Why I Became A Preacher, James A. Harding

Terry Gardner posted this in a comment several days ago.  I copied it into its own post so more folks will see it.  I see an elipse at the bottom, so it may be that there is more to this item.  As Terry has time he might provide more (if there is more) and a citation.

Thank you, Terry.  All, enjoy…


Why I Became A Preacher
By James A. Harding

Some children are born with a bent in one direction, others, in another. To my mind this seems certainly true. I was talking, some months ago, with an old gentleman, a market gardener, who has made a snug little fortune at his calling. He likes to raise vegetables, and always did. When he was a small boy he was fond of working in the garden, would beg his mother to let him “hill up” the plants, and cut and pull the weeds. He delighted in the work, and thought not of toil, heat, and sweat while he was at it. And of course, he succeeded.

On the other hand gardening was my special abomination. When I was a little fellow my father used to insist that I should work the garden. Not that he had need of my help in that particular work; he had not: for he delighted in it himself, and commonly had better helpers than I. But he thought I ought to learn to work, that I needed the discipline and development which came from work. My father was a merchant in a small town where there were few opportunities for a small boy to work during the vacations of the schools except in the gardens. But I, in those days would far rather take a whipping than to work in the garden, unless my mother, or grandmother would go out with me, and sit near by with sewing or knitting, while I worked. It was endurable then: otherwise, not. I have lived about thirty-two years of married life, but I doubt if I have worked thirty-two minutes in the garden in all that time. My [son is] a hand to work in my place.

The first pay I ever received for anything, in so far as I remember was for teaching. My mother had in her employ as a nurse a good-humored colored girl, about 14 years of age, I suppose, who wanted to learn to read. I, being about seven years old, had just finished the first reader. I gave the book to her, and became her teacher. And I magnified my oiliee. She had to get the lessons up well, or be thumped or switched just as the neglectful students were in the school that I attended. To her credit be it said, she rarely deserved punishment, but took it with becoming meekness when I thought best to administer it.

When I had finished my second reader she was ready for it: and so she was for the third. She was a grateful student and an eager learner. One day her father, an old black slave came in and emptied a sack of water melons at my feet, to pay me for teaching “his gall” to read the Bible to him. I do not know what has become of that girl, but if meet her in the eternal city, I am sure it will give me peculiar pleasure to know here there. The memory of her is very pleasant to me.

When about fifteen years of age, I left home to attend an academy preparatory to going to Bethany College. I paid for tuition by teaching. I attended the academy several years except that I dropped out for three months during the time to teach a country school, for which I received $100—the first money I ever earned. When I was graduated at Bethany, in 1869, I went to Hopkinsville, Ky., and became a principal of an academy there. This I conducted for five years.

While at school and college I was fond of public speaking, especially debating. I made orations only when I had to, but was ready for a debate at any time, or at least would get ready on a very short notice. My work in the literary societies while at Bethany, it seems to me, was almost as valuable to me as the regular class work; and the learning and training which I received while teaching at Hopkinsville were invaluable. I am grateful to God in the belief that in answer to the prayers of my father, mother and myself he was educating and training me for my life work.

About the time I was born my father began to preach. He continued his merchandising till he was 70 or more, but from the time he was 25 he preached on Saturdays and Sundays, and commonly conducted several protracted meetings each summer. He was richly endowed in evangelistic power, and often led from fifty to a hundred people to Christ in one such meeting. His preaching made a great impression upon me even while I was a little boy, and I thought that preaching was the grandest and best of all callings. Now I know it is. No Christian should be content to live without preaching and teaching. Women are not allowed to preach and teach publicly in the church, and some men can not do it; but all can preach and teach; some in public, some in private. Let us see to it that we lose not the blessing of doing well this noblest of all noble works. As far back as I can remember I had it in mind to preach when I became a man; so when I was about 19 I began to seek for opportunities to speak in the school houses away back eight or ten miles from town. My father’s son could get an audience almost anywhere in that country for the asking, and I preached and sweated. I certainly did sweat, regardless of the temperature. Just to sit on the platform and face the audience was enough to bring the perspiration out, and cause it to roll down over my face; but speak I must. It was in my blood and bones, and had to come out. I thought more than once, when up before an audience, that if I should get down alive I would not try it any more, but when the net opportunity came I tried again. I did not get over this distressing embarrassment till I began to preach daily.

