ECCENTRIC BUT USEFUL WHEN the population of the United States was sparse and widelyscattered, the public services of religion could not have been maintained at all if the Lord had not raised up a race of zealous itinerants, who passed rapidly from one hamlet or homestead to another, and, by their intense earnestness, kept alive the sacred fire. We allude to a period ranging from one hundred years back to within half-a-century of the present date. The men of that time were necessarily strong physically, o,: they could not have borne the hardships of their wandering miss/on, and they were also sturdy mentally, and needed to be, for they met with people who required vigorous handling. Of course they were rough and unrefined — what could they have effected had they been otherwise? Of what use would a razor be in clearing a forest? Very frequently they were wildly humorous as well as vehemently zealous, but probably this play of their spirits was needful to keep them from sinking down under the burdens of their uncomfortable and trying circumstances. At any rate, they did the work which God gave them to do, and left America a Christian instead of a heathen country, which last it might readily have become had it not been for their efforts.
We do not commend all that they did, much less hold them up for imita tion, but we think it profitable to see how others did their work, and therefore we present to our readers’ notice Jacob Gruber, of whom his contemporaries said, “He is a character, and copies no man.” Our present article consists of extracts from a biography written by W. F. Strickland, which has not been published in this country, and it will give some idea of Gruber’s usefulness; his eccentricities will be more clearly seen in a second paper, which we hope to insert next month. “At the beginning of the present century there appeared at the seat of the Philadelphia Conference a young man from Bucks county, Pennsylvania, who was impressed with the conviction that it was his duty to preach. The homestead which he had left was the place of his birth, which occurred February 3, 1778. His parents, whose Christian names were John and Platina, were of German descent, and had been brought up in the faith of the great leader of the Reformation. The German Reformed Church was among the earliest organized in Pennsylvania, and for many years, in the particular section about which we are writing, that denomination had the exclusive control of the religious interests of the neighborhood. The time, however, came when this quiet was broken. Two itinerant Methodist preachers had divided up the country into circuits, and claiming to be successors of the apostles themselves, thought it no robbery to imitate them in traversing the country, and preaching the gospel whenever they found an open door. The strangeness of their manner, and the wonderful earnestness of their preaching, attracted the attention of the people, particularly the younger portion, and the cabins and barns where they held forth were crowded. “Young Gruber listened to these circuit preachers with amazement; and though they were denounced by the staid and sober Reformers as wild and fanatical, he nevertheless felt strangely drawn to their meetings. There was such a fervor in their prayers, such a zeal and earnestness in their preaching, and such a power in their songs, that he was entirely fascinated, and soon became convinced of the need of conversion. To obtain a thing so desirable, he made a solemn vow that he would pray seven times a day. His prayers for a change of heart were soon answered, and with gladness he went with his parents to the place of meeting, and with them joined the Methodist church. “That the reader may have a correct description of the religious condition of this particular neighborhood, we give an account prepared by Gruber himself. He says: ‘ The Methodist preachers came into the neighborhood, and held several meetings. As the result of their labors a revival commenced, and quite a number of persons were converted and professed a knowledge of sins forgiven.’ Some of the members of the German minister’s church went to the old gentleman, expressing a desire to know something about this new doctrine. In reply to their inquiries about the knowledge of forgiveness, he said: ‘ I have been a preacher more than twenty years, and I do not know my sins forgiven, and indeed it is impossible that any one should know it.’ It was not considered very wonderful by some that this preacher should be in darkness on that subject, as he frequently became intoxicated. An aged woman, a member of the German church, at one of the revival meetings where some were praising God for having pardoned their sins, stood thoughtfully shaking her head and said, ‘ It could not be, for if they had to answer a hundred and sixty questions, as she had before she got religion, they would learn that it could not be obtained in such quick time.’ “Among the early itinerants who visited Pennsylvania about this time was the eccentric Valentine Cook. He was fresh from the halls of Cokesbury College, and perhaps the first native college-bred preacher that had appeared in the American Methodist church. When Cook made his appearance, and it was rumored that he was a graduate of a college, he attracted general attention. The German Reformed, like several other churches we could name, entertained the idea that no man could possibly be qualified to preach who had not received a classical education; and hence vastly more respect was paid to Cook than to any of his colleagues in the ministry. His learning, however, did not always avail to insure him respect, as the following incident will show : — After traveling a whole day without refreshment in a region where he was not known, he called a halt in the evening at the house of a German and asked if he could obtain feed for his horse and something for himself to eat. Being a tall, gangling, rough-looking specimen of humanity, the good woman, who was engaged in spinning, mistook him not for a German but an Irishman. She was not at all favorably impressed with his appearance, but at her husband’s request she procured a lunch for him and returned to her wheel, saying to her husband somewhat petulantly in German, she hoped the Irishman would choke in eating. After Cook had finished his repast he asked the privilege to pray, which being granted he knelt down and offered up a fervent petition in German. In his prayer he besought the Lord to bless the kind woman at the wheel and give her a new heart, that she might be better disposed towards strangers. Such a personal reflection was more than the good woman could stand, and she left her wheel and ran from the house overwhelmed with chagrin at her wicked wish. “We mention these incidents for the purpose of giving the reader some idea of the times in which young Gruber commenced his religious career. Being a sprightly lad, he was soon called out to exercise his gifts in public prayer and exhortation. As usual in such cases a storm of persecution arose, not only from those who were outside of the church and the family, but his own household. Father, mother, brothers, and sisters, as if by one consent, rose up against the young exhorter, and he was obliged to leave home and seek more congenial quarters elsewhere. Some of the more zealous Methodists interpreted this differently from what young Jacob had imagined, and persuaded him that it was a clear indication of Providence that it was his duty to abandon everything for the exclusive work of the ministry. Tiffs interpretation of Providence was soon after verified. As he went on his way afoot and alone to the town of Lancaster he met one of the itinerants, who in a short conversation convinced him of the duty of entering upon the ministry, and sent him to an adjoining circuit to fill a vacancy, He accordingly procured a horse and went to the appointment.
There was some diversity of opinion about the propriety of this course, even among the preachers. He had a white horse, and one of them jocosely remarked: ‘Well, you have got on the pale horse; death and hell will follow you; only take care that you don’t let them get before you.’ Another remarked that ‘ he would kill himself in six months;’ and still another affirmed that, such was his zeal and physical exertion, tone month would put him to rest.’ None of these things, however, seemed to move this young son of Vulcan (for he was a blacksmith by trade), and, as before stated, he found himself at the place of holding the conference, in the year 1800. “As the conference embraced sickly regions in its territory, he knew not but he might be sent by the intrepid Asbury to some one of these localities, if for no other purpose than to try his mettle. Many a young man has finished his course in one year’s service; but not so with Gruber. He had a powerful constitution, an iron frame capable of enduring an amount of hardship, labor, and fatigue which made him the wonder of all his ministerial companions. He had some intimations that he would be sent down to Delaware; but when the appointments were announced by the bishop his name was connected with Tioga circuit. ‘ Instead, therefore, of going down,’ as he remarked, ‘ I had to go up — up rivers and mountains, and take my degrees among lakes, rivers, and Indians.’ “The second year of our young itinerant’s ministry was spent on the Oneida and Cayuga circuit, embracing a large field in Western New York.
