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An Overview of the Life of Rev. Isaiah Reid

by Isaiah Reid’s biographer
Jim Kerwin
Copyright © 2008 Jim Kerwin

Isaiah Reid, c. 1894Rev. Isaiah Reid
(1836- 1911),
pastor, evangelist, author, editor, publisher, columnist, educator, pro­fes­sor, college president, and founding president (1879-1908) of the Iowa Holiness Association.

One of Isaiah Reid’s contemporaries called him an “Abraham of the holiness movement.” Detailing Reid’s life and ministry has been a passion of mine for the last several years, and considering how difficult it has been to “fit” that life into a 300-page master’s thesis and a biography that has grown much larger than the thesis, I assure the reader that the brief overview presented here is but a tip of the “tip of the iceberg.”

Perhaps the easiest approach would be to present a brief outline of his life, with short comments as applicable.

An Isaiah Reid Timeline

  • 1836: Born in Walnut Ridge, Indiana (near Salem) to a godly family of strict Scottish Covenanters.
  • 1836-1850: Spends his childhood in the near-wilderness of Walnut Ridge, a period of his life he shares with charm, candor, and insight in Boyhood Memories and Lessons.
  • 1850: At age fourteen, moves with his family to a new homestead in northern Des Moines County, Iowa (just south of Morning Sun, Iowa).
  • 1854: Decides on a career as a woodworker, but is thwarted—God has other plans!
  • 1855-1861: Through the recruiting and persuasions of Rev. Dr. Erastus J. Gillett, Reid enrolls in Jefferson Academy/Yellow Springs College (YSC) in Kossuth, Iowa.
  • 1856: Finds salvation in Jesus Christ through Gillett’s ministry.  Heeds a call to full-time ministry.
  • 1860: Marries sweetheart Mary Ellen Braden of nearby Northfield, Iowa.  Their love and marriage will endure for over 51 years.
  • 1861: American Civil War begins.  Reid graduates from YSC with a bachelor’s degree.  Heeding God’s call to full-time Christian service, he heads to a Presbyterian seminary.
  • 1861-1864: Attends Auburn Theological Seminary in Auburn, NY (near Syracuse).  Graduates with an A.M. in theology.
  • 1864: Receives and accepts a call from a Presbyterian prairie “mission church” in Nevada, Iowa.  Ordained to the Presbyterian ministry by the Presbytery of Keokuk, Iowa, on his way to Nevada.
  • 1864-1877: Serves as the first minister of Central Presbyterian Church in Nevada, Iowa (with exceptions as noted below).
  • 1865: Civil War Ends.  Son Edwin James Gillett Reid is born.
  • 1868: Daughter Minnie E. Reid (married name: Wier) is born.
  • 1869: Mary is injured in a cutter (small sleigh) accident and “sustained such injuries that she was maimed for life.”
  • 1873: Isaiah is introduced to the teachings of Wesleyan holiness.  He attends the June Cedar Rapids camp meeting of the National Camp Meeting Association for the Promotion of Holiness and is entirely sanctified.  The change in his ministry and preaching are so marked that he prints a full-column, front-page testimony in the local newspaper to explain the startling change.
  • 1873-1875: Serves as “stated supply” pastor for the Presbyterian church in nearby Albion, Iowa.
  • 1875-1877: Returns to pastor Central Presbyterian in Nevada.
  • 1875-1879: Founds a monthly holiness newspaper, Highway Papers.
  • 1877: Isaiah is ousted from his Central Presbyterian Church pulpit over his teaching of entire sanctification “in this life.”
  • 1877-1906: Reid’s non-periodical writing career begins in earnest with numerous booklets and pamphlets, as well as book titles such as Holiness Bible Readings (two editions), Soul-Help Papers, “How They Grow,” Wilda Weeks, and The Holy Way (which even went through two British editions). In addition, he edits and publishes three successive editions of the successful Highway Hymnal.
  • 1878-1906: Starting in Illinois, Reid begins his evangelistic ministry and is a sought-after Gospel preacher and teacher, from Illinois to the Deep South and to California.
  • 1879-1890: Highway Papers becomes the regional, weekly holiness paper called The Highway, still printed in Nevada, Iowa.  The ministry of The Highway Office, in addition to the weekly periodical, turns out over 1.5 million tracts, pamphlets, and booklets over this period of time.
  • 1879: Spearheads the founding of the Iowa Holiness Association (IHA), which has its first camp meeting in July.
  • 1879-1908: Serves as “first and only” president of the IHA for almost three full decades.  His organizational genius, gift for discipling and mentoring, and his tireless leadership and training of this statewide, county-level evangelistic powerhouse (averaged 10,000 salvations, sanctifications, and “recoveries” per year in the early 1900s!) make the Iowa Holiness Association (to put it in modern parlance) the “Saddleback Church” of the national holiness movement, and Reid its “Rick Warren.”
  • 1880: Is tried for “heresy” (the heresy of preaching heart purity!) by the Presbytery of Waterloo [Iowa] and found “guilty on all counts.”
  • 1881: The Presbyterian Synod of Iowa upholds the verdict of the Waterloo Presbytery.
  • 1883: Serves as founding presbyter of the Church of Centralia (Missouri), the beginning of the Church of God (Holiness).  Starts an independent church in Nevada, Iowa.
  • 1886: Becomes a member of the Methodist Episcopal Church.
  • 1890-1893: The Highway combines with The Banner of Holiness to form Highway and Banner. Printing operations and ministry move to Des Moines.
  • 1893-1905: In 1893, Reid sells H&B to the “eastern” Christian Witness and Advocate of Bible Holiness, making that periodical a truly national paper for the holiness movement.  Reid serves as the “Western editor” and a major contributor.  His weekly section usually comprises two full pages (sometimes more) of the paper’s sixteen pages.
  • 1899-1908: Isaiah and Mary move to Dallas County, Iowa and name their new home “Sunnyside Place.” Many of Reid’s best articles (particularly his “sermons from nature” articles called Sunnyside Papers) spring from the inspiration of planting, gardening, and harvesting on their beloved property.
  • 1905-1906: Serves as a professor in Iva May Durham Vennard’s Epworth Evangelistic Institute in St. Louis, Missouri, while running Reid’s Holiness Correspondence School.
  • 1907: Throws in his lot with the burgeoning Pentecostal Church of the Nazarene.
  • 1907-1909: Serves as Professor of Bible and Theology, as well as vice-president (under the president Phineas Bresee), at Deets Pacific Bible College, a Nazarene-related institution in Los Angeles.
  • 1909-1910: Serves in a similar capacity with a smaller, church-based school in Los Angeles.
  • 1910-1911: Serves as president and professor at California Bible College in Los Angeles.
  • 1911: Takes up residence as Professor of Bible and Theology at Kansas Holiness Institute in Hutchinson, Kansas in September.  Dies unexpectedly on October 3rd after a brief hospitalization.  His remains are buried in his beloved Nevada, Iowa.
  • 1912: The IHA raises sufficient funds to erect a suitable tombstone over his cemetery plot.  The inscription on the backside of the marble marker reads, “He was the founder of the Iowa Holiness Association.”