James Harding Sewell Sr.
Sketch On The Life Of J. H. Sewell
James Harding Sewell, Sr., was born in Nashville, Tennessee, on May 27, 1898. His father was a traveling evangelist, whose brothers were also pioneer preachers. His grandfather Sewell was also an evangelist whose brothers were also all evangelists. When James Harding was nine years old, his father, whom he adored, passed away, and James and his mother moved to California. They lived in a schoolhouse in the mountains where she taught school for their rent and he worked as a grocery helper and also trapped wild game for the rest of their income. He was baptized at the age of 11 by L. R. Sewell in 1909.
When James was ready for high school, they moved to Berkeley, California. He was on the high school championship debating team during those years and also sang a lead in the operetta, The Pirates of Penzants. When James went to the University the following year, he started preaching for the Church of Christ in San Francisco on Sundays. He was always a deeply patriotic man who loved his country and was grateful for being a part of it. He began officer's training for the Navy but resigned when the war ended. He sang in the University of California Men's Chorus and also began preaching for the Church of Christ in Berkeley. He maintained a straight A average in the University while working all this time to support himself and his mother.
After his second year in college, he married Eunice Stockton, who was in Berkeley attending school from Huntington Beach. In 1922, they moved to Santa Ana with their baby girl, June, and James began preaching at Fullerton. Next, he preached for the Church of Christ in Santa Ana where he served as minister for 26 years and as an elder for over 30 years. The congregation grew rapidly and prospered. They began assisting the Ontario Children's Home which later moved to Chino and became Hillview Acres. During World War 11 they broadcast their Sunday morning services so that the elderly and shut-ins could partake of the worship. They held many protracted meetings and became very supportive to foreign missions. For years, Sewell preached and his dear friend, George Duke, led the singing.
Totally, they outgrew their location and built another at 2130 North Grand Avenue in Santa Ana which has been known in the brotherhood since that time as the Northside Church of Christ. At the time Sewell stepped down from his duties at Northside, they had grown to over 800 members.
He became chairman of the board and served Hillview Acres Children's Home in that capacity for 26 years.
He was on the Board for the March of Dimes for 10 years. For a brief period of time he published a religious journal which was known as The California Christian.
He was a member of the Board for Ibaraki Christian College in Japan. He was a charter member of the Advisory Board of George Pepperdine College, now Pepperdine University.
He was a member of the Santa Ana Host Lions Club for 39 years with a perfect attendance record.
He conducted numerous weddings and funerals and was a popular speaker for graduations and similar occasions. Available as a tenor soloist, he sang for all types of occasions. He was a member of the Santa Ana Men's Chorus and sang in light opera.
He was very interested in the missionaries abroad and wrote to many missionaries every month. He toured Europe for three months visiting all the missionaries he could find and discussed their goals and needs. He did everything he could to make their work easier and to broaden the support for all missionary work. During his European trip, he spoke at a lectureship in Frankfort, Germany.
He had a strong concern for the blind and other handicapped persons. Sewell worked tirelessly for Services for the Blind which trains the blind to live in their own homes. He was instrumental in securing a $5,000 gift for this work from the Irving Foundation.
Preachers, elders, deacons, and church men came from many parts of the State to discuss things with him. He always counseled, "Be a peace maker, not a peace breaker."
Sewell's mother and her sister, Emma P. Larimore, and her husband, the well-known preacher, T. B. Larimore, moved into the same block with Sewell and his family. Larimore preached very effectively for the church there in a series of protracted meetings even though he had retired. Larimore was a warm personal friend and advisor to Sewell.
In years gone by, sermons were frequently two or two and one-half hours long. Sewell began a campaign to encourage the brethren to limit their talks to 30 minutes.
