DEATH knocks with certain footsteps alike at the palace of the rich and the hut of the poor; at the counting-room of the merchant and the study of the man of God. His knock is imperative; and the rich and the poor, the merchant and the man of God, must as certainly answer. On the 14th of September, 1878, the Editor of this History threw down the gauntlet and gave up life's struggle. The course for him then ended; the race for him was run. Sad as every visitation of the dark messenger is, it is infinitely more so when a useful man is stricken down in his usefulness.
On account of the unexpected death of the Editor, the foregoing
volume is imperfect in some respects. Just what his intention
was in reference to this work is not fully known; but it has been
carried out so far as ascertained. He evidently intended to prepare
a full statistical table for the entire State, showing the numerical
and financial strength of the denomination. Other matters of great
interest he may have also intended to include in the volume. But
he has gone, and there is no means of discovering the intended
scope of the work. What is published is just as he left it, with
no material alterations. The work is sent out with the hope that
it may strengthen the bonds of the Church of God, re-animate and
stimulate it, and glorify Him whose humble messenger the Editor
was. May the blessings of Heaven go with it!
THE origin and progress of the Cumberland Presbyterian Church has been not unlike a poor man who settles in the dense forest, a vast wilderness all around him. He first moves in on "government land," fells the trees, clears the ground of brush, builds his "log cabin," and gets in his little patch of corn. But all is on government soil--not a foot of the land is his. But through the forbearance of government he remains, and adds a little to his farm and flocks yearly. By slow and patient labor he gathers together finally enough money to "enter" his home at "a dollar and a quarter per acre." And it is a great day with him when he comes home to his family with a certificate from the land office for "a quarter section" of land. But watch him now a few years and you see the "little patch" of corn gives way to the large and broad farm; the "log cabin" has a large two-story frame or brick in front, with plenty of "out houses," and his flocks and herds fill large pastures. Prosperity smiles everywhere, and he begins to be regarded as one among the foremost farmers of his county. To look back forty years ago, it would seem impossible for him to have ever gained this high position.
So with the Cumberland Presbyterian Church. Never in the history of Christian churches did a denomination begin house-keeping with less facilities for the work, and darker prospects of success, than our fathers. We are aware that we have among us some who seem to see even yet nothing in the work and progress of our Church encouraging. We are not of the number. Every time we make a review, we leave off with a deeper impression and higher estimation of the marvelous work and sacrifices of our early fathers and people. That they succeeded at all, that they did not within the first ten years yield to surrounding embarrassments and give up all hope of perpetuating their organization, is to be accounted for simply and only that the hand of God was in the movement. It was never intended to be given up. And if Cumberland Presbyterians should betray their trust, and God in his anger should forsake us, rest assured the principles which originated and have thus far perpetuated this Church, will be crystalized in some form and be perpetuated by some organization to the end of time. At the birth of this Church the Protestant world was divided and arrayed into two antagonistic parties--Calvinists and Arminians. Each party was strong in numbers and wealth, and hoary with age. Each party agreed that if their side was not right that the other side must be, and therefore demanded that all men should receive one or the other theory as necessarily the truth. Cumberland Presbyterians were the first people on earth whose history is on record who undertook to plant their feet on "middle ground," and shun the extremes of both these systems. Of course they were ridiculed and laughed at, and treated like the builders of Jerusalem under Nehemiah. "What do these feeble Jews?" "Even that which they build if a fox go up it shall even break down their stone wall."--Neh. iv. 2, 3. But without prestige, or institutions of learning, books, papers, wealth, numbers, or fame to lean upon--like the woman with the ointment they have done what they could--and to-day we find both these great parties modifying gradually their preaching, if not their systems of divinity--until we find no scarcity of endorsers among all the Calvinistic and Arminian bodies of the peculiar doctrines of Cumberland Presbyterians, while sixty-eight years have worked a wonderful change in the Cumberland Presbyterian Church itself. This period has given us strong colleges, and, therefore, men in the front ranks of educated society. We are also beginning to have a literature not to be despised. From working at first in private houses and country school houses, we have gradually but surely found a permanent footing in some three or four hundred villages, towns and cities in the Mississippi Valley.
