By Gardner S. Hall, Ill
One by one, death is taking from us a generation of faithful gospel preachers. These older brethren who are leaving us for their reward are men who through the gospel have converted many of us. They are men who have fought various errors such as premillennialism, institutionalism, worldliness, and a host of other false doctrines and concepts that Satan has thrown at God’s people. We are now left to serve God without their wisdom and advice.
One such preacher is my grandfather, Gardner Sewell Hall, Sr. (At the risk of being too personal, I shall refer to him through the rest of this article as “my grandfather” or “Papaw.” It is difficult for me to be comfortable calling him Brother Hall.)
Gardner S. Hall Sr. was born in northwest Georgia on May 24, 1906. He died May 16, 1978 in Athens, Alabama. His father, Flavil Hall, was widely known as a gospel preacher and songwriter. His mother died when he was young. Later, his father married Bertha Williams whom I remember as one of the sweetest, godliest women I have ever known. She made a wonderful stepmother for my grandfather and he was thoroughly devoted to her. She died recently in Awin, Alabama, her home. Papaw had one brother, Leslie, and one sister Zellner. They are still living near Trion, Georgia.
As Timothy, my grandfather was taught the Holy Scriptures as a child. He began preaching soon after his obedience to the gospel. My grandmother tells me that by the time he was 17 years old he was already holding meetings in Tennessee and North Georgia.
Papaw liked to tell me about gospel meetings during his early years as a preacher. Gospel meetings in those days had no competition from television and little from other social activities. A great number of non-Christian visitors from the community could be expected each night. Papaw said that brethren then would be disappointed if at the close of the meeting there were no more than 5 baptisms. Usually there were more than 10 responses, sometimes as many as 25 or 30.
Papaw liked to tell about his experiences eating with the brethren during those early meetings. The brethren who invited him home for meals were not always as careful to be clean as Papaw would have liked for them to have been. At one home way back in a hollow, my grandfather said the hogs lived underneath the floor of the house. Of course their odor drifted upwards into the kitchen where the meal was being served. To make matters worse the meal seemed enjoyable only to the flies that buzzed joyously from dish to dish. Papaw said that he struggled to get a few bites down but begged off from eating more, saying that he would save room in his stomach for the raisin pie he saw on the counter. “Oh that’s not raisin pie,” said the hostess getting up and walking over to the counter, “that’s coconut pie.” Saying this, she waved her hand over the pie and all the “raisins” flew away.
In 1924 my grandfather married “Mamaw,” Gartrelle Mitchell, a young woman who was also raised in northwest Georgia. She was a perfect mate for him, complimenting him in his work and encouraging him to serve the Lord in whatever way possible. Their faithfulness can be seen in their four children whom I feel (speaking from a prejudicial viewpoint of course) are some of the finest children produced by any home. Sewell (Gardner S. Hall, Jr., my father) is currently preaching the gospel in southeastern England. Mary Faye (Headrick) currently lives in Athens, Alabama and is the wife of faithful gospel preacher, Lynn Headrick. Lillian (Perkins) lives in Huntsville, Texas and is married to a godly man, Franklin Perkins. Bill, the youngest, preaches the gospel in Chattanooga, Tennessee at the North Terrace church.
My grandfather and grandmother have worked to preach the gospel in the following places: Rome, Ga.; Anniston, Ala.; Alabama City, Ala.; Birmingham, Ala. ~1North Birmingham church); Pensacola, Fla.; Tuscumbia, Ala.; Jackson, Miss.; Chattanooga, Tenn.; Bessemer, Ala.; Port Arthur, Texas; Midfield, Ala.; and Athens, Ala. (Corinth church).
Hatred For Evil
In 1963, my grandfather almost died. He suffered an aneurism of the aorta and was taken to Houston for surgery by the famous surgeon, Dr. Denton Cooley. During this illness, my grandfather told his son Sewell that perhaps it would be best if the Lord allowed him to die then because he had seen so many older preachers, including some of his closest friends, begin to compromise the truth in their later years. He certainly did not want to do that. The Lord chose, however, to give him 15 more years of service on this earth. During those last 15 years instead of compromising the truth as had some of his friends, it has been said that he perhaps did his greatest work in defending it and encouraging others to do the same.
