Religious Voluntarism on the Frontier - I - RR144K20
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Tonight we continue our study of the voluntary church. In particular, our subject tonight is the voluntary church on the frontier. As we saw on previous evening, the earlier pattern not only in the colonies prior to 1740 and for some time thereafter, was the state church.
Now as we pointed out, the state church pattern is not necessarily wrong. The state church pattern believes that it is the duty of the state to be Christian, as it is the duty of the Church, and therefore it requires the establishment of a Church, it requires a compulsory tithe, it requires that ministers be properly paid; it’s entire policy is to avoid the judgement of God for failing to render him his due service, and to render honor to those who are the servants of the Lord.
A great deal can be said for the State Church. We do not as protestant Americans today believe it, but this was both the Catholic and Protestant tradition for centuries. But in America, beginning with 1740, as a result of the Great Awakening, and a post-millennial tradition, we saw that a new emphasis was made, on voluntarism. And voluntarism sought to accomplish very much the same standard as the State church did. To have the church basic to every area of life, it emphasized the tithe, it emphasized that God must be honored in every area of life, State, church, School and so on, but to do it not out of compulsion, but out of faith. And so the whole premise of the Great Awakening which was through and through post-millennial in its emphasis, was to create a world order in which men fulfilled the purposes of God because that purpose was written on the tables of their hearts. [00:02:26]
We saw however that voluntarism also leads to fearful...
We saw however that voluntarism also leads to fearful abuses. The tendency is that because the Church now depends on the individual, that is his faith, the church is made subservient to the individual. The Clergy are treated as hired hands. And we saw the pattern as it developed in America, the last century when Churches became Real Estate promotional schemes, and where the status of the clergy became extremely low. They were hired hands. They were the ones who received hand-me-downs, the manses were furnished with the left over furniture, old used furniture from the members, the minister his wife and his children were clothed by hand-me-down clothing even from the members, and they were expected to be very grateful. And so there was a very, very contemptuous treatment on the whole of the clergy and the Church.
Now, we are going to understand something of that transition, why it happened, the evils it created, also why in a sense it was inescapable that that happened before there could be any development such as we have seen and hope to see.
Our subject as I indicated earlier is the Voluntary Church, on the frontier. The state church in the United States had a long and great tradition in the Americas, first of all the Spanish missions, which accomplished a great deal of good; then in the colonies there was the Church of England which did not accomplish a great deal of good, Virginia in particular suffered very seriously because the overwhelming majority of the Church of England clergy sent to Virginia were the misfits. The Church of England was in no high state spiritually in England at that time, it was in a very low condition. So when a Church in a very low condition sends the lowest of its characters to Virginia you can imagine how low the condition was. The men who were sent here were often alcoholics and gamblers, generally incompetent. On the other hand, the State church idea among the Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Connecticut, state churches, produced a very high caliber of man. [00:05:11]
The problem in Massachusetts came about when the established...
The problem in Massachusetts came about when the established church was captured after 1850 by the Unitarians. It is interesting, this is another subject entirely, the disestablishment of the church in Massachusetts came about in 1833, and coincided with the establishment of some other institution; the state schools. Now, we have cited a threat that faced the established churches, captured. The voluntaristic churches too can be captured, and have been in our day. All the great churches of our time and many of the smaller ones have been captured. However renewal is easiest where voluntarism prevails.
In voluntarism the principle that after 1740 marked America as a different culture from the rest of the world, became the tradition as we saw not only in Church but in State, and in every other area. It lost out in the area of education, and is now through the Christian school movement again becoming an area of voluntarism, where faith creates rather than the State.
During the period, 1781 to 1801, a two year period, from the end of the War of Independence on, there was a marked and a severe decline in the religious life of the United States. There were several reasons for this. First of all the War of Independence did lead to much destruction of Church property. And many pastors lost their lives during the war, especially since, with good reason, the British felt that the churches were responsible, especially the Calvinistic clergy, for the War of Independence. In fact, one spy over here called it a Presbyterian Scotch Irish rebellion. [00:07:32]
They went out of their way to destroy any church that...
