CHAPTER XVII. Sermon on Baptism at Camp-Meeting
There was, in the bounds of the Goose Creek Circuit, a Baptist minister, who was a tolerably smart man, and a great proselyter from other Churches, and who almost always was harping on immersion as the only mode of Christian baptism, and ridiculing what he called "baby sprinkling."
We had an appointment for a camp-meeting in this circuit, in what was called Poplar Grove. There was a fine little widow woman, a member of the Methodist Episcopal Church, lived here; and this Baptist preacher tried his best to proselyte her, and make a Baptist of her. She at length got tired of his water talk, and told him if he would come to the camp-meeting, and patiently hear the presiding elder, Peter Cartwright, preach one sermon on baptism, on Sunday, she would give him a new suit of clothes, out and out. He agreed to it; but he was to sit patiently, and hear the sermon through; if he did not, then he was not to have the suit of clothes.
When I got to the camp-ground, my little spunky Methodist widow was tented on the ground. She came and invited me to her tent, and then told me the proposition she had made to Mr. W., the Baptist preacher. "And now," said she, "do your best; if he runs, the suit of clothes is yours; and if he stands his ground, and you do your very best, you shall have as good a suit, any how."
This was a very large encampment, well arranged; and there were about twenty strong, talented Methodist preachers, from the traveling and local ranks, present. The meeting commenced and progressed with great interest, and there were many melting Gospel sermons preached. Many sinners were awakened and converted, both among the whites and colored people. Sunday morning came, and my Baptist preacher arrived; and we were soon made acquainted. He proposed that he, if he felt like it, should have the privilege of replying to me. "Certainly," said I, "with all my heart."
Eleven o'clock arrived, the hour appointed me to commence my sermon on baptism. It was supposed that there were ten thousand people on the ground. My heart rather quailed within me, but I prayed for light, a ready mind, and success. I took no text in particular, but submitted the four following propositions for discussion:
First. The design and intent of water baptism.
Second. Who were the Divinely-appointed administrators of water baptism.
Third. The proper mode of water baptism.
Fourth. Who were the qualified subjects of baptism.
My Baptist minister took his seat in the altar, in front of me. He listened with tolerable attention while I was on the first and second propositions. As I approached the third point, the galled jade winced a little; but when I came to the fourth point, and took my position that all infants had the first and only indisputable title to baptism, and that all adults must become converted, and be like little children, before they could claim any valid title to water baptism, my preacher became very restive. Finally, I propounded
this question: "Is not that Church which has no children in it more like hell than heaven?" I then added, "If all hell was searched, there would not be a single child found in it; but all children are in heaven; therefore, there being no children in the Baptist Church, it was more like hell than heaven."
The Baptist preacher here rose to his feet, and started. I called out to him to stop and hear me out; but he replied he could not stand it, and kept on and cleared the ground; so he lost his suit of clothes, and I gained one. But what was much better than all this, I was listened to for three hours; and the attention of the multitude seemed not to falter, but they heard with profound interest, and it was the opinion of hundreds that this discussion did a vast amount of good.
Our camp-meeting progressed with increasing interest; many were awakened, and about forty were converted and added to the Church.
In the course of the summer of 1822, we held a camp-meeting in Logan County, Kentucky, the county in which I was chiefly raised. At this meeting there came a strange kind of preacher among us, who held that a Christian could live so holy in this life, that he would never die, but become all immortal, soul, body, and all. He seemed like a good, innocent, ignorant kind of creature. He asked of me the liberty to preach; but I told him that was altogether out of the question; that as the manager of the meeting, I felt myself accountable to the people as well as to the Lord, for the doctrines advanced from the stand.
One night, while I was outside of the encampment settling some rowdies, he thought, I suppose, he would flatter my vanity a little; and stepping up to me, he told me he had a heavenly message for me.
"Well," said I, "what is it?"
He said it had just been revealed to him that I was never to die, but to live forever.
"Well," said I, "who revealed that to you?"
He said, " An angel."
"Did you see him?" I asked.
