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PART I. Section IX.


PART I. Section IX.

James Dodson

After the Reformed Presbytery had been constituted, and before it had entered on its appropriate business in prosecuting the objects and ends of its independent and separate existence, its members were assailed in character with personal abuse, and their public proceedings misrepresented, distorted, and misinterpreted. Personally I was distinguished and honored by a large share of the current abuse. My quondam friend and ministerial brother, Rev. Thomas Sproull, displayed superior zeal among “mine accusers.” He softened the asperity, however, and toned down the malevolent language of some others. Designated “a pro-slavery man in heart” by Mr. Milligan, I was charged by Mr. Sproull with “pro-slavery affinities” only.

As was understood at the time, on my return home, July, 1840, by “instruction from headquarters,” the meeting-house was barricaded to preclude my entrance on the first Sabbath! A simple and honest disciple, as I believe, (Alexander Cavin, by name), a blacksmith by trade, was employed as the agent of those who, previous to our separation, had erased their names from the subscription-paper—to “starve me out:” this guileless man, with suitable tool or tools in hand, fastened doors and windows, and took his position as sentinel inside. Some of my friends suspecting such proceeding, one of them, Mr. David Johnston, had repaired to the house of worship at an earlier hour than usual. Examining the windows, he found one sash which had not been fastened. Raising the lower sash, he vaulted in; and addressing the other party, said, “Do you think to shut me out of my own house?” He had been one of the most generous contributors to the fund for the erection of the building. When I arrived at the usual hour, all was quiet. I conducted the public worship as at other times, and only at intermission was I apprised of the violence and profanation of that morning. I sincerely pitied Mr. Cavin as the unconscious tool of violent men, and especially when he tremblingly feared a civil prosecution, to answer for a breach of the peace. His apprehensions, however, were groundless, no one wishing to give him trouble. Soon afterward, to strengthen the opposition, Rev. J.B. Johnston, who has already been introduced in this Narrative, appeared in our neighborhood. He announced a public lecture in the Associate Reformed meeting-house. The time was exciting and the theme popular. He proposed to treat of recent schism and to delineate the character of the schismatics—quite an interesting subject. The audience consisted mostly of Associate Reformed neighbors with whom I had intermingled for the past ten years. Two criticisms I heard among those neighbors,—“That man ought to have been a lawyer,” said one; “I heard him say things about Mr. Steele that I know to be false,” said another. The lecture, on the whole, was beneficial, both to me and to the cause of truth—the truth of God, and truth between man and man; that truth which we are commanded to speak “every man to his neighbor.” Rev. J.B. Johnston, the aforementioned lecturer, was the eldest of four sons of that elder, Nathan Johnston, who co-operated in organizing the Reformed Presbytery, and whose name stands affixed to its Deed of Constitution, in memoriam rei perpetuam. His brief but sententious comment on his son’s raid into our neighborhood is worth rehearsing here. “My son, J.B., came down from Logan Co., to destroy Mr. Steele’s congregation; and soon after Mr. Steele, who had never interfered, was invited to visit and preach to a part of J.B.’s congregation!” When Mr. J.B. Johnston returned home, after lecturing in our vicinity, he continued to abuse the members of our Presbytery, denouncing their course from the pulpit.·“These schismatics, under pretence of reformers, are breaking down the carved work of the reformation with axes and hammers: the Synod is a reforming body,” etc. Yet, this same minister, within two years after, declared from the same pulpit, “the Reformed Presbyterian Church has been retrograding for the last two hundred years.”

When I was expected in Logan County, Mr. Johnston having an appointment outside the bounds of his congregation on the ensuing Sabbath, gave directions to have the meeting-house secured, lest my friends should attempt to “break through,” My friends never made the attempt. We soon had a congregation organized there, which included four elders of Mr. Johnston’s session. In process of time, Mr. J. changed his policy intimating to our people that if they would apprise him seasonably of my visit, he make his appointments so as to accommodate us with the use of the house,—especially on our sacramental solemnity! I afterward occupied the house occasionally; and when it was sold, our friends were allowed their just proportion of the proceeds. Our pacific measures produced this result. I may here mention another somewhat analogous case. In Greene congregation, Harrison Co., Ohio, a person had declared, “If ever Mr. Steele attempts to enter this house, it will be over my dead body!” On the first occasion of my journeying in that direction, a deacon handed the key to Mr. Nathan Johnston, elder (already mentioned). I preached there, but the boasting champion did not appear. Oh, how often, have I witnessed the substitution of blind zeal for the love of the truth! And again, alas, that this self-deception has been so often exemplified by ministers and fostered in others!

