B. F. Hall
A Sketch By W. C. Rogers
B. F. Hall.
IN DANVILLE, KY.—IN MEMPHIS—INCONSISTENCIES—AMBITION—POWER IN PULPIT.
In the year of our Lord 1848, I was attending school in the town of Harrodsburg, Ky., and boarding with Prof. Samuel Hatch. He had in some way learned that Dr. B. F. Hall would preach on a certain Lord's day in Danville, Ky.
On the morning of that day, quite early, Prof. Hatch and myself were on our way expressly to hear the Doctor. We arrived in good time.
Although the Doctor had frequently been at my father's house, I had no recollection of ever having seen him. When introduced to him he was full of smiles and cordial greetings—much more so, I am inclined to believe, than at any subsequent period of his life. He was, I presume, full six feet in height, well proportioned, weighing not less than two hundred pounds avoirdupois. He was very active in his movements, exceedingly neat in his dress, and altogether prepossessing.
Soon afterward l met the Doctor at Prof. Samuel Hatch's, in company with Robt. H. Forrester, at that time assisting Walter Scott in editing the "Protestant Unionist," Pittsburgh. Penn. I then thought he was a finer colloquist than preacher. His conversation was sufficiently solid, without any effort at display, spiced now and then with a pleasant incident or anecdote. Again I met the Doctor, I think in the year of our Lord 1853, in Cincinnati Ohio, at one of our general missionary conventions. Many of the heroic men then and there assembled have finished their course and crossed the flood. Benj. Franklin. Isaac Errett, James Challen, D. S. Burnett, Walter Scott, Dr. L. L. Pinkerton, Geo. Campbell, B. K. Smith. Elijah Goodwin, John Rogers, S.W. Irvin, and others I do not now remember.
At that time Dr. Hall was esteemed very highly by his brethren, not only for his talents, but his integrity, his moral worth. I was with him much at that meeting, and enjoyed his good company greatly. At that convention he expressed to me a desire to spend a few months in Kentucky preaching. We arranged to meet at the residence of my uncle, John Rogers, of Carlisle. Ky., in five or six weeks thereafter. Meantime I must determine, after consulting with the churches for which I was laboring in Kentucky, whether hiss services were desired by them or not.
We met according to appointment at my uncle's, and agreed to visit the churches of Washington, Beasly Creek, Minerva and Germantown, Mason county. I had smoked with the Doctor in Cincinnati, and when I saw him at my uncle's I offered him a cigar, asking him if he would not join me in a smoke, Very promptly, but politely, he refused, saying. "I have quit smoking, my brother, and when I quit., I quit.” Of course I made the best apology I could for my conduct, remarked, "Well Doctor, we'll see as to your quitting," and, reader, we will see further on.
He remained several clays at Carlisle before beginning his tour with me, and preached several good sermons in the old church. But one night he was much disturbed in the beginning and during the delivery of his discourse. A white cat had noiselessly, and no doubt innocently, followed some one into the meeting-house, and just as the Doctor entered the pulpit he espied the unfortunate truant. Immediately, and with much ado, he ordered that the cat be thrust out from among the good people who had come together to hear him preach, alleging, with more or less emphasis, that he could not possibly preach if he even knew that a cat was in the house, although it might be hid; that he hated cats and dogs immensely. A dear brother snatched poor pussy, and, notwithstanding it may have wanted a corner ever so much, he flung it out at the door violently, and as a presumptuous intruder.
When the Doctor took his text and began speaking, he seemed to be unhinged—altogether or largely out of kelter. He appeared to be thinking of the cat, fearing that it might make its appearance while he was engaged in preaching. And, sure enough, he heard the fatal mew. Stopping suddenly, snapping his eyes in peculiar manner, he remarked with indignation, "Brethren, I was afraid of this when I commenced preaching; here is this abominable cat again; the devil has sent it just to ruin my discourse; I cannot, I will not, preach another word until you have killed that infamous thing, or put it in durance vile." The cat was again waited upon by some one, and was this time handled so roughly that it returned not again during the evening services. But alas! the Doctor was not able to overcome his embarrassment, or recover himself sufficiently to do himself justice, or speak to the edification of his hearers. It was clear to all that it was an uphill business to speak through out his entire discourse, and all on account of a cat.
