Baptist History Homepage

Memoirs of Elder J. N. Hall

Chapter II

The Man

      When such a great character passes away from view there is an intensifying of apprecia­tion of his gifts and labors. This sometimes leads to such extravagant eulogy as to make one think that the subject was more than man. But the highest encomium to any one is to pronounce him A MAN.

      When the Creator decided to crown his crea­tion he said "let us make man." This was the highest work of "all creative art." Nothing higher than a man, except God himself. Of none of the angels did he say: "Let us make" them "in onr own likeness and image," but this was said of man. But man fell; yes and was redeemed, and now a real man is the one with the "likeness and image" restored in Christ, and displayed in the Christlike character. A real man is one bearing the image of Him, who is the brightness of the Father's glory and the express image of his person. To say then, that here is a man, comes next to saying here is a god.

     Among conspicuous men may be found those whose lives are double and contradictory. The mere fact that a man is conspicuous is not evi­dence of greatness. The empty barrel floats

[p. 18]
higher on the tide than the one ladened with sweets. The merely conspicuous man is the drift­wood on life's stream while the great man controls and modifies the course and trend of the stream. Some men are great in reputation and small in character. Others are found poor in reputation and rich in character.

     Dr. Hall was probably as near that as any modern hero of the cross. It was not infrequent to hear men give him a bad reputation. He was accused of destroying Baptist enterprises and catering to ignorance for mercenary reasons. We had often, before meeting Brother Hall, heard men say: "J. N. Hall is doing the Baptist denom­ination more harm than any other living man." He was known as "a ringleader of the kickers and splitters," a mere fault finder and fussy icon­oclast, a demagogue. So among a large element of Baptists he was thus decried. Others who dreaded his power employed still more derogatory epithets, and all together such enemies rejoiced at his death. But what say those who knew him best? To such he was a mighty character. Like all great soldiers he roused the enemy to battle, but elicited his admiration in victory.

     John Bunyan in his day, was considered only fit for the felon's cell, but how his character does loom up and grow as the generations pass!

      Dr. Hall would, likely have been in jail as often and as long as either John Bunyan or the Apostle Paul if his enemies had been in power. The Christ indeed "made himself of no reputa­tion" that he might display the heavenly character.

[p. 19]
Men who have lived for reputation only, have died without character and are soon forgot­ten; Who ever thinks of Bob Ingersoll any more? But men who live for right may die in ignominy, but their lives are immortal.

     One of the most vivid and characteristics demonstrations of this is found in the Apostle Paul. His reputation among men was bad. Al­ways in trouble was he. Despised by his coun­try men, persecuted by Jews, persecuted by the heathen, and maligned by false Christians, he found himself a subject of the whipping post and prisons, of stones and stripes, and spending much of his time in jail. His reputation was bad, but what a character!! He was supposed to have been beheaded and thrown away like a worthless cur, but how that character grows and brightens with the ages! To some extent, indeed, this has been the heritage of earth's greatest benefactors. Ta know the real character of a man, one must get a. clear view and come in contact with the real life-There must be a close-range vision, and a discov­ery of the real man.

     With these prefatory remarks, we come to take a glance at the man. That includes all that goes to make a man, his name, character and achieve­ments.

     The purpose of this view is not to glorify the man, for he has left his own monument so strong and enduring that no calumny of enemies can darken its glory, nor the immortelles of loving eu­logy add to its beauty.

     Neither do we praise the man inordinately

[p. 20]
for doing his duty, in using his splendid talents for the glory of the Master and the blessing of men. And the writer is wholly unable to garnish so great a light among men.

     By this passing panorama of an illustrious life we only hope to benefit the living by a brief review of the splendid achievements of faith and the triumphs of faithfulness.

      Dr. John Newton Hall did no more than all other sincere men may do. He used faithfully all of his gifts, facilities and opportunities that God gave him. He was responsible for remark­able gifts, and royally did he measure up to the responsibilities. This is the crowning glory of his illustrious life, and may God bless this review to stimulating us, who still live, to higher aspira­tions and more faithful service.

     It takes but a glance to see that God had endowed Dr. Hall with large gifts, and by the faithful use of them was brought out the marvel­ous achievements of his career. The first thing that impressed me on meeting him was his positiveness. There were no "shades of belief" or "de­grees of faith," with him. He admitted to his confidence no theory until its claims of righteous­ness had been weighed in the balance of truth, and tested in the crucible of logic. It was then fully and positively received, or as fully and positively rejected. With a mind of keen incisive and decisive analysis he dis­sected all hypotheses, and laid bare all fallacies, dividing the wheat from the chaff, storing the wheat in the garner of faith and knowledge and

[p. 21]
scattering the chaff to the whirlwinds of righteous rejection. He stood in such rugged contrast with the common practice of holding — not faith — but "shades of belief" and mongrel ideas, that he was considered cruel in his relentless opposition. Men questioned his motives because he would withstand the ideas and teachings of great leaders. Who does not remember his conflict with the Sun­day School Board when "Lydia's Babe" was pub­lished by that board, though the power of the Southern Baptist Convention was back of the board? Mere sentiment had no place in his creed. He loved poetry.

