Favorite Quotes: James A. Harding

James A. Harding (1848-1922), Kentucky evangelist and co-founder of the Nashville Bible School (now Lipscomb University), is a fascinating character. Passionate, opinionated, and faith-filled, he offers a vibrant vision for the mission of the church for both his time and ours. Below are two of my favorite (among many) quotes.

Both illustrate the importance of discipleship for Harding and his skepticism of crusading revivalism. He made these observations after spending twelve years as an itinerant evangelist from Michigan to Florida and Canada to Texas. They say something about his understanding of soteriology, the church and  discipleship.  I have highlighted some key phrases.

I have observed that those speakers as a rule secure the greatest number of accessions who dwell most upon escaping hell and getting into heaven, and least upon the importance of leading lives of absolute consecration to the Lord; in other words their converts are much more anxious to be saved than they are to follow Christ. (James A. Harding, Gospel Advocate 27 [14 September 1887], 588).

Our greatest trouble now is, it seems to me, a vast unconverted membership. A very large percent of the church members among us seem to have very poor conceptions of what a Christian ought to be. They are brought into the church during these high-pressure protracted meetings, and they prove to be a curse instead of a blessing. They neglect prayer, the reading of the Bible, and the Lord’s day meetings, and, of course, they fail to do good day by day as they should. Twelve years of continuous travel among the churches have forced me to the sad conclusion that a very small number of the nominal Christians are worthy of the name. (James A. Harding, Gospel Advocate 27 [9 Feb 1887], 88.)

7 Responses to “Favorite Quotes: James A. Harding”

  1.   Tommy Drinnen Says:

    John mark –

    thanks for these thoughts – really have enjoyed reading the things you have been thinking about. tommy

  2.   Terrell Lee Says:

    This is precisely the conversation that is going on among my church leaders at this time. Also, I just completed Scot McKnight’s King Jesus Gospel where he argues the same point. I guess nothing is new under the sun.

    John Mark, posts like these are really helpful. Thanks.

  3.   K. Rex Butts Says:

    Well, he sure didn’t mince words. For the most part I agree with him. It makes me wonder if any of the more famous revival/gospel-meeting preachers in the CoCs have ever read this and if so, what their reactions might be.

  4.   jim burkhalter Says:

    WOW.. Brother..
    What an interesting parallel we see, even today..
    Thank you for sharing, my dear brother and friend.

  5.   eirenetheou Says:

    The instruction we receive from Jesus in the so-called “Great Commission” is to “make disciples” and to teach them “to keep all that I have commanded you.” It is one thing to “scare the hell” out of the immature and unstable and so induce them to “get baptized.” It is another to “make disciples” and to teach them to follow Jesus.

    When “evangelism” focuses on numbers of members to be enrolled in an organization, then we see what JAH observed in his years on the road from 1875 to 1887. It was true then and it is true now. It was true in the first century. “Enter by the narrow gate,” Jesus says. “For the gate is narrow and the road is difficult that leads to Life, and few are those who find it.” Making disciples is a work of patience and, therefore a work of love. It is not accomplished in a few days or weeks by one “evangelist,” but rather by all the members of the Body of Christ working with one another to grow in love and in faith so that they may do the work of God in the world.

    God’s Peace to you.


  6.   Homer Says:

    It seems to me most conversions are based on the desire to escape hell and get into heaven. After all, unless you are a Calvinist, they come to Christ unregenerate. They come at step two on Bernard’s “Ladder of Love”, that is, love of God for sake of self. But have they been advised to “count the cost”? As eirenetheou says, the making of disciples is an unending job.

    •   John Mark Hicks Says:

      My own baptism was rooted in escaping hell…that was my main agenda. But I wonder if that is more the product of the type of emphases given in my church rather than leaning into the type of life Jesus offers and calls us into. It may be true that most are converted in this way but I would hope we could call others to follow Jesus (even if for the sake of self…good life, peace, etc.) rather simply to escape hell. It takes a different sort of modeling, mentoring, teaching and preaching.


  1. this went thru my mind |

Leave a Reply