Garland Elkins was born on August 19, 1926 a few miles outside of Woodbury, Tennessee. He was reared in the community that bears the Elkins name. His parents were Richard and Emma Todd Elkins. Garland was one of seven children. He was immersed into Christ in July 1939.
Garland married Corinne Smith, also of Woodbury, on August 28, 1949. At the time of his death they had been married for 67 years. The Elkins’ had three daughters: Connie Miles, Jan Elkins and Denise Healy, along with three grandchildren.
Brother Elkins began preaching in May 1949. Only heaven knows, I suppose, how many gospel meetings he preached in Cannon County Tennessee over the years. My acquaintance with brother Elkins goes back to 1974 when I was a student at Freed-Hardeman College (now, University). I preached by appointment (once a month) for the Pleasant View church outside of Woodbury. From 1974-1976 my fiancé, and soon to be wife, Kathy Wood and I, took advantage of attending as many of Garland’s gospel meetings in the area that we could. It was said at his funeral that he baptized half of Cannon County and restored the other half.
He was educated at Freed-Hardeman College, Middle Tennessee State University and the University of Tennessee. He was awarded a Doctor of Ministry degree from Southern Christian University (now, Amridge). He became the Dean of Public Relations and an instructor at the Memphis School of Preaching in December 1990.
Brother Elkins was known and loved by a grateful brotherhood for his life-long fidelity as a defender of the gospel of Christ, his quick wit and ready answer with a “thus saith the Lord.” He is remembered as one who searched the Scriptures daily, committing them to memory and to life. He was known first and foremost as an evangelist of the gospel of Christ, but also a ready debater, a writer, editor, lecturer, educator and a friend to countless comrades in the pulpit. He was a great encourager of young gospel preachers. Garland preached for churches of Christ in Linden, Tennessee; Oak Ridge, Tennessee; Roanoke, Virginia; Newport News, Virginia; Memphis, Tennessee; Southaven, Mississippi; and the last twenty-six years of his life with the church in Stanton, Tennessee.
Garland Elkins directed the Memphis Meeting with representatives of the Herald of Truth on September 10, 1973. He served as co-editor, along with Thomas B. Warren, of The Spiritual Sword (1973-1989), and co-director of The Spiritual Sword Lectures (1976-1989). He briefly edited Power magazine (1990) and, along with Thomas B. Warren, co-directed the Power Lectures (1989 & 1990), both works of the church in Southaven, Mississippi. Other volumes that bear his name include, The Savior’s Way (a book of sermons delivered in a campaign in Morrison, Tennessee, March 14-26, 1965); the Elkins-Ross Debate on baptism and faith alone, held in Parkersburg, West Virginia (April 16-17, 1979), and numerous gospel tracts. He will always be remembered for his very capable defense of what the New Testament teaches on church discipline, when he appeared on the Phil Donahue television show in 1984. This generation has not produced a more skilled and kindly friend of the truth than the late, great Garland Elkins.
Brother Elkins passed from this life on October 28, 2016, at the age of 90. He devoted 67 of those years to preaching and teaching the gospel of Christ to countless souls.
DENNIS GULLEDGE: How long have you been preaching the gospel?
GARLAND ELKINS: Forty-two years
DG: Can you recall the circumstances of your first sermon?
GE: Yes, I preached my first sermon at Woodbury, Tennessee in 1949 on the subject of “Does Godliness Pay?” A large crowd was present, perhaps between four and five hundred. I chose as a text for the sermon 1 Timothy 4:8. I still remember the points that I made in the sermon, and though I will not mention all of them, among other things I pointed out that there is profit in bodily exercise but it is little as compared to godliness. I pointed out that godliness pays both in time and in eternity. In this life it will result in good character, a good reputation, honesty, peace of mind, et al. In the eternal hereafter it results in eternal life. On the day I preached my first sermon on the subject of godliness I was convinced that it paid. From that time until the present I have seen that great truth demonstrated in the lives of many great Christians. I am also absolutely certain that many of my departed friends in eternity now know first hand that godliness pays after death.
