James Lincoln Goodknight

1846 - 1914

Cumberland Presbyterian Minister


Mount Moriah Cemetery
Nashville, Tennessee


Rev. J. L. Goodknight, D.D., Stated Clerk of our General Assembly since 1907, was at 4:40 p.m., October 2, called from the walks of men to take his place in the General Assembly of the Redeemer's kingdom in heaven. Brother Goodknight died at the Palace Hotel, at Red Boiling Springs, Tennessee, at which place he had been for two or three weeks seeking to regain lost health. He had been for some time suffering from dropsy and bright's disease, and died of heart failure induced by the same. He was born in Allen County, Ky., August 24, 1846; and was, therefore, at his death, in the sixty-ninth year of his life. He was educated at Cumberland University and Union Theological Seminary, and ordained as a minister in the Cumberland Presbyterian Church in 1872. He had filled many places of trust and responsibility in the Cumberland Presbyterian Church, the greater of these being the presidency of Lincoln University, at Lincoln Illinois, and that of Stated Clerk of the General Assembly.

Brother Goodknight was married four times. His first marriage was to Miss Chattie Williams of Tennessee in 1881. She died in a year after their marriage. In 1884 he was married to Miss Alice Cleaver who lived only a few years. In 1889 he was married to Mrs. Estella Elliott who lived until a few years ago. His last wife, who was Mrs. Edna Perry, survives him.

Dr. Goodknight was brought to Nashville and taken to the First Church, where funeral services were held by Rev. J. R. Goodpasture, assisted by Rev. W. T. Dale, after which he was laid away in Mt. Olivet cemetery to await the resurrection call in the last day.

This announcement will come as a sad surprise to the whole church, as our people had not known of Dr. Goodknight's ill heath.

So it is, "In such an hour as ye think not the Son of man cometh."

The Cumberland Presbyterian extends its sympathy to the bereft family and immediate friends of Dr. Goodknight, and bespeaks for them an interest in the prayers of its readers.

[Source: The Cumberland Presbyterian, October 7, 1914, page 1]


It is needless to say that the death of Dr. Goodknight comes with both a shock and surprise to the entire church, yet hardly with surprise to the more intimately familiar with his condition. While both himself, the family and friends familiar with his condition were really apprehensive as to the results for some weeks previous, yet he himself was averse to any generally publicity concerning his condition.

He, his wife and physician had gone to Red Boiling Springs, Tenn., some two or three weeks ago with the hope of a restoration to his normal health, but without avail. A change for the worse seemed to have come suddenly the latter part of last week, and Friday evening at five o'clock his earthly life and career came to an end. It will be of some consolation for the church to know that his last words, thoughts and prayer were for God's blessings upon the church for which he had given so much of his life. He even went so far as to express the wish that Rev. J. R. Goodpasture take up his work as Stated Clerk of the General Assembly until the meeting next May.

We shall not attempt to review Dr. Goodknight's life work at this immediate time. We shall leave that to some pen more familiar with his past and at a time when it can be more fully done. As to some general particulars and funeral services, the following from one of the Nashville papers is sufficient for the present:

"Rev. James Lincoln Goodknight of Lincoln, Ill., Stated Clerk and Treasurer of the Cumberland Presbyterian General Assembly, died at Red Boiling Springs, Tenn., Friday afternoon. The immediate cause of his death was heart trouble, superinduced by dropsy and Bright's disease. Dr. Goodknight, accompanied by his wife, had been at the springs about a month. He had seemed to improve, but his disease took a turn for the worse Friday, and though he was attended by two physicians, he gradually grew weaker and passed away about 5 o'clock.

"It was Dr. Goodknight's request that his funeral service should be conducted by his intimate personal friend, Dr. J. R. Goodpasture, pastor of the First Cumberland Presbyterian Church of Nashville. The remains will be brought to Nashville this evening and will be taken to the residence of Dr. Goodpasture. The funeral service will be held at the First Cumberland Presbyterian Church, corner of Ninth Avenue and McGavock Street, Sunday afternoon at 3 o'clock, conducted by Dr. Goodpasture. The interment will be at Mt. Olivet.

"Cumberland Presbyterians throughout the United States were not advised of the illness of this most prominent officer of their church and his death is a great shock to the members of his denomination everywhere.