"O yes," was the reply; "he was a white, beautiful, shining being."
"Well," said I, "did you smell him?"
This stumped him, and he said he did not understand me.
"Well," said I, "did the angel you saw smell of brimstone?" He paused, and I added, "He must have smelled of brimstone, for he was from a region that burns with fire and brimstone, and consequently from hell; for he revealed a great lie to you, if he told you I was to live forever!"
At this he slipped off, and never gave me any more trouble during the meeting.
There were a great many people in attendance at this meeting, and among the rest, some youngsters who called themselves gentlemen; some from the country, and some from Russellville. These fellows would occupy the seats we had prepared for the ladies. I announced from the stand that the gentlemen and ladies were to sit apart, and requested every gentleman to remove to the seats on the left, prepared for them.
There were some twenty who did not move. Said I, "We request every gentleman to retire from the ladies' seats, that I may see how many country clowns and town fops there are, for these will not move!" All then left but five, and I began to count them; they then left in a hurry, but were very angry.
Among them was a young sprig of the bar, the son of a Major L. He was in a mighty pet, and told his father, who happened not to be present, His father and I dined together that day at a friend's house. He brought up the subject, and said I was wrong; that many young men did not know any better; and that he thought hard of me for exposing his son.
Said I, "Major, do you not believe if a company of Shawnee Indians were to come into one of our religious assemblies, and see all the women seated on one side and most of the men on the other side, that they would have sense and manners enough to take their seats on the men's side?"
He answered me abruptly, "No; I don't believe they would."
"Well," said I, "it is my opinion they would, and that they have more manners than many of the pretended young gentlemen of the day."
He flew into a violent passion, and said if we were not in the presence of ladies he would abuse me. I told him if he thought to abuse and frighten me from doing my duty in keeping order in the congregation, he was very much mistaken, and I would thank him to mind his own business, and I would most assuredly attend to mine. Here the subject dropped for the present. I returned to the camp ground. Presently he sent for me to talk the matter over. I told the messenger, Brother Cash, a local preacher, that I should not go, for the major was very irritable, and only wanted to insult and abuse me, and that I was not of a mind to take abuse. I did not go. Presently Brother Cash returned, and said that the major pledged his word and honor that he would not insult me, but that he wanted to talk the matter over in a friendly way.
I then consented, and went to him with Brother Cash, and we had passed but a few words when he commenced a tirade of abuse. Brother Cash tried to check him, but he would not be stopped. I then told him that he had forfeited his word and honor, and therefore was beneath my notice, and turned off. He flew into a desperate rage, and said if he thought I would fight him a duel, he would challenge me.
"Major," said I, very calmly, "if you challenge me I will accept it."
"Well, sir," said he, "I do dare you to mortal combat."
"Very well, I'll fight you; and, sir," said I, "according to the laws of honor, I suppose it is my right to choose the weapons with which we are to fight?"
"Certainly," said he.
"Well," said I, "then we will step over here into this lot, and get a couple of corn stalks; I think I can finish you with one."
But O, what a rage he got into. He clinched his fists and looked vengeance. Said he, "If I thought I could whip you, I would smite you in a moment."
"Yes, yes, Major L.," said I, "but, thank God, you can't whip me; but don't you attempt to strike me, for if you do, and the devil gets out of you into me, I shall give you the worst whipping you ever got in all your life," and then walked off and left him.
His wife was a good, Christian woman, and the family was tented on the ground. At night, after meeting was closed, I retired to bed, and about midnight there came a messenger for me to go to Major L.'s tent and pray for him, for he was dying. Said I, "What is the matter with him?"
"O, he says he has insulted you, one of God's ministers, and if you don't come and pray for him, he will die and go to hell."
"Well," said I, "if that's all, the Lord increase his pains. I shall not go; let him take a grand sweat; it will do him good, for he has legions of evil spirits in him, and it will be a long time before they are all cast out."
