Sells Out at Alexandria. Moves to Crittenden. Preaches there and at Williamstown. Low State of these Churches. Plan of Work. Memorizing in Sunday-school. Lack of Church Discipline. One-Man System. Moves to New Liberty. Visits Mount Byrd.
In the spring of 1866, we sold out at Alexandria, and spent most of the summer in Oldham county, among our friends, while I was recuperating my health.
The meeting-house at La Grange had been blown down in a storm, and at the solicitation of the church I visited a number of congregations and obtained help to rebuild it. Midway was one of the places visited. Bro. Franklin was there holding a meeting. This was my first acquaintance with that grand hero of the Cross of Christ.
In September we moved to Crittenden, Ky. I preached for that church and at Williamstown, each half the time, for the rest of that year, and for 1867. The churches were both at low ebb. They had had no regular preaching for some time; had not met on Lord's day; had no discipline; and everything was in decay and disorder.
I decided upon a plan of work for each church. The first point was to get them to meet on the Lord's day and break the loaf, having social worship, when I could not be with them. This done, we carefully revised the church records, excluding whom we could not induce to attend the house of the Lord and to try to discharge their Christian duties. This was followed by protracted meetings at neighboring school-houses, through which quite a number were added to both churches. Meetings were then held in each church. By this time both churches were in a prosperous condition. They both had good Sunday-schools, and a number of members were taking an active part in the work of the church. We disposed of the old house in Williamstown, and got the new house roofed in 1867. We also repaired the house at Crittenden, getting it in nice order, and putting in a baptistery.
For the year 1868, the church at Crittenden wanted all my time, and I gave up the church at Williamstown, devoting all my energies to the one church. We arranged a book in which each member promised to pay so much a week. Envelopes were given them, through which they were to pay their weekly installment on each Lord's day. The congregations were large and regular, and double the amount of money was thus collected that had ever been raised before.
That was before the days of Sunday-school |helps,| and we made memorizing the Scriptures a prominent feature in the work. The first of January, 1868, I offered a reward to the one memorizing and repeating the most Scripture that year. Quite a number started in to win the prize, but it was soon evident that the contest was between three girls. The amount of Scripture memorized was immense. All the scholars memorized largely. Soon it required a teacher's whole time to hear the verses of one of those girls. Then we had them recite during the week; and, finally, I had them examined on the Scripture committed, repeating here and there as called on. This was harder than repeating it all. The first of June another little girl entered the lists. On the day they were examined they could repeat with ease and accuracy any passage committed to memory during the year. They were examined for several hours.
Incredible as it may appear, two of these girls committed the whole Bible, and another committed Anderson's Translation of the New Testament in addition; still another did not begin till June, and committed the Bible by the end of the year. I never intended such a result, nor can I approve that way of cramming the memory.
While the church at Crittenden was in other respects in a flourishing condition (indeed, rather too much flourish), it was difficult to get it to act promptly and strictly in the administration of discipline. The officers and church generally had more lax ideas on that subject than I had. But in this particular I suppose they were about on a par with most other congregations in Kentucky, both among our people and others. Indeed, I must confess that at that time I was unusually strict in such matters. I wanted everything pertaining to the church to come square up to the mark in all respects, and I was unnecessarily worried over every shortcoming. On account of not having discipline attended to as strictly as I desired, I was disposed to resign at the close of 1868. But the elders promised more hearty cooperation in the matter, and I accepted for another year conditionally. I stated publicly that I would begin on three months' trial, and if at the end of that time the church had not so cooperated with me as to effect certain ends, our engagement would close. I did not succeed in getting the cooperation desired, and the first Lord's day in April I announced to a crowded house that my relation to them as preacher had closed. It fell upon them like a thunder-clap from a clear sky. I stated the reasons, which they understood, but had not regarded. Thus ended my ministry with that church.
My preaching at Crittenden, and the subsequent history of the church, impressed upon me a very important lesson, upon which I acted in after life. While everything was |booming,| I could not teach them self-reliance. They depended upon me. I had to take the lead in everything. Consequently, when I left, it was just like taking the engine off a big lot of machinery. Everything came to a standstill. I feared this, and tried to guard against it. The material, however, was of such a nature that it was next to impossible to get them to go forward in church work without being led. But I was so impressed with the virtual loss of my work then, that I made it a special point, ever after, to develop the church in self-reliance, and make it largely independent of a preacher.
In 1869 I decided that it was not best for the Master's cause for me to longer give all my time to the Crittenden church, as I wanted them to learn to do without me. So the first of January I engaged to preach for the church at New Liberty, Owen county, one-half my time. Resigning at Crittenden in April, in May I moved to New Liberty. Here I found a good, substantial set of brethren, and did a substantial work. We soon had a good Sunday-school, renovated the house, cut off a lot of dead material, and got the church in good working order.
In May, 1869, I held a successful meeting in Owenton, and established the cause in that place. Up to this time we had no organization there. In 1870 I held them the second meeting. The cause continued to grow there. In a few years they built a house of worship. The church has generally been in a prosperous condition.
In August of this year, I held another meeting for my old home church, Pleasant Hill. It resulted in a goodly number of additions. It was always a peculiar pleasure to hold a meeting among these old associates, and I held quite a number.
In August, 1869, Bro. I. B. Grubbs and I met at Mt. Byrd to hold a protracted meeting. It was the first in their new house, after its completion. We had an enjoyable and successful meeting. This was my introduction to Mt. Byrd, which has since afforded me a home, has stood by me through good and evil fortune, has never wavered in its devotion and fidelity, and among whose good members my frail body will rest, till it rises in the likeness of Christ.
Here I might as well express my views upon the lack of church discipline, as they have been formed from an extensive observation in this and other States. I must, however, do this briefly. No one can read the epistles of the apostles, and especially those of Paul, and not be profoundly impressed with the belief that the administration of discipline engaged a large share of their attention; and we may infer the necessity of this from the very nature of the case. The first churches were largely formed of Gentile converts, and these came from heathenism; and they had to be recovered from its debasing practices; and even the converts from among the Jews had to be reformed from many evil ways. Any one who will read even casually Paul's pastoral epistles will see these evils and sins exposed. These were contrary to the purity and benevolence of the new religion, and hence the necessity of self-denial and constant diligence on the part of both people and pastors.
|The times have changed and we have changed with them,| but the forms of sin have changed rather than the thing itself, and we have as much need to practice watchcare over ourselves and others as ever. It was Cain that asked, |Am I my brother's keeper?|
I am satisfied that the two crying needs in our Kentucky churches, and I suppose elsewhere, are the faithful administration of discipline by our elders and activity in Christian work by our members. I think we are growing in the latter, and fear we are falling off in the former. The reasons for both these opinions are not, in my opinion, hard to find. Had I time and strength I should like to give them in full.