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The Passion Of The Christ: Outreach For Antichrist

A Biography of Rolfe Barnard

Compiled from his own personal recollections and taped sermons, especially "Saved from Infidelity" and "Watching Men Die," Barnard's Sermon Notes, and from correspondence with his daughter, Mrs. R. C. Moser, of Clemmons, North Carolina  I well recall when Rolfe Barnard first came to my hometown, Ashland, Kentucky. It was the spring of 1950. I was a teenage boy and attended, along with my mother, younger sister and brother, a large Baptist Church. It was one of the most influential churches in Eastern Kentucky with a membership of about 1,000. Some way, I do not recall how, they scheduled Rolfe Barnard to come and speak.  In those days evangelistic services were conducted annually, sometimes more often. They were known as "revival meetings." Some of the most prominent evangelists in America came to our church. Evangelistic services were extravaganzas: there was almost a "show biz" atmosphere. They featured fancy musicians, former boxers, convicts and entertainers as speakers, and all kinds of gimmicks and goodies for the youth. Aeroplane rides were offered for those who brought enough people to church and there were rewards for those who induced others to walk down the church aisles after the sermons. It was the big boom and everyone seemed to enjoy it.



I do not recall there being much permanent good effect of these "revivals." After all the excitement died down, people usually went about their sinful ways of living as before.Like all the guest-evangelists who came, the picture of Barnard was placed on posters and nailed all over town. Beneath his picture was an interesting slogan. It said, "The evangelist who is different." Exactly what was different about him the posters did not say. The man looked to be in his late forties. The only thing noticeably different about his appearance was that he came across as somewhat sombre–there was a slighly menacing look on his face. Normally, evangelists had broad smiles and shining faces advertising the jolly good fellows they were.  After a few sermons in the church, folk knew just how different Rolfe Barnard was from the evangelists who had visited the church before. There was none of the flashy demeanor, but a grave and dignified bearing like one who had been sent on a mission. One soon got the impression that he was not there to whip up religious excitement, but to deliver a message from God.


The message was as startling as it was different. It centered around the character of God, a God about whom most had never heard before. The deity most were acquainted with was a nice sort of fellow who did his best to save people, but was often frustrated in the attempt. Many times I have heard preachers say, "God has done all He can for you, now it is up to you." I used to listen with astonishment to this statement, for I wondered why I should seek help from a being who could not help me. Barnard, on the other hand, preached a God Who was sovereign and omnipotent, One Who dispensed His mercy according to His own discretion. He preached that sinners were not to come to God with the idea of helping Him out of His dilemma, but they were to come as guilty sinners, suing for mercy. He exalted the holiness of God and the strictness of His Law. This, you can be sure, was different.  Rumors began to spread all over town that a Calvinist had come to Ashland. Some reacted with amazement, some with confusion, others with down-right anger. But a small group rejoiced and said, "We have been wanting to hear this for years." My father, who believed in the doctrines of grace, started attending the services and announced to all of us that there was one at the church preaching the theology in which he believed.


The pastor, after much heart-searching and Bible study, came to believe in the doctrines of grace as a result of this meeting, and invited Barnard back in the summer of 1951 to hold a tent meeting in a large park downtown. In the intervening months a division developed over the so-called "five points" of Calvinism with the majority becoming more hostile. The pastor was a very talented and gracious man with a winsome personality, and he tried to woo as many as possible to the "new" view, but most stiffened and gave him trouble.  The church had a very active youth group, including a choir. I was a member of this choir and also sang in a quartet with others about my age. I had been baptized at the age of 12, but was utterly without any vital relationship with God in my life. There was in fact a terrible, aching void in my heart which I could not understand. Still, I did not even want to consider that I was not a Christian.  The two-week meeting in the park was a memorable event. The crowds were fairly large, considering the type of preaching which was sounding out. Barnard boldly preached the Gospel as he understood it, often denouncing the superficiality of modern religion. We were all fascinated with his style, though he seemed awfully stern and rough. Plain truths of the Word of God were set forth, even the harshest, in their naked reality. One of his favorite texts was "God will have mercy upon whom He will have mercy," Romans 9:15.