They went out of their way to destroy any church that they felt belonged to the Independence cause, and in particular Presbyterian and Congregation Churches. The result was a very severe problem after the war, because there was a basic fact of reestablishing, re-training, so that the churches could again begin functioning. This meant that because of this problem while at the same there was tremendous move westward over the mountains, from the Atlantic seaboard colonies into the new territories, there was no possibility of the Church in those early days going over with them, they had to do too much reconstruction, in the 13 states.
Then second at the same time, three other church groups were to a great degree in very serious trouble. The Episcopal, the Methodist, and the Quakers. They had some very serious rebuilding to do not because their properties had been touched, they were not, but because they were regarded by most Americans as treasonable groups; the Quakers for their pacifism and their refusal to support the war, and because so many of the Quakers had leaned to the Tory side without actually coming out for it, and the Episcopal clergy and the Methodist clergy had been Tory, loyalist. As a result those three churches were not able to do much in those 20 years.
Then third, during the war years the British troops had been here in great numbers, remember 60,000 British troops when Washington never commanded more than 25,000 and that was briefly, and most of the time he had 3,4, 5 thousand. A handful. As a result the demoralization because of the presence of British troops of not of too good character- the Hessian Mercenaries were the best of the lot- had an ugly affair on the spiritual life of the country. The Troops by and large were contemptuous of morality, they were contemptuous of religion, they were advocates to a large degree of the cult of reason and deism, and as a result, these ideas began to spread among the Americans.
Then fourth there was a great deal of isolation on the frontier, and these people during this 20 year period who had moved to the frontier found it very difficult to keep in touch with things on the other side of the mountains. [00:10:16]
Then fifth and finally, on the frontier...
Then fifth and finally, on the frontier; because these people were isolated, because they were separated from schools and very commonly separated from one another, in settlements one cabin here, another a mile away and so on, they had a radical distrust of any aristocracy, and a distrust of educated people. And the result was a very prevalent religious ignorance. I have a number of books in my library which deal very, very vividly with what the religious life of the frontier was like. Naturally I could not bring my library along with me, but I do have one book which is quite colorful in its description of Frontier religion.
Ross Phares: Bible in Pocket, Gun in Hand. I’m going to read from time to time this evening from this book to illustrate what frontier religion or lack of religion was like. To give you an example: “The Reverend Freeborn Garrettson reined his horse to an abrupt halt in the deep Delaware Woods and listened intently.” (This was not even out on the western frontier.) “He heard a man by the roadside ahead singing lustily. The melody lifted the spirit of the minister riding the lonely outer fringe of his Cyprus swamp circuit, that day in 1779. Here at last, he thought, was a happy Methodist brother, singing a hymn joyfully as he worked. He rode towards him. But on riding closer he was shocked to discover that the man was singing a profane song. As was the custom of circuit riders, he sought to examine the man on his religious convictions. “Do you know Jesus Christ?” He asked. “Sir,” replied the man, “I do not know where the gentleman lives.” Thinking, surely, the man had misunderstood him, the minister repeated the question. “I do not know him,” answered the man innocently. “He must not live in these parts.” Another circuit rider told of travelling farther out in the frontier, and asking a boy by way of testing his of the Bible, “Who killed Abel?” The preacher was surprised to hear the answer: “I didn’t know he was dead, we just moved here last week. Such was religious ignorance on the American frontier, following the colonies break with England.
After the American Revolution, colonists pushed into the back woods, reveling in their new-gained freedom, seeking the material opportunities it promised, with land everywhere just for the taking they spread out thin, and there was a rush for political and economic freedom they out-raced the established institutions of society, the Churches, Schools, Courts of law. Not only ignorance but emotional instability resulted, bringing wide-spread worldliness, immorality, and infidelity.” [00:13:18]
To give another illustration...
