By Paul M. Wilmoth
“Know ye not that there is a prince and a great man fallen this day in Israel.” These words were spoken by David on the occasion of the death of Abner, captain of Saul’s host. These words are equally applicable today; my friend and fellow-companion in the kingdom, Malcolm Hill, “finished his course” early in the morning, Tuesday, June 26, 2012.
It was an honor and a privilege to work with brother Malcolm as ministers of the Northeast church. This Sunday, we would have begun our 30th year of labor together. Not many preachers (perhaps not any) have worked together for that long. I have never worked with a kinder, gentler, more encouraging man than brother Malcolm. And even though I could never be compared to him as far as ability goes, he never made me feel any less than his equal. Other than his immediate family, I believe I knew him better than anyone else. I have seen him on the mountain top and in the valley. I have not only served as a fellow-preacher and worker in the kingdom, but have also been a listening ear, a shoulder to lean on, and an encourager in every way that I could.
In 1975 Malcolm founded Tennessee Bible College. It was his life-long dream to train men to be sound Gospel preachers, and ladies to be workers in the kingdom. Most of his life was spent in this work. He served as President of the College until his health deteriorated, and continued to serve as Chancellor until the time of his death. I personally have never known any man to make the sacrifices that he and his faithful companion, Mrs. Billie, made on behalf of Tennessee Bible College and the Northeast Church of Christ. They unselfishly gave up the house they lived in in order to contribute to the College and the church and to keep them going. They did this not once, but twice! He told me that he was advised by many―some good men and good friends―to close it down. But there was never an ounce of “quit” in brother Malcolm. Those of us at Northeast, who saw him preach from his wheelchair for many months, can testify to that fact. We will not soon forget the moving and final service he conducted on January 1 of this year.
Were the sacrifices he and Mrs. Billie made worth it? Is Tennessee Bible College worth all of the sweat, time, effort, work, and tears that he put into it? I believe the answer is a resounding “Yes!” And I know that Malcolm felt that way. In fact, I have never heard him complain, even once, about the sacrifices that he had to make. And only eternity will reveal how many souls have been saved as a result of those who have been trained at Tennessee Bible College. When you look at the work of men like Joon Key in Korea, Joseph Barr, Kerry Duke, Mark Day, Jason Gann, Freddie Clayton, Mark Meadows, Earl Alverson (and the list goes on and on), the legacy of the college and the good that has been, and is being done, will live on! If one soul is worth more than all the world (Matt. 16:26), then certainly every dime, every drop of sweat, all of the labor has been worth it. Brother Hill was unable to attend our recent graduation, but he would have rejoiced if he could have seen the largest graduating class in the College’s history. And he would have beamed with gratitude if he could have heard Richard Copeland speak in chapel a few days before receiving his diploma from the College. Richard has cerebral palsy and gets around on his bicycle all over Cookeville. He has great difficulty speaking, but there weren’t many dry eyes as Richard spoke that day and gave tribute to brother Hill for his belief in him and for his support. Again, only eternity will reveal all of the good that will have come from the work of brother Malcolm and TBC.
When I first became acquainted with brother Hill, he was one of the most sought-after preachers of the time. He was a fiery, red-headed preacher who could move audiences, and often had large numbers of responses to the Gospel invitation. He held a Gospel Meeting in the late 1960s for the Netherland Church of Christ in Overton County. The last time I checked, the record attendance we had in that meeting still stands today. He preached to over-flow crowds wherever he went; often the young people would sit on the stage around the pulpit because of capacity crowds. He came a long way from the first time he was asked to prepare and present a sermon in training class at the old Livingston Church of Christ; Billie Bilyeu, (who was later to become his faithful companion for over 55 years) wrote his first sermon for him, and he preached it a number of times in different congregations, thus developing his love for preaching the Gospel. This also proves that the old saying, “Behind every great man is a great woman,” has a lot of truth in it. He loved the truth and he preached it without fear or favor. He came from the old Willow Grove community and from a stock that did not mince words. Thus when he preached you didn’t have to guess what the truth was, or where he stood in relation to it. During the liberal digressive movement that started in the church around 1970, he fought the battle for truth and soundness. He called upon all Gospel preachers to “stand up and speak out” on the issues. He was tough on those whom he judged to not be leading in the battle against error. Brother Jason Gann stated in the TBC Lectureship this year, “I believe that he is as close to a restoration preacher of the 1800s as I will see in my lifetime.” As history records the events of his life, I believe that folks will realize how true Jason’s comments are.
Brother Hill loved kids. And they loved him. The kids at Northeast were constantly talking to him and giving “Uncle Malcolm” a hug when they came out following services. They knew that he loved them right back. For many, many years he conducted his “Pew-Packers Class” before services on Sunday evenings. He has often related how much he loved doing the class over the years. There is no way of knowing how many Gospel preachers and their wives, elders and their wives, deacons and their wives, Bible class teachers, song leaders, and Christian workers have graduated from these classes.
Brother Malcolm served faithfully for many years as one of the elders of the Northeast church as well as her preacher. Brother Malcolm, and a number of other great men who have served this congregation as elders, have led this church as directed in the Scriptures; as a result, the Northeast Church of Christ is known for her soundness and staying with the pattern given in the New Testament. Earlier I mentioned his sacrifices for the College and the Northeast church. One of those sacrifices was in giving of his time for many years without any pay. He did radio work and TV work for many years. Many will remember his “One Gospel Minute” radio spots. His “Questions & Answers” in the local paper was a favorite of many subscribers to the paper. He was a defender of the Truth on every front, having conducted a number of debates. He was a tireless writer and published the Living Oracles at TBC for many years. His book, My God and My Neighbor, has been used by many congregations over the years in teaching personal work programs. He never tired of studying the Bible and continued to do so all of his life. You could tell that in his preaching and in his writing. Not only was he a great preacher, but he was a supporter of all who preached the “unsearchable riches of Christ.”
And unlike many preachers of our day, Malcolm was not afraid to get dirty from hard work. He did most of the work on his house in Algood, Tennessee, as well as a great deal of the work of building the Tennessee Bible College building. He drove a tractor, bush-hog, dug ditches, mowed the lawn at TBC, all types of repair work, and the list could go on. He saved the College and the church thousands of dollars by the work he contributed at no charge. I remember helping him many, many hours in building his present house in Algood, Tennessee. I was his “go-getter,” and saved him a lot of footsteps. He reminded me often of the day when the temperature was over 100 degrees in the upstairs where we were working, and we would drive nails for a while and then come out so we could breathe.
Brother Hill has completed his earthly pilgrimage. Like the apostle Paul, he “kept the faith.” And I have no doubt that there is “laid up” for him “a crown of righteousness.” Like the words of his favorite song, he held to “God’s unchanging hand.” His legacy will live on through his son, David, and through the many Gospel preachers he has trained and encouraged. I believe that I speak for many when I say that I am a better person because of the association and influence of brother Hill. A good friend of Malcolm’s, Dallas Wyatt from Foley, Alabama, put it this way, “Tell brother Malcolm that if he goes before I do, to wait for me at the tree of Life.” What a grand and happy reunion that will be!! And so, we are not saying “goodbye,” but rather “farewell my good friend till we meet again.”