Sketches Of

Tennessee's Pioneer Baptist Preachers


(pages 414 - 415)

One of the most effective preachers of the Holston Association was Eli Ratliff, a man small of stature and insignificant in personal appearance, but when "in the Spirit" and aroused, a great and commanding preacher. Before entering the ministry he was a surveyor, and a good one, it is said. He had good and sufficient reasons, as he thought, to "fight his impressions" to preach, and for a time stoutly resisted the Lord's call to him to preach his everlasting gospel. It was only when the Lord took hold upon him with a strong hand, bringing him near to death's door, that he yielded. In a critical illness, in which for days he swung like a pendulum between life and death, not knowing what the issue would be, he had time and opportunity to think and pray. Like a convicted sinner he saw the fiery flames of torment reaching up from beneath, and eager to devour him, felt that nothing but the hand of mercy held him up out of the horrible burning pit, and that he ought to perish, if he didn't make God a promise in good faith that he would preach His gospel the very best he could. Then, like Nehemiah, he turned himself to the wall, prayed, accepted the will of God, made his vow of consecration, and from that hour began to recover his strength and to get well. When he enlisted in the ministry he enlisted for active service, and gave much of his time and energy to self-denying evangelistic labors, in which the hand of the Lord was with him, making him a power for good. He was pastor of Fordtown, Harmony, Fall Branch, Double Spring(s), and other churches.

Elder Ratliff, from the account I have of him, was diminutive in size, thin, and considerably stooped, but was a bundle of nerves, a veritable galvanic battery; when he preached it was a common thing to see his entire physical frame tremble, to hear his feet "clatter on the floor," and to feel a tremor or vibratory movement in atmosphere, audience and building. As a result of his peculiar nervous organization he was subject to alternating moods of feeling, high and low. In his high moods he would preach like a seraph-preach as though inspired indeed; then his spirits would drop and he would be like Elijah under the juniper tree.

The following incident, related by Elder W. K. Cox, is strikingly characteristic of Eli Ratliff in the ups and downs of his Christian and ministerial experience: The brethren of Fordtown Church, of which Bother Ratliff was pastor, were wanting a protracted meeting.; they thought the church and community were "ripe" for it. With a little hesitation on the part of the pastor the meeting was, commenced on Saturday, that being the regular business meeting day. At every meeting, from the very first, the brethren would encourage the pastor to call for "penitents" to come forward. But Elder Ratliff's reply would be: "There is not a penitent in fifty miles of here." On Wednesday, however, perhaps at the evening service, not wanting to discourage the brethren, at the close of the sermon he gave an invitation to any who might want to be prayed for to come forward, when about fifteen persons presented themselves as objects of prayer. The preacher was more than surprised; he looked as though he was actually "scared." The meeting went on gloriously, resulting in some forty, or fifty conversions and many additions to the church.


Burnett, J .J.  Sketches of  Tennessee's Pioneer Baptist Preachers.  Nashville, Tenn.:  Press of Marshall & Bruce Company, 1919.


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