He began his Mason county tour with the church at Washington. Here his pulpit-efforts were most excellent. He was in fine health and spirits, and studied his sermons thoroughly just before going to the meeting-house. He generally sang a few songs with the brethren before speaking, selecting, out of a hymnbook published by himself, such songs as he said often he knew "were good, because they were to be found in a good hymn-book," one made by himself. The little children crowded to hear him, and sat right before him, looking up into his face in breathless silence. The colored people were fond of his preaching. and he possessed great power over the poor creatures, who sat, in the rear of the church, and not only gave good attention, but occasionally were deeply moved. Some, of the Doctor's best sermons were of a high order in some respects. One of the finest he delivered at Washington was on the subject of faith, and it was spoken with greater animation than usual. While he was graphically portraying the blessed condition of the redeemed in the New Jerusalem, as seen by the eye of faith, an old colored brother of acknowledged piety, seated far back, could restrain his feelings no longer, but cried aloud at the top of his voice, "Bless de Lord," at the same time clapping his hands once—only once. This outburst of feeling in no way whatever disconcerted the Doctor, but, on the contrary, fired him with unwonted energy. He was renewed in vigor and strength, and closed his speech admirably.
He afterward said that the old man's shout and clapping, instead of being a drawback, was really a help to him, assisting him in making a deeper impression on his hearers at the conclusion than he could have done otherwise.
One evening after returning from services, seated by the fire, I concluded to smoke a cigar. Not dreaming of temptation, I said, "Doctor, I am going to take a smoke; will you have a cigar and smoke with me?" “Are your cigars mild or strong?'' "Mild, quite mild, Doctor," was my reply. “Well, then, hand me one; I'll smoke with you." He smoked then during our tour through Mason county and until the last time I ever saw him. But I now smoke no more—never expect to again, and feel better, much better than when using the weed.
Dr. Hall was easily overcome by certain temptations, in small matters, and sometimes in matters not so very small. The Doctor's will-power was not great. Can a man be a really great or good man whose willpower amounts to nothing? Answer, philosopher, casuist, Christian.
The people were interested, that's the word, and most profoundly interested in the Doctor's preaching. But few confessed Christ; but the more thoughtful who heard, if not edified, were greatly interested in the Doctor's efforts. Some of his sermons were much talked of—were, so to say, "lauded to the skies." Arrived at Germantown, nothing would do but I must go straight to the Doctor and beg him, if in his power, to speak the first evening on "Heavenly Recognition," or, "Shall we Know Each Other in Heaven?" The fame of this discourse had gone ahead of him, and many desired to know what the Scriptures said on this theme. It was usual with the Doctor, in looking into the merits of this question, to present first the teaching of the Old and New Testaments in favor of our knowing "each other there." Then he felt prepared to affirm, dogmatically that right reason was favorable to this conception, and notwithstanding his views just at this point were somewhat tinged with transcendentalism, the showing was pleasing, plausible, if not altogether correct. In closing he never forgot a famous eagle he had seen caged, then uncaged and soaring to the sun-searing until he was lost.
Eagles, swans, pelicans, are good in their place; out of place they are not so good. They are ticklish birds to handle in the pulpit before the great congregation. The difficulty is, as I have observed in my short life, that they will not always soar when we want them to do so, that they seem to be exceedingly weary and light very low, when they are expected on all hands to have more sense and to do better. The Doctor's eagle had often soared well after beating the bars of his prison with his wings, until his master in mercy opened the door of his cage and set him free. But in this discourse his eagle was in bad plight. I had often watched him bound away from the platform in front of his prison and mount on steady wing until, screaming just once, he was lost above the clouds. But to-night something was ailing the proud bird—I knew not what—until it was afterward made clear.
Going to our room after the services, the Doctor remarked in mournful accents, "You need not tell me that I made a failure. I know it, and I am much mortified. Do you know the reason of this failure? Did you see that man (naming him) sitting on the first bench right before me? I never could have any confidence in him, although he is the leading man in the church. I found as soon as I began to speak that his presence was a torment to me; that I must simply drag along through my entire discourse and end in a Waterloo defeat." And such was the case. The discourse, as a whole, was flat, empty, powerless. And be it understood, all of this was caused by one innocent victim.
Dr. Hall was pastor of the Memphis Church in 1853, but stated to me, while in Cincinnati at the General Convention, that he would, at the close of the year, sever his connection with the church and remove with his family to Texas. He seemed anxious for me to take charge of the congregation, promising to see the brethren in my behalf and secure to me the position. It was also agreed upon between Elder Elijah Goodwin, of Indiana, and myself to meet at Louisville, Ky., December, 1853, and proceed thence together to Memphis. He in order to conduct a protracted meeting, and I to take charge of the church January, 1854. This was well understood by Dr. Hall, who had engineered the whole matter.
