Sermon by the Rev. Aratus Kent

January  1862

Remember the former things of old

Isaiah 46:9

 

A recollection of our past history will be pleasant or painful according as we conform our conduct to the divine word or break away from its wholesome restraints and expose ourselves to merited rebuke, and it is from a deep-seated consciousness of their delinquencies, that mankind are so backward to call up the experience of by-gone days. But a review of the scenes we have witnessed and of the course we have pursued may be very profitable and very suggestive. It may be profitable by rendering us more humble and penitent, and it will very naturally suggest trains of thought by which we may better regulate our subsequent lives.

There are times and occasions when we should with special care review our past history, as when we are forming new connections or entering upon new business or when we are removing to a distant place where we may be thrown into dangerous associations and beset by temptations quite new to us.

The beginning of the year also furnishes an appropriate occasion for this retrospect. To this may be added with the utmost propriety that period in the journey of life when the young are coming on to the stage and about to assume the responsibilities which all sooner or later will be called to bear. They will find it in a high degree conducive to future success, to review their minority and to note the follies of youth, that they may gather wisdom and prudence, to shun those paths which, heretofore, led them astray.

It may not be out of place, therefore, for me when this church and congregation, from a temporary sojourn at another place, have returned to their old home with its many pleasant reminiscences, to seize upon this occasion for greeting my early associates in this city and calling to remembrance the former things, which, however interesting at the time and instructive to ourselves, will soon be lost in the oblivion, which has buried, alike the events, which transpired before and since the flood. Those of you, who were here on the first of January 1829, will recollect, that Galena was, at that time, to human view a God-forsaken place and most repulsive to any evangelical efforts.

The lead business was prosecuted during the summer with commendable diligence; but, when winter set in, the miners confined themselves very much to their cabins and their diggings. The steam Boats and long teams of oxen had returned to the sunny south, and the Galenians were left to their own reflections; having no communication with the rest of the world until the opening of navigation. And while I was preaching the gospel, being shut in by the granite hills of New Hampshire and having never heard of this place, they were enjoying themselves, as best they could, being shut up to such pastimes as the grocery, the dance and an incessant sleigh-riding down to the Portage, afforded; for there they were sure to find congenial spirits. There was where no law, no sabbath, no family altar and no restraint, for every one did that which was right in his own eyes, amenable, only to such a corrupt public sentiment as such society would create. It was the boast of many in the day, "that the Sabbath had not got above the rapids, and having little or no business, during winter, and no society of the other sex, the men gave themselves up to frolicking and gaming, in which all must take part or lose caste, as a merchant afterwards informed me.

There were, indeed, almost none, who openly avowed their allegiance to King Immanual; but there were a few, who had some cherished recollections of better days; and if they ventured to eschew Sabbath breaking, profane oaths and strong drink, they were suspected of having been Christians once. Such was the society of Galena, in 1829; and now if we anticipate the month of April next and then count back 33 years, you may see the Steam Boat Red Rover, hailed with joy, as she appeared on Sabbath morning, at her moorings. And you may see the lone Missionary, with letters of commendation from Dr. Peters and John Shankford of blessed memory, walking up and down the street and calling, at their stores, open as on other days, and introduced as the preacher of the gospel. He came in response to a feeble Macedonian cry from a lady, of whom an irreligious man has been heard to say that when he last saw her, at the East, it was at the communion table, and when he first saw her, at the west, it was in the Ball-room. This, by the by, gives us a pretty correct estimate the world here made of Dancing Christians, until in these days an important difference has been discovered, between Wine Drinking and dancing in the parlor, and whiskey drinking and dancing, as practiced by the lower classes.

But to return from this digression, on that same morning, the shavings were brushed out of an unfinished building; and temporary seats were prepared, the Missionary set up the standard of the cross at one outpost, then 200 miles in advance of all others, either Protestant or Catholic; but now surrounded and over reached by several hundred others. The next Sabbath that building was occupied, as a house of entertainment and the bar room of another tavern was kindly thrown open for our use. Then our Sabbath services were migratory until December, when the Old Court House, with the underground room and its jail fixings was purchased and fitted up for public worship.

Then and there, the ark of God first found a resting place in the North West; one end of it, having been partitioned off, as an office for the clerk of the Court, was now used for the minister's study. There a church of 6 members was organized in the fall of 1831, which had no second Communion until 1833. There a Sabbath school was established and with a few interruptions has been continued to this time.

After 2 years of moral darkness, and after the Blackhawk War with its distractions and terrors and consequent immoralities had passed away; the little church was increased by additions from the families of Dea. Wood and of the Missionary and by the profession of the wife of one, who is now an Elder.

