GREAT GOSPEL PREACHERS OF THE PAST
(Part 8: V. P. Black and George W. Bailey)
V. P. BLACK (1918-2007). Vanderbilt Pierpont (V. P.) Black was born on December 15, 1918 in Millport, AL. He was baptized into Christ in 1936 and began preaching in Booneville, MS in 1938. He served congregations in Booneville; Avon Park, FL; and then the Plateau church in Mobile, AL for over 20 years. After resigning the pulpit at Plateau, brother Black continued to serve as one of the elders of the congregation and his association with Plateau church extended to over 40 years. He was highly esteemed by the Plateau church, as well as the Lord’s people throughout the city of Mobile. In 1965 when the churches of Christ in Mobile decided to conduct a campaign for Christ they immediately chose V. P. Black to be the speaker. The wisdom of their decision lies in the fact that during the campaign 269 people responded to the gospel invitation, with 98 of these being baptisms. In a meeting with Plateau, his home congregation, there were 52 baptisms. When I moved to Mobile in 1972 to preach for the Pleasant Valley church I was fortunate that brother Black still lived in the city, and while I had known of him for many years and had heard him preach on a few occasions, I was able to get to know him better.
After giving up regular preaching for the Plateau church, brother Black devoted his time to preaching in gospel meetings all across the country, preaching in up to 45 meetings per year. Even while engaged in local work, he often preached in 12 to 18 meetings each year. One of the things that always impressed me about V. P. Black (besides his matchless preaching) was the fact that he would go wherever the brethren called him, making no distinction between big churches and small churches, rich churches and poor churches. He was equally at home preaching in meetings in Gaskin, FL or Quitman, MS as in preaching in meetings at the University church in Abilene, TX or the Prestoncrest church in Dallas!
Scott Harp tells of hearing brother Black on a sticky, hot summer night in a little country church south of Haleyville, AL. He said the speaker was dressed in an all-white suit, white shoes, “and not a wrinkle could be found in his polished appearance.” Scott continued: “He began his sermon, as many do, soft-toned, kind and gentle. Not a time did he look at a note, but with exactness and clarity, he proceeded to preach the gospel of Jesus. It was not long before his passion for the message was felt by all in the audience. His voice got louder and more convicting with every quotation of passage upon passage of Scripture. That man of God preached on the level of such intensity, that at times his face turned blood red. Contrasted with the white suit he wore, the awe-inspired audience in that little country church in North Alabama sat without so much as a blink of the eye for over an hour. What a preacher! What passion! What a Savior he proclaimed!”
My longtime friend, Alan Highers, shared with me his memories of brother Black who conducted a gospel meeting at the Getwell church in Memphis when Alan served there as the local preacher. Alan wrote, “He was always a very snappy dresser. He liked Edwin Clapp shoes. His suits were always pressed, his shoes were shined to perfection, he wore a stiff white collar. When he stepped into the pulpit, his appearance was impeccable and you expected to hear something. You would not be disappointed. He was serious about preaching. It seemed every word was measured. His language was elegant and eloquent. It was uplifting to hear him speak.”
For many years brother Black served as Vice-President of Alabama Christian College/Faulkner University and raised thousands of dollars for the school. He personally gave over $100,000 to the school from the sale of his books. He helped lead its transition from Alabama Christian College to Faulkner University. He also set up a $100,000 ministerial fund at Freed-Hardeman University to help train gospel preachers. It can truthfully be said that V. P. Black was “ready unto every good work” (Titus 3:1).
He authored at least three books on stewardship (My God and My Money, Rust as a Witness, and Giving Our Way to Prosperity) and at least two volumes of sermons (We Persuade Men and This Crooked Generation). J. D. Thomas of Abilene, TX also published a volume of brother Black’s sermons in the 12-volume series “Twentieth Century Sermons.” A V. P. Black sermon that I have attempted to preach at various times over the years is titled “Happiness: Is it Just a Word.” Brother Black was strong on the great fundamentals of the faith, but he also could address the everyday concerns of people’s lives. He spoke numerous times on the lectureship programs of Faulkner University, Freed-Hardeman University, as well as other schools among the people of God.
