Holmes began to ponder Pentecostal experience when he read about hundreds receiving the gifts of the spirit at a revival in Los Angeles in 1906, and he began to identify himself as a Pentecostal after attending a revival meeting in West Union in 1907 at the urging of one of the students at his school.
Clergyman, educator. A pastor and educator, Holmes was born near Spartanburg on September 9, 1847, the second child of Zelotes Lee Holmes, who had pastored several Presbyterian churches in Laurens County and organized the First Presbyterian Church in Spartanburg. His mother, Catherine Nickels, was the daughter of a Laurens County physician and farmer. In 1859 Zelotes Holmes became a professor at Laurensville Female College. Nickels Holmes joined the Presbyterian Church, U.S., in Clinton in 1863. The following year, as his older sister Olive was dying, she declared to Nickels that “You are to preach the gospel.”
Instead, Nickels joined the Confederate army, serving as a prison camp guard in Florence. Between 1866 and 1869 he attended the University of Edinburgh. On his return, he farmed, taught school, and practiced law for several years. On February 29, 1876, he married Lucy Elizabeth Simpson, daughter of the future South Carolina governor W. D. Simpson. Contemplating a new career in politics when he filed to run for county solicitor, Holmes instead felt called to preach and was licensed as a Presbyterian minister. He served churches in Clifton, Fountain Inn, Rock Bridge (near Clinton), Tucapau, and Roebuck in Spartanburg County.
In the summer of 1891 Holmes and his wife attended the annual Bible conference conducted by prominent evangelist Dwight L. Moody in Northfield, Massachusetts, after reading Moody’s The Secret of Power. Lucy Holmes experienced the baptism of the Holy Spirit at Northfield and began her own ministry after their return to South Carolina. In 1892 Holmes organized the Second Presbyterian Church in Greenville, serving there until 1895. After he experienced entire sanctification or holiness on July 7, 1895, he became an itinerant evangelist, preaching sanctification and divine healing. He soon withdrew from the Presbyterian Church.
Holmes organized the Brewerton Independent Presbyterian Church in Greenville as a base for his ministry; it later became Tabernacle Pentecostal Church and then Holmes Memorial Church. In 1893 a summer Bible study Holmes led at a family cottage on Paris Mountain led to his forming a school that in time became known as Holmes Bible College.
Holmes began to ponder Pentecostal experience when he read about hundreds receiving the gifts of the spirit at a revival in Los Angeles in 1906, and he began to identify himself as a Pentecostal after attending a revival meeting in West Union in 1907 at the urging of one of the students at his school. He reported that on April 22, 1907, he had experienced the baptism of the Holy Spirit and first spoke in tongues.
From then on, Holmes’s revivals, including meetings in Laurens and Clinton as well as in Falcon, North Carolina, carried the Pentecostal message. He quickly became a recognized leader of the Pentecostal movement in South Carolina, and when the Alabama Pentecostal Association expanded into the Southern Pentecostal Association in 1908, Holmes was elected its president.
In 1915 the Tabernacle Church where Holmes was pastor became part of the Pentecostal Holiness Church, although Holmes and his school remained independent. He was serving both as pastor and as president of the school when he died on December 17, 1919.
Holmes, Nickels J. and Lucy S. Holmes. Life Sketches and Sermons. Royston, Ga.: Press of the Pentecostal Holiness Church, 1920.
Morgan, David. “N. J. Holmes and the Origins of Pentecostalism.” South Carolina Historical Magazine 84 (July 1983): 136–51.