Ernest Rosenthal Harper
Brief Sketch On The Life Of Ernest R. Harper
Ernest Rosenthal Harper was born August 26, 1897, at Enola, Arkansas. He was the son of William Mordecai and Sarah Teresa (Reynolds) Harper. Ernest was the eldest of four boys born to William and Sarah Harper. After the birth of the third son, William Harper was converted from denominationalism to the truth.
Ernest grew rapidly in grace and knowledge. Early in life he had a burning desire for a Christian education. He rented five acres of land, and with the family's help, raised enough cotton to enter Freed-Hardeman College. Here he began to lay the foundation for the great work he was to do for the rest of his life.
On April 5, 1923, Ernest Rosenthal Harper married Miss Ollie Marie Poe. To this union were born one son and three girls. The son was named Paul William and the girls were named Mary Nell, Anna Lee and Ernestine.
Actually, Harper spent the beginning of his ministry as a song leader, assisting many of the great gospel preachers of his day in that capacity. Singing and music were always a great part of his family life. He and his wife could play the piano and the guitar. All of the children could play various other instruments, including the marimba, the violin, the oboe, the saxophone, and the trumpet. Harper had a great singing voice. He could sing bass beautifully and also tenor and alto. The children grew up listening to such favorites as "I'll Take you Home Again, Kathleen" and "When Irish Eyes Are Smiling." Ernestine (Teenie, to the family) inherited his singing voice, and the family have tapes of her, along with her other two sisters, singing, "I've Been With Jesus," "Mansion Over The Hilltop," "Suppertime," and a multitude of others. Unfortunately, "Teenie" died in 1957 while undergoing open-heart surgery, when she was only 26 years of age.
Harper began preaching in 1924 at Bemis, Tennessee. Places where he did full time local work were Highland Church of Christ (now Allen and Edgewood), Jackson, Tennessee; Fourth and State Streets Church of Christ (now Sixth and Izard), Little Rock, Arkansas; Highland Church of Christ, Abilene, Texas. Harper served as full-time minister for only three congregations and his ministry spanned three-score years.
He began his formal education at Freed-Hardeman College, where, in the Spring of 1923, he was presented the Medal of Honor as College Orator of the Year. Following his work at Freed-Hardeman, he enrolled at Union University (a Baptist College) at Jackson, Tennessee, where he graduated with a B.A. degree.
One of his most cherished honors was received in 1973 when Freed-Hardeman College named him Alumnus of the Year.
In addition to his work with the Fourth and State Church of Christ in Little Rock, came the invitation to serve as Chaplain for the Arkansas State Senate. He was the first fulltime paid Chaplain of that august body since its beginning. He served in this capacity for 10 successive years or until he moved to Abilene, Texas, in November of 1945.
In 1966 Harper had the joy and pleasure to tour 14 foreign countries. On this tour he addressed congregations in many cities, including Rome, Italy, and Madrid, Spain, where he had the honor of addressing some 200 language students from various nations at the University of Madrid. On this trip he delivered the Keynote Address for the World Seminar and Lectureship of congregations of the Church of Christ that year at Lausanne, Switzerland.
No greater joy can come to any gospel preacher than to visit the lands of the Bible. While there he visited Old Jerusalem as it looked when Christ was there. He saw the Temple grounds, the "Jewish Wailing Wall," washed his feet in the River Jordan, wadded in the Dead Sea, and looked down on the walls of Jericho.
While in Bible lands he spoke to the church in Old Jerusalem and was invited by the superintendent of the "Garden of the Tomb" to address an audience on a Sunday afternoon. It was but a stone's throw from where Peter delivered his famous sermon in Jerusalem on that memorable Pentecost Day.
There were many great events in the life of E. R. Harper. Neither time nor space would permit us to relate the many, many great events that characterized the life and great influence of this great soldier of the cross. Near the end of his life Harper selected four events that were filled with very special meaning to him. They cover a period of time from 1922 to 1981 (59 years).
The First. This was in the Spring of 1922 at Freed-Hardeman College. It was the first public speech that he had made. It was a contest to see who would be chosen as College Orator of the Year. J. R. Endsley had written the speech for him. The subject was "Judas the Hammer." Though they had been practicing day after day, when time came for the speech to be delivered, he shook inside until it seemed his ribs would burst through. No, you missed it! He won it! He was presented the Medal of Honor as College Orator of the Year. Both students and faculty no longer wondered if any good thing could come out of Arkansas.
The Second. The second greatest day was another honor bestowed upon him by his same great school, Freed-Hardeman College. Years bring about changes in the lives of people. They bring about memories of years long past and gone. It was in the year 1973. He was 76 years old in August that year. His wife began to urge him to attend the programs at that time being given by the college. She said, "You may not be here to enjoy another trip to the college." He accepted her plea and went to the college to hear and see the program. He sat down and looked at the other end of the pew, and there was his daughter, Ann, from Nashville. He could not figure out why she was there.
The services began for that particular morning. They were announcing the name of the alumnus of the school to be awarded the honor of the "Alumnus of the Year 1973." Suddenly, they said, "If brother E. R. Harper will please come forward." He said to those in front of him, "Who, me?" Shocked is not the word! There is no such word. They all laughed. He went forward, and they bestowed upon him the honor of the "Alumnus of the Year 1973." That honor was the greatest of his life at that time because it was the school, "my Alma Mater, after sixty-nine years that bestowed it upon me."