I did not go nigh him at that time. After an hour or two he sent for me again. I still refused to go. By this time he got into a perfect agony; he roared and prayed till he could be heard all over the camp ground. Presently his wife came and entreated me, for her sake, to go and pray for and talk to the major. So I concluded to go, and when I got into the tent, there he was lying at full length in the straw, and praying at a mighty rate.
I went to him and said,
"Major, what is the matter?"
"O!" said he, "matter enough; I have added to my ten thousand sins another heinous one of insulting and abusing you, a minister of Jesus Christ, for laboring to keep order and do good. O will you, can you, forgive me?"
"Yes, major, I can and do forgive you; but remember, you must have forgiveness from God, or you are lost and ruined forever."
"Can you possibly forgive me," said he, "so far as to pray for me; if you can, do pray for me, before I am swallowed up in hell forever."
I prayed for him, and called on several others to pray for him. He continued in great distress all the next day, and some time the following night it pleased God to give him relief, and he professed comfort in believing.
This case plainly shows how the devil often overshoots his mark; but, perhaps, it more clearly shows how God, in his infinite goodness and mercy, makes the wrath of man to praise him. It seems to me that at least a legion of very dirty little devils were cast out of this Major L.
We had a very interesting quarterly meeting the past spring in Russellville, and a considerable number in the higher and wealthier walks of life, especially among the ladies, gave signs of repentance, and a disposition to devote themselves to a religious life. I had given them a special and pressing invitation to attend our camp-meeting, and accordingly they came, and there was a glorious work going on in the congregation from time to time. Many came to the altar as penitents, and sought and found mercy of the Lord. And although these wealthy ladies would weep under the word, yet we could not get them to the altar, and I was afraid it was pride that kept them back, and frankly told them so, assuring them, if this was the case, they need not expect to obtain religion.
They told me that it was not pride that kept them away, but that the altar was so crowded not only with mourners, but idle professors and idle spectators, and that in many instances the mourners were unceremoniously trodden on and abused, and the weather being very warm, the mourners in the altar must be nearly suffocated. These were the reasons why they did not come into the altar as seekers, and not pride; and I assure the reader I profited very much by these reasons given by those ladies, for I knew all this and much more might, with great propriety, be said about our altar operations. So I determined, at all hazards, to regulate, renovate, and cleanse the altar of God, and turn out, and keep out, all idle, strolling, gaping lookers-on; and when the evening sermon closed, I rose in the stand, and I told them all these objections of the ladies, and I deliberately indorsed them as valid objections to our altar exercises, and told them I was going to invite every seeker of religion to come into the altar, and assured them they should be protected from these abuses; and in order to a fair start, I invited all to rise up and retire out of the altar except seekers; and directed that the avenues leading to the altar be kept clear at all times; that there was to be no standing on the seats, and no standing up around the pales of the altar; that no person whatever could come into the altar unless invited, and that no person was to talk to, or pray with, the mourners uninvited, unless they got very happy. I appointed and named out my men to keep order. Thus arranged, and our large altar being cleared, and the aisles kept open, I invited the mourners to come as humble penitents, and kneel in the altar, and pray for mercy; and we all were astonished at the number that distinguished themselves as seekers. I suppose there were not less than one hundred, and almost all of them professed comfort that night, and among the rest, many of those fine, wealthy ladies from town. It was supposed that this was one among the best camp-meetings ever held in Logan County, where there had been many, very many, glorious camp-meetings, where camp-meetings started in modern times; and they had been in progress for twenty-two years, every year more or less. The fruits of this camp-meeting I hope to see with pleasure in vast eternity.