To give another illustration: “A travelling preacher told of examining a woman in her home on her beliefs, and asking her if she had any religious convictions. “Naw,” she replied bluntly, “nor my ole man neither, he was tried for hog stealing once, but he warnt convicted.”
A Presbyterian minister arrived at a lonely cabin in the clearing, and hoping to find some fellow member of his denomination, asked the woman of the cabin: “Are there any Presbyterians in this country?” The woman obviously assuming that the man riding the dim trails through the woods must be a hunter of animals like her husband, replied: “Well, I just couldn’t say for sure about that, these woods is full of most every kind of varmint, but I aint paid much attention to them, you might take a look around at the backside of the cabin where my husband keeps his varmint hides and see if he’s got any Presbyterian hides nailed up. If there’s any Presbyterians in this country he’s bound to have caught one by now.”
Bibles were about a sparse on the frontier as Preachers and theological learning. Timothy Flint said of the families in Missouri that not more than 1 in 50 had a Bible.” (This was somewhat later.) “This scarcity of Bibles and the pioneers lack of concern about them is revealed by a Methodists preachers account of his offer to conduct prayer at a frontier home before returning for the night. The hosts responded by asking: “Do you have a book? We had one once, but somehow it got scattered while we were coming out here.”
A travelling minister told of trying to sell a Bible to a pioneer housewife, surrounded by a brood of ragged children in a run-down cabin. She was polite in the beginning. When he asked if she didn’t think that every home should have a Bible, she agreed that it should. Did they have a Bible in this house? “Of course they had a Bible!” the housewife answered, resenting the preacher’s aggressiveness. Then the preacher wanted to know where it was. The woman called the children and they organized a hunt for the missing book. At last one of the children dug up a few torn pages of scripture. The woman took the pages and held them up triumphantly. The preacher argued that this was no Bible. The woman contended that it was, then added: “But I had no idea that we were so nearly out.”” [00:15:28]
Now, of course one of the myths that we have is that...
Now, of course one of the myths that we have is that Christians were in the majority in early America. This was not true, America was settled partly by Christians and partly by people who hoped in the new continent they could get rich quick. The over whelming majority from the beginning were not Christian. But in the colonial era, because the Christians were so forceful in their convictions and in their leadership, they kept a tight rein on things, under tight control. You recall I pointed out on another occasion, the puritans when they conquered England never numbered more than four percent. History is never dominated by majorities, only by dedicated, knowledgeable minorities. To give you some figures on that, again from Phares, He points out that of the hundred and one immigrants aboard the Mayflower, only twelve belonged to the First New England Church. Not more than one out of five of the Massachusetts Bay colonists during the early years were members of the church. In 1760 only one New Englander out of eight was church member. The ratio in the middle colonies was one to eighteen, and in the south about one to twenty. The church historian, (William Warrance Wheats?) said of the early days of this country that there came to be more unchurched people in America in proportion to the population than was to be found in any country in Christendom.
In 1800 only an estimated seven percent of the population were church members, a peak was reached in 1860, when close to one fourth of the people were church affiliated. And yet the ratio of church going was higher at that time then it is today. Today the membership is at an all-time high, but at that time the minority, only a small element in the population, a little later ten percent nevertheless established moral and a Christian character in the form of government in every state, established it as a moral principle that it was every man’s duty to worship God, and to be in a house of God, and so the percentage of church attendants was tremendous. Everybody went to church, although perhaps ninety, ninety five percent in some communities were not communicate members. Of course, we would have to say of that ninety percent or whatever the percentage was, that many today would be classified as believers because they didn’t doubt the truth of the Bible, but did not profess a personal faith. And the standards of church membership then were much more severe, it was not only a profession of faith but a real knowledge of Scripture and of doctrine, so that a very large percentage of the people had a greater knowledge of the faith than people do today. The standards today are very weak, very much lowered than they were, very high, in the Colonial period. [00:18:46]
However, because of the high standards then, the influence...
