AN INCIDENT OF HIS HOME-GOING
An incident occurred during this visit to his mother’s family which was so characteristic and so sets forth the young crusader, that it is deemed worth while to mention it here. To appreciate it all, it is important for the reader to remember that he was small of stature, some five feet eight inches tall, of slight build, and being a blonde, was quite youthful in appearance, looking for all the world like a schoolboy, in fact, In the town whither he went there were not many church buildings, but in one of these a brilliant and blatant young man had been portraying his infidelity in such a fluent and eloquent fashion that the people who believed in God were greatly disturbed and humiliated. When Sunday arrived, the brother-in-law, Prof. W.P. Marks, who, until that time, had never seen the young man, took him to hear this brilliant infidel, and introduced him as a young Baptist preacher. At the close of the discourse, the speaker asked this boy student for the ministry to lead in prayer. That was an interesting situation, indeed. If this blatant speaker could succeed in capturing this young man and steal him away from the Christian ministry, it would be quite a “feather in his cap”’; and, indeed, if he could have seen down the coming years he would have regarded it as a whole plume. Young Graves prayed, and such a prayer! Anyone who ever heard him pray after some other brother had preached a sermon can readily imagine what happened, for he was a most remarkable man in prayer. He would take up the truth in the message and clothe it with life and magnify it and hold it up before the throne of God in exaltation until the preacher himself would be asking whether or not he had preached such a sermon; or if there was error in that discourse, woe to the man that had spoken it. That, too, was matched with the truth and answered, for Dr. Graves clothed his prayers with the truth as with a garment, even with the habiliments of worship. That hapless young infidel preacher was driven to cover, seeking some refuge for his smitten soul.
The people of Ashtabula came to Professor Marks and asked if that young stripling would preach from the pulpit what he had prayed from the pew. Because that was the truth they wanted to hear. Professor Marks had never heard the young man preach and he did not know whether he had the courage or the ability, but he said he would ask him and let him answer. Young Graves was not a lad to shun an issue, and when asked if he would preach according to the things he had said in his prayer, he said he would. Enough said.
The appointment was made; the report ran through the town like wildfire. The thronging crowds could not get into the house on the next Sunday. For two hours there poured forth from that young man a steam of eloquence, wisdom, and truth and fiery denunciation such as they had never heard and such as had never been spoken there before. The whole town was aroused. Infidelity was overthrown, the champion unhorsed and put into retreat. The Baptists were cheered and strengthened, the Church confirmed and the field cleared for their progress.
This experience was doubtless largely a result of Dr. Graves’ connection with Dr. Dillard, in regard to Alexander Campbell and his “current reformation.” Campbell had risen into sudden fame and acquired controlling influence among Baptists first, in Kentucky. His debate with McKellar, during which Jeremiah Vardeman, the most popular Baptist minister in the state, was one of the moderators, made Campbell “a conquering hero.” He passed triumphantly through the central and northern portions of Kentucky preaching his “ancient gospel,” and led in his train many of the leading Baptist ministers, as Creath, Vardeman, Noel, Smith, Fall, of Nashville, and others. He became emboldened by success and preached “the gospel in water” – baptismal remission. A reaction followed. Nearly all of those leading Baptists who had followed him thus far revolted and antagonized his unscriptural views. None took a more decided stand in this than Dr. Dillard. The issue possessed his whole soul; and none more than he boldly stemmed the sweeping current of Campbellism. He impressed his thoughts and spirit on young Graves, and a fearless, persistent opposition to that system marked the ministry of J.R. Graves throughout his life.
There was no fitting field there for the young minister and thus partly through the agency of John L. Waller, Dr. Graves was invited to Nashville, Tennessee. Here he again engaged in teaching for some years, but was soon called to the pastorate of the Second Baptist Church, which afterwards became the Central Baptist Church, of Nashville.