James Alexander Harding was born in Winchester, Kentucky on April 16, 1848. His parents were J. W. and Mary McDonald Harding. Concerning J. W. Harding, Dr. Earl Irvin West, in Search for The Ancient Order, gives this account.
“J. W. Harding was at home in Kentucky. For ninety-seven years he lived around Winchester, traveling but little from there, . . . In 1839 he obeyed the Gospel, and after that he preached on Sundays, and worked as a tailor or a merchant through the week. He married Mary McDonald in 1844, and to them fourteen children were born. J. W. Harding was fully devoted to the work of God. He was an elder in the Court Street Church in Winchester until the instrument of worship was forced in in 1887. After that, he and fifteen others left and became the nucleus for the Fairfax congregation. Harding was active there until he died in 1919.”
Many outstanding individuals visited the home of J. W. Harding. L. C. Sears, writes these words in “The Eyes of Jehovah.”
“Visitors in his home (J.W. Harding) included such men as Alexander Campbell, the founder and President of Bethany College. Barton W. Stone, who along with Campbell as a leader in the Restoration movement of the early and middle century. Benjamin Franklin, editor of the American Christian Review, David Lipscomb, editor of the Gospel Advocate, John T. Johnson, Aylette Raines, Moses E. Lard . . . .”
In October of 1861 Moses E. Lard was conducting a meeting with the Court Street congregation. It was during this meeting that James A. Harding, then thirteen, responded to the Gospel invitation and embraced the Ancient Gospel. In the fall of 1866, he entered Bethany College. Alexander Campbell had died the previous April. He graduated from Bethany College in 1869.
James A. Harding tells us why he wanted to preach the Ancient Gospel in the March 13, 1906 issue of the Christian Leader and Way.
“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 look for opportunities to speak in the school houses away back eight to 10 miles from town.”
After leaving Bethany College, he settled in Hopkinsville, Kentucky. He taught school there for five years. In 1871 he married Carrie Knight and three children were born to them. Only one grew past infancy. His wife died in 1876. Harding, along with his son Leon, returned to Winchester. In 1878 he married Pattie Cobb of Estil County, Kentucky. She survived him, dying in Atlanta in 1945.
In 1874, he began to devote his time to full-time evangelism. He held protracted meetings all over the country. Concerning his work as an evangelist, F. D. Srygley, wrote the following in Biographies and Sermons, .
“From the time he gave up all other callings and went into the world as general evangelist, he attracted attention in a constant and rapidly widening field, and for about seventeen years he devoted himself wholly to the work of an evangelist. During all that time he preached an average of ten sermons a week, sometimes for a month at a time preaching two sermons a day.”
Harding believed that if he gave his whole time to serving the Lord, God would provide for his needs Concerning his faith in God, West writes these words in Search for The Ancient Order.
“Usually every great man has one outstanding quality that he epitomizes. Harding’s most outstanding quality was his faith in God. It was with him a settled conviction that if he did the work God wanted him to do, God would look after him, even to the performing of a miracle if necessary. He could have no doubt that if he ceased his school work and devoted all his time to the work of the Lord, God would care for him. Being found hundreds of miles from home was not unusual for Harding, getting ready to depart for the depot without a cent in his pocket. If someone asked how he expected to ride a train with no money, he could expect the answer that God would look after him.”
In 1882 he began to write for the Gospel Advocate. He was an outstanding and forceful writer for the cause of New Testament Christianity. He was also known as a debater. His most famous one being the Nashville Debate with the Baptist, J. N. Moody in 1889.
As we mentioned in our article on David Lipscomb, Harding was a firm believer in Christian education. In 1891, he and David Lipscomb founded Nashville Bible School. In 1901 he was led to establish Potter Bible School in Bowling Green, Kentucky. Concerning Harding’s move to Bowling Green, David Lipscomb penned these words in the Advocate of June 6, 1901.
“…There will be some changes for the future. Brother Harding and Brother Armstrong go to Bowling Green, Ky. to begin a similar school near that place. This comes of no disagreement or trouble in the faculty here: but they offered means to start a similar school there, and Brother Harding thought that accepting it would be best and use the means, the rest of us acceded to his ideas. It has never been our idea to build up a school to monopolize the teaching of the Bible, but one of our aims has been to excite others to do likewise. We would be glad to see a school in which the Bible is taught in every church in the land; indeed, we do not think children can be reared in the nurture and admonition of the Lord at home or at school without daily instructions in the Word of God.”
One of Harding’s co-workers at Potter was his son-in-law, John Nelson Armstrong. We will be devoting a chapter about Armstrong’s contribution to Christian education in a forthcoming article. James A. Harding was President of Potter Bible College until 1912.
James A. Harding was entering the twilight of his long service to the Lord of Glory. He continued to preach the Everlasting Gospel. In 1909, he gave the Thanksgiving message at Cordell Christian College. He lived out his closing years with his daughter in Atlanta, Georgia. He died there on May 28, 1922. He is buried in Bowling Green, Kentucky.
May we ever try to be like James A. Harding in his faith. Let us truly believe, as he did, that God will provide for those in His service.