James Waller Poindexter

Cumberland Presbyterian Minister

1825 - 1890

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Moderator of the General Assembly - 1873



"The chamber where the good man meets his fate is privileged above the common walks of life." It is a melancholy pleasure to chronicle the death of those who live well, die well, and whose memory sheds a pure fragrance over our recollections of the past. Power nor pomp nor station nor beauty nor talent nor even goodness can stop the tread of the messenger who calls us to the grave. Death is between us all and heaven.

"No, no, it is not dying
To go unto our God.
This gloomy earth forsaking
Our journey homeward taking,
Along the starry road."

"Not dead, but sleepeth." The Rev. J. W. Poindexter, D.D., LL.D., was gathered to his fathers on Saturday, February 15, 1890. He died at the home of the writer in Bowling Green, Ky., after a slow decline, but only two days of actual confinement to his room. His health had been feeble for several years, but he had been able to get around and preach occasionally.

James Waller Poindexter was born near Halifax Court House, Va., on July 5, 1825. He was the son of John and Margaret Poindexter, the former at least being of French decent. His father and mother were both very devout members of the Baptist church, and remarkable for their zealous labors in the cause of Christ. They taught their children assiduously the truths of the Christian religion, and being in good financial condition and appreciative of intellectual culture gave each one of them excellent educational advantages. James Waller was the youngest of several children. He progressed rapidly in his studies and after being well prepared entered Yale College, and taking a full course graduated with honor in the class on 1850.

Developing more than ordinary talent, it was his parents' desire, and his inclination led him to select for his profession that of the law. He graduated in the Harvard Law School in 1852. Looking around for a place to practice his chosen profession he soon after went to McMinnville, Tenn., and entered in the practice. Few young lawyers have embarked in their life-work with brighter prospects before them than young Poindexter. Shortly after coming to McMinnville he went to a camp-meeting (if I am not mistaken it was under the charge of Brother McMurry), made a profession of religion and joined the Cumberland Presbyterian church. It was soon deeply impressed upon his heart that God designed him for other work than that of the practice of the law. He felt that he was moved of the Holy Ghost to preach the gospel of Christ. Young and ambitious, and feeling at the same time that a wider field was open to him in the law for wealth and distinction, the struggle was sharp and bitter till he at last got his consent to give up all for Christ. When he yielded it was a complete surrender, and, though he sometimes had temptations to return to the practice of the law, he turned his face fully toward the work that God demanded of him. He prosecuted the labor of preparation so vigorously that he was soon licensed and very soon thereafter ordained to the full work of the ministry.

About this time he taught a classical school at McMinnville, but at the same time made astonishing progress in preaching. I heard Dr. J. M. Gill say that about this time it was thought necessary to have some sermons delivered at McMinnville on the perseverance of the saints, and that he and Brother McMurry asked Brother Poindexter to preach the sermons, and, asking for time to consider and then time to prepare, young Poindexter preached the best sermons on that subject he had ever heard.

His first charge in which he gave himself wholly to the ministry was at Lebanon, Tenn., the seat of Cumberland University. Here he filled the pulpit with distinguished ability, and his name and fame spread all over the church. He was soon regarded as one of the best orators and one of the finest preachers in the land.

In 1861 the war broke out, and he, like most men and even ministers of his age and section, enlisted in the Southern army, and was selected as chaplain. In this capacity he served till near the close of the war.

His first regular charge after the war was at Owensboro, Ky., where he ministered the word with his usual ability for several years, when he was called to Lincoln, Ill, at which place we had a flourishing institution of learning. Believing his field be a wider one, he accepted the call, and remained in this charge about five years. If I remember aright, to this date it was the longest pastorate of any one man over this church. There has been one longer since.

Leaving Lincoln, he spent one year as pastor at Sherman, Texas, and was called to take charge of the Cumberland Presbyterian church at Austin, Texas. Faithfully did he serve this people for between seven and eight years, when his health broke down, and he has never been himself physically since that time. While in Austin he was several years chaplain of the House of Representatives of that State, and as a testimony of the high appreciation in which the members of the legisture held him they made him a present of a handsome silver pitcher.

