submitted by Ronna Thuman, November 14, 2007


The funeral services of REV. JOHN HARRIS, a superannuated minister of the Methodist Episcopal Church, were held in the M. E. church here (of which he was an honored member) on Sunday afternoon. The following is the full text of the sermon, as preached by the Pastor, Rev. W. H. W. Rees:

    TEXT—“Faithful Unto Death.” Revelation, 2. 10.

    Again we are reminded, that we are mortal. Another workman has fallen, ceasing his work he has gone to his reward. Another warrior has been stricken down, all covered with victory. The weapons of his warfare were not carnal, but spiritual; his victory is complete, and eternal. The silver cord is loosed, the golden bowl is broken, and the pitcher is broken at the fountain, and the wheel is broken at the cistern. The dust will return to the earth as it was, but the spirit has returned to God who gave it. The voice that once heralded the word of God, to perishing mortals, is still in death. The heart that once beat with a holy devotion to God’s work, will throb with life no more. The eyes that used to sparkle and shine with the love he bore to men for their souls are closed forever.

I stand in the presence of the eventful life of my dear Brother, and I cannot but feel a great man has fallen.

Brother Harris, converted to God in the spring time of his life, began at once his great work, that of preaching Jesus to the people, wherever he could get a hearing. In the ardor and zeal of his early christian life, he used to go out to the races in England and mounting a box, or barrel, he would, fearlessly and boldly preach Jesus to the people. The message would come warm from his own heart, and all on fire with the energy of the Holy Ghost, the word burned down into the hearts of those who listened, until many were the shouts of triumph he heard, and scores only, could number the sonls thus won for Christ. For about 16 years he continued this missionary work. He did not wait until the hands of men were laid upon his head, in the solemn service of ordination to the work of the ministry, before he began to tell men the story of Jesus and his love, but hearing the voice of his risen Lord, saying “Go preach the Gospel to every creature,” he at once proceeded to this work. The crowded street of the city was the temple where he gathered the people. The voice of song was the trumpet that called their attention as they were passing, and a box or chair, or anything on which he could stand was the pulpit from which he delivered, clear, ringing Gospel messages to the busy multitude. He was thus a sower of the seed of the Word. And we have no reason to doubt but that the seed fell on good ground, and brought forth in order thirty, sixty and an hundred fold. And thus it has ever been; a faithful presentation of the Gospel, brings results. The Word will not return unto the Lord vold, but will accomplish the thing for which it is sent. Judging from the results of his life work, we have reason to believe that Brother Harris retained to the last the zeal that characterized his early christian life. Look at Rev. John Harris, our Brother.

I. As a Preacher. His call to this great work was no doubt a divine call. It was the voice of God that rang in his ear, and stirred his young heart. It was a call to duty that could not be put aside. It was the business of the King, and as one of hi subjects the King’s Word must be obeyed. The voice of the Spirit was in harmony with the voice of his conscience, and the impulse of his heart, and obeying, he at once began to call men to repentance, and to Christ. As a preacher he was (a) Fearless. No circumstance however threatening, caused him to soften the message he brought. No combinations, or machinations of men, could swerve him from the well defined path of duty. The truth was to be spoken, let who would be slain. He would hew to the line let the chips fly which way they might.

He feared not the face of clay. Opposition only whetted his fervor, and enemies trembled under the Word he preached, because they felt that it was from God, brought to them by one of his servants.

He had always been a faithful and able advocate of total abstinence. He was an apostle of temperance. At a time too when it cost something to be so. He was always radical on that question. He looked upon a practice, and custom that sent 60,000 annually to drunkards graves, as an unmitigated curse, and deserving the severest anathema that could be pronounced against it. He preached temperance, when the social glass had the sanction of the clergymen of England, and before it was thought to be disreputable to drink. He lectured on Temperance in Iowa when it was a territory, and when on election days it was customary to open a barrel of whiskey be knocking out the head, and then tying a tin cup to the barrel, leave it free to the people, as we would a barrel of ice water at a picnic, and the people thought no more of it.

At one of the temperance meetings on the Birmingham Circuit in the year 1845, held at Brother Harris, at the close of his lecture, some one said, “here is a boy here that has some temperance poetry to say.” Brother Harris said, hand him up; passing the little fellow through the crowd, Father Harris stood him on a chair, and he little fellow spoke his temperance poetry will. Upon inquiry it was found that the boy was Frank Evans, afterwards converted to God on the Birmingham Circuit, became in time one of the leading preachers in the Iowa Conference, and but a few weeks ago, championed the cause of temperance in a debate in Des Moines with a noted Episcopal clergyman. How much depends upon a right beginning.

His voice was heard against slavery, and all the crying sins by which humanity was wrecked and hell peopled.

One of the secrets of his success in building up the church everywhere, was discovered in this one trait of his ministerial character—his fearlessness and his fidelity to the truth.

(b) As a preacher he used the word as furnishing the message he was to deliver to men. This was the arsenal from which he drew his ammunition for warfare: this was the storehouse from which he obtained supplies; here he got his armor; his commission; his marching order; his line of march; here he found the sword of the spirit, by which he slew the hearts of men for God. He came to the Bible for the smooth pebbles by which to stay the giant; here he found the seed which was to be sown beside all waters; he preached the Gospel; he preached not himself but Christ Jesus the Lord. He had the approval of God upon his message, and the approval of men, for all sensible men whether religious or not will approve the minister who preaches the truth boldly, faithfully and earnestly.