However, because of the high standards then, the influence of those who were Christians was very great. They are comparable to men who are today Communist party members. It is impossible to join the Communist party unless, and I have a copy of a book that used to belong to a longshoreman in California, who had to master the most difficult philosophical treatises of Marx to quote on. You had to know your faith, to be a church member in those days, and today it is the Communists who say to their members: “You have to know your faith.” That is why only the small minority of the people in the Soviet Union are communists. Whether they like communism or not they want to be party members, because that’s the way to promotion. But it is difficult to become a communist in the Soviet Union, because you are required to have so thorough a knowledge of Karl Marx, and of Lenin. Now that was the standard then, up until about 1781, or thereabouts.
Now as we saw, the Great Awakening had made voluntarism basic to American life after 1740, and especially after 1776. Because now the principle of voluntarism was being applied to the life of the country, it was not to be an establishment from above. King George the third dictating or the state dictating the form of religion or the form of anything. It was to become out of the faith and the life of the people. As a result, on the frontier, the churches that had previously been powerful in the United States began very rapidly to lose out.
(William Warrance Wheat?) has collected some of the documents of frontier religion, and it is very interesting to read them, to see for example the utter horror of the Presbyterian clergy, they died a thousand deaths as they went westward. And they saw some of the un-educated preachers who had nothing but a call, make it clear that they despised utterly anybody who had book larnin’, who had gone to a college and a seminary, and the ultimate in being a thoroughly contemptible preacher was to have prepared a sermon, and to have written it out. Of course you perhaps know the famous story of the young man who went west, over the mountains to the frontier area, and preached a sermon written and read, and he was told when it was over, there were three things wrong with it. “First, it was written. Second you read it, and Third it wasn’t worth reading.” Now that was the typical attitude. There was a radical dislike of anything connected with education.
Because of the principle of voluntarism, the spirit of Democracy had crept in and commanded the church, which is really a monarchy, under the kingship of Christ. And so the idea of a minister being better than they were was something that really infuriated the people of the frontier. They did not want a preacher who put on airs, that was their attitude. Who felt he was better than they were. [00:22:22]
And there are all kinds of stories that can be told...
And there are all kinds of stories that can be told of the kind of incredible ignorance on the part of the clergy. Many of them barely able to read, reading the scripture and making all kinds of ridiculous statements, on the basis of a misunderstanding of the words. Did you know that Jesus was spoken of on the frontier by at least one preacher as an oyster man? After all his men were fisherman, and he was a fisherman too, a good oyster man. After all our Lord speaks of the Lord in a parable in Luke 19, as being an austere man. As they read it, that meant he was an oyster man.
This was not unusual, as a matter of fact within my lifetime this kind of preaching was not uncommon in some parts of the south, and some places further west, this type of rampant ignorance and a preference for it.
The preferred preacher was a man who had a call, and nothing more. He felt the Lord had called him, and so he got up and preached. And some preachers who had nothing more than this call from the Lord were also very often men who did a lot of backsliding, but that didn’t hurt them with the people. After all, they did a lot of backsliding too, so if the preacher was a powerful preacher, but once in a while he fell off the wagon and got drunk, well they did too. And he was just a good man like they were. [00:24:06]
I’m going to read a little bit about one of the, I...
