by Robert R. Taylor, Jr.
(Reprinted from the Gospel Advocate, November 11, 1971)
Rufus Vester Cawthon was born at Una, Tennessee, on March 23, 1880.
He departed earthly scenes October 10, 1971, being in his ninety-second year of age. His funeral was conducted at the meetinghouse of the Mt. Juliet church of Christ on Tuesday, October 12. His grandson, Jimmy Garner, delivered the funeral message. This writer read several scriptures which summed up so well Brother Cawthon’s faith, hope and love and led the prayer.
He is survived by one son, Rufus Cawthon of Mt. Juliet, Tennessee, six daughters, Mrs. Mary Poe Williams, Mrs. Nancy Hackney and Mrs. Vesta Locke all of Mt. Juliet, Tennessee, Mrs. Sarah Garner, Waukegan, Illinois, Mrs. Jamie Goldsberry, Nashville, Tennessee; one brother, Meacham Cawthon, Lebanon, Tennessee; two sisters, Mrs. Pallie Hamlen, Lebanon, Tennessee; and Mrs. Donnie McCartney, Alexandria, Tennessee; twenty-five grandchildren and thirty-four great-grandchildren. Sister Cawthon preceded him in death by nineteen years.
Brother Cawthon was baptized by Joe Grigg in 1893. He attended Nashville Bible School in Nashville, Tennessee. He began preaching in 1903 and preached “in season and out of season” until his health failed him during the 1950’s. Perhaps the most graphic description that can be given to his fifty years of gospel proclamation is to say he was a one man missionary team. He had his own tent and chairs and went where there was a need. During Brother Cawthon’s eventful career as a gospel preacher he held over 400 meetings within a thirty-mile radius of his home in Mt. Juliet. Such a noble tribute to the man in and of itself. He conducted over 100 meetings in Nashville. These meetings were of two weeks duration and would frequently cover three Sundays. He established over twenty congregations.
People in the Nashville area loved to hear him preach and would frequently follow him from one location to another. Many times we have heard him tell of changing his planned topic of discussion at the last minute because a group of people from where he had just been for a meeting would come in and they had already heard that sermon. When news came of his passing B. C. Goodpasture, editor of the GOSPEL ADVOCATE, was in a gospel meeting at Ripley, Mississippi, and was a guest in the writer’s home. Brother Goodpasture said there was a time when Brother Cawthon was perhaps the most popular preacher in the Nashville area.
Like many other stalwarts of his generation Brother Cawthon frequently faced grave dangers and made many sacrifices in behalf of the truth. He has told us a number of times of preaching when his enemies sat armed before him in his audience. He challenged them to pull their guns but they remained meekly seated. There were times when he would win the confidence of one or more of the rougher elements in a community and they would come to hear him preach and on occasion would help him preserve order. We distinctly remember him telling of one exceedingly rough fellow who told him, “Brother Cawthon, I am going to help you hold this meeting!” Brother Cawthon was once threatened with death by a gun if he proceeded to baptize a young girl who had responded to his preaching. The girl’s deeply indignant father sat on the bank with his gun drawn on Brother Cawthon. Brother Cawthon waded out into the water and baptized that young lady not knowing whether the man would shoot or hold his fire. Later he baptized the man himself. He and Andy T. Ritchie, Sr. knew what it was to be hungry in their evangelistic efforts to plant the cause of truth in hard places. He often told of their being so hungry one night and approaching a farmhouse. The knock on the door brought the man of the house to see who his night callers were. They told him that he was now looking upon two mighty hungry preacher boys. The man and his wife invited them in and fed them a chicken meal. Brother Cawthon never forgot that act of hospitality. He and Brother Ritchie once had a standing joke between them concerning their patched black suits. They would tell each other to apply a little shoe black on the patch to keep it of close colors with the rest of the suit.
John McCulloch, a lifetime admirer and a former elder of the Mt. Juliet
congregation, said the day of his funeral, “He had less regard for money for a meeting than any man I ever saw.” Brother McCulloch remembers seeing people in need approach Brother Cawthon. These people were often hungry.
