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Jesse Holman
Early Indiana Baptist Minister
By W. T. Stott

     Foremost among the ministers of the Association, by odds, was Reverend and Honorable Jesse L. Holman. He was born near Danville, Kentucky, October 22d, 1783. His father moved from Virginia to Kentucky while the latter State was mainly a wilderness, and was killed in a skirmish with the Indians. In very early life young Holman was subject to deep religious impressions; he was in the habit of reading the Bible daily. In his seventeenth year he united with the Clear Creek Baptist church, in Woodford county. Early in his religious life he had the conviction that he should give himself to the Christian ministry, but he met no encouragement, and so did not begin to preach to any considerable extent till later in life. Having completed the general course of study that he had undertaken, he entered the law office of Henry Clay, at Lexington. Of course his advantages were remarkable; to have known and been under the guidance of such a man was a liberal education in itself. At the age of twenty-two he was admitted to the bar at Port William, and began practice there. He moved to Indiana in 1810, and the next year General Harrison, governor of the territory, appointed him prosecuting attorney for Dearborn (and Jefferson?) county. In 1814 he was elected to the Territorial legislature at Corydon, and was made speaker of that body. In 1816 Governor Jennings appointed him one of the judges of the supreme court, in which capacity he served for fourteen years. In 1834 President Jackson appointed him judge of the United States district court in Indiana, and in this office he served till his death in 1842. But his service to the State was not more earnest and successful than that which he gave to the Baptist denomination. In 1834 he submitted to ordination to the ministry; he became a leader in his Association, in southeastern Indiana, and in the whole State; and was chosen a member of the Baptist Board of Foreign Missions. He was a member of the Indiana Baptist Convention at its first session and was made Secretary. He was several times elected Moderator of the Convention, and was often placed on important committees; and no reports were made to the Convention that commanded more attention than those submitted by him.

     Here follows some extracts from a Circular letter submitted at the session in 1839 in Delphi:

"Dear Brethren: As the chief design of our Association is to promote the spread of the gospel in our own State, we again invite your attention to this important subject. A great number of our churches are destitute of regular preaching, and there are extensive sections of the country, and not a few of them in popular parts of the State where we have neither churches nor ministers. Our object will not be fully accomplished until all these destitute regions are filled with churches, and all our churches supplied with ministers. How is this to be done, is an important inquiry. Under the blessing of heaven means of obtaining an increase of ministerial labor present themselves. The first is to liberate the ministers we now have from all secular employments, so that they may devote their whole time to the work of the Lord; the second is to adopt measures for obtaining more ministers. By supporting our ministers we shall enable them not only to preach more frequently but also to preach more effectively. And to preach effectively requires a higher degree of spirituality, an intimate acquaintance with the word of truth, and a fervent desire for the prosperity of Zion. It requires sermons in which the minister feels, and the congregation too, that he, at least for the time being, has gives himself wholly to the work. This at times is the case with those who labor through the week in support of their families, but it is much more frequently the case with those whose whole business it is to labor in the Lord's vineyard. Were all our ministers supported by the churches, so that they could give all their time and energies to the gospel, there would be a vast increase in the number of sermons they would preach, and no doubt a much greater increase in the life, the intelligence, and the spirituality of those sermons. Might not this be done? . . . Genuine piety is indispensable to the gospel minister, and no learning or talents will supply its place. But piety alone does not give all those qualifications which the scriptures require. A minister must possess knowledge and aptness to teach. Much of the knowledge which is all important to the minister may be acquired by intercourse with society, by observation, by reading and study without any special aid from teaching; and some extraordinary minds by these aids alone have become very useful. But in ordinary cases this form of acquiring knowledge is slow and uncertain, and a life may be spent in obtaining what a few years of regular instruction would impart. These considerations loudly call upon the churches to promote the education of pious young men as a principal means of supplying our State with the gospel. Education is becoming generally diffused through the community. The state of society requires a higher degree of mental cultivation than formerly in all who engage in any public business; and unless there is corresponding increase of intelligence in our ministry we shall fall still farther below the state of general society, and our gospel operations will be more and more confined to the less informed part of the community..... And unless we use the means which God has placed within our reach to procure a well informed as well as a spiritual minister, may we not expect to see many of our lonely churches and scattered members, as sheep without a shepherd, exposed to any artful leader that may be disposed to lead them? And may we not fear that the curse of God will rest upon us for not discerning the signs of the times, and using our efforts to procure such a ministry as the state of our churches and the condition of the world require?"
     Then in a few words he urged his brethren to see to it that provision is made for the liberal education of the young men offering themselves for the ministry.

     It is not difficult to forecast what Judge Holman's attitude was towards Baptist institutions of learning in general, and Franklin College in particular. And it is of interest to note that his son, grandson and great-grandson were all students at Franklin.

     The following brief extract from his report to the Convention in 1840 on Bible distribution, will indicate his clearness of view and earnestness of conviction as to the value of the universal distribution and study of God's word:

"The same holy feeling which prompts the disciples of the Lord Jesus to preach the gospel to the destitute and perishing will surely lead them to accompany the spoken with the written word. Now as in preaching we are to go to those who need instruction, so if we would have the world made better by the Bible, we may freely circulate it through all lands and in all languages."
     The result of the report was that the Indian Bible society was formed, auxiliary to the American Foreign Bible society. Quoting from the obituary notice in the Missionary Magazine for November, 1842:

"The crowning and ennobling principle of his character, and that which shone brilliant and steady in all circles, on the bench of justice, the political forum, and the walks of private life, was the influence of christianity. Its truth, spirit, devotion and practice were prominent in his whole character."

     He died March 23d, 1842, knowing that he must go, and expressing full confidence in the presence, power, love and saving grace of his Lord.


[From W. T. Stott, Indiana Baptist History, 1908, pp. 95-100. jrd]

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