By James W. Adams
Luther Blackmon was born March 24, 1907 at Bald Prairie, Texas , a country community near Franklin, Texas. He departed this life in Marion, Indiana, Tuesday, July 5, 1977. This means that he was 70 years, 4 months, and 8 days of age. For a number of years, Luther had been afflicted with an extremely rare and irreversible brain disease which little by little destroyed his memory. Consequently, he had been compelled to live in a convalescent home where he could receive constant care. The facility is one of the best in the State of Indiana, hence Brother Luther received the most expert attention, Those who visited him there report that he was content and happy. It has only been in recent months that he has failed to recognize those nearest and dearest to him.
However, Brother Luther’s brain affliction did not take his life. He developed another acute organic disorder which required emergency surgery. The surgery was successful, but a blood clot resulted which caused heart failure.
Death came to Luther, not as an enemy, but as a friend. It came to release his magnificent, born-again spirit from its state of bondage in a diseased and pain racked body that it might be free to “depart and be with Christ” – the Cl)tist whom Luther had so long and so faithfully served “in season and out of season.” Tears course down my cheeks as I pen these lines, not because death has finally come to set my beleaguered friend and brother free, but because of the multitude of memories that fill my mind – memories of other places, other years, other circumstances, and experiences that shall never ‘be mine upon this earth again. Slowly, but surely, I find myself with more friends in the unseen realm of the dead than in the land of the living. How unbearable bleak life would be were it not for the eye of faith that transcends the realms of time through the efficacy of the glorious light of the gospel of the crucified Christ.
We Met Him Here
As Gertrude (my wife) and I sat sadly in the auditorium of the building of the Norhill congregation in Houston, Texas, last Friday morning and listened to Brother Roy E. Cogdill speak movingly over the lifeless body of Luther Blackmon, we almost simultaneously said to one another, “Do you realize that we met Luther Blackmon for the first time not more than fifteen feet from the place where his body now lies?” This was Wednesday evening, June 3, 1936. Gertrude and I were not yet married. I was preaching in Vivian, Louisiana and was visiting her in Houston. I was in my first full time local work, and Luther, though some older than I, was also comparatively new as a preacher. Oscar Smith,Sr. was at that time the Norhill preacher. This means that my acquaintance with Luther Blackmon goes back more than forty-one years. Not long after this, at Luther’s invitation, I preached at 26th and Lowell where he labored. Neither of us ever forgot this occasion. My only watch was a $1.98 Ingersoll pocket watch. I took it out and laid it on the pulpit stand and forgot it when the service was over. I never got that watch back. Luther declared he did not know what happened of it. However, he faithfully remembered to tell everybody about my valuable watch, which he lost for me, almost every time we worked together through the years.
Since that long ago Wednesday evening in the morning of our lives as preachers, Luther and I have worked together many times in many places for the Lord. Between him and me there has never been, as far as I can recall, a difference of any kind. He was a person easy to love and impossible to disrespect. In some ways, he lived a hard and lonely life. In other ways, his life was rich and full. Early in life, he suffered a marriage failure. While most preachers would probably consider Luther to have had scriptural right to remarriage, he never did. He could not get the consent of his mind to risk his chance for heaven on any course other than one absolutely certain. His right to remarry was to him not certain, hence he lived a single life until the day of his death. Being the social person that he was, this was a great burden, a cross, which he bore. Though he longed for companionship to complement his life, his love for the Lord and respect for His word was greater. He discussed this aspect of his life with me many times, so I believe I knew his heart and his life, and knowing them, I hesitate not to affirm there is in my mind no doubt that Luther is “with the Lord” and that his “death was gain.”
Luther As A Preacher
Luther Blackmon was as good a preacher as I have ever heard. He was not learned as far as formal scholastic training was concerned, and he never affected an air of erudition. In fact, there was no affectation about him. Like Popeye of comic fame, he could truthfully say, “I yam what I yam.” However Luther was widely read – he knew, good books and he used them. He was mighty in the Scriptures, eloquent in speech, and had heart appeal to the average individual that was almost uncanny. He had an easy style of delivery, and his sermons were punctuated by apt illustrations from common life that indelibly impressed his points upon the minds of his hearers. His illustrations were homely but never crude or vulgar. While I was living in Nacogdoches, Texas, he conducted a meeting for us at Mound and Starr. During one of his lessons, I became so obviously amusedthat he noticed. After the lesson, he asked, “What were you laughing about?” I said, “That illustration of yours.” He said, “What illustration?” I told him, “You said a certain fellow `stood there like a calf looking through a new gate’?” “Why,” he said, “James, haven’t you ever seen a little ole calf standing with a curious expression on his face looking at a new gate?” Perhaps I never had, but every person in that house who had been reared on a farm knew exactly what he was talking about.
