Roy Falls at Norris' gravesite

Roy Falls at Norris' gravesite

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Wednesday, October 26, 2011

"AS LONG AS THIS HAPPENS" - Story of J. T. Pemberton



This phrase shaped the early ministry of J. Frank Norris. These words, “As long as this happens” … were spoken by J. T. Pemberton, who served on the pulpit committee that called J. Frank Norris as pastor in 1909.

The story of this man, J. T. Pemberton gives evidence which refutes the false claim that J. Frank Norris eventually parted company with most of his one-time associates. Of all of the thousands of friends which Norris encountered along the way, none were more loyal than J. T. Pemberton. In the end, Norris considered J. T. Pemberton as the best friend he ever had and for that reason, the story of J. T. Pemberton needs to be told.

Initially, J. T. Pemberton opposed Norris at the beginning as pastor of the First Baptist Church. As it turned out, this man, Pemberton, who was the leading banker in Ft. Worth, Texas and for 38 years was in a position to befriend his pastor on more than one occasion. Strangely, it was J. T. Pemberton who cast the lone dissenting vote in 1909. Pemberton later explained the logic for casting a negative vote.

In addressing his fellow committee men, he stated, “If Norris comes as pastor, you can be assured we will not all be the same before long, for we are not ready for his type of preaching.”

“If he does come and when the fight is on, a lot of your fellows are going to take out, but I want to serve notice now. I will stay with him to the end.”

This accounts why J. Frank Norris considered J. T. Pemberton the greatest friend of his lifetime.

(This is a fascinating story which in all likelihood has never been told in detail).

In the midst of the early years, controversy soon developed into front page news, as the “city fathers” pursued means by which to silence the “straight talk” of Norris against vice and corrupt politics.

This is where the story of J. T. Pemberton begins. These “city fathers” tried to intimidate Pemberton by threatening to close his bank unless he cast in his lot to rid the city of this “trouble maker.”

J. T. Pemberton stood his ground and defied all the “would be” enemies. A typical reply to these would-be Norris assassins went like this: “I think that any man that God Almighty can get along with as well on He does with J. Frank Norris, I, J. T. Pemberton, will also get along with him too. ” Such loyalty would be hard to match which J. T. Pemberton exhibited time after time.
Addressing the critics of Norris, Pemberton said: “Gentlemen, you can cut this left arm off, and let every drop of blood in my body fall on this ground, before I will sit silently by, and let you ruin an innocent preacher, and drive him from the pulpit.”

A turnaround in Norris’ ministry began in the year 1913. At the height of this controversy with the “city fathers”, Norris had decided to leave Ft. Worth and head for California for a new start, but an interesting conversation at that time changed his (Norris’) ministry which lasted until the time of his death. Norris said to Mr. Pemberton:

“J. T., I am going to leave. I have made the best fight that I could. I have a wife and three babies. There is no use for me to try to stay here. I wish that I had never seen this town. I never want to see it again when I leave. I want to borrow some money. I haven’t a thing in the world to give you; no security.” (And that was Norris’ exact words)

Then Mr. Pemberton said: “How much do you want?” Then Norris said, “Well, I want more than I am going to ask you for. I am going out to Southern California. A friend of mine has got a ranch, and I am going to start life again.”

“I am going to get on my feet, and I will make something, or do something.” Then Mr. Pemberton said, “Well, I don’t blame you. You have stayed longer than I thought you would. Longer than I would.” Then Norris replied, “You have been a true friend.”

Norris just signed a note, with only his signature as security. Pemberton quotes as saying: “Go down there, and get your money. When are you leaving?” Norris replied, “I am leaving in the morning at 4 o’clock. I want to leave before daylight. I will take my wife and three babies, and I am going and I never want to see this place again.” “I wish that I had never heard of it. I have made a hard fight. I have been wounded to death. I have been betrayed. I have been stabbed in the back. I came here a young preacher. I thought that I was doing the right thing.”

As Norris and Pemberton walked to the door, Pemberton said,

“Well, I will tell you goodbye. But with one last word. I am mighty glad that you had last Sunday’s great service before you left.” “You know I sat there and I saw twenty-five or thirty people coming down the aisle, some hard cases that I have known for years, old red-boned sinners coming up there and confessing to the Lord, and tears running down their faces, and I saw that night a still larger number coming.” Pemberton continued by saying:

“I don’t know, it must have been fifty or sixty during the day.” And do you know what I thought? Pemberton said: “Well, they are cussing out my preacher, and attacking him, and lying on him, but just AS LONG AS THAT HAPPENS and God uses him to win souls like that, no matter what they say about him, he will win out.”
Norris seized upon that one little phrase: “JUST AS LONG AS THAT HAPPENS.” This thought under-girded his ministry for the next 30 years. Norris then tore up the note and went home and told my wife we are going to stay.

That is why the J. Frank Norris Historical Society has been established and in conclusion it is in keeping with that one phrase, AS LONG AS THIS HAPPENS, Gail and I want to sing a song, which in another way tells the whole story of just what I’ve been talking about.

Song is entitled Christ Receiveth Sinful Men

Goodnight and may God Bless America.

Roy Falls
October 25, 2011

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