Bro. Goodwin and I met according to appointment and embarked at Louisville on the "Antelope," which was bound for the city of New Orleans. We were happy to find a number of persons on board who were members of the Christian Church, and like ourselves destined (D. V.) for the sunny land. The consequence was that we preachers were compelled nightly to preach the Word to the passengers who crowded round us and listened with marked attention. We got along pleasantly and safely until we reached Cairo, at the mouth of the Ohio. Here the greedy captain took on board a large amount of freight and it was soon whispered among the passengers that we would surely be in danger of striking the rock, or snag, or whatever it might be, a mile below on the Mississippi, and probably go down, as two or three other boats had done only a few days previously.
Moving out from Cairo, and turning southward down the river, some wag remarked that the "Antelope" must certainly sink to the bottom; that antelopes were created for the land, not the water. Bro. Goodwin, myself and a few others were on the alert. The mate pointed to one boat we were nearing, sunk to the pilot-house; to another near the shore, gone down, and on the shore forty or fifty dead, denuded mules. Bro. Goodwin and I were standing on the forecastle, he with gripsack in hand, I holding on to a large chair. In a moment it seemed that the bow of the "Antelope" rose out of the water two or three feet. Attending this was a very unwelcome noise, as if the very bottom of our noble bark was being literally torn to pieces on rock or snag. The mate rushed below, crying aloud: "Help! men; help! Put the ladies on the barge which was lashed, full of wood, to our boat, and cut loose; we must go down." No need of attempting to describe feelings, or to tell what I said or did just then. I distinctly remember that Bro. Goodwin walked, or got down in some way, to the barge, and placed himself on it, as the mate was lustily cutting away at the ropes or chains. I also remember (I shall not soon forget) that I was at his heels in going to the barge, and placed myself beside him on the same. Also I remember that I buttoned my coat hastily and tightly around my body, glanced at a large billet of wood close to me, on which I might soon be compelled to attempt to save my life. We fixed our eyes for a moment on the prow of our "Antelope," and allow me to say, reader, that no tongue can tell the joy and gratitude that filled our hearts, when assured we were safe, not sinking, but riding the waves as we were wont. Finding ourselves out of danger, we went above, went back to the ladies' cabin, proclaimed the good news, already known to them, that the threatened danger was passed. But, alas! being preachers, we were sharply rebuked for our apparent cowardice, as well as for placing ourselves in direct antagonism to what we had preached—" Love one another; " "Help each other;" “Leave not, nor forsake each other." These things we had preached, enforced earnestly; and now what had we been guilty of? Why, thinking only of self, rushing to the barge to save self, and when called upon to put the ladies beyond the reach of harm, did nothing—thought of self, and self alone. I confess, I deny not, my cheek crimsoned with shame.
"You preachers," continued the ladies, "are as much afraid of dying as we poor sinners—yes, much more so; for you sought the barge, while we remained above, awaiting results." In a moment I confessed my sin to them, begged pardon, and attempted not the least defense. I was not further annoyed. But Bro. Goodwin was not so fortunate. He argued the case, kindly, humorously, confessing that he ought not to have forgotten the ladies. But his defense amounted to less than nothing. I presume this would have ended the confab, had it not been for a remark made by a young, chivalrous, keen-eyed Kentuckian. He was brimful of mischief, and stated with the soberness of a judge that he could readily excuse the conduct of Mr. Rogers, because of his youth; but Mr. Goodwin, being older, could not be excused, either in regard to word or action; especially, his words could not be overlooked. "Why," said he, "as he got on the barge he cried aloud, 'Oh! my God, what will become of my baggage?' “I never said it," replied Bro. Goodwin, as the crowd roared with laughter. "I never said it," repeated Bro. Goodwin. "I will take oath before heaven and earth that he did," said this sharp, heartless scamp, as Bro. Goodwin and I rose up and walked out of the company, everybody—preachers, men, women and children—laughing, as perhaps they never laughed before, perhaps never since. Down to Memphis, my Bro. G. and I were greatly annoyed, now and then, by hearing some pestilent fellow cry out, "Oh! my God, where is my baggage?"
Dr. Hall and the church at Memphis received us in the spirit of Christ, and treated us with much kindness during our sojourn among them. Elder Goodwin showed himself to be a workman that needed not to be ashamed; for he not only rightly divided the word of truth, but was able to proclaim it with power. The hearing was fine, the attention was most excellent. A number of persons, hearing, believed, and were baptized. The church was strengthened in numbers, in faith, in hope, in love. Few men in this Reformation who have labored harder than Elijah Goodwin in order to restore the primitive faith and practice. He was a man of unbounded faith. This never failed him in life or in death. But he has ceased from labors more abundant. His works remain—follow him in this life, and will go with him to the judgment bar.
