REACTION TO ENVIRONMENT
The influence which his surroundings had upon his mind and upon his character and upon his methods of warfare has been hastily glanced at, but into that great burning heart of his, into that intense and fearless soul we cannot pierce. His sorrows and his joys (for he had them), his hopes and his fears (for he had them), his knowledge of his defeats and mistakes and above all, the shining into that soul of the supernal light and the strengthening power of God’s grace; the tried and trusting spirit that never showed fear of mortal man and never a momentary wavering in his grasp of vital truth, as he grappled with deadly errors – into that depth we cannot look but to all outward seeming his was the serene soul of a heroic, true godly, and self-reliant man. No wonder he influenced his generation, as we shall see later.
There was no man who delivered such trip hammer blows on the system of teaching called Campbellism as did J.R. Graves. While Dr. Graves was in the heat of his conflict with Methodism, Mr. Campbell, as a general thing, sought to ignore him or treat him as a non-representative of the Baptist people, and claimed to have evidence that the Baptists generally disapproved of Dr. Graves’ course. So frequent and emphatic were these statements made by the leader of the “current reformation,” that the General Association of Middle Tennessee and North Alabama, at its session in Winchester in 1854, felt it necessary to pass the following preamble and resolution:
INVINDICATION OF DR. GRAVES
“Whereas Alexander Campbell, in a late number of his Millennial Harbinger has asserted that the doctrines contended for by the editor of The Tennessee Baptist are not the doctrines held by the Baptists, and that he is in possession of letters from many distinguished Baptists, even Baptist ministers, condemning the course of Brother J.R. Graves as editor of The Tennessee Baptist, in his recent controversy with Mr. Campbell, and conceding to Mr. Campbell as much orthodoxy as they claim for themselves; and
“Whereas, we believe that the doctrines advocated and enforced by the editor of The Tennessee Baptist are sustained by the Word of God and are the same which have distinguished Baptists in all ages from the beginning of the gospel; and
“Whereas, we believe that the so-called “current reformation” as represented and propagated by Mr. Campbell and his followers is a system of gross heresy opposed to the teachings of the gospel, subversive of all spirituality in religion and destructive to the souls of men; and
“Whereas, we regard the charge put forth by Mr. Campbell as an unjust imputation upon the character of the Baptist ministers and churches in this State:
“Therefore, resolved that we fully endorse the position of the editor of The Tennessee Baptist in his recent exposure and triumphant refutation of the dogma of baptismal regeneration and kindred doctrinal errors of the so-called ‘current reformation.’
“Resolved that it is due to the Baptist ministry in Tennessee that the injury which Mr. Campbell has done the by the published imputation of secretly harboring heretical sentiments and giving aid and sympathy in his war upon the doctrines of our whole faith, should be atoned for on the part of Mr. Campbell by a publication of the letters and names of those ministers and brethren he refers to, and should be persistent in casting suspicion on our ministers by withholding publication, that we shall treat Mr. Campell’s charge as false and unfounded.
“Resolved, that we recommend to Tennessee Baptists, J.R. Graves, as an able and valiant defender and advocate of the faith of the gospel, and faithfully devoted to the interest ot the Baptist denomination.
“Resolved, that the foregoing preamble and resolution be incorporated in the proceedings of this body and a copy of the same forwarded for publication to The Tennessee Baptist.
Signed, john W. King, Chairman.”
To this sweeping and, we may say, this criminating denial of Mr. Campbell’s repeated assertions, and also to the challenge to give the names of distinguished Baptists and Baptist ministers condemning the course of J.R. Graves, Mr. Campbell made no reply. Those who knew Alexander Campbell or were familiar with his writings and general course as an incessant controversialist did not question the correctness of his statements. He was a man whose veracity was above suspision and, at the time these statements appeared in The Harbinger, it was pretty well known that there were influential men in the Baptist ranks who desired and planned a union of the Reformers and Baptists, based upon or growing out of the co-operation and fraternity of the two peoples in the Bible Revision Movement. This fact gave boldness and credibility to Campbell’s averments, and he prudently let Dr. Graves alone and was silent in regard to the implied challenge to discuss the questions at issue with Dr. Graves, either orally or through the respective periodicals. Dr. Graves pursued his fearless course of argument and at times of denunciation of the dogma of “Baptismal regeneration,” insisting always on the scriptural truth of justification by faith only and salvation independent of any ordinance or church connection. This finally culminated in a challenge, through one Elder Fall, to hold a public debate with Elder Fanning, a scholarly and able man of the Reformation. The challenge was accepted. P.S. Fall, of Nashville, who had been pastor of the First Baptist Church there, and who led pretty much the whole church into the ranks of Reformation, was selected by Mr. Fanning and Mr. S.H. Ford was selected by Dr. Graves to arrange the propositions and the preliminaries. A volumnious correspondence ensued, but the correspondents could never agree upon the wording of the propositions and so the debate was never held.