William M. Harris

1772 - 1845

Cumberland Presbyterian Minister

A Watchman fallen.

Information has been received that the Rev. W. M. HARRIS, of Bowling Green, Ky., departed this life, on the 8th inst.--But few ministers in our day have, in the bounds of their operations, more nobly filled the station assigned them by divine providence and grace. But few have exerted a more salutary and substantial influence.--But rew have labored and sacrificed more for the interests of pure and undefiled religion. But few have apparently sown more good seed or reaped more abundant harvests in the vineyard of the Lord; and perhaps few have lived more highly respected or died more universally lamented.

His life was an epistle known and read of all men. He was unquestionably a man of God, full of the Holy Ghost and of faith. His name and his deeds will live in the hearts of the present generation. The story of Wm. Harris' works of faith and labors of love will be told to posterity.--Generations yet to come will have their faith strengthened, their hope revived and their zeal stimulated, by hearing of a man, a wagoner who had long been convicted of sin, righteousness and judgment--arriving with his wagon and team, at night, at the place where now stands the flourishing town of Russellville--despairing of God's mercy, but shocked by the levity and profanity of those living in the place--wrestling all night in prayer to God for mercy to his poor soul, behind the old log court-house--at the dawn of the natural day, receiving a spiritual light, even the light of grace and truth divine into his soul, inspiring faith, hope and love--arising from his knees, going through the town and telling to all, the wonders of redeeming love, until it was said, "Harris, you are mad!" to which it was replied. "I am not made, most noble Festus, but speak the words of truth and soberness." Long will it be remembered, how this good man became one of the most eminent and useful ministers of the present generation--having struggled with poverty till he overcame it and the want of early education till in a good degree he repaired its deficiences--how he planted and continued to water, till his last illness, many flourishing churches--how he raised, educated and creditably provided for a number of children not far below twenty, five or six of whose sons are now respectable ministers of the gospel, treading the path their father so nobly trod. Long, will young ministers be pointed to the faith and patience, the zeal and energy of character, the abundant labors and distinguished success of the now lamented Harris, as an example worthy of imitation. Long, while the family of the deceased lament their loss of a tender husband, affectionate father, wise counsellor and sympathising friend, may they derive consolation from the fact that godliness which he loved and practicedc, is now rewarded with a gain, too boundless and glorious for human conception. Long will the church of which he was a member, feel her bereavement of one of her most loyal, disinterested champions, brightest ornaments, ablest defenders of the truth and most successful standard-bearers of the cross of Christ. Long will society in general, remember the advocate of temperance in all things, the reprover of wickedness everywhere, the preacher of righteousness on all occasions, who was generally known and could be always relied on as a friend of the poor, the widow and the orphan. Long will the heart which dictates this brief notice, tenderly cherish the memory of this man who was one of nature's true noblemen and grace's bright trophies. Truly may it be said of him, "HE DIED AT HIS POST."

Will some friend in that part of the country furnish an appropriate Obituary, for our paper?
[Source: Banner of Peace and Cumberland Presbyterian Advocate, July 25, 1845, page 3]


WILLIAM HARRIS was born in 1772. His father was a Revolutionary veteran, and a member of the Presbyterian Church. Very little is known of his early life, except what would be expected from the character of his father; he was religiously educated. It is not known that he manifested any particular interest on the subject of religion himself, until the opening of the revival of 1800. His locality would bring him into early contact with this great work. He became deeply convicted soon after the revival began to develop itself. He was, however, much perplexed with the doctrine of predestination, as it was taught by the Church of his fathers. This was a very common experience in those days: it is not an unusual experience now. At a certain time, when on his way to a camp-meeting, he stopped for the night at Russellville. Russellville is situated in that portion of Kentucky in which the religious movement commenced. In the course of the evening or night, while engaged in prayer, to use his own language, "the Lord broke into his soul; he saw a fullness in Christ for the whole world." His mind was at once relieved of some of his doctrinal difficulties. On those subjects, it is supposed, he never faltered afterward, to the day of his death.

