Joe McPherson, the Mail-Carrier Preacher
By Professor Francis M. Turner
Written circa 1910
We give you the following sketch of Brother Joe McPherson because we believe it will encourage you. Brother McPherson was born Feb. 9, 1862, in Posey County, Indiana. His parents removed to Tennessee in his 16th year. He professed religion and joined the Missionary Baptist Church at the age of 17. Being a close student of the Scriptures, he decided to become a Baptist preacher. For five years he remained an active member of the Baptist Church, often conducting the prayer-meetings.
At the age of 22 Brother McPherson was married to Miss Bettie Poynor, formerly of Longview, Tex. He chanced to hear Brother Larimore in a series of meetings at the old church building, then located on Church street in Nashville, Tenn., on the very spot where the Vendome Theater now stands. It was during this meeting that he decided to put himself in harmony with the New Testament teachings. So, after a careful and prayerful consideration of the matter, he went forward in response to an invitation. On this point Brother McPherson has the following to say: “Brother Lin Cave came to me and asked me if I was a member of any church, to which I replied, “I am a member of the Missionary Baptist Church.” “Well,” said he, “you have been immersed, and we do not require you to be immersed again, if you are satisfied with your baptism.” “I am trying,” continued Brother McPherson, “to get out of sectarianism, I want to do just what the Scriptures command one in my condition. I believe with my whole heart. I am penitent. I want to confess Christ and be baptized in His name for the remission of my sins. I did this and come up out of the water of baptism knowing that, I had a “thus saith the Lord,” for what I had done.”
Brother McPherson continued to pray often and studied the Scriptures with great diligence. He had two brothers who at this time had developed into full-fledged ordained Baptist preachers. They discussed Scriptures with him. This, of course, only strengthened our good brother. He searched the Scripture more diligently in order to be prepared to defend the truth.
Brother McPherson has been preaching about fifteen years and has been a letter-carrier in Nashville post office twenty-four years. He has walked over 54,000 miles since he has been preaching. He walks fourteen miles a day during the week and holds meetings at nights. The meetings often continue for five or six weeks.
For the past seven years Brother McPherson has been working at destitute points where we had no congregations. In this work he has been supported by the Tenth-street church of this city. He has established fourteen congregations in the destitute places, and has assisted in building nine church houses for these new congregations. He held meetings, established congregations, and assisted in building houses for the following congregations: Cherokee Park, West Nashville, Pilcher Avenue, New Shops, Twelfth Avenue, North Nashville, Joy’s Flower Garden, East Nashville, Eleventh Street, Edgefield Junction, ten miles out from Nashville; Holt’s Chapel, eight miles from Nashville; Goodlettsville, twelve miles from Nashville.
Beside these meetings, Brother McPherson has held meetings for a number of the large congregations in Nashville. While holding the meeting at Charlotte Avenue, he walked 350 miles delivering mail. This meeting resulted in forty-seven baptisms, two restorations, and two from the Digressives. He even held a four week’s meeting at Lebanon, Tenn., and kept up his duties as letter-carrier. During this meeting he traveled by rail 1,408 miles; walked 288 miles, baptized thirty-eight converts, and restored two to church fellowship. Last year he held another meeting at Lebanon of five week’s duration.
Brother McPherson has baptized about 2,000 people and has held four public discussions. He held a debate lasting ten nights with a Baptist preacher at Pilcher Avenue Church of Christ, this city, four years ago. During this debate four confessed Christ and were baptized.
Brother McPherson has held other meetings too numerous to mention. Now, Christian friends, don’t you feel that you are encouraged to do more for Christ than ever before, after reading what this humble servant of God has done? Besides all these heavy labors, Brother McPherson has had sorrow enough on his heart to crush most people. Yet, after all, he stands up under it like a true, invincible Soldier of the Cross.
Joe McPherson died in 1918. He was just 56 years old. In 1915 he became an associate editor for Austin McGary’s paper The Open Arena. Brother McPherson was held in high regard by David Lipscomb, A. M. Burton, Austin McGary and Marshall Keeble. He was a remarkable man.
McPherson lived in Nashville at a time when there were almost no congregations with full time hired preachers. Every man had a trade. Every Christian felt a keen sense of responsibility to teach others and to follow Christ. Christians prayed and read the Bible and knew what was in it. There was no TV, Radio, nor any of the other modern distractions … are we better off now?
“Although Brother Joe McPherson has gone from us, his labors and his influence among us still live.” M. Keeble, “Among the Colored Folks,” Gospel Advocate, 62 n. 22 (27 May 1920): 532.
