Brother Lewis — The Man I Knew
From childhood I heard the name John T. Lewis. While but a young man I read his articles and heard him preach and lecture a few times. His clear, direct and pointed manner of teaching led me at first, as it did other casual observers to feel that he was abrupt and somewhat dogmatic. Those who knew him slightly spoke of his sharpness and bluntness, while those who knew him intimately spoke warmly of his knowledge, faith and devotion to truth. From the first I was impressed by his decorum in the pulpit. He stood erect, often with the Bible in one hand and the thumb of the other hand in his pocket by his side. He quoted the scripture accurately and spoke in a conversational tone, never shouting, rarely raising his voice. He seemed always to speak as if he knew the subject with which he was dealing.
I came to really know brother Lewis shortly before moving to Birmingham and during the years I lived in that city. I visited with him when he was hale and healthy and when he was sick and in sorrow. We talked of the problems in the church and of some of the people involved in them. His careful consideration, sensible advice and encouragement were helpful. He demonstrated his true greatness in many ways. I call attention to some of the qualities of greatness prominent in his life.
A man of integrity. With brother Lewis, his word was his bond. Nothing incensed him more, in a personal way, than that of having his honesty called in question. Honor was built into his character. So ingrained in his nature was this principle that he seemed to take for granted that it was a part of others also. He was tolerant in dealing with those with whom he disagreed as long as he believed them sincere, but for those who demonstrated dishonesty he had little time or patience. Brother Lewis knew but one way to deal with friend or foe, and that was honestly — straight from the shoulder.
A man of genuine faith. Brother Lewis believed God. He never cherished a doubt as to the inspiration of the scriptures nor as to their place in God's scheme of things. His entire life was a actual demonstration of faith in God and his word. Some questioned his word. Some questioned his understanding and explanation of matters, but none who knew him could question his faith and utter dependence upon the word of God. Following serious surgery when the doctors doubted he would be well again at an age of near eighty, I had a long conversation with him. He spoke as calmly and with as much confidence about his future as if he were carrying out well made plans to go to another city. He expressed concern about "Mrs. Lewis." "I wish," he said, "they had not told her everything. But she will be provided for." He lived — until after sister Lewis was buried — for twelve or more years after this illness.
A man who recognized and appreciated greatness in others. Brother Lewis referred often to his associates of the past. His great admiration for such men as J.A. Harding, David Lipscomb, the Srygley's and others was well known. He resented deeply any statement or quotation which misrepresented them. Of H. Leo Boles, brother Lewis wrote in 1946, "I know some preachers who did not agree with him on some positions, but I know of none that did not love and respect him, and that goes for me." I may add that this expresses my sentiment concerning both brother Boles and brother Lewis. He expressed many times his respect for the ability and nobility of men with whom he disagreed. Discussing with a few preachers, I was present, the death of a well known aged preacher, brother Lewis said, "A worthy man who did much good." A young man sitting nearby said with a smile, "What do you think of his son, brother... as a preacher?" After a moment he responded, "I think he is one of the greatest pulpit preachers I ever heard." The young man said, "Why, I thought you two were at odds since you had such a long and bitter discussion." Brother Lewis cleared his throat and with that characteristic twinkle in his eye said, "Sir, you asked me what I thought of the man as a preacher and I told you. What do you think I am, a peanut?" Brother Lewis was a man, a big man in the truest sense.