Vast tracts of wilderness interposed between the appointments, and new hardships were to be endured. :Nothing daunted, he scaled the mountains, penetrated the woods, and sought the cabins nestling among them, that he might preach the gospel to their inmates. Here he labored with the most unremitting zeal and diligence. Through his fervent appeals many were awakened and converted. “Samuel Howe, an old itinerant, relates an incident illustrative of Gruber’s power in prayer. At a quarterly meeting held in a barn in this part of the country, after a most impressive and powerful sermon from the presiding elder, M’Lenahan, Gruber engaged in prayer. ‘ It seemed,’ says Father Howe, ‘ to resemble the day of Pentecost; the barn was shaken, and the people simultaneously sprang to their feet, while shouts of joy and cries for mercy filled the place. Many fell to the floor, and others were filled with fear, and fled in the greatest consternation.’ “At a certain place on this circuit there lived a man who had been in great distress of mind, bordering on despair. He wept much and prayed almost constantly, but found no relief. He was visited by Graber, who conversed with him for a considerable length of time, quoting such passages of the Bible as were applicable to his case. He could not, however, be persuaded that any promise was for him, as he believed his day of mercy and hope were gone for ever. The following colloquy then ensued between Graber and the despairing man : — “‘ What will become of you?’ ‘ I shall be lost.’ ‘ Where will you go?’ ‘ To hell.’ ‘ But if you go there you will have it all to yourself.’ ‘ What do you mean?’ ‘I mean just what I say: if you go to hell weeping and praying you will scare all the devils away, for I never heard or read of one going to hell weeping and praying.’ At this a smile came over his face like sunshine on a cloud; his despair was gone, and hope fall and joyous sprung up in his soul. “At the next conference Gruber was sent to the Winchester circuit, having for a colleague a young man by the name of Richards. This young itinerant in a great measure destroyed his usefulness by getting the crotchet in his head that, to maintain ministerial dignity, he must put on some extra airs of reserve and sanctity. Not being afflicted with the dyspepsia, which invariably gives a somber hue to the countenance, it became necessary for him to assume a solemn appearance. A ‘ sad countenance,’ as our old English version has it, in the description of the Pharisees in the days of the Savior, has never been regarded as the true index of spirituality. One of the old preachers who had outlived his day, and was constantly playing upon the thousand-stringed harp, ‘Ye are fallen! ye are fallen!’ remarked on a certain occasion that he wished some of the old preachers were as solemn as that young man. Bishop Asbury, who was present when this remark was made, smilingly said: ‘ Do you make any allowance for solids and fluids?’
When the dyspepsia became a fashionable complaint among preachers such an allowance was made. We recollect a reply once made by a light-hearted, joyous, talented young preacher to a .pious lady, who reprovingly said to him, ‘ I wish you would be as serious as Brother C.’ ‘ Ah!’ said the young brother laughingly, ‘ when I get the dyspepsia as bad as he has it, I will, no doubt, be equally serious.’ “Religion is the sunlight of the soul, and irradiates with brightness and beauty the medium through which it shines. A ‘ sad countenance’ indicates a sad heart; but as religion is ‘ joy unspeakable and fullness of glory,’ all gloom and despondency are driven away by the brightness of its coming. “He had now been six years in the work of the ministry, and had exhibited such good proof of his fidelity and success that the good Bishop Asbury deemed him qualified for the more responsible post of presiding elder, and accordingly, in the year 1807 he was appointed to the presidency of Greenbrier district. It embraced a wild region of country in Virginia, said to be the roughest in the bounds of the Baltimore Conference. It extended into North Carolina, taking in its sweep the wildest portion of the Cumberland Mountains and Tygart’s Valley. To use his own language, he had ‘ hard work, rough fare, and bad roads;’ but by way of offset to these disadvantages he had ‘great meetings.’ Towards the close of the year camp-meetings were held on every circuit, of which there were eight. At these camp-meetings hundreds were converted, indeed, a camp-meeting in those days without numerous conversions and large accessions to the church would have been a much greater wonder than to witness such a revival at our fashionable camp-meeting picnics of the present day. “At that time even a quarterly meeting was considered dull and profitless indeed, unless souls were converted and added to the church, and a revival inaugurated for the coming quarter. In describing these camp-meetings Gruber said: ‘ Some complained about too much wildfire, and called the preachers the fire company; but we wanted fire that would warm and melt, not tame-fire, fox-fire, and the like. Some say ice is water fallen asleep.