I’m going to read a little bit about one of the, I could cite a number of cases, but one who was quite famous on the frontier. Clay Allison. A couple of passages about him: “Clay Allison was one of the most colorful characters ever to make a reputation in the Wild West with lead slugs and words. He was primarily known for his courage and his dexterity with his side arm, but he had other talents the frontier never forgot, including those for drama and exhorting. He might reenact Lady Godiva’s famous ride in the street of a frontier man one day, and exhort sinners to turn from their wicked ways the next. He had a strange religious bent, and sometimes like the little girl of nursery rhyme fame, when he was good he was very, very good; but when he was bad he was deadly. But whether behind a six shooter or a lectern, Clay Allison was sensational. Allison frequently expressed his shock at the prevailing indifference to religion on the frontier, a condition that occasionally inspired his evangelic efforts to remedy. Once in Pecos Texas he had the reprobates of the town rounded up and herded into the lone wolf saloon, to hear him preach. Allison began by announcing: “Fellers, this meeting being held on the Pecos, I reckon we’ll open her by singin Shall We Gather at the River. Of course we’re already gathered, but the song sorta fits. No gammon now fellers, everybody sing that knows her.” The result was discouraging. When three or four had managed to drawl hoarsely through two verses, Mr. Allison stopped the assembly for prayer which he led at length. The assembly remained quiet in spite of some restlessness and dissatisfaction.
Allison’s audiences were traditionally attentive, his gun was always as close as his bible, and he was regarded as much handier with it. People on the frontier might scoff at the Lords work and escape retribution on this earth, but it was considered unlikely that Clay Allison possessed such a tolerant and forgiving nature.
He began his sermon; “Fellers’, my ole mammy used to tell me that the only show to shake the devil off your tail was to believe everything the Bible says. When your mammy tells you, it’s bound to be right, dead right, so I think I’ll take the sentiment o’ this yere round-up on believin. Of course as a square man I’m bound to admit that the Bible tells some powerful queer tales, unlike anything we’uns strikes now-a-days. Take that tale about a fish swallowing Jonah. Why if a fish could swallow a man it would have to be as big in the barrel as the Pecos river is wide, and halve an opening in his face bigger’n Phanton Lake Cave. Nobody on the Pecos ever see such a fish. But I wish you fellers to distinctly understand that it’s a fact, I believes it. Does you? Every feller that believes that a fish swallered Jonah, hold up his right hand!”
Only two or three hands went up. “Well I’ll be durned,” the evangelist said, “You air tough cases. That’s whats’ the matter with you, you are shy on faith. You fellers have got to be saved, and to be saved you got to believe, and believe hard, and I’m a gonna make you. Now hear me, and mind you don’t forget that it’s Clay Allison talkin to you: I tell you when that thar fish had done swallowin Jonah he swum around for a whole hour lookin to see in there was a show to pick up any of Jonah’s families and friends. Now when I tell you I reckon your all bound to believe. Every feller that believes that Jonah was only a sorta’ snack for the fish, hold up his right hand.” All hands went up, and the sermon then went on to other subjects.
Many men vowed when being rounded up and forced to hear Clay Allison preach that they would kill him the first good chance they got. But they usually ended up thinking that he meant good even if he was bad, or he set them to thinking of better things than murder. Anyway no one did, for his death was about the most unexciting event in his life. In a drunken stupor he rolled off a loaded freight wagon and was crushed to death by its wheels.” [00:28:14]
Now another story to illustrate Clay Allison, it says...
Now another story to illustrate Clay Allison, it says: “Possibly the most noted drinking-hell raising-praying, bad man on the frontier was Clay Allison. Some of his neighbors who observed his antics, and held decided opinions on the ‘Demon Rum’ explained that when the spirit of alcohol entered Clay Allison, the spirit of the devil entered close behind. But through the transfiguring power of alcohol the reasonably fair Mr.Hyde became a Dr. Jekyll on rampage.
Many like Allison roamed the wild frontier, and they perhaps sincerely called for divine aid in an unstable (to them) world.
Sometimes Allison was called on to lead in prayer at meetings, but sometimes he turned evangelist and organized his own meetings. One morning in the 1880’s he walked into the Lone Wolf Saloon in Pecos, laid two pistols on the end of the bar, and told Red Dick the bar tender that he intended to turn the Saloon into a church for a couple of hours. And he did, he stepped out onto the street and rounded up all the passers-by and herded them into the saloon. Cowboys, merchants, freighters, gamblers and thugs. The opening prayer was recorded thus: “Now fellers, we’ll pray. Everybody down!”
