He Moves to Mt. Byrd. Debate with J. W. Fitch. Preaches at Madison, Ind. Protracted Meetings at Columbia, Burksville, Thompson's Church, Dover, Germantown, Pleasant Hill, Burksville again, Beech Grove, Dover again.
In September, 1870, we moved to the neighborhood of Mt. Byrd. My house not being completed, we lived in the lower end of Hunter's Bottom, above Milton. We spent here a very pleasant year. I gave a good deal of time to the building, helping in whatever I could do, which was quite a benefit to my health. I continued to preach at New Liberty half my time during this year and 1871. The last of October, 1871, we got into our new house. It is about three hundred yards from the church, beautifully situated on the main thoroughfare to Milton and Madison.
In 1871 I held two meetings in Carrollton, Ky. The cause was very low there at that time. Our band was feeble; and the place almost entirely given to sectarianism. We had no place of worship, and the court-house in which we met was not comfortable. Some of the prominent members had become very worldly. Because I preached against their sins, they became much offended, but the offense was to reformation. They afterwards built a meeting-house, and they are now in good condition.
Nov.2, 1871, I began my first public religious debate. It was at Mt. Byrd, and with Presiding Elder J. W. Fitch. It came about in this way: At a Quarterly Conference in the county, the preachers and prominent men present, to the number of fourteen, drew up and sent me a formal challenge to meet C. W. Miller, at Mt. Byrd (this being by far the largest house in the county), and debate certain designated propositions. At that time I had a very bad opinion of Mr. Miller, and there was no good feeling existing between us. In reply to their communication I said: |You have a number of brethren in Kentucky of equal or superior ability to Mr. Miller, whom I can meet as Christian gentlemen, and when I have the promise of such a disputant, I shall be ready to arrange propositions.| They then applied to Mr. Fitch, and a correspondence between us was opened. My purpose then, and ever since in debating with Methodists, was to discuss the system of Methodism, instead of a few isolated propositions. In that way the people see what Methodism is; in this, they do not. We finally agreed that each would affirm that the polity and practice of the church with which he was identified are authorized by the word of God.
An immense crowd attended the debate. The weather was beautiful, and we had dinner on the ground. Each affirmed for three days. My affirmation closed Saturday afternoon. The President Moderator announced that the debate would be resumed at 10 o'clock Monday, on the polity of the Methodist Church, Mr. Fitch affirming. Monday, Mr. Fitch declined to discuss the polity of his church, giving as a reason that it was of no consequence, and he wanted to give all his time to more important matters. He further stated that he had agreed to discuss the polity of the church simply in order to get the debate, not that it was worth discussing. I happened to have in my pocket a letter in which he had insisted on the discussion of the polity of the two churches as a very important matter. This was read. The President Moderator -- Col. Preston -- ruled that he must either debate the question, as agreed upon, or concede that it was indefensible; and he yielded. We learned afterward, just what we then suspected, that the preachers present, of whom there were about twelve, held a council on Saturday night, and protested against his discussing the polity of the church.
The debate created a great deal of interest and investigation in the community, and within nine months following, over one hundred were added to the church. Of these, quite a number were from the Baptists and Methodists.
A rather curious thing occurred during the debate. While on the practice of the M. E. Church, I made a raid on the mourners' bench, describing its workings and demanding authority for it. Mr. Fitch jumped up, very much excited, and called me to order. His point of order was that the M. E. Church, South, had abandoned the mourners' bench; that it was now countenanced only by a few ignorant preachers for whose conduct the church was not willing to be held responsible. And as it was no longer a part of the practice of the church, he was not there to affirm that it was authorized by the word of God. The President appealed to all the Methodist preachers present to know if that was the case. The last one of them said |yes.| In three weeks I went to Carrollton to hold a meeting, and the two most prominent preachers at the debate were there in a meeting, and they had the mourners' bench out twice a day, and six or eight mourners were striving to |get through!| What are we to think of such as that?
By preaching at adjacent school-houses, the membership of the church was considerably increased. This plan was continued till my editorial work on the Guide interfered with it.
About seven miles back from Mt. Byrd the Methodists had an old house, and a weak church where they years ago had a strong one. We had quite a number of members in that neighborhood. By our assisting in rebuilding the old chapel, we held by written contract a fourth interest in it. This gave us the use of the house one Sunday in the month, and at such other times as it was not occupied by the Methodists. This we did in order to have a place to preach in that community, and especially for protracted meetings. We also rented the Presbyterian house in Milton, by the year, for the same purpose.
In 1872 I engaged to preach at Carrollton and White's Run, both in Carroll county, once a month at each. I held a meeting for each church, and got the membership, to some extent, reconstructed.
