CHAPTER XXIII. Conversion of a Family
In the course of this year, 1834, we had a camp-meeting in Knox County, Henderson River Mission. There was a goodly number tented, and a fine turnout of people, for the number of settlers in this new and rising country. Our encampment was pitched in a beautiful little grove, on an eminence, surrounded by prairie on every hand.
There was in this settlement an interesting and intelligent family from one of the Eastern states. The younger members of the family consisted of several young men and young ladies. The young people liked the Methodists, and were deeply convicted; the old people, particularly the old lady, were very much opposed to them. Living, as they did, close by the camp ground, they put their Yankee ingenuity to work to keep their children away from the meeting; but finding they could not accomplish it, they at once determined to pitch their tent on the camp ground, and then they thought they would have a better opportunity to watch the children, and counteract any influence we might exert upon them. They pretended to be very friendly, to save appearances. The old lady, for the purpose of disarming me, treated me very kindly, and invited me to eat with them, which I did. In the meantime one of the daughters, who was deeply convicted, told me all about her mother's opposition to the Methodists, and her schemes to prevent her children from being influenced to become religious.
One Saturday evening I invited the seekers of religion to come forward to the altar for the prayers of the Church. Two of her daughters came forward and knelt in prayer. A younger sister, almost as much opposed to the Methodists as her mother, went into the altar with a vial of hartshorn, and while her two sisters were trying to pray she slipped the hartshorn to their nose, in order to drive them up and prevent their seeking religion. I very soon detected her in her operations, and took hold of her hand, wrenched the vial from her, led her out of the altar, and told her if I caught her in there any more on such business, I would pitch her out and publicly expose her.
While I was talking to and praying with these two young ladies, and others, I saw the old lady, their mother, come and take her seat outside of the altar, immediately opposite her daughters, and if at any time she thought I was not watching her, she would kick them in their sides to drive them up. I watched her very closely, and when in the act of kicking them, I took hold of her foot and gave her a strong push backward, and over she tumbled among the benches. Being a large corpulent woman, she had some considerable tussel to right herself again. So in this way I defeated the scheme of the devil once more. The girls became very much engaged, but while there were many still pressing to the altar, and my attention for a moment was called off, the old lady contrived to get them out of the altar into the tent. As soon as I discovered what was done, I gathered two or three good singers and praying persons, and followed them into the tent, and commenced singing; I then gave them an exhortation; then said, "Let us pray," and called on the father of the girls to pray for his children, but he refused; I then called on their mother to kneel down and pray for her children, and she refused. In the meantime two of the boys, as well as the two girls, became very much affected, and cried for mercy; and presently the third daughter, that had used the hartshorn in the altar, got awfully convicted, and begged all present to pray for her, as she would be lost and damned forever. This was too much for the old people; they became awfully alarmed, and wept bitterly; and you may be sure the whole tent was in a mighty uproar. The singing, praying, and exhortations were kept up nearly all night. Four of the family were powerfully converted, and the sectarian devil in the old father and mother was effectually disarmed, and from that blessed night they became a religious family; and joined the Methodist Church, and, as far as I know, walked worthy of their high vocation. May they all prove faithful till death, and then receive a crown of life.
While on the Quincy District--the town of Quincy was a very small and sickly place--I remember spending near two weeks in it when, if my recollection serves me, there was but one family where there was no affliction. In some families there were one, two, or three confined to their beds with fever, and sometimes the whole family were sick together, and not one able to help another. I went from house to house, not only to minister to their temporal wants, but to pray with them, and point the sick and dying to Christ. Many died, and it was with great difficulty that we could muster enough persons able to bury the dead.
