John Leath Dillard

Cumberland Presbyterian Minister

1793 - 1884

Photograph Courtesey of Ronald T. Clemmons




JOHN L. DILLARD was born in Dinwiddie County, Virginia, near Petersburg, February 1st, 1793.

In the Spring of 1807 his father emigrated to Middle Tennessee and settled in Wilson County, eight miles north-east of Lebanon. In this vicinity were Methodists, Presbyterians and Baptists. His attendance at church was at first principally among the Methodists, in which denomination he had a pious old uncle and aunt; also a cousin, a minister of that order. After some time, he attended occasionally with the Cumberland Presbyterians, under the ministrations of Rev. Thomas Calhoun, who was one of the young men of the revival party of 1800, who afterwards constituted the Cumberland Presbyterian Church.

He had occasionally serious thoughts upon the subject of religion, but passed them by without any decided change for the better.

In the Spring of 1809 his father sent him back to Virginia to collect money there due, and to settle up his unfinished business. This he successfully accomplished, and after an absence of about two months returned home. During this trip he became more wicked, having fallen in company with three young men coming to Tennessee, who, though with a gentlemanly exterior, were very immoral. Being of a susceptible nature, and considerably their junior, he imbibed their spirit and came home with his morals much injured by association.

In the fall of 1809 or 1810, there was held a camp-meeting by Cumberland Presbyterians, at a place called Big Spring, and here commenced his deep conviction of sin and its consequences. At this meeting, among other ministers present, was Rev. William McGee, who occupied the stand on Sunday, at 11 o'clock A.M. This, perhaps, was the first Gospel sermon that ever arrested and riveted his whole attention. The discourse, especially its application, seemed to speak to his conscience in tones of thunder, and to say, "Thou art the man." At the close of this sermon the preacher invited sinners to the altar of prayer. There was a rush forward, and down upon their knees, or prostrate on the ground were many poor sinners like himself, and he almost involuntarily went forward with the heart-stricken band. In the afternoon a proposition was made from the stand, that at a little before sundown, all so disposed, both saint and sinner, should retire to the grove for private devotion. Ere the sun went down the encampment was nearly deserted. Under the conviction that he too should go, he felt awful. Seeing at one of the camps several young men of his acquaintance, he stepped up to them and inquired whether they were going to the woods to pray. One of them pertly answered--"those might go who felt like it, but for his part he should not go." So he sauntered off and went alone. The voice of prayer from all directions, with a subdued and solemn sound, fell upon his ear. At length, at the root of a large tree, he fell upon his knees and asked God for mercy. The prayer was a brief one, as it quickly rushed into his mind that some might be returning from their secret devotions and find him in the act of prayer. He arose and returned to the encampment quickly. How proud is fallen human nature! He spent an unhappy night. Next day, after the forenoon services of singing, prayer and exhortation, as he had no rest or peace of mind there, he left the place and went home, but not without stopping on the road several times to listen if he could hear the mingled sounds of singing, prayers and cries for mercy, for it seemed they were still ringing in his ears. After this he gradually lost his serious impressions until the winter of 1811, when his convictions returned with redoubled force, and he ceased not struggling until it pleased God, with a light, not a natural light or like that of the sun, but an inward, spiritual light in the soul, to reveal to his apprehension his Son, a suitable Savior, accompanied with peace in believing and joy in the Holy Spirit. From this hour he felt that he was a new creature. "Old things had passed away and all things had become new." Thenceforward he set out to lead a new life, and was neither afraid nor ashamed to tell what great things the Lord had done for him.

