Not Almost, Not About, but That's It
an Interview with N. B. Hardeman
(Ed. note: The following article appeared in the Gospel Advocate, October 6 and October 20, 1960. Read review by Bryan Vinson, Sr., after reading this article.)
At the age of eighty-six, N. B. Hardeman, who has been known throughout the brotherhood as "the prince of Preachers," continues to tell the old, old story. He now lives at 3482 Walnut Grove Road, Memphis, Tenn., where this interview was conducted by Paul S. Houton, Vice President of the Gospel Press, and Violet DeVaney, Secretary to B. C. Goodpasture, Editor of the GOSPEL ADVOCATE, on Saturday, September 10, 1960.
Q. Brother Hardeman, when did you decide to become a gospel preacher?
A. "In 1898."
Q. How many preachers have you had a part in training?
A. "About 2,000."
Q. What advice would you offer young men now preparing themselves to preach the gospel?
A. "Christ spent thirty years getting ready for three years' preaching. Most young men today want to spend three years in preparation for thirty years' preaching-just the reverse."
Q. What do you believe was the greatest accomplishment of the Hardeman Tabernacle meetings?
A. "They are fine so long as kept simple and free from over-ambitious men. That they are means that could be corrupted, I doubt not."
Q. Was there a time in your life when a number of those who now oppose the orphan home supported it?
A. "Yes, several of them."
Q. Do you believe there will be a division in the church over these issues, and if so how large do you think this group will be?
A. "I'm afraid there will be a division. The Christian Church and the Premillennialists are concrete examples. The division will be relatively small. Those whom we call 'antis' have made all the arguments they know and the only thing left is to go over the ground again. They have no plan or suggestion for carrying out the church obligation."
Q. Brother Hardeman, do you think that these debates with the "antis" ought to be stopped? Don't you think Guy N. Woods and others have threshed out all of the arguments?
A. "I think so. I told Guy that I wouldn't unless they would affirm some kind of an affirmative proposition."
Q. Do they have anything to affirm?
A. "No, that is the reason that they will never do it."
Q. How many meetings have you held in your lifetime?
A. "About 550, I guess."
A. "In 1959 I held thirteen meetings and in 1960 so far I have held six. It is my purpose to preach only on Sunday after this year."
Q. Brother Hardeman, as a long-time reader and contributor to the ADVOCATE, what do you think it has meant to the church in the past century?
A. "I have been reading the ADVOCATE for about fifty years. Next to the Bible it has been the greatest factor in teaching the truth, encouraging brethren, in warning against dangers and in preserving unity. It has ever fought error and has never compromised any point of faith."
Q. As you near the sunset of life, what is your greatest comfort, and what warning would you give to those who follow after you?
A. "The exceeding great and precious promises of our Lord. That's that. Now, what advice? Set your house in order. The Lord requires of us 'to do justly, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with thy God.' 'Show thyself a man.' Measure success by CONTRIBUTION rather than by ACCUMULATION, that is what you have done instead of what they have done for you."
Q. In your judgment what are the four greatest dangers facing the church today?
A. "First, a lack of Bible knowledge and a light regard for what it says. Second, a tendency to make the church a social club for entertainment. Third, a disposition to compromise the truth and to discourage its preaching. Fourth, a love for the praise of men more than the praise of God, lest they should be put out of the club or some social organization."
Q. What do you think of this "going to the moon" movement?
A. "In the first place I don't want to go there. No, I doubt very much anybody's ever doing a thing of that kind."
Q. Don't you agree, Brother Hardeman, that most of our problems in the church today stem from elders and preachers? What would you like to say to the elders, for example, of the churches today?
A. 'Well, first of all to STUDY the Bible and learn just what God has said regarding elders. I am sorry to say that as a rule they are just about as ignorant as anybody else in the church. And it has come to pass since they have the located preacher that they depend on him for everything. And the result is that elders hardly know anything at all about what they should."
Q. Do you think that perhaps there has been more emphasis on the number of children they should have, than on the other qualifications?
A. "Yes, I think so. They know something about what it means to get married, have children, and divorce; They can talk about that. But in leading the church and challenging it to do work that God intended for it to do, some of them fall short. They should be able to defend the church. Charles Houser, Sr., of Paducah, Ky., is about the best elder I ever saw that fulfilled my idea along that line. If, for instance, you dropped in as a stranger, at Nineteenth and Broadway church, and wanted to preach, he would say, "We don't know you. What about you?" And you would have to tell him all of your background and what he considered the proper thing or else you couldn't preach there. And if you got up and preached something that he didn't believe, he would say, 'Hold on there, that's not the way the Bible teaches that.' He would just call a fellow down. Well, I kinda like that."