DG: How do you think the emphasis in preaching has changed since you began? Has the change over the years been for better or worse?
GE: When I began to preach, gospel preachers, almost without exception, “Preached the Word” (2 Timothy 4:2), and they were expected to preach as the oracles of God (1 Peter 4:11). They were expected to prove all things by the Bible (1 Thessalonians 5:21). As unfortunate, and sad as it is, many preachers among us preach very little gospel but rater their own opinions, and some even preach the doctrines and commandments of men (Matthew 15:9; Colossians 2:21-22). All of us who preach should ever keep in mind such passages as 2 Timothy 2:15; John 8:32; Galatians 8:8-9; 2 John 9-11, et al. Obviously, the change in preaching is for the worse! Anytime the Bible is de-emphasized and false doctrine is taught it is for the worse.
DG: Name three preachers of the past or present who have influenced you the most in your preaching.
GE: The brethren who influenced me most in my preaching are: brethren N. B. Hardeman, Guy N. Woods, and G. K. Wallace.
DG: You have held a number of debates over the years. Which one is your most memorable, and why?
GE: It is difficult to know for certain. However, one of the most memorable was when I was debating a Pentecostal Holiness preacher. He read a passage, and then threw his Bible away, apparently to demonstrate his contention that he was guided by the Holy Spirit, and could quote anything that the Holy Spirit had recorded in the New Testament. He then attempted to quote a passage but could not do so. He tried several times but could never remember the passage. I waited for a brief time, and fortunately since it was one with which I was familiar, I quoted it for him. I then told the audience that it was obvious that he was not guided by the Holy Spirit for the Holy Spirit had spoken the passage through an inspired man (2 Peter 1:21), and it was certain that the Holy Spirit had not forgotten the passage! The passage was: “In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth.” (Genesis 1:1). The preacher was embarrassed, and as far as I know never returned to that town to preach again.
DG: It seems that our brotherhood has seen a decline in debating over the past thirty years or so. Do you agree that this is true, and if so, to what would you attribute the decrease in the number of public discussions?
GE: Yes, there has been a decline in debating over the past thirty years, and there are many reasons for it. Many members of the church do not study the Bible as in the past, therefore they know very little about the Bible. Likewise, many among us, like Israel of old, are determined to be like our religious neighbors. The view that is widely held in the world, and in the denominations, that “anything goes” has infiltrated the church, and immorality is widespread, and accepted even by many religious people, as well as by many in our fellowship. This causes many members to “heap to themselves teachers after their own lusts” (2 Timothy 4:3). Such members will not tolerate the truth, nor faithful preachers who will publicly defend the truth, but rather they, “will turn away their ears from the truth, and turn aside unto fables” (2 Timothy 4:4). There will be more debates when preachers correctly preach the truth, elders take a strong stand for the truth, and the members generally have faith in the power of the gospel, love and truth, and are willing to teach and oppose error.
DG: What special word of advice would you like to pass on to young preachers who may read this interview?
GE: Learn the truth, love it, obey it, “Preach the word” (2 Timothy 4:2). Preach “the whole counsel of God” (Acts 20:27). Preach the truth in love (Ephesians 4:15). Love the souls of people (Romans 9:1-3; Romans 10:1-3). Make yourself “an example of the believers” (1 Timothy 4:12). Do not become weary in well doing (Galatians 6:9). Always remember and practice what we refer to as the “golden rule”: “Therefore all things whatsoever ye would that men should do to you, do ye even so to them: for this is the law and the prophets” (Matthew 7:12). Finally, fight the good fight, finish your course, and keep the faith (2 Timothy 4:6-8). Remember whatever your afflictions are, they will be light as compared to the eternal weight of glory (2 Corinthians 4:16-18).
by Dennis Gulledge