"A short time after he professed religion, Mr. Harris began to feel that it was his duty to preach the unsearchable riches of Christ to a dying world, and his powerful exhortations and great usefulness at prayer-meetings soon satisfied his brethren that he was not mistaken in his feelings." In consequence of the troubles which grew up in the Presbyterian Church, in connection with the licensure and ordination of what were called the young men, he was not advanced to the ministry until after the constitution of the Cumberland Presbytery in 1810. He had, however, been encouraged to exercise his gifts in exhortation, and during the stormy period which preceded the constitution of the Presbytery for several years, he was one of the most efficient laborers in the country, in the capacity of an exhorter. The Council, during the four years of its existence, abstained from all Presbyterial acts. This accounts for his not being licensed to preach. In these days, says my authority, while some of his more timid brethren declined holding meetings, he labored with great zeal and success. "In his own neighborhood, so powerful was the work of God through his instrumentality, that meetings would continue all night. His widow relates that on one occasion, after being up all night, he came home about daylight for some refreshments, and then returned and continued the meeting through the day." It will be observed that this was an ordinary neighborhood meeting.

At the first regular meeting of the Cumberland Presbytery, Mr. Harris was received as a candidate for the ministry. This meeting was held at the Ridge Meeting-house, in March of 1810. Several others were received at the same time--Robert Donnell, William Barnett, William Bumpass, Robert McCorkle, and David McLin. It is an interesting catalogue. In 1811 he was licensed. In the following year he was ordained. I have in my possession the records of the meeting of an intermediate Presbytery, which had been appointed for the ordination. As a matter of special historical interest these records entire are inserted here:

"Agreeably to the order of our last Presbytery, the Intermediate Presbytery met in Dunham's settlement on the 14th of February, 1812, to attend to the trials of William Harris, preparatory to ordination. Preachers present, Messrs. Finis Ewing, Foster, and Kirkpatrick. Mr. Ewing was chosen Moderator, and Mr. Kirkpatrick was chosen Clerk. Constituted with prayer. A sermon was delivered from Rom. v.9, which was unanimously sustained. Examinations were attended to upon the different branches of literature, pointed out in our circular-letter, which were sustained. Presbytery adjourned to meet to-morrow morning at ten o'clock. Concluded with prayer. Saturday morning, Presbytery met according to adjournment; opened with prayer. The Moderator proceeded to preach the ordination-sermon from 2 Tim. iv.2, first clause. After sermon, the necessary questions in our Confession of Faith being proposed to Mr. Harris, according to the custom of the Presbytery, and being answered in the affirmative, the Presbytery, by the imposition of hands and solemn prayer, set him apart to the whole work of the ministry. Afterward a solemn charge was given with respect to his duty, likewise with respect to the duty of the congregation; and the whole was concluded with prayer. This 15th of February, 1812.    "FINIS EWING, Mod.
                                                                                                                                      "HUGH KIRKPATRICK, Clerk."

The trial-sermon on this occasion is said to have produced a powerful effect. The members were so interested that they forgot the customary criticisms, and rather united with the preacher "in shouting forth the praises of God." There must have been a good deal of spirituality in the ordination.

Mr. Harris, when he became a candidate for the ministry, was poor; his education was limited; in addition, he had the charge of a considerable family. His efforts for the cultivation of his mind were very great, and afford ample proof of what vigorous and persevering application may accomplish under the most appalling discouragements. "When at work on his farm, he carried his book in his pocket, and employed the moments of respite from labor in study. Frequently, after a hard day's work, he would ride several miles to recite to a gentleman of his neighborhood. His proficiency and success in mental improvement may be inferred from the fact that, after entering the ministry, he was frequently asked at what college he obtained his education." [Mr. Lowry's Sketch].

Mr. Harris was as incessant in his labors, after entering upon them, as he was in preparing for them. No ordinary weather was allowed to prevent him from attending his appointments for preaching. When friends expostulated with him upon the necessity of care of himself, and remonstrated against what they considered his imprudence in exposing himself to all sorts of weather, his general reply was, "I have nothing to do with the weather." He preached to Marrow-bone Congregation, in Cumberland county, seventy-five miles from his home, once a month, for twenty years, and it is not remembered that he ever missed but one appointment in all that time on account of bad weather. The trip on that occasion would have called him out on the cold Friday, and he very wisely shrunk from it. It is worthy of mention, too, that he rode on horseback, crossed creeks and rivers which were mainly unbridged, and received for his labors, upon an average, about seventy-five dollars a year. Still he collected and kept together a congregation from which several others afterward sprung up as offshoots from this common stock. The old congregation in Cumberland county is said now to be represented in many of the congregations of the North and West. And wherever such representatives are found, the name of the earnest old preacher is a household word. "In the whole course of his ministerial career, his Presbyterial books show no mark of absence. He has been heard to say that he was often sick before and after Presbytery, but never during the sessions. With all the infirmities of age, and in the incipient stage of his last illness, he attended the Presbytery preceding his death, but was unable to remain to the close of the sessions."

