“Well done, thou good and faithful servant.”
Those were the words I believe greeted Junior Hill when he entered his heavenly home Wednesday.
And he may also have been greeted by thousands who were led to faith in Christ by his God-inspired preaching in over 68 years of ministry.
Hill, 87, a beloved and busy traveling evangelist for more than 50 years, died January 3 at his home in Hartselle.
Hill had conducted over 1,800 revivals in addition to pastors’ conferences, state conventions, nationwide evangelism meetings, camp meetings, and seminary and college classes.
Hill started as a pastor at two churches in his hometown of Hartselle, one in Mississippi and one in Birmingham. From the pulpit, he answered a call to enter full-time evangelism in 1967.
One reason that Hill made people understand the need to accept salvation through faith in Christ and to do it right now, was his poignant experience with his brother.
“He came to hear me preach one night,” Hill said. “I watched him when the invitation was given, and I could see him crying. After the service was over, we sat down to talk, and I said, ‘Leon … did God speak to your heart?’ ‘He sure did, and I felt like I needed to get saved.’ I said, ‘Well, Leon, you could get saved right now. Why don’t you and I just bow down on our knees? You can ask Jesus to save you. …’
He added, “I never will forget what he said: ‘I can’t do that right now. My wife and I are having some marital problems. When I get them worked out, I’ll get saved.’ But what he didn’t know, and I didn’t know, was that less than two months later he’d be standing one warm November morning with a fishing pole in his hand, and just topple over in the water, dead.” Leon Hill died instantly of a heart attack at age 34.
“…the devil put it into his mind, ‘You can get saved later.’”
“I always try to make people think of the now. Most every lost man – if he knows anything about the Bible – thinks he’s going to get saved. … But the tragedy is that so many of them wait too long. They die, have accidents. A lot of people think that’s a scare tactic, but I don’t mean it to be. It’s just a reality check.”
Hill was known for never preaching about money and never soliciting funds from any church member after a revival.
In addition to evangelistic preaching, Hill was a “pastor to pastors.” He had experienced a difficult time early in his preaching career. He was fired in 1962 at a Mississippi church where he had pastored for 18 months while a New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary student.
During a men’s Sunday School class, he had been asked whether black visitors should be welcomed. Hill said all churches should be open to anyone, regardless of race or color. He then noticed “a strange somberness in some of their faces.”
The church’s deacons voted mid-week to fire Hill, who didn’t learn about the action until returning to preach the following Saturday.
“I can still remember how humiliating it was to walk past those laughing men, go back to the car, and sadly tell (wife) Carole what had happened to us,” Hill wrote in his autobiography, “They Call Him Junior.”
Hill graduated from Birmingham’s Samford University, where he played football. He earned a Master of Divinity at New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary in 1962. Liberty University later awarded him a doctorate.
In 1989, he was elected as the Southern Baptist Convention’s first vice president.
Hill is survived by his wife of 66 years, Carole Spann Hill, two children and five grandchildren.
Services for Dr. Hill are on Tuesday, January 9, at Westmeade Baptist Church in Decatur. Visitation is from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. The funeral service is at 1 p.m.
The author, Jim Zeigler, is a former Alabama Public Service Commissioner and State Auditor.
You can reach him for comments at [email protected].