To that time, we trace back, the weekly prayer meeting in the pastor's study, which was now removed to the adjacent tenement - a meeting begun and continued on Saturday evening - a meeting associated with many pleasant recollections, for the old members mourned as for a lost friend, when it was changed to a different evening and a larger place - and a meeting too which sustained the same relation to the subsequent growth of this church as the prayer meeting recorded in the 12th of Acts, sustained to the liberation of Peter from prison on the night before he should have been beheaded; and there that promise was many times verified, that God will make his people joyful in the house of prayer.

There Mrs. Wood, Mrs. Brush, Mrs. Crow, Mrs. Higgins, the first Mrs. Fultin, the first Mrs. Parks, Mr. and Mrs. Spare, both now gone to the grave, and occasionally Mrs. Gratiot, from the country, all of precious memory, were want to meet and inveigh their prayers before the mercy seat and moving were the tears and prayers in broken English of the first Mrs. Schionus, and not less remarkable the faith of Mrs. Mills, each for her absent husband, who on their return soon after, the one from New York and the other from Washington, the one going early in the morning to the Minister, with the question, what shall I do to be saved, and the other Lawyer Mills, convicted while crossing the mountains in company with Dr. Nelson came immediately with the joy of the Lord in his soul openly to espouse the cause of Christ.

There we were joined by A. B. Campbell the teacher of our village school, and superintendent of the S[unday] S[chool] whose excellent wife, on her dying bed, could say, "I have never absented myself from the female prayer meeting," nor should we forget the names of Israel Mitchell, now of Oregon, Edward Branch, now Missionary preacher in Persia and Daniel Campbell now in heaven.

Oh! if these 12 disciples of Christ, could come back, 2 from their positions on the Pacific O[cean] and on the Lake Oovoomiah, and the rest from their seats in Paradise to join those who are still living, what joyous recollections it would awaken to refer to the incidents of that Saturday evening prayer meeting in the pastor's study and parlor and can anyone persuade himself that the reminisce of the scenes of that day, enacted in the ball-room, the saloon and at the card-table would now occasion similar joy, if the actors could come back from their graves to meet each other again. But in rescuing from Oblivion the "former things" we must return to the Old Church of logs and leisurely survey its interior, its services, and its surmountings.

In 1833 the place became too strait, and the partition was removed and the room was made larger by one third. There was the pulpit of wood according to the example of Ezra the Scribe. It was made of Black Walnut and a curtain of green baize hung down to protect the preacher from observation.

There the Gospel was preached for 10 years, there prayer was offered and the songs of Zion were sung, sometimes, by those who are now lost to us, and sometimes, the lead was given by female voices. There the sacraments were administered; there believers were established and strengthened; there, too, sinners were converted from the error of their ways and some who were far gone in slavery to the grosser vices, are now worthy examples of the reforming power of divine grace. Besides the regular congregation, many now live to tell of the good impressions made upon them, by occasional attendance, while their residence was in the more distant mines.

There also the Sabbath School was assembled both morning and afternoon; and many were admitted into the familiarity of household words, with the 10 Commandments, many, who are now helpers of the good work—are elders and some are preachers of Right at other and far distant posts of service, and there we may discern in Embryo, the kindling spirit of that healthful enthusiasm, which afterwards flamed out in the establishment of 1/2 a dozen Missionary Schools as they are now popularly known and those teachers learned to estimate a Sabbath-day's journey to be 3 miles or 10 miles, according as they found the distance, where they were to meet the children.

But, if we pass along a few years, we shall discover that the little prayer meeting has increased in numbers; and there is added to it, a monthly concert of prayer for the conversion of this world to Christ; where a cluster of choice disciples are sure to be present on the first Monday evening of each month - a meeting never forgotten then, as it has been many times in later years. There Br. Breath fanned the flame of Miss.[tress] Zeal, which is now illuminating converts of Koordistan, by the light of his printed pages. There Br. Hall acquired strength for that self-denial, which has enabled him to turn his back upon his own country and run to the redemption of Italy from Papal bondage; and there Dr. Daniel Campbell fostered that enlarged benevolence, which prompted him, when taking up the ordinary collection for Foreign Missions, to say, "I hope the time will soon come, when Galenians will give 9/10 of their income to this glorious object; and reserve for their own support only the remaining tenth."

Alas! where is the zeal of the former days! Where is that fervor of spirit in prayer, which prompts one and another to break from the attractions of Country and of Home, and go to the other side of the globe to save the souls of men. Where are the Mission S.[unday] Schools, and where is the self-denial which sustained them?

