Phillip Franklin Johnson

Cumberland Presbyterian Minister

1852 - 1925


A Great and Good Man Gone Home

In the death of Rev. P. F. Johnson, D.D., which took place on June 15, the Cumberland Presbyterian Church lost another member of the old guard of 1906, who went to answer roll call in the great "General Assembly of the twice born," where he has been reunited with many whom he loved, and to await the coming of thousands who now revere his name.

Born of Cumberland Presbyterian parents, college bred and theologically educated, in Cumberland Presbyterian institutions, at a time when Cumberland Presbyterianism was just coming into its own, though he had been modest and unassuming, Dr. Johnson was the logical leader, educationally, to life the banner of our Church from the dust in which it had been trailed by the ecclesiastical treachery of 1906. Just how well he succeeded in that work may be seen by a survey of the present ministry of the Church, a very large percentage of which received their training, either in part or as a whole, under his guidance during the seventeen years of as faithful, efficient and unselfish service as it could have been possible for a human being to render.

Dr. Johnson was a Christian gentleman of the purest type; a Cumberland Presbyterian from deepest convictions; a scholar of rare attainments, and a student of unflagging energy--all of which qualified him for efficiency. As a husband and father in his home, as a citizen of the community in which he was born and in his Church to which he was passionately devoted, he was a shining example of what a man should be.

Dr. Johnson had been called to many positions of trust and responsibility in his Church, having served as Moderator of every kind of court, including Moderator of the General Assembly, in its form of government. He was at the time of his death the Stated Clerk and Treasurer of West Tennessee Synod, which position he had filled for many years. He was for years the Secretary and Treasurer of the Board of Education of his Church. He was also, at the time of his death, a trustee of the American Bible Society, by his Church's appointment. In none of these positions was he ever unfaithful or inefficient.

Dr. Johnson was born in 1852; received the degree of A.B. from Bethel College in 1881, and that of B.D. from the Cumberland Presbyterian Theological Seminary at Lebanon, Tenn., in 1884, and that of D.D. from Bethel College in 1918, at which time he became Dean of the Cumberland Presbyterian Theological Seminary, now the theological department of Bethel College.

In 1882 Brother Johnson took to himself a wife in the person of Miss Susan Flippin, who became to him a faithful helpmeet through the vicissitudes of forty-three years of married life. To this union were born five children, all of whom are left to comfort their mother, so far as they can, in this the saddest experience of her life.

The names of their children are: Mrs. Vera Barry, of New Holland, Ill.; Miss Ruby Johnson, of Kansas; Mrs. Grace Beasley, of McKenzie, Tenn.; Mrs. W. Y. Durrett, of Chattanooga, Tenn., and Robert Johnson, of McKenzie, Tenn.

What will be to the writer and his wife a pleasant memory as long as we shall remember earthly things, is the fact that during the recent General Assembly Brother Johnson and his wife and other friends spent a week in our home. We saw his noble face last as we saw him and his wife upon the train on their return trip from the General Assembly meeting.

It was on the first Sunday in January, 1905, that Brother Johnson and the writer first came into each other's lives, and from that time to his death we had been confidants, and had advised together upon many a problem; and one of the most regrettable experiences of the writer's life was the fact that, because of a temporary illness, he was unable to go to the family in its hour of greatest distress.

Had we known that he was going to his heavenly home so soon, we would have said to him:

"Brother Johnson, when you get home, you will doubtless meet a number of the members of the old guard. Tell them that the number of the men whose hearts were cemented together as we stood together for what we believed to be right in 1906, is growing less year by year, but that you left a few of us still over here. Tell them, also, that you left a large number of consecrated young men and women who are capable of manning the valiant and buoyant little ship Cumberland through the boisterous seas of timer, and that, though she has landed many thousands, she will yet land millions more on the beautiful shores of the eternal beyond."
[Source: The Cumberland Presbyterian, Vol. 97, No. 40 (June 25, 1925, page 1]


By Miss Eula McCoy.

Rev. Philip Franklin Johnson was born in Weakley County, Tenn., January 20, 1852. He spent his boyhood days on the farm, attended the common schools, and for several months went three miles (at night) and took "grammar lessons" from a special friend.

In early life (1870) he professed faith in Christ and joined the Cumberland Presbyterian Church at Meridian, six miles east of Greenfield, Tenn.

In the fall of 1875, he entered Bethel College at McKenzie, Tenn. He remained in school six years, teaching through the summer months. He also preached every opportunity, filling pulpits for older preachers and helping in revival meetings, and received for his services for the six years, thirty-six dollars. In March, 1881, he was ordained to the full work of the gospel ministry. In June of the same year he graduated from Bethel College with honors, receiving the degree of Bachelor of Arts. The following December he was married to Miss Susan V. Flippin.

He taught school for two years before entering the Theological School at Lebanon, Tenn. He was pastor of a church in Gibson County, Tennessee, for the two years and received for his service a clothes brush (which he still has in his possession). But his business was to preach the gospel, and he preached and taught school to pay expenses.

He entered Cumberland University in 1883. The following summer (1884) he held meetings in Missouri and Arkansas and organized the Cumberland Presbyterian Church at Paragould, Ark., after graduating from Cumberland University. His first pastorate was the historic old Red River Church in Logan County, Kentucky.

He assisted Rev. B. W. McDonnold in preparing McDonnold's "History of the Cumberland Presbyterian Church."

Since that time he has filled some of the most important pulpits in Tennessee, Arkansas, Missouri, Texas and Oregon.

In 1905 he returned to Obion Presbytery, in West Tennessee Synod, and played an important part in saving it from the attempted destruction by the Northern Presbyterian Church. He was the first man--and for a long time the only man--I heard oppose Union with the U.S.A. Church. He did not wait to see if his action would meet with popular favor, but said: "I am a Cumberland Presbyterian from principle; I oppose Union from conviction and for conscience sake." His saying made an impression on my young heart, and since then I've studied him as closely as I ever studied any text-book, and always found him true to his convictions. Thank God for men who have the strength to stand "alone with conscience."

Perhaps the greatest work he has ever done is that in which he is now engaged, as Dean of the Theological Seminary of the Cumberland Presbyterian Church. In the fall of 1908 he came to Bethel College and served for one year in the double capacity of president of the college and teacher of theology. Then he resigned the presidency that he might give full time to the growing theological classes. When the Theological Seminary was permanently organized on June 8, 1914, he was elected dean.

Only those who have been under the splendid tutelage of this godly man can have a true conception of the great work he is doing in molding the lives of the future ministry and missionaries of the church. P. F. Johnson's boys and girls will be true. There is a better day coming for the Cumberland Presbyterian Church, because he lives and teaches by precept and example, pure Christianity and pure Cumberlandism.

[Source: Our Senior Soldiers: The Biographies and Autobiographies of Eighty Cumberland Presbyterian Preachers.Compiled by The Cumberland Presbyterian Board of Publication. The Assistance of Revs. J. L. Price and W. P. Kloster is Greatfully Acknowledged. Nashville, Tenn.: The Cumberland Presbyterian Board of Publication, 1915, pages 288-290]


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Updated 10 September 2019