GREAT GOSPEL PREACHERS OF THE PAST
(Part 3: B. C. Goodpasture and Marshall Keeble)
B. C. Goodpasture (1895-1977). In the 1960s, J. D. Thomas of Abilene, Texas published a series of twelve volumes of sermons by those regarded as the great preachers of the day. Fittingly, the volume by B. C. Goodpasture served as the climatic edition to the entire series. This book (which I have owned for fifty years) contains some of Goodpasture’s greatest sermons. One of my favorites is titled “The Unfinished Work of Christ,” a sermon I have endeavored to preach on various occasions.
Like N. B. Hardeman, B. C. Goodpasture was hailed as “the prince of preachers.” He was born in Livingston, Tennessee (Overton County, in the Cumberland hill country) on April 9, 1895, and passed from this life on February 18, 1977, a few weeks short of his 82nd birthday. He was educated at Burritt College, David Lipscomb College, and Southern Baptist Theological Seminary (correspondence courses). He was awarded honorary doctorate degrees by Harding University and Pepperdine University. At Lipscomb he was a student of H. Leo Boles where Boles said of him, “B. C. Goodpasture was the best student I ever had.” He served as the local preacher for churches in Shelbyville, Tennessee; Atlanta, Georgia (two different times at two different congregations—West End and Druid Hills); Florence, Alabama; and Hillsboro in Nashville, Tennessee (where he also later served as an elder). In 1939 he became editor of the Gospel Advocate and served in that capacity until his death in 1977—a total of 38 years. On September 3, 1918 he married Emily Cleveland Cliett of Childersburg, Alabama and they were married for almost forty-six years until her death in 1964. A year after the passing of his first wife, Goodpasture married Freddie Joan Armstrong Goetz. In 1973, he and Freddie came to Mobile, Alabama where I was serving as minister of the Pleasant Valley congregation to preach in a gospel meeting. During this meeting brother Goodpasture preached some of his great sermons. Always a lover of books (his own private library consisted of 10,000 volumes), we spent several days together going to used bookstores in the Mobile area. It was during this meeting that brother Goodpasture invited me to become a staff writer for the Gospel Advocate, in which capacity I continued to serve until his death. Goodpasture was a great story teller and regaled those who gathered each evening before services for a fellowship meal with stories from his long and illustrious career. In 1976 we invited him to be the speaker for a Homecoming celebration at the Fairlane church in Shelbyville, Tennessee where he had done his first local work. He and Freddie spent Saturday night with us at our home in Shelbyville and the following morning he spoke to a large and appreciative audience on “Heaven.” It was the third Sunday of October, the 64th anniversary of the first sermon he ever preached. The church presented him with a plaque in grateful appreciation of his many years of outstanding service. In 1971 his biography, The Anchor that Holds by J. E. Choate, was published. This remains among my cherished books. Brother Goodpasture inscribed my copy: “To Hugh Fulford, a cherished friend and brother, with best wishes. B. C. Goodpasture–10-18-73—.” On February 8, 1977 brother Goodpasture spoke at the chapel service of the Freed-Hardeman Lectures. His subject was Paul’s charge to Timothy—“Preach the Word” (II Timothy 4:1-5). Little did we realize that would be the last sermon he would ever preach. Ten days later, on February 18, he passed from this life following a stroke he suffered the day before. My older son, who was a student at David Lipscomb College, called to tell me that brother Goodpasture’s passing had just been announced in chapel. I remember how shocked and saddened I was to hear of his death. His funeral was conducted at the Hillsboro church building in Nashville and he is buried in Woodlawn Cemetery in Nashville.