Shortly after the meetings started, there began to be a breaking up. Many, mostly adults, began to go forward after the messages and state publicly that they were lost and wanted prayer. These, and others who sat trembling in the audience, were under "conviction of sin." The amazing thing is that most of them were church members. I remember one night the piano stopped playing during the invitation and the pianist went to the front seat and sat down sobbing. We all knew she meant that she wanted to be saved. Prominent church leaders such as deacons, Sunday School teachers, and youth workers began to acknowledge that they had been false professors or deceived about their state before God. Our male quartet was singing each night under the big tent, and as it turned out later, not one of us was converted at that time. One night Don, one of the members of the quartet, went to the front where the pastor and evangelist were standing and asked for prayer. It was announced that he was lost and needed Christ.



It was at this point that I became involved in the picture. God was about to set me straight.
At that time I had the notion that anyone who had any religious feelings such as "seeking after God" was a true Christian. I misunderstood the text in Romans which says that there is none that seeketh after God (Romans 3:11). At any rate, it rankled me somewhat that my friend had been disturbed by the evangelist. At this very time my own soul was torn asunder because I had no real assurance of salvation, but I had a reputation of being a young theologian who believed in Calvinistic doctrine. I thought this would be a good time for me to show my skill in counselling and to help my friend who was in trouble.I went to the front of the tent where Barnard and the pastor were talking to Don. Butting in like the immature, upstart youth I was, I said to him, "Don, you do not need to worry. You are seeking God. The lost man does not seek God. Therefore you have the life of God in you, you are saved," or words to that effect. Never, till the day I die, will I forget what Rolfe Barnard said to me. Looking straight at me with his piercing eyes, he said, "Young man, a believer is not seeking Christ, he has found Christ!"


Ten pointed arrows piercing my body, or a jolt of electricity would not have shaken me more than those words. Barnard had not only corrected a false notion which would have led Don astray, but also he put his finger on a raw nerve in my own life. With this statement, through the work of the Holy Spirit in my heart, he stripped aside the shroud of pseudo-religion in which I had been hiding, and left me standing exposed to my true condition. I did not know Christ! I was angry. As my parents drove home, I said little, but within I was seething as I resisted the prickings of the Holy Spirit on my conscience. Was this abrasive preacher right? Was it true that seeking is not enough, one must actually find Christ? If so, I knew I was lost, a fact I did not want to face. That night, I told my mother that I wanted her to pray for me, because I thought I might not be saved. I expected her to have some words of comfort, for after all I was a good boy, supposedly, one of the model young men in the church. She had no soothing balm for me, but only said, "Son, I'll pray for you."


What went on in the next 24 hours would take many pages to tell, but briefly I will say that I spent the most miserable night of my life that night wrestling with the condition of my soul. The next morning, somewhat humbled, I told the pastor and the evangelist (there were morning services) that I was lost. I recall well the pastor's words. He said, "John, this is not surprising, since most of our best young people are coming to realize that they have never had a real experience of grace." There were no words of counsel given me except these, "God saves sinners." This is all that was said to me about how to get relief. This seemed like a brush-off, but I went away. Before the day was over, God used the words of the song, "Jesus Paid It All," to bring peace to my heart. Through this song, Christ and His substitutionary work came before my mind. The Holy Spirit seemed to be telling me that it was for me that Jesus had died, and that all my sins were put away forever. That night I joyfully confessed Christ to the crowd and later was baptized, along with twenty or so others who were converted in the tent meeting.


I have given this firsthand account of Barnard's ministry in one city because it illustrates in a capsule way the leading elements of his evangelistic preaching. What happened in the church in Ashland is a sample of what occurred in dozens of places throughout America and parts of Canada. While different churches and communities responded differently to Barnard's preaching, there were many instances, in the 1950's and 1960's, especially where churches were claimed for truth, and many sinners were converted.