The Sewells had four children: Jane, Marjorie, James Jr., and the late Robert Larimore Sewell. When asked what kind of a man his father had been, James, Jr., said simply, "He was the kindest man I have ever known." Sewell also campaigned against the long and wordy prayers. He told his family and the brethren, "When you have something to say or something to preach, make arrangements to be heard. Do not preach it during a prayer. Prayer time is for talking to the Heavenly Father, not for instructing and correcting others."
He was a man who prayed as if it were all up to God and worked as if it were all up to him.
On the last day of Sewell's life here, from his hospital bed, he began telling the different family members, rather apologetically, "I have to go. I don't want to leave you, but I must. You understand, don't you? I can't help it. I have to go."
Twenty-six persons visited him on that day. His heart and his door were always opened to others. He shared, with his fellow-elder and longtime dear friend, C. Scott Lee, his hopes and fears for the congregation. He counseled his grandson, David, and prayed for him and his mother.
He never complained about his own discomfort although he was struggling for breath. When the nurse asked people to leave, he shook hands with his sons and smiling with his eyes of love, he said, "Goodbye, boys," and they said, "Goodbye, Dad. "
His funeral could not have been sad. It was an expression of joyous faith and victory. Faithful to Sewell's practice of preaching "Christ and Him crucified," there was an invitation.
James, Jr., gave the congregation the message that his Dad had given him on his last day here, which began with these loving words, "Tell all the faithful people, `He will beautify the meek with salvation' (Psalms 149:4)."
James Harding Sewell, Sr., realized his full reward in Jesus Christ at 2:15 A.M. Sunday morning, December 4, 1977. "Brother Jim," as he was affectionately known, succumbed to cancer at the age of 79 with little pain as he quietly went to sleep. His family had gathered around his hospital bed after he had called them all together to pray for them. He blessed them, bade them goodbye, and joined his Lord whom he had served so long.
Survivors included his wife, Mrs. Eunice Tommy Sewell; two sons, James Harding Sewell, Jr., and Robert Larimore Sewell; two daughters, Mrs. June Elizabeth Nichols and Mrs. Tom Benton; three brothers, Will Sewell, Charles Sewell, and Edward Granville Sewell; by two sisters, Carrie Sewell and Ruby Sewell.
Funeral service was held at the North Side Church of Christ with John Fisk, C. Scott Lee and Allen Rice officiating. Burial was in Santa Ana, California, with interment in Fair Haven Cemetery.
Truly James Harding Sewell, Sr., was a prince in Israel!
- From "In Memoriam" by Gussie Lambert, Shreveport, LA, c.1988 pages 249-252
Webmaster Note: Since the writing of this biographical sketch, some of those listed as surviving Sewell, have now passed to their rest, including his wife Eunice, and his son, Robert Larimore, both of which are buried in the same plot as Sewell.
The Restoration Movement In The West Coast
James H. Sewell
As I talk on the subject of the restoration movement on the Pacific Coast, I wonder first just how much work out there could properly be called "the restoration movement." Also, I want it thoroughly understood that I am no authority on the subject. Of course, we don't have any other authorities either, so I presume I can do as well as the average in discussing the question.
I've been on the West Coast a long time. I first went to California with my father who was holding some meetings there in 1905, and although quite a small child at that time, I knew that the work was pretty small, too. I am going to make one sincere apology, now. This analysis of the work on the West Coast is going to have to be made from my worm's-eye view of the situation. So if I talk quite a bit about myself, it will be because I know of no other way to give you the picture of the past work of the restoration movement, and the present situation, and perhaps some thoughts and hopes about the future.
When I said that I wondered how much of a restoration movement we had on the Pacific Coast, I didn't mean to decry the good work that is being done and the greater work we are trying sincerely to do. But sometimes we do wonder why we can't grow a little faster, why we can't move in a more important way for the Lord, thus justifying the term, "restoration movement."
