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Christian pastor

J. R. Graves was a man fit for his time. In an age when the Christian pastor or editor was required to travel from one speaking engagement to another, or in order to get the message of the Gospel across to the people, mass printing of a famous preacher’s sermon the day from that year or similar Bible tracts which were made easy to read and simple in its delivery, J. R. Graves was the right man for the right time.

There have been more famous individuals within the church at this time and some who have come after him who have been more successful. J. R. Graves was a man who used the tools that he had to the best of his ability, was able to think outside of the box and had a multifaceted approach to religion and how to best serve the people with strong Biblical principles. From the time that he was nineteen, until the day that he died, J. R.

Graves fought the good fight of faith and despite the impediments of distance and a lack of technology and a life of comfort, was a strong advocate for spreading the belief of Jesus and the power of his saving grace. Religion, and specifically Christianity, affected 19th century America in such a strong way, that those who have grown up outside of the church, or who even consider themselves lapse in their faith, would find it hard to find a place for themselves at this time.

This transformation did not occur overnight and without any effort. There was no radio, television or internet in which to spread the Gospel. In its place, people received religious instruction from Bible tracts which were printed from dozens of Tract societies across the country as well as weekend long revivals in which the speaker spoke of the dangers of dying without the saving grace of Jesus and going to hell because of it. A hard line was taken against dissenters. It was not a time of rebellion.

It did lead however, to a very strong faith for the country as a whole. “One of the men who were responsible for the transformation, and coming into the public light, towards the tail end of the 2nd Great Awakening, however, continuing that spirit of evangelical fervency was the life and teachings of J. R. Graves. ” Graves was a teacher, publisher, editor and author and the duration of his life, a fearless preacher for Christ. Graves never ducked from a controversial subject neither was he reluctant to speak his mind.

Whether right or wrong, the preaching and actions of Graves was refreshing to a contemporary Christian audience whose Christianity is steeped in relativism and political correctness out of a desire not to insult anybody. Graves joined a Baptist church at the age of nineteen and soon began his meteoric rise within the Southern Baptist denomination. Graves came from humble beginnings since his father died when he was only two weeks old and his father’s business partner had been able to defraud Graves’ mother from much of the financial holdings that was previously in the possessions of the Graves before his father’s death.

In 1841, at the age of twenty one, Graves became the principal of a school in Kentucky. Without the aid of any assistance, Graves quickly educated himself in the diction and grammar of four languages as well as a plethora of numerous subjects as he took on the teaching duties for the school. Four years later, Graves was licensed as a preacher and quickly after that, moved to Nashville in 1845 where his real work would begin. In July of 1845, Graves became the pastor of the Second Baptist Church of Nashville and served there for a year. It was here that a sizable congregation learned of the preaching and teaching style of Graves.

However, at the start of his ministerial duties, there was little evidence that Graves would become a name in the Baptist denomination. One observer noted: “Pastor Graves was one who seemed nervous about his delivery and was unsure of himself. It did not seem as though this was his true calling. ” Another recalled: “There were those in the church who had the insight to identity his abilities. He was called the lead the Sunday morning service in the absence of the monthly visits of the pastor. He preached… and soon after, the church called for his ordination. ”

However, Graves would not stay solely at the pulpit as his hand of influence would reach far beyond the church house. In the 19th century, especially in the beginning and middle part of the century, a multitude of Bible tracts were published for the aid of spreading the good news of the Gospel to the masses in short Bible stories and reminders towards moral living. They were hugely popular as they were short in length and simple in form. Also, the sermons of various preachers were reprinted for the benefit of the masses. Even though Graves’ work was not the premier work of his day, at least in Tennessee, the works of J.

R. Graves was one of the most popular in the immediate decade before the outbreak of the Civil War. Most great men and women can point to one person or event which helped to guide them towards their proper call. In the case of J. R. Graves, that man was Dr. Dillard who met Graves while Graves was a preacher in Kentucky. It is here where Graves learned to be strong in his faith and in his convictions. It would be a quality, or an impediment which would not leave him for the duration of his life and many struggles. While in Kentucky as well as in Tennessee, Graves continued to travel the preaching circuit.

Graves preached his beliefs that the church was perpetual and always growing; that it needed to stay in touch with the people but not at the point of compromising the beliefs of the church which should always be in line with the teachings of the Bible. In one instance, the teaching of the proper use of baptism was one of the most contentious subjects which Graves dove into. As a Baptist, Graves believed that baptism should be performed only on adults and that even though it is important and one of the sacraments of the church, being baptized does not save somebody from hell, either wholly or in part.

