Tennessee's Pioneer Baptist Preachers
GREEK SCHOLAR, FARMER, MINISTER AND DEBATER.
(pages 462 - 464)
John Scruggs was the second son of Richard and Eliza (McMahan) Scruggs. He was born in Grayson County, Virginia March 14, 1797. In the early settlement of the new country his father came to Tennessee, settling near Warrensburg in Greene County. He studied under Dr. Samuel Doak. founder and first President of Tusculum College, a Presbyterian school near Greenville, but took his degree (A.M.), September 25, 1824, from Greenville College, under the presidency of Charles Coffin. He was a classical scholar, knew the deal languages quite well, and read New Testament Greek fluently. He was a pioneer among Baptists in this part of the country, so far as the study of Greek is concerned. "John Scruggs was the first Baptist preacher I ever heard read Greek. He real it, and understood it, and was looked up to as an authority." (Elika Taylor). For a short time after graduation he taught school in Rogersville and was a good teacher.
September 7, 1824, he was married to a Miss Theresa Newell Carter, a daughter of Francis J. and Esther Crocket Carter, of near Newport, Cocke County, and a first cousin of the celebrated Davy Crocket. To this union were born fourteen children. In 1833 he moved to Monroe County, where he purchased a large body of land on Chestua Creek at $1.50 an acre. At one time he owned 1,700 acres of land, and at his death, after selling off and dividing up with his children, was still tile owner of 700 good acres - a right handsome estate for a Baptist preacher. He was ordained by the authority of Chestua Church - Elder Robert Snead preaching the ordination sermon from Paul's charge to his son Timothy, "I charge thee before God, etc., preach the Word." He was the founder of Mount Harmony Church, also its pastor for more than twenty years. He was also pastor of Chestua, Zion Hill, Madisonville and other churches. He contributed toward the new brick meeting-house of the Chestua Church more than one-third of the entire cost of the building. He bought and sold horses, at the same time was an "independent colporter," selling books for the J. R. Graves Publishing House all the way from Indiana to South Carolina. Wherever he "traded" he sold books: and preached the gospel. Alike at home and abroad he received little for his preaching. He preached for one church for seven years regularly, I have been told, and received $7.00 for his services.
It is worth while for an association to have an efficient clerk, and it ought to be considered a providence when good timber in any religious body is furnished to hand for the making of a first-class clerk. The Sweetwater Association was fortunate in having John Scruggs as clerk for a great many years; the minutes speak for themselves.
Elder Scruggs was a close Bible student,' a fine reasoner, clearheaded and logical, a forcible doctrinal preacher, a man of talent, and an able debater. He had a number of public discussions with Pedo-Baptist opponents. He was "competent and able in discussion," and in his day and place was the recognized standard-bearer of the Baptists. In matters of history, church polity or Baptist usage, John Scruggs was the commonly accepted referee, and his judgment was greatly deferred to throughout the association. At the funeral of Brother Scruggs the testimony of the venerable Robert Snead, a co-laborer and by some years the senior of Brother Scruggs, was: "About the finest preaching I have ever heard in all my life was a fifteen or twenty minutes sermon delivered by our deceased brother, John Scruggs, before the Sweetwater Association." This is high praise indeed. And I suppose that for incisive statement and clear, forceful presentation of the great New Testament doctrines, John Scruggs was unsurpassed, if equaled, by any of his associates in the ministry.
November 11, 1867, marked the passing of this faithful servant of the Lord and valiant defender of the Baptist cause. He wag buried in the graveyard of the old Chestua Church.
A SIDELIGHT: In a recently published "History of Sweetwater Valley" the author, Mr. W. B. Lenoir, recalls the preachers of his boyhood recollection and the marked, particular thing about each of them that had remained with him through life. With one of them he had ever associated the word and doctrine of "Faith," with another "Love," with another "fire and brimstone," and so on, but the one word associated in his mind, from youth to old age, with the strong and scholarly Scruggs was the Greek word "baptizo," which the preacher, he says, insisted always meant "to plunge or immerse," and could not "by any implication or indirection in the remotest degree mean anything else." The incident is a strong sidelight on the character of a faithful defender of the New Testament Scriptures, and has its lessons: What we are - where we place the emphasis, our bearing and manner - counts for much; the preacher lives on, embalmed in memory and reproduced in the lives of others -his words, his thoughts, echoing through the world and down through the corridors of time.
Burnett, J .J. Sketches of Tennessee's Pioneer Baptist Preachers. Nashville, Tenn.: Press of Marshall & Bruce Company, 1919.
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