The Third. The third greatest joy in his work with the church was in that same year, 1973. Charles Chumley called him on the telephone with this message: "Brother Harper, we want you to speak for us at the morning service next Sunday at the Granny White Church of Christ in Nashville, where I preach." Harper was greatly surprised at the invitation and replied, "Brother Chumley, I do not believe I can possibly undertake to do this. I have not spoken to an audience like this in over a year due to the operation on my vocal chords." The Harpers were visiting their daughter, Ann, and her family in Nashville, Tennessee, at the time.
Sunday morning came. The Harpers and their daughter with her family were all present. The house was filled to the balcony. Many college students, as well as high school students, were present. Chumley, in his gracious manner, introduced the services and presented Harper. Harper had been with them in a meeting and on several other occasions. There sat before him many friends of many years.
He arose, not knowing whether he could make it or not. He expressed his appreciation to Chumley for the most gracious introduction and began the sermon. The speaking system was wonderful. He could hear his voice echoing throughout the building into the balcony. This relaxed him and for 45 minutes he addressed himself to the subject: "The Beautiful Christ" from Revelation 1:10-20. Yes, that Sunday was a great day in the history of his life.
The Fourth. The third event continued to bring further joys. The elders of the Hillsboro Church of Christ learned of this joyous occasion, and Batsell Barret Baxter was there. They invited Harper to the combined adult classes the following Wednesday evening at their regular mid-week service on this same subject. The service began, Harper was presented to the audience. Many were in the balcony. Harper had spoken there many times before, but they were not to be compared with that special evening. When he had presented the lesson, Baxter in tears said to sister Harper and their daughter, Ann, "It was more beautiful tonight than Sunday morning." This was the fruit that blossomed from the Sunday morning service referred to by Baxter.
But it was not all over yet. Others heard of the great services on Sunday morning and Wednesday night. It moved others. The principal of David Lipscomb High School heard about it and invited Harper to speak to the entire high school in their auditorium. Likely the high school students thought, with a 76-year-old man addressing them, that it would be a very dry service. Harper fooled them. He began by expressing his thanks to the principal for the gracious introduction. Then he turned to the group of fine young men and ladies who sat before him. With a smile he began teasing them about how sad it was that they did not live back in childhood days when young men really knew how to date. He tried to make it interesting and told them about the first date he ever had. He described how he dreaded to go in and sit down by that beautiful young 16-year-old girl. As he described his actions to the very end, he thought that they would tear the house down.
After having a ball laughing and enjoying each other, he said quietly, "Young people, let me now talk to you about the serious things of life before you." They listened intently and showed the greatest degree of respect.
The meeting ended and Harper said that he had never been greeted so nicely by so many high school students. One man said, "I have been here all the time. This was the greatest thing we have ever enjoyed." Harper exclaimed, "This was one of those great days I shall never forget!"
When Thomas B. Warren made the announcement that the 1980 Spiritual Sword lectureship theme would be "The Church," Harper was sitting next to Garland Elkins and whispered to him, "Call it the Church-The Beautiful Bride of Christ." They accepted his suggestion and now a large hardback book has within its cover some of the finest material available on "The Church - The Beautiful Bride of Christ." During that lectureship an appreciation dinner was given honoring Harper.
On January 11, 1983, Harper attended the sixth annual Fort Worth Lectures conducted at the Brown Trail Church of Christ in Hurst, Texas. Willard Collins, former president of David Lipscomb College, gave a well-deserved, stirring tribute to the great man who had preached so long, fought so many battles for the truth of the gospel, endured so many hardships and defended the faith against false teachers. Everyone present was touched by the history of brother Harper in his service to the Lord.
The time came for Harper's response. At an age when many would have been ready to step aside to let the younger generation take up the reigns, he arose to issue a challenge. A stately, erect, battle-scarred soldier of the cross, whose voice was already decimated by illness, was not ready to lay his armor by. He wanted the church to look to new horizons. He wanted the church to utilize modern methods to spread the ancient message, to use every avenue to preach the precious gospel. His challenge on that day rings with resounding clarity, louder and clearer by the day, "Preach the word!"
Men of Harper's stamina, dedication, devotion, and determination stand out among us. May the example of this godly man influence and inspired many more to "Preach the Word."
Harper was one of the leaders in the beginning of the Herald of Truth in Abilene. He preached on the nation-wide Herald of Truth program during one phase of its history.
When history is written of the eloquent pulpiteers of this century, E. R. Harper's name will be included and listed high on the list.
On June 15, 1986, Father's Day, Harper departed this life with his two daughters at his bedside holding his hands, deeply grateful to the Lord that he died quietly, peacefully, and relatively free from pain. Harper's wife had preceded him in death in 1979.
He was survived by one son, Paul William Harper; two daughters, Mrs. Mary Nell Gililland and Mrs. Anna Lee Youree; and by two brothers, Sam Harold Harper and Cleddie Wallace Harper.
Funeral service was held at Fifth and Grape Street Church of Christ with Willard Collins and Jerry Yarbrough officiating. Appropriate songs were directed by Paul Brown of Nashville, Tennessee. Burial was in Abilene, Texas, with interment in Elmwood Memorial Park.
-In Memoriam, Gussie Lambert, pages 132-137
Directions To The Grave Of E.R. Harper
E.R. Harper is buried in Abilene, Texas in the Elmwood Memorial Park. The cemetery lies on the southern outskirts of the city of Abilene. From the west side of Abilene on I-20 take exit 283a and head south on Hwy 83/277. Go about 7 miles south and exit off on Hwy 277 South. Travel a couple of miles on Hwy. 277. The address is 5750 U.S. Highway 277 S. Office Phone: 352-692-0655. See Map Of Cemetery Here. Also buried here are J.D. Thomas and Jimmy Mankin.