Broken down in health, and anxious to be able to "make full proof of his ministry" in the future, and hoping health would be restored, he removed to a little farm twelve miles from Austin, preaching once on Sabbath alternately to two country churches in his neighborhood. It was often the case that a single sermon would so exhaust him that he would be unwell for days.

Urged by some of his friends, and hoping that he would be able to hold meetings in different places in the Synod of Kentucky, he came to Bowling Green, Ky., preached a number of times, and sometimes with marked ability, but all the while growing more and more feeble. Our hearts grew sick because we were compelled to see the end was not distant.

A strong man has fallen, a noble life has gone out, the battle has been fought, the victory is secure. He died amid his friends in great peace, his wife bending over him and his head resting on his daughter's lap. He went to sleep like an infant in its mother's arms.

Dr. Poindexter was a great man. I know there are but few great men, but Dr. Poindexter was one of them. His education was of the best. He read Latin, Greek, and Hebrew with facility. The church has few, if any, better scholars.

He was a writer of marked ability. It seems a pity he has not written more largely, but having written several articles at different times for the Quarterly he has established his reputation for going to the very bottom of his subjects. But after all his throne was the pulpit. Preaching clear, analytical sermons and delighting in exegesis, he sometimes poured forth an overwhelming torrent of oratory.

Dr. Poindexter loved to study. It was often to him a pastime. Ruling Elder W. E. Settle, in the Bowling Green Times, says of him: In his family relations he was a most devoted husband and father and the truest of friends. He was twice married, first to Miss Maria Ella Payne, of McMinnville, Tenn., and last to Miss Lou A. Mitchell, of Bowling Green, Ky. He leaves five children, two sons and two daughters by his first and one daughter by his living wife. They have all completed their educations except the youngest. His name and labors are out heritage, and the church will love and cherish the widow and fatherless.

May the peace of God that passes all knowledge be with them. The church is rapidly passing into the hands of our young men, and they will be faithful to their trusts.
[Source: The Cumberland Presbyterian, March 13, 1890, page 2]

The List of the Deceased
Name: J. W. Poindexter, D.D.
Presbytery: Guadalupe
Time of Death: February 15, 1890
[Source: Minutes of the General Assembly of the Cumberland Presbyterian Church, 1890, page 37]


McDonnold, B. W."Dr. Poindexter's Article on Sanctification." The Quarterly (July 1880): 317-332.

Poindexter, J. W. "The Abrahamic Covenant." Theological Medium Old Series 7, New Series 2 (July 1871): 304-324.

Poindexter, J. W. "Atonement." Cumberland Presbyterian Review 1 (October 1889): 385-412.

Poindexter, J. W. "The Atonement." Theological Medium Old Series 6, New Series 1 (January 1870): 17-50.

Poindexter, J. W. "Circumcision--The Token and Seal of the Abrahamic Covenant." Theological Medium Old Series 7, New Series 2 (October 1871): 385-404.

Poindexter, J. W. "Ecclesiology." Theological Medium Old Series 10, New Series 5 (October 1874): 385-402.

Poindexter, J. W. "Ecclesiology." Theological Medium Old Series 9, New Series 4 (July 1873): 257-274.

Poindexter, J. W. "God in Creation and Providence." Theological Medium Old Series 6, New Series 1 (April 1870): 190-213.

Poindexter, J. W. "Holiness." Cumberland Presbyterian Review 3 (October 1882): 387-424.

Poindexter, J. W. "Judas Iscariot." Theological Medium Old Series 6, New Series 1 (July 1870): 334-347.

Poindexter, J. W. "Sanctification versus Soul Purity." The Quarterly 1 (October 1880): 432-459.

Poindexter, J. W. "Sanctification vs. Soul Purity." Cumberland Presbyterian Quarterly Review 2 (January 1881): 1-31.

Poindexter, J. W. "Sanctification." The Quarterly 1 ( April 1880): 208-245.

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Updated January 4, 2008