In 1905 when my father went to California to hold some meetings and took me along with him, there were, I think, six congregations in the entire state. Most of them were small and struggling, and the work could not be compared with what we are doing today, even in the way we conducted the worship. There was a little congregation at Santa Ana, the Broadway and Walnut congregation of which I am now a member. It was started that year. Brother G. W. Riggs at that time was just a young preacher, fresh out of Nashville Bible School. At the urging of a Brother Sanders of Los Angeles he had come to southern California and had taken up the work there. Brother Sanders also helped support Brother Riggs in his evangelistic work through the state. In the course of his labors for the Lord, Brother Riggs had gone to Santa Ana, located a few brethren there, organized them for a meeting, and finally established a congregation. They had an all-day meeting on the fourth Sunday in June, 1905. Brethren came from Los Angeles, and from as far away as 100 miles or even farther. Of course, that was in the day of the horse and buggy, so many of them began to arrive several days before Lord's day, and they were taken care of by the Santa Ana brethren. There was a large crowd there on that fourth Sunday in June. They had a grand all-day meeting, with Brother Riggs preaching, and that day a precedent was established. There has been an all-day meeting at Broadway and Walnut, Santa Ana, on the fourth Sunday in June ever since, and Brother Riggs has spoken 39 times at these meetings. Today he is blind and unable to speak in public, but we were thrilled the fourth Lord's day of last June when his son, Sanders Riggs, came wheeling him into the auditorium in his wheel chair.
We moved to California permanently in 1910, and there had been very little change in the church in those intervening years. Everything seemed just about the same. However, we became cognizant of a movement that for a time was a rather important one, namely the so-called Apostolic movement in the church. They had congregations in Riverside, Long Beach and Los Angeles, as well as having some very able preachers. We had a difficult time breaking down the barrier that was being raised by the Apostolic Review doctrines. But over a period of years it was broken down, and that was to many of us one of the greatest victories ever achieved in the restoration movement in California. Today some of our most loyal brethren and most successful churches are those who long ago tried to drive a wedge of division and disfellowship into the work.
Now I would like to return to some of the early days and give you another picture of how things were. I remember the little congregation at Madera in 1910. They conducted their meetings on what was called the "social meeting" plan which was in general practice on the coast at that time. There is something to be said for the "social meeting" idea. This meeting was conducted so that any brother who had something to say during the course of the service could get up and say it. One thing to be said for that system is that gradually every member in the church learns to get up on his feet and speak. Oh, there are a few who never do, but they are few and far between.
The great weakness of that system was the lack of organization. Whenever someone would get up and start a subject, instead of following through on that and giving the congregation a well-rounded discussion of some good Bible subject, the next speaker often considered the matter closed and the next person would speak on another subject. Usually there was no planning and very little preparation. A meeting would go something like this. Some brother would get up, clear his throat and say, "Well, brethren, I think I'll talk to you from the second book of Peter, no I guess I'll talk on the first chapter of Luke. Well, it says this, brethren...." By the time he got through, of course, you had a fair idea of what he had read and some of the comments were helpful. One of the benefits of the system was that a great deal of scripture was read and that's an improvement over some of our modern day preaching.
I do say a lot of good came from it. I know there are many church leaders today who got their first opportunity to appear in public on that basis. And I know that in some very large, fine congregations today there are men who could become great church leaders, men who could be preachers, except for the fact that the congregation has a regular preacher who preaches all the time, and he delivers such wonderful sermons that they just never get a chance. I am not inveighing against preachers. I preach for the Broadway and Walnut church myself, and I know that preaching is necessary if we are going to build churches and save souls. Yet I wanted to say these things about that other system, for many people seem to have forgotten.
We ought not think that a church cannot carry on its work if it happens to find itself temporarily without a preacher. As long as it has a few elders and as long as it has good Bible teachers that know the Bible, and who can get up and speak intelligently, that church should be able to carry on its work. I also believe that when a church does have a fine preacher, they should not keep him preaching to that congregation all the time. Let the elders carry on the work for a little while and send that preacher out into some place where the church needs to be more firmly established. That's the way it was done in the early days on the Pacific Coast. We had some good preachers out there, but no church that I know of had a located minister.