Q. The church is growing more than ever before in numbers. Do you think we are growing spiritually?
A. "You had better put a period right there-in numbers. No, I don't think so. I think the church is weaker today than it has been in years. I don't believe a church in Memphis knows as much Bible nor is as much devoted to the cause, as the church was fifty years ago. Now the reason is there is too much money in the country-too many automobiles and too many entertainments. An elder was talking to me yesterday and he said, 'You know we can't have a crowd for a protracted meeting at our church.' Neither can they at any of the others. Now WHY? Well, there's something on hand-the club meeting today or something to do tonight and so on. And members of the church are taking to that. They love pleasure more than anything else. I think the church is weaker spiritually than it has been in years but stronger by far numerically. The only way to make it stronger is to go back to the old paths."
Q. Brother Hardeman, do you think that the boys are putting too much emphasis on education? Are we stressing the "How" rather than the "What" in preaching?
A. "I certainly do. just like the boy who went to old Brother Lipscomb and asked him, 'Brother Lipscomb, do you think that I ought to take expression?' He said, 'No, son. You ought to get something first to express.'"
Q. Brother Hardeman, tell us about your horses. What did you do with them?
A. "I had to sell them. When we moved to Memphis I knew that I couldn't keep them. At Henderson I had a nice barn and a good place to ride, but reluctantly I sold them all. You can't keep a horse here for less than $100 per month, plus the shoeing and vet's service. And I decided that I was old enough to quit. I had never had an accident and I had better quit, so the night when I rode 'Son of Midnight' (a black stallion) in Germantown, Tenn., and won the blue ribbon, I got down and bade him goodbye."
Q. When did you ride? Early in the mornings?
A. "No. For twenty years or more I had a class that met at 7:30 every morning and I don't think that I was ever late over a dozen times during the whole time. If breakfast was ready all right and if it wasn't I went right on to my class. I rode in the afternoons. My last class was always over around 2:30. Then I would go home and ride for quite a while. I had a little farm about two miles out of town and I would go down there and kinda superintend affairs."
Q. Brother Hardeman, had there ever been anything as far as you can remember like the Tabernacle Meetings before that time?
A. "No, I don't think so. This was one time when all or nearly all of the congregations in Nashville cooperated."
Q. Do you think such meetings would be productive of good now?
A. "With the issues that now prevail I doubt very much good would result. I would not advise such a course at present."
Q. If you had your life to go over would you choose to preach?
Q. What has Sister Hardeman meant to you during these years?
A. "She has been beside me in most all of my efforts. Her judgment has been good. She has commended and criticized to my profit."
Q. Brother Hardeman, don't you believe that the command to preach the gospel demands the necessary expense in order to get the job done?
A. "Of necessity, yes. One person couldn't go all the world, and preach to every creature. You just analyze that thing, 'into all the world.' Now whether that meant the world as known then or now, I am not able to say. Paul said 'every creature under heaven' in Col. 1:23. Well, I am inclined to think that meant the world that they knew which was very limited. The word 'world' will cover that part that we do know."
Q. Do you think the Lord didn't mean for people to go to the moon?
A. "Well, the earth was given to us for our habitation." In Acts 17: 26 Paul said, '. . . he hath made of one blood all nations to dwell on the face of the earth . . . determined their appointed seasons, and the bounds and habitations thereof.' Well, I am inclined to think that is this earth. And further if we have got the data right regarding atmospheric -conditions and climatic affairs, no man could live on the moon. It would destroy him at once."
Q. Brother Hardeman, so many of our young preachers are giving up. Is this because they have no sense of security? Is there some way to overcome this problem? Parents are not encouraging their daughters to marry preachers and they are not encouraging their boys to become preachers.
A. "No, they are rather making light of them. Well, that is due first to the preacher that wants to quit preaching; he has become conscious of the fact that he doesn't know enough- has about preached out. Second, there is so much money in the country, 'I can get more pay at something else.' This possibly guarantees their continuance whereas preaching for this church here doesn't or any other."
Q. Is it a false sense of values?
A. "Yes, 1 think it is. Sometimes the parents instill in their boys a false sense of values-to make money. "
Q You have learned, Brother Hardeman, that there are things in life more important than making money?
A. "Yes, if you could impress one point that I got from William Jennings Bryan, and that was 'Put the value of life's success on contributions rather than upon accumulations.' That's where the Lord puts the emphasis. That needs emphasizing as but few things do. And then when I did what they call 'graduate' John R. Farrar of Alamo delivered the class address. His subject has always stayed with me. I thought it was silly at the time. He said, 'Young men don't get too smart too soon.'
