In the course of the past year, five respected and beloved
ministers have passed away, to whose deaths our attention
has been especially called. Four of them were aged.
Rev. Robert Sloan was likewise one of the oldest ministers of the Church. He was personally trained for the ministry by its
founders. He had lived a long life of usefulness. Yesterday we received intelligence that God had called him to his account.
[Source: Minutes of the General Assembly of the Cumberland Presbyterian Church, 1868, page 38]
AMONG the pioneer preachers who introduced the cause of Cumberland Presbyterianism west of the Mississippi River, there were but very few who performed more conspicuous services in that work than the Rev. Robert Sloan. Permanent evidences of his labors are to be found throughout all the Churches in Missouri, and in many of those in Arkansas. His life was so consecrated to the office of the ministry, and his labors were so earnest, constant, and consistent, that he could not fail to impress his own character upon the people, and to leave abiding traces of his work in every community where he labored.
Mr. Sloan was born in the State of Virginia, on the 11th day of May, 1801. He was the second son of Alexander Sloan, a very respectable and pious citizen, who was a neighbor of the writer's father, both in Kentucky and Missouri.
In the region of country (Southern Kentucky) where Mr. Sloan grew up to manhood there were but few opportunities for extended education. The public school system was not then in vogue, and the private schools of the country were of low order and rare occurrence. The consequence was, that he attained to manhood with but very inadequate literary attainments for the office of the gospel ministry.
In the year 1819, when that great wave of Western emigration began to gather force in Southern Kentucky which afterward spent itself in Illinois and Missouri, Mr. Sloan came to the latter State, and prepared a home for his father's family in Cooper county--near to the place where afterward was built the New Lebanon Church. In the following year he returned to Kentucky, and shortly after removed with the family to their new home in the wilderness. Mr. Sloan was a member of that communion which has reaped so largely the fruits of the great revival of 1800, which prevailed so extensively in Southern Kentucky and in Tennessee. The story of McGready and the great revival is familiar to Cumberland Presbyterian readers, and will not be repeated in this place. His conversion took place at a camp-meeting--one of those occasions that had been so often and so wonderfully blessed by the Head of the Church--one of those occasions when the Spirit of grace was so lavishly bestowed that no human understanding could comprehend the full scope of its work, and no human history ever tell of its influences and its triumphs. The complete results of the camp-meetings of that period will remain unknown and untold till the end of time. None but the unwritten history that lives in the mind of the great Redeemer will ever comprehend the magnitude of the good done.
The camp-meeting referred to was attended by the family of the late Rev. Finis Ewing, and Mrs. Ewing was present when the conversion of Mr. Sloan took place. The features of that event were so striking and significant, that Mrs. E. became strongly impressed with the idea that the Lord would call him to the work of the holy ministry. Mrs. E. frequently spoke of that impression afterward, both before and after Mr. Sloan became a minister. She little dreamed then of the history that began on that, to him, eventful occasion. She little thought that the family of Mr. S. and her own would ultimately find a home under the shadows of the New Lebanon that was to arise in the wilderness of the great West--that the new convert was to become her son-in-law, and that when her own home was broken up by time and death, she should find a refuge under his roof--that when he became old, and she still older, they would both together stand upon the margin of the cold river, and wait in patience the call for a passage to the other shore; and that he would be first summoned to try the value of the religion he professed under the trees of a Kentucky forest, in the year long gone by. No mortal skill can cast the horoscope of man's own destiny, and it is well that it cannot; otherwise, the motive to an absolute faith and a sublime trust in the fullness of Christ's salvation would be removed. If man could see the end from the beginning, it would be the greatest misfortune that could befall him.
The first Presbytery held west of the Ohio River convened at the house of Robert Fullerton (or John Scott), in Pike county, Missouri, in May, 1820. It was called, and is still known as, the McGee Presbytery. The members of that Presbytery were: Rev. Green P. Rice, of Illinois; Rev. John Carnahan, of Arkansas; Rev. Daniel Buie, of Howard county, Missouri; and Rev. R. D. Morrow. How few and scattered were the first representatives of the Cumberland Presbyterian Church in the then great West! It required ministers from three States to constitute a Presbytery of four members and they were all present. How many preachers in the Church will now go a hundred miles to attend Presbytery, even on a railroad? But those men traveled on horseback, from one hundred to five hundred miles, through the wilderness, in order to inaugurate a legal organization of the Church in this great country. The second session of McGee Presbytery was held in the town of Booneville, in the fall of 1820. At this place, Caleb Weedin, Laird Burns, and A. McCorkle, became candidates for the ministry. The next spring session was held at Bethel, in Boone county, and at this time Robert Sloan, J. B. Morrow, and F. M. Braley, became candidates for the ministry. The next fall session of Presbytery was held at New Lebanon, Cooper county, and at this meeting those candidates who were received at Booneville a year before were licensed to preach. The next session was held at _________, _______ county, and at this Presbytery the second list of candidates that had been received were licensed--among them the subject of this sketch, in company with his life-long friend, J. B. Morrow. After Mr. S. connected himself with the Presbytery, he attended a school, taught by Rev. R. D. Morrow, at New Lebanon Church; and, during the same period, he and others of the young men looking to the ministry attended the theological lectures delivered by the Rev. Finis Ewing. This was the means of instruction enjoyed by the young men of that day. Mr. Morrow was a critical and accurate scholar. He was, in great measure, self-taught, but he was well taught, nevertheless; and, with Mr. Ewing to teach theology, the young men were well prepared for their great work. From such a source it may well be inferred that they were accurately instructed in the peculiar doctrines of the Church.
