tangled lives of men; to know their hearts' errors and to bring, with all the force and all the intensity that was in him, God's truth, in direct contact and conflict with it all.



Very soon after Graves entered upon his editorial career he was attacked by the editor of the Nashville Christian Advocate, as his predecessor Howell had been. To give distinctness to the principles he held and advocated he published and kept standing at the head of his editorial, this:―



1. "One Lord, one Faith, one immersion. Eph. 4:5. That an immersion is the profession of that one faith in the burial and resurrection of that one Lord. See Rom. 4:4-6; Col. 2:12; 1 Cor. 15:29; 1 Peter 3:21.

2. "The Grace of God, the only foundation of Hope and Faith in Christ, the only medium of Justification.

3. "The Word of God and the Spirit of God the agents in the regeneration of adults.

4. "Each visible Church of Christ is a company of scripturally immersed believers only (not of believers and their unconverted children and seekers on probation), associated by voluntary covenant, to obey and execute all the commandments of Christ, having the same organization, doctrines, officers, and ordinances of the Church at Jerusalem, and independent of all others, acknowledging no lawgiver in Zion but Christ, and submitting to no law He has not enacted. Read Rom. 1:7; 1 Cor. 1:2; Eph. 1:1; Col. 1:1-5; Acts 2:41, 42; Matt. 18:20, 23, 28; 2 Cor. 7:6-19; Rev. 2:23; Philip. 26:27 [chpt 2:26-27?]; 1 Cor. 5:12, 13.

5. "The "Lord's Supper" is a positive and commemorative ordinance to be observed only by a Church of Christ, as such (that is, in church capacity), not as a test of Christian fellowship or personal feeling of one communicant toward another, as Pedobaptists erroneously teach, but only to show forth Christ's death till He comes again; and being a church act, it becomes, incidentally, a symbol of Church relationship; consequently, only those churches can participate in this ordinance that agree in faith and practice. The members of one church (though of the same faith and order) can come to the communion of another only by an act of courtesy and not by right, for each church is independent, being made the guardian of the purity of the sacred feast, is invested with the authority to discipline those whose relationship ordinarily gives them the right. See 1 Cor. 5:3-10.

6. "Christian baptism is the immersion of a believer in water by a qualified administrator, in the name of the Trinity, in representation of the burial and resurrection of Christ, and profession of a death to sin, union with Christ, and consecration to his service. One mode only, therefore, can answer this design and the profession of baptism cannot be made by children, except "the children of God by Faith." Matt. 3:16, and 28:16; Mark 16:16; John 3:2, 3; Acts 8, to the close; Rom. 6:4, 5; Col. 2:12; Gal. 3:26, 27.

"Burying in water of one dead to sin is the only action; since the burial of a dead man is the only "likeness" or representation of death in the world, for it is called the likeness of death."

Here stands forth in language no one can honestly mistake―the grace of God the only foundation: faith in Christ the only medium of justification. This was his watch word through life. It rose above all other questions. He wrote: "When delivering a course of lectures in a Southern city, in the lecture on the Spirituality of the Church of Christ, I insisted that nothing but spiritual material―gold, silver, precious stones―could be put into the building; that it did not make a sandstone a precious stone by inserting it into the building"―"that a state of salvation was an essential and inseparable condition of membership in a Christian church, that God added to the Church those who WERE SAVED, not those who wanted to be." (Letters to Bishop Sole, p. 368.)

His avowal, his confession, his advocacy, and illustrations of salvation by grace through faith only―not by it through baptism or church, or anything else under the heavens―was constant, fervent, and forceful. When touching upon this theme―as we shall more fully show further on―he rose beyond himself in lofty eloquence which no other theme inspired. There is a celestial melody in the following outbursts―as though the skies cleft above him and the white light of God "smote him on the face."

By faith we enter Christ―as Noah entered the Ark, which was a type of Christ, and God closed the door and sealed it, and did not leave it to Noah and his family, if they would be saved, to their power to keep it closed, which they could not have done. So Paul says, "In whom [Christ] after that ye believed ye were sealed by the Holy Spirit." That pledges us to God's veracity and power for our salvation.

"His honor is engaged to save
The weakest of His sheep."

Faith unites us indissolubly to Christ, so that His life becomes our life, and while He lives we shall live also, and this secures our salvation. "For ye are dead, and your life is hid with Christ in God, and when Christ, who is our life, shall appear, we shall appear with Him in glory." (Col. 3:3)

As it is not in the power of a dead man to restore himself to life, so it is not in the power of one once dead to sin, to restore himself to the love of it, he can never have the desire to do it because the love of sin is dead in him. The prayer of Christ also secures the everlasting continuance of our union with Christ.