During the meeting, and in the presence of Bro. Goodwin, I mentioned to Dr. Hall that I had come down to Memphis to take charge of the church, but having learned from the elders that he had himself already made arrangements to do so, I most respectfully declined, and would return to Kentucky in company with Bro. Goodwin. I also rehearsed in the presence of Bro. Goodwin all that had passed between the Doctor and myself as to my coming to Memphis, becoming pastor of the church, as to work and remuneration, and especially what the Doctor had promised to do for me, etc., etc., not a sentence of which was denied by the Doctor. Bro. Goodwin remained silent. Dr. Hall, with much feeling, said: "Bro. Rogers, you have told nothing but the truth. And now be it understood that before you shall go back to Kentucky, I will go to the churches in Tennessee and Mississippi on my hands and knees, and find you a place to preach, and a better place than Memphis."
In the course of the conversation I looked over my diary and read to the Doctor and to Bro. Goodwin the estimate I had placed on the Doctor's pulpit efforts showing my confidence in him as a Christian gentleman, as an able and faithful expounder of the Word of God. This touched his feelings no little, and he was readier, if possible, than before to help me. He requested a copy of what I had read from my diary.
After consultation with Bro. Goodwin and much deliberation, I determined not to return to Kentucky at that time, but to remain South and preach either in Tennessee or Mississippi.
Before leaving Memphis, by invitation I visited Dr. Hall, at his own home, and talked over various matters which concerned himself especially.
John T. Johnson had written the Doctor a pungent letter, which he had received only a few days before Bro. Goodwin and I reached Memphis. In this letter John T. Johnson spoke of a damaging report, circulated in certain quarters in Kentucky, against the Doctor's moral character; that this said report was believed to be true by Dr. L. L. Pinkerton and myself, who had diligently and impartially examined sufficient evidence to convict of guilt.
One evening, while walking the streets, the Doctor mentioned his having received a letter from Johnson, in which he stated that Dr. L. L. Pinkerton and I had both personally communicated to him the within statement, which we could not avoid believing. He inquired if this was correct—if we both regarded the evidence sufficient to sustain the charge made against him. I replied that John T. Johnson's statement was substantially correct—that we both believed him to be guilty, and that the most honorable persons in the town of C______, in and out of the church, viewed the whole affair as we did. He simply stamped on the pavement, remarking at the same time, "My brethren have lost all confidence in me!" neither admitting nor denying his criminality.
One evening, at his own residence, the Doctor gave me his own version of some of the causes which, as he supposed, compelled him to take charge of the Memphis church. While engaged in conversation he sat smoking a long-stemmed clay pipe, which ever and anon went out, and must be fired up again. He vowed that he was in nowise to blame for my disappointment. Others were, whom he dared not name, but he was not. I made no effort to obtain their names. Many matters came up in the course of this prolonged conversation—matters closely connected with his life, both past and present. He spoke, with a sad heart, of troubles which, he said, he breathed to but few of his friends, and which he begged me to mention to no one. The room in which we sat talking was but poorly lighted, all objects in it being but dimly outlined, although it was broad daylight. So, in this enigmatical talk, some things I conceived I understood; other things I am sure I did by no means apprehend. Some things were veiled in mist—appeared in forms dim and shadowy. It has been said that there is a power behind the throne, directing the movements of the king. So I could not help whispering to myself, during this memorable interview: "There must be something behind and beyond all these utterances, moving and directing my friend and brother. What is it, pictured by the imagination, that I see standing in the gloom? What hidden power ever beckoning on to ruin? Is it a demon—an evil angel? Who can tell?"
In company with his friends he was usually full of life, occasionally laughter-loving. Being well informed on all subjects, literary and religious, his conversation was always interesting—now and then highly entertaining. He was very fond of humor, and could relate an anecdote of personal experience, or an incident that was intimately or remotely connected with his life-work as minister of the gospel, with much power. But here, at home, he seemed under a cloud—not a ray of sunshine to be seen or enjoyed; not a smile, not a joyous word, not a pleasant glance of the eye—ever sitting and talking as if some one in the adjoining room were dying, or we had just returned from putting away in his last resting-place some dear friend or relative. God alone knows the path trod by each one of his frail professed followers, the many temptations and sore trials of each, the heart-burnings and burdens of each, and how difficult to hush into silence the stormy passions raging within. He who formed this body so wondrously, and gave the spirit to dwell in this house of clay, can alone count the many tears of anguish and of real penitence that fall in the silent hours of secret prayer to the Father of all mercies, the God of all consolation. Shall we throw the mantle of charity over deeds which we cannot wholly approve, yet which we do not fully understand? Or shall we pronounce judgment against one whose life has been mainly given to the proclamation of the gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ, although that life has been full of fearful blunders and mistakes, grievous but dimly outlined sins and misdemeanors, which we conceive to be well-nigh unpardonable? Shall we pronounce judgment against such a brother, or await the sentence of the Great Day, whatever that may be? Without winking at one known or acknowledged sin of the Doctor's, I prefer awaiting the decision of Mary's Son and Israel's King in that day when all shall stand before the great white throne, and shall be judged out of the books then opened, and according to the things done in the body.