Only a few knelt. Some regarded the affair as sacrilege, and others resented dictation. But a slight sweep of Allison’s six shooter brought every man of them to his knees, with heads bowed over faro layouts and Monte tables.
“Oh Lord,” Began Allison. “This here is a mighty bad neck of the woods, and I reckon you know it. Fellers don’t think enough of their souls to build a church, and if a parson comes here they don’t treat him half white. Oh Lord make these fellers see that when he gets caught up in the final round up and drove over the last divide, they don’t stand no sort of show to get to stay on the heavenly ranch, unless they believes, and they builds a house to pray and preach in. Right here I subscribe the hundred dollars to build a church, and if every one of these fellers don’t ante up according to his means, Oh Lord, make it your personal business to make sure he wears the devils brand and ear mark, and never gets another drop of good spring water.
Course I allow you knows as how I don’t sport no wings myself, but I want to do what’s right if you’ll sort of give me a shove the proper way, and the one thing I want you to understand, Clay Allison’s got a fast horse, and is tolerably handy with his rope, and he’s going to run these fellers into your corral, even if he’s got to rope and drag them there. Amen, everybody get up.”
While he prayed in the most reverend tone he could command, and while his attitude was one of simple supplication, Mr. Allison never removed his keen eyes from the congregation. That’s how he had a church built for the next preacher that came into town.” [00:30:52]
Now these were resourceful men...
Now these were resourceful men. They were bold men. They were men of the frontier. They were handy with guns, and on more than one occasion when some hoodlum tried to (gave them with?) a preacher, or decided that a dead preacher was more to his liking than a live one, it was a question of who got his gun out first. And usually the preacher did. More than one person on the frontier was shot dead in church, by the preacher. Now this was the kind of preacher they liked, and this is why men like Clay Allison sometimes went into the ministry. But the average frontier preacher was a man who was a very good gunman, highly respected, the feeling being that if he turned outlaw he would be one of the best, and that was all to his credit. He was usually a highly experienced Indian fighter, although the Indians if they knew he was a preacher left him alone. But if they didn’t, he was ready to shoot. And as a result, he commanded respect on the frontier. He commanded the kind of respect the Presbyterians and the Episcopalians and the Congregationalists as they came over to that frontier just couldn’t command.
They were regarded as high falluting, over educated people, as incompetent in terms of frontier standards. So the frontier in terms of this volunteerism was setting a totally different standard in terms of what constituted a good clergyman, and they enjoyed the kind of man who met their attitudes and developed them. And if he were witty, this was especially to their taste. Now this is the kind of thing you find so many stories of, many of the stories, by the way, of frontier religion have passed into our common knowledge and have become jokes that we still tell about preachers, and we think their actually invented. But so many of them actually originate from the autobiographies of people of the period, and frontier preachers. Many of ministers employed a sense of humor with a practical slant.
One applying for (Logica?) tavern was addressed by the landlord. “Stranger I perceive you are a clergyman. Please let me know if you are a Presbyterian or a Methodist?” “Why do you ask?” Said the preacher. “Because I want to please my guest, and I observe that a Presbyterian minister is very particular about his own food and bed, and the Methodist about the feed and care of his horse.” “Very well,” said the minister, “I am a Presbyterian, but my horse is a Methodist.” Now that was the kind of thing that really made a minister. When he came up with something like that, that story would be told and retold, hundreds of times, and it would follow him wherever he went, and people would be proud of him. “That’s our preacher.” They took a tremendous delight in that.
And so he had to be accomplished at this sort of thing. For example, one of the most famous of the Methodist Circuit Riders was Peter Parker, the Reverend Peter Cartwright. And his book is a delight to read because he is telling these stories himself, and he was one of the most stable and the least given to some of the frontier excesses, and yet on one occasion when Peter Cartwright stopped at a lonely cabin, to spend the night there and to teach the family, he was very much disturbed because the frontiersman’s wife was, he felt, a very disobedient wife, and sassing her husband too much. So he told her what scripture had to say about those matters, and she said: “Well you’ve had your say, and Scripture has had its say, but I’ll have my say!” well Cartwright was a big man, and his answer was to pick her up by the scruff of the neck, and usher her out and bar the door.