Of the large number of young men brought into the ministry by McGee Presbytery in the first years of her existence, most of them became honored and useful in the Church and in the country. Some of them did not reach eminence in their profession, but not one of them all ever brought any dishonor upon the Church or himself.
After Mr. Sloan was licensed, he was ordered upon a circuit in Howard, Charitan, and Boone counties. No event of special interest occurred in that first year of his ministerial labors, except a great camp-meeting which was held in Charitan, near the line of Howard county, at which many prominent citizens professed religion and joined the Church--among them Col. Bell, Mr. Erickson Hicks, and others not now recollected.
In June, 1823, in company with Weedin and McCorkle, Mr. Sloan was ordained--Presbytery having convened at the private residence of Major Cummins, in Saline county. After this, Mr. S. was ordered to a circuit in what was then known as the Salt River country, and spent the fall and winter in active labor.
In the following spring (1824) he formed a new circuit in the counties of St. Charles and Montgomery.
This was considered a hard country for any preacher to operate in. There were some results from his labor, however, and some reward for his toil. A number of persons were taken into the Church, and he received, as compensation for the six months' preaching, one three-cornered, white, cotton cravat. This extraordinary liberality of the people ought to have endeared them to the poor circuit-rider forever; but I believe the history is that he shook the dust of the red hills of St. Charles from his feet, and never returned.
The next twelve months Mr. S. labored in what is now St. Louis Presbytery (it being the home and field of labor of that excellent man, Rev. F.M. Braley), and in the State of Arkansas. He was directed by the Synod having jurisdiction over the territory west of the Mississippi, to proceed to Arkansas and assist in organizing the first Presbytery in that State. It is said that he remained six months in the State, and assisted in bringing into the ministry the Rev. James Black, and probably the Rev. Andrew Buchanan, both honored names in the Church in that State.
It was while he was on this visit to Arkansas that he casually fell in at a Baptist meeting (hard-shell), when they proposed to organize a Church. But it turned out that neither the preacher nor any of the members could write, and they called on any stranger who might be present, and could write, to assist them in their dilemma. Mr. Sloan modestly offered his services, without disclosing his own professional character.
In those early days, a horse to the circuit-rider was what a kingdom is to the prince. It was his entire property, save the indispensable saddle-bags and their meager contents. A circuit preacher comes to love his horse, and treat him as a friend, for that is his only companion for thousands of miles of lonely travel. On this southern expedition Mr. Sloan's horse died under him, and he felt almost as if his work was finished and his call had been discontinued; but the good people remounted him, and thus his locomotion and his work were renewed together. His call had not expired.
Mr. Sloan was married to Margaret Davidson, daughter of Rev. Finis and Margaret D. Ewing, at their house, near New Lebanon, on the 13th of December, 1826.
The cares of a family were never regarded by him as affording any reason for release from the higher demands of duty. His vows to the Presbytery, and his covenant with the great Head of the Church, to preach the gospel of salvation by Christ, were not considered as canceled by any worldly considerations whatever. The man who marries a wife, and then deserts the pulpit, had better never entered it. The preacher's commission does not mean during "single blessedness," nor during the pleasure of the holder; but it is for life, and no power short of that divine authority which called the laborer to his field can remove the obligation through life.
It is no part of our purpose to incorporate into this sketch of the life of one of the humblest of God's ministers much of the minute details of his Christian labors. Many events that were full of interest to him, at the time they transpired, would not entertain the reader at this remote day. And herein lies the fault of much of the biography that is written and printed nowadays. A thousand minutiae are crowded into the work to fill up space, that are of no manner of interest to the general reader. The history of a sermon, or a camp-meeting, that has been repeated a hundred times without material variation, would be of no concern to us now, and this and other sketches which I propose to incorporate into this book will be largely wanting in unimportant detail. The lives of but few men will bear this method of treatment.
