The deepest values of early American evangelicals, revealed in what Methodists said about their dead; part IV, conclusion


Continued from “The deepest values of early American evangelicals, revealed in what Methodists said about their dead; part III

Early 1800s - evangelical preacher at camp meeting

Preaching prowess

Certainly prowess in preaching—or at least the appearance of spiritual power attending preaching—was highly valued by Methodists writing about their dear departed. Of Rev. Cicero L. Dobbs it was said:

Brother Dobbs was no ordinary preacher.  He preached a pure, simple gospel that was in demonstration of the Spirit and of power. His pulpit ministrations never failed to edify.  He fed his people.  To the last there were freshness and fire and saving power in his preaching. (Memorial Sketches… [1870-1912], 71)

A measured success

The eulogists of these ministers were not above quoting numbers to demonstrate the effectiveness of their preaching subjects.  For example, it is recorded of Rev. Largus R. Bell:

We learn that in 1865 he held a meeting at Parson’s Chapel, in Tallapoosa County, where in ten days more than one hundred souls were savingly converted to God.  And from the same source we learn that in 1876 he held a meeting at Munford, Talladega County, where, under his ministry, one hundred and sixty-four were converted and joined the Church. (Memorial Sketches… [1870-1912], 65)

Sometimes, indeed, the numbers (echoing similar statistics passed down about John Wesley and “American Methodist apostle” Francis Asbury, and the stunning recitation given at the end of Peter Cartwright’s Memoirs) were carefully recorded by the ministers themselves.  Of the Rev. John Baxter Stevenson it was noted:

In June, 1850 . . . he had been traveling seven years, and his diary says that during that time he had preached about fourteen hundred sermons, witnessed more than one thousand conversions, received about five hundred into the Church, traveled between twelve and fourteen thousand miles on horseback, and had received about $550. (Memorial Sketches… [1870-1912], 78)

Summary

An apt summary of many of the foregoing traits was the writer’s last words about “Brother Dobbs”:

Our brother wrought long, laboriously, and well.  He lived without a stain upon his Christian character.  He died rich in good works and in the triumphs of a Christian faith. (Memorial Sketches… [1870-1912], 72)

In the words of John Major’s two-line obituary in 1788, the perfect Methodist minister, as held up didactically in these memorials, was one who was both “useful and blameless.”

20th-c. memorials of a Pentecostal minister

It was interesting for me to compare these Methodist memorials with memorials written in 1935 of a holiness Pentecostal minister and educator, George Floyd Taylor, a North Carolinian who founded the holiness Pentecostal college which is today called Emmanuel College, in Franklin Springs Georgia.  Listen to the themes which come up in the following testimonies of his life written by friends and acquaintances within holiness Pentecostal circles:

Our brother was an untiring worker. . . . he found plenty to do in the Master’s service.  He labored up to the limit of his ability and strength, and many times beyond.  He loaded himself with work, and if he had any regret it was that he could not do more.

* * *

He was quick to register disapproval of things unbecoming or out of order.  He always commanded the respect and loyalty of his pupils.  It was hard for a student to participate in evil or wrong-doing in the school or dormitory life.  Very few, if any, went away unsaved that were sinners when they entered school. . . .

* * *

I was amazed at his meekness and simplicity. . . . He was deeply spiritual and took great interest in the moral and spiritual welfare of the young people of his day, especially the less fortunate ones, and was always striving to help lift them to a higher plane in a life with God. . . . He lived in such close contact with Christ that his presence influenced one to desire a higher life and a closer walk with God.

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