Rev. James D. Harned, a man of God and defender of the faith, was born in Breckenridge County, Kentucky, December 2, 1839. His father was a member of the Regular Baptist Church and his mother, who died when he was fourteen years old, was a Cumberland Presbyterian.
Brother Harned graduated in Webster's blue-back spelling book, learned to writer with a goose quill pen and mastered Pike's arithmetic to common fractions. This constituted his book education in then school of the day, and was obtained in a log house, with an old-fashioned fireplace, and split log benches for seats.
He professed religion and united with the New Salem congregation of the Cumberland Presbyterian Church, September 26, 1864, and was made a ruling elder the following week, and served as such until the spring of 1872. At this time he presented himself to Nolin Presbytery as a candidate for the ministry, was received, and at the fall meeting was licensed to preach, and the spring following, over his protest, the presbytery ordained him to the whole work of the gospel ministry. He felt that his education was inadequate for his life's work and that he needed to go to school, but his presbytery claimed that they needed his services as a preacher and could not do without him. This speaks well for the young man, and whether presbytery made a mistake or not will be shown further on. I believe that God raises men up for special occasions and to do special work, and I think I can see the hand of Providence in this.
He was and is yet a man of strong native ability, of untiring energy, a searcher after knowledge, and a keen debater. The same year he joined presbytery he moved from Breckenridge to Grayson County, Kentucky, and settled in a community made up largely of people of the immersionist faith, who were very aggressive in the work of proseliting members of other churches. He says: "The first few years of my ministry I was equal to any Baptist or Campbellite at dipping candidates for baptism, for which I have since been ashamed."
Now, mark you this was in the first years of his ministry. When he was young and inexperienced and before he had studied the identity of the church and its ordinances. He ways a lack of information is the reason so many people have been gulled into believing that immersion is baptism.
About this time the anti-Pedos became so aggressive that young Harned began to study the identity and ordinances of the church. His progress was so great and his aptness to teach was such that, in a very few years, he was endorsed by Nolin Presbytery as being amply competent to present and defend the doctrines of the church, and ordered him to visit all the congregations in its bounds, and deliver lectures on the doctrines and polity of the church. This brought him into many debates with the Baptists and Campbellites, and usually resulted in their discomfiture; and for many years settled the "mode of baptism" question in the presbytery. Therefore he became, not only a champion in his church, but of Pedo Baptists in general. If every Presbytery would foster and encourage such a man in its midst, there would be more intelligence on our distinctive doctrines, and less quibling about our church ordinances. Many amusing anecdotes have been told about these debates, some of which I would like to have recorded, but Brother Harned is a modest man and failed to furnish them, and the writer will have to content himself with what he can get otherwise.
This he says: "After holding several debates, Collinsworth's lectures were published, which was the first book I ever read that I had the contents fixed in memory before it was published." So we see that our brother with his Bible and the few commentators at his disposal, and that too, with a limited education, had so thoroughly and completely mastered the distinctive doctrines of his church as to refute any argument that might be brought against it, and on this point would compare favorably with any of the greatest preacher of this age.
Again he says: "For the first forty years of my ministry, I attended all the meetings of my presbytery except four. I attended eight meetings of the General Assembly--the last one being the meeting at Decatur, Ill. So we find him standing on record as one of the immortal "One Hundred and Six." A noble record! His race is nearly run, but like Moses of old, "he chose rather to suffer affliction with the people of God than to enjoy the pleasures of sin for a season."
Leitchfield (once Nolin) Presbytery has never produced a greater man than Rev. Jas. D. Harned, and had he enjoyed the educational advantages of many men, he would have been one of the greatest men in the church. He had the natural ability, the spiritual fire, and a zeal increased by knowledge.
For the last five or six years he has been almost retired from the ministry on account of ill health. But having already sown much seed in good ground, surely the reaping will be glorious "in the sweet bye and bye." Whether made in good faith or not, many of those old men, and especially men of his caliber, who had been in the ministry of the Cumberland Church forty years, were offered a pension of three hundred dollars a year, and no questions asked if they would renounce their own church vows and go into another communion. Truly this was a testing time, and tried the reins of many a man. But all honor to the "Senior Soldiers" of our Church, while many of them were poor--very poor--and could scarcely keep the wolf from the door most of them stood true to their principles.
[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 189-193]