After the marriage of Mr. Sloan, he settled in the south-west portion of Cooper county, and about ten miles from Lebanon Church. He labored in that neighborhood for a number of years with his usual industry. As was the custom then, he preached far and near, wherever there was a demand for his services. Near his own home a flourishing congregation was built up. The inevitable camp-ground was established in sight of his house. I remember to have attended the meetings there on several occasion, and to have seen people from a great distance come up to worship God in his own beautiful temples. In those days the camp-meeting was a great occasion. The family that proposed to attend the meeting commenced the work of preparation at an early day. The wardrobe was renewed and adjusted to the wants of the important occasion. The culinary arrangements were adapted to the demands of a great family, and were made under the impulse of a large-hearted and profuse hospitality. No one was allowed to go hungry at a camp-meeting. The people, who came from all the country around, felt and acknowledged the influence of the surroundings--generally deported themselves with order and reverence; and oftentimes scores of them would become savingly converted to Christ. The preaching was generally well adapted to the circumstances that were developed by the occasion. Very often the sermons were of great power, and produced a wide-spread influence among the people. The camp-meetings produced a style of pulpit oratory peculiar to itself. It was generally characterized by a nervous energy, a force and power, that I have rarely seen equaled under other circumstances. The preacher seemed to take in the inspiration that was produced by the presence of a great congregation, and which naturally attached to the worship of God in his own living temples.
We have now reached the period in the life of Mr. Sloan when his mind and thoughts were well matured, and when he had entered fully, actively, and intelligently upon his life-work in the ministry.
His licensure and ordination, coming in rapid succession after he connected himself with the Presbytery, indicates the perfect confidence of his seniors in the ministry in his promise of usefulness and in his ability to administer wisely the affairs of the Church, wherever his lot might be cast. And the first important fact which we state in this connection is, that he was an industrious laborer in the Lord's vineyard. He was no sluggard, or eleventh-hour workman; but a persevering energy and laborious constancy were manifest throughout all his professional career, until late in life, when his health had permanently failed. The temperament of the man, and his whole habits of life and thought, forbid the idea of spasmodic effort. Pertinacious and persevering, he worked out to the end his plans and purposes; and yet he was one who "made haste slowly." There was not an irritable fiber in his whole being. No sudden, unreasoning impulse ever prompted his acts. Dispassionate reflection and due deliberation characterized all his discussions and plans for ministerial work. He thought slowly, but accurately, and his conclusions were clear and practicable. It would follow, then, legitimately and naturally, that a man of such temperament and mental characteristics, when his conclusions were once reached, would maintain them even to obstinacy. Hence his strong convictions of the truth were fixed and permanent possessions of his mind. Once receiving and adopting the great, central truth in theology, which was the comprehensive and distinguishing feature of his Church, he took it to his heart as a mother hugs her first-born to her bosom, and through all the years of his ministry he proclaimed it, resolutely and boldly, to a dying world. A man of such mental organization could not be driven from his positions by every wind that blew, and he would naturally absorb into his very nature the truths which he believed--they would grow and strengthen with advancing years--they would fill his soul and enlarge his understanding--they would become the foundation of his Christian hopes in life, and would fill his heart with inspiration and enthusiasm in view of the fruition that awaited him beyond the grave.
The renewed mind which accepts the truth gratefully, and nourishes and maintains it as a part of his best possessions, will rarely be disturbed in his convictions and opinions upon scriptural questions. It is the shallow thinker--one whose thoughts touch the surface, and no more--whose convictions are uncertain guests, here to-day and gone to-morrow--whose powers of conception can only take in a narrow segment of the whole space, and one whose heart knows no kindling love for the truth--who often changes his opinions and his theological status.
Deep thinkers--earnest, honest men--continue to the end all the same when once they have established themselves in their doctrines. And what a power there is in an earnest, honest nature! It is felt more or less sensibly by every one who comes in contact with it. And when such a nature becomes mellowed and sanctified by the Spirit, how wide-spread and beneficent is its influence, in both the Church and the State!
But to return. We have said that Mr. S. was a man of earnest and positive convictions, and hence that he must have been laborious and watchful in his ministerial work. He held his great commission as having paramount claims upon his time. He recognized the authority of those claims, and answered to their demands according to his best abilities. "Faithfulness," then, in his ministerial work may safely be written upon his tombstone and in the pages of this humble tribute to his memory. Another feature we may notice. His singleness of purpose was constantly manifest. He lived only to work for his Divine Master. He had no ambition to occupy the high places of the Church. He had no great thirst for popularity. He never sought to conciliate the popular will, only when it set in the right direction. He never pandered to the popular sins and follies of the times; but, on the contrary, at all times, and under all circumstances, he set his face like a flint against every thing that was wrong in itself, or that was of questionable propriety. There were no byways to his path of duty. There was no toying with forbidden pleasures, nor tampering with things of doubtful expediency. His sense of duty governed in every thing. His eye was single to the great business of his life, and to the best means of accomplishing it. Even when he became old, and physically unable to preach, it was a source of distress to him that he could no longer work for his Master. No one could have a deeper apprehension of the majesty of his calling, or could exhibit a more concentrated earnestness while delivering his message of salvation to the people. He was not only industrious and earnest in his work, but he was ready and skillful in adapting means to a given end. His strong common sense practical methods of dealing with the business of life qualified him well in this direction. He worked with a clear and distinct purpose in his mind, and to a practicable, feasible end. Hence his labors were not without legitimate results. No man ever accomplished any great ends in life who performed his work in a desultory way, without any all-controlling and comprehensive idea as to the object to be achieved. I have seen in every department of the business affairs of life a wealth of effort, labor, and capacity literally wasted because of this want of a fixed purpose and a given end. Whenever a preacher, lawyer, doctor, or business man suffers his mind to become diverted from the object of his original pursuit, and he stops to try this, and dally with that, on the way, he will never achieve greatness, nor even mediocrity, in his calling, and he will have to write "failure" upon the final page of his earthly career. In this day of great achievements and progress in all human enterprises, if a man gets to do one thing well, he is a success and a hero.