Many years after this eventful meeting in Memphis, the Doctor, when nearing the grave, wrote me a sad letter, saying he could not think of leaving this world without asking me to forgive him, with regard to his unjustifiable course toward me. He confessed he had committed a sin in not allowing me to preach for the Memphis church, and piteously desired my forgiveness. Of course I forgave him, as I trust to be forgiven of sins committed by myself.
Dr. Hall was ambitious, as the following will show: At a period in life when most efficient and powerful in proclaiming the gospel, he made a tour with A. Campbell from Bethany to Richmond, Va., passing through Pittsburg. It was agreed upon that they should preach alternately day and night on the way, thus mutually bearing the burdens of the trip.
The first night Mr. Campbell preached in the city of Pittsburg, and the discourse was regarded by the Doctor as not at all remarkable, either in matter or in manner—simply what might be considered respectable—only this and nothing more." Next evening the Doctor preached. His sermon he conceived to be superior to the one Mr. Campbell had delivered the previous night. Thus they continued preaching alternately until reaching Richmond, the Doctor laying the flattering unction to his soul, that if Mr. Campbell had exhibited his utmost powers in his pulpit efforts on the way, he could, without doubt, by close study and diligent preparation, distance him in oratorical powers. This was his deliberate conclusion. But grave conclusions are sometimes reversed. At eleven o'clock a large audience, composed of the most intelligent persons in Richmond, assembled in the old meeting house to hear Mr. Campbell. When he began to speak, the Doctor imagined he possessed new life and additional vigor, handling his subject with unwonted clearness and power.
His utterances were remarkably distinct, his illustrations apt and forcible, while the great argument he was endeavoring to unfold in all of its beauty and proportions, simply grand and overwhelming. Higher and yet higher, with little effort, but with intense feeling, he mounted upward, towering far above anything the Doctor had ever heard from him, and it may possibly be, from anyone else before in all his life. He noticed, toward the close of the sermon, that some were leaning forward in breathless silence, others were so overcome by the sweeping eloquence of the speaker that they were not conscious of what they were doing.
The Doctor was so wrought upon that he scarcely realized where he was. Drawing a long breath, he said to himself. "Well, one thing is certain: I shall never be able to preach again in the presence of such a master of assemblies! I may possibly attempt to do so, but I cannot succeed." And to the day of his death he never forgot that Lord's day morning in Richmond, Va., and never could preach thereafter in the presence of the great reformer, at least with any degree of satisfaction to himself.
There was one sad defect in the Doctor's preaching, or in the manner of delivering his discourses, namely, in attracting far more attention to the beautiful or ornamental in them than to the subject-matter.
Many years ago, in his palmy days, he delivered a series of discourses in Nashville, Tenn. It is said that they were very excellent, some of them considered by good judges as being quite eloquent. Talbot Fanning(sic), president of Franklin College, was present part of the time during the meeting. His last discourse was delivered with much more than his usual fervor and animation, and was listened to with the most profound attention. The audience seemed spell-bound. He called for a song at the conclusion and invited persons forward to confess Christ. But to his great disappointment and chagrin, not a soul accepted the invitation. This was so disheartening that, turning to Bro. Fanning, he remarked in a loud, clear tone of voice; "My brother, I am through with my efforts to save this people. I have done my best, I can do no more; offer an exhortation and tell us what is in the way—tell us why no one in this vast and attentive audience has had the moral courage to come to the Lord Jesus Christ." President Fanning was never at a loss for something to say. He was full of facts, if lacking in fancy. Besides, he generally spoke his mind freely, never at any time, or under any circumstances, mincing, but aiming directly at the point before him.
He arose with great calmness and gave the key that unlocked the secret of the Doctor's disappointment. "The people," he remarked, "were so impressed with the fine sentences, the drapery, the splendor in this sermon, and perhaps in all that they have heard, that, enjoying an intellectual feast, they have had neither time nor inclination to think of the salvation of their souls." It was no small misfortune that the Doctor should attract greater attention to the outer than the inner, the finish, the trappings of the sermon, rather than to the thought, the weightier matter, that alone which could accomplish permanent or beneficial results.