      His voice, his manner, his pose and gestures were full of poetry, but that sublime poetry in­spired by the life and thrill of the powers of a world to come. None who heard his last sermon will ever forget the tides of heavenly rythm that swept the audience up to the gates of light, and in "through the gates into the city."

      He listened not to that which contained the Siren's song. His love was as positive as his faith. Its power was felt and enjoyed by all, from sacred precincts of the home clear out to the outer fringe of his stormy life. That love was as sweet and unreserved as it was unosten­tatious. All classes and conditions of men were its happy subjects. In this was displayed most pe­culiarly the Spirit of Him whose servant he was. Neither the railing of enemies nor the praising of friends could change the steady flow of that stream. Friends, like swine with pearls, having turned against and desiring to rend him, were

[p. 22]
still the objects of his unwavering love, Christian charity and liberal benefactions. He loved his en­emies and forgave the meanest of them without the asking.

      Like all positive men, Dr. Hall aroused the most terrific antagonism. This was in propor­tion to his great powers to propagate and defend bis faith. In the positive conflicts of stern convic­tion, he gave no quarter, and asked none. Tri­umph or defeat complete and sweeping, was his motto. "Victory or death" was emblazoned on his escutcheon and lifted high to the terrified gaze of his antagonist. There was no place in his plans for compromise, capitulation or retreat. Those who engaged him understood his slogan as well as they dreaded his steel. He made no feints in the battle, and used no ruses to entrap the en­emy. He fortified himself in the truth, armed himself with the whole armor of God, and drew the sword of the Spirit in the open gaze of the powers of darkness. Some timid antagonists made mouths at him, and shouted "demagogue," at a safe distance, or after he was dead, and declared his sword a mere bludgeon; but such had always avoided with wise discretion the sweep of that "bludgeon." After his death, too, some cowardly ones rushed from their ambush and declared his warfare an old-fashioned, antiquated and belated failure. These paid him the unintentional com­pliment of fighting in the armor that had long ago been cast off by the dress parade soldiers of our times. In this old-fashioned armor the apostles and the faithful in all ages had won their victories

[p. 23]
and gone to glory, leaving it to those who are strong enough to wear it. J. N. Hall hap­pened to be one of those men. This "whole armor of God" is decidedly too heavy for many of the rosewater soldiers of our times. Its use requires battle at close quarters, white the modern warrior prefers a long-distanee weapon. Such warriors call the old panoply an antiquated and out of date affair. To them the sword of the Spirit is a homely and useless old war club.

      Another characteristic that has really been anticipated, is the gift of courage. "Courageous to a fault," is an expression that I have heard con­cerning him. There are other men with positive convictions. Out of these convictions grow holy aspirations, and in them are formed noble reso­lutions; but these aspirations and resolutions entwine themselves feebly in each others arms and die for the lack of courage. The convictions are positive, but the certain consequences of their assertion being a war for their maintenance, the holder is appalled. He feels as but a grasshopper in comparison with the enemy yonder to do him battle. He believes in God, but his cowardly soul loses sight of God, while Satan ever lurks within his vision. Such cowering arouses in the coura­geous man both pity and contempt, while he seeks to inspire the cowardly soul to deeds of valor, but too often in vain. Today there is an army of men, we doubt not, among Baptists who are convinced of the righteousness of Dr. Hall's contention that fear to make their convictions known, and fear more to take a stand upon them, because of the

[p. 24]
formidable nature of those powers that must be antagonized. Some have said to me that were it not for the fear that the Convention powers would destroy their usefulness, they would come out and take a stand. Such is the power of the Convention. These men believe the doctrines and admire those who fight the battles; but lack the courage of their convictions. May this glance at the work of so notable a hero inspire such to enter the arena boldly.