Of the actual results that followed the ministerial labors of Mr. Sloan, I cannot speak even with approximate correctness. Like all his contemporaries in the ministry, he never dreamed of fame, of biography, or memoir. He simply performed his work well, and referred it all to the unwritten archives of the Church triumphant. He kept no diary or other memoranda of his work, or the results that followed from it. While we cannot altogether commend this utter indifference to the preparation of data for Church history, which characterized all our old ministers, we must admit that it exhibits in a high degree their true humility of character and their desire to hide themselves behind the cross which they held up to a dying world.
There is a fact to be observed in the ministerial labors of Mr. Sloan, as in those of all his contemporaries in this country, that deserves especial prominence in these sketches. It is one which discloses the true secret of all great usefulness in the ministerial career. It is one which should be exhibited in the life of every faithful preacher in the land. It is simply this: a resolute purpose to preach the gospel at all times and under all circumstances--to labor on, whether paid or unpaid--to declare the whole counsel of God, and leave the consequences with him and those who hear--to preach, whether the Church appreciates his efforts or not--to preach, whether he sees the fruit of his labors or not--to sow in the morning, and withhold not his hand in the evening--to plant beside all waters, and look only to the great harvest at the final day for his full reward. This spirit entered largely into the ministerial labors of all our early preachers in this country. Their motto was to "Go forward and work"--to seek the harvest-field, and thrust in a sickle at all points--to recognize the common enemy wherever found, and offer battle on every plain--to plant the standard of the cross on every hill-side, and fling defiance in the face of every foe. There was a sublime heroism exhibited in all the life and labors of those devoted men. With a dauntless courage, born of reliance on the Omnipotent Arm, and with a faith and trust that knew no abatement, they sallied forth to the contest. Sometimes their course lay through the unbroken forest, or over the pathless prairie, or across the swollen rivers--no matter; on they went, and frequently they found their resting-place for the night under the foliage of a great tree, with their saddle for a pillow, and their horse for a companion. Thus, with an unflinching courage, a burning zeal, and an abounding confidence in the gospel they preached to others, did they go forward to battle for Christ and his cause.
The heroes of history are generally found among those who, either from patriotism or ambition, sought renown on bloody battle-fields. This class of heroes has always found obsequious worshipers, and thousands of ready pens to perpetuate its bloody deeds. Those persons accomplish their heroic achievements under the eyes of gazing myriads, and "in all the pomp and circumstance of glorious war." They scan the future by the past, and see themselves personated in the enduring marble--they see their warlike achievements embalmed in verse and living in song--they see their names immortalized in everlasting history; and, thus stimulated, they go forth to win fame and renown. But the humble minister of the cross needs to flourishing plume in his hate, no blazing shield upon his arm, and no silver-mounted girdle around his loins. He sees no glittering page of history whereon will be recounted his deeds of benevolence and devotion--he anticipates no monument of brass or marble that will hand down his form and features to coming generations. None of all these worldly considerations enter his mind, or stimulate his energies. Under a divine conviction of duty, and with the stimulus of love for his fellow-men, he enters his field, and does his faithful work. God help the faithful preacher in his arduous labors, for no power short of think will be adequate to his effectual aid!
The work of the minister is preeminently a work of benevolence. A genuine, heaven-born benevolence prompts a thousand good deeds among men, but they are isolated deeds--one here and there--one do-day, but not repeated, perhaps, for a year; but a preacher's work is a perpetual repetition of benevolent acts.
In reference to the early preachers in this State, it may be safely said, they could have no motive to work in the ministry except an abiding conviction of duty, because they received for their labor no pecuniary remuneration worth mention. It was with them an exalted labor or love. We may search in vain through all history for a like exhibition of benevolence and philanthropy outside the ranks of the ministry. If these men had given themselves to secular pursuits, very many of them would have secured wealth and worldly honors, and distinguished positions in society.
Before a young man of ordinary ambition can give up the ultimate prospect of attaining some of these worldly ends, in making up his mind to enter the ministry, he must pass through a terrible ordeal of humiliation and self-abasement. He must extinguish forever the fires of his worldly pride, and crush out of his heart the last remnant of worldly ambition.