From its inception in 1975 until 2004, he was an annual speaker on the Florida School of Preaching Lectures in Lakeland, FL. The 1993 Freed-Hardeman lectureship book was dedicated to him. In it Winford Claiborne wrote: “One of the remarkable features of his preaching is that during his fifty-four years of preaching he has never been involved in a church fuss or a church split. He believes if preachers were busy trying to convert people and teaching on unity and brotherly love much of the trouble in the Lord’s church would never have gotten started or would cease. Brother Black’s influence has been positive and powerful.”
Freed-Hardeman University bestowed on him an honorary LL.D. degree. For the last several years of his life, he and sister Black made their home in Montgomery, AL. Brother Black passed from this life on Sunday, February 4, 2007, at the age of 88. He is buried in Greenwood Cemetery in Montgomery. Beyond question, he was one of the truly great gospel preachers of the past!
GEORGE W. BAILEY (1922-2017). George W. Bailey was born in Kaufman, TX on April 3, 1922. He was baptized into Christ in 1935 by Gayle Oler and began preaching when he was 14 years old. He attended Freed-Hardeman College, Southwestern Tech in Oklahoma, the University of New Mexico, and Abilene Christian College. He served churches in Weatherford, OK; Albuquerque, NM; Oklahoma City, OK; Abilene, TX (where he preached for the College/University congregation for 15 years); and the Prestoncrest church in Dallas. (On a personal note, when I moved to Dallas in 1983 to preach at Skillman, George was the first preacher to come by my office to welcome me to Dallas. He no longer was the preacher at Prestoncrest, but was serving as one of the congregation’s elders. We went to a nearby restaurant for a cup of coffee and a most enjoyable visit).
George Bailey was a man and master of the Book. His sermons were filled with scripture—dozens, scores, and perhaps sometimes a hundred scripture citations—all done perfectly from memory with never a note of any kind before him! When J. D. Thomas selected 12 men as the great preachers of the day and published a volume of their sermons George Bailey was included (Volume # 2). Two of my favorite Bailey sermons are “Can You Recommend Your Religion?” and “The Church Faces the Future with Confidence,” both of which I have preached on dozens of occasions. His sermon on “Life’s Inadequate Harbors,” based on Paul’s perilous voyage across the Mediterranean Sea (Acts 27), is an absolute masterpiece and I have outlined it, but no one can possibly preach it with the effectiveness with which George preached it.
George was the master of the epigrammatic statement (a pithy saying or remark expressing an idea in a clever and amusing way). In emphasizing the need for every Christian to be a missionary he said, “If you can’t go across in person, come across with your purse,” i.e., give so that others can go. George conducted gospel meetings and area-wide campaigns for Christ throughout the United States. He visited and preached in almost 100 foreign countries, including China and Russia, preaching in Moscow, Leningrad, and Rostov. In 1964 he was a guest speaker at the World’s Fair in New York City.
Between his pulpit ministries in Abilene and Dallas, he spent full-time in evangelistic work, both in the U. S. and overseas. For several years he was a regular speaker on the Herald of Truth radio and television programs. He was a popular speaker on brotherhood lectureship programs. My mother told of her and my father hearing him at an area-wide Training for Service series in Florence, AL and how she sat utterly mesmerized by his preaching.
One of the last times I heard him and visited with him was at Polishing the Pulpit in Sevierville, TN in 2009. We both spoke on the “Graybeards” session, and George kept the audience as well as all of us on the panel rolling with laughter at his reminiscences.
George was married to the former Ela Beth Todd for 68 years prior to her passing. They were the parents of two sons. George passed from this life on November 11, 2017 at the age of 95. He is buried in the Elliott-Hamil Garden of Memories Cemetery in Abilene, TX.
April 16, 2019