It would be ungrateful, not to mention the assistance, we at different times received from the gratuitous services of Br. Turner of Illinois and Br. Beecher of Jacksonville and of three others now dead, Br. Gratiot, Br. Grinley and Dr. Nelson of enviable notoriety for his "cause and cure of Infinity." These excellent men came to our aid and contributed not a little to strengthen the hands of the lone Missionary laboring from year to year among the Rocks of the lead-mines and the flinty hearts of those adventurous but skeptical frontier men who were exploring them. And if there were but few won over to the faith, at the time, it was not from the want of faith but on account of the insuperable obstacles, which associated vice and irreligion had erected, which only more years of instruction and prayer could remove; and which did give way when Br. Gallagher in 40, and Br. Foot in 42 and Br. Holebrook in 44 rendered their valuable service. In looking over the roll of Members since that time we may well say, Behold what God hath wrought!

But the incidents of the last few weeks again call us back to the Old Log Church, to the little cupola surmounting that lowly temple and the little bell, that was want to be rung by the boys that then were, but one of whom is now in New York, one in Texas, one in Italy and one in the army at Washington. That pigmy bell was stationed like Noah on an elevation, and like him was a preacher of Righteousness to an ungodly world (if not for 120 years, yet for more than thirty). And when I saw that Old Monitor perhaps the first Church Bell in the Prairie State, loosened from its moorings and brought down to the ground and doomed to silence, I felt that there were others besides myself who would demand that some notice should be taken of it lest such, as knew not Joseph, should forget their obligations to the music of other days.

One generation has passed away, while it has continued to utter its voice of warning and of consolation. It has given no uncertain sound but for 30 years, it has been distinctly understood to reason of Righteousness, Temperance and a Judgment to come.

Oh! could we call together in one assembly all the witnesses who have heard its stirring appeal - some still living among us, some roving far away in the distant states and territories of the West; and some, long since, gone to their final account, and could we write out the record of their personal experiences, what a vast amount of testimony should we collect to the power of that voice in its utterances from Sabbath to Sabbath!

Let us linger and listen to the litany. Here comes a long train of persons, who attracted by its mellow notes, have cheerfully obeyed the summons, they dropped their ordinary cares. They came to the Sanctuary, and they found rest and refreshment to their souls.

Here are others, who had fallen in to a state of despondence and gloom, their graces are grown feeble under the power of inbred corruption, and their steps are well-nigh slipped; but the Sab.[bath] Bell calls them to worship - where they are encouraged and cheered.

The Backsliders testify, that they were awakened by its voice, where like Jonah they were more stupid than their impenitent associates. They came reluctantly and lately to the Sanctuary, and were revived and recovered. They testify that the sound once so repellent, became music to their souls. Others, who have long been buffeted by Satan hear its glad notes of invitation and run into this strange tower and are safe; for Jesus reveals himself in the Sanctuary as a Merciful High Priest, who can be touched with a feeling of our infirmities, having been tempted in all points as we are.

There are those too who are fascinated and spell-bound by the world's repulsive promises, but, aroused by the familiar sound they go up to the place of prayer, where the charm is broken, their souls are stirred and their slumbering graces tingle with new fire, for as Iron sharpeneth Iron, so they are softened and melted to contrition by this intercourse with kindred spirits.

How often have strangers tarrying for a night been cheered in their loneliness by the Church Bell reminding them of their Eastern Home and inviting them to spend an hour with brothers in compassion and prayer, to whom but for its utterances they might have been strangers still. It has been a matter of frequent occurrence since I have been traveling over the State, to meet with men, who in coming to do business at the Land office; and being detained here have spoken of the pleasure and profit they found in uniting in our public or social worship.

How many children, who in old age will find graves on the Pacific slope, may after scores of years look back, and narrate to their children, how promptly they responded to this Herald of the S.[upreme] Sovereign in the Log Ch.[urch] in the Miss.[issippi] Valley. What a bulwark against temptation were the instructions there received and what a preparation they were for those spheres of extensive usefulness, they have since filled and adorned. I will not name them; but their names are enrolled in the hand-writing of Sam Smith, the assistant superintendent of the first Galena S.[unday] School. Some of them now occupy prominent positions in the Western Army and some, I trust, are enlisted under King Immanuel and will fight on, until they shout victory, in the realms of glory.

But while to these several classes, the Old Bell awakens agreeable reminiscences, there are, I fear, a greater number by whom this long period of service has been regarded only as an unwelcome intrusion. If the silent rebuke, "40 years long" of the wilderness of ancient Israel, by the pillar of cloud and pillar of fire was burdensome, was there not to the ungodly in Galena a tremendous power in the rebukes of this clamorous monitor whose iron tongue for 30 years refuted with timeless monotony, this dreaded remonstrance. Leave your idols, come to the Sanctuary, Worship God. And suppose ye, the profane swearer did not tremble, when he heard this demand from Jehovah to hallow his name and reverence his sanctuary!