“. . .I think of how few negroes are given the chance to hear the pure gospel and I tremble. Jesus said: ‘Go,. . .teach all nations.’ We need some more preachers like Joe McPherson, E. G. Sewell, David Lipscomb, and S. W. Womack, who went about preaching ‘Jesus Christ, and him crucified,’ to the rich and the poor, black and white. Brother Joe McPherson did more toward teaching me how to preach than any man I ever heard. Brother A. M. Burton supported a meeting once for the Jackson Street church of Christ (colored), in Nashville, and got Brother McPherson to do the preaching. This meeting continued one month, and many souls were brought to Christ. In this meeting I copied every lesson Brother McPherson preached: and though he is dead, I am still preaching his sermons, and these lessons are still bringing men to Christ. Brethren, wherever you go and find an opportunity to preach to my people, please give them God’s word, and it will bring forth fruit to the glory and honor of Jesus Christ.” M. Keeble, “Among the Colored Folks,” Gospel Advocate, 63 n. 37 (15 September 1921): 911.
Joe McPherson, Preacher-Postman
By A. B. Lipscomb
Gospel Advocate, 60 n. 38 (19 September 1918): 889.
Hundreds of hearts were saddened when they read in the daily papers that Brother Joe McPherson had died, on Wednesday, September 11. Hundreds attended the funeral services, which were held the following Friday, in the Russell Street auditorium, being conducted by Brethren E. A. Elam, J. C. McQuiddy, Matthew Cayce, and the writer.
I cannot think seriously of our lamented brother and his work and not be reminded of an expression that Paul used in the second Corinthian letter where he speaks of the “simplicity that is in Christ.” I do not know of a man anywhere who had a stronger appreciation of the simple gospel or one who could preach it in a simpler way than Brother McPherson. This trait in him was generally recognized. Whenever there was need for a man to go into a new mission field where the people for the most part were poor and illiterate and the question arose, “Who is the best man to send?” It was not difficult for any of us here in Nashville to agree on the man—it was usually Joe McPherson. Be it said to his credit, he was always willing to go, trusting in God and in his brethren for support. Nor did always wait to be sent. Time and again he suggested places where the gospel was sorely needed and urged that he be sent to those places. He seemed to find great depths of meaning in those burning words of the apostle Paul: “How then shall they call on him in whom they have not believed? and how shall they believe in him whom they have not heard? and how shall they hear without a preacher? and how shall they preach, except they be sent? even as it is written, How beautiful are the feet of them that bring glad tidings of good things!” (Rom. 10: 14, 15.)
I would not for one moment convey the impression that Joe McPherson preached chiefly to the poor and the illiterate classes because he was unable to preach to well-educated people. That would be a wrong impression. For this good man numbered among his friends some of the most cultured people we have and held some meetings with fine results for old, established congregations. As a matter of fact, a man who is truly educated appreciates simplicity in speech and manner fully as much as his less fortunate brother who has no education. The reason why Brother McPherson labored for the most part among those in the humbler walks of life was because he felt that the could accomplish the greatest amount of good in this field. It was said of our Savior that “the common people heard him gladly;” and this may be truly said of our lamented brother. Therefore, when he elected to labor for the most part among the common people, he made a very wise decision. He threw his energies into the largest and most inviting field of human endeavor. “God must have loved the common people,” said Abraham Lincoln, “because he made so many of them.”
It is my belief that most of our great men have been men of plain speech. Mr. Wesley once preached to a large audience from the text, “But one thing is needful.” When the congregation were retiring from the chapel, a lady who had listened to the venerable preacher expressed great disappointment. “Is this the great Mr. Wesley of whom we have heard so much?” she asked. “Why, the sermon was so plain the poorest person in the house could have understood him.” I believe the same thing could be said of every sermon that Brother McPherson preached. His greatness lay in the fact that the poorest could understand him and the most learned were edified.
It matters not how humble the preacher may be, if he preaches God’s word, he is God’s ambassador and is entitled to a respectful hearing. He is engaged in the most important agency that has ever been established among men. It originated with the Son of God and bears the stamp of his authority. He pledge himself for its success and its perpetuity and closed the great commission with the words: “Lo, I am with you always, even unto the end of the world.”
