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Written by Mitchell/Henderson/Hassell/Phillips   


The Gospel Messenger—April 1895


It has already been announced in the March issue of the MESSENGER that ELD. JOHN R. RESPESS, editor and proprietor of THE GOSPEL MESSENGER, died at his home in Butler, Ga., at 10 A. M., February 4, 1895 and that further notice and more full particulars would be given in this issue of the MESSENGER.

Owing to the distance we lived from Eld. Respess, our continual infirmities have not permitted us to be with him in his last affliction, or even to see him at all for more than two years before his death. We are glad, however, to know that other esteemed brethren and gospel ministers, who had long known him, both in public and private life, had frequent interviews and correspondence with him in his last days, and were also present at the last sad rites of burial services. Among these we mention specially Elds. H. Bussey, W. C. Cleveland, B. Stewart, and J. G. Murray. From each of those brethren, as well as from others, we expect something to be said in the Messenger concerning the triumphs of God’s grace in the life and death of this greatly beloved, faithful, and sorely tried servant of God. In regard to his death, it is no fulsome eulogy and no exaggeration of facts, to say that “A great man in Israel has fallen.” Not alone in his own immediate family, and churches of his pastoral charge, but even also among the many thousands of beloved brethren and friends who have read the Messenger, the shock of his death will be sorely felt.

For about fourteen years, as editor of the Messenger, his writings on various subjects pertaining to the gospel of the grace of God, has enriched its pages And though he is dead he yet speaks, and will continue to speak for many years to come, not only to those who are now living, but to many who are not yet born into the world. In this view of things, it may be said of the preaching and writings of John R. Respess, in some sense, as the apostle saith of the ancient prophets of God, “Unto whom it was revealed, that not unto themselves, but unto us they did minister the things, that are now reported unto us by them that have preached the gospel unto us with the Holy Ghost sent down from heaven.”—1 Pet. i. 12. With regard to his life from his youth to manhood, his heart convictions for sin his conversion to God, uniting with the church, and his first exercises and continued progress in the ministry, those who have been reading the Messenger since May, 1891, will find the beginning of a pretty full history written by his own hand in that number, under the heading of “The Experience of a Sinner.” A series of sixteen articles are on record in the Messenger under that heading, beginning in May, 1891, on page 197, and ending in February number for 1893, page 67. This series of articles of our dearly beloved and lamented brother, were written in great faithfulness, and in a plain and familiar style, containing not only a faithful account of his own conflicts, but also much wholesome instruction to the church of God on many portions of the word of the Lord.

Our dear Bro. Respess was truly a man of God and a powerful preacher. When in the spirit of preaching it has seemed to us that no Christian could hear him without feeling the power and sweetness of the word of God burning in his heart. His preaching was in great plainness and simplicity, and though he was learned in the schools of man, he never made any attempt at excellency of speech of man’s wisdom. We have never known a preacher who might have said more truthfully, “My speech and my preaching is not with enticing words of man’s wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power.”—l Cor. ii.

The last editorial articles written by him were headed “Looking at Things Not Seen.” They may be found on page 437 of Messenger for November, 1894, and 460, December, 1894. He was then quite feeble, and things of earth, that are seen, were fast receding from view, while by faith he was looking more and more at things unseen and eternal.

In the twelve years of our connection with Bro. Respess nothing ever occurred to disturb our Christian love and fellowship. There was a child-like simplicity and a Christ-like humility about his general conversation and preaching that drew us nearer and nearer to each other as we became older in the common adversities and afflictions of the gospel of Christ.

But our dear brother and faithful yoke-fellow in the gospel is gone to his long and eternal home. Like David, the “sweet singer of Israel,” after “serving his own generation, by the will of God, he fell asleep and was gathered to his fathers.” He was in his sixty-fourth year. For a time before his death his intense sufferings seemed to abate, and peacefully and sweetly he went out, like a little infant falling into gentle sleep. Rest, dear, aged soldier; rest sweetly with Jesus! Thy work and thy sufferings are done forever on earth.


