George W. Truett


Baptist pastor. George W. Truett was born on May 6, 1867, at Hayesville, Clay County, North Carolina. He was converted to Christ in the Hayesville Baptist Church at the age of 19. When he surrendered his heart to Christ for salvation, he also surrendered his will to God for service. The desire of his life seemed to be, "Thy will be done."

In 1889 he moved with his parents to Grayson County, Texas, where he was ordained one year later by the Whiteright Baptist Church. In 1897 he was graduated from Baylor University and in September of that year was called to the pastor- ate of the First Baptist Church of Dallas, Texas, and remained there for 47 years.

Under his leadership, the First Baptist Church grew into the largest church in the world at the time. Dr. Truett served as president of the Southern Baptist Convention from 1927 to 1929, and as president of the Baptist World Alliance from 1934 to 1939. He went to be with the Lord on July 7, 1944, at Dallas, Texas.

George Washington Truett

BORN: May 6, 1867
Hayesville North Carolina
DIED: July 7, 1944
Dallas, Texas
LIFE SPAN: 77 years, 2 months, 1 day

GEORGE W. TRUETT pastored the same congregation for 47 years, yet his influence reached far beyond Dallas, Texas, to the world as he was probably the greatest Southern Baptist leader who ever lived. His humble, spiritual, simple preaching earned for him the reputation as the greatest orator of his day with many referring to him as a second Spurgeon.

He was the seventh child of Charles L. and Mary R. (Kimsey). This little mother saw both her husband and son fi- nally converted after much perseverance in prayer. George was born on a 250-acre mountain farm two miles west of Hayes- ville, North Carolina. He first remembered feeling a deep need for God's forgiveness when he was only six while listen- ing to an old country preacher. Again, one day while looking for his father's cows, God spared him as he was almost bitten by a deadly rattlesnake. This brought a prayer of thanks and more conviction yet. At age eleven the Spirit again weighed heavily upon him during a local revival meeting in the moun- tain church house.

Attending Hayesville Academy from 1876 to graduation in 1885, Truett, handy with plow, rifle and books, was the most popular boy in Clay County, North Carolina. He continued a regular church goer (Clay County Baptist Church), but was not a Christian. One Sunday morning in the fall of 1886, a preacher by the name of I.G. Pulliam, planned to close out his meetings--much to young George's relief, as undoubtedly the Spirit was again dealing with him. But that night, the evangelist announced he felt led to continue for another week! He used as his text, Hebrews 10:38. When the sermon was over and the invitation hymn began, George--age 19 by this time--was one of the stream of those coming to surrender pub- licly to the Saviour. He later said:

When the preacher concluded his sermon, with a ringing chal- lenge for immediate and unreserved acceptance of Christ as personal Saviour, a large number promptly went forward, pub- licly confessing Christ before all the people. I was glad to be in that company. I could "draw back" no longer from such commitment and confession.

He told his mother the next morning at breakfast, "I answered the claims of Christ without any reservations. Af- terward my heart was filled with a great peace." The next Wednesday night the pastor encouraged him to give a word of testimony. He soon found himself in the aisle pleading per- sonally with friends and neighbors to seek God's mercy. Many responded. From that hour onward people began encouraging him to enter the ministry. He was baptized by J.G. Mashburn, joined the church and continued to teach at the Crooked Creek Public School, a one-room school house in Towns County, Geor- gia--a position he filled shortly after his own graduation. He had 50 pupils and taught various subjects.

Now that he was saved, he conceived the idea of starting a Christian private school, which he called Hiawassee Academy.

At the Georgia Baptist Convention, George was pre- sented for a testimony by a friend who said, "Brethren, this is George Truett, and he can speak like Spurgeon. George, tell them what the Lord has done for you and what you are trying to do up in the mountain." George told them the story of mountain youth struggling for solid Christian faith and an education.

Dr. J.B. Hawthorne, pastor of the First Baptist Church of Atlanta, said upon hearing Truett,

I have heard Henry W. Grady, Henry Ward Beecher, Phillip Brooks and others of the world's famous speakers, but never in all my life has my soul been more deeply stirred by any speaker than it was that day at Marietta by that boy out of the mountains. My heart burned within me and I could not keep back the tears.

He got what he came for--the principalship of this private school in the hills of Georgia. George Truett was twenty years old when he became principal! The Hiawassee Academy opened in 1887 in a courthouse.

