Mr Marshall was born in Lurgan, Co. Armagh, the son of Methodist parents, and was brought up in happy and helpful circumstances. After leaving school he served his apprenticeship as a carpenter. An ardent sportsman, he was a member of the local football team.
One Saturday in August, 1903, going to an important match in which he was playing, he was about to enter the sports field in Belfast when an aged man handing out tracts gave him one entitled, "Young man, all things are ready, come away". He went in and the game got under way, but for James it was spoiled. He said later that each thud of the ball seemed to echo, "Young man, all things are ready, come away". Days afterwards, when reading the same tract, salvation became clear and he "passed from death unto life".
He at once began to testify and, despite a good measure of opposition, took a decided stand for God. About a year after his conversion, while attending meetings conducted by Mr John Moneypenny, he was taught baptism and assembly order. While all this was new to him, he accepted it as Gods truth and willingly obeyed. When James was received into the assembly at Lurgan, Dr Darling, a true shepherd, took an interest in him and was used of God to establish and confirm him in the divine pathway. As a result, when he left Lurgan he was well on the way to being a useful young man. In Belfast he was employed in the firm of McLaughlin & Harvey, Building Contractors, and worked at the bench with Mr James Stantin, a godly brother, who helped him much in his approach to and study of the Scriptures. He was in fellowship in Victoria Hall, Belfast. As opportunity was given, James developed the gift God had given him. In 1907, he and William Grierson were both commended by two Belfast Assemblies to the work of the Lord in which he faithfully continued until God called him home from Bridgeport, Connecticut, USA, in his 50th year.
He found many open doors in Co. Down and with Mr Grierson saw the hand of God in people being saved and continuing steadfastly in the things of God. Much of his early gospel work in Ireland was in company with Mr J T Dickson especially in Co. Cavan in the Cootehill district. Building a portable hall, they commenced in the gospel and God wrought mightily. Many were saved and later baptised; the assembly at Drum was greatly helped at that time. His fathers sudden death made it necessary to leave Cavan and go north for a time, where he saw God working in Dromore, Co. Down.
In 1910 Mr Marshall married Miss Annie Campbell of Annalong and set up house in Belfast. God blessed them with two daughters. He saw a remarkable work of God in Newtownards, where over forty were added to the assembly. When the meetings closed, Mr F C Glasgow, a local businessman of sterling worth and with a shepherds heart, commenced Bible readings in which the young converts were taught the ways of God and established in separation and church principles, many remaining there while life lasted, others going elsewhere to fill useful places in the work of the Lord.
In 1916, he accompanied Mr Dickson to the USA, and laboured there with a measure of blessing. In 1920 he removed his family to the States and settled in the Philadelphia area, where he was in fellowship in the Assembly at Bryn Mawr. For the following ten years he earnestly laboured in the gospel and ministry in the United States and Canada with evident tokens of the approval of God.
The Torrington Assembly was formed at the close of a seasons tent work and in many other places souls were saved. In conference meetings he gave acceptable words and Gods people were glad to see him rise to minister as they appreciated his worth and help. His last address was given in December, 1930, at Bridgeport, when he spoke on the 133rd Psalm. The following evening he was suddenly called to experience in full that scene where the "unity" which is "good and pleasant" will never be upset. The saints were shocked, and to the family the blow was severe; as he was fresh and active and much used of God it was difficult to understand.
The large funeral services were conducted by Mr Charles Kellar, Mr John Bernard, and Mr Alexander Clarke (Africa). Seven evangelists, seven fellow evangelists acted as pall bearers. As with Stephen, "devout" men carried him to his burial, where the remains were laid to rest in Lower Merrion Baptist Cemetery.