Rolfe Pickens Barnard was born on August 4, 1904, to James and Julia Barnard in Gunterville, Alabama. He often stated that his father and mother gave him to God to be a preacher while he was still in his mother's womb. He grew up in a Godly home and was taken to a Southern Baptist Church and Sunday School during his youth. Like so many children, he made a decision to be baptized and join the church when very young, but without being truly converted. When he was eleven years old, a missionary visited the church in the little town where he lived and asked all who were willing to go to come forward. Soon Rolfe was walking down the aisle and made this commitment. He seemed to sense from that time that God's will for him was the Christian ministry.

In a remarkable sermon entitled "Saved From Infidelity," Barnard explains how he struggled with the seemingly inevitable course to which he was destined: preaching the Gospel. He was evidently a precocious youth for he entered Hardin Simmons University in Abilene, Texas, at the age of 15, to study for a legal career. While in college, he sought peace with God for his troubled conscience, but whenever he thought of God he thought of preaching, and this he had rejected. He was willing to do anything but that. He evaded the issue by long hours of weeping and praying. He "rededicated himself to God," in fact, he did "everything he knew to do." But the storm within continued to rage. Rolfe was in a terrible agitated state.  Then his rebellion reached a point where he said, "God, keep Your hand off me!" His heart hardened, and he turned to infidelity. This, as he said, gave him an "alibi" or "hiding place," and enabled him to sleep. His determination to avoid the ministry led him to abandon the evangelical faith (outwardly, at least). He became an outspoken infidel on the college campus, and his bold disposition and intellectual acumen made him a natural leader of the unbelievers. An infidel club was organized and he was its president. Rolfe Barnard had declared all-out war on God!

On Friday nights, 300 young rebels gathered to poke fun at the Bible, and dare God to do anything about it. Leading them in their blasphemy was a tall, angular youth who had been dedicated to God as a minister from his mother's womb. When this young man was leading the skeptics he was haughty and presumptuous, but at night, when alone, the God of his parents loomed large before him, and the gathering clouds of His wrath frightened him. Remarkably, he would curse God during the day and pray to Him at night. These are his own words, "I say to you, and this is the truth, before I could sleep at night I'd get down on my knees and say to God, 'If You'll not kill me tonight, I'll surrender to you tomorrow.' " Rolfe Barnard became, literally, one of the most miserable men walking the face of the earth. He was a hard and bitter young man, determined never to serve God or even darken the doors of God's House.

On graduating from law school, he was offered a junior partnership in an outstanding Texas law firm, but instead he decided to move to the Panhandle area of Texas to teach in a school. He did not explain this move. In Texas, at that time, one had to be a church member in order to teach in a school, so he joined the church the first Sunday after moving to town.  Although he was now a church member, he never attended. In fact, he remained a confirmed infidel. "For years," he said, "I blasphemed everything high and low, but they kept me on the church roll." When he moved from one place to another, he moved his letter of membership, but never participated in church activities. Then a remarkable thing happened. A church elected him to teach a men's class, shortly after he had joined, and he felt that to keep his reputation he should accept.  The incredible situation existed of Rolfe Barnard moving into a new community and being elected to teach a men's Bible class while he was shaking his very fist in the face of God. This type of situation is perhaps more common than one might suspect, especially in some parts of America where membership in a church is essential to social status, and in some cases one's occupation depends upon it. As a Bible teacher, Barnard was a big success. The people were impressed with his knowledge of the Bible and ability to communicate. After he became an evangelist, he described himself during those days as a "hypocrite" and "devil."


Then the event occurred which forced Barnard's hand, as it were, in the great issue between him and God: whether he would surrender to preach. The pastor of the church resigned, and Sunday after Sunday the people simply went home. Given the battle in his heart he had been fighting for so many years, this created a dilemma in Barnard's mind too great for him to bear. One Sunday he went home to his boarding-house, entered the bathroom and locked the door. There, as he later said, "The battle was fought out." God won. Rolfe Barnard got up off his knees and went directly across town to the home of the Sunday School superintendent who was asleep in a rocking chair waiting for dinner. The young Sunday School teacher walked over to the Superintendent and woke him. "Brother Mills," he said, "I've come to tell you, the Lord has saved me and I want to preach next Sunday." I will let Barnard relate the conversation between him and the layman in his own words.