Some cry, Water, water, till all the fire is put out and nothing but ice remains. Then it is a cold time, a winter state truly.’ During the three years on this district he experienced many hardships, enough to try the faith of the most stern and sturdy in the itinerant ranks. In describing his labors he says: ‘ My travels among the Pendleton and Greenbrier Mountains were hard and severe. One very cold night in the winter I took a path for a near way to my stopping place, but got out of my course, wandered about among the hills and mountains, and went to the top of one of them to see clearings, or hear dogs bark, or roosters crow, but all in vain. After midnight the moon arose; I could then see my track. The snow was kneedeep, and I went back till I got into the right course, and reached my lodgings between four and five o’clock in the morning. The family was alarmed, and said I was late, but I called it early. After lying down and sleeping a little I arose, and getting breakfast departed on my da7’s journey, filling two appointments.’ “At the end of his first year on the district he had a line of appointments reaching to Baltimore. On his route he passed through Tygart’s Valley to the head of the Greenbrier River, a wild, m6untain-ous region, traversed by a dim path. Not a single cabin was to be found in a distance of twenty miles. He struck for the path on the mountain about ten o’clock, but had not proceeded many miles until he found it covered up knee-deep in snow, and not a single track to be seen. He picked his way, however, as best he could, and traveled on. During the day it began to rain, which rendered his journey still more uncomfortable. At length he reached Cheat River, and found it considerably swollen, with ice in the middle. When he reached the ice it was with difficulty he dismounted, and then making his horse leap upon it, he again mounted. The ice did not break, and he was enabled to reach the other shore with little difficulty. He then proceeded on his journey, and traveled on in the woods until night overtook him, when he lost his path and became entangled in the forest. The rain, which had been pouring down, now changed into snow, and the wind blew furiously.
Besides all this, it was becoming increasingly cold. What to do he knew not, except to pray. The night was spent sitting on his horse. Above the roar of the storm he could hear the scream of the panther and the howl of the wolf. It was a dreadful night, but morning came, and with it he found the path, and reached the Greenbrier River about ten o’clock, which he crossed, and in a short time found himself at the house of a friend. The family were alarmed at seeing him, and expressed their surprise at his undertaking so perilous a journey, as no person had been known to pass through that portion of the wilderness before in winter. Neither himself nor horse had tasted a morsel of food since they started, but they were both inured to hardships, and suffered but little in consequence. After obtaining some refreshment, he started to his appointment, thankful for his escape from the dangers through which he had passed. “Gruber gives several incidents that occurred at camp-meetings. ‘ In one camp,’ he says, ‘some bold sinners came to fight for their master, the devil; but our captain, Immanuel, made prisoners of them, and then made them “free indeed.” One fine, strong, good-looking young man among the mourners was in great distress, and found no relief until he drew a large pistol out of his pocket, with which he intended to defend himself if any one should offer to speak to him on the subject of religion. When he laid it on the bench beside him the Lord blessed him, and gave him a great victory over his foes. Having grounded the weapon of rebellion, he was prepared to enlist under the banner of the Prince of Peace.’ “In those days it frequently happened that the ministers of different denominations were obliged to preach in school-houses and courthouses, from the fact that there were no churches. A Presbyterian minister one Sabbath afternoon preached, or rather read a sermon, in the village court-house. The discourse was well written, and evinced considerable theological ability; but it was read in such a monotonous manner that it lulled many to sleep.
All was perfectly quiet, and nothing disturbed the stillness of the hour. No sound was heard but the voice of the preacher, which fell in soft cadences upon the ear like the murmur of a distant waterfall. Suddenly a Methodist woman in the court-room broke out into a shout of ‘ Glory! glory! praise the Lord for what he has done for my soul!’ Those who had fallen asleep under the soothing tones of the minister were awakened, others were frightened, and the preacher himself was entirely overcome. It was some time before he could rally so as to proceed with his discourse. When the meeting was over the woman was asked why she so disturbed the meeting.