An analysis of the style of Mr. Sloan in the pulpit will be difficult to render, chiefly because it was not specially marked or unique in its character. It may be remarked, generally, that he was clear and perspicuous in his thoughts, and in his method of delivering them. The arrangement of the topics for discussion was generally natural and consecutive. Except when he had fully discussed his subject, he did not wander from his main lines of thought. It was a very prominent feature in the style of all our early preachers, to deliver the leading thoughts that sprang out of the text, and then conclude the sermon, not merely with a particular application of the subject, but with a powerful exhortation. This manner was very common with Mr. Sloan. He was not content with a mere enunciation of the doctrines of the text, but he wished to drive home to the hearts and consciences of men, by a powerful appeal to his audience, that his message was meant for each one, personally, and that there should be a special application of the truth that was presented in the discourse. There was one feature of his style that would attract the attention of the most indifferent listener. The gravity and solemnity of his manner, and his wonderfully concentrated earnestness, gave a form to his sermons that always commanded attention.
A man of his unemotional temperament would not be safe in going to his pulpit performances without adequate preparation. I am informed by his family that it was his custom to prepare carefully for the coming Sabbath--that he would arrange the entire outline of his sermon before going to the church. It was his usual habit to prepare notes of the leading thoughts of his discourse, but frequently did not use them at all. By way of illustrating the intensity of his thoughts, while engaged in this preparation, it is stated as a fact that his hands and his feet would become cold, as a consequence of this concentration of his mental powers. He did not commit the error that is very often perpetrated by good preachers, of underestimating the intelligence of his audience, and therefore content himself with feeding them on chaff. A congregation of good Christian men and women must have some variety in their entertainment, or they will weary, and eventually become disgusted with sameness of diet. How many preachers fail signally just at this point in their ministerial history!
It has been often said by the contemporaries of Mr. Sloan, that it appeared to be his special mission to preach to the Church. I know that such was his custom, generally, so far as his ministry came under my personal observation. He dealt with the Church in very great plainness. I state this fact in my own experience: For some time Mr. s. was pastor of the Church with which I was connected. When the Sabbath arrived on which he was to preach, I often tried to find an excuse to be absent; for I knew perfectly well that some short-coming, or some failure in duty, would be shown to me in the sermon. The very workings and emotions of my heart were discerned and laid bare by the minister. I thought it was very hard, sometimes, but I now know it was all right. It was the only method of correcting the errors and reforming the life of the Church. For, if the members of the Church are usually and glaringly delinquent in their Christian duties, reproach is brought upon the cause of religion, and no good is accomplished through their instrumentality.
At camp-meetings and other revival occasions, when the Church generally seemed to be alive to its duty, but the cause was not moving onward as was desirable, Mr. Sloan would preach one of his searching sermons, from the text, "One sinner destroyeth much good," or from some similar subject. He would search out and expose the hindrances with patient care, and then denounce with terrible earnestness the unfaithful delinquent. By this means the wheels would be unclogged, and the hosts of Zion would take up their onward march, and victory crown the conflict. Sagacity to discern the cause, and skill to apply the proper remedy, is a great gift to the minister of the gospel. After the lapse of a quarter of a century, I remember distinctly such a sermon from Mr. Sloan, at a meeting near his own home. What a tremendous shaking of the dry bones there was, in the faithful search for the Achan in the camp! By the light of God's own truth, the offender was traced to his place of concealment, and summarily thrust from the camp, when victory perched upon the banner of the cross. The scope of his ability and power in the pulpit was not confined to his sermons addressed to the Church. His solemnity and earnestness of manner made his appeals to the unconverted very impressive and effective. Sometimes he would thunder down an avalanche of denunciation against the impenitent, that was terrible to hear.
Taking, then, these several characteristics as a preacher, we find that he possessed great powers for effectiveness in the pulpit; and taking his humble piety and devotion to his duty, we find even eminent capacity for usefulness in his Heaven-authorized calling. That he was thus useful, there are thousands of evidences scattered all over the great field of his labors, lying between the Mississippi and Arkansas Rivers.
The personal piety of Mr. Sloan deserves to be noted with special emphasis. We have already seen that, from his peculiar temperament and habits of thought, there could be nothing spasmodic in his daily life. Besides the testimony of the Church on this point, there has come under my own observation very much evidence of his daily walk and conversation. Serious and sober always in his demeanor, there was no austerity or harshness, much less any exhibition of pharisaical pretensions. With him religion was a principle--an all-pervading, living, active reality, that entered into the every-day events of his life. He never laid down his mantle in order to accomplish some doubtful matter, and then assumed it again. Uniformity and sincerity were legibly and conspicuously written upon every lineament of his character.
