Devoted to the Propagation and Defense of New Testament Christianity
May 1, 1952

Pioneer Preacher Passes Away

Hugh M. Tiner, Los Angeles, California

Gideon Wright Riggs, pioneer gospel preacher in California passed from this life on March 8, 1952. In ten days he would have been 85 years of age. Christians in California, especially those who have been here for many years, mourn the passing of brother Riggs, who was responsible for the establishment of more congregations here than any other person. Brother Riggs sustained a broken hip in 1949 and had been confined to his bed since that time. He had been blind for several years.

Brother Riggs was born March 18, 1867 at Riggs Cross-Roads, near the small community of College Grove, Tennessee, which is about thirty miles south of Nashville. He was born and reared on a farm. He obeyed the gospel early in life. In 1902 he was graduated from the old Nashville Bible School. In August 11, 1902 he was united in marriage to Miss Agnes Jones, and to this union were born seven children, six boys and one girl. Surviving him are sister Riggs and six of the children: Gideon Sanders of Los Angeles; David G. of Devonshire, Bermuda; Mrs. Mary Lee Lantz of Riverside, California; Luke F of San Gabriel, California, and Bobby, former National Tennis Champion who presently lives in Florida. A son, Frank, died in childhood.

Also surviving him are a sister and two brothers: Mrs. Katherine Fuller of Riggs Cross-Roads, Tennessee; Emmette Riggs of Nashville, Tennessee, and Oliver Riggs of Burnet, Texas. Brother Riggs is also survived by ten grandchildren and a host of other relatives and friends.

Soon after his marriage in 1902 he and sister Riggs moved to California where they began pioneering the gospel of Christ which effort resulted in the planting of churches of Christ all over the central and southern parts of the state. In his evangelizing he was ably assisted by means furnished by brother Michael Sanders, a Christian business man and a Civil War veteran who had been wounded in the Federal Army at the battle of Vicksburg, Mississippi. Brother Sanders had preceded brother Riggs to California. In 1900 he visited the Nashville Bible School where he first met brother Riggs. He talked with brother Riggs and persuaded him to leave everything, move to California, and carry the message of salvation to this new area. More credit than the average California Christian realizes should go to brother Riggs and brother Sanders for pioneering work they did in getting the cause started out here. Brother Riggs lived and labored for almost fifty fruitful years in Southern California. For many years he served as an elder of the Sichel Street Church of Christ in Los Angeles, in which capacity he was serving at the time of his death.

The funeral service was held at the Church of the Recessional in beautiful Forest Lawn Memorial Park, Glendale, California. In keeping with the request of brother Riggs, brother Hugh M. Tiner, president of Pepperdine College, who has worked closely with brother Riggs for over twenty years, had charge of the service. James H. Sewell, elder of the Broadway and Walnut Street Church in Santa Ana, after making a few personal remarks about brother Riggs having established their congregation, read the scripture lesson and led the prayer. J. Emmett Wainwright, minister of the Central Church of Christ in Long Beach, who preached at the Sichel Street Church for several years, spoke briefly of brother Riggs and his contributions to the cause of Christ in this area. Brother Wainwright also spoke of how much brother Riggs had meant to him personally. He paid a beautiful tribute to brother Riggs and spoke of the great hope, faith, and courage which he possessed, even in time of great suffering.

Among other remarks, brother Tiner said:

"Personally, I shall not soon forget brother Riggs. I owe much to him. He was a source of great encouragement to me. He, with the other elders of the Sichel Street Church, invited me to preach for them when I was only twenty-one years of age — just out of college. It was at a time when there was considerable confusion in the church. Brother Riggs always encouraged me to preach the gospel as it is revealed. In the midst of the church difficulty he said, 'We all need the straight gospel. Let us have it straight from the shoulder.' He went out of his way to advise with me and to encourage me as a young gospel preacher. I appreciated his help very much. He and I have been close friends for many years.

"The church of California owes much to brother Riggs. Many congregations were established by him. He believed in missionary work. He talked with me often through the years about the great need for a state evangelist who could be kept busy preaching in mission meetings throughout the year.

Brother Riggs, in addition to being the pioneer gospel preacher of the church of Christ in California, was known among the churches in this area as a sound gospel preacher. I have heard people from many congregations tell how brother Riggs would come into their community, pitch his tent, preach nightly for several weeks, and then leave with a strong new congregation having been established. He also had a wholesome effect on the congregations in this area, especially in keeping them as free as possible from hobbies. His influence was great in this regard, and much credit goes to him for the fine condition in the church today in California.

"Brother Riggs was not perfect, and he would have been the last to say that he was. However, it can be said of him that he was a man of great faith. He believed implicitly in the Lord, whom he tried so hard to represent correctly. He was also a man of keen integrity and courageous loyalty to the scriptures. He would not knowingly deviate from the teaching of the scriptures, and if he thought someone was preaching or teaching something contrary to the scriptures he would not hesitate to tell him so. He was a diligent student of the Bible. His sermons were saturated with the scriptures, most of which he had memorized. His messages were forceful, sincere, and full of vigor and vitality.

"Brother Riggs will be remembered for his work's sake. 'Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord, for their works do follow after them! Like Abel he being dead yet speaketh.' I shall never preach at the old Sichel Street Church without seeing brother Riggs sitting in his accustomed place at the front of the auditorium, taking into his soul the message from God's word.

"One of brother Riggs' last sermons was preached at the Annual Biblical Forum and Lectureship at Pepperdine College. Somehow those present felt that this would be about his last message. In this lesson on Growing Old Gracefully,' he outlined something of his philosophy of life, based of course on the scriptures. In the conclusion of his message he said,

"Everyone who bears the precious fruit of the spirit and adorns his character with these beautiful graces surely lives gracefully, and is therefore growing old gracefully.

"Cicero, a Roman orator and statesman, wrote an essay on the pleasures of age and suggested that even death might be a pleasure. Indeed it should be to the Christian for he is assured that a rest remains for the people of God, and that a hearty welcome awaits him. "Well done, thou good and faithful servant...enter thou into the joys of thy Lord." "Come ye blessed of my father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world."

"'Also he is assured that a glorious inheritance is reserved for him in heaven. "Blessed be the God and the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, Who according to his great mercy, wherewith he loved us, begat us again unto an inheritance incorruptible, undefiled and that fadeth not away, reserved in heaven for you.

"He is also promised an eternal home. We know that if this earthly tabernacle be dissolved we have a building from God — a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens.'

"Brother Riggs concluded with this statement, so characteristic of his style, 'The old man, anticipating these blessed assurances and gracious promises can approach the grave like one who wraps the drapery of his couch about him and lies down to peaceful dreams.' "

Brother Riggs will be greatly missed in Los Angeles where he had labored so diligently for about fifty years. His influence will continue to live. May many more faithful gospel preachers in California, in the United States, and in the whole world, exemplify the great qualities of brother Riggs and like him "leave footprint's on the sands of time."