The Methodist Church received an impetus and strength at this meeting, that vastly increased her usefulness, her members, and religious respectability. I sincerely hope it is going on and increasing to this day. And here permit me to remark, from many years' experience, that sanctified wealth will always prove a blessing to the Church of God; but unsanctified wealth though poured into the Church by the million, never fails to corrupt and curse the Church. If our wealthy people will come themselves and bring their wealth, and consecrate the whole without any reserve to God, it is almost incalculable to tell the instrumental good that can and will result to the cause of religion; but, on the other hand, if religion must be defeated, the obligations of the Gospel loosened, the rules of the Church not exacted, a time-serving ministry employed and supported, this is, and has been, the death-knell to all Churches so far as inward piety is concerned. Look at the needless, not to say sinful expenditures in our older cities and districts of country; the unnecessary thousands expended, not in building needful and decent churches, for this is right, but ornamental churches, to make a vain show and gratify pampered pride. Look at the ornamented pulpits, pewed and cushioned seats, organs, and almost all kinds of instruments, with salaried choirs, and as proud and graceless as a fallen ghost, while millions upon millions of our fallen race are dying daily, and peopling the regions of eternal woe for the want of the Gospel of Jesus Christ; and as scarce as ministers are in some places in our own happy country, yet there are thousands that are ready and willing to go to the utmost verge of this green earth, and carry the glad tidings of mercy to those dying millions, if they had the means of support. Would it not the better comport with the obligations of our holy Christianity to refrain from those superfluous expenditures, and with a liberal hand and devoted heart apply, or furnish the means to carry the glad tidings of salvation to those that sit in the region and shadow of moral death, than to apply them, as is done in many directions in this Christian land? Say, ye professed lovers of Jesus Christ, are not your responsibilities tremendously fearful? There is wealth enough in the Churches, and among the friends of the different Christian denominations in this happy republic, if rightly husbanded and liberally bestowed, to carry the Bible and a living ministry to every nation on the face of the whole earth. And may we be permitted to hail with Christian rapture the rising glory of this liberal spirit, when we shall see it as the Apocalyptic angel flying in the midst of heaven, having the everlasting Gospel to preach to every nation, kindred, and tongue. Say, O say! when shall we see this happy day? May the Lord hasten it in his time, and we be co-workers together with him. Will the Christian world say, Amen?
During my presidency on this district up to the fall of 1824, there was a blessed revival in many parts of the district, and many joined the Methodist Episcopal Church. There are several interesting incidents, no doubt, that have clean escaped my recollection; but there are some I remember, and I will embody them here as well I can.
At a camp-meeting held in the edge of Tennessee, a considerable revival took place, and some tall sons and daughters of Belial were brought down to cry for mercy. Religion made its mark in several wealthy families. Persecution was pretty fierce; the rowdies sent off and got whisky, drank freely, and disturbed us considerably. We arrested some of them, and they were fined. Finally, they collected their forces in the woods, a short distance from the camp-ground, and resolved to break up our camp-meeting; they then elected their captain and all other subordinate officers. Their plan was to arm themselves with clubs, to mount their horses, and ride bravely through the camp-ground, and break down officers, preachers, and anybody else that would oppose them.
Saturday afternoon was the time appointed for them to drive us from the ground, but in the meantime we found out their plans, and many of their names. Their captain called his name Cartwright; all their officers assumed the name of some preacher. We made our preparations accordingly, and were perfectly ready for them. They drank their whisky, mounted their horses, armed with sticks and clubs, and then came, almost full speed, into our camp. As I was captain of the interior, I met the captain of the Philistines, and planted myself near the opening between the two tents, where they were to enter the inclosure. As the mounted captain drew near the entering place I sprang into the breach; he raised his club, bidding me to stand by, or he would knock me down.
I cried, "Crack away."
He spurred his horse and made a pass at me, sure enough; but, fortunately, I dodged his stroke. The next lick was mine, and I gave it to him, and laid him flat on his back, his foot being in the stirrup. His horse got my next stroke, which wheeled him "right about;" he dragged his rider a few steps and dropped him, and then gave this redoubtable captain leg bail at a mighty rate. The balance of the mounted rowdies, seeing their leader down and kicking, wheeled and ingloriously fled. We took care of the captain, of course, and fined him fifty dollars. This gave us entire control of the encampment, and peace in all our borders during our meeting.
