J. N. Hall, the greatest debater in the Baptist denomination, was born at Pleasureville, Ky., Feb. 5, 1849. At the age of seven years he went with his parents to Ballard county, Ky., where he grew to manhood. Bro. Hall was reared in the country, and never received a college education, yet he is better educated than nine out of ten of those who have received diplomas from college or university. Like Spurgeon or D. L. Moody, he has risen above almost any of the college men, and, with his oratory and keen logic and personal magnetism, he is a great power before an audience.
At the age of fourteen he was converted, under the ministry of Elder C. L. Cate, and was baptized by the authority of Cane Run Church, Ballard county, Ky. Later he joined the Hopewell church, same county, where he was licensed to preach on the second Saturday in January, 1871, and was ordained the second Sunday in January the next year. Bro. Hall has confined his work to the country and small towns. He has only held a few meetings in the larger centers. He has never had any ambition to rise in the ministry, and his greatness has been recognized and talked of by others. He never
sought a pastorate, he never applied for a place to preach. He has taken such work as has come in his way, and has not been able to accept one-half the invitations to hold meetings and to engage in the defense of Baptist doctrines that have been offered to him.
He has averaged, perhaps, one sermon a day for the last twenty years, making not less than ten thousand sermons during his ministry of thirty years. As he grows older his work accumulates, and a recent letter from him to the writer states that he seldom stops work before twelve o'clock at night after having worked all day. As a result of his preaching, hundreds have professed conversion. Sometimes there are as many as forty or fifty professions of faith in a protracted meeting, and he scarcely ever holds a meeting entirely barren of results. His prominence as a debater has caused some slanderers to publish the idea that his ministry has been barren of conversions. It is a fact that few men have been more successful in soul-winning, and the souls won by him always join the Baptists. The writer has had the most favorable opportunity of knowing the facts, and he never heard of one who joined another denomination after being converted in J. N. Hall's meeting. This fact is suggestive. When other men can show such a record, it will be time then, but not before, to find fault with J. N. Hall's manner of preaching. For twenty-eight years he had the help of a most excellent wife. He married Miss Mollie Earle on
the sixth day of July, 1871, and, after standing by his side in his great work for twenty-eight years, she died Dec. 12, 1899. Mrs. Hall was an intelligent woman and an untiring worker. Bro. Hall could never have accomplished what he has if it had not been for her. The writer knew her personally, having been pastor in Fulton, Ky., where Bro. Hall and wife held their membership. It seemed to be a, pleasure to her to have "fellowship in the gospel" by assisting her husband. She helped him in his correspondence, in his editorial work, and book business. She was an helpmeet indeed. She now rests from her labors and her works do follow her.
Bro. Hall has proved himself to be a very successful newspaper man. His first venture was in 1879, when he engaged with Elder F. L. Du pont in publishing the Baptist Gleaner, at Fulton, Ky. Bro. Du Pont, owing to failing health, withdrew from the paper, and for some time Bro. Hall edited and published the paper alone. In 1881 the Gleaner was consolidated with the Baptist Banner, of Cairo, Ill., and for nearly a year he labored with Elder W. P. Throgmorton in publishing that paper. In 1884 Bro. Hall, in partnership with Elder J. B. Moody, revived the Baptist Gleaner, at Fulton, Ky., and this arrangement was continued, for about five years, when he sold out to Bro. Moody. Later he became connected with the Baptist Reaper, and changed its name to Baptist Gleaner, and continued its publication for five years, when
overwork compelled him to sellout to the Western Recorder, and for about two years he was editor of the Gleaner Department of that great paper.
