Reflections on the death of Gardner S. Hall, Sr.
What is left Behind? (1)
When someone we know and love dies, we stop to survey his life and to remember the impressions he has made upon us. "What did this person leave behind?" we ask ourselves. Sober thought on such occasions can help us to reflect as well upon our own lives. All of us are approaching death-"for it is appointed unto man once to die" (Heb. 9:27)-and, then, what will we leave behind? Certainly all worldly riches, honors, pleasures, and interests will be left behind, so far as our participation in them is concerned (Eccl. 9:4-6). All those things will be utterly lost when the heavens, the elements, "the earth also and the works that are therein shall be burned up" (2 Pet. 3:10). Temporal things left to another person ultimately do not endure.
Our deeds done in the body, whether good or evil, will go with us to the Judgment and into eternity (Eccl. 12:13-14; 2 Cor. 5:10). Therefore, Jesus teaches us to "lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven" (Matt. 6:20). While our attitudes and actions go with us into eternity, at the same time they remain as a blessing or a curse here in earth. The one treasure we can leave behind that will truly endure, do only good, and enrich other lives is the imprint of Divine truth, sealed into the hearts and lives of our fellow men. It is the treasure of a godly example, good influence, encouragement given in spiritual things, seeds of truth and righteousness and godliness sown thousands of times by the life of a Christian. Several personal incidents and some illustrations of the battle between truth and error show what is left behind by Gardner S. Hall, Sr. (1906-1978).
Adorning the Doctrine
A person did not have to be around Brother Hall a great deal to benefit from the spiritual riches which he shared with others. Someone has said that a gospel preacher is one beggar telling other beggars where to find food. Brother Hall had no spiritual food, clothing, or other wealth in and of himself, but he delighted to tell the Good News of a Savior who is rich enough to save all who come. Yet, it is not enough to simply preach and profess the Gospel; we must exemplify it. Those who stand in public can by their own ungodliness give "great occasion to the enemies of the Lord to blaspheme" (2 Sam. 12:14).
By taking the Savior's example as the standard of life, Brother Hall "adorn(ed) the doctrine of God our Savior" and walked "in the beauty of holiness" (Tit. 2:10; 1 Chron. 16:29). As he preached Jesus Christ from place to place, he did not leave behind a trail of dishonesty and immorality. His reputation was clean because his character was pure. He was not "satisfied to achieve a mere reputation without achieving the character to sustain it. The mere love of reputation, of self advertisement, and desire to have one's name `stand rubric on the wall,' is one of the deadliest forms of vanity that ever cursed the children of men."(1) He was highly respected because he lived by high standards.
We are not thinking of man "above that which is written" when we recognize the salt, light, and leaven of a godly life (1 Cor. 4:6; Matt. 5:13-16; cf. 16:6-12). Jesus said that such a life glorifies the heavenly Father. When we take the Christ as our Redeemer, King, and Example, He is glorified and not we ourselves. It is right to be disgusted by the example of hypocrisy and corruption. It is also right to be inspired by the example of sincerity and truth. Let us determine not only to teach the truth to lost souls all around us but also to live and practice the truth we preach, "that the name of God and his doctrine be not blasphemed" (1 Tim. 6:1; Tit. 2:8). "For ye are bought with a price: therefore glorify God in your body, and in your spirit, which are God's" (1 Cor. 6:20).
Blessing the Unborn
Gardner S. Hall left true wealth in his family. His children are faithful Christians and gospel preachers in an age noted for its doubt and confusion. His own grandchildren, one of whom bears his name, are walking in the same paths. Many other families have been touched by his labors.
Only in very recent years did I learn that he baptized my mother, Lola Nelwyn (Nason) Halbrook. About 1944, when Brother Hall was preaching in Jackson, Mississippi, my parents drove from Belzoni to see him and he baptized her there in Jackson. This was a couple of years before my birth and I never came to know him until his later years when he moved to Athens, Alabama (my home 1967-1973). The arrogance which sometimes characterizes youth, even in the church, evaporates in the realization that our opportunities rest upon the labors of those who went before us. When we preach and live the truth, we bless not only our contemporaries but also unborn generations.
