Landmark Bible Baptist History
JAMES R. GRAVES
By James O. Combs
"MR. BAPTIST OF THE 19TH CENTURY"
October 15, 1998
James Robinson Graves (1820-93) more than any other single Baptist
leader of the 19th century merits the accurate appellation, "Mr.
Baptist," for he it was whose trenchant pen, scholarly personal research
and doctrinal solidarity contributed the most to expressing the great
distinctives of the Baptist movement during half a century of fruitful
His spiritual career practically paralleled the first 50 years of the
Southern Baptist Convention, founded in 1845. During the pre-Civil War
years Graves was editor of the Tennessee Baptist, which grew from 1,000
in circulation in 1846 to 13,000 in 1859, making it the largest Baptist
paper in the world at the time and the most influential in Baptist
Arriving in 1845 in Nashville, the 25-year-old Graves opened his Vine
Street Classical and Mathematical Academy and shortly thereafter assumed
the leadership of a local Baptist congregation, then known as Second
Baptist Church. The following year he joined the staff of the Tennessee
Baptist and became sole editor in the autumn of 1846. From then on the
dynamic, young but maturing preacher became a major force in Southern
Baptist affairs throughout the South, continuing until his passing into
the presence of Christ in 1893. 
His early life
Born in Chester, Vermont, on April 10, 1820, he was the youngest of three
children. The older child was Zuinglius Calvin and his sister was Louisa
Marie. Their father passed away less than three weeks after J.R.'s birth.
The family, led by the mother, spent several years barely eking out an
existence. It was said that on his father's side, he was descended from a
family of French Hugeunots who fled to America, later settling in
Vermont. His mother is said to be the granddaughter of a German physician
and scholar named Schell.
Accepting Christ as his Savior, he was baptized by elder Hodges and
became an active member of the Baptist church in North Springfield,
He was a very intelligent and studious young man and first sought a
career in teaching. At 19 he was selected as principal of Kingsville
Academy in Ohio, where he served for two years before moving to Kentucky
for a warmer climate and the improvement of his health. There he took the
leadership of the Clear Creek Academy near Nicholasville, Jessamine
County. At this time he joined the Mount Freedom Baptist Church near the
present town of Wilmore during a revival meeting in May 1842. With some
others he was licensed to preach by the congregation, unbeknownst to him
at the time, since he was not present in that service. Later that same
year he was ordained by the same congregation, but due to some confusion
in the church annals, it was not properly recorded until October 19,
In 1843 he returned to Kingsville, where he taught for six hours a day
and pursued his own education by self-directed study for eight hours a
day, a program he had begun earlier, continuing this regimen for four
years, going through multiple college courses on his own. Each year he
learned a language, including Greek. The Bible was his main theology
text, which he studied intensely, memorizing, learning, absorbing God's
truth in a systematic educational program, spending as much as 160 hours
every week in concentrated study for four years, he gained an education
far beyond the average four-year college graduate. 
J. R. Graves, the leading Baptist editor of his times
When J. R. Graves took full charge of the Tennessee Baptist in 1846, it
had a circulation of 1,000 which grew to 13,000 in 1859. During these
earlier years of writing ministry, he edited a monthly, a quarterly and
an annual. In 1848 he founded the Southwestern Publishing House in
Nashville, and later, the Southern Baptist Sunday School Union, both of
which were predecessor institutions to the Baptist Sunday School Board
founded in 1891. 
In addition, Graves edited all books proceeding from these pioneer
Baptist publishing concerns in the South, which were destroyed during the
Southern Baptist "Landmarkism"
In 1853 the Domestic Mission Board of the Southern Baptist Convention
sent J. R. Graves to New Orleans to build a strong Baptist work in that
city. Of course he continued his editorial ministry.
Joining with him in the Landmark movement in the pre-Civil War era were
two other prominent Baptist writers and editors, James M. Pendleton and
Cyrus Dayton, the three forming a triumvirate for the emerging "Landmark
Movement": "Pendleton was the prophet, Graves, the warrior, and Dayton,
the sword-bearer in the campaign." 
Pendleton's Church Manual Designed for Use in Baptist Churches is still
in print, as are several of his lesser-known works. He too was a great
19th century Baptist. He and Cyrus Dayton became joint editors of the
Tennessee Baptist in 1857, but the Civil War and differing viewpoints
between Graves and Pendleton resulted in the latter returning to the
North, as he opposed the concept of the Confederacy, believing that
slavery should be "gradually" abolished, not a popular opinion in
Tennessee. Following the war Graves was never close to Pendleton again,
though their Baptistic views were similar, but not identical.