It was not long until he was impressed to warn sinners to flee the wrath to come. Their dangerous condition was set before him in strong colors. This duty became more and more imperative. The "woe is me" seemed to hand over him with threatening aspect. At length, after many prayers and resolutions, much reluctant hesitation, through the advice of several devoted ministers and other godly persons, he presented himself, in the spring of 1815, before the Nashville presbytery, and was received as a candidate under its care. Such was the call for the public means of grace, that he was directed to supply with preaching, though not in a formal way, the societies in the bounds of Nashville circuit until the next meeting of presbytery, the fall ensuing. This he did, and at this meeting of presbytery was licensed to preach the Gospel. He was then appointed to travel and preach to the societies of what was then called the Overton circuit, embracing a good deal of wild mountain country. During these tours he so enlarged the bounds, by taking in new places, that it required about five weeks to attend all the appointments, preaching often twice a day, and riding from ten to twenty miles.

After this he entered a high school conducted by Mr. Hugh Barr, a man of fine education and a member of the Presbyterian Church, and afterwards a minister of the same. Here he studied geography, natural and moral philosophy, history, ancient and modern, and astronomy, and paid his own way.

About six months after quitting school, which time was spent at camp-meetings and preaching to the destitute societies, he was married to Miss Candis T. Baker. She was a most excellent woman, a zealous promoter of the cause of Christ, and in every way worthy of being the wife of a Gospel minister.

In due time he was set apart to the whole work of the ministry by ordination, April 5, 1821, by Nashville presbytery. Besides preaching to several congregations, some of which he had recently organized, he still occasionally went on preaching tours of four or five weeks, sometimes in company with another minister and sometimes alone, among the vacant societies, and organizing new ones, distant from home from fifty to one hundred miles.

In those early times the latter part of summer and all the fall season required the labor of all the preachers in holding camp-meetings. They went forth in the fullness of the blessing of the Gospel of Christ. Their work was crowned with abundant success, and great was the company of those that believed.

When Mr. Dillard's family had grown to a considerable size, he opened a school in his own vicinity. This he did partly for the education of his own children, and partly for the benefit of the young men who were candidates for the ministry, a number of whom were here prepared for licensure and ordination. The most of them became able, consecrated and successful preaches. All his life a student and fond of reading, it always afforded him pleasure to impart to younger brethren any knowledge which he had acquired, and which might aid them in the momentous calling in which they were engaged.

The burden of his pulpit teaching has been: The utter impotency of the sinner to help himself in his totally depraved condition; The full atonement of Christ the only door of hope; Repentance toward God and justification by faith in Jesus Christ; The necessity, nature and effects of regeneration by the Holy Spirit; A holy life the fruit of faith working by love; The resurrection of the dead and eternal judgment; The reward of the righteous and punishment of the wicked. He has ever observed that the most rational, lasting and telling revivals of religion have been produced under the faithful exhibition of some or all these radical principles; and he is persuaded that a discourse from the pulpit having none of these important doctrines as its basis, is not entitled to the name of a Gospel sermon. He has never delivered a memorized sermon, nor read one in manuscript from the pulpit. He has studied his sermons, making short notes, and then looking to God in aid in their delivery. He has often been called upon by surprise, when entering the pulpit, to preach immediately, and sometimes such has been the pressure, that he has solicited the minister seated behind him to select a suitable text for him while he was singing, on which occasions he has been blessed with as much "soul and tongue liberty" as he ever had under other circumstances. But he thinks the adoption of such a course as a rule or a common practice, would be sheer presumption. He has never shunned to declare the whole counsel of God to both saint and sinner; nor has he evaded, when occasion required, to vindicate the distinctive tenets of our Church, and to oppose what he conceived to be dangerous errors; meanwhile avoiding at all times the use of offensive language.

His field of labor has been for the most part in Middle Tennessee, though he has visited East Tennessee, and in his early ministry preached considerably in a portion of it. By presbyterial appointment he assisted, in holding the first presbytery of the Cumberland Presbyterian Church convened in that part of the State. He has preached more or less in Kentucky, Illinois, Alabama, more than four years in Texas, and nine months in Missouri.

He writes: "In regard to the success attending my ministry, I trust that I can say, without egotism or vanity, but with humility and with gratitude to God, that he has greatly blessed my feeble and unworthy labors in comforting the souls of God's children, and building them up in the faith of the Gospel, and in awakening and leading many precious souls to Jesus--how many the great day only can disclose.