"Nearly one-fourth of every year of his life, from the commencement of his ministry, was literally spent encamped in the woods, at camp-meetings. The writer (Rev. David Lowry) has heard him avow it as his belief, from the pulpit, that a camp-meeting was the best place on this side of heaven. It was not unusual for him to preach once or twice going to, and returning from, those meetings."

This statement will create no surprise with the old people who read it. Such was the custom of the times. "In season and out of season," was the motto.

"His favorite topics in the pulpit were the fall of man, the atonement of Christ, and experimental and practical religion. He never attempted those nice and intricate distinctions in theology which, like the lines of the spider's web, are invisible to all eyes except those of the speaker, and, if seen by others, would still be, like the lines of the spider's web, of no possible use to man. His sermons, being filled with rich thought, striking illustrations, and solemn appeals, rarely failed to interest and affect the audience. His talent for argumentation, both in and out of the pulpit, was above what is ordinary, and his quickness of mind in apprehending and presenting truth, gave him great advantage in controversy. The following may serve as a specimen of his manner: He was discussing, on one occasion, in a friendly conversation with a clergyman of another denomination, the moral of infants. 'We believe,' said his opponent, 'that infants come into the world justified.' 'We believe,' replied Mr. Harris, 'that they go out of the world justified.' There the controversy ended, for as both believed that infants dying in infancy were saved, there was nothing worth contending about."

We have the following account of one of his visits to the sick. It is contained in a letter from himself to Rev. Finis Ewing, written in 1816:

"I received a request on Tuesday last to visit an old lady at the point of death. She wished me to preach and administer the sacrament in the room where she lay. On my arrival I found her very low, and under the operation of medicine. But she still urged me to preach and administer the Supper to herself and as many of her friends as were present who loved the Lord Jesus. My text was, 'My departure is at hand,' etc. Her physician would not permit any except a few friends to remain in the room during the sermon. The congregation were seated in the yard, and I stood in the door. The Lord helped, and the people felt. Just as I was about the administer the sacrament, the doctor and the people were forced into the house by a heavy shower of rain. During the celebration of the ordinance God poured out his Spirit, and the doctor and many of the irreligious wept much. Two of the old lady's sons were powerfully convicted. The communicants, in addition to herself, were five daughters of the afflicted mother, one daughter-in-law, and two granddaughters, and all appeared to feel the powers of the world to come. The poor old lady's faith became strong, through which she had a most charming view of her heavenly inheritance, and in that situation I left her."

In 1817, the Green River Bible Society was organized, and Mr. Harris was elected President. It is said that "the society derived much aid from his indefatigable labors." This is almost certain, as his heart would be in such a work as was contemplated by the American Bible Society in all its branches. The society at that time was in the second year of its existence. I allude to the American Bible Society. He was also one of the first who engaged in the distribution of tracts in the section of country in which he lived. In this work he seems to have anticipated the operations of the American Tract Society itself.

At the close of the war of 1812, the great Northwest was opened up for settlement to the American white population. It is meant by this statement that the Indians were dispossessed, and the country came under the control of the United States, and that the people of the United States were permitted to settle there. A great many emigrated from various States, but the emigration from Kentucky was especially large. As a matter of course, some families belonging to the Church would be among the emigrants. Such families soon felt very sorely the want of the Christian privileges of which they were deprived by their removal. They would very naturally turn their attention to the Churches which they had left behind for help. The following letter to Mr. Harris was written, in June of 1812, on this subject, by Mrs. Lindsey, a Christian lady, who had moved from Kentucky to Indiana:

"Dear Brother:--Great alarm prevails in this country, both on account of the shaking of the earth and danger apprehended from the Indians. The people have generally gone into forts.

"Shall we see you and Brother Chapman this fall? We still remain at home, and do not feel in much danger.

"The situation of the people here gives me great pain. We have had but one sermon since your visit to this country. One Sabbath after another comes, but all is silent--the glad news of salvation is not heard. I have great confidence that you and Brother Chapman will do something for us at Presbytery. Tell your young preachers to come and preach the gospel for us in this destitute part of God's vineyard."

