Tennessee's Pioneer Baptist Preachers
John Howard was born in Rhea County, Tenn., in the year 1820. He was a son of Allison and Margaret Howard, who came from Virginia, to Tennessee about the close of the eighteenth century, settling in Rhea County. I have no record of his conversion, baptism, or ordination. I knew him as a man of rugged strength, physically, mentally, morally. He was a good man, with a "character unblemished." He did missionary and evangelistic work in Rhea and Meigs, and adjoining counties. He was pastor of Washington, Clear Creek, Smyrna, Wolf Creek, Privet Spring, Cotton Port, and other churches. His labors, for the most part, were with weak and struggling churches, and largely in destitute places. He "loved to preach and would go to his appointments in all kinds of weather; if he had no conveyance, he walked. He got little for his preaching, but he labored on, with a bright reward in view in the future. I am sure he is enjoying it now, on the other side of the river."
Brother Howard was an uncompromising Baptist, and hewed to the line," always and everywhere, on doctrinal questions. He couldn't tolerate error or heresy or the least trimming, among Baptists, or elsewhere. He expressed himself publicly and without reserve on these questions, sometimes giving offense, or provoking criticism from his brethren. But he had a conviction that the preacher ought to contend earnestly for the faith delivered once for all to the saints, and that when he stood up as a witness he ought to speak the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth, without fear or favor of man. He loved the truth, and really loved men whom he considered in error and teaching error, but possibly he might have won them more effectively and better served the cause of truth which he loved, if he could have toned down his speech, which sometimes seemed "harsh, rasping and exasperating." Brother Howard was what would be considered a doctrinal or controversial preacher. He believed in the doctrine of missions, and thought the "poor heathen" ought to have the gospel, as well as the "poor" at home.
God uses different gifts, and chooses instruments wholly unlike, to accomplish his purposes. John Howard and Tate Howard were wholly unlike in temperament and disposition, were "opposite as the poles" in their make-up, yet they were preacher-brothers, and loved each other. They did not work together much in meetings. There would have been a lack of harmony and fitness. So each rightly served God in his own way, according to his special gifts and calling. Both "live, and will continue to live in the hearts of the Baptists of this country as long as any men that ever preached here; and seeing the crowds that attended their funerals, one could but feel that their lives were being lived over again in the people to whom they had preached."
In 1893, at the age of 73, Elder John Howard died, and was buried two miles north of Dayton, Tenn., and within half a mile of his birth-place.
Elder Howard was married, in young manhood, to a Miss Sophira N. Vanpelt to which union there were born one son and three daughters. The daughters are dead. The son, J. T. Howard, an excellent citizen and a Baptist, now lives in Merkel, Texas.
Burnett, J .J. Sketches of Tennessee's Pioneer Baptist Preachers. Nashville, Tenn.: Press of Marshall & Bruce Company, 1919.
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