"Dr. Goodknight was the son of Isaac and Lucinda Billingsley Goodknight. He was a brother of the late Congressman I.H. Goodknight. He was 68 years old and was born in Allen County, Ky. He entered Cumberland University at Lebanon, Tenn., immediately after the close of the civil war. From this institution he received the A.B., A.M., B.D., and D.D. degrees.

"He graduated from the Union Theological Seminary of New York in 1879. He took a post-graduate course and won high first honors in the University of Edinburgh, Scotland, in 1880. He had conferred upon him honorary degrees by a number of denomination and state universities.

"From 1894 to 1898 [sic: June 13, 1895 to August 6, 1897] Dr. Goodknight was President of the University of West Virginia [sic: West Virginia University]. From 1900 to 1904 he was President of the University of Lincoln, Ill.

"He had traveled extensively in Europe and Asia and was a tireless student and incessant investigator.

"He was ordained a Cumberland Presbyterian minister in 1872, and during the forty-two years of his ministry he had held the pastorate of a number of the leading churches of his denomination.

"At one time he was pastor of the First Cumberland Presbyterian Church of Nashville, for which he always entertained a deep affection.

"Dr. Goodknight was a most eloquent and forceful preacher, a ripe scholar and a most loveable man. He was the author of a number of books.

"In 1907 he succeeded Dr. J. M. Hubbert as Stated Clerk of The General Assembly of the Cumberland Presbyterian Church, which position he had filled for the past seven years with marked ability and fidelity.

"Dr. Goodknight was married to Miss Chattie Williams of Tennessee in May, 1881. His first wife died one year after their marriage and he married the second time in 1884 to Miss Alice Cleaver who died several years later. He married the third time in 1889 to Mrs. Estelle Elliott, who died a few years ago. His last wife, who was Mrs. Edna Perry, survives him.

[Source: The Cumberland Presbyterian Banner, October 9, 1914, page 3]


By Rev. J. R. Goodpasture, M.A.

On the afternoon of October 2, 1914, Rev. James Lincoln Goodknight departed this life, at Red Boiling Springs, Tenn., where he and his devoted wife had gone in the hope that it might improve his declining health. His trouble, however, was of a fatal nature and despite all that loving ministry could do, the end came.

Brother Goodknight was born in Allen County, Ky., August 24, 1846, being at the time of his death sixty-eight years old. He was the son of Isaac and Lucinda Goodknight. In May, 1881 he married Miss Chattie Williams of Tennessee, who died one year later. Of this union a son was born, William Goodknight, who still survives. In 1884 he was married to Miss Alice Cleaver, who lived only a few years. One son was born to this union, Cleaver Goodknight of Chicago, Ill. In 1889 he married Mrs. Ella Goodknight who died some years ago. His last wife was Mrs. Edna Perry of Pembroke, Ky., who survives him.

Brother Goodknight was a graduate of Cumberland University, where he took the A. B. degree in 1871, one of five honor men. He then attended Union Theological Seminary where he graduated in 1879. Later he attended the University of Edinburg where he graduated in 1890 with first honor in philosophy in a class of 164. He afterwards did post graduate work in the University of Jena, Germany, specializing in philosophy and pedagogy.

He was ordained as a Cumberland Presbyterian preacher in 1872. He filled a number of pastorates in our church among them was Covington, Ohio, where he served ten years, taking charge of the church when it had 150 members, and leaving it with 500 and a beautiful new church building. He was pastor of Waynesboro, Pa., for four years. His last pastorate was the First Cumberland Presbyterian Church, Nashville, Tenn.

From 1907 to 1914 he was Stated Clerk of the General Assembly of the Cumberland Presbyterian Church.

From 1895 to 1897 he was President of the University of West Virginia [sic: West Virginia University]; and from 1900 to 1904 he was President of Lincoln University of Lincoln, Ill.

He had traveled in Europe, Asia and Africa, visiting Egypt, Asia Minor, Palestine, Turkey, Sicily, Italy, France, Switzerland, Belgium, Holland and England.

He was a strong preacher and an able writer.

Knowing that his condition was precarious, Brother Goodknight anticipated the end, and gave his faithful directions as to his affairs including his funeral and burial. He desired to be buried in Mount Olivet Cemetery at Nashville, and requested that his funeral service be conducted by Rev. J. R. Goodpasture, pastor of the First Cumberland Presbyterian Church of that city. His wishes were carefully carried out, Rev. W. T. Dale, D.D., assisting. The pastors of local Cumberland Presbyterian Churches were present as well as many other prominent members of our church from this and surrounding counties, and some from Kentucky.