Brother Cawthon would tell them that he did not have any money either but would take them to the store and make provisions for them to obtain something to eat. We have often heard him say that he never sought to raise money for himself while he was preaching but often raised it for needy congregations which were struggling to build and equip a meetinghouse in which to worship and for individuals who did not know where the next meal was coming from and how they would meet living expenses. He once promised a congregation a free meeting. Brethren were so well pleased with the grand results that they insisted he be reimbursed. He refused. His honor would not allow him to go back on his word of promise. Through these years Brother Cawthon’s faith was great that the Lord would provide for him and his family. Like Brethren Harding and Larimore he was a great believer in God’s providence.
We have heard him relate numerous instances of what he attributed to the providence of God.
There was a time when Brother Cawthon was about the only gospel preacher between Nashville and Murfreesboro. For many years he conducted hundreds of funerals throughout this area. It is doubtful if he ever received much money for his funeral work. Even in these affluent times this aspect of a preacher’s life has not changed too much. Perhaps the last funeral Brother Cawthon helped with was for his very close friend, Roscoe Hackney, father of his son-in-law Kenneth, in Mt. Juliet in November, 1956. The writer gave the message for that funeral and Brother Cawthon spoke just a few words at the close. He almost broke down as Brother Hackney was one of his dearest friends.
Brother Cawthon was often invited back again and again for gospel meetings at the same place. From the viewpoint of responses he held some of the greatest gospel meetings of his day in the Nashville area. One preacher said the common people were the ones who went to hear R. V. Cawthon preach. Brother Cawthon remembered reading in the Scriptures how these were the very ones who heard Jesus gladly. ( Mark 12:37.) He turned the remark into a compliment. He aided in the establishment of some of the finest congregations. When not in gospel meetings he did appointment preaching. He did appointment preaching at Olmstead, Kentucky, for twenty-five years.
Brother Cawthon loved to preach and he loved gospel preachers. It was a staggering blow during the early fifties when his health broke and his active stance on the gospel firing line came to a reluctant halt. During the funeral eulogy his grandson, Jim Garner, told of the last time he heard his grandfather preach. He preached from a chair being unable to stand. Such deeply impressed Jim. He said, “I thought how wonderful it was to love to preach that much.” This eloquent allusion prompted the writer to reflect on a story often told by Brother Cawthon about hearing the aged Lipscomb preach from a chair. Brother Lipscomb once came to hear Brother Cawthon preach. Brother Cawthon told him, “I want you to preach in my place.” Brother Lipscomb hesitated but upon Brother Cawthon’s insistence preached at the service. Brother Cawthon greatly admired such men as Lipscomb, Larimore and Elam. Brother Lipscomb performed the marriage ceremony that united R. V. Cawthon and Dovie Talbot as husband and wife April 15, 1906. Brother Cawthon often led singing for the gifted Larimore. Often they would stay in the same home. Brother Cawthon said Brother Larimore wanted to come to his room and visit once a day and desired Brother Cawthon to come to his room and visit once a day. E. A. Elam was one of his real favorites. Affectionately he called him “Daddy” Elam. When his mind was still sharp he loved to talk by the hour of those great men whom he had known in earlier years and by whose side he had blazed gospel trails. He loved the gospel preachers that handed the Old Jerusalem torch of truth to him and others.
He loved those who were younger and to whom he unselfishly and with no bitterness of spirit handed that same torch of truth. It had burned brightly during his eventful career.
The writer preached for the church in Mt. Juliet from 1956 to 1961. Hundreds of times during those years he sat in the audience on the front seat. No young man ever had a finer booster than he was. He never spoke that first unkind word. His words of encouragement soon became legion. During those years he often led the main prayer. Frequently we told him he could do far more good with his prayers than we could with the sermons that followed. He taught great lessons of truth and faith in his excellently worded prayers. He could pray as few men we ever heard. He nearly always prayed this sentiment, “Lord, what shall we render unto thee (we never heard him say that first you or your in any prayer for all thy benefits toward us?” The writer read this among several other passages at the funeral service. ( Psalm 116:12.) In essence it summed up his whole concept of Christianity.
A prince among men, an able preacher among proclaimers and a stalwart soldier of Calvary has now run his last mile and fought his last battle. May we be true to the old paths for which he pleaded so earnestly and eloquently for more than fifty years. He lacked but little of serving in the Lord’s cause four-score years. The world is better because he lived. He influenced thousands to walk the high road of holiness. He lived to serve. He served to save. “Know ye not that there is a prince and a great man fallen this day in Israel.” (2 Sam. 3:38.)