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William Jennings Bryan in a Toccoa Pulpit

(The following is an article from The Toccoa Record, April 12, 1917 (Used by Permission) taken from the book A Tree God Planted by Troy Damron)

America’s Greatest Lay Preacher Fills and Thrill the First Baptist Church.

Sunday, April 8, 1917, was a blustering and cloudy day in Toccoa. In fact it was the kind of day on which a Frenchman commits suicide. But in the afternoon when train No. 38 arrived from Atlanta, a passenger said to the cab driver, “To the Falls.”

William Jennings Bryan, “The Great Commoner,” had come unannounced to Toccoa to pay a promised visit to Rev. Williams Jennings BryanRichard Forrest of Toccoa Falls Institute. Rev. Forrest was absent by Rev. Overman, Principal of Toccoa Falls Institute, welcomed the distinguished visitor. Rev. Overman rose to the occasion.

He knew that Toccoa is proud of Toccoa Falls and that The Falls is proud of that fact. He resolved to give all of Toccoa the opportunity to hear Mr. Bryan. All local pastors were notified, and the First Baptist was accepted for the noted layman.

Then every Toccoan became a walking telephone and the news was soon circulated. The enthusiasm of the occasion has been equaled only by that described by the celebrated poem, “When Bryan Came to Butte.”

Long before 8:00 p.m. the church seats were filled, and the chairs were brought from other rooms. Rev. O’Kelly, of the First Baptist Church, looking over the large congregation, remarked, “You can easily get a big church attendance when you’ve got a Big Man.”

The Invocation, by Rev. John Ellis, of the First Methodist Church, was a comprehensive reflection of the matters now uppermost in the public mind.

Now, “Nothing extenuate nor ought set down in malice,” but when Mr. Bryan arose the audience cheered to a man—also to a woman.

The subject was, “False Gods.” Those named as the most dangerous were the following nine: (1) Gold, (2) Social Prominence, (3) Fame, (4) Ease, (5) Intellect, (6) Wanderlust, (7) Gambling, (8) Passion, (9) Drink).

From the worship of the first three society may reap some incidental good, through activities involved in worship; but these worshipers may reap in a far larger measure by conforming their worship to the first commandment in the Decalogue. Gambling unfits the mind for the orderly process of a correct life, and holds out the false hope of “Something for Nothing.” Drink rots both body and mind, and submerges the drinker in a hopeless mire.”

The word “Conversion” has proved a stumbling block in the path of many who honestly seek fitness for Christian Membership. Mr. Bryan defines “Conversion” as “Surrender” followed by “Obedience” to the Commandments.

Though long engaged in “big politics,” Mr. Bryan’s lay sermon shows that he has not been “absorbed” by that line of study, but has familiarized himself with the teachings of HOLY WRIT and has seen their applicability to everyday life.

After the service Mr. Bryan returned to Toccoa Falls. Monday morning he addressed the students at the Institute.


“On December 7, 1917, the Honorable Williams Jennings Bryan penned the following note to Rev. Forrest:

I commend most cordially the Toccoa Falls Institute. The Bible has a growing place in our educational system. I was much impressed by the spirit of your Institute and the personnel of its teachers, and the work in which it is engaged.”

(Text from Achieving the Impossible with God.)

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