Begins Preaching at Beech Grove. Debates with Elder Hiner. Amusing Incident. Holds many Meetings. Debates with Elder Frogge. Debates again with Elder Hiner. Repudiates Miller's Book. Sick Again. Holds more Meetings.
In 1874 I engaged to preach once a month for the Beech Grove Church.
Beginning January 20th, at a Methodist church near Beech Grove, I held a debate with Elder Robert Hiner. The debate continued eight days. It was largely attended, though the roads and weather were bad. The feeling throughout the debate was good, but hardly so much so as at the one held at Mt. Byrd with Elder Fitch. A very amusing thing occurred. Mr. Hiner brought all of his books, and, coming through Bedford, he got all of Mr. Young's, the preacher at that place. They made a perfect wagon load. He obtained a long table, like a carpenter's bench, and stacked them up on it. I soon discovered that it was all for a show, and the question was how to most successfully burlesque it. I first thought of sending to Bedford and getting a large wagon-load of Patent Office Reports and the like, and stacking them up on my table. But in my room I discovered a little toy-book, about an inch long, called |Orphan Willie.| This I took to church in my vest pocket, with a few leaves carefully turned down. After alluding to his |silent artillery,| as I had done before, I drew out |Orphan Willie,| and planted it on the pulpit in position to effectually blow up his entire battery, with the assurance that that was going to be done. I had laughed over the idea till I thought I could do it without laughing. But in this I failed; and the whole audience, Methodist preachers and all, got into such a laugh that I lost half my speech. But the books were put out of sight, and thus ended the scarecrow business.
During the debate Mr. Hiner expressed the opinion that I would yet come back to the Methodist church. I told him he might as well talk of a full-grown rooster, spurs and all, going back into the shell that hatched it. For a long time this gave me the sobriquet of |Old Chicken.| Some brethren use it even now.
While on the design of baptism, Mr. Hiner remarked that if he believed baptism was for the remission of sins, he would live on a creek or river and be baptized every time he sinned. I gave it as my opinion that in that case he would find it a very difficult matter to keep any dry clothes!
During this year I held meetings at Louisville, Crittenden, Cove Hill, Burksville and Glasgow, with varied success.
In 1875 I held meetings at Glasgow, Carrollton, Campbellsville, Burksville, Bedford, Hodgenville and Columbia.
In July of this year I debated twelve days, at Burksville, with Presiding Elder Frogge. He was the great champion of Methodism in Southern Kentucky. He had had a great many debates, and, while he was very ready and glib in his line of debating, I soon discovered that his scholarship and reading were both very limited, exceedingly so; and I intentionally widened the range of controversy more than was my wont, to see what he would do -- and he was completely lost. His forte in debating is wit and ridicule, by which he gets his opponents angry and confused. He tried this hard for three days, till he rendered himself offensive to all. It was rumored that his brethren then held a council and told him that this must be stopped; that he must debate the questions on their merits or quit; that he was bringing the cause into disrepute. The county paper, edited by a scholarly Episcopalian, was very severe in its criticism of his conduct. This caused much excitement among the Methodists. When he had to quit his efforts to get me excited, he was no longer himself. This debate was held at the request of the Baptists. Mr. Frogge and a Baptist preacher had debated near there the fall before, and, the Baptist having failed, had to give up the discussion. Mr. Frogge then left a broad and boastful challenge for any immersionist. The Baptists were very sore over it, and when I went there in the winter to hold a meeting they requested me to accept his challenge. I referred them to the brethren, and with their concurrence I entered upon the discussion.
In November I held another debate with Mr. Hiner, this time at Bedford, Ky. It continued eight days. This created the most intense excitement I ever saw in a meeting-house. At the two previous debates in the county I repudiated C. W. Miller's book (Points of Controversy) as authority. It is the book that Dr. Ditzler exposed. Our opponents said I would not dare to do that where Miller was. They had him at this debate. Mr. Hiner read from it a passage purporting to be from Moses Stuart. I asked him what he was reading from. He said, |'Points of Controversy,' and you challenge it if you dare.| I then asked for the page in Stuart's book where the language occurred. He refused to give it. I had Stuart, and the inference was that he didn't want the comparison made. When I got up I referred to what had passed about the quotation, saying I was willing to take Stuart for it if he had given me the page, but as for |Points of Controversy,| I could take nothing on its authority, for I repudiated the book and its author as authority in anything. This provoked a personal wrangle with Miller, who was close to me, after the debate -- for the day was over. The excitement was intense as we passed and repassed our compliments. Finally the house refused to hear Mr. M. Even his own brethren rose as one man and went out of the house. This so infuriated him that he left the place.
January 1, 1876, I went on the Apostolic Times with I. B. Grubbs and S. A. Kelley. I had been writing for it every two weeks, by contract, for several years. From this time I devoted special attention to it every week, and, with the exception of a few months from the sale of the Times to Dr. Hopson and Cozine till the establishing of the Guide, I have been constantly engaged in editorial work.
About the middle of January I was taken down with intercostal rheumatism and spinal trouble, and was very low for several months. Very little hope was entertained of my recovery. After the intense suffering was over, my system was so racked that convalescence was slow. The doctors agreed that it was due to nervous exhaustion produced by overwork. For years I had known nothing practically of mental rest, and the year preceding was unusually severe on me, in my feeble state of health. When I held the twelve days' debate at Burksville the summer before, I went from my bed to the house and from the house to my bed. I was hardly any better in the one held a few weeks before. These labors, with those given to my home church of over three hundred members, together with holding seven protracted meetings, and writing for the Times, all the while in feeble health, brought me down very low.
I wish here to emphasize the fact that I have never gone out of my way to either seek or shun a religious debate. I repeat this statement here, lest some might think otherwise from the fact that I have held so many.
After getting up again, I held meetings at Antioch, in Shelby county, Glasgow, Burksville, South Elkhorn, and at some other points. This has always been congenial employment for me.