Of the nearly five hundred ministers who have ministered within the bounds of the Association during the century, all were compassed with infirmity, for God chose not angels but men to preach the gospel. Some were notable and some were not. Whether a list of the most notable names which we might make will exactly accord with the list of those whose names are written in heaven, we cannot now know. We do know that these together have done a work some of the results of which we can see, and our hearts in happy remembrance of these men praise the Head of the Church, who called them into the ministry. To my own mind the most notable pastor in the Association during the past one hundred years was John Smith, the first pastor of the Columbia Church (Dunlevy). A Virginian, without liberal education, of great force of mind, a kind heart and pleasing manners, he could be heard distinctly for half a mile when he preached in the open air. As a preacher he commanded great respect and attention. He dipped into real estate; he plunged into politics; was a member of the constitutional convention; was elected United States Senator; was falsely accused of treasonable connection with Aaron Burr; arrested, but released again; then an endeavor was made to impeach him as Senator, which, failing, he resigned his seat, and, filled with humiliation and regret that he had left the preaching of the Word, he retired to Louisiana, where he lived in obscurity for several years without even church connection. Then feeling the pressure of the call upon him, he wrote to the Duck Creek Church for restoration, which was heartily granted, and he spent the closing years of his life up almost to the very day of his death in very effective gospel service, even in his old age mastering Spanish and attempting missionary work among the Spaniards of Texas. A minister may dig in his garden, work on his farm, or engage in any legitimate business that he may, like Paul, be burdensome to no one, or to provide properly for his own, whom not to provide for is said to be to deny the faith, and to be worse than an infidel. But one called of God must not leave his high calling for another without the plainest indication of the Master's approval. The most notable thing about John Smith is the tribute which his repentance and godly sorrow pay to the sacredness of God's call to the ministry, and the wonderful grace of Christ in restoring to him his efficiency in the gospel.
According to what seemed to be the prominent feature, or perhaps the prevalent ideal of what constituted a notable minister, the century may, for the sake of convenience, be divided into three periods.
The first period, closing about 1850, may, with some propriety, be called the era of the preacher. He who could move men to yield themselves to Christ, and awaken in them the joy of His salvation, was thought to have reached the fulfillment of his mission. Although much work was done by the churches of that period, owing to extreme Calvinistic views activity was not the prominent idea. But those who heard the sermons of that period tell me that they were more persuasive than now. The preachers to a marked degree, like Paul, besought men to be reconciled to God. Special call to the unconverted closed almost every sermon. The preachers, many of them like Elders James Lee, John Clark and Daniel Jones, were, in the beginning, scarcely able to read, yet astonished their hearers with their wonderful insight into divine truth, and their power of expression and application. Mrs. Bramble told me, some twenty years ago, that when she was a girl Elder James Lyon spoke to her of her need of Christ, and that he seemed to look right into her soul. Daniel Bryant would not speak to the unconverted in personal conversation unless he felt directed of God, and then those who heard him testify to the wonderful power and pathos with which he spoke. Frederick Snyder once announced that he would next Sunday preach the funeral sermon of the next impenitent young man that died, and took for his text, "Hell from beneath is moved to meet thee at thy coming."
There were in this period many wonderful orators, such as Smith, and Lee, and Clark, and John Carmen, and tireless workers, like Shepardson, who has done so much in the cause of Christian education. All the prominent characteristics of the ministers of the period seem to be a wonderful spiritual insight into the things of Christ, and great pathos in their pleading with men to be reconciled to God. Dr. Ezra Ferris wrote of one of these early preachers, Joshua Carmen: "He preached at Duck Creek the morning I was baptized, and made me wonder how sinners could possibly stay away from Christ. I thought for the time that his sermon was worth all I had ever heard before." (Dunlevy.)
