Transcribed by Kathleen Hastings Whitlock
May 11, 1950
* CAL’S COLUMN *
(Continued from last week)
By that time we had gotten somewhat hardened to unkind remars and discouraging things. We look back to them today without anyt bitterness toward either of these good men, both of whom have gone the way of all the earth and in whose funerals we had a part. We get a kick today out of that miserable failure. Of course that was not our last failure, for we have made hundreds since that time. But we do not know of any one failure that hurt so badly as that one almost 41 years ago.
We recall having read of another man’s first preaching effort. This was Brother J. J. Martin, one of our Baptist preachers of more than a century ago. He was a member of Bradley’s Creek church and had been burdened with the work of the ministry for some time and had refused to take up his duties. The account of his first preaching effort is as follows: He entered school and remained until he was counted competent to teach. Soon after going into a certain community to teach school, it was noised abroad that he expected to enter the ministry. He soon received an invitation to preach at the home of one of the leading citizens of the community and he himself to be the guest of the family for the night. He made elaborate preparations and felt within himself that he was full equal to the task. The hour arrived and he was greeted with a large audience of eager and curious listeners. He became bewildered, lost control of himself and his notes, and it would be hard to describe the miserable failure he made. Preaching (?) was over and a bountiful supper was in waiting; and Elder Martin, as they called him, was seated at the head of the table and was asked to return thanks. By this time he had forgotten his ceremony of “grace” and what he said he knew not. By this matters were desperate and he said that when he came to himself, he was sitting playing in his gravy with his fingers.
Another initial effort has come down to us through the years, and it was made by our father in the ministry, Elder C. B. Massey. This was more than half a century ago. He lasted just tweo minutes in his first sermon. What a contrast with some others since that time. It was not uncommon for his to preach two hours in the prime of his life as a minister. He is now nearing his 83rd birthday and is still able to preach. He has delivered perhaps more sermons than any other living minister in Middle Tennessee, and yet he began with a sermon of only two minutes. There is no need of saying that one will never preach because he may make what the world calls a failure in his first preaching efforts or even after he has been trying to preach for years.
We read somewhere once an account of the early preaching efforts of Elder E.W. Haile, who was an early Baptist minister in Wilson County. His first effort at preaching was extremely poor. He undertook to “line a hymn,” but was unable to read it so as to make it intelligible. His preaching effort that followed is said to have been the poorest of the poor. The brethren said among themselves, “There is absolutely nothing in him.” Some were in favor of calling in his license to preach; but others, who knew more of human nature, suggested that they “keep him for awhile among themselves and try him a while longer.” There was much improvement in his second effort and within two years, he was the equal of almost any preacher in North Middle Tennessee.
A lot of funny things have taken place in the course of the years here in Tennessee and among our Baptist preachers. We recall having read of Elder Nathaniel Hays an anecdote that was worth while. In addition to his preaching, he was quite a trader in livestock. He went home one night about a hundred years ago with one of his brethren whose name was Grandstaff. Grandstaff had a nice bunch of fat hogs that Brother Hays wanted to buy. Deacon Grandstaff made the preacher a price on the hogs, but the minister did not then accept the proposition. But the next day, while Hays was in the midst of his sermon, he saw another hog buyer come to the front of the church house and beckon to the deacon to come outside. As Deacon Grandstaff walked down the aisle to the door, the preacher realized that he might lose a good and profitable deal unless he took some rather desperate action. So without braking the thread of his discourse he called out loudly, “Brother Grandstaff, I’ll take them hogs.”
One more than a century ago,
Elder Louis Dias, a relative of the Dies family of this country, was preaching
one night at a rural school house. One
old-fashioned grease lamp had to serve for their only light. Brother Diaz had taken the lamp in his hand
so as to “line his hymn,” and had started his song, when an old lady in the
back of the house decided she must smoke.
Matches were perhaps unheard of then, so a granddaughter of the old
lady, a grown young woman, walked boldly up to the preacher, took the grease
lamp out of his hand and puffed away until the pipe was lighted, holding up the
service long enough to get a “light.”
She then returned it to the old woman in the back of the house. The pipe
soon went out and the same process was repeated. It went out a third time and the young girl said,
Five it to me. I will light it again.” But the old woman replied in a voice loud enough to be heard over the entire room, “Never mind, the ‘backer’ is wet anyway.” This same preacher once spent a night in a mountain home. He took his watch out of this pocket and hanged it on a nail for the night. Next morning when dressing, he forgot his watch and left it hanging on the nail, and went out to breakfast. In his absence some of the children in the home spied the watch, a thing they had never before seen, and soon had it in their hands. Hearing the ticking inside and thinking something alive was on the inside, they secured a hammer to ten to that live thing as the thought; and when Brother Dias returned from breakfast, he seemingly had enough pieces for several watches. This good old man went far and near and did a great amount of preaching in destitute places. He was never married and spent his life largely among people that were too poor to recompense him for his labors. His experiences were many and varied and are hardly credible in this day of modern conveniences and electrical equipment.