The same lady writes to him again in September of 1819. The following is an extract:

"Dear Brother:--What entreaties can I use to induce you to send more preachers to Indiana? The State is filling up, and thousands are destitute of preaching. It would be gratifying news should it be consistent for you to send back Brother Lowry to this part of the State."

Such appeals made their impression. The Logan Presbytery appointed a day of fasting and prayer that God would call more laborers into the vineyard. The preachers were directed generally to preach to their congregations on a call to the ministry. The result was, that at the next meeting of the Presbytery eleven young men were received as candidates for the ministry. The hearts of both preachers and people were deeply stirred.

"The next spring," says my informant, [Rev. D. Lowry] "I heard Father Harris preach to the Presbytery in session at Lebanon, Christian county, Kentucky. In portraying the moral condition of our country, especially of the frontier, and the great demand for preachers, he became so much affected that he ceased to speak, and fell in the pulpit, apparently giving utterance to the feelings of the prophet when he exclaimed: 'O that my head were waters, and mine eyes a fountain of tears, that I might weep day and night for the slain of the daughter of my people.' Several more young men became candidates for the ministry at this Presbytery, among whom was the late Rev. Joseph McDowell." [Rev. Joseph McDowell was a promising young man, but died early.]

These indications made it evident that the providence and Spirit of God were calling out the men, and that they would soon be prepared for their great work. But another inquiry began to present itself to the Church. The frontier wanted missionaries, but it had no means--at most, very limited means--of supporting them. How were they to be supported? How were they to procure means for even an outfit for their work? A female missionary society was organized to meet the exigency. Mr. Harris was a leading spirit in this work. The following is a part of the preamble to the constitution:

"This day a number of ladies met in the town of Russellville, at the house of Mrs. E. Hunter, for the purpose of forming themselves into a society to be denominated the Russellville Female Missionary Society. The meeting was opened by prayer, and an affectionate and appropriate address was delivered by Rev. William Harris."

Mr. Harris was elected secretary of the society, and appointed traveling agent to promote its interests and objects. He was likewise requested and authorized by its Board to receive donations for the Green River Female Missionary Society.

Several missionaries were immediately appointed by the Logan Presbytery to labor in the settlements of Indiana, Illinois, and Missouri. Among these were Rev. Alexander Chapman and Rev. Robert D. Morrow. As a specimen of the conduct and spirit enjoined upon the missionaries, the following is presented. It is an extract from the copy of a letter of instruction from Mr. Harris, Secretary and General Agent of the Missionary Society, to Rev. Alexander Chapman:

"Dear Brother:--The Missionary Board of the Cumberland Presbyterian Church have nominated and appointed you to labor as missionary in the State of Illinois. They advise that you preach as often as your health will permit; that you organize Churches, ordain elders, administer baptisms, etc. Also, that you encourage the people to expect preaching from our denomination so far as our missionary funds and claims elsewhere will permit.

"It is enjoined that you attend in your administrations to the simplicity of the gospel, and cultivate feelings of friendship with other Churches holding the radical doctrines of our holy religion. The Board also entreat you to endeavor to cultivate at all times the Spirit of your Master."

This letter is dated October 24, 1820. It will be observed that these good men and women were making the gigantic efforts which have been mentioned here--and I call them gigantic for the best of reasons--for evangelizing and saving the opening country, when the Cumberland Presbyterian Church was yet but ten years old.

The records of the Board of Missions show also that Mr. Harris had been sent as a missionary to Indiana in the winter of 1820. In his journal of this mission we find the following expressive entry: "A missionary in this country needs warm clothes, warm friends, and a warm heart."

I add two or three paragraphs from the sermon delivered upon the occasion of the death of this good man by Rev. David Lowry, one of his sons in the ministry:

"The sphere of usefulness in which Father Harris labored for upward of forty years was the work of the ministry. The efforts of but few preachers in the Church to which he belonged have been attended with equal success. He commenced with extraordinary zeal, and so continued through the whole course of his useful life. Some men set out well in the ministry, and labor apparently with much zeal for a time, but relax and become cold. The Church marks it with regret, and they themselves occasionally mourn over their declension, but the grace and power of earlier efforts never return. The deceased escaped this evil, and continued the zeal of his first love in the pulpit till dismissed from the walls of Zion. He loved to preach.