Memorial by Elder Sylvester Hassell

In tenderest memory of our beloved brother, I desire to offer a tribute of the highest and sincerest regard and affection. I have known and esteemed him for twenty-one years (since his first preaching tour in North Carolina), and I have enjoyed an intimate and most valued acquaintance with him during the last four years. In the winter and spring of 1891, while I was in a very low state of health, I spent three months with him, by his kind invitation, in his hospitable home; and he urged me to remain longer, or, if I would go away, to come back again soon. During this period of daily association with him, my esteem and love for him were greatly increased. Feeble, nervous, and despondent the most of his life, he rose above his normal state of gloom in his persistent self-forgetting efforts, to entertain and encourage me. His mind dwelt on scriptural and spiritual subjects. In his conduct and conversation he seemed to breathe forth the very spirit of Jesus. He wished that every other preacher in the world were a greater preacher than himself, and every other man a better man. He was willing to be trampled on by the whole Church if thereby the name of Christ could be exalted. If his enemies spoke evil of him, he would say, “Perhaps it is so, perhaps it is so,” and he would speak well of them; if they deeply injured and wronged him, he would astonish me by ascribing to them the most charitable motives. He and I alternated in our services every night at the family altar. Upon the chapter that he read, he commented in the most reverential and experimental manner; and in his addresses at a throne of grace, the room became the presence-chamber of the Most High, the petitioner abased himself in utter humility, and sent up the incense of heartiest thanks to the Lord for His mercies, and, in the most earnest and touching manner, supplicated the Divine blessings, not only upon ourselves in our ministry and upon our families, but also upon every member of his churches and every subject of grace. He sang aloud early every morning in his room, for all his family to hear, as a kind of morning prayer, the hymn beginning “Jesus, Thou art the sinner’s friend.” The occasions of family worship in my dear father’s and in dear Bro. Respess’ families have been to me the very sweetest seasons of spiritual joy —the most heavenly places I have found on earth. Of what exalted joys do our brethren rob themselves and their dear ones in the habitual neglect of such occasions, and how little regard such neglect shows for the honor of our Divine Benefactor!
Learning of the heavy indebtedness that I had incurred by the preparation and publication of the Church History, Eld. Respess made the first and most urgent appeal to our brethren for my relief; and his efforts, aided by the Landmark and the Signs, lifted the mortgage from my property.

At his earnest and repeated solicitations, though I felt my sad incompetency, I became an associate editor of THE GOSPEL MESSENGER in February, 1892; and he felt and often said that, in writing both the Church History and my articles on the Interpretation of the Scriptures, the Lord had called me to the kingdom for such a time as the present; and he told me that, for twenty years, he had been preaching on the same line of thought that I occupied in those articles—contending earnestly for the literal and eternal truth of the Scriptures. He and I were perfectly and heartily agreed in our understanding of the Scriptures—in all our views of doctrine and practice.

I never knew a wiser, humbler, kinder, gentler, more unselfish, more Christ-like person than dear Bro. Respess. By great and manifold afflictions, seasoned with Divine grace, his spirit was disciplined, softened, sweetened, and purified, and thus prepared for entrance into eternal rest.


Memorial by Elder J. E. W. Henderson

Dear Bro. Mitchell: Many, no doubt, will contribute suitable articles for the forthcoming April number of The Gospel Messenger, which you propose, with much propriety, to devote mainly to the memory of our deceased brother and fellow-laborer, Eld. J. R. Respess. But as to myself I can but feebly and limitedly express my thoughts and feelings upon this solemn subject. I hoped that I loved Bro. Respess in the truth, for the truth’s sake; and from my earliest acquaintance with him,, and knowledge of the wonderful gospel gift which was in him and his great ability in the ministry of the gospel of Christ, I have cherished for him a feeling of profound respect and admiration, although it was my privilege and pleasure to meet him personally but few times and at long intervals. My last association with Bro. Respess was so interesting, profitable and precious to me that I cannot forbear a brief mention of it here. It began on Friday before the second Sunday in July 1893, at which time we attended together the annual three days meeting of the church at Mount Moriah, Harris County, Ga., of which church he was then pastor. During that meeting I witnessed a genuine example of that mutual love, fellowship, confidence and esteem which characterize the true relationship between the church and pastor; and the influence extended beyond the pales of the church, for the people who had been wont to meet there and hear that precious man of God speak in the name of Christ had learned to love, respect and admire him for his meekness and humility as well as for his clear and lucid exposition of the doctrine of Christ. It struck me forcibly that no effort on his part had been necessary to secure to him such universal esteem, but that it was those noble endowments of nature and grace combined which p laced him so far in advance of ordinary men. I thought I could discover in him at the same time the elements both of manhood and childhood—that he was indeed a man of God and a child of God. Then, too, he seemed so spiritual, and to have such close and constant communion with God, I feared that I was but a vile intruder upon the time and attention of so good a man.

From the aforesaid meeting Bro. Respess and I journeyed together across the country, filling a few other appointments which he had previously arranged, and finally, on Thursday before the third Sunday (July) we reached his pleasant home at Butler, the place of all on earth most dear to his heart. The home upon which he had often turned his back, bidding loved and precious ones good-bye for a season while he went forth to feed the flock of God; the home to which he had as often returned, under varied feelings and circumstances, to share with his precious family whatever God in His providence bestowed. But alas! the home now draped in mourning and veiled in sorrow and gloom for his last departure, with no hope left trembling in the bosom of the bereaved ones that he shall ever return again to exchange with them the kiss of love,—but hush, my soul! A brighter scene appears to faith’s discerning eye. What have we lost? A devoted husband one sadly replies; a loving father, others say; a friend and neighbor is lost to others; a true citizen, a man of great moral worth, a blessing to the world is swept away; the church has lost a faithful minister; throughout the borders of Zion will be felt the loss of an able writer and expounder of the Scriptures. But his life-work is not lost—it is left still to bless the world, to instruct and encourage us all to greater faith and confidence in God and the power of His grace through which our beloved brother has been enabled to make the voyage of pilgrim life successfully, and to land him safely in the haven of everlasting repose.

