By Weylan Deaver
One man can have lasting effect on multitudes, even after death. Nicholas Brodie Hardeman was a premier preacher, debater and educator in the first half of the twentieth century. In Nashville’s Ryman Auditorium, he preached the gospel to multiplied thousands, the sermons from which can still be read. He debated truth’s cause, to great effect, with prominent digressives and denominational preachers. He trained preachers in a college named for him. My grandfather, Roy C. Deaver, studied at Freed-Hardeman College in the 1940’s and, after graduating, stayed an extra year to study Hardeman. A half-century later, I would graduate from Freed-Hardeman University. What becomes monumental with time can begin with a modest tale of Christian influence, and Earl West relates just such a remarkable story (Search for the Ancient Order, vol. 4, pp. 155-156).
In 1890 an Alabama preacher named J. A. Minton goes to Milledgeville, Tennessee. His preaching career is young at the time (West describes him as “one of those relatively obscure preachers who just floated around burdened with the desire to preach the gospel, save souls, and establish congregations”). Minton begins preaching in an empty store. He meets the town’s wealthy physician, who subscribes to no religion, and is certainly not a Christian. With Minton’s effort, the doctor learns the gospel. Minton baptizes him into Christ, along with several of his family. The doctor’s name is J. B. Hardeman, who has a sixteen-year old son, Nicholas Brodie, who, thanks to Minton’s converting his family, will, himself, obey the gospel that fall when he enrolls at West Tennessee Christian College (being baptized by a professor, R. P. Meeks). N. B. Hardeman grows into a great Bible student, holding rapt attention with a gentleman’s presence, a scholar’s demeanor, and a polished orator’s style in presenting heaven’s simple message that had saved his father, Dr. Hardeman, back in Milledgeville.
But all contact between Hardeman and Minton is lost. Minton, whose work had brought the Hardemans to Christ, moves west, where he acquires land and meets financial success. He buys a hotel in Sayre, Oklahoma, the town where he preaches. Sadly, as division within the Lord’s body wreaks havoc, Minton sides with the Christian Church (which embraced unauthorized practice, such as instrumental music in worship).
In June 1948 Hardeman travels to Sayre to preach a meeting. He stays in the hotel owned by Minton and the two get reacquainted. It has been fifty-eight years since Minton visited a small Tennessee town and taught the gospel to Hardeman’s father. The now-aged preachers reminisce on times long past. In 1890 Hardeman was sixteen and not even a Christian. Minton was already preaching. In 1948 Hardeman is a college president training future preachers, and has a storied career in the kingdom. His influence has eclipsed Minton, who has cast his lot with the digressives Hardeman so strongly opposes. Then again, would any of Hardeman’s success have happened had Minton, as a young roving preacher, not stopped in Milledgeville and begun teaching in an empty store over half a century earlier?
Minton listens to Hardeman’s preaching in Sayre and concludes, “I have heard many of our best preachers from time to time, but I am compelled to say I have never heard a preacher superior in ability to N. B. Hardeman.” After his short stay in Sayre in Minton’s hotel, Hardeman leaves. However, within months he receives a letter from Minton with good news the latter has “left the Christian Church and now belonged to the church of Christ.” J. A. Minton had helped save N. B. Hardeman’s soul. And Hardeman had now returned the favor.