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
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
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
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
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 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
Nichols, E.R. Harper, Guy N. Woods
1964 Freed-Hardeman College Lectures
On The Steps Of Henderson Church of Christ
Directions To The
Grave Of 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.
Acc. to 15ft.
N32° 24.916 x WO99° 48.052’
Or, D.d. 32.415258318074905, -99.80083733797073
Grave Faces East
Garden Of Peace Section W Plot #7
Just North Of The Christus Memorial
View Larger Map
Ollie Poe - 1897-1979
Ernest R. Harper