Can you believe, that the Gamester was not greatly annoyed, when after a night of sport in fraud and dissipation, he was startled, by what Job designated as a "dreadful sound in his ears." Such indeed was the power of its remonstrance, that an Anti-Gambling Society of more than 20 members was organized by the guilty parties themselves; and they did it to keep each other in commitment, when they had not the moral courage, anyone by himself, to resist the temptation to this popular vice.

And have not the Sabbath breakers of Galena felt keenly rebuked, when this little bell has continued from year to year to preach against their unrighteous appropriation of holy time and boldly to predict, that God would visit them for these things (as has already come to pass; for the steamboat Bell has been by order of Providence silenced in this city, both summer and winter the wealth then accumulated has been scattered, and the hope of their gains is gone) - except they report and do works more for reputation. And not only did this time-honored Bell reprove the openly vicious and immoral; but men, who with a show of respect for Religion cants, by opening one shutter of their counting rooms or saloons, invite customers, or in other ways, sacrifice to mammon, would be sure to be disturbed by the familiar clatter of this Herald of public worship.

Such an one was a young man at whose marriage and betrothal and burial I officiated and who parried off my exhortations by the rebuff, I came here to make money, Sir. That young man has been more than 20 years in his grave.

Ah! and the votaries of pleasure, who had broken down their constitution, by habits of dissipation, and came to the mines to revel, without rebuke and to die in obscurity and disgrace, how keenly did they writhe under the remembrance of mother and friends, brought up to their minds by the Sabbath Bell.

Many cases of this sort the early history of G.[alena] might afford and one such, I visited who had been accustomed to the best society, that the North River and Washington City afforded, I found him lying sick and dying in a deserted room with a Barrel head for his table and a greasy novel for his entertainment, now that his boon Companions had abandoned him.

They also, who were bent on postponing Religion to an indefinite future and above all those, who in time of extraordinary seriousness were deferring to a more convenient season, that which conscience admonished them should be done now, now would find the music of the Sabbath Bell to grate harsh discord on their cherished wishes.

But among the things to be remembered by the church and in which the former days were better than these, we should give prominence to those seasons of extraordinary interest in religion, when the faith of the saints was strengthened and an all-absorbing concern for salvation was betrayed by the impenitent. Such precious visits of the good spirit, as will render them measurable in the history of this pioneer Church, were vouchsafed in the years 37, 40, 42 & 44. It was then that the people of God were revived, their spiritual weapons burnished, their given graces invigorated and they emboldened to fight manfully the good fight and for them it almost seemed that one could chase a 1,000 and that two could 10,000 to flight of the enemies of their blessed Lord. Thus they received such evident answers to prayer, as showed that the Lord was among them of a truth; and on one of these occasions a woman gave an exhortation and rebuke, which fell with crushing weight upon the Church, and was followed, by the most powerful work of grace that Galena has ever seen. She, with other honorable women, not a few, hence gone to their Rest.

At some of these seasons the overshadowing presence of God was so manifest that the impenitent were found ready and willing to converse on the subject. A scoffing infidel from the country was maddened to cursing, because he could not enter a store except he must be met by this hallowed theme. And not merely moral men; but even those, who were stout heartened and far from Righteous were awakened and melted to tears. If it be said that these momentary excitements soon pass away; and have no good result, we will point to the fruits of these revivals now visible for many then brought in have become pillars in the Church and bright patterns of the higher life and some of them will testify that but for these showers of grace, they might, ere this have been ruined for both worlds.

If this long review shall seem stale to some I shall only remind them that old men are entitled to indulgence, where fighting over again the Battles of their earlier years.

My limits will allow of but 3 brief reflections. I would inquire of the Old Settlers what spiritual improvement they have made in the many scenes of thrilling interest they have witnessed in this 30 years observation of our religious history. 2nd What multitudes now gone to their Lord might have been saved from the wrath if they would have attended, as others did, to the ordinance of God's house, and how sad to note the utter disregard of the Sanctuary by 1,000s among us. How many of these might be prepared for heaven, if Christians, who hold a respectable standing in society would go and visit them and persuade them to attend to the means of grace! Brothers, you are neglecting a great duty, as much your duty, as it is that of your minister to preach. Finally, 3 I would inquire of the present members of this church at whose door lies the guilt, if you do not enjoy the winter a revival of Religion, such as those in former years. Look over the thoughtless rabble that throng the streets at every public gathering and think they must all be lost except something is done soon for their salvation.  

Founding Pastor

Rev. Aratus Kent

First Presbyterian Church

106 N. Bench Street

Galena, Illinois 61036

(815) 777-0229

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