Now, Aaron was a type of Christ, the Christian Great High Priest, who has entered the most holy place―even heaven itself―and graven upon His heart is the name of every one, in all ages, that has ever believed upon Him, that was ever by faith united to Him, or was ever washed by His blood, and for the sanctification and final salvation of each and all He ever intercedeth [sic]. He is an all-prevailing High Priest. Him the Father heareth always. Not one of the precious jewels, the purchase of His own blood, will ever be lost out of His breastplate―effaced from His loving heart. Therefore, all who were once Christians, children, believers in Christ [not members of Baptist churches only] are to-day saved, and will be forever saved."―Iron Wheel, Editor's Appendix.

His scriptural statement was antagonized by a leading Methodist. A controversy, beginning with this very question, that salvation was independent of baptism and church membership, originated a controversy which terminated in the publication of the "Great Iron Wheel."



The controversy was fierce, often personal. The united powers of Methodism at its headquarters in Nashville, were brought into action to damage the young presuming Baptist. But he was equal to the emergency and never rested or faltered in the task which had fallen to his lot. When charged with personal opposition, he answered: "I enter my protest against this statement. I feel no unkindness against a Methodist because he is a Methodist. If he gives evidence that he loves Christ I love him [not that he is unsaved out of a Baptist church] and he is dear to me in proportion as I see the image of my Savior reflected in his temper and life." And when on another charge of writing controversially to bring himself into notice, he replied, and there is an honest ring in his words:―

"I can only deny this, because I cannot show my heart to my readers; but my God knows it, and I can, without fear of condemnation, lay my hand upon it, and appeal to Him to witness the rectitude of my intentions. The God whom I serve knows, that while I prize above all earthly considerations, the love and esteem of my brethren and all good men, I have never sought notoriety for selfishness. I have never sought the honor of this world, the praise of men, and have never, for one day, pursued a course to win them; I appeal to my own brethren, and all men familiar with my public life, if I have not, from the pulpit, and through the press, opposed what I thought erroneous in Baptists, as severely and faithfully as I have the errors of other denominations, and have been quite as intensely hated and as rudely treated and slandered by some few of them―the especial advocates of those errors―as I have by the advocates of other errors. I have opposed the advance of false teaching, and inconsistent practice among Baptists when I knew that I should lose personal friendships, and receive positive injury. I have as keen sensibilities as other men―friendship is as sweet to me as to any man living, and I will do as much honorably to obtain or retain it; but when or where have I swerved one hair from my own established and published principles, to gain or retain a friend? When I obeyed the voice that spoke to my conscience, I gave up all the cherished plans of my life to preach the gospel of the Son of God. I opened a plain Bible and read my commission from the solemn lips of the priest murdered, but then risen Son of God. It was to preach His gospel alone as the ground and argument of man's salvation―then to initiate them, by the rite He had personally instituted and obeyed, into His visible church, and to teach them to observe all things whatsoever He had commanded them. Nor did I find the limit of my responsibility to stop at this point, i.e., simply teaching the positive commands of Christ; these words burned upon my eye, and rung with weighty import in my ear, 'Every plant which my Father hath not planted shall be rooted up.'

"If I sought a commentary upon this injunction, I had before me the example of its Author, when he exposed the false teaching of the Scribes and Pharisees; I had the whole ministerial life of Paul, and his constant aggression upon errors and erroneous systems, and the teachers of them. Read all his epistles―how thorough and severe his exposition of error and of false teachers, even though they claimed to be Christian brethren and apostles―exceedingly good men. If I would be faithful I must imitate Paul, as he followed Christ. Faithfulness to the truth, and a steadfast aggression upon error and false systems of religion, and of the teachers of false doctrine, for the sake of the honor of Christ, is exhibiting the spirit of Christ and of Paul.

"I am conscious of no other motive; I appeal from my accusers to my Master and Judge, the Lord Jesus, for the rectitude of my intentions , and the purity of my motives.

Plain, faithfully written exhibitions of the truth or expositions of error, will always sound harsh and of a questionable spirit; and yet when we hear the very same expressions from the living speaker, and can see his spirit, no such impression is made. Judge not with an unfavorable judgment, lest ye be judged.

"The Christians of the next generation will judge me kindly. I will be remembered with praise, when the name of my opposers have rotted."



It will be noticed that in the very important articles which headed the editorial column of his paper―reinserted in the reissue of the paper after the war (Friday, Feb. , 186 ) {these are blank in the document- jrd} Dr. Graves lays down the principle that the Lord?s Supper was to be observed "only by a Church of Christ as such." But in his earlier ministry this was neither his record nor his practice.

Dr. Howell gave various intimations in his editorials in the Baptist, and seeming in his great work on Communion, that churches, in their associational gatherings, might properly observe the Supper. This course was practiced, to my personal knowledge, very generally through the West fifty years ago. A general convention in Louisville in 1837 was brought to a close by a united observance of the Lord?s Supper. This usage was pretty common in Tennessee. At a meeting of the Concord Association held in Murfreesboro in 1867 it was unanimously.

"Resolved, that in future at each session of this body on the Lord's day (with the concurrence of the church with which we meet) the Lord's Supper be administered.