On the last night but one, that he lived, he sat late and talked to his dear companion, as to the impending change and after speaking of her trial, said among other things, of his own future: "My whole life has been a struggle with the world, the flesh, and the devil, and I am saved only because I trusted in my Savior. I looked to him when I was a boy of fourteen, and He will save me because I trusted to Him alone and not to anything I might do myself." So will it be of all of us who are saved.

Brother Goodknight was a man of unusual ability, and perhaps the most highly educated man in the Cumberland Presbyterian Church. With all his great gifts, however, he was an exceptionally modest man. In my associations with him I would never from any bearing or words of his, have known the honor that had been bestowed upon him from distinguished sources. This was not the result of assumed reticency. It was because he was not puffed up; he was not disposed to vaunt himself.

At the same time he placed a high estimate upon learning as an aid to ministerial usefulness. Neither did he underestimate the value of testimonials from important seats of learning. He had many college degrees, as we have seen, including those of DD. And LL. D. He prized them as a character asset. They were the friendly testimonials of competent authorities as to his attainments.

Brother Goodknight was a man whose place in the church will be hard to fill. His information was broad and accurate. Scholarship, travel and association had given him a knowledge of the world and of affairs, which, as an aid to his church work, was of much service to him.

He was a man of strong convictions and decided character, such a man when in important office can hardly fail of displeasing some. Men do not see things alike and all men are not conciliatory,. He made the church an excellent Stated Clerk. He took the position at a time when the office involved tenfold more difficulties than at any former period. Everything was in chaos. He reduced them to order, giving us creditable Minutes and representing the church in those general duties that brought him in touch with the outside religious world, with dignity and wisdom.

He was one of the ablest champions of the doctrinal standards of the church, especially as contrasted with those of the Presbyterian Church U.S.A.

It is probable that he had the most valuable private library in our denomination. He not only had a large collection of books, covering all lines of knowledge, but he had many valuable books. He more than once told me that it was a matter of concern with him how he could best dispose of his library.

I do not feel so much disposed to discuss the great educational and intellectual attainments of Brother Goodknight as I do to speak of his simplicity and his orthodoxy. At this day when it had become a fad with learning to run off after sensational heresies that the world's plaudits may be gained and free advertisement of so-called scholarship won, it is matter for distinct recognition and commendation when a truly learned man stands unswervingly by the standards of truth, the inspiration of the Scriptures in an orthodox sense, and the real presence and miraculous intervention of God's power in the history of his church and in the affairs of the world during the ages.

We will miss Brother Goodknight. He loved the church and her doctrines and institutions. At a time when he realized that he was taxing the last energies of his diseased body, he persisted in labor beyond his strength in the discharge of the duties of his high office. He realized, perhaps, the difficulty of taking up the work after him, and made the way as easy and safe as he could.

I have never known any man who was more wholly free from a spirit of murmuring. He rarely mentioned his physical trouble, even when in the most serious distress. During a period of more than thirty days in which his life was in constant jeopardy and his sufferings constant, I was with him daily, and do not remember to have heard him once complain, or murmur during the entire time. On the contrary he was cheerful and endured his afflictions with such patience, and with so little reference to them, that it was difficult to realize that he was so seriously ill. As an object lesson of patient and uncomplaining suffering he profoundly impressed and rebuked me. It was an epoch in my life-an epoch of resolve to mend, and to profit by his example.

Peace to the memory of our dear Brother Goodknight. May the Father of mercies fill his place in the church, and help us all to love one another, and to so operate along right lines in efforts to advance the cause of truth to which he was so long devoted.

Nashville, Tenn.

[Source: The Cumberland Presbyterian, October 29, 1914, pages 2-3 and The Cumberland Presbyterian Banner, November 6, 1914, page 4]


By Florence N. Murray Smith.

James Lincoln Goodknight was born August 24, 1846, on a farm in Allen County, Kentucky, near the corner of Warren, Simpson and Allen Counties. He was one of a family of eight children, six boys and two girls.

His father, Isaac Goodknight, was born in Lincoln County, Kentucky, near Stanford. His father was named Jacob and grandfather, Michael, who came to this country from the lowlands of Germany.

His mother, Lucinda Billingsley, was born in South Carolina, and was the daughter of Captain John Billingsley of Warren County, Kentucky. Her mother was Margaret Dook Billingsley.