He was sometimes subject to despondency and depression of spirits. His pious heart would oftentimes sink under the sins of the people, and at the feeble resistance which the Church would offer to their progress. I suppose there was scarcely a person within all his acquaintance that ever entertained even a suspicion that Robert Sloan was not a good and pious man. In this respect his example was of priceless value to his family, to the Church, and the community generally. When a man once acquires the confidence of everybody in his honesty and sincerity, and in the genuineness of his religious pretensions, he becomes a tower of strength to the general cause of morality and religion. In every attack upon Christ and his religion, his humble followers may point with triumph to one living example and true exponent of the principles they profess and the precepts they follow. Such a man becomes a beacon light to the world, whereby the voyagers on the ocean of time may steer clear of the rocks which destroy and the whirlpools which engulf so many. And herein is illustrated the importance of perpetuating the life and memory of such a man. The life and memory of the good are among the best possessions of the Church.
In his family and domestic relations Mr. S. was always amiable and agreeable. He ruled his household on the principle of love, rather than that of force. Some considered him too indulgent a father; but the fruits of his policy have demonstrated that his theories were sound. Family government cannot be brought up to any one particular standard. The discipline would be wisely adapted to the temperament and character of those who are to come under it. I have sometimes seen the apparently anomalous condition of a well-governed household where there was no visible authority brought to bear, yet there was law and authority both. The general acquiescence in the rules of the accredited government removed any evidence of its existence. A mutual understanding among all the members of the family, that each should do his duty to the other, and still recognize the source of power to punish a failure, rendered unnecessary any exhibition of the insignia of authority. To a considerable degree this was the case in the family of Mr. Sloan. Of course, all law is liable to occasional infractions, and I suppose it was the case here as elsewhere.
Mr. Sloan brought up a large family of sons and several daughters, and I believe the facts will warrant the declaration that the prayers and hopes of his life in relation to them have generally been realized. Nearly all of them are members of the Church, and all are occupying honorable positions in society. In the attainment of this result, however, it is just to say that the head of the family derived very important aid from his wife. By those who knew her well, it will not be regarded indelicate in the writer to say, she has proved herself to be a model wife for a preacher--exhibiting great industry, energy, and active piety. I put upon record this testimony to her character, as a Christian woman, a good wife, and excellent mother, with great pleasure. She is still living, and goes to Presbytery as regularly as her husband did in his life-time.
In the year 1834 Mr. Sloan moved from his home in Cooper county to La Fayette county, and settled in a congregation which had been built up by Rev. R. D. Morrow, and is near the village of Greenton, in that county. As usual, in the absence of a church-house, the inevitable camp-ground was near the minister's residence. And here was annually repeated, with more or less variation, the history of many a preceding camp-meeting.
At this period Mr. S. was in the prime of life, and performed the usual amount of labor in his profession that all our early ministers felt called upon to discharge. Likewise, upon his farm he labored as other men did, who derived their chief support from that source. The material support furnished to the early preachers of this denomination was very meager indeed. It could not be relied on at all, either as to the amount or the certainty of its payment. Hence, the preacher of that day was always a farmer as well.
After several years' residence in La Fayette county, producing only the ordinary results to faithful ministerial labor, Mr. Sloan changed his place of abode to the adjoining county of Jackson, and he was for several years the pastor of the congregation in Independence.
His home was several miles out of the town, and the inevitable camp-ground was soon established. I remember to have been at a meeting at this camp-ground, when on my return from a very long journey to the western prairies. I had been absent for many months, and had not heard a sermon during all the time. It has been now nearly a quarter of a century since that meeting was held, and yet I call to mind, distinctly, the day, the scene, the preacher, and the sermon. The 11 o'clock services had commenced. Mr. Sloan was in the stand; the congregation was large, quiet, and serious; the day was calm, sunny, and warm; the foliage of the forest was green, and rippling a soft murmur to the passing breeze; and the preacher, with his solemn and earnest manner, was delivering his message of salvation to the people. His deep, sonorous voice rang out under the green arches like a bugle-call. Great solemnity pervaded the minds of the congregation; and among the first-fruits of that sermon was the happy conversion of a young man, who had been my companion on the long journey to which I have alluded.
For a number of years in the latter part of his life, Mr. Sloan's health was permanently impaired. He was patient and resigned, however, and the only regret that escaped his lips was, that he could no longer preach the unsearchable riches of the gospel to dying men. During the most of these years he resided at his "Prairie Cottage," in Cass county, whither he had removed from Jackson. Here he spent the evening of his days, and here he died, and went up to account for his stewardship as a called minister of Christ's own gospel.
It may well be anticipated that the end of such a life was a powerful corroboration of his profession. Too honest and candid to deceive others, he could not deceive himself. True to his Saviour, and to his duty as one of his humble followers, he was not abandoned or left to his own resources in that solemn hour to which all men are called.
Calmly and intelligently arranging his temporal affairs, he then called his children to his bedside, and, with equal calmness and intelligence, he bade them prepare to meet him in his new home beyond the dark river. His faith never wavered, his trust never faltered, his hope grew stronger as the end drew near, and his final exit was a triumphant entrance through the portals of the New Jerusalem, the pathway being all illuminated by the glorious light that emanates from the face of the risen Saviour.