William C. Buck, Matt. Hillsman, and J. R. Graves, preached after which J. W. Bower concluded the communion service.

                                            J. R. Graves, Moderator."


The succeeding year, the moderator (J. R. Graves), appointed a brother to conduct the communion service and he himself aided in the administration.

Soon after this date, a circular letter was published on the minutes of an Illinois association which took the position that "the Lord's Supper should not (in its administration) extend beyond discipline"―that is beyond the membership of a church. Considerable agitation followed. It was felt in Missouri and Dr. S. P. Williams, one of the ablest men in the West, wrote a circular, which was very generally quoted by the Baptist papers. It was entitled, "How far Inter-communion is Right." It took the position that none but members of a church had a right to the Lord's Table, as it was a church ordinance. But through courtesy members of other churches of the same faith and order might be properly invited to participate.

Graves was evidently convinced and almost the very words of Williams are used in his standing statement in the Baptist on communion. He replaced this when he republished his paper in Memphis in 1865: "The members of one Church (though of the same faith and order) can come to the communion of another only by an act of courtesy and not by right." He receded, as all know, from this later in life, and advocated strict church communion, of which changed of view and its advocacy reference will be made more fully hereafter.

But leaving this we turn to the environments and circumstances which led to what is known as his landmark view, or



It should be remembered that as editor of the Tennessee Baptist, he was surrounded by the central power of Southern Methodism. Bishop Soule had his headquarters in Nashville. The great Book Concern with its book editor, Dr. Sumners, its secretaries and agents, was located there. The only Methodist paper in the South, at that time, with the talented and virulent Dr. McFerrin, was a power whose chief aim seemed to be to break down the Baptist paper, and damage or exterminate that people through the South. Methodism was in the saddle and rode forth with domineering and triumphant air. These preachers charged Baptists with Campbellism, with holding that there was no salvation outside of a Baptist church. Howell, as we have seen, retorted, that Methodism taught baptismal regeneration, while Baptists held to the Bible doctrine of justification by faith alone. Graves followed this up with the overwhelming proof and power. Amongst other proofs was this from Wesley, Doctrinal Tracts, No. 248:―

"By baptism we who were by nature the children of wrath are made children of God. And this regeneration which our church in so many places ascribes to baptism is more than barely being admitted into the church, though commonly connected therewith; being engrafted into the body of Christ's church [the invisible church], we are made the children of God by adoption and grace. This is grounded on the plain words of our Lord: 'Except a man be born of water and of the spirit he cannot enter the kingdom of God' (John 3:5). By water as a means, the water of baptism, we are regenerated or born again."

To this were added quotations of a similar bearing from Walton Clark on the ritual of baptism in the "Discipline." Then he asks:―

"Have I not sustained, above the possibility of cavil or doubt, the first clause of my proposition [that the Methodist 'church' is not evangelical in doctrine since it holds and teaches the Romanish dogma of baptismal regeneration]? Am I uncharitable when I declare that the Methodist society is not an evangelical church? Do I misrepresent and slander when I declare that the Methodist Book Concern in Nashville is flooding the South with an unevangelical and pernicious theology―a theology teaching baptism no purer than that of Rome or of Bethany?" "If the 'church' is not willing to be responsible for this doctrine, let these standard books published by the Book Concern in this city and circulated all over the South by tens of thousands, be at once rejected or thoroughly purgated.

"Until this is done let no Baptists, at least, ever acknowledge the Methodist society as an evangelical church NOR RECOGNIZE ITS PREACHERS AS EVANGELICAL GOSPEL MINISTERS any more than we do Alexander Campbell's preachers. Are we giving unreasonable or uncharitable advice? Let not Baptists be inconsistent, who ever are."

Here first appeared the avowal of non-intercourse with pedo-baptist preachers. He reiterated in almost every issue of the Tennessee Baptist: "Who will say," he exclaims, "that we ought to have lifted up their voices against these fundamental errors?" And again: "I cannot, therefore, conscientiously fellowship the one or the other as an evangelical church, or their preachers as gospel ministers, by word or act."

He took his stand on the everlasting truth, that salvation was by grace through faith only―that baptism and church membership were external acts of obedience―works of righteousness―with no bearing on the justification of the ungodly―the soul's salvation. This was the man's watchword through life―"Jesus, only." So, when struck down in the pulpit, after preaching on this theme, one of his greatest sermons in the first church at Memphis―reeling, sinking, supported by those who had rushed to his help in the pulpit,―paralyzed and death-struck,―as they led him away he voiced his real faith, saying, "Sing, 'On Christ, the solid rock, I stand.' "

Yes, landmarkism was sounded forth, but it did not originate in ecclesiasm, in church forms, or even in regard to the ordinances. It was based upon the fundamental errors of Methodism―and Campbellism, also. It was carried to an extreme, but it was based on truth.

We now turn to the consideration of our brother as a revivalist and a preacher.

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