"I supposed I am now the oldest minister in our beloved church--in the eighty-fifth year of my natural life since the first day of April, 1877, and in sixty-third year of my ministry. I was personally acquainted with the founders of our Church, Ewing, King and McAdow: have been at church with all three of them, and in church courts with the two first named. I was present when Cumberland presbytery was divided and those of Logan and Elk formed. Was at the Synod at Princeton, Kentucky, when the question of constituting a General Assembly was debated. Was at the subsequent meeting in Tennessee, when it was decided that one should be constituted. Oh, what times were those! Since, how changed! Then the representation of the Church could be accommodated in a log-cabin; now it is heavy upon our large cities. What great things the Lord hath done for us. I am now old and well stricken in years, but I am still trying to preach Christ and him crucified. I wish to fall at my post. My hope for the future is fixed and settled upon that foundation laid in Zion, Christ himself the chief corner stone. I am not afraid to risk it. I shall die with some fears that the spirit of dead formalism may gain ground in the Church, but with a good degree of comfort that there is a large element in it which will earnestly contend for the power of godliness."

Dr. Dillard has been successful and forcible as an author. In 1853 he published "Dillard's Lectures and Review of Lowry's Letters," a work which was very popular and answered a valuable purpose at the time. It is now out of print: but it is to be regretted that the lectures therein contained have not been reprinted.

In 1874 he published "The Medium Theology." The writer is not informed as to the amount of demand there has been for this book. Perhaps time sufficient has not yet elapsed for its solid merits to bring it to the public attention to the extent it deserves.

[Source: Crisman, E. B. Biographical Sketches of Living Old Men, of the Cumberland Presbyterian Church, in Six Volumes. Vol. I. St. Louis, Mo.: Perrin and Smith, Steam Book and Job Printers, 1877, pages 42-52]


THE REV. JOHN L. DILLARD, D.D., in Jackson County, Tennessee, at the residence of his son-in-law (H. B. Smith), with whom he made his pleasant home for the last fifteen years, after having been confined to his bed for ten days of mere exhaustion--run-down physical machinery, which God in his providence kept moving during ninety-one years and three months--departed for his long home in heaven on Friday night, May 2d, 1884, at half past one o'clock. He gave the clearest evidence that it is possible for a Christian to give that divine light poured upon his leaving spirit until it entered the perfect day of Paradise.
[Source: The Cumberland Presbyterian, May 15, 1884, page 1]

Deceased Ministers:

John L. Dillard, D.D.
Sparta Presbytery
May 2, 1884
[Source: Minutes of the General Assembly of the Cumberland Presbyterian Church, 1884, page 28]



Much more than an ordinary newspaper notice is due to the memory of the late John L. Dillard, D.D. So useful and so noble a life deserves an appropriate biography. Such a work, while it is due to him, would be of great value to the Church, especially to the ministry. Such a work, I hope, will be prepared by some suitable person as soon as the materials for it can be collected. In the meantime I think it proper to send you a few articles for publication in the CUMBERLAND PRESBYTERIAN in relation to his life, labors, etc.

The Rev. John L. Dillard was born in Dinwiddie county, Virginia, near Petersburg, February 1, 1793. His father, in 1807, with his family moved to Tennessee and settled in Wilson county, near Big Spring, six miles north-east of Lebanon, the county seat.

He made profession of faith in Christ in 1811. He may be properly reckoned one of the thousands of converts of the memorable revival of 1800, which continued, without much abatement, in some parts of Kentucky and Tennessee for many years. He was licensed and ordained a preacher of the gospel, my record says, in 1813 or 1814. The probability is that he was ordained by the Nashville Presbytery, and not by the original Cumberland Presbytery, which was divided and formed into a synod in 1813.