"Do Not Sin Against the Child"
The week of 15 August, 1971, Gardner S. Hall held a gospel meeting at the Wooley Springs church of Christ in Limestone County, Alabama, where I preached regularly. Two were baptized, one a mature lady, the other a young girl. Among his fine lessons was one in which he stressed our influence upon the young, pointing out Reuben's plea to his brothers when they abused Joseph: "Do not sin against the child" (Gen. 42:22). It is sad to see children led into sin at earlier and earlier ages in our society. Teenage drinking is now a recognized social problem, even to the extent of alcoholism; Satan is literally enslaving these precious souls before they reach full maturity in life.
Parents, even in the church, can easily take children for granted. We may easily assume they will learn "enough" truth in Bible classes; therefore, we may fail to study and pray with them personally (Eph. 6:4). We may put material goals ahead of spiritual and thus offer our children on the altar of Materialism (Matt. 6:24-34). Loving discipline may be neglected because of our selfishness ("I don't have time to fool with you"), and the child's errors treated so impatiently and bitterly as to drive him from truth (Col. 3:21). Now that I have two sons, I cannot-I must not-forget Brother Hall's admonition, "Do not sin against the child."
The Importance of Prayer
Gardner S. Hall did much good through radio preaching. I once heard him on station WJMW in Athens as he preached on prayer. The lesson was simple and practical. His thoughts are echoed in the following remarks on how to improve public prayer:
1. Pray often in private so that you will be familiar with God and used to speaking to Him. Then when you lead prayer, think of Him (as you would any other time) and not of men (Ps. 88:1).
2. Do not make a sermon of the prayer. It is true that prayer is to be understood by all being led, and it will edify them. But it is silly to pray (to God) by preaching (to people) as though God needed the reproving and rebuking people need (Jas. 1:13b)!
3. Do not try to be eloquent. Be sincere, fervent, humble, and respectful in talking to God as you would at any time; if you do that, it does not matter what men think about fancy words.
4. Give careful thought to what you say. Pray that we may prepare our lessons or may always worship acceptably, instead of that "we may have" done such; it is too late if we have not! When praying at the Lord's table, do not pray the same prayer you would at the close of worship; think of the specific occasion of the prayer.(2)
A person who is too busy to pray can never be close to God. That includes preachers! In spreading the gospel, the Apostles devoted themselves "continually to prayer, and to the ministry of the word" (Acts 6:4). Wild-eyed schemes for getting close to God about intense emotionalism, mystical experiences, hallucinogenic drugs, special mental and physical exercises, ad infinitum. The way for intelligent beings to be close in relationship is simplicity itself: spending time together in thought, conversation, and work toward common goals. We listen to God when we study His Word and we are workers together with Him as we obey that Word; in prayer we talk to God. The simple and direct expression to God those things on our heart draw us closer to His heart (Phil. 4:6-7).
Truth Magazine XXII: 32, pp. 522-523
1. Edward Ward Carmack, Character or The Making of the Man (Nashville, Tenn.: McQuiddy Printing Co., 1909; reprint Nashville, Tenn.: S.and S. Printing Co., 1974), p. 17. Carmack (1858-1908) was baptized by Granville Lipscomb. David Lipscomb though Carmack would be one of the greatest preachers of the church but he turned to law and politics instead. He was restored in a 1904 gospel meeting at Columbia, Tenn., by E.A. Elam. While editor of the Nashville Tennessian, Carmack was shot down on the streets of Nashville during a political war; his statue is on the state capitol grounds. See Earl Irvin West, The Life and Timees of David Lipscomb (Henderson, Tenn.: Religious Book Service, 1954), pp. 51-52 and David Lipscomb, "Religion and Politics - Church and State," Gospel Advocate LII (8 Dec., 1910): 1364.
2. 'Ron Halbrook, "Lord, Teach Us to Pray," Broadmoor Beacon (bulletin published by Broadmoor Church of Christ, Nashville, Tenn.) III (11 Nov., 1974):3-4. Credit was given to brother Hall in the article; the suggestions are his though I reworded them.