Connected with this meeting was another incident of thrilling interest, something like the following. There were two young men in this settlement of wealthy and respectable parentage, who were distantly related. They both were paying attention to a very wealthy young lady. Some jealousy about rivalship sprung up between them; they were mutually jealous of each other, and it spread like an eating cancer. They quarreled, and finally fought; both armed themselves, and each bound himself in a solemn oath to kill the other. Thus sworn, and armed with pistols and dirks, they attended camp-meeting. I was acquainted with them, and apprised of the circumstances of this disagreeable affair. On Sunday, when I was addressing a large congregation, and was trying to enforce the terrors of the violated law of God, there was a visible power more than human rested on the congregation. Many fell under the preaching of the word. In closing my discourse I called for mourners to come into the altar. Both these young men were in the congregation, and the Holy Spirit had convicted each of them; their murderous hearts quailed under the mighty power of God, and with dreadful feelings they made for the altar. One entered on the right, the other on the left. Each was perfectly ignorant of the other being there. I went deliberately to each of them, and took their deadly weapons from their bosoms, and carried them into the preachers' tent, and then returned and labored faithfully with them and others (for the altar was full) nearly all the afternoon and night. These young men had a sore struggle; but the great deep of their hearts was broken up, and they cried hard for mercy, and while I was kneeling by the side of one of them, just before the break of day, the Lord spoke peace to his wounded soul. He rose in triumph, and gave some thrilling shouts. I hastened to the other young man, at the other side of the altar, and in less than fifteen minutes God powerfully blessed his soul, and he rose and shouted victory; and as these young men faced about they saw each other, and starting simultaneously, met about midway of the altar, and instantly clasped each other in their arms. What a shout went up to heaven from these young men, and almost the whole assembly that were present. There were a great many more who were converted that night, and, indeed, it was a night long to be remembered for the clear conversion of souls. One of these young men made an able itinerant preacher. He traveled a few years, had a brilliant career, and spread the holy fire wherever he went. He then fell sick, lingered a little while, and died triumphantly. There was a remarkable instance of the power of religion manifested in the change of these two young men. A few hours before they were sworn enemies, thirsting for each other's blood, but now all those murderous feelings were removed from them, and behold! their hearts were filled with love. "Old things were done away, and all things became new."
I will relate another circumstance, though a little out of the order of time, which will serve to show the malignity of an unrenewed human heart. In a little town in Breckenridge County, Kentucky, called Hardinsburgh, there lived a notorious infidel, who delighted, on almost all occasions, to treat the Christian religion with scorn and contempt. It was his special pride to mortify the feelings of professors of religion and ministers of the Gospel. In the course of my traveling excursions it fell to my lot, almost a total stranger in the place, to be detained here several days and nights. The citizens having little or no preaching in the place, invited me to preach to them of evenings. I consented to do so, and there were very good congregations and some very good signs of a revival of religion. The people were very friendly to me, and several respectable citizens gave me an invitation to dine with them, and I did so. This infidel had attended my preaching in common with the rest, and in common with the rest of the citizens he gave me a very friendly invitation to dine with him. Having learned his infidel character, the first time I declined. Several respectable citizens urged me to accept his invitation, saying, surely something strange had come over Mr. A., for he was never known to invite a preacher to his house before, in all his life, and they urged me to go. Accordingly, the next day he invited me home with him to dinner. I went, and when we came to the table, instead of requesting me to ask a blessing, he said, as we drew up to the table, "Mr. Cartwright, I never permit any man to ask a blessing at my table, nor do I do it myself; for it is all hypocrisy."
I had not seated myself. Said I: "Mr. A., did you not invite me, as a preacher, to dine with you?"
"Do you not know that preachers are in the habit of asking a blessing at table, sir?"
"Yes, sir," said he; "but I will have none of it at my table."
"Very well, sir," said I, "if I am denied the privilege of asking a blessing at your table, I assure you I will not eat with you," wheeled off, took up my hat, and started, bidding him good-by.
"O, Mr. Cartwright," said he, "you must not leave without eating with me."