The multitudes that came nightly to hear the gospel had been merely entertained, profoundly, no doubt, but had not been cut to the heart, or convicted by the truth, as should have been the case. He spoke not this in anger, or in the line of censorious criticism, but as a fact—as a solution of the problem before him. The Doctor accepted the solution gracefully, as well as the compliment, yet at the same time feeling rebuked and mortified at being so unfortunate as to direct the attention of the people to himself, rather than to the obedience of the faith and the saving of their souls.
Are there many preachers in our ranks to-day who think more of interesting, entertaining or pleasing the people than all things else? Are there those among us whose sole purpose is to so shape their discourses and deliver them that they may be numbered among the distinguished, the renowned and eloquent pulpit orators of the past and present?
On this point Daniel Webster speaks words of wisdom. He says: "I want my pastor to come to me in the spirit of the gospel, saying, `You are mortal; your probation is brief; your work must be done speedily. You are immortal, too. You are hastening to the bar of God! The Judge standeth before the door.' When I am thus admonished, I have no disposition to muse or to sleep. These topics," said Mr. Webster, "have often occurred to my thoughts; and if I had time I would write upon them myself."
The burning words of Fanny Fern, on hearing a discourse delivered in a music-hall, by Theodore Parker, to the elite of Boston, are apropos. She thus speaks "I see the polished blade of satire glittering in the air, followed by curious, eager, youthful eyes, which gladly see the `Sword of the Spirit' parried. Meaning glances, smothered smiles and approving nods follow the witty, clerical sally. The orator pauses to mark the effect, and his face says, `That stroke tells,' and so it did, for the Athenians are not all dead who `love to see and to hear some new thing.' But he has another arrow in his quiver. How his features soften; his voice is low and thrilling, his imagery beautiful and touching. He speaks of human love; he touches skillfully a chord to which every heart vibrates and stern manhood is struggling with his tears, ere his smiles are chased away. Oh! there's intellect there, there's poetry there, there's genius there! But I remember Gethsemane—I forget not Calvary! I know the `rocks were rent,' and the `heavens darkened,' and the `stone rolled away,' and a cool chill strikes to my heart when I hear Jesus of Nazareth lightly mentioned. Oh, what are intellect, and poetry, and genius when with Jewish voice they cry, 'Away with him!' With Mary, let me `bathe his feet with my tears, and wipe them with the hairs of my head.' And so I went away sorrowful that this human preacher, with great intellectual possessions, should yet lack `the one thing needful.' "
Forty years ago, while efficient evangelists were in great demand among the disciples of Christ, it is a well known fact that they were often compelled to perform much hard work and to receive but small pay in dollars and cents. Possibly they might have fared a little better, and been better remembered, had they selected more carefully their fields of labor. But this they cared not to do. The whole world they looked upon as their field, and consequently they went everywhere preaching the Word.
Dr. Hall for a time endured hardness as a good soldier of Jesus Christ. But he realized that he was a preacher of far more than ordinary ability, and that the material aid he was receiving was insufficient to supply his demands, which were numerous and pressing, some of them no doubt essential, others with as little doubt, non-essential. The Doctor was especially fond of a beautiful table, and if it groaned under the weight of substantial food, of richest viands, or costly delicacies, no objection whatever need be offered to saint nor sinner.
As might be supposed, he was in no wise averse to extra good clothing, to possessing and using a fine horse or a fine buggy, with appropriate trappings. And who will depose to the contrary? He felt that he needed much more money than he could rightfully call his own; and, alas, how many poor, self-denying preachers have had this same feeling in life's fearful battle? But how could this "one thing needful" be lawfully and honorably secured? Not by preaching the gospel to the poor. He saw no possible way opened by which to improve his financial condition by merely preaching the gospel from place to place, or by confining himself to pastoral work. He could not entertain the thought for a moment of abandoning the ministry. He must preach all the days allotted him on earth; but could he not also engage in some other business that would assist him in living as he desired to live? How many pure-hearted ministers of the gospel have not been thus tempted, (shall I say by the Evil One?) to supplement their calling, and by this means become more efficient in advancing the cause of the Master by supplying a felt want?