"The world has no arithmetic to calculate the value and influence of such a man, since its honors are reserved for men of another description. Our cities are named after the warrior and statesman, and bonfires celebrate their deeds, while the humble and devoted minister of the gospel is overlooked, and sometimes treated with contempt. 'His record, however, is on high,' and he has, too, goodly record below. The Churches planted by his toil, and watered by his care, will long preserve his memory, and society will feel the benefit of his labor ages after he shall cease to move and speak on earth. Most of our legislators and able politicians, as well as men of science, have sprung from religious families, and were reared up under the preaching of the gospel; and all, or nearly all, the great men of our nation were educated at schools or colleges indebted to ministerial effort for their existence, and to the superintendence of preachers for their standing in the country."

"Am I reminded of the noise, and nonsense, and quirks, and cant of the pulpit, and of the petty sectarianism of the preachers? I admit it all, and have lamented over it. But point me to a profession which has not been abused and perverted. The history of preaching, like all other history, is liable tot he reproach of folly and crime. The ministry is not what it ought to be, and might be, still it has no substitute. What but preaching overthrew ancient Rome, and broke the chains of modern Rome, and added the islands of the sea to Christendom? Parental instruction, Sabbath-schools, and religious books have done wonders. But through whose instrumentality were the parents converted? By whom were the books written and Sabbath-schools organized? All are indebted to the Christian ministry."

"The feelings to which our venerable father gave utterance on his dying-bed in relation to the future success of the Church for whose benefit he had labored so long, were similar to those expressed by Joseph in his last moments for the prosperity of Israel: 'I die, but God shall surely visit you, and bring you up out of this land to the land which he swore to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob.'

"Perhaps no congregation lay nearer his heart than this. [Pilot Knob] Here he has preached for more than forty years. Some of you have friends in heaven converted through his instrumentality. He officiated at the sacred altar when many of your were consecrated to God in the ordinance of baptism. Here he has left the wife of his youth, and many of his children, grandchildren, and even great-grandchildren. That God would visit you, and prosper you, and bring you at last to heaven, the antitype of the promised land, was doubtless among the last prayers of your departed minister."

Mr. Harris raised a large family, and lived to see his seed to the fourth generation. Five of his sons became ministers of the gospel, and two of his grandsons had become candidates for the ministry when his funeral-sermon was delivered. "He lived to see the Church to which he belonged increase from a Council to sixty-five Presbyteries, twenty Synods, and a General Assembly. But 'in a full age, like as a shock of corn cometh in his season,' and after a life of great usefulness, he went down to his grave in peace. There was nothing unusual in the last exercises of his mind. He expressed unshaken confidence in the truth of the doctrine he had preached, conversed frequently and calmly on the subject of death, and exclaimed shortly before he departed, 'Thank God, I am not afraid to die!'"

He died on the 8th of July, 1845, in the seventy-third year of his age.

An account of the following incidents in the life of Mr. Harris has been furnished upon the most reliable authority. It is supposed to be correct, and it contributes greatly to an insight into the character of the man. Some of the incidents indicate an approach to a degree of eccentricity which we would hardly expect from one so serious and earnest. They are, however, striking and interesting, and the account will be read with pleasure, and in some of the cases, at least, with profit. His old friends especially, who survive, will feel an interest in them.

Mention has already been made of his ministering to the Marrow-bone Congregation for twenty years. It is said that many of the young men of the congregation under his influence doubtless entered the ministry. Some of them still live as blessings to the Church. At one time he took his son, Chatham, then a young preacher, with him to Marrow-bone. After they were seated in the pulpit, he turned to the young man, without having given him any previous notice, and said: "Chatham, you must preach to-day. I have an appointment to preach to the colored people at three o'clock, and you have too much sense to preach to them; you must preach to the white people." Of course, Chatham was thunder-struck. He had never before preached in the presence of his father, and it would naturally have been a great trial had he even been well prepared. The authority carries the account no farther, but it is supposed that Chatham yielded, as the young men were taught, in those days, obedience to the fathers. We may imagine, however, that it was a severe ordeal.