We recall many events in our ministerial life that had a funny side to them. Some of these had to do with baptismal services. We recall that it was our lot to baptize a number of converts in the waters of Dixon’s Creek some 25 years ago. One of the ladies baptized began to shout. And we admit that one of the most helpless beings we know anything about is a shouting woman in water about waist deep. In the first place, most of our country women folks of that day had never been in water more than knee deep and thus they were not prepared for any “exercises in deeper water.” On this particular occasion which took place one July afternoon, when we had lifted up one of our new members from the waters of baptism, she began to rejoice and shout aloud. We held on to her until she had somewhat subsided and then asked her in a whisper, “Do you think you can stand now?” Her reply being in the affirmative, we led her out near some others awaiting baptism, and then took one of the remaining candidates for baptism to the deepest jpart of the pool and had raised our right hand to repeat the ceremony. Just as we lifted up our hand, we heard another shout and then a roar of laughter from the big crowd of perhaps nearly a thousand persons. We halted our baptismal efforts and gazed out across the water to the lady who had just been baptized. She had resumed her shouting and had “swooped down” on one weakly woman awaiting baptism. This woman was taken completely by surprise and fell headlong into water about 30 inches deep. All we could see of her as we suddenly looked around to see what had developed was on foot sticking out of the top of the water. We hurried to this woman and reached down into the stream and pulled her out and lifted her to her feet. Our embarrassment cannot be put into print as we do not have words to describe our feelings. We are always sorry when untoward events take place at a serious and solemn service or occasion. And sometimes we have flet that the more solemn or serious the occasion, the harder it is to keep back one’s laughter.
We recall baptizing an old maid once and a rather upsetting thing occurred in connection therwith. We led her out into the water and we doubt seriously if she had ever been in water more than ankle deep before. Perhaps the writer made the wrong suggestion as she stood ready to be immersed and the preacher whispered and said, “Hold yourself perfectly stiff and do not run backward.” This latter admonition, “Not to run backward,: perhaps directed her mind into doing that very thing. Anyway as we sought to dip or immerse her into the waters of that creek, she suddenly began to walk backward at a rather rapid pace. We had to follow her and finally managed to complete her baptism, although it seemed that we had taken nearly a dozen big steps one after the other and over a distance, it seemed to us, of 20 feet. But we suppose our embarrassment and chagrin made us enlarge the event, as well as the distance traveled.
Some of our readers may recall having read Bob Taylor’s story of the baptizing of the stammering or stuttering young man of East Tennessee in the long ago. We do not know that it actually happened, but it was one of Bob’s good jokes or tales. We give it as best we recall it after reading it perhaps 30 years ago. The story is as follows: One Sunday morning a bashful, young man put on his seersucker suit and went down to the country baptizing. He was timid and quite self-conscious and somewhat retiring by nature. But on this particular morning, he ventured quite close to the edge of the water in order to have a better view, a large crowd causing him to seek a waterside view of the service to follow. But he failed to note that he had planted himself right in the midst of the group waiting to be baptized. The country minister went out into the water to find the best location for the performance of the baptismal rite and had returned to the bank for the purpose of carrying the waiting candidates for baptism out into the water. Not knowing all the candidates personally and finding the bashful young man in the midst of those he had just left standing at the water’s edge, it was only natural for him to assume that all that particular group wanted to be baptized. Almost before the youth realized what was happening, the preacher had him by the arm and was leading him out into the water. The youth held back and stammered, “I-I-I-I_” The preacher spoke soothingly and said, “Come right on, my brother; the water is a little cool but it will seen be over.” The youth stopped after he had gone some distance from the shore and began “I-I-I-,” once more. The minister, believing that the youth was a little hesitant about the matter, spoke soothingly a second time, “Come right on, my brother; I think I know how you feel. It will so be over.” As they finally reached the particular place that the minister had previously located for the baptismal service itself, he turned the youth’s face down the stream and arranged the boy’s hands as the minister thought they ought to be. He was greeted with another stammering “I-I-I-I-,” to which the preacher made reply, “Now only a moment more and it will be over,” and he plunged the poor, protesting youth into the water and lifted him to his feet.
Some of the boy’s kinsfolks were in the crowd and were greatly amazed, as well as pleased, when they saw their relative, the bashful boy in the seersucker suit, being led into the baptismal waters. When the youth was baptized or immersed, they began to shout aloud. As the preacher lead the youth to the bank, to the bank, his kinsfolk rushed down to him, patting him on the back and asking, “How do you feel?” their chagrin can be better imagined than told when he blurted out in his stammering voice, “I-I-I fee-fee-fee-feel li-li-li-like a d-d-d-durned f-f-f-fool.”
We are not trying to “throw off” in any way whatever on baptism as a religious rite, not to belittle the Bible’s teachings on the subject of baptism in any of the above accounts, but are giving them solely as some of the funny things that take place when seriousness and solemnity should prevail. As to any of the parties above referred to, we are not casting any reflection whatever upon them in any reference to their rejoicing or their baptism.