James A. Harding, for whom Harding University is named, was a gospel preacher and educator whose life bridged the 19th and 20th centuries. His life was defined by unswerving personal trust in God — on a daily basis, at the most practical level. We glimpse this faith in the following excerpt from a tribute by his student Robert Henry Boll, published in 1922 in Boll’s journal, Word and Work.
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“Others will tell more comprehensively the story of the life and work of this great man and greatly beloved who passed away on Sunday, May 28. There are yet those who . . . can write a full biography. I shall only speak of him at this time as I knew him, and of those things concerning him which in this hour come to my heart.
“It was on a chill rainy day in the late fall of the year 1895 that I stood on Brother Harding’s porch at the old Nashville [Tenn.] Bible School on Spruce Street–homeless, friendless, penniless, but not quite hopeless of an opportunity to go through school. When I presented my mission and request, Brother Harding regretted very much, but there wasn’t really any work to speak of by which a boy could earn his way, and such applications were many — ‘perhaps next year we can find an opening for you,’ he said. I turned and slowly walked away. Probably I looked crestfallen.
“He stood and looked after me. ‘You look to be wet,’ he said. ‘Yes,’ I answered. ‘How did you get wet?’ ‘Coming in from the country in the rain.’ ‘Didn’t your wagon have a top on it?’ ‘I didn’t come on a wagon,’ I replied. ‘I walked.’ ‘How far did you walk?’ ‘About twenty-five miles.’ ‘You mean to say that you walked twenty-five miles through the rain to come here to school?’ And he looked me over again. ‘I believe you want to go to school. Go back to the dormitory and tell Brother Dodd to show you a room. We’ll get through some way.’ I am sure he could not see how ‘we’ would get through. But he didn’t want to see. His heart was bigger than his pocket-book any day, and he felt he could afford to risk a thing or two, for there was the promise of God. Such was his FAITH, of which I shall presently have something more to say.
“Only these main-posts of Brother Harding’s faith I would mention now: they were, 1. Never to make his needs known to mortal man. 2. Never to ask man for anything. 3. Never to borrow or to go in debt. 4. To spend and be spent for God’s work, and to trust God for the outcome and for the supplies of each day’s need. . . . If he had not so believed, I can vouch for one poor boy at least who would never humanly speaking, have had an opportunity. And he is but one of many who can bear the same testimony.
“Grant that the actual outlay of money I have repaid in full, but I have owed him a debt all these years that no silver or gold could pay, a debt that cannot be discharged, and that I would not want to be quit of, for ever: the debt of unending gratitude and love to a man who so represented the lovingkindness of God to me. And it is for this love and gratitude’s sake that I am now penning these lines to the memory of that great and good servant of God.
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“I must leave it again to the one, whoever he may be, who shall write J. A. Harding’s biography to tell of his power as a preacher, or to set forth his ability, as a school-man, to fill his student’s hearts with enthusiasm the gloomiest day that fell; or to speak of his loveableness as a man; or of his spell over his pupils to get the very best work done in his own classes . . . ; of his absolute fearlessness and devotion to right and principles. All these things another must record. But the lessons which he so deeply impressed on my heart and on the hearts of most if not all the students who were under his influence, I must mention.
“The first of these, already referred to, was faith: an outright, childlike, simple belief that God would do as He said — that the Lord will provide; that to those who seek first the Kingdom of God and His righteousness, all other things shall be added, that He careth for us. The practical results of this faith were seen in prayer (how free, how tender, how trustful, now childlike were Brother Harding’s prayers! I hear him yet, pleading with God, and making all his requests known from a full heart) — liberality, sacrifice, independence of men, and earnest work and obedience. How powerful is this principle, and how powerfully it was taught — not in word only, but in the demonstration of daily example. For he lived it, and all knew. It qualified all his words and ways.
“The question of remuneration, for example, never affected his choice of places: all he wanted to know was, ‘Lord what wilt thou have me to do ?’ From that supreme principle he never to my knowledge wavered. How did it work? Was he able to take care of his family of seven children on this principle? Well, rich they were not (Brother Harding delighted in the fact that he was never worth $300 above his household goods in all his life). But neither did they want. Only once, as he told it, ‘did we have nothing for dinner except potatoes — and it would not have hurt us to have done without that meal entirely.’
“. . . And for a short while it did seem as if it might go hard with him. Sister Pattie began keeping boarders. But that was only a short while. ‘In the Mount of Jehovah it shall be provided.’ For the latter years of his life God had provided for him loving hearts and hands to minister, and he was as well taken care of as if he had spent his days laying up treasures on the earth; and the treasure in heaven he had over and above. Brother Harding’s trust was fully justified by the event of its outworking.”