But in May I was called to preach for the church in Madison, Ind., one-half my time. It being so convenient -- just across the river from me -- and an important field, I got the churches at Carrollton and White's Run to release me, and I entered on my work in Madison the first of June, 1871. I preached for them the rest of that year. I held a protracted meeting in October. The number of additions for the seven months was small. Finding that they needed a preacher all the time, since they had no one to lead them in the absence of a preacher, and wishing to devote half my time to evangelizing, I resigned and induced them to get Bro. J. H. Hardin in my place.
In November, 1872, I had a fine meeting at Columbia, Ky. This was before the college there was built. Bro. J. H. Hardin was preaching for the church. Bro. Azbill has since built up the church, but was that year in Butler University. The fruits of my first meeting there are manifest to this day. Prominent among these is the efficient work of Dr. U. L. Taylor, who was formerly a Methodist, but for years has been the stay of the congregation and college in that place.
In 1873 I gave one-half my time to holding meetings. In March I went to Burksville, Cumberland county, Ky. The church had had no preaching for a long time, and was not meeting on the Lord's day. There were a few faithful ones, especially sisters, but the majority had gone to the world. We had over forty additions. The membership was organized for work, a Sunday-school was established, a preacher secured, and the church entered on a long period of prosperity. Two preachers were the result of this meeting -- C. M. McPherson, of the Apostolic Guide, and E. J. Ellison, now of Glasgow, Ky. They had been immersed, but, with many others, had strayed from the fold. They were reclaimed and put to work, and to-day they are faithful ministers of the Word.
As showing what may result from a word timely spoken, a young lady from Nashville, now the wife of Bro. McPherson, was visiting a sister at Burksville. She was a devoted Episcopalian, talented and accomplished. One day she was telling me about her church and preacher, etc., and the work she was trying to do for the Master. I asked her if she had ever obeyed the gospel. She looked amazed, and remarked that that was a strange question to ask a church member. I told her I feared that many church members, and even devoted ones, had never obeyed the gospel; and in a few words explained the reason why. She soon made the confession and was immersed, stating afterwards that that question led to an entire change of religious views.
In May I held a meeting at Thompson's Church, in Robinson county. The meeting was of no special importance; the number of additions was small, and no important results any way. Willis Cox was preaching for the church.
At this meeting the wealthiest man in the church was greatly taken with the preaching, said he intended to go to Dover, twenty odd miles away, to hear me there, had three of his children immersed, and was almost too happy to behave himself. He gave a two cent copper to help pay the expenses of the meeting! This was all they could get out of him. He got so happy that it dried up the fountain of his liberality.
In June I held a meeting at Dover, Mason county. This was an old church, and once a prosperous one, but a bad spirit had been engendered during the war, and it had virtually gone to pieces. They were meeting, and had a preacher employed, Bro. Willis Cox; but only a few members were concerned about the things of Zion. They had had no additions for so long that the town was full of young people who had grown up out of the church. The brethren expected no additions, but wanted a meeting for the encouragement of the faithful few. This was the way they put it when they engaged me to hold the meeting. The house was well-filled from the first, and in a few nights crowded. They paid profound attention to the Word. This led me to hope for additions, but the brethren hooted at the idea. I preached only at night and on the Lord's day. On the ninth night they made a move, and continued to move till fifty-seven were added. I baptized fifty. The deepest religious interest prevailed that I ever had in any of my meetings. No telling what the result would have been, had I not been taken sick and compelled to leave. As I was going to the boat to return home, I went by the church. It was crowded. I had just a few minutes. I went in and explained the situation, and proposed to take the confession of any that wished to make it, before I left. Without a word of exhortation two came forward. Thus I left them.
Nearly all the young people of the town came into the church, so that there was no outside element left to get up mischief, and it is gratifying to know how faithfully they held out. The church has ever since been in active working order.
In July I held a meeting at Germantown. Bro. J. C. Walden was preaching for them. We had a pleasant meeting, but no special results.
In August I held another good meeting at my old home church -- Pleasant Hill, in Oldham county. I held them a meeting each year for five or six years. While they were slow to assist me when I was struggling for a start, after I got well under way they were quite liberal in reward of my labor. But one dollar at the first would have done me more good, because more needed, than five at the time they were given. This is a mistake made by many churches.
In October, 1873, I held another meeting at Burksville. This was also a fine meeting, but not quite so many additions were made as at the one in March preceding.
In November I had a good meeting at Beech Grove, a country church in Trimble county, eight miles from Mt. Byrd.
In December I was again at Dover. We had another excellent meeting, but there was not material for so many converts as at first. This visit was mainly for the membership, to rid the church of some dead material, and put it into good working order. On account of getting sick at the previous meeting, I had to leave before this needed work was accomplished. Thus ended my labors for 1873.