Tennessee's Pioneer Baptist Preachers
J. S. CORAM
(pages 126 - 130)
The substance of the following sketch was published for the occasion of the celebration of the one hundredth anniversary of the Dumplin Church and the meeting with that church of the Tennessee Association in its 95th session, September 30, 1897. The subject of our sketch had been twenty-six years pastor of the church, during his lifetime, and seventeen years moderator of the Association.
J. S. Coram. was born in Virginia, November 5, 1811. He was the son of William and Elizabeth (Allen) Coram. He was converted in a Presbyterian meeting at Washington Church, Knox County, but the date and place of his baptism I have not been able to find. The Mouth of Richland records, of July 14, 1833, read: "We give Brother John Coram privilege to exercise his gift in prayer and exhortation in the bounds of this church." May 10, 1834, the church voted to 'extend the bounds" of Brother Coram's privilege, and, January 10, 1835, "lettered him out" to join elsewhere.
He was ordained by Little Flat Creek Church the third Saturday in February, 1835, the "council being composed of delegates from the Mouth of Richland and Beaver Dam churches, Samuel Love, Moderator; Martin L. Mynatt, Clerk."
He was pastor of Little Flat Creek, Mouth of Richland, Ball Camp, Prospect, Union, Dumplin, Gallahar's View, and other churches. Little Flat Creek and Dumplin were his longest pastorates, each being about twenty-six years. He was an acknowledged leader in his Association, the Tennessee, for more than a quarter of a century, serving as moderator seventeen years, and preaching the introductory sermon eleven times. He was a prominent figure not only in his own association but in the history of East Tennessee Baptists, being called upon, far and near, to aid in meetings, to take part in the ordination of preachers and deacons, the organization and recognition of churches, and to sit in council with his brethren, in many ways and on various and sundry occasions.
In his young manhood be was married to a Miss Rachel S. Forgey, who became the mother of an interesting family of children, two of his sons becoming preachers.
J. S. Coram was not a man of letters or of wide culture, but he was brainy, and was possessed of extraordinary willpower. Added to these were a splendid physique, a powerful voice, the orator's temperament, and a taste for handling great pulpit themes. These elements of natural strength made him a commanding speaker and a master of assemblies. But it is the special temptation of strong minds to want to wrestle with mighty problems, to pry into the mysterious and the inscrutable, to try to solve the unsolvable. And so it happened with the strong and gifted Coram, that the subtle "pride of reason" became a temptation and a snare to him in his later years. I refer to his peculiar views of the millennium and the large place he gave to that subject in his preaching. In grappling with the mystery of "Babylon" and, the "beast," the "false prophet" and the "man of sin," and the overthrow of these mighty enemies at the "Second coming" of Christ at a near and fixed (?) date, he drew, crowds to hear him and made them sit up and take notice; but a majority of his brethren were not in accord with all of his views on this difficult subject, and also an occasional outsider might be heard to say that "the Reverend Coram missed it a little today." This is only another instance of the rule of history, that a man's greatest endowment and most splendid gifts, unless safeguarded by eternal vigilance, may become a source of weakness and an occasion of stumbling. But J. S. Coram did a great work in his day. He was a commanding figure among East Tennessee Baptists of a bygone generation, and his name will not be forgotten.
The last Association Brother Coram ever attended was at Ball Camp, in October, 1881. Being an invalid at the time, he was brought on the grounds in a farm wagon, remaining in the wagon pretty much through the day, while the "brethren fellowshipped him and expressed regrets that he could not be with them in the meeting." (W. R. Cooper.)
His death occurred January 26, 1882, and he was buried in the "family" burying ground on the Coram homestead near Ball Camp. At the time of his death he was a member of the Mouth of Richland Church, Grainger County. By committee and resolutions the church memorialized him as a "brother beloved, a sterling citizen, a kind father, a bright and shining light, an earnest and faithful minister of Christ, a great man in Israel, and a fallen chieftain."
The following incidents, vouched for by good authority, give additional light on the subject of this sketch:
1. "Uncle Jack Coram," as he was familiarly called, had a hard time to make a living. His churches were paying him very little for his preaching, and he was in debt for his home. So when the government offered him the chaplaincy of the "Sixth Tennessee Infantry," at a salary of $1,200 a year, the offer looked pretty good. The commission papers signed and his home affairs adjusted, he was ready to go to the army. He went out to the gate where his gray horse, Jim, the only horse he had, was standing, ready for his master's departure. About to mount his horse, he stood for a minute in deep meditation, and soliloquized as follows: "Well, I am going to give up all my churches to make money, bad as I need it. Old Jim," he said to his horse, "I can't do it. You may go back to the stable. I'll preach if I starve!"
2. In a meeting with Prospect Church, Loudon County, a number of sinners were under deep conviction, it seemed, but were too stubborn to come forward for prayer. Among the number was a Mr. Green. The preacher, noting the deep concern of Mr. Green, started to go to him, but Mr. Green, hat in hand, struck for the door, the preacher following. When out of the house the sinner ran, and so did the preacher, exhorting as he ran. Seeing the convict about to escape, as a prisoner fleeing from the officer, the preacher shouted, "Watch him, Jesus; arrest him and bring him back!" When about one hundred yards from the church house the escaped convict fell prostrate on the ground, so the story goes, and had to be carried back to the house, where he was prayed for and labored with, and where, in about forty-eight hours, he rejoiced in a Savour's [sic] pardoning love. (W. Whitlock.)
3. The following story has been told me by different parties, and has not been contradicted. On one occasion, it is said, after Brother Coram had several times preached on his favorite theme, the "millennium," and had figured the "end of the world" down to a pretty fine point, he left home to hold a meeting, giving the usual instructions, before leaving, as to what he wanted done, and charging his boys particularly about sowing the oats and planting the corn. He was gone from home, on this occasion, considerably longer than he had expected to be. Returning home at length, he found, to his surprise, that the boys hadn't struck a lick toward putting in the crop. He remonstrated with them sharply for their slothfulness and disobedience. The boys innocently (?) replied that they thought the world was coming to an "end" in a very short time and, under the circumstances, they didn't see the use of spending time and wasting seed in putting in a crop. This story is an exaggeration, doubtless, and an unwarranted and unforeseen application of Brother Coram's preaching, but it serves to point a moral: The prophets didn't know the full significance of all that was given them to foretell; Jesus himself didn't know the exact time of his second coming, nor the angels; man should not be wise above that which is written.
Burnett, J .J. Sketches of Tennessee's Pioneer Baptist Preachers. Nashville, Tenn.: Press of Marshall & Bruce Company, 1919.
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