His death occurred at 1:30 o'clock A.M., the 3d of May, 1884, at the house of his son-in-law, the husband of his daughter Fanny, near Granville, Tenn., with whom he had lived for many years.

By a comparison of these dates we learn that his father settled in Wilson county when his son was about fourteen years old, who made profession of religion when about eighteen, and commenced preaching when about twenty years old.

These facts fairly indicate two other facts: First, that he was a young man of extraordinary promise; and, secondly, that his education much surpassed that of most youths of this country at that time.

He was twice married; first (date not given) to Miss Candace T. Baker, near relative of the Rev. Robert Baker, of precious memory, who was one of the earliest as he was one of the most successful ministers of the Cumberland Presbyterian Church in West Tennessee, and who was for many years a co-laborer with the subject of this notice in Middle Tennessee.
[Source: The Cumberland Presbyterian, September 22, 1887, page 5]




As has been stated, Dillard entered the ministry in 1814, about four years after the re-organization of the Cumberland Presbytery as an independent ecclesiastical court, by Ewing, King, and McAdow. Being only twenty-one years old, and with but little experience, it is presumed his first efforts in the ministry were confined to the bounds of his county. His labors at that time were, probably, under the more immediate supervision and direction of the Rev. Thomas Calhoun, who was his senior both in years and in the ministry, and in whose immediate vicinity Dillard had for about seven years resided. A short time only was sufficient to demonstrate that fact that he, by the grace and good providence of God, was able to bear the standard of the cross into new fields and win new trophies for the Prince of Peace without the presence and leadership of older and more experienced brethren.

The remarkable physical exercises, incidental to the great revival of 1800, were gradually subsiding. The revival itself still continued ablaze with wonderful power in many parts of the country. Individuals, and often whole families, thought it no fanatical or unjustifiable sacrifice of time and expense to travel forty or fifty miles on horseback and in wagons to attend a four-days' sacramental meeting--generally a camp-meeting. This religious interest, so intense, persistent, and wide-spread, naturally enough created a great demand for preachers in new fields of labor--a demand far greater than it was possible for the Church to supply.

Many persons have wondered how the little Church, organized in 1810 with only three ministers, swelled in so short a time to so great a multitude and spread over so large an area of country. This mystery is solved by the facts stated above.

It was literally after this wise: There were then, even in Middle Tennessee and Kentucky, but few preachers of any Church, compared with the number requisite to supply the country with the gospel. There are some Baptists--Primitive, Hardside, Hardshell--as they were variously called; some Methodists, but exceedingly few Presbyterians.

Emigrants from the older States, "new settlers" as they were called, were pouring into the country annually by thousands, and forming new neighborhoods, or "settlements" in the unclaimed wilderness. These and older citizens, urged by curiosity sometimes, but generally by better motives, would attend these sacramental meetings, and become interested, and often be converted, and unite with the Church. If there were no Church or regular preaching in their neighborhood, they would forthwith call for a preacher.

These new converts, from a distance of forty miles or more, would often become the nucleus of a new Church in their own vicinity. In this way the converts of a single sacramental meeting might lead to the forming of a number of new congregations scores of miles apart. In view of the facts, it is quite easily seen how the "little flock" so rapidly spread over so large an area of country, and why the demand for preachers so far exceeded the ability of the Presbytery to supply it.

From every quarter came up to the Presbytery the Macedonian cry: "Come over and help us." To meet these pressing calls was simply impossible. Every thing that could be done was done. Blunders--mistakes--no doubt were made; but what was deemed best was always attempted. It is an easy matter, three quarters of a century after the battle is over, when the peculiar circumstances and special emergencies of the times are unknown, to criticise or condemn this, that, and the other measure. The critic, in such cases, always has much advantage of the actor. Often, if the two were to change places, the occasion for criticism would be much greater than it is.