Such is the gain, the sure reward of him for whom we mourn in hope of meeting him on the other shore in the sweet bye and bye. Yes, we hope to rise with him, or rather to be raised up with him in the glorious resurrection morning, “When this mortal shall have put on immortality, and when this corruptible shall have put on incorruption,” when shall be brought to pass the saying which is written, “Death is swallowed up of victory,” and join with him in the sweet triumphant song as we ascend to meet the Lord in the air, saying, “O death, where is thy sting; O grave, where Is thy victory?” “Thanks be unto God who giveth us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ!

Finally, after enjoying with Bro. Respess the annual three days meeting with the church at Butler, and sharing his generous hospitality and that of other precious brethren and friends, we took the parting hand on Monday after the third Sunday in July 1893, and for the last time bade each other farewell. I hereby tender the bereaved family my sincere and heartfelt sympathy, and humbly invoke the blessings of God upon them, that they may become reconciled to His Sovereign will and dispensations of His righteous and. merciful providence.


Memorial by Sister R. Anna Phillips

Dear Bro. Mitchell.: I promised to write you something in connection with the last illness and death of Eld. Respess. Besides, I feel in my heart a tribute of love that I would render to his memory; for I think I loved him as Jonathan loved David. I have known him about thirty years, for the last fourteen, intimately as my pastor and friend. Truly a great man is fallen in Israel! Great in goodness and good in greatness. He was a giant, and he was a child. He was as wise as a serpent and as harmless as a dove. He walked daily in humble fear before God, with his testimonies bound to his heart. One of a thousand, he was sincere—sincere in word and in deed. Though great and learned, naturally, ostentation and display were far from him. In private conversation or public preaching, he had rather speak words to the understanding and instruction of the illiterate, than feast the worldly-wise on eloquence; or to comfort the poor and weak, than entertain the learned and great. Like his Lord and Master, he had rather suffer with the poor than to reign with the rich. His greater greatness was in that he esteemed himself least of all, making himself the servant of all. He has said more than once, that he fully confided in me, more than any one else, in all spiritual things; and from this I know that his one aim and desire was to preach the unsearchable riches of Christ as approved unto God; and all the effort he ever made in preaching was not to please man, but to simplify to the capacity of the weak. He had the mind of Jesus, and was faithful in all his house, or churches. His more remarkable traits were this child-like simplicity, his meek humility, his lowly walk with and care for the poor, his untiring vigilance to please God rather than man.

His life was a blessing and benediction to all in touch with it. Truly a great man in Israel has fallen. Surely I grieve as sustaining, realizing a greater loss in his death than any other Baptist! For after the hand of God, lifting and leaving me desolate and devastated, about two years ago, I turned to Eld. Respess as to the only and last earthly support left me; and but for whom I could not, I felt, endure to try to live. I leaned heavily upon him, and not only did he seem to accept, but to welcome the burden, and in proportion manifested a greater care and love for me. There I received strength, comfort and consolation in all my troubles and trials, as well as rebuke and correction when needed. But my cup was not full; God took him, and I am bereaved indeed.

I do not see how I could have borne it had his death come upon me suddenly. He had been gradually falling all last year. One day in August when he suddenly grew worse, so much so they telegraphed for a certain doctor, I did not hear of it till dark—too late to go to him—the conclusion then fixed in my heart and mind with overwhelming grief and consternation, was, that he will die. I have just tried to make you understand that but for the help and comfort of his immediate presence I could not bear to battle longer; and God would take him too! Oh, I felt that I could not stand it! And my whole individual heart and soul began to pour out in prayer to God to spare him, or give me the grace to bear it in honor to Him. I locked myself in my room away off up stairs,, alone; I scarcely know how several hours passed, save in continual agony of prayer. I remember thinking my prayer was selfish; that I had want-God to remember how desolate His hand had already left me; but whether I changed I do not know. I do know that late in the night, when silence and black darkness brooded over all, I found myself prostrate on the floor, face downward, begging the Lord to “spare him.” I got up and got in bed again, and went to sleep. When I awoke next morning, my mind was as clear of concern for Eld. R. as it was possible to be of anything, there was something more akin to joy than alarm and sorrow there. Instead of that burden of prayer, there was a deep, quiet assurance that it was well—it was the Lord’s hand upon him in special love; as if He had said to me, “Be still, I am the Lord; it is my hand upon him in mercy to perfect him in love; trust and wait.” And this assurance did abide in my heart, causing a sweet, sad gladness. But my mistake was, I believed he would come forth in this life again as gold purified in the fire. And while I grieved for the fire—the sufferings he endured—I was glad for the result expected.