As for Graves, his influence probably peaked in the 1850s. Governor
Joseph E. Brown of Georgia, just before the Civil War, addressed the
Georgia Baptist Convention and commended Graves with these words, "There
is one man who has done more than any 50 other men now living to enable
the Baptists of America to know their own history and their own
principles, and to make the world know them, and that man is the brother
on my right." At that point he bowed to the editor of the Tennessee
J. R. Graves, publisher and author
As an editor with a wide influence, he taught and defended the doctrine
of the local church and the succession of Baptist truth in local churches
from apostolic times (including the ministries of John the Baptist and
the Founder of the church, Jesus Christ) until modern times. His work,
Old Landmarkism, What Is It? is a classic. He penned and published at
least 20 books and more than 20 extended articles in the Southern Baptist
Review in the 1850s, plus literally hundreds of articles and sermons over
a period of five decades. More than anyone else in the 19th century, he
helped to systematize and publicize historic Baptist orthodoxy.
He edited and brought to the public such volumes as History of the
Baptists by Robert Robinson (1735-1790) , a great English
historian and theologian; Wall's History of Infant Baptism and G.
H. Orchard's A Concise History of Baptists (still in print). In
his works he focused much on the local church, baptism, the Lord's supper
and the continuity of Baptists through the centuries (but not always
under the Baptist or Anabaptist name). He opposed Campbellism (baptismal
regeneration), Spiritism and other trends in American religion in his
books. Many of his sermons were not published in book form, but can be
found in the annals of the Tennessee Baptist and Reflector, the outgrowth
of his earlier editorial work.
The Civil War interruption
Graves left Nashville when it fell to the Union soldiers, but continued
to try to furnish biblical literature to the Confederates. Following the
war, he settled in Memphis, but while still widely influential, he never
reached quite the same level of south-wide leadership as before the war.
His colleague Cyrus Dayton died in 1865, and J. M. Pendleton, who was
pro-Union, continued his ministry in the north. Other powerful leaders
with similar views rose to prominence, such as the eminent B. H. Carroll,
who shared much of Graves' views on ecclesiology. The first issue of his
post-war publication, The Baptist, was dated February 1, 1867 at Memphis.
J. R. Graves theological views
Though he pastored several congregations, his greatest contributions to
the 19th century Baptists cause came through his writings, which were
both theological and practical, but always based on a literal approach to
hermeneutics. His high view of biblical inspiration is foundational. He
believed that the Bible "includes the sum of all of its parts," all being
inspired of God:
If the whole is God's Word, each and every portion and part of every
paragraph and period, every sentiment and sentence and word is equally
God's Word, to intimate that the least sentence or allusion of the
Scriptures is inaccurate or false is to make God a liar. 
He added, "There may be errors in the transcription of ancient
manuscripts; there may be errors in translation, and errors in many
interpretations, but the ORIGINAL SCRIPTURES ARE THE WORDS OF THE LIVING
GOD. He most explicitly declares them to be." 
We close with this additional statement: If it can be shown that God did,
in one solitary instance, indicate the very words, as well as the matter;
then we may know that, in this specific way, he made all his revelations
to us, and therefore we implicitly rely upon all the words of the Sacred
Scripture as the right words "If the writing is inspired it is because
sentences and words composing it are inspired, IN-BREATHED BY GOD."
His method of hermeneutics is a vital element of this theology. He
believed in the literal meaning as always the proper meaning of a passage
unless a figure occurs in the passage and requires a figurative
interpretation, but the figurative will never conflict with plain literal
With his absolute confidence in the Scriptures, he wrote, "We take the
New Testament as the rule of our religious faith and practice,
endeavoring to conform our belief and practice to its divine teachings."
 He held unreservedly to all of the cardinal doctrines of the Bible,
as generally expressed in previous great Baptist Confessions of Faith and
doubtless could now subscribe without reservation to the Twenty Articles
of Faith that unite the pastors and people of the Baptist Bible
Fellowship International. That great compendium of biblical truth is the
outgrowth of the New Hampshire Confession of Faith (1845), the Baptist
Bible Union Confession of Faith (1923), and the work of J. Frank Norris,
W. B. Riley and T. T. Shields. It well expresses historic Baptist
His ecclesiology and eschatology
These were two of his strong points.
He believed that Christ founded the local New Testament church with His
disciples during His ministry and not on the Day of Pentecost; that the
church has but two ordinances, baptism and the Lord's supper (for the
local church to administer); that the church was charged to evangelize
the world, baptize converts and carry out the Great Commission; that
local autonomous churches should work together for the furtherance of
this grand cause "all of this and more characterized the Landmark
Movement, named in reference to Proverbs 22:28: "Remove not the ancient
landmarks which thy fathers have set."
Eschatology was another powerful emphasis of this great Bible preacher
and expositor. He considered his "magnum opus" to be his classic and
still in print volume The Work of Christ in the Covenant of Redemption;
Developed in Seven Dispensations, published in 1883. This culmination of
his systematic life-long study of the Scriptures and his theological
views parallel in most respects 20th-21st century dispensational thought.
It preceded the Scofield Reference Bible (1909) by a quarter of a
century. It can be obtained from the ABA Baptist Bookstore in Texarkana,
The Landmark Movement and other results
From the south-wide influence of Graves in the Southern Baptist
Convention as a pastor, evangelist, editor and innovative promoter,
emerged a large number of Baptist pastors and leaders who toward the end
of the 19th century consolidated into the Landmark Movement, gradually
tending toward separation from the Convention. Graves' friend, Samuel R.