Now that is the best advice I ever had. And he told all of us in the class that and enlarged on it with emphasis and 1 think that's one trouble today. Why, who is it dividing the church now and causing all of this confusion? The older men? No, it is t he younger men. And they know little about it and don't have a general conception of the church."
Q. Brother Hardeman, don't preachers need to think for themselves?
A. "I am glad that you called attention to this. Nearly every preacher is either wrapped around some other preacher and believes just what he says and does what he says or he is connected with some paper and he will swear by it or some college, and we classify ourselves accordingly, all of which is wrong."
Q. Now, Brother Hardeman, that is not saying that the paper or the school is wrong?
A. "No, not at all. It is just saying that we need to think for ourselves. Just like some members of the church today. Why, they worship the preacher more than they do the Lord, by far! Well, that's it."
Q. What are some of the systems, for example, that you used in teaching young men to become preachers that they are getting away from today?
A. "First of all, try to make them realize the solemnity of such a work. Boys ought not to become preachers if they can help it. That's one way of expressing it."
Q. Did you emphasize more Bible study and memorization than they emphasize now?
A. "Oh, by far."
Q. Is there any way that we can overcome the feeling of insecurity that young preachers have today? For example, someone has suggested taking out a retirement insurance policy on the young preacher and just let that policy f ollow him wherever he goes.
A . "Could you, in the first place, frame a policy that would be like you want in that? You say 'to go with him.' Well, suppose he would say, I'm going to be a carpenter; I have a good policy of insurance'?"
Q. Then he would have to pay for it. Of course, if he ever gave up preaching, he would lose his policy or he would have to pay it himself.
A. "I have never thought a word about that."
Q. Brother Hardeman, I haven't thought of it either, but I'm just wondering if there is any answer. That seems to be the main objection to becoming a preacher-there is no security; they can cut my salary off and I'm without any income whatsoever.
A. "Well, now if a preacher feels that way about it he ought not to preach anyhow."
Q. That is right, but my question is how can we instill in that boy the desire so that he will preach in spite of these things?
A. "Well, put this point to him: you can't find a boy or girl either prepared for the work that he wants to do and is reliable that is out of a job. Now, I heard somebody say that a long, long time ago -- I guess Bryan, because I was wild about him. He started out with these ads that you find 'Wanted (generally a criminal) $5,000 Reward' and so on. And from that he went on to this other idea that 'Wanted-young men and young women that are sold on their job; that are anxious to reach the topmost round.' No, if a boy has to be paid to carry on a work, I don't think that is worthwhile. I mean if he has to be guaranteed, that makes the salary the main thing."
Q. Do you think that shows or would show a lack of real faith?
A. "Yes, I think that it would. Paul spent his time working to supply his need."
Q. Brother Hardeman, what do you think the answer to our juvenile problem today is?
A. "Well, the woodshed is one."
Q. Well, when the parents don't provide the woodshed what is the next best solution?
A. "That's about all that is needed. I think that would just about cure all the problems. I heard a judge of Circuit Court sentence a boy to the penitentiary. I rarely ever go to the courthouse but that time I knew the judge quite well and he invited me to come up to the trial and I heard him sentence this boy. And he said, 'Now this boy is not the one that ought to go to the penitentiary, but that thing sitting over there (pointing to his daddy and mammy).' He said, 'They are the ones. responsible for all of this.' He then said 'If my mother had had this boy to raise as she did me without a father, she would have turned him over a barrel and worn him out and never would have had to appeal to the courts or any sheriff to help her.' And I think that is the solution to your problem."
Q. It seems that some of our modern teachers are pushing the idea of "steal an audience" with your oratory. What do you think of this?
A. "Well, I never was much on teaching of speech. If a fellow gets full of it why just let it come out, and it will come out in a natural way. If he tries to make it artificial, it lessens the force of it always. I never took a lesson in speech in my life."
Q. What is your secret?
A. "Well, I learned the English grammar and figures of speech and rhetoric and all that, but not all the gesticulations and emphasis here and there and the other. That's natural to come as can be and it will come naturally. But if I were to get up and try to put the emphasis and wave the hand at the right place I would make a mess of it. Like Bob Smith, he would have his brother outline a sermon and somebody found it and he had his subject up there and a point down there, and way down at the bottom it said, 'Cry here.' "
Truth Magazine, V:5, pp. 7-9