The student body soon numbered 300. As a teacher, he had his first experience in leading someone to Christ. His first convert was a poor, crippled mountain boy. The lad tes- tified to Truett, "Teacher, I have found the Saviour, and that time you told me that you loved me started me toward Him."

One day he witnessed to a friend of his at school, inviting him to a revival. The lad was named Jim. Jim told Truett, "Not tonight. Perhaps tomorrow night, but not to- night." When he failed to come to school for a few days, Tru- ett visited in the home. There George found out his friend had contracted pneumonia, and his condition was growing worse. While sitting by the boy's bedside, the same saddened words came through the delirium, "Not tonight, maybe tomorrow night..."--and he died shortly thereafter. Truett never for- got the incident and referred to it often.

He headed the school from January, 1887, to June, 1889. A strong Christian atmosphere was kept there, although Truett personally got more and more interested in studying law.

After hearing Truett speak to a group of Baptists in Georgia, C.B. Willingham, a wealthy layman, offered to send him to Mercer University. Truett declined because of his fam- ily's plans to move west.

The family did move to Whitewright, Texas, in 1889, where the local Baptist church recognized his talents, and he was elected superintendent of the Sunday School. On several occasions, when the pastor of the church was absent, Truett was asked to speak to the congregation. He often conducted services himself, yet he always stood in front of the pulpit rather than behind it, because he felt unworthy. While living here, he also entered Grayson Junior College. Many times he was urged to enter the ministry instead of following his le- gal pursuits. Each time he solemnly answered, "I will speak for Christ, but I am not worthy to be His minister." Finally the congregation called a special meeting on a Saturday night. The oldest deacon said, "I move that this church or- dain brother George W. Truett to the full work of the Gospel ministry." Truett rose to protest. But the members' pleadings forced him to relent.

Truett talked about that night:

There I was, against a whole church, against a church profoundly moved. There was not a dry eye in the of the supremely solemn hours in a church's life. I was thrown into the stream, and just had to swim.

That night the call to preach superseded the plans to be a lawyer, and his course was set.

The next day he was examined and ordained--and one of the worst men in the community was gloriously converted under the influence of that service. He preached his first sermon in the First Baptist Church of Sherman, Texas, now standing behind the pulpit.

A few weeks later in 1890, when only 23 years old, he was appointed the financial secretary of Baylor University of Waco, Texas, which had an indebtedness of $92,000.00.

Pastor R.F. Jenkins had written Dr. B.H. Carroll about the 23-year-old Truett: "There is one thing I do know about George W. Truett--wherever he speaks, people do what he asks them to do." Dr. Carroll met him in the fall of 1890 and shared the burden about Baylor University. Then Truett came down sick with the measles, and the trustees were not too im- pressed when Carroll introduced the lean, pale, young man to them as their new financial agent. Truett then went to live in the Carroll home--a further stepping stone into his life of success.

The campaign was a complete success, with Truett utterly exhausted as it ended. In 23 months (1891-93) George eliminated that debt personally, due to his appeal as a pub- lic speaker. He went home for a few weeks of rest before en- rolling in September, 1893, as a freshman in the college he had "saved." A highlight of his student days was conducting a powerful revival at the First Baptist Church of Waco. He also pastored East Waco Baptist Church, 1893-97.

He married Josephine Jenkins of Waco on June 28, 1894. They later had three daughters--Jessie, Mary and Annie. Truett graduated with the A.B. degree in June of 1897. Shortly afterward, he was offered the presidency of the col- lege, but declined, favoring the pastoral ministries. He said, "I have sought and found the shepherd's heart." He re- ceived his D.D. in 1899, and later on an LL.D. degree. Addi- tion LL.D. degrees were bestowed upon him from the University of Alabama and Southern Methodist University.

The summer following graduation, while rejoicing over the birth of their first child, a call came from the First Baptist Church of Dallas, Texas. He had easily turned down other offers, but a divine mandate seemed to burn in his soul about this work. He did urge the committee to rescind the call, but the church voted unanimously to call him, forcing him to face the issue. He went to Dallas to confer, and at age thirty, he accepted the challenge. He began on the second Sunday in September, 1897, as the pastor--remaining there un- til his death in July of 1944, 47 years later. The church eventually would occupy a whole city block and become one of the world's largest churches. During his pastorate, the mem- bership increased from 715 to 7,804, with a total of 19,531 new members received. There were 5,337 baptisms and contributions totaled $6,027,741.52. Sunday School reached 3,500.