The pioneers of the country were brave, robust men--neither pigmies, nor lilliputs, either in body or in mind. They, too, were largely infected with various forms of skepticism--especially with French infidelity, or atheism. It was decidedly a religious crisis. The few Primitive Baptists in the country were holding their time-honored monthly meetings and associations, and preaching unconditional fore-ordination. The Presbyterian ministers, few in number, were generally opposed to all revival measures and thought themselves to be doing God's service in denouncing them, and in preaching the third chapter of their Confession of Faith. Dr. Davidson, in his "History of the Presbyterian Church in Kentucky," even boastingly states that there had been no revival in that Church for twenty years.

Presbyterian ministers in this country generally believed their Confession of Faith, and preached it according to its true intent and plain common sense interpretation. Hence, they consistently enough opposed revivals, and taught the people to await God's own good time when he would convert and save all the elect. All others would inevitably perish, and human efforts were, therefore, of no avail.

Their arresting doctrine, instead of the tide of infidelity, rather furnished it with an apology. Methodists and Cumberland Presbyterians alone seemed to understand the situation, and to see and feel the necessity of the most vigorous and persistent efforts to save the country from infidelity and irreligion.

Cumberland Presbyterians, from what was then deemed a pure necessity, adopted the itinerant method of supplying destitute neighborhoods with preaching. No regular pastorates were formed. Able preachers became missionaries, and formed what was appropriately enough called circuits, consisting generally of about thirty preaching places and requiring about a month to complete the round. The rule was for the missionary to preach from one to two sermons per day, and on Sunday sometimes three. A few articles of clothing in a pair of saddlebags, a hymn book, a small Bible, and perhaps another book or two on some scientific or religious subject, constituted the missionary outfit. Such was the general rule. In some cases preachers having families had shorter circuits. Sometimes, however even men of families were absent from their homes three or four months at a time, preaching and planting Churches in new and destitute portions of the country. No one had any guarantee of a support for himself and family. The rule was to trust God and the people for a living. Though many were quite poor, yet no one, I think, ever suffered for the actual necessaries of life. The cases of extreme destitution, I believe, were rarer then than now. This was not because people are less liberal now than then, but because living was much cheaper then than now; because a rigid economy was from necessity the order of the day.

Such was the state of things when young Dillard, in 1814, espoused the ministry as his vocation for life. Believing himself moved by the Holy Spirit to preach the unsearchable riches of Christ, and seeing the broad fields, white unto the harvest, he did not hesitate, nor confer with flesh and blood, but girded himself as best he could, for the arduous work.

Blessed with a fine physical form, a noble man by nature, capable of great endurance, combining, in a high degree, modesty and dignity, fortitude and courage, on the one hand; and on the other a fine, discriminating mind, and a strong will and a heart full of generous and noble impulses, he was universally regarded by the Church and by the world with great favor. High expectations of his great usefulness in the Church were reasonably entertained. Nor were these anticipations disappointed. He soon became the peer in every respect of many of his co-laborers of greater age and longer experience.

His superior abilities, his fascinating pulpit style, his ardent but well-tempered zeal, his patience under adverse circumstances, his calm, self-possession, his uniform cheerfulness in the social circle, made him a universal favorite in the Church and out of it. No minister of any denomination in the country where he labored was more generally popular with all classes. None, consequently, had better opportunities for doing good and none perhaps more faithfully or more effectively used such opportunities for this purpose. Nor did his great popularity and wonderful success elate him with vanity or the spirit of self-sufficiency, as not unfrequently happens with ministers and other successful men. While he did not depreciate himself, as some men of real merit sometimes do, he did not seem conscious of his superiority or ostentatiously magnify his success, but gratefully ascribed it to the goodness and grace of God.
[Source: The Cumberland Presbyterian, September 29, 1887, page 5]




Early in Dillard's ministry the presbytery came to believe that the interests of the Church, in every sense of the word, were, under God, safe in his hands, notwithstanding his youth. He was accordingly sent far and near to administer the ordinances in newly organized congregations, and to organize Churches in destitute sections of the country. He labored more in Middle Tennessee than anywhere else, this being his home. There was not then, it is believed, a single county in this division of the State in which he did not preach more or less.

