During the excitement preceding the Revolutionary war a young German and his new wife sailed for America, where he hoped to have for his own a thousand acres of land. He first settled in Pennsylvania, near Lancaster. Not being able to secure the thousand acres in Pennsylvania he started out again in search of a home. He, in a rude craft, dropped down the Ohio river, and after making numerous attempts to land, and being prevented by Indians, he finally made a safe landing near where Owensboro, Ky., now is.
The young couple, with a few cooking utensils and a small camping outfit, made their way through the wilderness to a little fort, on a little stream called the Rough, about fifteen miles from where it runs into Green river. Here he found the coveted one thousand acres, and he built a log cabin and began to make a home.
The country was full of wild animals, and the beaver was so plentiful that they had built a dam across the little river, and the place was, therefore, named Beaver Dam.
A son was born and he was called "Heinrich" (Henry), and "der kleiner Heinrich" (the little Henry) was the pet of the settlement. In this son was embodied the hope of the fond parents, and as,
the sequel. will show they were not disappointed in him.
When the young couple started from Germany, some one gave them a copy of Luther's translation of the Bible in German, and the young "frau" (wife) found time to read it in her wilderness home, and it brought her to Christ. Her surrender was complete and she, therefore, desired to obey all of the commandments. She understood what the German word, "taufen," with which Luther translated the Greek word "baptizo," meant, but just how she could be "getaufen" (baptized) was a hard question, as there was not a preacher in all that country.
The command was so plain and unmistakable that she felt that she must obey, and she went to the stream near her door and dipped herself "in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost."
The news of this strange act spread, not only in that settlement, but it reached other settlements as well, until it came to the ears of Eld. Benjamin Talbott, and he saddled his horse and started in search of the woman who had baptized herself. He hunted from settlement to settlement until he came to Beaver Dam and in front of her very door. He told her his business, and with a bounding heart she dispatched little Henry and others in every direction and sent out the announcement that a preacher was at her house and would preach there. A large congregation - almost everybody in the settlement - gathered, and a meeting was held, and a number of
converts were baptized, and among others the woman who had baptized herself. Eld. Talbott had explained to her that such a baptism was not valid, although her intentions were the best, and she with little Henry and her husband were baptized. This was the beginning of the Beaver Dam church, which is still serving the Lord, and this church is the mother of all the rest in that part of Kentucky.
The name of this interesting family was Kohlmann," and is now spelled Coleman, and the woman who baptized herself is the great-grandmother and little Henry the grandfather of the subject of this sketch, Elder J. S. Coleman, D.D., Ph.D.
James Smith Coleman was born at Beaver Dam, Ky., Feb. 23, 1827, and is now in his seventy-third year. He is affectionately spoken of as the "Old War Horse."
Early in the year 1838 he was awakened to a sense of his sinful condition by reading Watts' old hymn, "That awful day will surely come," etc. His conviction was so deep and strong that, after wrestling for two or three days, he proposed to God that if he would let him serve God in Hell that he would give up all hope of Heaven and cheerfully go there. The surrender being complete, he was instantly made to rejoice with a sense of acceptance. He was baptized into the fellowship of Beaver Dam church, March 10, 1838, age eleven years.
He soon felt that he was called to preach the gospel, and in his attempt to throw off that impression he became careless and left off secret prayer and his
habitual Bible reading and plunged into a career of worldliness from which only the grace of God could deliver him.
At this point in his life he sought an education to fit himself for a political career. After alternating for some years between teaching and going to school, he married Miss Rachel Chapman, who proved to be an excellent helpmeet.
After marriage he plunged deeper into worldly matters, and he prospered in these things beyond expectation. Everything he touched turned into gold. He became a candidate for Sheriff of his county and was elected by a big majority, although his party (the Democratic) was not as strong in that county as the Whig, against which he ran. He served two terms as Sheriff, succeeded well, made money and grew in favor of the people.
Under the then existing military laws he was elected Brigadier General of the Second Congressional district, and in this capacity he was offered, by his party, the nomination for a seat in Congress, which was equivalent to an election. But just here the whole current of his life was changed.
On a matter of business he attended a service in a revival meeting in a neighboring church. When he went into the community he had no thought of attending church, and his going was a mere accident, so far as the human side of the matter was concerned, but God used it to powerfully stir up the former impressions to preach the Gospel. So great were these impressions that he forgot the business
he came to transact and went home swearing eternal submission to the Lord's will, and on the next Sunday night he preached in the old home church, Beaver Dam, his first sermon, and he continued to preach from church to church and from house to house. From his first effort there were conversions every time and everywhere. He gave up his office to his deputies and at the next church meeting he was licensed to preach, and a short time after was, ordained and made missionary of the Gasper River Association, and within four years' time he had baptized about one thousand persons.
