Baptist History Homepage

John William Porter
Baptist Biography
Balus Joseph Winzer Graham, editor, 1920

      For the ancestral heritage of our subject we may take as a point of beginning July 15, 1860, when John Freeman Porter was married to Martha Caroline Tharp. To them was born on August 8, 1863, in Fayette county, Tennessee, John W. Porter, the subject of this sketch. John F. Porter, the father, was a wealthy planter of Tennessee, who served throughout the War between the States as captain in the Confederate Army under General Bedford Forrest, and was for six months a prisoner in the Irving Block in Memphis, Tennessee. His wife, the mother of John W. Porter, was first-honor graduate of the Young Ladies' Model School, of Somerville, Tennessee. She is still living and can read French fluently. She has decided literary gifts, which her son inherited. The two grandfathers of J. W. Porter, Benjamin Hooker Porter and Hardy Worldly Tharp, owned between them more than 400 slaves. The ancestry of the life under consideration was on the father's side Scotch-Irish and on the mother's side Scotch-English.

      Mr. John Freeman Porter, who owned more than 3,000 acres of land in Fayette county, Tennessee, and was one of the wealthiest men in the county, gave his son, John W. Porter, the best educational advantages. The lad was educated first under private tutors.

[p. 270]
One of them, Henning W. Prentiss, is now in charge of Brooklyn School, New York. Another, Prof. Kirkpatrick, was later connected with the Missouri Agriculture College. Another was Dr. Sayre, now of New York, and yet another, Prof. W. H. Tharp, late of the University of Louisville, Kentucky. Following this period, Mr. Porter graduated from the University of Mississippi, at Oxford, Mississippi, and later attended a law school at Lebanon, Tennessee, from which he received the degree of Bachelor of Laws.

      Mr. Porter began the practice of law, for which he possessed peculiar qualifications, being gifted with a thoughtful and analytical mind and with pronounced abilities as a debater. He himself declares that his life at this period was quite other than a religious one. But a great change came over him with his conversion in November, 1889, followed by his baptism at the hands of Rev. P. H. Kennedy, in Vancouver, British Columbia. His conversion was early followed by strong impressions of his duty to preach the gospel, and he was ordained to the gospel ministry in the following year, 1890.

      Mr. Porter attended the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary during the closing years of the life of Dr. John A. Broadus, president of that institution, and thus came under the molding influence of that master of teachers and prince of preachers. In the meantime he was serving churches. Previous to and during his seminary course he was pastor for half time of the churches at Collierville, Tennessee, Germantown, Tennessee, Olive Branch, Mississippi, and Eudora, Tennessee.

      From 1894 to 1898 he was pastor of the churches at Pewee Valley, Kentucky, and LaGrange, Kentucky, and from 1903 to 1908 at Newport News, Virginia. In 1908 he became pastor of the First Baptist church, Lexington, Kentucky, and that position he still holds.

      During his ministerial career he has received more than 7,000 members into the churches of which he has been pastor, and has led his people in building three of the finest church edifices in the South. He has striking gifts as a public speaker. During his

[p. 271]
college and seminary days and throughout later years he was recognized as a fine debater. He has a rich native endowment of ready wit and is gifted with wonderful powers of repartee, which adorn his private conversation and embellish his public utterances. His handsome figure, with broad shoulders, erect and graceful bearing, dark hair above a wide and noble brow, and flashing eyes that grip and hold the attention, adds greatly to the impressiveness of his message upon an audience. There is a piquancy, a flash and sparkle in the lucid, crystalline sentences in which he frames his thought that carries a peculiar charm.

      He has always been in great demand as a pastor-evangelist. He has had frequent calls also for literary addresses, commencement sermons and lectures, and addresses before missionary rallies and Bible institutes. His varied knowledge, logical exactness, torrential eloquence and evangelistic fervor have easily placed him in the front rank among gospel preachers.

      On July 1st, 1909, he became editor of the Western Recorder, Louisville, Kentucky, and also president of the Baptist Book Concern in the same city. In connection with these responsible places he still holds his position as pastor of the First Baptist church of Lexington, and he administers all of these duties with consummate ease and power. As editor of the Western Recorder he succeeds the late Dr. T. T. Eaton, though with an interval of some years, during which the place was filled by others. He is especially fitted by nature for that exact position. Like Dr. Eaton, whose mantle has fallen upon him, Dr. Porter is an uncompromising exponent of stalwart, orthodox theology. Higher Criticism and such religious fads as Christian Science and kindred heresies often feel the keen edge of his Damascus blade. While a fearless critic he is usually a just one, free from bitterness, and seldom mistakes his vial of acid for his inkstand.

      Dr. Porter was happily married to Miss Lillian Thomas, of Germantown, Tennessee. Mrs. Porter is in one respect of similar ancestry to Dr. Porter, being the daughter of a Confederate captain under General Forrest. Captain Thomas, her father, was a cotton buyer and a prominent business man. Mrs. Porter's mother was known as a mathematician of unusual ability.

[p. 272]
      Union University of Jackson, Mississippi, conferred upon our subject the degree of LL.D. He also received from Lebanon Law College the degree of B.L., and from the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary the degree of Th.G.

      In the midst of his numerous addresses and his writing for the press, Dr. Porter has put some of the products of his brain into a permanent form in the following publications: "Christian Science, Neither Scientific nor Christian;" two tracts, "Perpetuity of a New Testament Church" and "Alien Immersion;" two other books, "World's Debt to the Baptists" and "Baptist Debt to the World." The last book, "Baptist Debt to the World," reveals mental growth and advance in literary style and rhetorical art.

      Dr. Porter has been honored by his brethren in many ways. He is now a member of the Education Society of Kentucky, and member of the executive committee of the board of trustees of Georgetown College, Kentucky, and has been trustee of Hall-Moody Institute, Barbourville Institute, and a member of the American Academy of Science. Some years ago he preached the Convention sermon before the Southern Baptist Convention, which was regarded as one of the strongest pulpit messages heard since the days of Fuller and Broadus. He has been twice elected moderator of the General Association of Baptists in Kentucky. He is recognized as an enterprising and sagacious leader and as being at the present time at the summit of his influence and usefulness.


[From Balus Joseph Winzer Graham, editor, Baptist Biography, 1920, pp. 269-272. Document from Google Books. - Jim Duvall]

More on J. W. Porter
Baptist History Homepage