He was one of the first ministers of our Church, or any other, to preach the gospel in West Tennessee. Along with the Rev. Robert Baker, Dr. Richard Beard, the Lamberts--Jordan--Anthony, and Samuel--the Barnetts--William and John--and Dr. Reuben Burrow, all of precious memory, whose praise is in all the Churches, he labored in that country when the population was very sparse and travel exceedingly difficult for the want of roads, ferries, etc. It was then in the truest sense "a new country"--a great unbroken forest. The labors of these men in that and in all such new countries were attended with many difficulties and discouragements. Emigrants moved to that newly opened territory for the sake of improving their secular condition, the acquisition of good homes, and of greater wealth. But the missionary went without the hope of secular fee or reward to minister to the spiritual and religious necessities of the people. They often did not realize sufficient compensation for their time and labor to pay their traveling expenses and purchase their clothing of the plainest kind. Yet I have never learned that any of them suffered unbearable hardships. God sent them, and he took care of them and their families. Their hard, self-denying labors in the Lord were not in vain. Their work still lives to the praise and glory of the Redeemer, in whose name it was performed. It is seen in the many large and flourishing Churches which adorn and bless that eminently moral and Christian section of the State.

Dillard was among the first--perhaps the very first--of our preachers, to push his labors as far west as the low lands and swamps of the Mississippi river in West Tennessee. How long he labored there I have no means of knowing. He was also among the first to preach a general atonement and a free salvation under a Presbyterian banner, among the mountains of East Tennessee. His co-laborers there--some perhaps his predecessors and some contemporaries and some his successors--were, if I mistake not, the Donnells, George and Robert S., Samuel Aston, J. K. Lansden, and Jesse Hickman. The latter is by several years his junior, and who, in a ripe old age, is, in the good providence of God, still able to preach Christ as the friend of sinners and the hope of the world. How long and at what places and with what success Dr. Dillard labored in East Tennessee, I am not advised. We, however, are authorized to suppose, in the absence of historic data, that his labors there were not less successful than elsewhere. This much we positively know that the ministrations of these early missionaries from Middle to East Tennessee were not without an abundance of good fruit, as the many prosperous Churches in that country to-day bear witness.

Though Dr. Dillard's labors were more abundant in his own State than elsewhere, yet they were by no means confined to it. He preached much in Kentucky, and labored also for a time in Mississippi, in Alabama, in Illinois, and in Missouri.

He did not have charge of any Churches in these States as their, pastor, but traveled and preached at his own discretion, and wherever an opportunity offered.

In 1866, after the death of his last wife, as has been noticed, he sold his farm in Wilson county, Tenn., and moved to Texas. There he lived with Gen. Saddler, the husband of his daughter. He traveled and preached and wrote constantly for more than four years. Let it be noted that he was now seventy-five years old. Still he is in the saddle and is preaching in the "Lone Star State" with the same earnestness and persuasive eloquence the same blessed gospel which he began to preach in Tennessee fifty-five years before.

It was, I think during his brief sojourn in Texas that he prepared the manuscript for his "Medium Theology," which is one of the most perspicuous and self-consistent statements of Cumberland Presbyterian theology that has been published. Many of the preachers and laity with whom and for whom he labored in Texas will long remember his sermons and his prayers, and also his wife counsels and fascinating conversations in the social circle. There as elsewhere he made friends of all who knew him. In fact, to know him was to admire him for his wisdom and to love him for his amiability.

After the death of his daughter and of Gen Saddler, his son-in-law, he determined to return to Tennessee. On his was he stopped in Missouri, where he preached for eight or nine months. It used to be a favorite maxim with Father Robert Donnell that "he that carries the silver trumpet ought always to be ready to blow." By this he meant that the preacher should not only be prepared to preach, but willing to preach wherever an occasion offered, or whenever he could, without impropriety, make an occasion. Few men, perhaps, ever conformed more faithfully to this rule than did Dr. Dillard. He seemed constantly to have before his eyes Paul's charge to Timothy, "I charge thee in the sight of God and of Christ Jesus, who shall judge the quick and the dead, and by his appearing and his kingdom, preach the word; be instant in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort with all long-suffering and teaching."