There was one case which, in a very special manner, affected my mind. Under the hill, close by the brink of the river, there was what was called a tavern. It was a poor, filthy place at best; the general resort of boatmen, and, in a word, all kinds of bad company resorted to this house. A young man, from some of the Eastern states, had come out to explore the West, and was taken sick on the boat, on the river, and was left at this miserable house. He was a professed Christian, and a member of the Methodist Church. No medical aid could be obtained, no nurse, and, in a word, no care was taken of him. In this deplorable condition, he heard that there was a Methodist preacher in town, visiting the sick. He sent for me, and I went to see him. He told me who he was, where his parents lived, and that he had a considerable sum of money with him, and he wanted me to take charge of it, for he was sure if it was known he had money, he should be robbed of it. I took charge of his money, told the landlord to give him all the attention he could, and I would see him paid. The sick man said he was sensible he must die, but that he was not willing to die at that house, and begged me to have him removed, if possible. I knew of a very comfortable place, a few miles in the country, and caused his removal there. Here he lingered for a while, and then died. He had requested me, in case of his decease, to have him decently buried, pay out of his money his tavern bill, his funeral expenses, and write to his parents, that they might come to get his clothes and money. I did as requested. His younger brother came, got his money and clothes, and although it was a mournful dispensation to his relatives, yet it afforded them great comfort to know that he died among friends, though strangers.
This is one among many cases of the kind that from an early day came under my notice, in which enterprising men have come to the far West, have been taken sick, and died among strangers, uncared for.
We had a camp-meeting in Adams County, Quincy Circuit, and it was numerously attended. There was a gracious work of religion going on among the people, and there was a pretty clever, intelligent old gentleman, who had moved into the settlement from Kentucky, who, in that State, had been a Baptist preacher, but had got his mind confused with Alexander Campbell's dogmas about experimental religion. He had a fine family, and some of them knew what real religion was. He and family attended our camp-meeting. He was very fond of argument on almost all theological subjects. He tried to get me into debate during the meeting, but I told him I was there for other and better business. He denied the operations of the Spirit, its testimony, bearing witness with our spirits; that we are the children of God, and that all those happy feelings professed by Christians were nothing but excitement; that there was no religion in it.
On Sunday night a most tremendous power fell on the assembly, and a general shout went up to heaven from hundreds of Christians. Among the crowd of happy and shouting Christians this gentleman's wife and daughter were exceedingly happy, and shouted aloud. The old gentleman could not stand it; he fled behind the tent, lighted his pipe, and tried to smoke away his bad feelings. After laboring in the altar a long time, I stepped back to get a drink of water, and there sat this old Campbellite preacher and the cloud of smoke from his pipe was fearful; he seemed to be insensible of what he was about, and the pipe and tobacco were paying tribute to his reveries at a mighty rate. I stepped up to him and tapped him on the shoulder, and said, "Come, Mr.---, go with me, and I will show you more happy Christians than you ever saw among the Campbellites in all your life."
"Sir," said he, "it is all delusion; they are not happy."
"But," said I, "your wife and daughter are among the foremost shouters in the crowd. Come," said I, "you must come with me to the altar; I want to pray for you there, that you may get religion, and be happy too. Come, sir, I want to see you converted, and shouting-happy."
I took him by the arm, to lead him to the altar, but he drew back. I gathered him again, and pulled him along; but the moment he saw his wife and daughter shouting, and making toward him, he tore loose from my grasp, and actually ran. Poor man, he was so confused by fishing in the muddy waters of Campbellism, that he lost his mental balance. He would not yield to the Spirit of God, and submit to be an humble, shouting, happy Christian. Sometimes he would talk rational; sometimes quote, and apply the Scriptures right; then, again, he became skeptical. But the great difficulty was, the pride of his professed ministerial standing would not let him yield, and renounce his errors. Thus he worried on for a considerable time, and was carried into the whirlpool of doubt and unbelief. His friends talked to him, but talked in vain. He became more and more flighty in his mind, till at length, in a paroxysm of insanity, he shot himself. This event fell like a thunderbolt on his family and the surrounding community; and proves that it is a hard thing to fight against God.