The truth is that few can imagine Gardner Hall, Sr. ever compromising the truth. In fact, perhaps his greatest attribute was his hatred for evil. My father says he can remember seeing his usually gentle father literally grit his teeth with rage upon hearing of false doctrine or other types of sin. Perhaps Papaw comprehended bether than some of the rest of us the terrible consequence of sin, separation from God.
One thing that grieved my grandfather in his last years was the tendency among some younger preachers to try to excuse error and to give encouragement to those who taught it. This attitude was unthinkable to one who loved the Lord and therefore hated evil (Ps. 97:10). Just before his death, on the daily radio program of the Corinth church my grandfather presented what some told me were some of the best lessons that they had heard on the current “fellowship” error. As a hater of evil, my grandfather could never understand those who refused to take a stand against error, whether that error be institutionalism, worldliness, or whatever. He was especially concerned that some churches in Limestone County, Alabama, his last home, seemed reluctant at times to take a solid stand for the truth against error.
Papaw was always careful to use good grammar and to pronounce his words correctly. He had a running skirmish on the radio program in Athens with a Baptist preacher whom he called (with a bit of fondness I believe) Al. Al’s Baptist church had a radio program 30 minutes after the program of the Corinth church. Al tried to appear as a suave, scholarly Baptist preacher. To try to impress the radio audience, Al would talk about what happened while he was studying for his Master’s degree or, what happened at the seminary. Al’s ignorance, however, was quite obvious when he talked about unfringed (not unfeigned) love that Peter said we ought to have in 1 Peter 1:22, or when he talked about the Greek words which he pronounced “jenosis” (gnosis) and “panyuma” (pneuma), forgetting that the p and g are silent. Papaw wanted so badly to point out these errors of pure ignorance on the part of Al but for the longest time he refrained because he said those grammatical errors had nothing to do with Al’s false doctrine. Finally, however, he could restrain himself no longer and in one of his radio sermons he pointed out that anyone who had studied for a Master’s degree at the seminary should not be so ignorant as to pronounce the g and p in gnostic and pneuma (pneumonia either), or to say that we are to love each other with “unfringed” love (whatever that is) when the word is unfeigned love. Just before Papaw’s death, he remarked that he would be ready to go if he could just convert his Baptist friend, Al.
Gentleness With The Weak
Though my grandfather hated evil, compromise, and half-hearted effort, there was never anyone more patient with those who were giving their best efforts to serve the Lord. He would spend hours in homes counseling and teaching the weak. He loved children and young people. I can remember watching his classes for youngsters at Corinth on Sunday evenings before the regular services. He could tell (and act out) the story of David and Goliath so vividly to those children that you could almost hear the thud when Goliath fell. The love Papaw gave to children was always reciprocated. They loved him. I thought of this as I watched the line of people pass by his casket at the funeral home. One little, red-headed, freckled, farm boy about 10 years old seemed especially sad as he walked past the body of my grandfather. He was weeping silently yet with much sorrow. My grandmother told me that Papaw had bought him a pitch pie and worked with him to teach him how to lead singing. I wondered how many other little freckled boys and young men he had worked with patiently to teach how to lead singing and make talks. I certainly can remember his patient advice to me as a young preacher.
Though my grandfather had perhaps fewer faults than any man I have known, he was a sinner in need of God’s grace. He accepted that grace and gave his life to telling others about it. He was humble, having no desire for prominence. He loved to be with God’s people so much that he insisted on attending services at Corinth in his emaciated condition up to only a few weeks before his death. I guess he could simply be described as a simple, humble, old-fashioned, gospel preacher who wanted more than anything to serve God.
He has finished his work now and is resting. Others of his generation are rapidly leaving us. We can never fill their shoes. We must simply work much harder to serve God as we remember their examples.
Truth Magazine XXII: 30, pp. 490-491
August 3, 1978