GREAT GOSPEL PREACHERS OF THE PAST
(Part 7: W. A. Bradfield and Willard Collins)
W. A. BRADFIELD (1910-1972). “Good-bye, Fulford!” These were the last words I heard from the lips of W. A. Bradfield. They were spoken in February 1972 as I walked out of the bedroom of his house in Henderson, TN where he lay on his deathbed. Several of his former students, on campus for the 1972 Freed-Hardeman College annual Bible Lectureship (and by arrangements with his family), dropped by his house at intervals for short visits with him, knowing that his time was short. Willie Albert Bradfield was born on December 27, 1910 in Wildersville, TN. (He and I shared a common birthday, day and month). He was baptized into Christ in 1926, married Hazel Wallace on September 16, 1934, and began preaching in 1939. He and sister Bradfield were the parents of one daughter, Linda Kay Bradfield Speight. Early in his career brother Bradfield worked as a salesman for the Standard Coffee Company. He later worked as an aircraft inspector for the Glenn L. Martin Company in Baltimore, MD. On July 4, 1944, he was invited by some friends to go fishing with them on Chesapeake Bay. He declined the invitation and spent the day at home writing his first tract, “The Way to Heaven.” At this point in time he had not become a full-time preacher. Brother Bradfield went on to write 25 gospel tracts, all 3 ½ by 5 ¾ in size, consisting of four pages, single fold, and in their distinctive pale green color. As early as 1959, when sixteen tracts had been published, over four million had already been sold. No telling how many millions have now been sold and distributed around the world! In 1946 and 1947 brother Bradfield did his first full-time work with the church in Parsons, TN, also preaching two Sundays a month for the church in Scotts Hill, TN. In 1948, he became the minister of the church in White Bluff, TN and principal of the local high school. In both Parsons and White Bluff brother Bradfield enjoyed enormously successful ministries. In 1949, he was invited by N. B. Hardeman to join the staff and faculty of Freed-Hardeman College in Henderson, TN. His primary responsibility was to serve as Public Relations Director for the college and recruit students. A natural born salesman, Bradfield was ideally suited for this role and through his efforts the enrollment at Freed-Hardeman continued to rise. He remained in this capacity until the end of his life and considered himself a traveling salesman for Freed-Hardeman College. As a student and member of the college quartet, I traveled with brother Bradfield on some of the recruiting trips and came to have a great love and respect for him. As time went on, the invitations he received to speak in gospel meetings increased significantly. Evangelistic meetings from one coast to the other and from the Great Lakes to the Gulf of Mexico and recruiting students for Freed-Hardeman College proved to be a winning combination for both the church and the college. Blessed with a booming voice and an outgoing personality and by nature an enthusiastic person and an exhorter, Bradfield’s meetings generated large numbers of responses to the gospel invitation, with 100 or more frequently responding during a week’s meeting. A few examples of the success of his preaching may be seen in the following figures. In a 1961 meeting in Jasper, AL there were 106 responses, including 54 baptisms. In 1964 in Jacksonville, AR there were 136 responses, 46 of them baptisms. In 1965 in Huntingdon, TN there were 114 responses 23 of them baptisms. In 1970 in Adamsville, AL there were 138 responses. In a 1962 meeting in Osceola, AR there were 36 baptisms. In Flint, MI in 1963 there were 39 baptisms. In 1969 in Oklahoma City, OK there were 29 baptisms. In 1968, in seven meetings in seven weeks, there were 408 responses. Brother Bradfield’s success as a preacher arose from his love for preaching, his love for the souls of people, his ability to keep his sermons simple and filled with the word of God, and his tremendous ability to move people. A book of his sermon outlines was published in 1964 (first edition, consisting of 52 sermons) and 1966 (second edition, consisting of 60 sermons). In 1968 he delivered a series of lectures on preaching to the preacher students at Freed-Hardeman College. In 2011 Andrew Erwin wrote Bradfield’s biography. Brother Erwin pointed out that between 1950 and 1971, W. A. Bradfield preached in between 350 and 400 gospel meetings, resulting in an estimated 10,500 responses to the gospel invitation. Included in the biography are some of brother Bradfield’s best known sermons: A Prayer Meeting in Hell, Christ and the Church, Scenes at the Judgment, Tricks of the Devil, God’s Remedy for Sin, The Providence of God, and many others. He passed from this life on March 4, 1972 and is buried in Chester County Memory Gardens Cemetery in Henderson, TN.