Did not Paul, the great apostle to the Gentiles—Paul who labored more abundantly, and who endured greater hardships than all the apostles—did not he turn aside for a short time to tent-making? And could he not become something else besides a preacher? Could he not become a dentist, and thus assist largely in supplying his numerous and pinching wants? Good example—no flaw in this argument; no breach in this logic; every way sound and most excellent. So he forthwith became a full-fledged dentist and, because of his prominence as a preacher, put many a dollar in his pocket by pulling and plugging the teeth of the suffering ones of earth, and all without much labor or any very great amount of annoyance.
But, alas! his mind was now, in some degree at least, turned away from that which had ever been the leading purpose of his life—much more, too, than he at first imagined. His attention was now no longer fixed supremely on one calling alone, but on two—the one divine, the other wholly of the earth, earthy.
But Dr. Hall at best was one of the most peculiar men of his day. At times, great; at others, small and very small. Now strong as Samson, again weak as he when shorn of his locks. At times, while listening to him discoursing upon the theme of redemption, you felt near the gate of heaven; anon, while associating with him in every-day life, you almost felt that you had struck the direct route to Pandemonium. Just think of it! He would occasionally quit preaching and mount his pony, with rifle lashed over his shoulder, knife in belt, arrayed in garb that likened him to Arab, Tartar, or North American Indian, would wander for months with chosen comrades over the vast plains of Texas, hunting the deer or the buffalo. No doubt he enjoyed these excursions immensely, for he could entertain you royally in recounting his thrilling adventures and "hair-breadth escapes."
He was a man of moods and tenses, of singular likes and dislikes, of strange freaks, of amazing contradictions. Not a few preachers of unquestioned piety and ability, men who might have become prominent as evangelists, or pastors of churches, who have signally failed from lack of moral courage to face difficulties, or endure patiently the many hardships by the way.
Who is able, especially in the ministry, to serve God and Mammon? Who is able to follow Christ in all good conscience and with fidelity without denying himself and taking up his cross daily?
Ah! blighting as the mildew, fatal as the deadly night-shade, is this lust of the flesh, lust of the eye and pride of life. This demon that now and then haunts the soul of the good man, can only be expelled by prayer and fasting. The world runs wild after the so-called heroes, who have bravely fought on the bloody fields of battle. But they fall far short of being real heroes when compared with those who are engaged day by day in fighting battles unseen to mortal vision, against enemies within and without, submitting meekly, without a murmur, to poverty, trials innumerable, heart-burnings, known to God alone, and all this right in view of the glitter and pomp of the world.
B. F. HALL
AND John T. Johnson COMPARED
Dr. Hall was not a scholar; he had only a common English education. Still, he spoke correctly, and usually his sermons contained words well chosen; now and then there might be discovered in them a small amount of gush or flatness. He might be termed a book-worm. He bought and read all sorts of books. His library would never be considered that of a minister of the gospel. In it you could find works which assisted him in understanding the sacred Scriptures, as well as those aiding in presenting the truth to the people from the sacred desk. Works on science, philosophy, history, poetry—from Shakespeare down to Hudibras, or the commonest rhymester or punster of the land. Here, side by side, might be seen books on the evidences of Christianity and those favoring Rationalism and Infidelity. In conversation with him, on a certain occasion, as to the merits of a work written by Theodore Parker, I well remember his words of caution—how fearful he was that the minds of the youth of our country might be perverted or turned in the wrong channel by the reckless, yet insinuating views of this master-mind. What he conceived to be a good novel he simply devoured; a bad one he never opened. All day long he could sit and read aloud to an appreciative group of friends, and laugh, or weep, or frown at the incidents coming to light as the story advanced. A well-written historical novel was a real feast to him—charmed him as the syren song was wont to win and woo the fated mariners of long ago. And many a beautiful sentence or apt poetic effusion was jotted down in his diary for future appropriation.
John T. Johnson was not better educated than Dr. Hall. He never read or studied but one book—the Bible—and but one theme in that blessed book—the plan of redemption as unfolded in the New Testament. Possibly he may have read other books, for pastime, but he seldom engaged in conversation long at a time on any subject save that of Christianity. In the investigation of any question of a religious character, he aimed to reach, if possible, the precise meaning of the words of the Holy Spirit. He kept constantly in view the writer—his surroundings, his purpose—as well as the time of his writing. He never approached the Scriptures with a proposition that must be proved to be true. This he scorned to do. On the contrary, he sat at the feet of Christ and the apostles, to learn that wisdom which comes from on high, at no time wishing to bolster up any particular view. Cautiously, yet eagerly, he sought to know the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, influenced in a very small degree by the conceptions of men, however pious or learned.