She replied, ‘I was converted at a camp-meeting at East Liberty last year, and while I listened to the dry sermon I thought of old times. It was just the kind I used to hear before I was converted; I then thought of the wonderful change, and the happy meetings we have now, and forgetting where I was I had to shout.’” Gruber was dreadfully severe upon all worldliness, and especially upon foppishness in dress, which he denounced and ridiculed. A little of his healthy banter might be useful in these dressy days. “While preaching in a certain place on one occasion an unusually tall lady entered. On seeing her he stopped preaching and said: ‘ Make room for that lady; one might have thought she was tall enough to be seen without the plumage of that pird in her ponnet.’ Some days afterward the lady met Gruber and complained that he had treated her rudely. ‘ O sister,’ he replied, ‘ was that you? Well, I did not know it was you; I thought you had more sense.’ “He was particularly severe on some of the modem preachers because they did not preach against the fashions of the world. ‘ Some in preaching,’ he said, ‘draw the bow and take aim at some in the congregation, but the arrow does not hit the mark; it is stopped in the trimming, rigging, muff, drums, bustles, and other fashionable gear of their wives or daughters.’” (TO BE CONTINUED.)
WHO would have thought that we should have lived to hear Archdeacon Denison talking as he does in a letter in the Church Times, August 14? “Divorce between Church and State is become not right only, but necessary to the keeping of true religion. Meantime an ex-Divorce Court judge is about as fitting an administrator of the new law as could be found.” The Archdeacon is evidently having his eyes opened to some things: we hope the process will continue.
Tidings have reached us of a large legacy soon to be paid to our College and Orphanage. While this hay is being made the flocks continue to eat, and cannot live on provender to come; friends will therefore please not to forget us. The amount, when paid, cannot be used for the College Buildings, and we are still needing help to complete that undertaking. We open the College this month, but the library is unfinished, and much remains to be done when we have the means.
Our friend Mr. Toller, of Waterbeach, sets apart an acre of ground upon his farm for the orphans, and sends us potatoes and flour. Such an example deserves imitation. Many gifts in kind are received by us, for which we are deeply grateful. The boys wish us to say that they are very fond of apples and pears, and are not particular as to quantity.
Our best thanks are due to the friends at Margate in connection with Mr. Drew’s chapel, for so generously entertaining our orphans to tea on the day of their excursion, and also to Messrs. Tebbutts, of Melton Mowbray, for 120 of their first-rate pork pies. To all who so generously subscribed the funds or otherwise helped we give our heartiest personal thanks, and our orphan lads add cheers, three times three, loud enough to make you hope they will soon get through them. Since our accounts were made up a Sheffield friend has sent £10.
Nineteen boys enjoyed holidays through the great goodness of friends who took them in. We hope the ]ads behaved well, and on their behalf, and our own, we tender grateful acknowledgments.
The Colportage advances at a healthy pace. During the past month men have been sent to Worcester, Studley, and Croydon — new districts. We hope to open up other places speedily. This Society will be accommodated in the New College Buildings, and will become (me of the largest societies in England before long. It only needs to be considered to be valued.
As we have previously noted, we intend to hold a Bazaar immediately after Christmas to complete the amount needed for the New College, and we shall be greatly obliged by all the help our friends can afford us. Direct to C. H. Spurgeon, Metropolitan Tabernacle, .Newington, London.
Our friends will perceive by the Psalm inserted in this month’s magazine that we are well advanced with Vol. IV. of “The Treasury of David.”
What a noise bishops and ministers are making about the silly title of Reverend. If we had not long ago abjured it, we certainly would now. It seems to be the trade mark of priests, “to imitate which is felony.” As for the bishop, after his’ display of arrogance, the title will not be very truthfully applied to him by many sensible people. We suppose he really believes that he is a presbyter in the only true church in this land, but we on the other hand do not believe that he has even been baptized yet; and we could certainly far more easily prove our belief than he could prove his. Dr. Wordsworth ought to know more of the worth of words than to cavil at civilities.
Baptisms at Metropolitan Tabernacle by Mr. V. J. Charlesworth: — July 27th, ten; July 30th, twenty-two.