After his return from Texas Dr. Dillard located in the bounds of the Sparta Presbytery, of which he became as member, remaining in connection with it till his death. During the eighty-fourth and the eighty-fifth years of his age he went forth as a sort of presbyterial missionary or evangelist. In connection with a young man of the same Presbytery he traveled over six counties. During the time he did a great deal of good preaching, had many precious revivals, and received into the Church four hundred members. What a marvelous labor for a man of such an age! When engaged in this arduous work, traveling throughout the length and breadth of six counties, in a mountainous country, over all sorts of roads, except good ones, laboring in all sorts of houses, eating and sleeping in new places, and subject to all the inconveniences and vicissitudes of such a life, he had gone fifteen years beyond the period allotted to human life, and had been preaching for sixty-five years.

Evangelistic work is indispensable to the spread of the gospel and to the enlargement of the area of the Church. Paul's commandment to his son Timothy was, "Be sober in all things, suffer hardships, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill thy ministry." No kind of ministerial work is more difficult or a great tax upon the physical man, or more perilous to health, then the work of an evangelist. No other form of Christian labor requires a greater degree of self-denial, or more patience or self-control, or greater skill in controlling men, or more prayerfulness and grace in order to success. Dr. Dillard had all the qualifications, in an eminent degree, for a successful evangelist, but that he should do such a work at such an age is truly marvelous. In all the history of evangelistic work in our own Church or in any other, I know of no parallel.

After the close of these evangelistic labors Dr. Dillard lived only about six years. He, however, continued to preach as opportunity offered, with comparative ease to himself and with interest and profit to his congregations, up to within quite a short time before his death.
[Source: The Cumberland Presbyterian, October 6, 1887, page 1]




Dr. Dillard was for seventh years a minister of the gospel--not nominally, as too many are, but an active, working minister, ever willing and ever ready to discharge the duties of his calling in obedience to the will of God and in the interest of the souls of men.

Believing himself called of God to preach, he did not wait for calls from Churches, but could always find an opening--a place and a people to preach to who were needy and willing to hear. Indeed, he did not always heed Church calls, even when prospects of remuneration and of usefulness were good. Not his own secular interests, but his conviction of duty, was the rule that determined when and where he should preach. As the great Shepherd was sent to the lost sheep of the house of Israel, so Dr. Dillard seemed to feel it his special duty and privilege to go out into the highways and hedges and minister to the destitute who, in a special sense, were starving for the want of the bread of life. It is said by those most familiar with his ministerial life, that he probably did more unremunerated labor than any other preacher that ever labored in this or, perhaps, any other country. Considering his unusually long ministerial life, his general good health, his ardent love for his fellowmen, and especially his interest in the poor, this statement is not at all extravagant or incredible. Nothing seemed more to gladden his heart than the utterance of the blessed Savior, "The poor have the gospel preached unto them." He felt the force of these expressive words, and construed them in their literal and in their spiritual sense as including alike those who are largely destitute of secular goods and of religious and spiritual good.

This interest for the poor in this broad sense was a dominant feeling in his heart, and more than any thing else determined the fields of his ministerial labor. He was not what, in his day, was considered a poor man, still less was he a poor preacher, but he was pre-eminently the poor man's preacher. Fitted by nature and education and habit for the most cultured and fashionable society, he was equally at home--free and easy--with the poor and the less intelligent. He studied their habits and instincts, and purposely adapted himself to their manners and tastes, that he might catch them with guile and win them to Christ.

