SOME GREAT LEADERS OF THE RESTORATION MOVEMENT
13. John T. Johnson (1788-1856). The eighth of eleven children, Johnson was born on October 5, 1788 in Scott County, KY at Great Crossings, about three miles west of Georgetown. His father, Robert Johnson, was a colonel in the army and his brother, Richard M. Johnson, would later serve as the ninth vice-president of the United States during the presidency of Martin Van Buren. In 1820 John T. turned his attention toward politics and was elected to serve in the U. S. Congress, and then was re-elected for several terms. In 1821 he joined the Baptist Church in Great Crossings, his home community, but after his retirement from politics in 1830, he became interested in what was derogatorily called “Campbellism” (then sweeping his community) and determined to make a study of it in the light of the Scriptures. He said, “My eyes were opened, and I was made perfectly free by the truth” (John Rogers, The Biography of Elder John T. Johnson [Cincinnati: 1861], p. 21, as cited by Earl West, The Search for the Ancient Order, Vol. 1, p. 234). Johnson immediately set about to convert the Baptist Church at Great Crossings, but did not take into account the power of religious prejudice, though he did baptize his wife, as well as his brother Joel and his wife. With others, he formed a congregation in Great Crossings that worshiped after the New Testament order. Johnson went on to become an extraordinarily successful preacher of the gospel and an ardent advocate of the principles calling for a restoration of the New Testament order. Alexander Campbell said of him, “I wish Kentucky had a few persons equally gifted for taking care of the sheep, as brother Johnson is for marking them and putting them in the green pastures” (a reference to converting people to the right way of the Lord) (The Millennial Harbinger, June 1839, as cited by West, p. 228-229). Samuel Rogers said of him, “As an evangelist, I have thought John T. Johnson the best model I have ever known. Perhaps I ought not to speak of him as a model at all, for no man could imitate him” (as cited by West, p. 229). On the first Sunday evening of December 1856, Johnson preached his last sermon. He developed a case of pneumonia and died in the home of Thomas Bledsoe with whom he was staying in Lexington, KY. When told that death was approaching he said, “I did not think death was so near, but let it come.” In his delirious moments he would quote scripture or preach on the sacrifice of Jesus for sin. On December 18 he closed his eyes in death.
14. Elisha G. Sewell (1830-1924). Sewell was born on October 23, 1830 in Overton County, TN, the thirteenth child and eighth son of Stephen and Annie Sewell. All but one of the eight boys had Bible names. Four of them—Isaac, Caleb, Jesse, and Elisha—went on to become gospel preachers. Joshua, Caleb’s twin, died in infancy. Originally, the Sewells were all Baptists. When an older brother, William, married a member of the church of Christ he soon came to accept the principles of the restoration plea. His brothers regretted William’s course and Jesse set out to bring him back to the Baptist fold, but in the process he converted himself to the New Testament way. Soon, Isaac and Caleb and the whole Sewell family, except Elisha, had been converted to the original apostolic ground. In the spring of 1849 Elisha started reading and studying the New Testament for himself, and on the fourth Lord’s Day of October 1849, he was immersed into Christ by Jesse, an older brother. In the fall of 1851, in the private home of a neighbor, Elisha preached his first sermon. In 1853 he married Lucy Kuykendall near Cookeville, TN. He studied at Burritt College in Spencer, TN, and in 1859 he graduated from Franklin College in Nashville where he studied under Tolbert Fanning and William Lipscomb. In 1870 when David Lipscomb found himself in need of help in editing the Gospel Advocate, he turned to E. G. Sewell. For the next almost fifty years—January 1, 1870 until Lipscomb’s death in 1917—the team of Lipscomb and Sewell played a key role in shaping the cause of the restoration of the New Testament order in the South. Nothing expanded his influence more than his work on the Advocate. In addition to his work at the Advocate, he stayed busy in evangelistic work and establishing churches of the apostolic order, especially in Nashville. He lived a quiet and peaceable life, was known for his moderation in all things, and was extremely methodical. He was described by F. D. Srygley as being “meek and lowly in spirit, gentle and timid in manner, severely scriptural in doctrine, and kind and persuasive in his oratory” (Biographies and Sermons, p. 257). He and his family were extremely hospitable, and traveling preachers often found themselves welcomed in his home at 801 Boscobel Street in east Nashville, where he lived for fifty-four years and where death came to him on March 2, 1924 at the age of ninety-three.
15. James A. Harding (1848-1922). The oldest of fourteen children born to James W. and Mary McDonald Harding, James Alexander Harding was born on March 16, 1848 in Winchester, KY. At the age of thirteen he was baptized into Christ by his father during a meeting in Winchester conducted by the illustrious preacher, Moses E. Lard. Young Harding grew up in a home in which Alexander Campbell, “Raccoon” John Smith, Moses E. Lard, John T. Johnson, and John Rogers were regular visitors. Following his graduation from Bethany College in 1869, he moved to Hopkinsville, KY where he taught school and did some preaching. In 1871 he married nineteen year old Carrie Knight of Hopkinsville. Following her death in 1876, he married Patti Cobb in 1878. In the spring of 1875, he was asked by a brother John Adams to preach in a meeting. At first he refused, saying he had no evangelistic sermons. Adams responded, “Why you have been brought up in the church all your life. You have attended Bethany College and you have your degree. You have been preaching since you were nineteen. If you can’t hold a meeting, you ought to be shot. Now shut your mouth, get your horse, and come on out and hold that meeting!” Thus was launched a great evangelistic preaching career that extended from Canada to Florida and from Maine to New Mexico. From 1876 until 1893, Harding poured himself into evangelistic meetings, preaching twice every weekday and three times on Sunday. He held over 300 meetings that lasted anywhere from three to ten weeks. In one eight-week meeting at Foster Street in Nashville there were 123 additions. In a meeting at South Nashville he had 300 additions. He was no less adept as a debater than he was as a preacher and conducted over forty debates with various exponents of error. Of him it was said, “His mind was quick and his speaking ability extraordinary” (G. C. Taylor, Gospel Advocate, June 18, 1884, as cited by Earl West, The Search for the Ancient Order, Vol. 2, p. 336). T. R. Burnett said of him, “He believes the Bible from ‘lid to lid’” (West, p. 336). In 1882 David Lipscomb made Harding a corresponding editor of the Gospel Advocate, and in 1891 Lipscomb and Harding began Nashville Bible School, now Lipscomb University. Ten years later, Harding moved to Bowling Green, KY to begin Potter Bible College and remained there for ten years, resigning the presidency when his memory began to fail. Harding was renowned for his great trust in the providence of God. He passed from this life on May 28, 1922 at the home of his daughter, Sue Paine, in Atlanta, GA, and is buried in Bowling Green, KY. In 1926, following the merger of Harper College in Kansas and Arkansas Christian College in Morrilton, Arkansas, Harding College (now University) in Searcy, AR was named in his honor.
(To Be Continued)
January 16, 2018