His entering the ministry was like a clap of thunder in a clear sky to the great majority of people. Some smiled, some scorned, some cursed, some said he was crazy, and others shouted the praises of God.
His entering the ministry is an answer to those, who sneer at the ministry and say that "men become preachers when they find they can't do anything else." When such men as J. S. Coleman, Major W. E. Penn, J. B. Moody, J. N. Hall and hundreds of others who have been pre-eminently successful in politics and business, enter the ministry, it is proof that to be a successful preacher a man must be able to do almost anything else.
Dr. Coleman is one of the first orators in the ministry. His style is peculiar, but it has a power scarcely equaled by any other man. Some excel him in grace and culture, some excel him in diction, some may have a more melodious voice, but in that mysterious thing called power he scarcely has an equal.
Perhaps no man has done more in distributing Baptist literature than he. He has been a book agent all his life. When he holds a meeting he 1eaves as many books and papers behind as possible, and their silent work goes on through the years. He bas a colportage work now, all his own, and his agents are selling Baptist literature in several counties of Kentucky.
The man to whom Dr. Coleman owes more, perhaps, than to any other, man is the late Dr. J. M. Pendleton. To Pendleton he went for instruction and advice, and he could not have gone to a grander or better man. Would to God that all our preachers had such a counselor. The chairs of theology in our seminaries are now largely filled with boys whose theological setting is somewhat uncertain, and it is to be feared that few such men as J. S. Coleman will be turned out by those schools.
To use Dr. Coleman's own words, he is "an old Landmark successionist, denying the claims of all other churches." His unparalleled success in pastoral and evangelistic work proves that holding these rigid Baptist doctrines does not interfere in the least with soul-winning. Whenever an anti-landmarker can show anything like such success for his work as can be shown for Coleman's work, then it will be time to cry down 1andmarkism as hurting the usefulness of those who hold to it.
Dr. Coleman is living with his second wife, who is a worthy woman and a true helpmeet. They have been living together for twenty years, and in
their old age are serving the Lord as husband and wife in a way that is beautiful to behold.
The churches he has served as pastor have been as a rule small country churches. He was invited to the Walnut-street Church, Louisville, Ky., with a view to the pastorate, but declined. He was called to Sacramento, California, and declined. His Superior ability would have secured him almost any church, but he preferred to remain in the Green river country and work with the small country churches. He has never lived over thirty miles from Beaver Dam, and he is now living on a part of that thousand acres which his great-grandfather purchased, and near the place in the stream where the woman baptized herself.
He organized the church in Greenville and served it for a part of his time for thirty years. He was pastor for one year of the First Church, Owensboro, Ky., during which time there were two hundred and fifty additions, and the Walnut-street Church was planted that year, which has become a strong, aggressive church. He held a meeting in the Walnut-street Church and there were three hundred and fifty professions of faith. At the end of this meeting he was paralyzed and was not able to preach for a year, and hence he gave up his great work in Owensboro. After he recovered from his paralysis he returned to the Walnut-street Church and served it about four years, during which time there was built an elegant brick house.
At Whitesville, Daviess county, he served for a
part of his time for thirteen years, and he held one protracted meeting in which there were one hundred and thirty-two additions to the church, and in another, one hundred and five, still another, seventy-five additions. No other pastor in Kentucky has had so great success in evangelistic work.
He organized Hartford Church in 1869, and preached for that church for half time for fifteen years. In 1886 he held a meeting there which resulted in over one hundred conversions.
He organized the church in Madisonville, Ky., in 1870, while acting as State Evangelist for the General Association, and he has served that church since that time one year, 1898.
In every pastorate he has filled the congregations have steadily increased, and the capacity of the house has frequently limited the number of hearers. These churches have been built up in number and efficiency. The smallest number he ever baptized as a result of a meeting was twelve. The average preacher is generally satisfied if he can baptize so many at any time, but as God does not make all trees or rivers the same size, neither does he make all men great alike. By the grace of God we are all what we are.
Dr. Coleman is a doctrinal preacher. He constant1y emphasizes the pecu1iarities of the Baptist faith, and as a result he has baptized, in round numbers, one thousand from other denominations. Those who are opposed, to doctrinal preaching may learn a lesson here. He hardly ever preached a set
sermon on Baptist peculiarities; but he has woven it into almost every sermon. A fair sample of his preaching may be seen in the sermon at the close of this sketch on "The Work of Baptists An Urgent Work."