In previous pages we have dwelt to some extent on the personal and professional character of the subject of this sketch. We will, therefore, make a very brief resume of the leading traits of his character, and endeavor to evoke therefrom some profitable lesson and some suitable example for those who come after him to profit by and to follow.
The Christian character of Mr. Sloan was marked by great sincerity and honesty. He was incapable of duplicity or double-dealing with his fellow-men.
He was conscientious and faithful in his ministerial labors--industrious, zealous, and earnest.
He loved the Church, but he also love all Christian people, under whatsoever private banner they might be following the great Leader.
His personal sacrifices and self-denying spirit were conspicuous through all the years of unpaid and unrequited ministerial toil and labor. However the Church may have failed in her duty toward the support of the ministry, yet he himself failed not to preach and labor on, always regarding the shortcomings and failures of others as no excuse for his own delinquencies.
He was simple in his habits, modest in his demeanor, and unpretending in his claims.
He was a model Christian, and a faithful and useful preacher.
One venerable father, Rev. John B. Morrow, now taking his last, feeble steps in his journey to the better land, was intimately associated with Mr. Sloan in the early years of their ministry. They were devoted friends, and "Uncle John" now bears willing testimony to his personal worth and to his faithfulness and usefulness as a preacher. I quote his own language: "In manner and matter he exhibited great originality. His language was very chaste and correct. He quoted largely from the Scriptures, both in prayer and sermon." Mr. Morrow relates this incident, that came under his own observation: They attended a camp-meeting at _______, and they soon learned, from the minister who resided in the neighborhood, that the congregation was greatly demoralized by internal feuds and dissensions. Knowing well Mr. Sloan's special mission to preach to the Church, he was requested to apply his special skill on this occasion. His first sermon was from the text, "Who is on the Lord's side?" It was treated in his usual earnest and plain manner, but it did not reach the heart of the disorder: each disaffected member of the Church applied the discourse to his neighbor, and took naught to himself. Another effort must be made in the same direction. On Sabbath, previous to the communion, he preached from this text: "If thy brother hath aught against thee, go first and be reconciled with him, and then bring thy gifts," etc. The reader will see at a glance how appropriate was the subject to the circumstances; and the testimony is that it was applied so closely and so powerfully to the consciences of the members of the Church, that the complete reconciliation of all its conflicting elements was visibly accomplished.
The Rev. J.W. Campbell, of Pike county, was also the early friend and compeer of Mr. Sloan. I have a letter before me now from this "old man eloquent" that is full of praise of his departed brother. He uses strong language in expressing his own estimate of his character as a Christian, and his effectiveness as a minister of the gospel. Such testimony is very grateful to the hearts of his surviving friends.
I might enlarge this sketch by extracts from the opinions of others who knew him well and esteemed him highly; but I close this tribute to his worth by copying in full the sketch written by Rev. J.H. Houx, and published immediately after his death:
"The Church is again made to mourn for her losses. The name of the Rev. Robert Sloan must be added to the list of aged and influential ministers lately fallen.
"He had been one among the early pioneers of the Church in Missouri, and through life a most vigilant, laborious, and competent minister of the gospel. His eventful career ended on the morning of the 27th of May, at his residence in Cass county, Missouri, in the 67th year of his age.
"On the 28th we met a numerous assemblage of afflicted friends, to discharge the last sad offices which the living can perform for the departed. This was an impressive scene.
"Several ministers--Rev. G.V. Ridley, of the Cumberland Presbyterian Church; Rev. Mr. Ferrill, of the M.E. Church, and Rev. Dr. Yantis, O.S. Presbyterian--had met to assist in burying one of their own calling, so highly regarded. his children, scattered from St. Louis to Kansas City, were all there.
"His wife, who is a daughter of the Rev. Finis Ewing, and also her mother, the almost sainted relict of Father Ewing, were present. In such a presence, and with the mortal remains of one whom we regarded so highly, and loved so tenderly, before us, we felt more like silently weeping than speaking. The ministers present all took some part in the solemn service. Dr. Yantis, struggling under suppressed emotion, made some most pertinent and most impressive remarks. He said he had known the subject before us for many years, and most intimately; that, though connected with different Churches, no two men had been more intimate; that he did not presume there was a thought or feeling he had concealed from him; that he was one of the most honest and sincere men he had ever known; that his influence would be felt for generations; that we 'bury few such men.'
"Father Sloan was a native of Virginia, born 1801. His parents, before he was grown, moved to Missouri. In early life he became devoutly pious, and in his twentieth year became a candidate for the ministry, in connection with the Rev. J. B. Morrow and the lamented Frank Braley. These candidates, in connection with several others, were thrown under the literary tuition of the Rev. R. D. Morrow, and the theological training of the Rev. Finis Ewing; and at that time Mr. Ewing laid the basis of his published Lectures.
