Others will tell more comprehensively the story of the life and work of this great man and greatly beloved who passed away on Sunday, May 28. There are yet those who knew him in his earlier labors as evangelist in the United States and in Canada and can tell of his marvelous power and the rich fruit of his work, and who can write a full biography. I shall only speak of him at this time as I knew him, and of those things concerning him which in this hour come to my heart.

It was on a chill rainy day in the late fall of the year 1895 that I stood on Brother Harding’s porch at the old Nashville Bible School on Spruce Street— homeless, friendless, penniless, but not quite hopeless of an opportunity to go through school. When I presented my mission and request, Brother Harding regretted very much, but there wasn’t really any work to speak of by which a boy could earn his way, and such applications were many— “perhaps next year we can find an opening for you,” he said. I turned and slowly walked away. Probably I looked crestfallen. He stood and looked after me. “You look to be wet,” he said. “Yes,” I answered. “How did you get wet?” “Coming in from the country in the rain.” “Didn’t your wagon have a top on it?” “I didn’t come on a wagon,” I replied. “I walked.” “How far did you walk?” “About twenty-five miles.” “You mean to say that you walked twenty-five miles through the rain to come here to school?” And he looked me over again. “I believe you want to go to school. Go back to the dormitory and tell Brother Dodd to show you a room. We’ll get through some way.”— I am sure he could not see how “we” would get through. But he didn’t want to see. His heart was bigger than his pocketbook any day, and he felt he could afford to risk a thing or two, for there was the promise of God. Such was his faith, of which I shall presently have something more to say.

Only these main posts of Brother Harding’s faith I would mention now: they were, 1. Never to make his needs known to mortal man. 2. Never to ask man for anything. 3. Never to borrow or to go in debt. 4. To spend and be spent for God’s work, and to trust God for the outcome and for the supplies of each day’s need. Some have thought that Brother Harding’s principles were extreme; and some thought he erred here and there in applying them. But after all, it is by fruit that a man is known and the worth of his principles judged. If he had not so believed, I can vouch for one poor boy at least who would never humanly speaking, have had an opportunity. And he is but one of many who can bear the same testimony. Grant that the actual outlay of money I have repaid in full; but I have owed him a debt all these years that no silver or gold could pay, a debt that cannot be discharged, and that I would not want to be quit of, for ever: the debt of unending gratitude and love to a man who so represented the lovingkindness of God to me. And it is  for this love and gratitude’s sake that I am now penning these lines to the memory of that great and good servant of God.

I must leave it again to the one, whoever he may be, who shall write J. A. Harding’s biography to tell of his power as a preacher; or to set forth his ability, as a school-man, to fill his student’s hearts with enthusiasm the gloomiest day that fell; or to speak of his lovableness as a man; or of his spell over his pupils to get the very best work done in his own classes (he taught the Bible, and of that chiefly the text itself rather than exegesis— which is excellent foundation; and some New Testament Greek) ; of his absolute fearlessness and devotion to right and principles. All these things another must record. But the lessons which he so deeply impressed on my heart and on the hearts of most if not all the students who were under his influence, I must mention. The first of these, already referred to, was faith: an outright, childlike, simple belief that God would do as He said— that the Lord will provide ; that to those who seek first the Kingdom of God and His righteousness, all other things shall be added; that He careth for us. The practical results1 of this faith were seen in prayer (how free, how tender, how trustful, how childlike were Brother Harding’s prayers! I hear him yet, pleading with God, and making all his requests known from a full heart)— liberality, sacrifice, independence of men, and earnest work and obedience. How powerful is this principle, and how powerfully it was taught— not in word only, but in the demonstration of daily example. For he lived it, and all knew. It qualified all his words and ways. The question of remuneration, for example, never affected his choice of places: all he wanted to know was, “Lord what wilt thou have me to do?” From that supreme principle he never to my knowledge wavered.

How did it work? Was he able to take care of his family of seven children on this principle? Well, rich they were not (Brother Harding delighted in the fact that he was never worth $300 above his household goods in all his life). But neither did they want. Only once, as he told it, “Did we have nothing for dinner except potatoes— and it would not have hurt us to have done without that meal entirely.” Even so good a man as David Lipscomb, though himself a man of self-sacrifice, was a bit dubious about that “faith theory” of Brother Harding’s. “Ah,” he said after Brother Harding was disabled from preaching— “the Lord took care of Brother Harding when he was able to preach; we’ll see now whether it works.” And for a short while it did seem as if it might go hard with him. Sister Pattie began keeping boarders. But that was only a short while. “In the Mount of Jehovah, it shall be provided.” For the latter years of his life God had provided for him loving hearts and hands to minister, and he was as well taken care of as if he had spent his days laying up treasures on the earth; and the treasure in heaven he had over and above. Brother Harding’s trust was fully justified by the event of its outworking.

This lesson of faith was the outstanding feature of Brother Harding’s life and teaching. The other prominent doctrines he inculcated were the actual, personal, indwelling of the Holy Spirit in the Christian— a teaching held in doubt by some, and the profit and blessing of the Word of God. He set more people to rending the Bible, I should think, than any other preacher; and he infused his own love and appreciation of the Word into those who came under his sway. He also preached often and earnestly on the hope of the Lord’s return from heaven.

As I grow older, I am better able, with the many others who shared in it, to estimate the privilege and blessing of having fallen into the hands of such a man as this in formative years. How different it might have been, and what a goodness of God it was that He raised up such a man and directed our way to him! His body and mind failed him, worn out too early by intense and excessive labor. But his work lives and bears fruit abounding in thousands of lives; and his memory is enshrined in thousands of loving hearts. And there is no greater earthly reward even than that. Upon his memory rest the benedictions of the many who through him were blessed. Even his affliction was a testimony to the Lord. He is buried in Bowling Green; near the resting place of Paul and1 David, two of his own boys. There lie his earthly remains, the while his spirit is with the Lord Jesus— all conflict and all trial passed, awaiting only the Day of Lord’s Coming and the redemption of the body. Then we hope to meet again, among all the saints, that man who lived not for himself, but for the Lord who loved him.


-R. H. Boll, Word & Work, June 1922