James L. Goodknight was brought up on a farm with slaves, and was required to make a hand in the field from early boyhood, so there was nothing on a farm which he had not been taught to do.

Like many others of our great men, his early education was gained in a log schoolhouse He then went to Pleasant Hill Academy to Rev. J. I. McCormick; afterwards to Franklin Academy to his brother, Thomas M., thence to Cumberland University, Lebanon, Tenn., graduating from there in 1871.

He professed religion and joined the Cumberland Presbyterian Church (Mt. Tabor) near his home, when fourteen years of age.

In the spring of 1863 he joined Logan Presbytery at Trinity Church, Warren County, and was ordained in 1871 at Russellville.

He taught school a year at Little Muddy, then preached to Little Muddy, Pilot Knob and Gasper River churches, till the fall of 1876 when he attended the U.S. Centennial at Philadelphia.

He became pastor at Covington, Ohio, in 1879 and remained there until 1889, having built up the church from one hundred and fifty members to more than five hundred and eighty and leaving them with a handsome brick church.

In 1884 Doctor Goodknight attended the Pan-Presbyterian Alliance, at Belfast, Ireland, where the ecclesiastical battle of the Giants of the World with Presbyterianism was fought over the admission of the Cumberland Presbyterian Church as a member of the Alliance.

He resigned the pastorate at Covington in 1889 and traveled six months in Europe. Then spent a school year in Edinboro University, where he took first honors in philosophy.

He did postgraduate work in Jena University, Germany, afterwards traveling through Egypt, Palestine, Turkey, Greece, Italy and the Continent, returning to the United States in July, 1901.

He accepted the pastorate of the Waynesburg Church, in Pennsylvania, in October, 1891, remaining four years in this parish, during which time as chairman of a Synodic Commission, he worked out the paying of the indebtedness of Waynesburg College.

In June, 1895, Doctor Goodknight was elected to the Presidency of the West Virginia University, at Morgantown, where he served two years and brought university organization to it and doubled its student attendance within that time.

In October, 1900, he was elected to the Presidency of Lincoln University, where he made as great a success as at West Virginia University. He resigned in June, 1904.

His last active church work was as pastor of the First Church, Nashville, Tenn., which he resigned in February, 1913.

From 1907 to 1914, he has held the office of Stated Clerk and Treasurer of the General Assembly of the Cumberland Presbyterian Church.

He was a man of strong personality. The author has known him personally for a number of years and esteemed him very highly as a scholar, writer, minister and a Christian gentleman. He was widely known, even those who did not have a personal acquaintance with him knew him through his writings.

In speaking of his own future (quoting from Rev. Goodpasture, M.A.) he said: "My whole life has been a struggle with the world, the flesh and the devil and I am saved only because I trusted in my Savior. I looked to him when I was a boy of fourteen and he will save me because I trusted to him alone and not to anything I might do myself." Are not his words beautiful and inspiring? "Saved because he TRUSTED JESUS." So shall it be with each of us.

[Source: Our Senior Soldiers: The Biographies and Autobiographies of Eighty Cumberland Presbyterian Preachers. Compiled by The Cumberland Presbyterian Board of Publication. The Assistance of Revs. J. L. Price and W. P. Kloster is Greatfully Acknowledged. Nashville, Tenn.: The Cumberland Presbyterian Board of Publication, 1915, pages 64-67]

GOODKNIGHT, James Lincoln; b, Mt Aeriel, Ky, Ag 24, 1846; CumbU, 71; UTS, 76-9; ord (C Presb, Logan), Ag 9, 72; tea, Little Muddy, Ky, 71-2; ss, do, Pilot Knob & Gasper River, Ky, 72-6; past, Covington, O, 79-89; stud, UEdin, 89-90; do, UJena, 90-1; pas, Waynesburg, Pa, 91-5; pres (W-Va Univ), Morgantown, W-Va, 95-7; cash (Cit Nat Bank), Covington, O, 99-1900; pres, LincU, 00-4; jour & bus man (Courier Co), Lincoln, Ill, 04-14; Red Boiling Springs, Tenn, Oc 2, 1914. DD, WaynC, 90; LLD, CumbU, 03; st clk, Gen Assem, Cumb Presb Ch.

[Source: General Catalogue of the Union Theological Seminary in the City of New York 1836-1918, 1919, page 237.]

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Updated November 7, 2006