"This humble school in winter-time, and the circuit in summer, constitute the only Alma Mater he and his compeers can claim. He made very encouraging proficiency in study and in preaching, so that very soon, owing to the pressing demands for ministerial labor, and his promising competency to meet the emergencies arising in a new country, he was thrust into the work. He joined Presbytery in 1821, was licensed to preach in 1822, and ordained to the whole work in 1823. For a succession of years he was sent from one to another new field of missionary labor, to contend against all the disadvantages incident to such a work. This was done from the necessities in the case, and from their confidence in his capacity to meet the exigencies. He always showed himself master of the situation, and abundant success crowned his efforts. Glorious revivals of religion were enjoyed in his every field of labor, out of which he organized numerous congregations, and multiplied scores were converted. A great multitude from Northern, Central, and Western Missouri, 'will rise up and call him blessed.' He also helped to organize the first Presbytery in Arkansas, and performed some additional missionary labor there.
"After having spent several years in missionary labor, he was united in marriage to Miss Margaret D., daughter of Rev. Finis Ewing. His subsequent labors were expended mainly in Upper Missouri, he having charge during that period of several very important fields as pastor. He was ever active in the ministry to the extent of his ability, though for many years much afflicted and worn; till within the last few years he became partially a paralytic, and was compelled to desist from trying to preach.
"However afflicted we may be over our loss, we are impressed that his life was useful, his work was quite done, and that it was meet that he should enter into his rest.
"As to his capacity and characteristics, he was not only very able and efficient in his work, but he was peculiar, both as a man and a minister. In his tone of spirit, his personal appearance, and all his associations and labors, he evinced a measure of gravity and sincerity peculiar to himself, which was very impressive in all the relations of life. His countenance, voice--indeed, the entire man--was grave, solemn, and impressive.
"Both in the pulpit and in society his language was well selected and accurate, and his manners chaste and comely. His affection for his brethren was ardent and pure; his regard for society was elevated, and his reverence for the Deity profound.
"He was peculiarly free from levity, though sufficiently affable, and at times indulged in some well-timed pleasantry among his friends.
"He was by nature indued with a vigorous and accurate mind. He very closely observed what was transpiring around him; critically judged human character; well adapted his remarks to existent circumstances, and was always master of his undertaking.
"His style of sermonizing was what would be termed the exegetical. He seemed always to take a very natural and comprehensive view of his subject, and his hearers were often astonished to see developed so many natural features from the text.
"While he stated clearly, and defended ably, the doctrines of religion, his preferable field was practical Christianity. His brethren frequently termed him a great 'practical preacher.'
"His life was that of unwearied vigilance of the spirit and conduct of the Church. He expended much labor in defining the high and sacred position of the Church, and her various responsible duties.
"His skill in searching out the cold-hearted and ungodly professor, in 'detecting the hypocrite' and the self-deluded, rendered him a master in this department, and preeminently useful. Parties have been known to become offended, thinking that he was personal, and exposing them. Persons at times accused their friends of telling the preacher what they did, thought, and said. He at the same time dealt in severity and great kindness--severity toward sin, and kindness toward the sinner. His entire mien impressed his hearers with a sense that God is a great being, 'a pure Spirit;' that sin in enormously detestable and hateful; that the Deity 'is of too pure eyes to behold iniquity;' that life is short, real, and earnest; that ungodliness in the Church is out of the question; that to die impenitent and unpardoned is immeasurable terrible.
"He was one of the most earnest, faithful, and searching preachers I ever knew. He always preached well; he was ever instructive and ever faithful, whether it pleased or offended. He was too sincere to be otherwise. He never 'daubed with untempered mortar;' he never 'shunned to declare all the counsel of God.' He always evinced great self-possession as well as humility. He was largely possessed of that spirit so abundant in the early fathers in our Church; that holy unction which caused them to rise above all that is natural--all that is human.
"On occasions when thus favored his appearance, his voice, and his power were indescribable. He seemed to stand in the presence, and speak in the fear, of the great God, and the very place seemed to become awfully solemn.
"But this great and good man, at the bidding of the Master, has surrendered that commission he received in youth, and so scrupulously regarded through life, and 'entered into the joy of his Lord.' He lived in the Church for over a half century, without a blemish on his reputation; honored his calling, glorified his Maker, greatly benefited his race, and departed in perfect peace.
"May God in mercy still dwell with his bereft widow, who
for so long a time, and so faithfully, cooperated with him; bless
his children; call some young man to fill his place, and still
dwell with the Church.
[Source: Historical Memoirs: Containing a Brief History of the Cumberland Presbyterian Church in Missouri, and Biographical Sketches of a Number of Those Ministers who Contributed to the Organization and the Establishment of that Church, in the Country West of the Mississippi River. By Judge R.C. Ewing. Nashville, Tenn.: Cumberland Presbyterian Board of Publication, 1874, pages 113-149]