This line of conduct did not depreciate him in the estimation of the more wealthy and the more cultivated. On the contrary it rather ennobled him in their esteem. It, however, rendered him a rare jewel in the estimation of the less wealthy and the less cultured, hundreds of whom were thus won as jewels for the crown of his King. His interest and labors were not restricted to the pious or more moral of the poorer classes, but were extended with like cheerfulness and skill to the immoral and openly profane. The bold blasphemer, the dissipated, the gambler, and infidels of all grades were the objects of his prayers, his solicitude, and of his pious strategy.

He seemed to take it for granted that, though such might be the avowed enemies of Christianity, yet that they were not, on that account, enemies to him; and with a marvelous skill he would ingratiate himself with them, and often break down their prejudices and persuade them to reform their habits and become Christians.

He had unlimited faith in the power of the gospel, and believed that if men could be induced to listen and to think, however wicked or hardened or skeptical they might be, there was not only a possibility but a probability of their salvation. He consequently believed it his duty and privilege to do every thing possible for their salvation, and his success was often a marvel to saints and to sinners.

He often fixed his mind upon individuals or upon individual groups or circles of persons, or on a person of note and the center of a social circle, and if he could not gain access to such without apparent impropriety, he would lay plans, the design of which could not be suspected; or employ the agency of others for the accomplishment of his purposes. How very different is the policy, or rather want of policy, pursued by many ministers of the gospel! Several points of contrast are readily observable.

Some preachers almost invariably shun the poor of their congregations, seldom visit them or recognize them in public, and sometimes do not know them, and avoid rather then seek their acquaintance. This may be done from various motives or reasons. The natural instincts and tastes of persons are often very different. Persons on the same level in most respects are often excluded from pleasant companionship by dissimilar natural propensions and contrariety of tastes, while others of less similarity of circumstances may be drawn together and become congenial companions because of similarity of tastes.

These natural proclivities, however valuable they may be in their place and under proper control, should never be allowed to usurp the place of reason and dictate the rule of conduct. To submit to their dictation and control is to propose to ourselves a law of action little superior to that which rules in the lower animals. Such a course is creditable enough in the horse, or dog, or bird, but does not become a human being. To do this is to display supreme selfishness, to ignore our duties to others, especially those whose tastes and habits are diverse from our own.

The law of Christianity is a law of universal love, of kind offices one to another irrespective of natural differences of tastes, circumstances, and habits. This law of universal love and of benefaction when possible of course requires the denial of our individual inclinations and preferences for the good of others. Especially is this an imperative duty when there is good reason to believe that by foregoing our own ease or present gratification we may be the means of greatly improving the condition, or perhaps of saving the souls, of others.

Our great Teacher and exemplar, whom we are commanded to follow, loved all men and tasted death for every man. If he did this in the interest of humanity, surely we who profess to be his ministers can very well afford to visit the poor and labor for them as he did. Certainly the companionship of the profane and the blasphemous, the despisers of God and religion, is far less agreeable to the true Christian than the companionship of the opposite class. But we should remember that the present is the seed time and not the harvest time. If Christ as a man had consulted his own social preferences he probably would not have associated with others than his own most devoted disciples, would not have eaten with hypocritical Pharisees, publicans, and sinners. This self-denial he practiced not for his own sake, but for theirs. A life of self-denial for others' sake, though its initiation may require great decision and strength of will, will, be force of habit, sooner or later become not only easy, but a source of the highest pleasure--the pleasure of doing good, of improving the moral and religious condition of others, of saving souls from death, and of hiding a multitude of sins.
[Source: Cumberland Presbyterian, October 13, 1887, page 1]


Dillard, J. L. Elements of Medium Theology. Nashville, Tenn.: Published for the author by the Cumberland Presbyterian Board of Publication, 1874. [2 copies in archives]

Dillard, J. L. A Review of Rev. L. A. Lowry's Letters. Also, a Series of Lectures Illustrating and Defending the Doctrinal Peculiarities of the Cumberland Presbyterian Church. Louisville, Ky.: Published for the author by J. F. Brennan, 1853. [5 copies in the archives]

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