In 1915 we moved to Berkeley, which is the home of the University of California. In Berkeley I again met Brother William Green, whom I had met previously in Santa Rosa. He is now a professor at the University of California and an elder in the Berkeley church. Also it was there that I first met Brother Ralph Chase, who was later an elder in the church at Sacramento and is now at Arcadia. Also there I met Brother LeMoine Williams and Brother A. J. Dumm. We met with a little group in San Francisco, which was the only congregation around the San Francisco Bay area at that time.
At that time each one of the men I have mentioned here was under the age of 21. In spite of that fact, we had all had considerable opportunity to take leading roles in the work. They found out that I could lead the singing and they started me doing that. We began to organize the work, with three or four of us making talks. We tried to improve on the system, by getting together, selecting a subject, assigning a topic to each one. Between us we managed to bring a complete sermon each Lord's day.
I mentioned Brother Dumm. I want to tell a pointed story of our association with him. I think there's a lesson in it that some of the brethren could use. The little congregation in San Francisco was then meeting in the B'nai B'rith Hall. After we'd been meeting there a while, Brother Dumm and his wife and child began to attend services. He was working for the Federal Reserve Bank in San Francisco and was living in Berkeley. Now those who lived in Berkeley had a rather "long haul" to go to church in San Francisco. There was a 20-minute train ride, 20 minutes on the ferry boat and 40 minutes by street car. So we knew that if a fellow went to all that trouble to get to church he must have some zeal. He came Sunday after Sunday, and finally we became curious as to why he didn't place his membership with us. Brethren Green, Chase, Williams and I talked it over and I was commissioned to talk to him about it, so I went and asked him why. He told me that he came from Indiana and had been reared under the influence of the Apostolic Review and said he didn't know whether he should come in with us or not. He said they would like to join us and that he would never cause any trouble or try to make any converts to his anti-college ideas, but he was afraid we would object to his privately held ideas. He had one request, which he said his conscience demanded. That was that he have an understanding with the brethren that we would not send any collections out of the church treasury to any Christian college. That was an easy request to grant. None of us wanted to send such contributions anyway, and our collections were so poor we weren't sending contributions to anybody. I assured him we would have no difficulty there, but as to the matter of his Apostolic Review beliefs, I would talk to the other brethren. I thought I knew their hearts in the matter. I was sure they would say that as long as these things were his private opinion they would want him to work with us. I took the matter up with them and they all agreed. Brother Dumm joined with us and we never had a serious difference of any kind. At the time of his death he was the business manager of George Pepperdine College and we never discussed the college issue again.
I believe we can learn from experiences like these. We are now coming into a day in which some people in the church are beginning to inquire into your secret thoughts, and if they don't coincide in every respect with theirs, they won't have any fellowship with you. Out in the early days in California if we had made demands of that kind we just wouldn't have had any fellowship with anybody.
After we had lived in California awhile we persuaded Brother T. B. Larimore to come out there. His second wife, Miss Emma Page, was my mother's sister. Brother Larimore began to do our regular preaching in San Francisco, and this continued for a number of years. I'm sure the finest example in preaching the gospel I could have ever received, I got from T. B. Larimore. You couldn't listen to him and fail to absorb some of his wonderful kindly spirit. And I learned then something a lot of preachers apparently don't know today. I learned what "hard preaching" is. Brother Larimore was about the hardest preacher that I ever heard. I mean by that word "hard," effective. The sword of the spirit really pierced what it went after when he was wielding it. And yet I never heard him at any time say anything in a gospel sermon or in any private interview that was designed to wound the feelings of a single soul. Now we have some so-called "hard preachers" today, and their idea of hardness is to say things just as mean and as hard as they know how to say it. That is not "hard preaching." That is soft, rotten preaching; because it destroys the quality of the sword of the spirit and it has no piercing ability. And so I say I found out what "hard preaching" really is, when you think of it from the standpoint of the results achieved. I'd like for some young preachers to make note of that. If you want to be a hard preacher, if you want the word to act like a sledge-hammer upon the hearts of people to whom you preach, learn to preach with the spirit and power of T. B. Larimore, and that's the spirit and power of love. He never preached to any audience that did not feel the warmth of his great loving heart. I could take up a lot of time giving you personal incidents about Brother Larimore, the great work that he did for the church in San Francisco, and later for the church in Berkeley, and all the Bay area, how he moved to Santa Ana in 1927 and the last few years of his life preached for the church at Fullerton.