Well about that time it began to rain. It really poured, and the woman banged on the door, the husband was very nervous, and Cartwright said: “The foods made, you dish it, let’s sit down and eat.” And he led the family, the husband and the children in prayer, they sat down and ate and he talked and gave them religious instruction, the husband was very nervous because his wife was pounding on the door, making all kinds of threats and swearing a blue streak, telling her husband what she was going to do to him and that no-good preacher, and Cartwright would say; “Pay her no mind.” Then it began to snow, and before long the woman was beginning to freeze, she was soaked to the skin, was begging to come in, and finally when she was so hoarse she could hardly talk and was crying and begging, Cartwright went to the door and talked to her. He said: “Are you going to come in and apologize to your husband and be a good, god-fearing wife?” and of course she was ready at that time to promise anything to get in there by that fire. Then he let her in, and proceeded to lecture her, and to teach her what Scripture had to say. [00:36:24]
Now, this kind of thing today would get a preacher...
Now, this kind of thing today would get a preacher into court very quickly, but in those days it helped make him famous, especially if he were strong enough to do this sort of thing regularly. And Cartwright as a result was a very highly respected man, one of the most popular frontier preachers. In fact they decided to run him for Congress, and for a while it looked like he was going to sweep the entire area and be elected to Congress. But at one meeting Cartwright was conducting, he asked a question: “Everybody who wants to go to heaven stand up.” And everybody stood up except for one man, who was running against him for congress. So when everybody sat down, he turned to that one man who was running against him and said: “And where do you expect to go Mr. Lincoln?” and Lincoln stood up and said: “To Congress.” He did.
Now that was the kind of thing they loved, that kind of give and take, back talk. It was crude, it was primitive, but it reflected the frontier character, and to give you an example of the kind of thing that was very popular, preachers would get up there, they would be very much given to working out a demonstration to prove something, or to practical jokes. One frontier preacher for example who was preaching against Demon Rum got up on the pulpit, just a rough crude thing, and had on it two bottles, on of clear water and one of Rum. And he took a worm that was wiggling and alive and he dropped it into the water, and it continued wiggling. And he said: “See, water didn’t hurt that worm at all.” Then he picked up the worm and dropped it into the liquor, and the worm was dead like that. “Do you see what that means?” he said. And one man in the back said: “Yes sir, if you drink you’ll never have worms.”
One of the most popular of the frontiersman for example was a frontier preacher, a Methodist Circuit rider, Lorenzo Dow. I have his collected works, because he also wrote quite heavily, and a book about him. It would be easy to entertain you all evening with stories about Lorenzo Dow, but just to give two which indicate why he was so immensely powerful. In the lonely frontier areas where there would be one cabin here and there, and they would have a camp meeting, they would turn out crowds from distances--- oh people would travel for days to come, and there would be crowds of twenty, thirty thousand. And no one could pack them in as much as Lorenzo Dow. Lorenzo Dow once stopped at an inn, and it became apparent that one of the men staying there had been robbed, and the thief was obviously someone who was right there in the room. So Lorenzo Dow said he had power to expose the thief. And he asked the innkeeper to go out the hen coop and bring in a chicken, and he put the chicken on the table.
And so he said: “I’m going to have the lights turned out here, the lamp turned down, blown out; and after I give the word I want every one of you to come up here in turn, right up here now, and when I give the word pass by the chicken, and pat the hen on the back. And when the thief pats that hen it’s going to cackle.” Well, of course he kept them in silence for a while and moved around the room, apparently in prayer and so on, but what he did was to go up to the stove and lift up the lid and get some soot, and rub it all over the back of the hen. And as everybody walked by the thief naturally didn’t pat the hen. So then he had the lamp lit, and he said: “Let me see your hands.” And there was one pair of clean hands, and he said: “There’s the thief.” And the man confessed. [00:41:01]
It was this kind of resourcefulness, this kind of wit...
