Hendley collection reflects evangelist's 67 years in ministry

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (BP)--The Jesse Murphy Hendley Collection, documenting more than 60 years of the Southern Baptist evangelist's ministry, is now available for research at the Southern Baptist Historical Library and Archives in Nashville, Tenn.

Hendley, often called the dean of Southern Baptist evangelists, began Atlanta's first Christian radio broadcast in 1931 which developed into "The Radio Evangelistic Hour" and continued until his death at age 87 in 1994.

"Jesse Hendley was one of the most remarkable evangelists Southern Baptists ever produced," said Paige Patterson, president of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, Texas.

Patterson listed four reasons for his high regard for Hendley -- "a remarkably saintly life and sweet spirit, refusal to compromise on biblical truth regardless of political correctness, thorough knowledge of the Greek New Testament, and a willingness to serve churches of all sizes."

"His love for the lost and his desire to see men come to Christ is legendary," Patterson said in a statement to Baptist Press.

In 1995, a room in the historic Manor House at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary in Wake Forest, N.C., was named in honor of Hendley, along with such Southern Baptist leaders as Adrian Rogers and James Merritt. Manor House, a guest house for prospective students known as "The House of Prophets," was renovated under the leadership of Patterson and his wife while he was president of the seminary.

Hendley's name at Manor House serves to "remind incoming students of the kind of preachers we ought all to be," Patterson said.

Raised in Atlanta, Hendley accepted a call to preach while he was a freshman at Georgia Tech University, prompting a transfer to Columbia Theological Seminary in Decatur, Ga. His first pastorate was at Liberty Baptist Church in Liburn, Ga.; he then served at Colonial Hills Baptist Church in East Point, Ga., for 14 years. Under his leadership, the church grew from 85 people to an average Sunday attendance of 2,300.

Once he became a fulltime evangelist, Hendley preached throughout the United States and in Africa, India, Indonesia, Singapore and South America.

The Hendley collection consists of 11 linear feet of material including his sermons, sermon outlines and sermons on cassette tape that were presented on his radio show. The collection also includes a gamut of material showcasing Hendley's talents as an author, poet and hymn writer, according to archivist Taffey Hall at the library and archives.

"The collection would be most useful to researchers studying 20th-century religious culture and evangelism in the United States," Hall said.

In addition to the documentation of Hendley's ministry are letters of correspondence between him and some of the great ministers of the 20th century and beyond, including Billy Graham, R.G. Lee, Eddie Martin and Charles Stanley.

"Jesse Hendley was the greatest scholar-evangelist I have ever known," Jerry Vines, pastor of First Baptist Church in Jacksonville, Fla., said in a statement to Baptist Press. "He is the only man I ever knew who knew each of the 5,000-plus Greek words in the Greek New Testament by its lexical definition. He could quote entire chapters of the Greek New Testament. He was probably the most effective evangelist in reaching people for Christ I have ever heard. The greatest revival in the history of First Baptist Church, Jacksonville, in terms of evangelistic results was conducted by Jesse Hendley. After one week, we had 375 people saved and 350 of them were baptized. He was a dear friend and mentor to me."

The Hendley collection was donated to the Southern Baptist Historical Library and Archives by Hendley's children, Helen Hendley Herron of Ellijay, Ga., and Jesse David Hendley of Tucker, Ga.

"We wanted it to be in a place where it could be preserved and where other ministers or people who were interested in his ministry could go there and look it up," Jim Herron, Helen's husband, told Baptist Press. The pair worked nearly three years to compile the collection.

Hendley was a strong supporter of the Southern Baptist Convention and loved its ministers, so they concluded the proper place for the collection was in the convention's care.

Helen Herron also shared what her father would want said of him:

"He wanted put on his tombstone that Jesse Hendley loved Jesus with all his heart. He served Him for 67 years. He was saved when he was 20, and he was 87 when he died. That is literally all that man did. My mother took care of everything else, and all he did was pray and study that Word and preach. He was fluent in Greek and Hebrew, and I guess traced every word of the Bible to its origin so that he would be correct about it. The main thing I would want to say was that he loved Jesus."

Herron explained that her father had an office in East Point, just outside Atlanta, filled with file cabinets of sermons. He also had kept a collection of the monthly newsletters he distributed.

"He had a monthly newsletter and it had at least one sermon if not more in it. Most of the time it was monthly, except sometimes when times got hard, like during WWII. He never would beg for money. If the funds got low, he would let people know that there was a need, but he said, 'I will never beg for Jesus,'" Herron said.

Bill Sumners, director of the library and archives, said the large number of audio recordings that document Hendley's radio broadcasts are a significant part of the collection.

"The radio show is one of those things you do that a lot of times you don't see how it impacts people," he said. "Obviously he was committed to that kind of ministry. I think that is a fairly unique thing as part of our collection."

An inventory of the collection may be viewed on the library and archives' website, www.sbhla.org.

(BP) photos posted in the BP Photo Library at http://www.bpnews.net. Photo titles: A LIFE WELL SPENT, HEAR HENDLEY, AMBASSADOR FOR CHRIST and WAITING TO HEAR.

Download Story