      Dr. Hall feared not to assert his convictions in the presence of men or devils. He loved God, respected real men and despisd the devils. He feared God alone, and in His strength went forth to "fight the good fight of faith." As he thus went forth it may be said of him that he "wrought righteousness, obtained promises, quenched the violence of fire, stopped the mouths of lions, out of weakness was made strong, waxed valiant in fight put to flight armies of aliens." Yes, armies of the aliens. Alienism received its rudest shocks at his hands, and it fears today, more than all others the voice of him who being dead yet speaketh. The encroachments of alienism have become ex­tensive and brazen since his death. Shall we allow its triumph? Shall those to whom has been committed the heritage of his achievements, the honor of his conflicts and the weapons of his warfare stand in cowardly silence in the presence of this ever aggressive enemy? None this side of the Apostle Paul has been more dreaded by the "aliens." His battlefield was as large as the realm of truth and the scope of faith. Where others

[p. 25]
bared their heads to the giants of Armenianism, he but pressed the helmet of salvation the closer and defied the steel of heresy; where others capitulated, he tightened the armor about him with a fresh cinch of the girdle of truth. Where others fled the field, he but tightened his grip on the shield of faith and took a stronger hold on the sword of the Spirit. Where others surrendered, he plunged into the conflict and pressed on the battle with his feet shod with the preparation of the gospel of peace, until the aliens fled and his Flag waved on the summits of victory.

      The gifts already mentioned were especially effective by his splendid oratory. In listening to him I have felt to say that in this respect nature had done her finest work in him. No school of oratory, or raving squirming elocutionist can lay any claims to having trained him. His eloquence was his own. It was so striking and attractive because it had not been interfered with by the artificial polish of scholastic training. Being so free from all mannerisms so common to the preacher, he charmed the scholastic by his unscholastic eloquence and method. The uni­formity of the methods of speaking among those trained in the schools has become typical, mould­ing all men into the school pattern, but here arises a man that is simply a whole university in himself, but a university so unique as to demand the admiration of all others. He had wrought out his own methods of thought and arrangement. He belonged to that great school of individu­ality that stands alone in the solitary enjoyment

[p. 26]
of its own glory. That oratory towered above all others by the simple im­pressive earnestness that filled every tone with a living music that thrilled the soul of the lis­tener. There was the gentle music of the rippling brook, rising until it assuiried the majesty of the mountain torrent, sweeping all before it.

      Thus far, we have sptiken of his gifts. How about his attainments? Since his name does not appear on the rolls of any college or institution of learning, what of his scholarship? No schol­astic will dispute Dr. Hall's scholastic attain­ments. His knowledge of literature and science has been tested by meeting and demolishing sci­entific skepticism. In the realm of Bible scholar­ship, he stood at the head. This was everywhere recognized by his being called to meet the cham­pions of heresy of all shades, beliefs and unbe­liefs. As a Baptist he stood a head and shoulders above all others as a defender of the faith. Being a simple, Biblical student of the Bible, he became an intense believer in the doctrine of the sufficiency of Scripture and the dignity and sovereignty of the church of the living God.

      All religious creeds and' theories must stand the blaze of Revelation, and the alchemy of the Spirit. Man's wisdom counted for nought in the realm where the Word of God is given. Fine distinctions he threw aside and stood by the plain declarations of the Bible.

      With him all religious questions must be set­tled by the Scriptures, therefore, these things

[p. 27]
that come under the control of-human wisdom and could not be settled by Scripture were immediately abandoned. To him the Scriptures were ever an all sufficient, rule of faith and practice, in all things pertaining to Christian life. All of these great gifts and marvelous attainments were made glorious by the birth of the Spirit. Dr. Hall's genius and learning was such as to com­mand the respect of all men, but it was his Chris­tian life that most charmed those who came in contact with it. He believed the Bible and loved the Savior with all of the positiveness of his soul, and all of the grasp of his genius, and the highest thing about him was his humility. In the towns where he spent his life, and where the real man comes to view, there are none so lowly but that they speak of Brother Hall as their friend; there are none so lofty but feel honored to say that "Brother Hall was my friend." People of all con­ditions, races and colors speak in the subdued tones of tender memory when they say tearfully that he was their friend. All honorable antag­onists acknowledge the greatness of the man dis­played in the sweetness of his spirit.

      There were few antagonists that were wor­thy of his steel. This few are among his greatest admirers, and delight to do him honor. There were those who sang his praises while in so doing they could advance their own interests, but have deserted the cause for which he stood since it could no longer be used for such purpose. But the great army of true blue are following with steady tread the lines of truth for which he stood,

[p. 28]
and fought, and died; and today join in the just encomium:
Thou hero of the faith, well done.
With thee, the battle fought and won.
The armor bright, laid down
In honor, thou hast gained thy crown,
And all the ages tnou shalt know
The blessings of thy toiling here below,
Where, like thy Master, oft reviled
Revilest not again, but smiled
At all thy foes and blessed them.


Next Chapter

[W. B. Barker, Memoirs of Elder J. N. Hall, 1907, pp. 17-28. This book was provided by Steve Lecrone, Burton, OH. — jrd]

J. N. Hall Index
Baptist History Homepage 1