He has preached, in round numbers, fourteen thousand sermons, witnessed, under these sermons, ten thousand professions of faith, and has baptized exactly five thousand and twelve converts. The majority of the other converts were baptized by other pastors, and some went to other denominations. Whenever some liberalist, who decries Landmarkism, can meet that record, then, and not till then, will it be even considered possible for liberalism, pulpit affiliationism, and such like, to be as effective as uncompromising Baptist doctrines.
He has assisted in organizing fifty churches, and has laid hands on fifty-five preachers, dedicated seventy-seven meeting houses, solemnized the rites of marriage two thousand times and preached two thousand funerals. He has made special addresses on temperance, education and denominational enterprises about one thousand. He has baptized over two thousand persons when ice had to be removed from the surface of the water; he has forded streams and waded through mud roads, "enduring hardness as a good soldier of Jesus Christ."
Dr. Coleman has been a great debater. His greatest victory in debate was with Wm. L. Caskey, Methodist, at Calhoun, McLean county, Ky.
Having studied effectiveness all his life, he set
about preparing the best possible answer to the household baptism argument always used by Pedo-baptists in debate. He knew that by the next day Caskey would undertake to prove infant baptism by the household baptisms spoken of in the New Testament. He carefully read the account of each of these household baptisms, and he discovered that no infant was mentioned, and he knew plainly that the whole argument was based on inference. So he concluded to meet inference with inference. He set about to see what he could infer to offset Caskey's inferences, and that he succeeded grandly will appear as follows.
Caskey made his speech as Dr. Coleman expected, and argued that since households were baptized by the Apostles, and that it is reasonable to infer that infants were in these households, that infant baptism was scriptural. That was the sum of his speech.
Dr. Coleman, in his reply, spoke as follows:"I am surprised at Bro. Caskey's limited information concerning Lydia's household. He has inferred that Lydia had children, under the age of accountability, and that, therefore, these children were baptized. I am surprised, sir, that you do not know that Lydia was a widow, and a traveling cloth merchant, and that she never had but one child, and that was a daughter, who had married a red-headed, one-eyed shoemaker, and had moved off to Damascus, and had not been at home for years, and that her household at that time consisted of herself and
[p. 343]servants, who assisted her in her business. I am surprised, sir, that you did not know this."Caskey, in his confusion, spoke out and said: "Dr. Coleman, how do know what you have just said?"
In a lion like voice the reply came: "I inferred it, sir, just like you inferred that there were children in the household."
This was too much for the audience, which broke out in uproarious laughter and applause. When Caskey arose to speak the very sight of him would be enough, and the laughing, half-suppressed, would be so continual that it was with great difficulty he could proceed, and every time he would make the slightest reference to household baptisms the vision of that "red-headed, one-eyed shoemaker" would come into mind and the audience would break out in uncontrollable laughter, which could not be suppressed by the Moderator. Caskey gave it up as a bad job and cut the debate short one day and left.
A Methodist class leader by the name of Yeaman was converted to the faith of the Baptists by this debate, and he has since become one of the leading preachers of the West. That class leader is now Elder Pope Yeaman, D.D., LL.D., Ph.D., twenty years Moderator of the General Association of Missouri, and he has been pastor of some of the greatest churches in the West.
Dr. Coleman has for thirty-seven years served the Daviess County Association as Moderator, and for nineteen years he has been Moderator of the General
Association of Kentucky. He is getting old, and as his picture, published in connection with this sketch, will show, he is feeble, but his energy will not let him rest. He is serving two weak, struggling churches, Grand Rivers and Morgantown, Ky., and when he falls it will be with the harness on.
He can truly say: "I have fought a good fight, I have kept the faith," and with equal truth we can say for him that a crown of righteousness awaits him. 2 Tim. 4:7, 8.
Bethel College conferred on him the title of D.D., and Hartford College that of Ph.D. He edited and published the Green River Baptist during the civil war, and he was at one time connected with the Western Recorder.
It was Dr. Coleman who introduced the first resolution in the Southern Baptist Convention suggesting that the Whitsitt matter be looked into, and he was made chairman of the investigating committee. It was he who offered in the General Association of Kentucky that memorable resolution which brought on that great discussion, on the floor of the Association, that gave Whitsitt his death blow, and in a few days thereafter the notorious Professor resigned. Dr. Coleman was dreaded by Dr. Whitsitt and his followers as but few men were.
Brethren, while we sojourn here,
Fight we must, but should not fear;
Foes we have, but we've a friend,
One that loves us to the end.
Forward, then, with courage go,
Long we shall not dwell below;
Soon the joyful news will come,
Child, your Father calls, - come home.
[Ben M. Bogard, editor, Pillars of Orthodoxy, 1900. Scanned and formatted by Jim Duvall.]
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