Marshall Keeble (1878-1968). Marshall Keeble was a famous African-American evangelist among churches of Christ who began preaching in 1897 and spent the entirety of his life in evangelistic meetings all across America. He preached in most of the major cities of the U. S.—north, south, east, and west—as well as many mid-size cities and small towns. Whites as well as blacks attended his meetings, and over the course of sixty years brother Keeble, by his own account, baptized over 25,000 people and established more than 200 congregations. I first heard him preach in the late summer or early fall of 1953 when I was 15 years old. He was preaching in a tent meeting in Sheffield, Alabama, and my father and I drove across the Tennessee River from Florence to hear him. I still recall that he preached on the story of David and Goliath and emphasized that as David went out to meet Goliath he took “five smooth stones from the brook.” I will never forget the application that brother Keeble made of the fact that those stones had been washed! During my student days at Freed-Hardeman College I heard Keeble every year on the annual Bible lectureship as he was always the final speaker of the series because the crowds would stay to hear him. In subsequent years I continued to hear him at the lectures until the time of his death. He was an interesting and captivating speaker who in his own words spoke “promiscuously” (i.e., without a manuscript or an outline, but a sort of “stream of consciousness” style of preaching in which he would weave in many stories, illustrations, and parables from everyday life, always backed up with scripture). People flocked to hear him! In the winter of 1967, we invited brother Keeble to come to the Madison Street church in Clarksville, Tennessee (where I was serving as minister) to speak on a Wednesday night. Snow was on the ground and the crowd was small. We invited him to return later that spring to speak to an area-wide gathering of the churches from throughout Montgomery County. Over 1,000 attended this service at Madison Street in which five were baptized into Christ and five were restored to the Lord. This engagement by brother Keeble “primed the pump” for an eight day meeting that began the following Sunday with Batsell Barrett Baxter. During the Baxter meeting fifteen more were baptized. A year after his Clarksville engagement brother Keeble died at the age of 88. In 1931, B. C. Goodpasture (see above sketch) published Biography and Sermons of Marshall Keeble. For many years my father owned a copy of this book and I read it with much delight. One of my favorite sermons in the collection was titled “Been to Worship but Wrong” (the conversion of the Ethiopian eunuch, Acts 8). Another was titled “Five Steps to Church and Seven to Heaven,” explaining the five steps one must take to be saved and added to the church (Acts 2:47) and the seven steps one must take to remain saved and go to heaven (the Christian graces of II Peter 1:5-11). Brother Keeble converted thousands of people from denominationalism to the simplicity of New Testament Christianity. He would call the names of denominational churches and expose their false teaching by the Scriptures. He was sometimes criticized for calling names, but he defended it on the basis that Jesus called names. Keeble said, “Jesus called names. He called Lazarus by name. If he hadn’t called him by name, everybody in the graveyard would have ‘got’ up!” He stressed that Jesus warned that “every plant which My heavenly Father has not planted (denominational churches, hf) shall be rooted up” (Matthew 15:13). To drive home the point, he would then say, “If you don’t believe that just wait around ‘til rootin’ time!” In a California meeting a young man approached brother Keeble and said, “You have talked about every other church except mine.” Keeble said, “I don’t know what church you are a member of.” The young man replied, “the Latter Day Saints.” “You’re too late!” Keeble shot back (too late to be the New Testament church). The next night the young man was baptized! Of a 1930 gospel meeting in Valdosta, Georgia Keeble gave this report in the August 21, 1930 issue of the Gospel Advocate: “This meeting increased in interest until the close, and I consider it the best meeting of all my work. Brother Luke Miller and his good wife were of so much help in the meeting in every way. He led the song service. One Lord’s day I baptized fifty-nine precious souls into Christ. During the time of baptizing a hard rainstorm came up, but we went right on; and when the rain ceased everybody was soaking wet, and it was impossible to tell who had been baptized. White and colored stood in the rain throughout the time of baptizing. On the following Sunday Brother Miller and I baptized sixty-three before we came out of the water. One night twenty-nine came forward at the invitation, all grown. There was great rejoicing. Eleven came from the ‘digressives.’ Total number of additions, one hundred and sixty-three.” Keeble was uncompromising but he was kind. On one occasion a white man attacked him with a set of brass knuckles. Brother Keeble turned the other cheek and refused to file charges against his assailant. He often made this statement: “The Bible is right. You can go home and fuss all night about what I have preached, but the Bible is right. You can walk the streets and call Keeble a fool, but the Bible is right. You can go home and have spasms, but the Bible is right.” From 1940 until 1958, brother Keeble served as president of Nashville Christian Institute, a school for the training of young black men to become gospel preachers. In 1962 he took a trip to the Holy Land and to Africa with Willie Cato, a white gospel preacher. In Africa brother Keeble preached to large crowds. In 1968, his biography, Roll, Jordan, Roll by J. E. Choate, was released. On April 20, 1968, Marshall Keeble passed from this life at the age of 89. He had been born in Murfreesboro, TN on December 7, 1878. His funeral was conducted at the Madison (TN) Church of Christ with 3000 people in attendance. B. C. Goodpasture preached the funeral. He is buried in Greenwood Cemetery in Nashville. There will never be another one like him.
November 27, 2018