Isaac Massey Haldeman: Part 2 – Early Life and Ministry

Life and Ministry

Two extant sources give the historian a glimpse into the early life and ministry of Haldeman as well as an overview of his ministry. One of these is a six page “Personal History” written by Haldeman in 1931 from his farm in Pine Hill, New York. It was provided by Mrs. Haldeman to be used as Dr. Haldeman’s obituary.[1] The other is more of an anecdotal biography focusing on his early ministry, and its form consists of handwritten testimony inscribed upon a few leaves of a local and cotemporaneous hotel’s stationary.[2] The two witnesses seem to corroborate the each other’s testimony.

Upbringing, Education, and Early Ministry

Although bornin in Concordville, Pennsylvania on February 13, 1845, I. M. Haldeman and his family moved to nearby West Chester, Pennsylvania shortly afterwards. He received an education under the auspices of both public and private schools, culminating in post-secondary education at the West Chester Academy.[3]

In Haldeman’s sixteenth year, the Civil War broke out and he enlisted in the “emergency corps” with which he was present at the battle of Antietam “was held with [his] brigade in line of battle at the upper ford in reserve.”[4] Later, he enlisted with the Pennsylvania Reserve Division and “took part in the pursuit of Lee after Gettysburg.”[5]

After his service as a soldier, Haldeman, now twenty years of age, went into business with his father whom he characterizes as “a leading merchant of the town.” At this time he also experienced a conversion in which he “was led to see Jesus Christ and Him crucified as [his] Saviour, [his] Lord and God.”[6] This evidently concurred with the conversions of both his father and older sister. All three “confessed the Lord in believer’s Baptism, at the hands of Reverend James Trickett, and became member[s] of the First Baptist Church of West Chester.”[7]

That this conversion bore significant results is seen in the fact that Haldeman relates his involvement in the prayer meeting. The context of this remark leaves the reader with the impression that this involvement (“took part”) went beyond mere attendance, for afterwards he again “took part” in a “series of Revival Meetings” wherein he spoke every night for five weeks.[8] This was followed by invitations to preach in nearby country churches. In the midst of this narrative Haldeman relates, “I continued in business with my Father, having no thought whatever of entering the regular ministry and, certainly, with no thought of the Pastorate.”[9] With this little bit of literary foreshadowing, Haldeman then relates how he was called by two churches at about the same time. First, he was called to Brandywine Baptist Church on the banks of the Brandywine River in Chadds Ford, Pennsylvania. Next, he was also called to Willistown Baptist Church which was equally as far away from West Chester as Brandywine. Forced to make a decision between churches, Haldeman writes that he “was clearly led to the old and historic Church at Brandywine.”[10]

Haldeman possessed fond memories of that first pastorate. His prose waxes to an almost romantic patriotism as he relates the character of his work in Chadds Ford on the Brandywine:   “. . . Pastoral work and visitation took me over beautiful rolling lands of Revolutionary memory and among a people deeply American and proud of their ancestry, many of whom having ancestors who wore the blue and the buff, and had given their b[l]ood and life to make the Country we call America”[11] Apparently, his service to the Union had left its mark on his affections. He speaks of the church and his ministry with great admiration. The congregation was composed with a high proportion of young men, who, with their fathers, were “steadfast workers.”[12] The church possessed “aggressive strength and spiritual power.[13]” During Haldeman’s ministry there he baptized more than two hundred persons.[14]

On a more anecdotal note, the handwritten and anonymous history mentioned above tells of a fruitful ministry that produced “many well marked Bibles” that were still in the possession of some of the families at Brandywine Baptist Church. Converts who were to be baptized must have felt compelled to obey the ordinance of baptism because, in the winter, holes were cut through the ice in the river, and the resolute converts experienced a chilling baptism. Interestingly, this biographer also relates that the church building was located near “the headquarters of both Washington and Lafayette.” Chadds Ford holds the distintinction of being the site for the Battle of the Brandywine during the Revolutionary War.[15]