It is said of Governor Morris, one of the early Governors of Pennsylvania, that having heard a sermon from a minister who was an applicant for a chaplaincy, he was afterward in a private company where the sermon was much eulogized, and being asked his opinion of its merits, very promptly replied that it did not suit him at all, though a fine discourse. “It was,” said he, “too smooth, too tame, too spiritless,” and then added, that he “liked that kind of preaching best, that would drive him up into the corner of the pew and make him feel as though the devil was after him.” It is the preaching that plies the conscience and deals with the heart that will move men to penitence and prayer, and bring them to God. The preaching of our sainted Brother was such. He fairly thundered the truth upon men’s hearts and consciences, until they cried for mercy and obtained pardon. His preaching was full of soul and energy. It was with demonstration and power. He cried aloud. The voice, the manner, the gesticulation, the tear all told that his own soul was on fire with the truth, and he meant that others should feel what he felt.

(c) His preaching was spiritual. As the road about Rome all led to the city, so every text had a way to Christ for him. Christ was the first the last, the only one seen in his sermons. He was the alpha and omega, the beginning and the end, as well as the heart of all his messages. Like the artist who pained a scene of the last supper, and hearing the commendations of the passers by as they stopped to look at the painting, discovered that the bread, the table and the wine called forth more praise than the face of Christ, with this brush he obliterated all but Christ, saying he must be prominent; he must be the chief centre of admiration. So Brother Harris forgetting all else, held up Christ as the chief attraction, as the one altogether lovely in all his sermons. His preaching was full of tenderness, and sympathy, and tears fell like rain upon the mown grass while he delivered the King’s message. He cared not so much for the well rounded period; he sought not so much the embellishment of the sermon as he did a way to the heart of the hearer. He was truly a “fisher of men.” He was after souls, and he generally found them. Many and many has been the time when he cast the “net of the Gospel on the right side of the boat, and drew it up full of fishes, small and great.

During his first year’s ministry in the territory, which he spent on the Birmingham Circuit, Bro. Harris saw 350 souls converted and added to the church. Wherever he went revivals attended his preaching, and souls were gathered into the church by hundreds. The memory of his work abides in the churches at Iowa City, Dubuque, Oskaloosa, Keokuk, Burlington, Mt. Pleasant, Muscatine, Washington and other places. As a presiding Elder of the Muscatine District for four years, when it meant long rides, sleepless night, hard work, and poor pay, he was faithful and left the impress of his strong character upon the ministers and churches throughout the District.

Brother Harris traveled in Iowa when it was but a territory; made the first temperance speech ever made in the territory; kept pace with the advancing civilization, and helped to lay the foundation of the church here whose members reach the magnificent number of 80,000 to-day. The moral wilderness was turned into a faithful field, and many portious of it became as the garden of the Lord.

“Faithful Unto Death.”

I frequently visited him in his own home. I have had many talks with him about the work of God, and concerning his future. He was always ready for conversation on these grand themes. He rejoiced in a good gospel hope; lived over his ministerial life, and gloried in being counted worthy to suffer for the cause of God. He always enjoyed having me pray with him, and never failed when I had concluded to respond ,I>amen, amen.

On Thursday last I visited him in the forenoon of the day; I talked with him about the beyond; asked him if the way was clear, and if he was ready, and he responded saying, “O yes, O yes! It is all right.” I then said, well Brother Harris I must go home and start my sermon for Sunday, he then pressed my hand in his and said, “Well, well, my Brother, I want you to kneel down here and pray until you get a fire started under that sermon.” These were the last words he ever spoke to me. O Brethren that is what we need to-day. Fire under the sermons. Fire in the songs; fire under the prayers; fire under and above, and through the lite. God grant us this fire. This grand life has ended; at five minutes after 12 o’clock on Friday night, July, he breathed his last and fell asleep in Jesus. To these bereaved ones I would say, hope then in God. Sister it is well with they husband; son, daughters it is well with thy father. Intimate his godly devotion, and sooner than we think the pale horse and his rider shall stop for us, and we must go. God help us to be ready. Quaint John Bunyan caught a glimpse of the glorious ending of all earthly trial and suffering when he said: “Just as the gates were opened to let in the men, I looked in after them and behold the city shone like the sun; the streets were also paved with gold, and in them walked many men, with crowns on their heads and golden harps to sing praises withal, and after that they had shut up the gates, which when I had seen I wished myself among them.”

Rev. John Harris was born in the city of Worcester, England, June 5th, 1809; was converted in Birmingham, England, in a Lovefeast meeting when about 15 years of age; joined the church sometime before his conversion in Worcester, England. I do not know the exact date of his local preacher license, but he was a local preacher of the Wesleyan church for a number of years before he left England. He has been in Iowa for 35 years. Preaching first on the Birmingham Circuit in the year 1845; joining the conference which met in the fall of the same year. He was married July 4th, 1830; his wife shared with him the hardships of an Itinerant Methodist preacher’s life on the frontier. He has preached at the following places in order: Birmingham Circuit, Iowa City, Bloomington, Muscatine, Dubuque, Mt. Pleasant, Keokuk, Oskaloosa, Fairfield, Muscatine, Muscatine Circuit, Muscatine, Burlington,, Washington, Presiding Elder Muscatine District, Blue Grass Circuit, Brighton, Circuit near Mt. Pleasant, Salem, Oskaloosa, Albia, New London, Marshall, Attica.

From this Conference he took a superannuated relation, moved to Benton where he lived one year, then to Corning where he has lived five years. The Lord blessed his married life with eight children, two boys and six girls; four of these children still live, two are buried in England and two in Iowa. He has joined the four who preceded him to glory, and shall not the four who remain follow their father to that better land?

The life of Father Harris ha been crowded with labor for the Master. He was loyal, brave, heroic and devoted. He has gone to his reward. Blessed are the dead which die in the Lord from henceforth, yea, sayeth the spirit that they may rest from their labors and their works do follow them.

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