Sister Harriet Webb, a very intelligent lady, who is reaching toward ninety, gave me a description of a sermon and the preacher at one of the associatioual meetings some seventy-five years ago. The meeting was held in a grove, where about two thousand had gathered. The preacher had on home-spun linen pants and vest, no coat, collar rolled back, low shoes, and she thinks no stockings (perhaps home-spun.) That audience was so profoundly moved, and the beauty and glory of Christ was so wonderfully pictured and so mighty was the impression produced that now, after seventy-five years, she looks back upon it as one of the greatest occasions of her life. The preacher was James Vickers, whom others remember.
Much is very properly said now about dignity of dress for the minister, but who of us would not gladly pull off coat, collar and shoes if by so doing we were able to so set forth Christ.
This wonderful preaching power was not by any means confined to the uneducated among the ministry. Dr. Lynd, Father Lyon, John Blodget, J. L. Moore and others did blessed work for God during this period.
This period was followed by what we may term the period of the teacher and orator. Education, both secular and Christian, was receiving increased attention, and the great questions which were looming up were stirring intense feeling. The orator was in the halls and on the stump; the popular lecturer was abroad in the land; Emerson was giving utterance to his bright half-truths, and Webster's thunders had not yet done rolling; Lincoln and Douglas were lifting up their voices upon the great questions of the day, what wonder is it that the preachers of this period should take on some of the characteristics of the time. To this period belong E. G. Robinson, Marsena Stone, Frank Ellis, Nathaniel Colver, Wayland Hoyt, Reuben Jeffries and others, well worthy of mention. E. G. Robinson used to exclaim the great business of the pulpit is to instruct, although an orator rather than a theologian himself. The preaching of Marsena Stone was eminently that of an instructor. Nathaniel Colver used, as one of his hearers says, to bring forward his text and crack it before the audience, as a man would a nut. and hand out the richness to his hearers. Of him President Talbut once said, "God raised up Nathaniel Colver to show the power of illustration." He was a man of immense dignity, but many bear testimony to his genial kindness and effective ministry. Although he seemed to some of those who were only casually acquainted with him to be somewhat distant and over-dignified. He had the courage of his convictions on the slavery question.
Wayland Hoyt and Reuben Jeffries are too well-known to need explicit mention. Both of them drew large congregations, and were permitted to lead many prominent men to Christ. These were followed by such men as S. K. Leavitt, S. W. Duncan, S. A. Collins, A. S. Moore, Alexander Lockhart, Thomas Cull, A. S. Hobart, who were not eminently either orators or teachers, but were men who did good work and left pleasant memories behind them. Especially is Dr. Duncan remembered for the beautiful wording and spirit of his public prayers, and A. S. Hobart for his clear presentation of the truth.
The Mt. Auburn and German Churches were organized during this period. Aside from this almost the entire growth of our Association was confined to the East End of Cincinnati, and was due, under God, largely to the efforts of B. F. Harmon, who, though not eminent either as a preacher or as an orator, was welcomed four times into the Association as the pastor of a new church which he had been instrumental in organizing.
The last period is the one in which we are now living. The great orator has passed away; the man of immense dignity has given place to an energetic, active man, who is a man of God and eminently a worker. These men have brought the Churches to the present high state of efficiency; have more than doubled the membership of the Association, and made the Baptist the most prominent, if not the largest, body of Christian people in Cincinnati; These men are God-fearing, loving-hearted brethren.
There is no need, and the time would fail me, to tell of the host of noble men who, through faith, have built tabernacles, established missions, led multitudes to Christ, and solved the problem of city evangelization. To Christ, the Great Head of Church, be the glory and praise.
Besides the ministers who have worthily occupied the editorial chairs of our religious journals, and have done so much for the spread of religion, intelligence and right thinking, from John Stevens to the present day, Joseph Emery deserves special mention. He ministered for about sixty years among the poor and suffering, and while little notice of his work is to be found in the associational minutes, yet I cannot but believe that much has been written in heaven.
[From the 100th Anniversary Edition of the Miami Baptist Association Minutes, 1898. This document is from the Miami Baptist Association office. - jrd.
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