"The Superintendent said, 'Well, it's about time.' He sure let me down. I had wanted him to say, 'Oh, isn't that wonderful!' Instead he said, 'Well, it's about time.' I said, 'What do you mean?' He said, 'Things have been going on. A couple of letters came to Panhandle, Texas, post office. One of them was addressed to the Superintendent of the Sunday School of the First Baptist Church. The other was addressed to the Pastor–didn't know any names. They were identical letters. Some old white-haired woman from Abilene, Texas, said, 'My boy's coming to your town to teach school. He's called to be a preacher. He's not even saved. He's in an awful mess.' She said, 'If you could find it in your heart, build a fire under him. Don't let him have a moment's peace.' And he (the Superintendent) said, 'Boy, we've been doing it. We knew you weren't saved, but we elected you to teach a men's Bible class.


We've been meeting once a week and asking, 'Lord, make the fire a little hotter.' We've been waiting.' "  The letter had come, of course, from Rolfe's mother. The method the Texas Baptists used to build a fire under Rolfe Barnard was a strange one, and one we could easily criticize, but God moved in a mysterious way and overruled the mistake of His people in calling out His chosen servant and sending him on his way.  It was while he was still a school teacher that Barnard moved to Borger, Texas, to do evangelistic work. Borger was one of those boom Texas oil towns. Oil was discovered one day on a man's ranch, and within six months, tens of thousands of people had flooded into the community and built a town. As in the famous gold rush of the 1850's, people came there from everywhere to get rich quick.  Various types of businesses sprang up, but there was not one church in town. Saloons, gambling halls and houses of ill-fame flourished. Public women swarmed on the main street which was two-and-a-half miles long. According to Barnard, uninterested men had to walk at arm's length from the buildings in order to avoid being grabbed.


The Baptist Association in that part of the country bought an empty lot and commissioned Barnard to start a church on it. He did not have a cent, so he went up and down the streets collecting money to build a church structure. A Baptist deacon rebuked him for this method, stating that he was soliciting the devil's money. Barnard answered, "Satan doesn't own anything. All is the Lord's."  One of the businesses he intended to solicit was the one operated by A. P. Borger who "owned the town." When he got there he found several deputy sheriffs waiting for him, along with a photographer from the local newspaper. The sheriffs were "dressed in ten-gallon hats and wearing two handguns." He was informed that no money would be collected at that business until they had been given a sample of his preaching. Barnard immediately stepped upon a large beer keg and delivered a message on "death." The essence of this message was that those present were going to die physically, and if they remained outside Christ, their souls would die eternally. The photographer took Barnard's picture while he was preaching. The next day the Texas newspapers showed the young minister standing on the keg preaching to this unusual audience.
Death was an appropriate subject, for death was all around him.



A lethal gas from the oil wells destroyed the lungs of many who worked them. In a short time scores succumbed to "gas consumption" for which there was then no cure. In a gripping message entitled, "Watching Men Die," Barnard states that he preached at as many as seven funerals in one day. The bodies of the dead were usually taken back to their own hometowns for burial. He also tells about several frightful death-bed scenes of people who listened to him preach but rejected Christ.  Such were some of the circumstances of Barnard's ministry in Borger, Texas. It was a frontier situation in every sense of the word. He preached to rough, tough, hardened sinners. His converts consisted of drunkards, gamblers, prostitutes, and money sharks, as well as ordinary people. I believe that one can understand better Barnard's "shoot from the hip" style from the pulpit if the way he began his ministry is taken into consideration. He made a good evangelist to rebels for he himself had been a rebel before his conversion.  On October 25, 1927, Barnad married Hazel Hayes Hilliard at Amarillo, Texas. In January of the next year he enrolled in the Southwestern Baptist Seminary at Fort Worth, Texas. This school was founded in 1905 by B.H. Carroll, who, like Barnard, was a hardened infidel before his conversion. Dr. Carroll, though he never attended Seminary himself, was a giant in every respect. He was thoroughly orthodox, a brilliant scholar, and a commanding preacher.