Hayden, editor of the Texas Baptist, was a strong leader in the largest
state, whose friends and followers formed eventually the Baptist
Missionary Association. Another Baptist leader led a similar movement in
Arkansas, which eventually became the American Baptist Association
(1905). The whole movement was somewhat unified in the BMA until 1950,
but that is another story. Today the ABA and the BMA each consist of
about 1,500 pastors and churches for a total of more than
During my years at the Bible Baptist Seminary in Fort Worth in the late
1940s, I understood that founder Dr. Louis Entzminger had become a
premillennialist, based partially on Dr. Graves' writings. Entzminger
convinced J. Frank Norris to become an ardent premillennialist back in
the "teens." The rest is history.
His later years
Suffering a stroke while preaching at the First Baptist Church of Memphis
on August 17, 1884, he lived with restrictions thereafter, delivering
"chair talks" instead of powerful biblical orations. He continued to
write and travel however until 1889, when he sold his interests in his
paper to his son-in-law O. L. Hailey, who moved the publication to
Nashville. There it eventually became The Baptist and Reflector, still
appearing regularly as the official organ of the Tennessee Baptist
Following a fall at home in August 1890, he was unable to walk, but
continued writing. On June 26, 1893, he departed to be with Christ.
Harold Smith quotes the last issue of The Baptist and Reflector to carry
his name as a contributing editor: "He was an important factor in the
Baptist denomination in the South for more than half a century and one of
the ablest exponents of Baptist faith in the world. He was a great
warrior in the cause of truth." 
O. L. Hailey's 1925 book, J. R. Graves, Life, Time and Teachings, is the
definitive biography of the great Baptist leader.
We independent Baptists owe an enormous debt of gratitude to James
Robinson Graves, L.L.D., for his powerful influence on the fundamental
Baptist movement. While not as widely known as some others from the 19th
century, he merits renewed interest and study to understand from whence
we have come.
Our premillennial position, our emphasis on local New Testament Baptist
churches, autonomous but working together, our spiritual heritage across
20 centuries, were derived to a great extent from his extensive writings
and lasting influence.
While all of our readers may not share all of his viewpoints, this writer
affirms, echoing Dr. Graves, that it is time again to say, "Remove not
the ancient landmarks, which thy fathers have set" (Proverbs
1 James R. Graves, The Baptist Encyclopedia, ed William Cathcart
(Philadelphia, Louis H. Evens, 1883) 466.
2 J. R. Graves, Baptist Theologians, Edited by Timothy George and David
S. Dockery, Article by H. S. Smith, (Nashville, Broadman Press, 1990)
3 "Baptist Theologians," 226; Baptist Encyclopedia, 467.
4 Leon McBeth, The Baptist Heritage, (Nashville, Broadman Press,
5 W. W. Barnes, The Southern Baptist Convention, 1845-1953 (Nashville,
Broadman Press, 1954) 103.
6 The Baptist Encyclopedia, 468.
7 Robert Robinson in The Baptist Encyclopedia, 996-998.
8 Baptist Theologians, 227.
9 Ibid., 231.
10 J. R. Graves, The Work Of Christ In the Covenant Of Redemption;
Developed In Seven Dispensations, (Texarkana, Baptist Sunday School
Committee, 183, 1963) 34.
11 Ibid. 28.
12 Baptist Theologians, 232.
13 Ibid. 227.
The following books by J. R. Graves can be located in SBC
libraries, various resources of the ABA and BMA movements (schools,
libraries, publishing houses, etc.) and at the Baptist Historical Society
The Act of Christian Baptism (1881)
The Bible Doctrine of the Middle Life, as Opposed to Swedenborganism and
Spiritism (1873, 1928)
Campbell and Campbellism Exposed: A Series of Replies (1854)
Christian Baptism, The Profession Of Faith Of The Gospel (1881)
The Desire Of Nations (1853)
The Dispensational Expositions Of The Parables And Prophecies Of Christ
The First Baptist Church In America - 1638 (1870)
The Great Iron Wheel; or Republicanism Backwards And Christianity
Intercommunion Inconsistent, Un-scriptural, And Productive Of Evil
John's Baptism: Was It From Moses Or Christ? Jewish Or Christian? (1887,
The Lord's Supper, A Church Ordinance (1881)
The New Great Iron Wheel. An Examination Of The New M.E. Church South
Old Landmarkism: What Is It? (1880)
The Elation To Baptism To Salvation (1881)
Satan Dethroned And Other Sermons (1924)
Spiritism, A Lecture (1869)
The Trilemma (1881)
The Watchman's Reply (1853)
What Is Conscience (1883)
What Is It To Eat And Drink Unworthily (1881)
The Work Of Christ In The Covenant Of Redemption: Developed In Seven
*Check with the Baptist Sunday School committee of Texarkana and Bogard
Source: Baptist Bible Tribune, October 15, 1998
Landmark Bible Baptist History