When I went to Hopkinsville to teach school, Bro. V. M. Metcalfe was there. I believe he was the most inveterate preacher I ever knew. Always engaged in business, and commonly on a large scale he never forgot to preach, whether in a hotel or private house, on a stage coach, railroad train or steamboat, either to many, to few, or to one, he would preach. He did not wait for opportunities; he made them. And he did it with such gentile courtesy, such unfailing good humor; such artless inability to take a rebuff, that he rarely, if ever, failed to win the good will of his auditors before he began to preach. In the great cities business men, wrapped up in finance sometimes “frenzied finance,’ would weep, as he preached to them …


4 thoughts on “Why I Became A Preacher, James A. Harding

  1. Why I Became A Preacher (concluded):
    … after their business transaction was closed. No amount of business, no success, no adversity could cause him to forget God and the souls of men. The good he did is incalculable. Blessed is the memory of “Uncle Minor.”

    I had not been long at Hopkinsville, teaching, before he wanted to make appointments for me in the country churches and schoolhouses round about. With some hesitancy and dread I consented, as I have always done, to the call to preach; and I was soon pretty busy with me teaching during the week and preaching on Sunday. At the end of five years’ work at Hopkinsville I was full of malaria. I fainted in the schoolroom, and had to be taken home in a carriage. So I left Hopkinsville and went back to Winchester, Ky., to get well. I was idle for several months, but was slowly getting well when Bro. John Adams of blessed memory, came for me to go with him back into the mountains to conduct a protracted meeting. I told him I had never conducted a protracted meeting; that it would be better for him to get some one else. But he said he could not get any one else, that I had been brought up in church and Sunday-school, that I had been to Bethany College, that I ought to be killed if I could not preach and that I was to shut my mouth and get my horse and come on with him. “Besides,” he said, “you know I can exhort like five hundred, and you come and preach the best you can, and I will exhort, and we will have a grand meeting. So I went with him; I doubt if I could have gone with a truer, bolder, kinder, better man. My eyes moistened with tears, and my heart is full of sweet, tender memories as I think of him. Sweet indeed to me is the memory of brave, strong, gentle, loving John Adams. I look forward, too, in hope to the day when he and I shall walk together the golden streets of the celestial city.

    I went with Bro. John to each of his four preaching places that fall. We had five baptisms at the first place, five at the second, about seventeen at the third, and about twenty-seven at the fourth. Then I felt like I was man of not a little experience in evangelistic work, and was prepared to give points to the uninitiated. For four years my field of labor, for the most part, was the mountainous region of Eastern Kentucky. The people were very poor, the church houses were built of logs, and frequently lighted with tallow candles. They were poorly educated, if at all; but many of them were strong in native good sense and wisdom. Some of my most highly esteemed friends I found in those regions, and a number of them are there still. I know well, I have had goo opportunities to learn it, that a man is a man, whether in a mountaineer’s cabin or a brownstone front; and that a moral coward is just as likely to be found clothed in broadcloth; as in blue jeans.

    After my father, the men of whom I am most indebted, I believe are Alexander Campbell, Benjamin Franklin, J. W. McGarvey and David Lipscomb. I have not named them in order in which I think they have been helpful to me, but in which I came under their influence. Campbell’s Christian Baptist, Franklin’s American Christian Review, McGarvey’s commentaries, in articles for the papers, Authorship of Deuteronomy and other writings, and Lipscomb’s editorials have furnished me the best reading I have found out of the Bible. I have used, of course, more or less, many of the great commentaries of ht sectarian world, but they have been of little value to me in comparison with the benefit I have received from the brethren just mentioned.

    But the most valuable gift I ever received, I believe, was a little Bible my father gave me while I was yet a small child. It had pictures in it; and very plain and simple they were; not at all to be compared to the splendidly illustrated volumes of today. But those pictures were marvelous to me. My father trained me to turn the leaves without tearing them; and he and my mother would tell me the stories the pictures illustrated. For a long time that Bible was my chief treasure, and those stories my greatest delight. I was the first born in our house, and in course of time I showed the pictures and taught the stories to the other little ones. God only knows how much of blessedness that little book brought to be and to our house. I have made it a rule to have plenty of picture-books for my little ones, and their mother has given much time to telling them the stories. The sooner God’s truths are impressed upon the mind the better. He who is full of God’s truth, who delights in it, will preach. Not in public, may be, but he will preach; and his life will be a benediction to those who come under its influence. –James A. Harding.

  2. Thank you for your blog. Would you be able to provide a citation for the “Why I Became a Preacher” article by James A Harding? It may very well be there and I have overlooked it.


    • Thanks for the kind words, Kevin. I don’t have a citation. If you have the time, it might turn up in the footnotes of Sears’ 1970 biography.

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