When Barnard went to Southwestern, it was the period of the beginnings of the erosion of traditional Southern Baptist theology. The emphasis, so conspicuous since, on programs and fund-raising, and the downgrading of theology was showing itself. On the faculty at the time was W.T. Conners, whom Barnard often quoted with great respect and appreciation. Conners was a mild Calvinist, and wrote several books on doctrine. Barnard also studied under the famous Southern Baptist Evangelist, L.R. Scarborough, a very influential figure.  Unquestionably, Barnard's ministry was molded by his instruction at Southwestern. But this does not account for the direction his preaching took, especially in the 1950's and 1960's.

Upon graduating from Seminary, Barnard pastored churches in Portales, New Mexico; Denton, Texas, and Wetumka in Oklahoma. When the Second World War broke out, he bacame a chaplain and served in this capacity for two years.  I do not believe that Barnard was a Calvinist during the first years of his pastoral work and evangelistic ministry. Judging from his sermon notes, however, he was always thoroughly evangelical and Biblical in his preaching. As far as his style is concerned, I think anyone who heard him and knows about the personality and ministry of C.G. Finney, an American evangelist of another day, could not but see a considerable resemblance.  He often quoted Finney, and there are statements in his older sermon notes which indicate that he held, at one time, to Finney's view on man's will. But even so, Barnard, so far as I can tell, never countenanced the "easy believe" type of evangelism which has predominated in America in this century.


Some of the so-called "new methods" of Finney he employed in his revival preaching. He usually gave a public invitation after his sermons, though I'm not sure that this always pertained. He did this, however, not as a means of salvation but as an opportunity for the converted to openly profess faith in Christ. He was known at times to single out specific individuals for notice from the pulpit, particularly if they were opposing him. This was a well-known tactic of Finney.  One is reminded that, in every age when God is bringing about a reformation of some kind, he uses all types of individuals, including those who seem, to some, tactless and blunt. When the tide of error and compromise is flowing all one way, very outspoken and forceful personalities arise to stand against the current. Such was Savonarola, Martin Luther, and Spurgeon. Barnard was in this tradition.


Like many before him, such as Asahel Nettleton and A.W. Pink, Barnard believed that submission to Christ was an essential element of conversion. There were no words too scornful for him to use in denouncing the view that one can become a Christian by accepting the finished work of Christ while living in rebellion against Him. Throughout his ministry he was one of the few American evangelists who taught that sanctification is an essential part of being a believer. The "Carnal Christian" theory has prevailed to a tremendous extent in the U.S.A. in this century. This has led to some professing believers living lives in open sin and disobedience. That error was anathema to Rolfe Barnard. In this sense, he always belonged to the Puritan school on conversion.


In 1946, he moved to Winston-Salem, North Carolina, to teach at Piedmont Bible College. Although he was then, and always remained, a Southern Baptist, his tenure at this school brought him into close fellowship and association with some of the leaders of the independent, fundamentalist movement in America, such as Dr. John R. Rice. Dr. Rice wields immense influence among fundamentalists in America, and is an outspoken opponent of modernism and liberalism. During the late forties, Barnard combined evangelistic meetings, such as city-wide crusades, with Bible conferences. At one of these conferences at Greenville, Mississippi, he preached from the sixth chapter of John and in his message he revealed that he had come to a Calvinist view on election. Present at the conference were Dr. Rice and other personalities in the fundamentalist camp.


There were some in the audience who were, or came to be, sympathetic with his exposition, but most were vehemently opposed to it. This conference became a sort of pivotal point in his life, because his preaching of the doctrine of special grace produced a "parting of the way." From then on, Rolfe Barnard was censored in the wide fundamentalist circles in which he had been moving. "Hyper-Calvinism" was the label then fixed upon him, and upon those who believe that election is gratuitous and not a reward for foreseen faith. In vain have many explained to fundamentalist leaders that there is a difference between Calvinism and hyper-Calvinism. This unfair charge has become simply another part of the reproach of Christ for believers in sovereign grace.