No estimate of Brother McPherson’s life would be complete did we not speak of how he proved the nobility of work. We usually consider the laborer or one who has a salaried position to be a man with limitations, so far as preaching the gospel is concerned. I have known those who made no effort and who excused themselves by say: “If I did not have this job to hold down, I could do something for the Lord. If I could just escape the tyranny of the clock and the factory whistle or get away for a while from the watchful eye of the boss, I might convert somebody.” Be it said to Joe McPherson’s credit that his job never spelled “limitation;” it spelled “opportunity.” He could carry a heave mail sack and walk many miles every day and then preach the gospel every night with all the fervor of his being. Some people have a great deal of money, which they can use for the glory of God. Joe McPherson had very little money beyond his living expenses, but he had time, which he freely consecrated to the Master’s use. Do you speak of his limitation, his narrow environment for doing good? His life work repudiates any such thought. I am willing to place the record, including the number of sermons preached, the number of meetings held, the number of people baptized, alongside that of any pastor in the land, and you will find that eh does not suffer by the comparison. All of this shows that if we have “a mind to work,” God will provide the way. I would not say anything that may have the appearance of fulsome flattery, for I am conscious that this lamented brother had his faults. I have heard him severely criticized, and sometimes not without cause, but I have never heard a single intimation that he ever shirked his duties as a postman in order to have more time to preach. He has taken what time he had and has used it well. One of the highest encomiums of praise that I have heard upon his character was spoken by the postmaster.
Here in Nashville Brother Joe McPherson was generally referred to as “the postman-preacher,” but I am going to change the order and call him the “preacher-postman;” for it is my honest belief that he placed the duty of preaching the gospel first and gave Jesus Christ the rightful place in heart. He served God faithfully on his route and in the office as well as in the pulpit. He will be sadly missed. No one can do the work that he has done and depart without leaving a vacant place in the circle of his friends. I would remind those who are greatly bereaved of the Book that he studied above all others. I would point them to the exceeding great and precious promises in which he trusted and with which he comforted others in all their troubles. One special promise comes now with deeper meaning than ever before: “But we would not have you ignorant, brethren, concerning them that fall asleep; that ye sorrow not, even as the rest, who have no hope. For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so them also that are fallen asleep in Jesus will God brig with him.” (1 Thess. 4: 13, 14.)
O, how much the imperishable hope of the gospel means to the faithful in the dark hour of death! We peer into the impenetrable shadow, but we do not see; we listen in the infinite silence, and there is no sound; but the cable of human hope stretches from shore to shore. Over it we whisper our messages of love to those gone before, and with the ear of faith we await the answer of our prayers. A. B. Lipscomb wrote in the Gospel Advocate, “Hundreds of hearts were saddened when they read in the daily papers that Brother Joe McPherson had died, on Wednesday, September 11.” I think it may of some interest as ask what did folks read in the daily papers about Joe McPherson. Here is a part of the answer:
By Wayne Burton
Joe McPherson was born in Indiana on February 8, 1862, and was thus fifty-six years old. Coming to Nashville in early life, he was appointed substitute mail carrier from the Nashville post office in 1887. He served with the office to his death—thirty-one years. He was married to Miss Bettie Temple Poyner, by whom, with eight children—five sons and three daughters—he is survived. The sons are: David Lipscomb McPherson, Jesse R. McPherson, Andrew P. McPherson, Houston Borum McPherson; three daughters, Eddie Mai and Eudora McPherson and Mrs. Emma Poe Elkins.
After his enlistment in the mail service Mr. McPherson saw his opportunity to do more, and he believed he could render further service by preaching the gospel to his fellow man as time permitted. While still attending to his official duties in the daytime, he adopted the habit of preaching at nights and on Sundays reaching often out in mission points and far beyond the county borders. Through Evangelist McPherson’s efforts along this line twenty congregations were established in and around Nashville. He preached for twenty-odd years, up to his last days. A summary of the first fifteen years of his missionary and evangelistic work, while postman, as published some time back by Prof. Francis M. Turner, showed that during the time involved he had established fifteen congregations, baptized three thousand persons, and walked fifty-four thousand miles. During the past eight or ten years Evangelist McPherson’s evangelistic work had been mainly, during the summer months, under the auspices of the Russell Street Church, most of this work being done under the “tent meeting” plan.
Joe McPherson made a study of men rather than books, excepting the one great Book. He was educated in the Scriptures and in human nature more than in current literature. He was rather self-confident and seldom pessimistic, but becomingly modest, and cared not a whit for notoriety. He believed in the all-sufficiency of the Scriptures and pleaded for a strict reliance thereon, and therein lies the greatest index to Joe McPherson.
I am stuck by the fact that McPherson mainly studied the Bible and men. This seems a part of the key to why Marshall Keeble becomes such a success after hearing McPherson.
Note: These are timed piece written from between 1910 and 1918. All those mentions as living have long since passed away. Even some locations mentioned may have changed.
Directions To Grave
The Joe McPherson family are buried in Mount Olivet Cemetery in Nashville, Tennessee. The GPS and map show the location of the grave in the cemetery.
July 9, 1862 - September 11, 1918
Bettie E. Poyner McPherson
March 10, 1869 - Jun 29, 1960
February 11, 1844 - March 13, 1929
Wilkes L. McPherson
March 27, 1885 - January 25, 1904
Photos Taken 10.24.2016
Webpage produced 01.04.2019
Courtesy Of Scott Harp