The largest single offering taken was for $507,850.00 at the launch of the Seventy-five Million Campaign of South- ern Baptists during 1919. The Sunday School grew to 4,000. Thousands were saved! It grew to be the largest church in the Southern Baptist Convention, and one of the most influential in the entire world. His compassion for the unsaved was evi- denced as he set aside and maintained two whole mornings each week for correspondence with the unconverted. Considering himself a topical speaker, he always preached for decisions. He was absent from his pulpit at least 25% of the time, be- cause of the demand for his ministry elsewhere.

His personal income was considered good, but he gave it away as fast as it came to him. His personal esteem is shown by the crowds who attended the annual evangelistic meetings he conducted each April in his own church for about two weeks.

His first appearance on a program of the Southern Baptist Convention was at Norfolk, Virginia, in May, 1898. As early as 1900 his services as pastor-evangelist began to be sought on every side, not only in Texas, but in other states as well. Schools of all kinds used him for evangelistic meet- ings, baccalaureate sermons, convocation and commencement ad- dresses on campus after campus. In 1904, Robert H. Coleman became Truett's lay assistant and Sunday School superinten- dent, and continued as his loyal and helpful associate for many years.

One time while preaching, Truett challenged some friends to bring the worst sinner they could find to the ser- vice. They did just that--a hardened, half-paralyzed old man who listened and got gloriously saved--and who died shortly thereafter.

Truett's life took on a new sense soberness and grief when his friend, J.C. Arnold, chief of police in Dallas, died. Truett had accidentally shot him on a hunting trip. The cause of death was listed as a heart attack, but Truett blamed himself for the death of his friend. Deeply depressed, Truett decided to leave the ministry, even though the shot was accidental. But the prayers of many, plus a vision of seeing Jesus vividly standing beside him, saying, "Be not afraid, George. You are my man from now on," pulled him through his doldrums.

In addition to the responsibilities already men- tioned, beginning in 1902, and continuing for 37 summers, he was a preacher to the "cowboy meetings" in the Davis Moun- tains of west Texas. He was also one of the twenty men ap- pointed by President Wilson to preach to the Allied Forces in Europe, which he did for six months in 1918 during World War I. Though they were very lonely, those months overseas were greatly used of God.

The Capitol steps of Washington were crowded with 15,000 people on May 16, 1920, as George W. Truett addressed them on "Baptists and Religious Liberty."

For one hour and fifteen minutes he held the audience spellbound. The Southern Baptist Convention had been in ses- sion for several days and there was simply no hall large enough to seat all who desired to hear Truett.

In 1924 the church auditorium was remodeled and en- larged with two galleries and choir space for about 75. The capacity now was 4,000, but often hundreds would be turned away. This same number would be in Sunday School.

Truett was president of the Southern Baptist Conven- tion from 1927 to 1929, and of the Baptist World Alliance, 1934 to 1939--elected at Berlin. He was a trustee of Baylor University, Southwestern Baptist Seminary of Fort Worth, and Baylor Hospital of Dallas. His fund-raising abilities contin- ued through the years for good causes such as Texas Baptist Memorial Sanitarium in Dallas and later the Baylor Hospital and Medical Center.

A world citizen, he led the cause of the League of Nations following World War I. He toured South America during the summer of 1930, preaching to large crowds. The South American trip lasted two and a half months, and included vis- its to Brazil, Argentina and Chile. Truett was the sole Amer- ican speaker on the program of the Spurgeon Centenary in Lon- don, England, in April, 1934. He toured world mission fields as president of the Baptist World

He left Dallas in November, 1935, for England, Egypt, Palestine and India. Burma, Singapore, and Hong Kong fol- lowed. China and Japan concluded the tour.

In the summer of 1937, Dr. Truett and Dr. J.H. Rushbrooke toured many European countries in "regional con- ferences."

Truett never engaged in athletic sports; he was no fisherman, gardener, household mechanic, nor swimmer--but hard work and a good diet kept him in good health for most of his years. His most serious illness prior to his home-going was in May and June of 1938, when he was seized by a virulent attack of influenza. Mrs. Truett, describing those days, said:

...As you know, I did not leave his bedside for the four weeks of his hospitalization, nor the weeks since. In his de- lirium he was quoting scripture, preaching, calling men to Christ or praying for them. I feel that his illness was a great revelation of real man.