He was so profoundly engaged in the work of his Master that he had no time to devote to the study of philosophy or literature. And was he not in first-class company? Paul and his co-workers threw away not one moment of time in delving into the wonders or mysteries of the material universe, or in descanting learnedly on abstruse metaphysical questions. The redemption of man from sin and all its ruinous consequences, his preparation for living here and hereafter, was to him the all-absorbing theme.
If there ever lived and labored in the ministerial ranks of the Current Reformation a man of one and only one purpose, that man was John T. Johnson. To preach the unsearchable riches of Christ, to build up the fortunes of fallen humanity, was certainly his mission and his chief glory in this world.
Dr. Hall, when he gave himself wholly to preaching the Word, prepared himself as thoroughly as possible for the pulpit, putting into his discourses such facts, truths or incidents as at once recommended them to the thoughtful, never failing, when within his power, to cull the fairest flowers from the fields of poesy, with which to adorn and beautify them, that they might be well received by all classes.
His voice was usually pleasant, now and then rich and full of melody. When he began speaking his utterance was slow and distinct; as he advanced he warmed up and spoke more rapidly, but not less distinctly. His manner ordinarily was easy and graceful, although he walked from one side to the other in the pulpit, and gesticulated much, especially with his right arm. He always looked his audience full in the face; was ever master of himself, as well as the assembly.
At times his words were uttered with such tenderness and pathos that the hardest hearts were touched and softened. Again all was changed, and one could scarcely realize that this was the same person who had, but a few moments previously, been so meek and condescending. Fully aroused, his manner was abrupt, his bearing kingly, his voice rising and increasing in power until the whole audience is thrilled with the burning words of the speaker. Leaving the church, and on their way home, the people are so deeply impressed with the overpowering grandeur of the speech that they only whisper in subdued accents to each other: "What a wonderful sermon! Never heard anything like it before in all my life. Great man."
To make a fine, logical speech never entered the mind of John T. Johnson—found no place in his heart. One question paramount to all others must be answered immediately by those who sat before him, namely, "What must I do to be saved?" Not what may I do, or how little may be done, but what must be done, and done now, in order to be saved. And after pressing this question for a moment, he would stop, look round at each one in the audience, and then, stamping his foot, cry: "Beware! take care! Act now, or opportunity may fail you forever!" The people must understand God's glorious plan of salvation, and with it there must be no trifling. It must be believed, obeyed, enjoyed, in order to live in this world and in the world to come. He was never smooth, or gentle, or tender. He was stern at times—inflexible, incisive, most emphatic. He never once thought of pleasing any mortal, in or out of the pulpit. He reasoned only by quoting Scripture facts, truths or promises, which must be received because given of God, and hence worthy of all acceptation. In the name of Christ Jesus, King of kings, he stood before the people burdened with sin, and demanded their immediate surrender. No time to debate, or parley, or offer excuse. All must bow to Him who was dead and is alive; to Him who now offers to save, but will judge the living and the dead in the last day. His great theme had so possessed him that his whole being—body, soul and spirit—was permeated and thrilled by it. And this his hearers realized, and hence the unconverted were cut to the heart, trembled as if in the presence of the Judge of all the earth, and at once surrendered. Not a soul went away from the meeting discussing the beauties or splendors of the speech—no, no. They never spoke of the great man, or the great effort, or the unrivaled eloquence—never. On the contrary: "I am surely a great sinner; am lost; am undone; must perish forever without Christ. I must and will go to him for help. Never in all my life have I had such feelings. I can never rest, day or night, until I become a Christian, cost what it may."
And now these men have ended their labors, and passed beyond the dark river. Should it be my unspeakably happy lot to enjoy heaven, with all that heaven means, I am sure I shall find John T. Johnson among the ransomed of the Lord. Some one has said that those who enter heaven will wonder at not seeing some present whom they confidently expected; also at seeing others whom they did not suppose could be saved; lastly, at being there themselves. Very well; be it so. Still, if by the grace of God I am permitted to enter through the gates into the Eternal City, of one thing I feel assured—that I shall certainly see my dear friend and brother, John T. Johnson, numbered with the redeemed and happy forever. And may I be permitted to say that should my eye fall upon the Doctor, mingling among the ransomed ones, or standing among those "first in song and nearest the throne," wearing a crown or discoursing music from a golden harp, I could not find it in my heart to say: "Snatch the jeweled diadem from his brow! Take from his hands the harp of gold, nor ever allow his lips to be opened again in songs of praise to God!" No. no; but on the contrary I would bow submissively to the will of Him who doeth all things well.
—Recollections Of Men Of Faith, W.C. Rogers, Old Paths Book Club, Rosemead, CA, c. 1960, pages 78-105