In 1898 the American Baptist Flag of St. Louis, Mo., was sold at auction, and J. N. Hall bought it; and he has been editor or that paper ever since. The Flag has a large circulation; the last published statement gave it at fourteen thousand. It is growing in circulation and influence, and it is necessary to take the Flag into account if one would succeed in any great denominational enterprise. It is an independent, fearless defender of the faith. As a debater Bro. Hall has no equal. His self-possession, keen logic, personal magnetism, oratorical power, ready repartee, broad reading, rapid speaking, clear enunciation, correct pronunciation, distinct articulation and thorough knowledge of all theological questions make him invincible in debate. His first debate was with Prof. E. C. L. Denton, in 1884. Denton was a practiced Campbellite debater, but he proved to be no match for the young David who had just come on the field. Mr. Denton has since then, at various times, refused to meet Bro. Hall in debate. He has also debated with the famous polemic, J. A. Harding, Campbellite, of Nashville, Tenn. The defeat of Harding was so crushing that his brethren have not called on him since to defend their doctrines. He has met such Methodist champions as Dr. Jacob Ditzler and Dr. E. W. Alderson. His debates have always been eminently satisfactory to Baptists, and but few
men have ever been willing to meet him a second time in debate.
One of the greatest triumphs he ever had was in his debate with the famous infidel Putman, of New York. The debate was held at a place known as "Between the Rivers," in Trigg county, Ky., about eight miles from Canton, Ky. There was an infidel club in that community, and the members of it had been constantly challenging the Christian people in the community for a debate. They said openly that no preacher would dare to meet Ingersoll or Putman. At last, when patience has ceased to be a virtue, the Baptist pastor in the community accepted their challenge, and asked that the infidels bring Ingersoll, and he promised to get Hall. The terms were agreed upon and the infidel club made up $500 to secure Ingersoll, who refused to come, but recommended Putman, who was President of the Free Thought Association of America. The time for the debate came on and Mr. Putman was present, but Hall, being a very busy man, failed to reach the place at the hour the debate was to begin. The infidels were delighted, and the Christian people, of course, were in despair. The time to begin was at 7 o'clock p. m. A large congregation had gathered and Hall [was] not there. You can imagine, the situation better than it can be told. Mr. Putman arose to speak and stated that it was just as he expected, that he had no idea Mr. Hall would meet him, but that it made no difference, as he was paid to come and discuss the questions at
issue for four days, and that he intended to stay the four days, "Hall or no Hall." He spoke two hours, and, being both eloquent and able, the effect on the congregation was overwhelming. Infidelity was flourishing. But its prosperity was to be short-lived.
A boy came into the large building that was fitted up for the debate just before Putman finished speaking, and slipped up to the Baptist pastor and spoke some words. When Putman had finished speaking, the pastor arose and stated that the boy had come from Canton and had brought the news that Bro. Hall was there, and, being too tired to get further without doing himself an injury, would stay there and rest that night and would be on the ground the next day in time for the debate. The next morning Bro. Hall was there. He took Putman to one side and asked him for the arguments he had made the night before, which were given him. Without any hesitation he walked to the stand, when the time for the exercises came, and made his speech in reply to the speech he had not heard. He spoke for two hours, and it was so overwhelming that the people forgot themselves and all the rest of the world for the time being and thought only of the great truths that were being expounded by Bro. Hall. Mr. Putman never rallied again. He made some miserable efforts to meet Hall's arguments, and at every turn he was met by Hall's keen logic and lucid answers. At the end of tile second day he announced
that he had "pressing business in New York" and left, notwithstanding his boast that he had come to stay four days, "Hall or no Hall."
Bro. Hall, being left alone, finished out the time preaching the gospel, and his closing sermon was from the text: "What Think Ye of Christ ." At the conclusion of this great sermon he invited all who had been infidels or skeptics, and who now thought well of Christ and would like to become followers of Christ, to come forward and give him their hands. Forty-seven came forward! It was glorious! The backbone of infidelity was broken in that community, and it has never rallied since. Such have been the good results of these debates. He has he1d over ninety public debates, besides written discussions. Bro. Hall is just in the prime of life, fifty years old. The probability is that twenty-five years at least will be yet given to him for active service in the Master's work. When his time comes to be gathered to the fathers it can be said of him that he spent his life "contending earnestly for the faith which was once delivered unto the saints" (Jude 3), and that he has "not shunned to declare all of the counsel of God." Bro. Hall is now living in Fulton, Ky., where he edits and publishes the American Baptist Flag. ===========
[From Ben M. Bogard, editor, Pillars of Orthodoxy or Defenders of the Faith, 1900, pp. 441-447. — jrd]
Baptist History Homepage