He Abandons the School-room. Remarkable Meeting near Alexandria. Incidents. Establishes a Church. Mischief-making Preachers. Long and Severe Attack of Typhoid Fever. Does not Lose Hope. Gratitude.
After teaching a year, I decided to abandon the school-room and give myself wholly to the preaching of the Word. In the summer of 1865 I did some mission work in Boone county, under the direction of the State Board. In August, I held a meeting in Campbell county, about five miles from Alexandria. The circumstances were a little peculiar. The Baptist meeting-house in Alexandria had been blown down, and they were using our house, at our invitation, every Lord's day afternoon, till they could rebuild. They had a house about five miles in the country, and a large congregation. Nearly the whole community were Baptists, and they claimed a kind of preemption. We had not a member in the neighborhood. I was exceedingly anxious to hold a meeting in the very center of this stronghold, and thought that as they were using our house, they would grant me the use of theirs; but they would not. They offered to let me have it for one sermon, but not for a protracted meeting. This did not suit my purpose; and as there was an old log school-house near by, I made an appointment for a meeting in this, which was to begin on Sunday afternoon; and a few friends went with me from town. When we arrived at the place, not a soul was on the ground; so having waited after the time, and no one coming, I decided at once that the Baptists had reported the appointment withdrawn, so that when I came and found no one, I would be disgusted, and return home. But I was not disposed to be defeated in that way. There was no brother in reach with whom I could stay, but I told the friends to go back to town and leave me, and that I would hold the meeting, |if I had to sleep in the woods, live on pawpaws, and drink out of the 'branch.'| So they left me.
There was a man living about a mile away whom the Baptists had excluded about a year before, and who had no good feeling for them. Concluding that that would be the best chance for shelter, I went to the house, and learned from him that the appointment had indeed been countermanded, just as I suspected. He promised me food and shelter while I held the meeting. A number of neighbor boys were there with his, and these were told to circulate the appointment for next night. The following day he and I went and cleaned the house, putting in some |anxious seats,| fixing it to hold as many as possible. He sent his boys out through the neighborhood notifying the people, and that night we had about thirty present. The next night the house was full; and from this on we had large audiences, day and night. In a few days we built an arbor in front, and seated it; then, standing in the door, I preached to those within and without. The meeting continued two weeks, and resulted in fifty-two additions. Twenty-seven of these were from that Baptist Church, and the rest by confession. A few of the twenty-seven, the man with whom I lodged among the number, were not in the fellowship of the church at that time.
Several incidents occurred during the meeting. A very wicked man began to attend, and one night he felt that he could stand the fire no longer; but as I was in the door, preventing his escape in that direction, he leaped out of a window, and ran off into the woods. In about ten minutes he came crowding in from the outside, to make the confession.
A Baptist man became interested in the meeting, but his wife was so bitter in her feelings that she would not attend. He finally prevailed upon her to come. Going home, he asked her how she liked it. |Better than I expected,| was the reply. No more was said, but the next day she came without persuasion. When asked the same question, she said, |They don't preach what I thought they did.| He was anxious to unite with us on the Bible, but was waiting in the hope of getting her to come with him. The next day she was in the house and he on the outside, and he did not know till the meeting was over that she had come forward and been received into the fellowship.
At this meeting a gentleman came and asked me to marry him that night after the services should be over. I told him I could not, as I had not obtained license to marry. He then asked if I would object to his getting a Methodist preacher who lived several miles away. That night there was a great crowd, and I saw nothing of the preacher, but while we were singing an invitation song a gentleman came pushing in, and gave me his hand. I thought, of course, he wanted to make the confession, and I tried to seat him with the others who had come forward; but he would not. He soon became excited, and, tearing himself loose, forced his way into the crowd. Just then some one whispered to me that that was the Methodist preacher. It was a long time before the services closed, and he was still so embarrassed that it was with great difficulty he performed the required ceremony. He hurried away without speaking to me, and then sent his apology, stating that he was so mortified over his blunder that he could not speak to me about it that night.
On account of the numbers, the distance from town, and the want of facilities for attendance there on the part of many of the converts, they insisted upon having a church of their own at the school-house. Under the circumstances it was thought best to comply with their request. No officers were appointed as such, because of inexperience, but several brethren were designated as those who should take a general oversight of the flock, conduct their worship, etc., but none had authority; and all were exhorted to be in subjection one to another. They met every Lord's day and broke the loaf, and had prayer-meeting Wednesday night. A large number took part in the worship. They had frequent confessions, and a blacksmith across Licking River, who preached, met them at the water, when notified, to attend to baptizing. They thus grew in a few months from the fifty-two to seventy-five, when two mischief-making preachers visited them and insisted that without ordained elders and deacons they were no church at all, and finally prevailed upon them to have a number of men ordained. I was sick, and knew nothing that was going on. These ignorant novices thought there was no use in having authority unless it were exercised. So they began to crack their ecclesiastical whip, and the peace of the church was disturbed. Things went from bad to worse till the whole congregation went to pieces. Thus a good work was destroyed by the folly of two ignorant, self-important preachers. Much mischief has been done in our reformatory work by hasty organization. Like the New Testament churches, we should have no ordained officers till we have material out of which to make them.
About September 10, 1865, I was stricken down with typhoid fever. I had a good physician, and he nursed me with the utmost care. During that sickness he came to see me a hundred and thirty times. For over seven weeks there was not a hopeful symptom. He allowed no company in the room but my wife and the nurses. He appointed good brethren to nurse me, each night about. No one else was allowed to touch me, except my wife. I did not see my two little children for over two months, though they were all the time in the house. After seven weeks he told me that for the first time he saw a slight indication of recovery. After I became convalescent, he said, in talking over the case, that he could attribute my recovery to but two things -- my confidence all the time that I should get well, and the faith I had in my physician. He determined this latter by saying that I followed his direction minutely in everything. Theologically, he could not have given a better definition of faith. He was a Baptist.
I never gave up for a moment, and would not allow my mother to be sent for till I was far on the road to recovery. I got out for the first time on Christmas day, but it was a year before I was able to resume regular preaching; and even then, and for a long time afterwards, I felt the effects of this terrible disease. Had it not been for the close attention of the doctor, and the good nursing of my dear wife and kind brethren, I am sure that attack of sickness would have sent me to my grave. Truly, God has been very merciful to me in giving me friends wherever I have lived, and I have ever felt I could not be grateful enough or diligent enough in the service of my Redeemer and His church to repay Him or them for all this undeserved goodness.