Following the Greenville conference, word went out in fundamentalist circles that Rolfe Barnard had departed from the faith. He was ostracized, like the untouchables of India, by his former friends. Invitations for city-wide crusades stopped. His ministry continued, but mainly in small churches. He became a controversial figure. But he was endowed with a valuable quality which kept him on his course: complete lack of the fear of man. He was one of those rare souls who was willing to stand for the truth, even if alone.  God crowned his labors with revival blessings in many places in the fifties and sixties, the meetings in Ashland being one example. He preached all over the South, Mid-west, and Canada, and there are thousands today who can testify that God used him in bringing them to salvation. Quite a number of preachers were converted to a belief in the sovereignty of God.  Many unusual things happened during his evangelistic meetings and anecdotes could easily fill a volume.


Barnard was endowed with a powerful set of lungs and a good voice of medium range. He was an excellent singer, and often sang special songs in his evangelistic meetings, accompanied by his wife, Hazel. Occasionally, he violated all rules of elocution by shrieking at the top of his voice during a sentence. He did this not by an interjection of some kind but during a sentence. For example, he might say, "The purpose of the cross is the glory of God." On "glory" he might say "glooooo" at the top of his vocal capacity. He did this when his emotions reached a high pitch and he felt very, very strongly about something. Needless to say, such outbursts were earsplitting, and did devastating things to gauges on electronic recording equipment. No one, I suppose, could possibly recommend this as a method, generally speaking, but I can say that this peculiar individualistic trait did have a startling and awakening effect upon an audience. As a rule, it was very difficult for people to sleep when Barnard was preaching!


I heard Barnard preach many times. There were occasions when his sermons were ordinary and unimpressive. But in the right context, he was one of the most powerful preachers I have ever heard. In the midst of an awakening, when the powers of heaven and hell were visibly in conflict, he had a peculiar unction that cannot possibly be described. Like Finney, whose style he followed, and Nettleton whose theology he accepted, he could hold an audience spellbound at such times.  Rolfe Barnard's gifts were not primarily pastoral. He seemed ill-fitted for a settled type of ministry. He once said, "Some like to live within the sound of a chapel or church bell. I want to run a rescue station within a yard of Hell."  He was not a builder; he was a trailblazer. He was not a Timothy, charged to take care of the house of God—he was a John the Baptist crying in the wilderness. He emphasized greatly the Lordship of Christ and repentance. One of his few printed messages was entitled, "John the
Baptist Comes to Town." It is a characteristic sermon, and I count it one of my personal treasures. 


Although Barnard was often misunderstood, and disliked by many, he was a man, I believe, who had an uncommon love for the souls of men, especially sinners. His messages, many of which are available on tape, demonstrate plainly that he had a fervent desire that lost people submit to the claims of Christ. In some of them, Calvinist though he was, he literally begs them to lay down their arms of rebellion, "stack arms" he would sometimes say, and receive God's forgiveness through repentance! Out of the pulpit Barnard was, as a rule, withdrawing yet friendly. In relaxed, social circles, he had a way of badgering his friends, but in a way that was always taken good-naturedly. I recall one occasion when I became the object of his teasing. In 1963, I, along with several other people, was visiting his home in North Carolina. I had just married, and was making plans to go to the Philippine Islands as a missionary. While at his house I wrote a letter to my new bride. When Barnard discovered it, he said, "John, I understand you want to be a missionary. Before you leave my house I feel I ought to do something to help you. I want to pay for your letter to your wife." With this remark, he handed me a postage stamp! Thus did Barnard support my missionary deputation! This, of course, brought a round of hearty laughter.


While preaching in Prairieville, Louisiana, he had a heart attack, and died on January 21, 1969. His funeral was conducted by Pastor Henry Mahan in a funeral home in Winston-Salem. I can think of no more fitting climax to this article than the words of Pastor Mahan: His message of sovereign mercy was an awakening message. It was impossible to remain neutral when Barnard preached. Like the Apostle Paul, when Barnard preached, there was either a riot or a revival. As he said so many times, "When the true Gospel of Grace is preached, the believers will be glad, the rebels will get mad, and the pharisees will be confused." His message was truly the Gospel of God's glory. He clearly defined the "good news" as a work God does for the sinner, not something the sinner does for God. He declared how God can be just and justify the ungodly through the righteousness of Christ Jesus, our Lord.

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