And thus I told Eld. Gold; and for this reason I could go off and leave him for a week. I would say, “It is not ordinary disease and death, but God’s purifying hand of love, and he will come forth again as ‘pure gold.”’ And thus I believed till three days before his death, when, like a gradual awakening from a dream, the conviction that he will die settled in my mind; yet, with this strange coming conviction was the thought that it was all of the Lord—was all well; and this prepared me to meet the final shock. And I told Sister Mauk, with whom I was stopping, “Bro. Respess will die,” each day till the news came, “He is dead?’ I felt no worse when I heard it, than the day before. All these things, and this final ending, left me so bewildered—so dazed, so to speak—that I did not feel natural. I could not shed a tear till next day evening when at the funeral service in our poor little church house, they proposed, as his favorite, and began to sing, “Approach, my soul, the mercy seat.” This opened the flood-gate.
How often had I prayed, “Welcome any loss Jesus himself will fill.” You may ask, does He fill all those great voids made in your heart and life? I think I meant that he would fill with his known presence in love, joy and peace. In this respect I answer No; but if, as better acquainted with sorrow and grief—with strong cryings and groanings to be clothed upon—with longing to be delivered from the body of this death—as more straitened till accomplished my conflict with sin—I answer yes. Still, however inexplicable, all these facts, and others, in connection with the last sufferings and death of Eld Respess, that affect me, by some means have increased my faith and enlarged my love, and forced me to that condition and position, so surprisingly sweet, and blessed, and safe; to say in truth, “Whom have I in heaven but Thee? and whom have I in earth to desire beside Thee?”

Before Eld. Respess was reduced so low that the doctors forbid company; I went regularly to see him. And how good to remember his talk! One day (we always talked of spiritual things toward the last) we were talking of the churches of his charge. He said he had so often gone to them with indifference, now he felt a great desire to go and preach to them again; especially how he wanted to meet our own Butler church. “It is the truth, the gospel truth, I have preached to them, and God gave it to me; I did not get it from men or books; God revealed it to me,” he said, with increasing animation. “I remember,” he continued, “a long time ago Ruth was on my mind, but I knew nothing, but as I preached the truth was revealed, and new to me, but I knew it was the truth.” “Sister Phillips, all I know about Ruth, and Naaman, and Esther, came to me that way.” Another day he was deploring his unworthiness and lack of spiritual light. After awhile in the conversation, he exclaimed, “Oh I want to love Jesus! I want to love Jesus with all my heart! I don’t care about understanding election and predestination so much; I want to love Jesus!” I told him he had told me, and proved it by Eld. Hassell, that to earnestly desire a thing was to have it. “Oh, I do desire to love Jesus,” he said, and we both burst out crying, after which he seemed so calm and peaceful. Another time, the last but one that I ever saw him, having heard it whispered that he suffered some compunctions for one or more church acts, and believing it false, and knowing what might be made of it, and wanting to contradict it direct from him, yet as not letting him suspect, I asked him if he was troubled about the exclusion of a certain member? “No, no; I feel clear of him,” waving his hand. Nor about those Northern churches? “No not at all; we have ever done what we thought was right under the existing circumstances. Nothing of that sort troubles me. Yet, Sister Phillips, you—not even you—know how I have suffered. It is leaving my children—the thought of dying and leaving them when they so much need me—is my trouble.”

The last time I talked with him—the last time I saw his beloved face—he said during the time, the fear of death was taken from him, in a measure, and again referred to his trouble in leaving his children. He had for years had a great fear and dread of death. He had told me in the first of this illness that he was lying there “trying to get willing to die.” Once again, after that, he had told me of this fear. I told him he did not need dying grace to live on, but to die on; and that it would be given him before he come to die, or in good time to die on. Then, in that artless, child-like eagerness habitual with him, he asked, “Do you know this or  do you know it by faith, that this fear will be gone before I die?” I told him I knew it by the infallible word of God, that had promised grace as our days demand; yes, that I knew it by faith. “Then I will wait for it,” he said. How blessed that, though all our life-time we are subject to bondage through fear of death, Jesus takes this fear from us in good time.

And now he is gone! What a void in my heart and life; what in the church, and in the whole brotherhood. But he has reached the haven of eternal rest, where there is no fear, sickness, pain or death, or sigh or groan, but eternal home, peace and rest with and like Jesus. Affectionately,

Butler, Ga., Feb. 19, 1895.


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