Truett wrote a lovely letter to his wife on his sev- entieth birthday. He wrote:

May 6, 1937

My Darling Josephine:

The long expected day has arrived. "The days of our years are three score and ten." I have lived out the allotted span of life! Emotions too deep for words stir in my heart. More grateful than my poor words can say, am I, both to God and humanity, for all the mercies that have been showered upon me, through all the fast-flying years! It is all of grace, grace, God's wonderful grace! I would this day rededicate my all to Christ, to go and to say and to do and to be, what he would have my hands for all the days ahead, whatever they may be: I do fervently hope and pray that my days ahead may be far better and more useful than the days that are gone. May God mercifully grant it, for His Great Name's Sake!

No other birthday that I have ever had has so deeply affected me as this one today. I have been reminded of it by letters, telegrams, flowers, telephone calls, etc. on all sides.

Though I do not deserve any of these tokens I appreciate them more than I can say. They intensify my desire and purpose, with God's help, to strive still more faithfully to make my humble and very imperfect life a blessing to the people. And you will be by my side, to pray for me and to help me all long--you my chiefest earthly comfort and inspiration. Forever your own

Seventy-year-old, and going strong!

His health began to wane in 1938. Truett was stricken with bone cancer in 1943, and died of Paget's disease and cardiorespiratory complications after several agonizing months. On the day of George W. Truett's burial, the city of Dallas almost came to a standstill. His influence there had been so great that the city never mourned a greater loss until the death of President John F. Kennedy there in November of 1963. He was revered as the leading religious leader of the South.

Four characteristics seem to sum up his ministry.

First: Humility. Honors never puffed him up. The smallest child could approach him and the poorest person could reach his great heart.

Second: Simplicity. You might wonder what the secret of his power was because his messages, though profound, were always simple, filled with illustrations. He used short, pointed sentences.

Third: Spirituality. Many said you felt as though you were in the presence of the Lord when in his company. With all of his spirituality, a person did not feel uncomfortable in his presence. He simply made you want to be a better person after you were with him.

Fourth: Oratory. He did not rant and rave to secure the attention of his hearers. He did more to quiet down the preachers of the South than any other man alive. He spoke in a conversational voice. However, his voice of pathos and feeling would make his congregation weep and never be ashamed of it.

These characteristics were illustrated by the following incident:

Once a young lady was brought before the church for discipline because of a violation of the church covenant. It was suggested that she be dropped from the roll of the church. As the debate developed, Truett said, "Let us also call the church treasurer and have him read the record of the giving of every member, and let us vote to drop everyone who has violated God's law against covetousness." Like a bomb exploding, the air was cleared of accusers.

His preaching was positive rather than negative--except for a time of clashing with J. Frank Norris, independent Baptist leader from nearby Fort Worth.

Truett continued to build and support the Southern Baptist Convention's Cooperative Program. He did, however, look at the "social gospel" movement in general with real suspicion. His great themes were evangelism and religious liberty. His hobby was books, as evidenced by a library of over 10,000 volumes. He loved biographies, and he loved Spurgeon.

Truett's published works, compiled and edited by others, include ten volumes of his sermons, such as We Would See Jesus and Other Sermons (1919), A Quest for Souls (1917) (a collection of his sermons given in a great evangelistic campaign in Fort Worth in 1917), God's Call to America (1924), Follow Thou Me (1932) and These Gracious Years. His authorized biography, titled George W. Truett--a Biography, by Powhaten W. James, his son-in-law, has appeared in six editions, five by MacMillan Company of New York (1939-1945) and the sixth, Memorial Edition, by Broadman Press, Nashville, in 1953. Some of Truett's well-known tracts are The Leaf and the Life, and Baptists and Religious Liberty.

Truett preached 17,000 sermons and had a most loyal associate, Robert H. Coleman, who was with him since 1904. T.A. Johnson was personal and church secretary since 1910.

Since Truett's death, many religious, educational and healing institutions have erected new buildings or designated others as memorials to him. Examples of these are a seven-story educational building at the First Baptist Church, Dallas; Truett Auditorium, Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary; Memorial Chapel, Dallas; three Truett Memorial Churches located in Denver, Colorado; Hayesville, North Carolina; and Los Angeles, California; Truett-McConnell Junior College, Cleveland, Georgia; Baptist Orphanage, Nazareth, Israel; and the Truett Building of Baylor Hospital at a cost of $5,500,000.00.

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