At a certain time, while making a tour through the country for the purpose of preaching, he stopped at Glasgow on Saturday evening, intending to improve the Sabbath there. He met there, however, a Mr. Davis, who had once been a Cumberland Presbyterian, and afterward a Baptist, and at the time mentioned was a follower of Mr. Campbell. Mr. Davis had an appointment for Saturday night. Mr. Harris went to hear him; and when he was through, he announced appointments for himself for the next day at eleven o'clock, at three, and at night. Of course he expected to absorb all the time. Mr. Harris arose, and remarked that, as there was but one house of worship in the town, and all the customary hours for public service were to be occupied, he could not preach at any of those hours, but stated that, if the people would meet him, he would preach to them the next morning at sunrise. Sunrise of the next morning came, and the house was crowded. The good old man preached with power and with the Spirit. Mr. Davis was present. He had become a little more liberal, and asked Mr. Harris to preach at eleven. The latter replied that he was satisfied, that he had delivered his message, and declined the invitation. They dined together, however, that day. In the course of the conversation at dinner, Mr. Davis remarked that he believed that Mr. Campbell was a great light sent from heaven to enlighten and bless the world. Mr. Harris replied that the only evidence he had that Mr. Campbell was from heaven was, that his back, as it seemed to him, was then turned to heaven.

At a subsequent time he met in Glasgow another of the inevitable Campbellites, Rev. William Jordan. Mr. Jordan had brought up against the Cumberland Presbyterian and the Westminster Confessions of Faith the old charge of teaching that the ministry had power to forgive sins. Mr. Harris denounced the charge, and told the people that if Mr. Jordan would repent, and confess that he had misrepresented our Confession of Faith, he would himself forgive him, and he would furthermore give assurance, that if he would take the same steps in relation to the Westminster Confession, the Mother Church would do the same thing. In that case his friend would have an illustration of the extent to which we professed to exercise the power of forgiving sins.

About the year 1814, Mr. Harris was very sick with what was called, at that time, the winter-fever. It was thought he would die. Both himself and his friends came to the conclusion that his work was done. He called his wife and children together, and, while they stood weeping around his bed, he turned his face toward the wall, as King Hezekiah did on a like occasion, and lay for some time in silence. At length he turned back, and said to his wife; "Nancy, weep not; the Lord has assured me that I shall recover, and yet preach the gospel to a dying world." From that time he began to improve, and lived and labored still thirty years.

Something more remarkable still is connected with this occurrence. Mr. Chapman had heard of the dangerous illness of Mr. Harris, and had called together his congregation of Little Muddy for the purpose of praying for the restoration of his afflicted fellow-laborer. In the course of the meeting Mr. Chapman arose and stated that he felt satisfied that their prayers were answered, and that Mr. Harris would survive, and still be a blessing to the world. It turned out upon inquiry that the meeting for prayer coincided with the day and hour in which Mr. Harris himself seemed to acquire the assurance of his own recovery.

Perhaps our cold-hearted skepticism will revolt at these accounts. I have nothing to say in relation to them, except that they seem very well authenticated. I am writing history, and not attempting to explain all the methods of God's providence in his dealings with good men. But, in conflict with all our skepticism, what does the apostle say? "Is any sick among you? Let him call for the elders of the Church, and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord; and the prayer of faith shall save the sick, and the Lord shall raise him up; and if he have committed sins, they shall be forgiven him."

After his recovery from this illness he spent one whole night in prayer for his children, that they might be converted and saved in heaven. In the morning he came in from his night's wrestling with God, and told his wife, with rejoicing, that he was satisfied his prayers had been heard, and in due time would be answered. He lived to see all his children members of the Cumberland Presbyterian Church.

Mr. Harris always assisted Mr. Chapman at his camp-meetings. In the course of one of his meeting, Mr. Chapman seems to have been particularly impressed with the condition of three of his brothers-in-law. They were good citizens, upright and moral men, but were considered to be unbelievers in the technical sense of the term. Indeed, infidelity seemed to be gaining a foothold, especially among the young people. He communicated his feelings to Mr. Harris, and, under the guidance of what seemed to be a sort of premonition, asked him to preach, at some suitable hour, in the progress of the meeting, upon the following text: "Thy word is truth." Mr. Harris entered fully into the spirit of the request, asked time for reflection and prayer, and finally agreed to preach in full view of all the responsibilities of the occasion. On Monday of the meeting, he delivered his sermon. It was like bearding the lion in his den. The brothers were all hearers, and at the close of the sermon were in the altar of prayer. Two of them professed religion at the meeting, and the other subsequently; and all became pillars of strength in the congregation. Mr. Harris remarked afterward that he never felt before so fully the significance of the words of the prophet when he spoke of the word as a burning fire shut up in his bones. It was a deathblow to infidelity in the neighborhood.

