Devoted to the Propagation and Defense of New Testament Christianity
NUMBER 36, PAGE 18b-19a

"I Preached The Word"

Gardner S. Hall

If I were limited to just one passage in paying a tribute to the memory of John T. Lewis, that passage would be II Timothy 4:1,2. Brother Lewis believed the work of a preacher was to study, teach and preach the word of God — to do the work of an evangelist. He lived in Birmingham, Alabama from 1907 until the time of his death in 1967. There was only one small congregation when he arrived on the scene. He went to work; he kept busy almost every night preaching in tents, schoolhouses, vacant store buildings and homes. He was truly urgent in season and out of season. He was followed nightly in this work by most of the members of the small church and they assisted with tents, lights, and with songs and prayers. They attended from every part of the city, traveling principally by means of street cars. His work was fruitful; it resulted in many baptisms and the establishing of about a dozen strong congregations.

Brother Lewis also laid great emphasis on preaching the word. He used Scriptural subjects'; he had no patience with sensational subjects. He often paid his respects to preachers who would use such subjects as, "Chickens Come Home to Roost." His treatment of his subject consisted of expounding the passages of Scripture, one by one, bearing on it. His style was vigorous and earnest. To one unacquainted he seemed blunt and somewhat stern. He would stand to one side of the pulpit and expound a passage bearing on his subject, quoting many other related passages. He would then move across to the other side of the pulpit, saying as he walked across, "And so now you can understand that." (And a careful listener could. As Brother Lewis was wont to say: He could understand it "if he brought anything to put it in.") On the other side of the pulpit he would take another passage and accord to it the same lucid treatment. He would thus proclaim the word till the hour was spent and then he would end the sermon promptly. He had a motto: "I believe in starting on time and stopping on time."

Brother Lewis apparently never made notes of his sermons. His vigorous mind, his knowledge of his subject, and his careful preparation enabled him to speak fluently without the use of notes. Even in his radio preaching he did not use notes. Mr. J.L. Doss, owner of a local radio station made favorable comments on his ability to come in, throw his hat on a chair, go right to the mike and begin preaching, reading nothing. As I remember his preaching, he always quoted his Scriptures. I don't remember ever seeing him turn to read a passage he wanted to use; and he used an abundance of Scripture.

Brother Lewis seemed never to become discouraged. I have seen him hold well-attended meetings with many baptisms. I have seen him preach to small crowds with no visible results. In either case his preaching was of the same strong, vigorous style and his morale equally high. I have heard him say that discouragement was not one of his faults. "It is my business to preach the word; when I do that I have no regrets and the outcome is the Lord's business." "Brother Lewis, did you have a good meeting?" I would ask when he had returned from a meeting. "Yeah, I preached the word," was his answer.

If I were limited to only two passages in my tribute, I would use as my second one Ephesians 4:31. "Let all bitterness, and wrath and anger, and clamor, and evil speaking, be put away from you, with all malice." He practiced this passage as well as any man I know.

Brother Lewis was always ready to contend earnestly for the faith once for all delivered unto the saints. He engaged in controversy any time he thought the cause of truth could be served by it. In such efforts he wielded a pungent pen. Sometimes there "arose a sharp contention" between him and another brother over some point of difference. It just was not his nature to deal mildly with what he considered error. To him soundness in the faith was a serious matter; the word of God was not to be trifled with. So he fought hard to stem any trend away from the sound doctrine.

But he had deep affections for his brethren and friends, and he was forbearing toward their weaknesses. (Rom. 12:10.) He never permitted differences of views or spirited controversies to generate bitterness, or to diminish his personal affection for a brother in Christ. Some brethren close to him thought he sometimes went too far in his practice of forbearance. Brethren with whom he had engaged in sharp controversy would often come to the area to preach. Brother Lewis attended every service possible and occupied a front seat. He would arrive early and warmly greet the brother, would pray for him and would show him every courtesy and favor possible. He seemed not to be tempted to harbor bitterness, ill will, hatred or malice. Occasionally a brother would treat him coolly and this would bring sadness to his heart, but not malice. A brother died, who, Brother Lewis thought had misrepresented him in controversy,. He heard of this brother's incurable condition and mentioned it to me, expressing his regrets. He also expressed the hope that the Lord would be merciful.

Brother Lewis often visited where I preach. Occasionally I mentioned his presence and commented on the tremendous influence he had exerted on the kingdom of Christ, especially in the Birmingham area; also on the fact that his sound teaching and influence had made the way much smoother for all faithful gospel preachers and elders who serve here. I am glad I had the opportunity to cheer his heart a little with a few words of deserved praise. I often remarked that if I survived him I would suffer a feeling of loneliness without him around. We do miss him so much!

Birmingham, Alabama