Many people do not realize that Brother Larimore was a man with a tremendous sense of humor. One of my fondest remembrances is of him sitting with a group of people and telling some of the funny things that had happened in his long career. He would laugh and wipe the tears of laughter from his eyes with a white silk handkerchief. I believe there were few men in the brotherhood who knew of more funny things that happened in debates. I want to give you just one incident as a sample. Brother Larimore told this story about Brother Joe S. Warlick who was debating a Presbyterian preacher on the subject of infant baptism. It appears that the Presbyterian preacher decided that he'd have a demonstration during the course of the debate, and he got a lot of mothers to bring in their little children for him to sprinkle. Brother Warlick recognized that his opponent was making quite an impression on the audience as he performed the ceremony. He didn't know just what to do, as he could see that some of the people were being taken in by it. And then good fortune in the form of a little boy came his way. The little boy was along toward the end of the line of children waiting to be "baptized." He wiggled out of his mother's arms, ran down the aisle to the door, and just as he was scooting through the door, Brother Warlick raised half-way up in his seat and said, "Brother Brown, if you had a squirt gun you could get him, too!"
Brother Larimore passed away in 1929. He and his wife and my mother are buried in the same plot of ground, Fairhaven Cemetery, just out of Santa Ana, California.
The present condition of the work in California is both good and bad. We have been suffering from the effects of a group of preachers who are loyal to a certain party line, and I think sometimes they are so loyal to the party that their loyalty to Christ is subordinated. Certainly their love for the brethren seems to be reduced. These men usually pride themselves on being hard preachers, and as stated before, in my opinion they are really the softest preachers in the brotherhood. I must tell you this. I was talking one day to one of the Los Angeles congregations. I mentioned Brother Larimore and told of a work that he had done a number of years ago, when he converted an entire Presbyterian Church. I made the statement that at no time during the entire conversion of the church, preacher, elders and members combined, did Brother Larimore ever say anything against the Presbyterian Church as such or against any individual in it. I further said I believe that that is the way to accomplish results, to preach the truth in love and show consideration for the personal feelings of those you are trying to teach. One of the preachers in the audience came to me later and said, "You know if I had to be that soft, I would just quit the pulpit entirely." Shortly after that this preacher went to hold a meeting at a certain place where he might have been able to convert a whole church, as Brother Larimore had done, but his "hard" preaching was so rotten and offensive that the brethren themselves closed the meeting after the second night. His viewpoint should have been amended, don't you think?
However, I feel that the brethren are slowly coming out of that attitude. They are gradually learning better. I am not looking into any crystal ball, and I claim no powers of prophecy, but I believe that within the next five years it is possible that the work on the Pacific Coast will be as great as that in any other section of the United States. But there is one comment I must make. If you know anybody that you don't want back here, keep him here and straighten him out before you send him to us. We have all the strange characters we can use. But if you have some fine preachers, young or old, who love the Lord and are really devoted to his cause, who love the brethren, who are neither modernists, "pinks," nor party men, who are willing to preach the unsearchable riches of Christ powerfully but lovingly, who love and understand human beings, and who will not stand off and carp at every individual who tries to do something constructive - if you have any like that, send them out. We can use them.