A few days before Mr. Harris's death he asked that a little grandson, David Madison Harris, might be brought and placed near him upon the bed. When the little boy was brought, the old man laid his hands upon the child's head, lifting up his eyes to heaven, as if in silent prayer. We do not know what the import of the prayer was, but that little boy is now a minister of the gospel, and holds a prominent place in one of our principal literary institutions. To say the least, it is an interesting matter to connect together two such events.

In 1838, his son, Rev. D. R. Harris, was teaching in Springfield, Tennessee. He wished to combine, as far as possible, the work of the ministry with that of teaching, and occasionally obtained the use of a house of worship in town. In the progress of things, however, this accommodation was refused. He then went to the court-house, but the civil authorities excluded him from this. He then appointed a protracted-meeting to be held in the Academy in which he was teaching. He sent for his father to assist him. The father came, and the meeting was held. About one hundred persons professed religion. A Church of seventy-five persons was organized, and a subscription of about two thousand dollars secured toward the building of a house of worship. The house was built, and, in 1842, Mr. Harris and five of his sons, all ministers, held another very successful meeting in the new church. Many more were added to the congregation. A meeting held by a father and five sons, all ministers, would be an unusual occurrence anywhere, and in any age.

Incidents of this kind might be multiplied, making up a history of the life of a laborious, and honored, and useful man. Enough, however, has been recorded to give us some idea of his active labors, and of what is perhaps more interesting, his interior life. He was a good man--he emphatically walked with God. He was more--he was both intellectually and physically a man of great vigor. It was an unpolished strength, it is admitted, but still it was the strength of a true manhood. Such a vigor enabled him to perform the unwonted labor of his times. Providentially, he lived in the right time and in the right place. God made him a burning and a shining light. He belonged to a race of men whose like we shall not see again. We linger upon their memory as it begins to fade from us, and thank God that he gave them to the Church in its great necessities in this country.

I have a few personal recollections of Mr. Harris, which I take some interest in leaving upon record. My first distinct recollection of him goes back to a camp-meeting held at the old Ridge Camp-ground in 1812. I was, of course, then but a boy, about as old as the century. I recollect him there in connection with one service only. In the course of the meeting he ordained an elder. This is a common occurrence. But what made the vivid impression upon my mind was, that the officiating minister and the person taking upon him the vows of the eldership, and the whole congregation, seemed to be in tears. I never witnessed so much solemnity and tenderness upon such an occasion. It is impressive even at this distance of time to think of it. The Church was then but two years and a half old. All its public and official acts were probably regarded in the light of experiments. This circumstance, no doubt, accounts in part, at least, for the deep interest which was evidently felt upon this solemn occasion. It is a fit occasion to mention, too, and the mention is to be made with profound gratitude to God, that three of the grandsons of the elder ordained that day are now rendering a noble service to the Church of their fathers.

I suppose that Mr. Harris was Moderator of Cumberland Synod in 1821. At all events he delivered the opening-sermon of the sessions of 1822. This was the first Synod which I ever attended. It was held at the Beech Meeting-house, in Sumner county, Tennessee. The Synod met in the old meeting-house. It was a log building, presenting but little more neatness and taste than would be presented by a common log barn. It has been long since, however, displaced by a tasteful and well-furnished stone building. The opening-sermon did not equal my expectations. It was said that the preacher was not in one of his best moods. It was, nevertheless, a good sermon.