The pamphlet, The Tennessee Baptist, which was a small newspaper with less than a thousand subscribers, detailed the belief of Graves on this subject. Its reaction was in response to the conflict that the Baptist denomination had with the other famous and influential denomination of the South, the Methodist faith. The Tennessee Baptist read: “According to the teaching in the Methodist Discipline, no adult can escape original sin or attain to justification or regeneration except in or by the water of baptism as a means. Is not this the old Roman dogma to all intents and purposes?

Is not the Methodist Church laboring by all capital, to subvert the gospel of Christ, to abolish from the land the great and only soul-saving doctrine of justification. ” Graves did not pull any punches. To infer that a Protestant Church was being likened to “Roman dogma” or Catholicism, was in the 19th century, a great insult and one which caught the attention of the reader as it was the intention of Graves to do so when he included such a comment. In this, Graves highlighted the on going struggle regarding what the church would teach: solely Biblical principles or church doctrine.

As a Baptist, Graves would be in support of the former. Graves continued his rise within the church when his mentor Dr. Howell, at The Baptist, a more well known and established Bible tract/newspaper, resigned his post, before doing so, Dr. Howell named Graves as his successor. It would be a title that Graves would proudly hold from 1849 until 1889. The paper was circulated all over the South and had a readership of just over 12,000; a respectable number for a Southern paper in the middle of the 19th century.

The states of Mississippi, Louisiana and Arkansas were where The Baptist was the most popular. It was his use of The Baptist that Graves was able to launch his Landmark movement which began in 1851 and lasted until 1859. It was also through the work of his paper, that in the summer and winter of 1858-1859, Graves “led in a determined effort to take from the Foreign missions board its power to examine, choose, support and direct its missionaries, on the ground that these were the rights of churches and associations, or groups of churches that might wish to work together.

” At least for a time, Graves enjoyed a successful and trouble free life, free from controversy. That was not going to last for long. Troubles in the South were no only relegated towards the impending Civil War. Earlier that decade, both the Baptists and Methodists suffered splits in their denominations over the issue of slavery and as a result, internal fighting was the result. In the 1850’s, Graves took the stance against the Southern Baptists in which he considered doctrinal deviations to be the most stressing.

It was not the habit of Graves to blindly follow anybody as his only allegiance was to the word of God. This frustrated some of his friends and colleagues who had assumed that their friendship would ensure a unity of votes and strength in times of dispute within the church and on the newspaper. This was not to be the case as people would find out. Graves was in support, and eventually subscribed fully to the idea of the inclusion of Sunday schools within the church schedule.

In that spirit, like most endeavors which Graves undertook, he went into this project with a reckless abandon. He led the effort to establish a permanent Sunday school program in the Southern Baptist denomination. Delays served to impede the process from becoming a reality but eventually, in 1858, the dream became a reality and what is taken for granted today as part of most Protestant worships, was set in motion at this time. Graves, not satisfied with his accomplishments, organized a publishing firm of his own called Graves Jones and Co publishing house.

The firm would later realize financial ruin three years later and be absorbed into another firm. However, this minor setback was not serving as a pasting impediment upon Graves’ spirit of achievement. Graves would also go to form a number of Bible tract societies in 1847, 1869 and 1883. What remained a constant in Graves life, he never tired from the works in which he felt he was called by God to serve. Even at into his late 60’s when the life span of an average American was less than forty five years old, Graves remained a constant in the Southern Baptist denomination.

In addition to the number of articles that he wrote and newspapers that he helped to publish, Graves also published the tract, The Southern Psalmist in which he remained firm in his Protestant beliefs. In the preface of one of the tracts, is reads: “in this collection there will be found no hymns that teach the doctrine of baptismal remission or ritual efficacy, no praises to be sung to dead relatives or friends, nor are children taught to pray to angels, or to desire to be angels. ” Graves would remain true to his convictions until the end of his life. That end would come after nearly ten years of being an invalid.

On August 17, 1884, Graves suffered a crippling stroke that left him feeble and unable to walk without assistance for the rest of his life. A fall in his garden in 1893, caused his death. He died on June 26, 1893.


George, Timothy Baptist Theologians New York: Century Press. 1982 Hailey, O. L. J. R. Graves, Life times and Teachings New York: Scribner’s 1991 Graves, J. R. The Motivations of Faith The Papers of J. R. Graves 1859-1861 Graves, J. R. The Great Iron Wheel New York: Premier Press 1945 Graves, J. R John’s Baptism Memphis: J. R. Graves Publishers 1900

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