"I tell you, sir," was my reply, "I will not," and went out. His manner of treating me soon flew all over the village, and the wickedest people in it cried out shame, shame, on Mr. A., and greatly applauded me for not eating with him. He rendered himself very unpopular by this mean act, and I shrewdly suspect he never treated another preacher as he had treated me.
"Lord, what is man that thou are mindful of him, or the son of man that thou visitest him?"
The Kentucky Conference sat in Lexington again this fall, September 25th, 1822; in Maysville, September 24th, 1823. Here we elected our delegates to the fourth delegated General Conference, which sat in Baltimore, May 1st, 1824. This was the third General Conference to which I was elected. Our Kentucky Conference was held in Shelbyville, September 23, 1824, and up to this time we had approximated to the following number of traveling preachers and members:
- Ohio Conference ......................... 36,541..........122
- Kentucky Conference ...................24,683............92
- Tennessee Conference ..................25,509............87
- Mississippi Conference................... 9,009............46
- Missouri Conference .....................11,773...........55
This year closed my twentieth year of regular traveling, from the time I was admitted on trial in the old Western Conference in 1804. Then we had one conference, now we had eight; for the General Conference had formed three more in the West, namely: Holston, Illinois, and Pittsburgh; then we had two bishops, now we had five; then we had four presiding elder districts, now we had thirty; then we had thirty-two traveling preachers, now we had over 400 ; then in all the Western world we had 11,877 members, now we had over 120,000, including the membership of the Pittsburgh Conference, which properly belonged to the West; then we had in all these United States and the Canadas seven annual conferences, now we had fifteen; then we had, in the entire Methodist Episcopal Church in these United States and the Canadas altogether, of members, 113,134, of traveling preachers, 400, now we had of members, 328,523, traveling preachers, 1,272.
Thus you have a very small view of the progress and prosperity of the Methodist Episcopal Church in twenty years of her history. In these estimates we make no account of the thousands that were awakened and converted by her instrumentalities, and had joined other branches of the Church of Christ, nor of the thousands that had died in the triumphs of faith and gone home to heaven.
When we consider that these United States had just emerged from colonial dependence, and had passed a bloody revolution of seven years' continuance, and were yet surrounded by hundreds of thousands of bloody savages, hostile to the last degree, and that we were without credit abroad and without means or money at home, we may well join with the venerable founder of Methodism, Mr. John Wesley, and say that "God had strangely set us free as a nation." And, on the other hand, in reference to the Methodist Episcopal Church, when we consider that her ministers were illiterate, and not only opposed and denounced by the Catholics, but by all Protestant Churches; that we were everywhere spoken against, caricatured, and misrepresented; without colleges and seminaries, without religious books or periodicals, without missionary funds, and almost all other religious means; and our ministers did not for many years, on an average, receive over fifty dollars for a support annually, and a Methodist preacher's library almost entirely consisted of a Bible, Hymn Book, and a Discipline, may we not, without boasting, say with one of old, "What hath God wrought?"
A Methodist preacher in those days, when he felt that God had called him to preach, instead of hunting up a college or Biblical institute, hunted up a hardy pony of a horse, and some traveling apparatus, and with his library always at hand, namely, Bible, Hymn Book, and Discipline, he started, and with a text that never wore out nor grew stale, he cried, "Behold the Lamb of God, that taketh away the sin of the world." In this way he went through storms of wind, hail, snow, and rain; climbed hills and mountains, traversed valleys, plunged through swamps, swam swollen streams, lay out all night, wet, weary, and hungry, held his horse by the bridle all night, or tied him to a limb, slept with his saddle blanket for a bed, his saddle or saddle-bags for his pillow, and his old big coat or blanket, if he had any, for a covering. Often he slept in dirty cabins, on earthen floors, before the fire; ate roasting ears for bread, drank butter-milk for coffee, or sage tea for imperial; took, with a hearty zest, deer or bear meat, or wild turkey, for breakfast, dinner, and supper, if he could get it. His text was always ready, "Behold the Lamb of God," &c. This was old-fashioned Methodist preacher fare and fortune. Under such circumstances, who among us would now say, "Here am I, Lord, send me?"