In the fall of 1826, Rev. John Beard and myself were to pass from a visit to some friends in Butler county, Kentucky, to Sumner county, Tennessee. Mr. Harris had knowledge of the visit, and kindly invited us to spend a night with him on the way. According to the custom of the times, it was also arranged that we must hold meeting at his house the night which we were to spend there. Between sundown and dark of the day appointed we came in sight of his habitation. Some distance before we reached the house we found himself walking to and fro, awaiting our coming, evidently feeling a deep interest in the meeting which was expected. I was the older of the two, and preached. But I was worn, and not much in the spirit otherwise, and the preaching was dry. John Beard exhorted, and he and Father Harris sang a good song, and went among the people, shaking their hands in the old-fashioned way, and we had, in the end, a very good time. I never saw him at home, except on that occasion. Two or three things made an impression upon my mind which the changes of forty-six years have not effaced. One was the interest which he evidently felt in a common night-meeting made up of his near neighbors only. It is no wonder that a man who thus felt under such circumstances was useful in the country in which he lived. Then, again, the consideration with which he treated us. We were young men, unimportant, and, in a great measure, unknown in the Church. Yet we were treated with as much apparent attention as if we had been leaders in the denomination. Taking that case as a specimen, it is inferred that Mr. Harris taught his family that it was no inconsiderable matter to be a Cumberland Presbyterian preacher. This, too, perhaps, enables us to account for the fact that so many of his sons were encouraged to enter the ministry. They were taught by precept and example to estimate the office at something like its value and importance.

Mr. Harris published the first selection of hymns which was ever published for the use of the Cumberland Presbyterian Church. The book was published in 1824. It was a good selection, and was in general use in the Church a number of years.

In 1797, he was married in Green county, Kentucky, to Miss Nancy Highsmith. They raised a large family. A few brief extracts from a recent letter from his youngest son, Rev. C. H. D. Harris, must close this sketch:

"My father," he writes, "remarked in his last affliction that in all his pulpit efforts he had uniformly tried to hold up the cross, and had claimed the world for Christ--that he had never intentionally gone around the truth--the plain, simple, and unvarnished truth. In relation to the Church he said:

"'Her path is clear, her progress pleasant, and her end will be glorious. This gives me great consolation now that I am about to lay down my cross and receive my crown.'

"He was full of sublime intelligence, and had an imperishable hope. He performed an immense amount of labor. Every year, as far back as I can remember, he left home on a preaching tour, about the first of August, and was gone two or three months, attending camp-meetings, and sometimes performing funeral-services. A few months before he went to his reward, he rode on horseback over a hundred miles into Marion county to dedicate a church.

"In the fall of 1864, in company with my wife, I made a visit to my dear mother. The cruel war was upon us, and times were perilous, but I felt that I must see her once more. We found her in ordinary health, though feeble. I preached for her; she was very happy, filled with God's love. A holy radiance shone in her countenance. Who can estimate the value of a pious mother? Her presence is a benediction. On the 28th of October, I bade her farewell, assured that our next meeting would be in the General Assembly and Church of the first-born. She gave me her blessing, and on the 2d of November died suddenly. My memory comes up freighted with the past."

Two or three additional statements make up the sum of this letter so full of filial recollections. In one of them the writer makes kind mention of my own visit to his father's home in 1826, when he was himself as yet a little boy. I now close this sketch of William Harris. For years to come, however, his name will be a household word in many families in the Green River portion of Kentucky.

It has been mentioned that five of Mr. Harris's sons entered the ministry. One of them, David Rice Harris, was one of the earliest students of Cumberland College. After completing his education, he established a school in the neighborhood in which he settled. This school soon acquired considerable reputation. The business of teaching was thus connected with that of preaching for several years. In an evil hour he connected himself with Rev. James Smith, who was then conducting the Cumberland Presbyterian which had been published eight or ten years at Nashville, Tennessee. In the failure of Mr. Smith, which occurred soon after the connection, Mr. Harris was understood to have lost the principal part of his hard and economical earnings. He still bore himself, however, as a Christian and a Christian minister. His death occurred some years ago. He married in early life a Miss McCutcheon of the section of country in which he had been raised up, and in which he lived and labored until his death. Mr. Harris was a man of excellent ability and great moral worth, and was useful, but the Church had not learned in his time to make men as useful as such a man as he might have been made. We appreciate blessings when they are gone. D. R. Harris became a candidate for the ministry October 9, 1822; was licensed October 13, 1824; and ordained October 8, 1829.

*Brief Memoir and Funeral Sermon, by Rev. David Lowry; Incidents furnished by Rev. C. H. D. Harris and others; Letter of Rev. C. H. D. Harris.

[Source: Beard, Richard. Brief Biographical Sketches of Some of the Early Ministers of the Cumberland Presbyterian Church. Second Series. Nashville, Tenn.: Cumberland Presbyterian Board of Publication, 1874, pages 121-147]

The Cumberland Presbyterian Hymn Book
Published by Rev. William Harris in Russellville, Kentucky

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Updated March 6, 2009