Tennessee's Pioneer Baptist Preachers
(pages 327 - 329)
James Lankford (Langford, as now spelled) was born in Blount County, Tenn., April 4, 1805. In 1826 he was married to Ruth Gambol, which union was blessed with a family of ten children, four sons and six daughters.
He was ordained by Ellijoy Church, Blount County, April 28, 1833, Elijah Rogers, Joshua Frost, William Billue, and Eli Roberts constituting the presbytery. He was born, lived and died and was buried under the shadow of this church. He was moderator, assistant pastor and pastor of this church pretty much all of his ministerial life. September 26, 1839, he received a call to the Dumplin Church, and was pastor of that church at the time of his death (1845).
In 1841 he was assistant pastor to Elijah Rogers of the Boyd's Creek Church, succeeding him as pastor in '42, and continuing pastor till '44. He was founder of Hopewell Church, Knox County, about the year 1833, and was pastor till his death, a period of some fourteen years. He was doubtless pastor of other churches also, but his gifts peculiarly fitted him for evangelistic work; he therefore gave his time and energy almost wholly to holding protracted meetings. In this work he was associated a good deal with Elder C. C. Tipton. The two were very unlike in disposition and gifts, but each was a supplement to the other. Tipton was strong, combative, rasping; Lankford was smooth, conciliatory, tender; "he was friendly and interested in everybody; he shook hands with sinners and had their confidence." (Peter Bryan.)
Speaking of James Lankford as an all-round man John S.Tipton said: "He is the best calculated of any man I ever saw to carry on a meeting by himself; he was a good preacher, a good exhorter, a good prayer, and a good singer. Back seats were no refuge for the sinner; he could reach the furthest back with his voice and put the audience under the spell of his influence more completely than any man I ever heard preach."
In holding meetings Elder Lankford's singing voice stood him in good stead, for many times he would have to lead the singing, even when doing all the preaching himself. He was particularly noted, however, as a tenor singer. During a revival at Dumplin Church, on one occasion, when the congregation was singing one of the grand old songs of Zion, "the tenor voice of James Lankford was distinctly heard, above and apart from, every other voice, more than a mile from the church."
Three-quarters of a century ago few names on the records of Baptist churches in Blount, Knox, Jefferson and Sevier counties were more prominent or familiar than that of James Lankford.
He was pastor of Hopewell Church fourteen years, and received from the church during that time, it was thought, about $200. All that time he was noted for his punctuality, was never late getting to the church but once. One of the members, a Brother White, said to him, "Brother Lankford, you are a little late today." "Yes," said Brother Lankford, "my horse laid down and died last night. I had a hard time to borrow one, and it was too far to walk." "Boys," said Brother White, "let's buy Brother Lankford a horse"; and in thirty minutes they had raised $40 with which to buy their pastor a saddle horse.
January 25, 1845, Brother Lankford, still in the prime of life, not yet 40, was stricken with a new disease, which the doctors called "quinsy" (inflammation of the throat), and died suddenly, his wife having preceded him (dying of the same disease) to the better world by the space of two weeks. They were buried in the same grave at Ellijoy Church, where they sleep side by side till the "resurrection morning."
Burnett, J .J. Sketches of Tennessee's Pioneer Baptist Preachers. Nashville, Tenn.: Press of Marshall & Bruce Company, 1919.
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