As time elapsed and I journeyed extensively to visit and minister to a widely-scattered witnessing and despised remnant, that “shackling thing,” the Reformed Presbyterian, was diligently employed in shooting its arrows. I never was seriously wounded by them, though I have reason to believe that many others were, but I trust not fatally. Occasionally the language of commiseration was used: that my “talent was hid in a napkin,” that I was led (misled) by “that old man Lusk,” etc. Anon I was described as a ravening wolf, “prowling among their congregations.” To the commiseration and charge it is sufficient to reply; Mr. Lusk never, in my time of connection with him, seemed ambitious of this left-handed honor intended him. He repeatedly remarked,—“To destroy the cause of truth, the Adversary is aiming his shafts at Mr. Steele.” He admitted that he had not duly considered nor clearly perceived the corrupting and ruinous influence of existing voluntary associations, until Providence brought us acquainted. So much for “that old man Lusk’s leadership.” It was purely an invention. The “prowling among congregations” is even more imaginary. Indeed, I have often thought I was too scrupulous in this respect, in “cutting off occasion from those who sought occasion.” And now, after many years, I can truthfully declare that I never intruded myself on minister, elder, or member adhering to the majority of our former fellowship. I did indeed in many instances, and all along for many years, enjoy the Christian society and hospitality of many among them. In all such cases, I merely complied with invitations received, either personally or by letter. And here I deem it proper to confirm and illustrate my statement by an example. I do this more cheerfully, because those interested are yet alive [in 1883; ED.]—a competent number at least, who can vouch for the truth of the facts.

I have already shown that both ministers and ruling elders acted in General Synod with the minority who did not get credit on the Minutes for their fidelity to truth in days of trial—Messrs. Jas. Faris and Hugh Walkinshaw. Some others, equally convinced of the truth, but with less fortitude to act out their convictions in Synod, were of the minority. Of these was Rev. James Love. Not long after the constitution of the Reformed Presbytery, Mr. Love was lecturing on the interesting history, where Hilkiah the priest finds “the book of the law of the Lord” among the rubbish in temple. In the application of his discourse, the minister referred pretty plainly to us as having found the truth among the rubbish of Synod’s errors. This application was not relished by a majority of members of his session. These elders, being from Pittsburg, as was understood, not being competent formally to try and censure their pastor, appointed a conference with him at the meeting-house on a day specified. Meantime, Mr. Love. had committed the additional offence of countenancing the present writer. Journeying through Guernsey County, Ohio, near the town of Londonderry, I turned in to lodge with Mr. John Logan, a member of Mr. Love’s congregation. I had, from him and another member, kind invitations to accept their hospitality. As soon as Mr. Love heard of my arrival at Mr. J. Logan’s, he came over from his own house to Mr. Logan’s. There we had free conversation relative to the public cause. Mr. Love stayed for supper, also spent the night there, he and I occupying the same bed. It may be fairly presumed that the elders aforesaid had got possession of these facts, and that they thereby were displeased more than they had been by Mr. Love’s public teaching. Their pastor, though not young in years, was inexperienced as yet in the ministry. An honest, candid, guileless, and unsuspecting man, he walked into the snare set for him by the elders. And it was a snare. No law authorized the elders’ action or required Mr. Love to “compear before them.” In laying their snare, they concealed their design from one elder, Mr. Edward Logan. He was that day ploughing in his field, at no great distance from the meeting-house, wholly unaware of the inquisition in progress there. The elders their plied quasi culprit with hard questions, such as, “How could you countenance such a man as Mr. Steele—a suspended minister?”[1.] “How could you receive him into your house?” Mr. Love, as harmless and timid as a roe, was trying with sensible difficulty to answer his inquisitors. He could not deny that he had given his countenance as above related—and more. He had invited me to his own house, where I had dined; and he had been my guide after dinner, directing me to the public road, that I might not miss the right course among hills and forests. These facts were undeniable, and how could the accused pretend to justify or defend his conduct? Amid great perplexity and much disconcerted, Mr. L. began to use exculpatory language, and tremblingly replied by resorting to the interrogatory style: “What would any of you do, if Mr. Steele should come along and propose to stop over night? Would you order him out of your house?” This was obviously evasion, and showed that Mr. L. was now “in evil case.” Just at this crisis, Elder Logan appeared! Word had some way reached him at his plough, that his pastor was in the hands of his tormentors. He left the plough and hastened to the scene of trial. This elder appears to have been better versed in law and order than the other members of session, perhaps than the inexperienced minister himself. He, of course, at once volunteered as advocate for his pastor. After showing the utter illegality and disorder of their present proceedings, he entered upon the alleged criminality of their pastor, taking up the facts in detail. The substance of his argument in defense of Mr. L., his pastor and present client, was briefly as follows: “Suppose Mr. Steele is a ‘suspended minister,’ you know, or ought to know, that an act of suspension extends no farther than the jurisdiction of the court imposing it; and, therefore, Mr. Steele, outside of our fellowship, possesses his ministerial liberty. As to the charge of lodging, him, we should all remember the exhortation, ‘If thine enemy hunger, feed him,’” etc. Thus Mr. Love was honorably cleared in this singular trial, and thus the reader may see how the Lord “gave us favor in the eyes” of many who either had not sufficient light or fortitude to act upon their convictions, by openly identifying themselves with the Reformed Presbytery. All the misrepresentations, reproaches and slanders of which the opposers made lavish use, common in all ages in similar cases, did not affect my character where personally known, and I always had an abiding and comfortable persuasion that all adversaries would never be able to destroy my character, unless I first did it myself.



[1] “A suspended minister” was a phrase that had more influence with many honest people than all the current slanders. The people did not know that not one minister of the body then living ever believed in the validity or legality of that pretended suspension. This was manifested frequent invitations to return to my former place, “and let by-gones be by-gones!”