In 1875, I. M. Haldeman received the call to be the pastor of Delaware Avenue Baptist Church in Wilmington, Delaware, following George Folwell.[16] Here, Haldeman’s ministry once again flourished, but this time it flourished beyond mere success. It possessed a revival like state nearly the whole time of his ministry there – “Overflowing crowds attended the preaching.”[17]The building was filled to capacity and the prayer meetings reached up to 900 people in attendance. During his first year, he relates that 600 persons were baptized. Revival meetings were held for months on end, and Haldeman began the practice of “Bible Readings.”[18]

These Bible Readings were after the character of those promoted by Moody and Sankey, but Haldeman claimed to have brought them to Wilmington before Moody and Sankey popularized them.[19] At this time, Haldeman began to publish a paper called “The Avenue” to support his Bible Readings and relate “especially prophetic truth.”[20]

Commenting on this same span of time during Haldeman’s ministry, his anonymous biographer recounts a wholly different but not contradictory narrative. In this narrative, the Delmarva Peninsula was “burned over with Arminianism in its worst form, and the gospel of salvation ‘by grace through faith plus nothing’ was unknown.”[21] In response, Haldeman preached this gospel of grace through faith and succeeded in dividing the town into two parties: “Haldemites and anti-Haldemites.”[22] Haldeman preached an evangelistic campaign of 365 nights without interruption or substitution. Apparently, his emphasis on the gospel of free grace earned him the reproach of those who disagreed with him. To his admirers he was known as “Brother Isaac,” but to his enemies he was known as “The Crazy Preacher” or “Only Believe.”[23]

On the one hand, one must consider the possibility that the admiring writer of the anonymous account possessed a distinct Reformed agenda in furnishing this biographical hagiography on Haldeman because Haldeman, in his own biography, does not mention this characteristic of his earlier ministry. On the other hand, by the time Haldeman writes his own short biography, the Fundamentalist – Modernist controversy is in full tilt. Perhaps, in the spirit of cobelligerence, Haldeman refrains from mentioning this aspect of his biography for fear of offending some of the more Arminian factions which were enlisted on his side of the battle. But as it will be noted later, tempering what he ardently believed to avoid controversy was not his style.

For his own biography, other than the great crowds, revivals, and Bible Readings; Haldeman recounts his marriage on October 3, 1883 to Edda B. Quimby, the daughter of a physician. Haldeman relates his profound respect for his father-in-law on account of his “great learning,” his profession as a “Scientist,” his “wide reading,” and “above all” that he was “a deep student of the Bible.”[24] Of his new bride, he says curiously little. Married in the fall, by that next spring Haldeman would accept the call to be the pastor of First Baptist Church of New York City.


[1]I. M. Haldeman, “A Personal History,” typescript copied from a manuscript written July 9, 1931 (Pine Hill, N.Y., 1933).

[2]unknown, Biographical anecdote of I. M. Haldeman, Handwritten biography of I. M. Haldeman, Church records and files of First Baptist Church New York City (First Baptist Church New York City, unknown).

[3]I. M. Haldeman, “A Personal History,” 1.

[4]I. M. Haldeman, “A Personal History,” 1.

[5]I. M. Haldeman, “A Personal History,” 1.

[6]I. M. Haldeman, “A Personal History,” 1.

[7]I. M. Haldeman, “A Personal History,” 1.

[8]I. M. Haldeman, “A Personal History,” 1.

[9]I. M. Haldeman, “A Personal History,” 2.

[10]I. M. Haldeman, “A Personal History,” 2.

[11]I. M. Haldeman, “A Personal History,” 2.

[12]I. M. Haldeman, “A Personal History,” 2–3.

[13]I. M. Haldeman, “A Personal History,” 3.

[14]I. M. Haldeman, “A Personal History,” 3.

[15]unknown, Biographical anecdote of I. M. Haldeman, 1.

[16]I. M. Haldeman, “A Personal History,” 3.

[17]I. M. Haldeman, “A Personal History,” 3.

[18]I. M. Haldeman, “A Personal History,” 3.

[19]I. M. Haldeman, “A Personal History,” 3.

[20]I. M. Haldeman, “A Personal History,” 3.

[21]unknown, Biographical anecdote of I. M. Haldeman, 2.

[22]unknown, Biographical anecdote of I. M. Haldeman, 3.

[23]unknown, Biographical anecdote of I. M. Haldeman, 4.

[24]I. M. Haldeman, “A Personal History,” 4.


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