WILLARD COLLINS (1915-2007). George Willard Collins was born in Lewisburg, TN on November 12, 1915. He was baptized into Christ by J. S. Batey in 1929 and married Ruth Morris on August 7, 1939. They were the parents of two daughters—Carole and Corinne. He began preaching at Farmington, TN (near Lewisburg) in 1934, the year he entered David Lipscomb College in Nashville. He graduated from Lipscomb (then a two-year school) in 1936, obtained his B. A. degree from Vanderbilt in 1938, and his M. A. from Vanderbilt a year later. He was awarded honorary LL.D. degrees from Pepperdine and Harding Universities. He served as the local preacher for the Lord’s church in Old Hickory, TN from 1939 to 1944 and the Charlotte Avenue Church of Christ in Nashville from 1946 to 1954. In 1946 he also became vice-president of David Lipscomb College and served in that capacity until 1977 at which time he was named president of the school. He held this position until 1986 when he retired and was named chancellor of the university. In 1989 he was made president emeritus and held this title until his death. All together he was connected with the school for over 70 years. Brother Collins was by nature a friendly, out-going man and was known as the “student’s president.” During his presidency, David Lipscomb College thrived as he led the school to financial stability. But as great as his contributions were to the college, it is as a preacher of the gospel that I best remember Willard Collins. From 1955 onward he preached by appointment and held over a dozen gospel meetings each year. In 1949, at the age of 33, he returned to preach in a meeting at Old Hickory, TN (where he been the minister from 1939 to 1944). In this meeting (which may have extended over three Lord’s days inclusively) there were 166 responses, including 111 baptisms. In 1961 he was the speaker at the Far East Fellowship in Tokyo, and during this trip he preached in meetings in Seoul, Hong Kong, Taipei, Formosa, and Honolulu. In 1962 he preached in a city-wide meeting in Nashville in the then new Municipal Auditorium, the first event to be held in the facility. He conducted other area-wide meetings in Fort Worth, TX; Waco, TX; Shreveport, LA, as well as other places. A volume of his sermons appears in J. D. Thomas’ series on “Great Preachers of Today.” In two places where I served as the local preacher (Clarksville, TN and Shelbyville, TN) we had Willard Collins for meetings. He was plain, powerful, persuasive, and always eminently biblical in his preaching. It was always a joy to hear him preach in his booming, distinctive voice. Two remarks that I shall always remember from his sermons are “judgment day is real” and “the word ‘must’ is still in the Bible.” He was friendly, down to earth, and a genuine joy to be around. When the ladies in Shelbyville learned that he liked buttermilk with his meals they saw to it that a fresh quart of buttermilk was in the refrigerator in the fellowship room every evening for the meals we shared before the services! According to Preachers of Today – Volume V, as of December 1980, over 12,000 people had responded to the gospel under the preaching of Willard Collins, with 6,793 of those being baptisms. He lived and preached for several more years and these numbers increased. In addition to being an outstanding preacher, Willard Collins also was an able writer. He served for many years as a staff writer for the Gospel Advocate. He also wrote for 20th Century Christian, Power for Today, and Minister’s Monthly. In 1951 he wrote the book Daily Living with Christ. He spoke on scores of lectureships throughout the brotherhood of Christ, both for colleges and schools of preaching. Willard Collins lived a rich, full, and busy life for Christ. He died on December 11, 2007 at the age of 92 and is buried in Woodlawn Cemetery in Nashville, TN, the resting place of some 28 gospel preachers and Christian educators of the past.
March 26, 2019
March 30: Karns Church of Christ, Knoxville, TN
(Senior Rally, speaking on “Blessed Assurance”)