Beginning with church property of less than ten thousand dollars--all told--we have, according to the last statistics, $1,683,730, with twenty-one Presbyteries not reporting--the property of which will swell these figures to tens of thousands more. Nor does this estimate include our college property, which, if added, would make the figures at least $2,000,000. This is small compared with larger, older and much richer bodies; but from almost nothing sixty-eight years ago, it is not to be despised. Our membership is put down at 100,812, with ten Presbyteries reported at the figures of former years, and others defective. One hundred and twenty-five thousand communicants is not an extravagant estimate. And the amount contributed to Christ's cause in the past year is put down at $301,589, with thirty Presbyteries not reporting this item. The denomination has 458 probationers for the ministry, 1,283 ministers, 2,251 congregations. Well may we say, "What has God wrought?" With these facts before us, and the additional truth admitted by nearly all, that on those points of doctrine and practice which, at first, made the Cumberland Presbyterian Church distinctive, the theological changes of the last decade have invariably been a convergence toward these points, surely we have sufficient to stimulate to increased efforts and to satisfy us with our present and prospective position among the denominations of the great Protestant Church. Yet nothing would be more fatal than to rest here on our supposed laurels. We should only be inspired to greater faith, humility, zeal and consecration to the great work of the salvation of the race. While we "strengthen the stakes," we should "lengthen the cords" also. There is no success--there can be none without constant, persistent effort, and unreserved trust in God and his truth. While Paul "thanked God and took courage," it was not to sit down supinely, but his great soul was nerved for more vigorous labor,--so may the mercies of God to us only inspire us with stronger confidence in the truth, and greater zeal in its promulgation.
I AM not insensible to the magnitude and delicacy of the task I have undertaken. It is one, however, which I have considered of great importance to the cause of Christ, and to Cumberland Presbyterians in particular. A true history of the Church is but a record of God's providences and dealings with men, in the kingdom of His grace. Not an unimportant portion of these special dealings and providences has God communicated to the world through the medium of the Cumberland Presbyterian Church. I know of no branch of the Church, for the time it has existed, which has been attended with greater marks of approbation from the great Head and King of Zion, than has been vouchsafed to us as a people. Wonderful seasons of refreshing and salvation, scarcely excelled by the day of Pentecost, attended the early ministrations of our fathers, and with some modifications, have continued with their sons in the ministry to the present time. At a very early day after the organization of the denomination in Dixon county, Tennessee, February 4, 1810, our ministers visited Illinois and planted the germ of the present Church on the soil of the great "Prairie State." This germ, though small and struggling for life for many years, has, with God's blessing, acquired finally a name and position among the permanent institutions of the country. Beginning here, as everywhere, poor in all things commonly regarded by the world as essential to success, yet a degree of prosperity has been attained by their labors not to be despised, even by those to whom greater facilities have been available.
Illinois was constituted a State in 1818, December 3. At that time the whole population of the State amounted to only a little over 35,000 persons. And yet, three years before this period, Cumberland Presbyterians had entered the territory and carried the glad tidings of salvation to its scattered inhabitants. Among the earliest ministrations the people of the State had from any source, were those from ministers of this then infant Church. And had it not been for the scarcity of ministers, the vast field to be cultivated, the want of ministerial support, and the poverty of the Church, in all human probability the Cumberland Presbyterian Church would have been to-day one of the leading denominations in this great State, if not entirely in the lead.