Among people who knew Luther and who were not prejudiced by disagreement with the scriptural principles for which he stood, he was universally popular and universally loved. He had a phenomenal memory. He could quote reams of Scripture and poems without end. Even in his last illness, after his memory was almost gone, he could quote poem after poem from beginning to end verbatim. As a preacher, he was never dull or uninteresting.
Luther made no claims to originality as a preacher. About this he has talked to me many times. However, he had the happy faculty of being able to take the thoughts originated by another and put them together in lucid and appealing style and preach them better than the individual who had originated them. He has often told me that one of the greatest blessings ever bestowed upon him was his opportunity to be associated with Roy E. Cogdill. He said it had given depth to his preaching that he could never have achieved any other way. This is an excellent commentary on the character and attitude of this great Christian. Though endowed with tremendous ability, he was one of the most self-effacing and generous men I have ever known. He never sought preeminence, but was willing to serve wherever he could be used witn no thought of personal gain either with respect to reputation, place, or momentary advantage. The brethren recognized his ability by calling him to preach in churches large and small throughout the nation. His labors carried him from the Atlantic to the Pacific Oceans and from Canada to Mexico. He was at his best in meeting work, but was also an excellent man in local work, and an accomplished writer when he chose to do so.
When I first knew Luther, he was doing much song directing. He was a good director, but his preaching soon eclipsed this aspect of his talent. He loved to sing, either religious songs or secular. Being a country boy, he loved country and western music, and one did not have to twist his arm much to get him to do either. It was most fitting that one of the songs used at his funeral service was chosen for this reason: “When All of God’s Singers Get Home.”
The Funeral Service
As previously noted, the services were conducted in the building of the Norhill congregation in Houston, Texas. Luther had preached in this building many times and his brother, Hollis Blackmon, is one of its most devoted members. Oscar Smith, Jr., Norhill Evangelist, and Roy E. Cogdill conducted the services and Brother Robert Goodman, Oak Forest preacher, led the congregational singing. Services were at 10 a.m., Friday, July 8. Interment was at 3 p.m. at Bald Prairie, Texas, with grave side services.
Brother Smith read numerous Scriptures, made appropriate remarks, and led a prayer. Brother Cogdill delivered a masterful, eloquent, and tenderly, emotional address based on Philippians 1:12-23. He began by quoting a statement which he had heard C. R. Nichol once make at a funeral service: “I am glad that God permits men to die.”
Brother Cogdill took Nichol’s statement and coupled it with Paul’s statement, “For me to live is Christ, and to die is gain.” He then called attention to Brother Luther Blackmon’s exemplary life as a Christian and the physical condition of his body in the years just preceding his death and declared that “death came to Luther as a sweet release.” Luther was a faithful Christian; his body was no longer a suitable habitation for his spirit; so Brother Cogdill pointed out that it was “better for him to depart and be with Christ.” Having established these points, Brother Cogdill proceeded to show the basis upon which a Christian may entertain this view of life. His points were four in number, and they follow:
(1) Complete faith and trust in the mercy, grace, goodness, love, and promises of God with reference to salvation through Christ make this view of life and death tenable; namely, “to live is Christ, and to die is gain.”
(2) The immortality of the human spirit makes it certain that life does not end with the grave.
(3) The resurrection of the body renders death, as William Jennings Bryan eloquently put it: “A starlit passage from one realm to another and better realm.”
(4) The judgment and the fact of human accountability based on the “deeds done in the body” make this view of life completely valid to those who yield themselves to God and serve him faithfully.
Brother Cogdill beautifully summarized his lesson by pointing out that all of us, along with Luther, can prostrate ourselves upon the dying couch, in the words of the poet, “as one who lays himself down to pleasant dreams,” if we yield ourselves to God and our lives to His service. Roy’s sermon was interspersed with many poignant references to Luther Blackmon’s life and work. Those present, almost to a person, were Luther’s personal friends of many years. It was like one large family saying a tearful but hopeful good-by to a dear one embarking on a long journey. We wept together like David over Jonathan.
Luther Blackmon, our friend and brother is gone. His footprints in the cause of Christ in our generation are everywhere, therefore he will not be soon forgotten. God bless his memory and enlarge the influence of his life!
Reprinted from The Gospel Guardian.
Truth Magazine XXI: 48, pp. 757-758
December 8, 1977