-James H. Sewell, The Harding College Lectures, 1950, Harding College Press, Searcy, Arkansas, 1951, Chapter 9, pages 122-130
Gospel Advocate Obituary
James Harding Sewell realized his full reward in Jesus Christ at 2:15 A.M., Sunday morning, December 4, 1977. "Brother Jim," as he was affectionately known, succumbed to cancer at the age of 79 with little pain as he quietly went to sleep. His family had gathered around his hospital bed after he had called them all together to pray for them. He blessed them, bade them goodbye, and joined his Lord whom he had served so long.
James Sewell was born in Nashville, Tenn., and came to California with his family during his boyhood. He was baptized into Christ at the age of 11 and gave 68 years of faithful service to the Lord. Jim and his wife, the former Eunice Stockton, settled in Santa Ana, Calif., shortly after their marriage in 1923. While serving in the insurance business, James became the minister of the Broadway and Walnut church of Christ in 1925 and served as its minister until 1946. Since 1946 Jim actively served the church as an elder and faithful leader of the Lord's body on the West Coast. For a brief period of time, he published a religious journal which was known as "The California Christian." As a member of the Board of trustees of Hillview Acres, a children's home in Chino, he served as the President of that board for a period of 25 years.
In 1939 he became President and General Manager of the Burns Cuboid Company, a business which he built to international prominence and which he actively led until his death.
So devoted was he to his Lord, that he neglected his business to visit the sick in the hospital, officiate at funeral services, care for business matters at Hillview Acres Children's Home and conduct the business affairs for the church in Santa Ana. Truly, he was a prince of Israel.
-Gospel Advocate, May 11, 1978, page 299.
Location Of Grave
James H. & Eunice Sewell are buried in the Fairhaven Memorial Park in Santa Ana, California. As noted above, James was the nephew, by marriage, of T.B. Larimore. It is interesting that they both are buried in this same cemetery. So, if you go to visit the grave of this gospel preacher, be sure not to miss going by and visiting the grave of T.B. Larimore. I was able to visit the Sewell grave plot on April 11, 2002, on my way to the south Pacific island of Tutuila, American Samoa for evangelistic work. Terry Straight and I found the grave located at Fairhaven Cemetery, not far off the Garden Grove Freeway. Since I came in from Los Angeles International Airport, I will give directions from there.
From LAX head east on Century Blvd. Go about 2 miles and you will come to where you can see I-405 straight ahead, but you will need to turn right on S. La Cienega Blvd. Then take the south ramp to I-405 headed toward Long Beach. You will travel about 24 miles on I-405. After entering Orange County, take CA-22 East, the (Garden Grove Freeway). Go about 11.5 miles, just past I-5, take the Glassell Street/Grand Ave. exit. Turn right, and immediately get into you left lane to turn left on Fairhaven Ave. Go about 1/2 mile and you will see Fairhaven Cemetery on the right.
1702 East Fairhaven Ave.
Santa Ana, California
Office Phone # (714) 633-1442
The beautiful old cemetery was founded in 1911. It is one of the most beautiful parks I've seen. There are over 100 different types of trees, from all over the world. When entering the park you will see the office just on the left hand side. Travel straight ahead, bearing to the right travel between Lawn L and M. Just after Lawn M is Lawn P on the right hand side. Travel to the center of the P section and stop. The Larimore plot is central to the section, very near the street. The plot is located at Lawn AK - Lot 1402-1. When coming up to the AK sign on the curb at the north end of the section. Head back east 19 Markers. Look for "Lee Thompson" marker. Then head into the section five rows to find the Sewell Plot.
Be sure not to miss the grave of T.B. Larimore while at this cemetery.
or D.d. 33.768933,-117.841967
Grave Of James H. Sewell, Sr.
Beloved Wife & Mother
Eunice S. Sewell
And Son Of
J. H. Sewell, Sr.
Robert L. Sewell
PFC US Army
World War II
May 28, 1928-Dec. 9, 1980