For long years she struggled against fearful difficulties. The Mother Church strongly opposed her efforts. Thousands found Christ under her ministrations and united with other sects, because they saw no prospect of permanency to our branch of Zion. Many meetings were held and souls converted where no opportunity was given to join our Church, because those holding the meetings did not expect to be there again and they had no prospect of a supply for the new members should they be willing to unite with them. The writer has held such meetings himself, and knows whereof he writes. Then the population for twenty or thirty years was more fluctuating, perhaps, than in any other of the new States or territories. A congregation might be organized this year, and two-thirds of its members gone before another year. The country was also regarded as uncommonly sickly, and although its rich soil was exceedingly inviting, yet but few, after shaking with ague, and burning with fever for months at a time, would not be anxious to get away where health could be enjoyed, even if other blessings were denied.
Another drawback to our Church in Illinois arose from the slavery question. The denomination originated in a slave State, and although this question had nothing whatever to do in causing the Cumberland Presbyterian Church to be organized, nor was it mooted in the Confession of Faith, nor was the Church ever, in any proper sense, a pro-slavery church; yet many of our early ministers and members were necessarily connected with the institution, and Illinois being a free State, after the question came to be agitated, the emigration from the older parts of the Church flowed more freely into Missouri, Arkansas and Texas than into Illinois, for the obvious reason that any one holding slaves could carry them to any of the States named, but could not bring them to this State. However, such has been the success of Cumberland Presbyterians in this State that we feel justified in placing on permanent record such incidents of their history as are within reach, and as, we trust, will honor the Master and be useful to future generation.
We regret exceedingly that the task has not been undertaken by an abler pen, and before so many of the incidents of our early operations in the State had passed from memory. The most of the older brethren have passed away from earth, and nearly all of the remainder are removed to some other countries. For these reasons our history, especially of the early days of the Church, must necessarily be defective. Still, we feel like doing our best with the material within reach; and we are the more anxious to do this, when we remember that Illinois contains the ashes of one of that immortal trio who composed the first Presbytery, and who had the independence and the resolution to stand out before the world, even though it was at the expense of ecclesiastical ostracism, and declare that truth was better than worldly honor, that the approval of God was more to be coveted than the applause of men. We refer to Rev. Samuel McAdow, whose remains lie sleeping in the church-yard at old Mount Gilead, in Bond county. Scarcely less important is the fact that Rev. David Foster, also connected with the first Presbytery held, lived for years in Illinois, and whose remains are resting in Madison county. He was one of the immortal five licensed preachers, who was present at the organization of the Church in 1810, and who had been dealt with so summarily by the commission of Kentucky Synod. We never read the history of that event without feeling proud of those five young men who had the moral backbone to resist such an unwarrantable intrusion upon their rights. He spent several years of the latter part of his life in planting and watering the early churches in Illinois. A more detailed notice of these godly men will be found in the body of the work. David W. McLin, who was a candidate before the old Cumberland Presbytery, and who was an attendant at the first meeting of the new Cumberland Presbytery in March, 1810, was likewise a very successful minister in an early period in this State. Many, many will rise up in the great day and call him blessed. His labors were numerous and unceasing until death called him home. He, too, lies sleeping in the soil of Illinois.
Seeing, then, we have in the providence of God, the watch care over the dust of three of the fathers of the Church, who spent the prime of their days preaching Christ and establishing churches in this country, we feel we would be greatly recreant to our trust not to place in a permanent form something of the trials, labors, sufferings and successes of these men and their co-workers in this part of the Master's vineyard.
In the pages that follow, we are indebted for many items of history, and many interesting incidents, to a large number of brethren whose names it would be too tedious to mention. We may allude to the help derived from the "Biographical Sketches" by Dr. Beard, Dr. Crisman's "Origin and Doctrines," from the sketch of the life of Rev. Joel Knight in Our Faith, from other sketches from him in the Cumberland Presbyterian; but to none are we indebted more than to that old patriarch in the Church, Rev. Neill Johnson, of McMinnville, Oregon. He has taken a deep interest in our work from the start, and has rendered us invaluable service. His long and active life in the early days of the Church in Illinois, made him familiar with all the men and measures of the Church for many of the early years of its history. We shall let him speak largely in his own language in the proper place.