It was this kind of resourcefulness, this kind of wit that the frontier loved. Another thing that Dow did on one occasion, he arrived at the camp grounds before the group of people had arrived for the meeting, and he heard a little colored boy playing trumpet. And he got an idea, and he told the boy: “I’ll pay you if you’ll crawl up into that tree before I preach, and when I give the word, you cut loose with a blast of the trumpet.” So now of course he preached a fearful and fiery sermon on judgement, and he concluded with, and when he had them all worked up: “And what would you do today, and where would you be tonight if suddenly the trumpet of judgement were to sound at this moment? You with your sin-blackened souls, you with your lack of repentance, what would happen to you if the trumpet of judgement were to blow? And he gave the signal, and the colored boy cut loose. And people who were there said it was as if a scythe had been passed over the audience. They just passed out.
And of course when they came to and realized that it was a colored boy that had led them into this fearful situation they were ready to lynch that little colored boy, but Dow of course used it as an occasion for another sermon, immediately. “He said if a little colored boy with a horn scares you so, what do you think God is going to do when he comes to you in judgement? So he had them down at the mourners bench in great numbers.
Now, as I indicated this kind of thing was routine, they were practical men, they were dramatic, they were very remarkable in their resourcefulness. I’ll cite a couple more illustrations if you would like, before we go on to something of the implications. [00:43:05]
Noah Smethwick’s spoke of the Reverend Hugh and Childers...
Noah Smethwick’s spoke of the Reverend Hugh and Childers as the kind of preacher the frontier needed. He was an expert with the violin, and even tripped the light fantastic for an all-around useful man he had few equals. Always bearing his full share in anything that came along, from a prayer meeting to an Indian fight, a preacher who could only (fall?) found himself out of a job in these parts. Another pioneer said admiringly of his pastor: “He could fix a broken wagon wheel, shoot Indians, and talk politics, as well as up lift morals.” William Warren Sweet summed up requirements for pioneer preachers thus: “Western people wanted a preacher who could mount a stock of log, or stand in the bed of a wagon without manuscript or notes, expound and apply the word of God.” And he cites an illustration: “A sermon was in progress in a church clearing when the dogs that followed their masters jumped a bear in the nearby woods. The minister stopped his sermon, listened intently and silent for a moment, and announced the church service was recessed while the men went to the dogs. The women could pray, he said, presumably for meat. The preacher was the first man to hit the ground. The men mounted their horses and rode off, and after a while the men returned to the church, and the preacher picked up his sermon where he left off. And in his closing prayer he thanked God for “Men who knew how to shoot, and women who knew how to pray. Yes, they got the bear.”
This was typical of them, and one further story to give you an idea of their resourcefulness: ”In one community a group of rowdy boys having observed the unrestrained emotions of penitents impassioned by religious excitement and subject to unreserved demonstrations, decided to go to church and take advantage of this condition and hug the girls. It was planned that the leader would come to the bench as a penitent for prayer, his gang would follow, they planned to all get religion at the same time, and then go around hugging all the girls. This seemed to the boys a superb scheme to have some exciting fun with girls that might result in just about anything, from breaking up the meeting to starting a riot.
Preachers in those days made it their business to stay alert to such designs. The evangelists in this instance got wind of the plot and learned of the identity of the leader. When the leader came and knelt, the evangelist, a large strong man came and knelt over him immediately, exhorting him loudly to repentance and prayer. Beating out a rhythm on the penitents back, he fairly knocked the breath out of him. By the time the preacher let him up he had all thoughts of amore beaten out of him. Once out from under the preachers heavy, heavy hand, he headed straight for the church door.” [Tape Ends] [00:45:46]