LAWTON CHURCH OF GOD, LAWTON OKLAHOMA

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Chapter 1

 

 

PIONEER DAYS

 

 

Soon after the Civil War, while the nation was in its period of reconstruction, God in His all-wise providence ordered a religious reform, and reconstruction as well. Just as an army needs some trained commanders, so this religious reformation called for men of daring to preach the doctrine of holiness as a second work of grace, for there was much opposition against this great grace that God had planned for the race of fallen humanity, and to carry on this movement, that was called “this new heresy” by the old-line churches, meant to fly into the face of public church sentiment, and to cross swords with modern theologians who were soon up in arms against this new movement, that had so rapidly gathered momentum and spread like a prairie fire before a mighty wind.

Wherever this doctrine was preached there was a mighty stir, and such revival power as had seldom been seen in those days. Suddenly great campmeetings sprang up, and a host of preachers were called into the field of evangelism, who, like Paul of old, conferred not with flesh and blood, neither went up to Jerusalem for orders, but went everywhere preaching the Word. They had little regard for pastors in charge, but where they found an open door they entered with their fiery gospel that always stirred the people. There was boldness and aggression in their sermons. They gave sin no quarter, whether in the church or out of it. Church members, as well as sinners, felt the sting of the gospel that they preached, and backsliders by the hundred confessed their backslidings, made restitution, straightened up old feuds, and paid old outlawed debts, some of which had been standing for years. Sick people were healed by the hundred, and great joy abounded among them.

The old-time mourners’ bench was brought back into church, and scores of people knelt there and found God in pardon, reclamation, and sanctification. The testimony of the old classroom was again instituted, with a wider range, and thrown open to everybody, and testimonies rolled until we have seen as many as three hundred on their feet at these great campmeetings, standing, waiting for an opportunity to testify to the sanctifying grace of God, and such singing and shouting we have never seen anywhere else than in a holiness meeting. Truly God blessed the revival of holiness, that seemed to have been lost from the church so long. People who got this great grace of sanctification threw away their tobacco, quit the lodge-room, pulled off their gaudy dress, and stripped off showy jewelry. This was such a rebuke to the average church member that it provoked much criticism, both in the pulpit and the pew. Preachers were excommunicated, and church members were turned out of the churches for professing holiness.

The writer was born in the rich bottom lands of Mississippi. His father had graduated at a medical college in his young manhood, but gave up the practice of medicine to grow cotton. He opened up a great cotton plantation in the alluvial lands of the swamps, and just as he began to enjoy life the Civil War broke out with all its fury and spoiled all his plans. While he was away in the army, the city of Vicksburg fell before that mighty conqueror, General U. S. Grant, on the Fourth of July, 1863. New Orleans had already fallen into Federal hands, and a little later the invading army marched through the state, burning cotton, driving off the planters’ mules, confiscating their jewels and silverware, and a state of guerrilla warfare followed, as is often the case with an invading army.

One of these guerrilla bands stopped in front of this planter’s home and ordered his men to spoil the house. He was met at the gate by a black-eyed woman with a big six-shooter in each hand, who told him that he could have her effects when he walked over her dead body. One look at her, and he ordered his men on without spoiling that home.

The writer was born in this home September 4, 1863. These prenatal tests paved the way for the birth of a child in whose very nature was born a martial spirit so tense that when the war was over he could be seen astride a stick horse, galloping up and down in the yard yelling, “Hurrah for the flag,” while he waved aloft a stick on which was tied a red bandanna handkerchief.

This war-torn land was now too much for his father, who gathered the remnants of his once splendid fortune, and in road wagons started for the far West to begin life over.

The whole country was in an uproar and infested with roving bands of marauders and robbers. He pushed his way on for months into untraveled lands, with little or no roads, as there was not a railroad in all that country then. At last he located in Hunt County, Texas, which was soon to become the battle ground, and hot-bed for the holiness movement of the South.

Here he reared his family of eleven children and gave them all a common school education. Here he bought a farm with a big log house on it, which had a big stick-and-dirt chimney with a wide hearth, on which was done all of the family cooking, as this was before the days of cook stoves in the West.

The old-time corn bread (for there was little flour in those days) was baked in an old-fashioned oven, or skillet, which sat on the hearth with live coals of fire around it and on top of it; the meat was fried in a long-handled frying-pan, over the coals; the coffee was boiled in a kettle hanging on a hook over the fire; and sweet potatoes were roasted in the corner, covered with hot ashes.

These were the cooking utensils for that pioneer home for many years after moving to the far West. The first cook stove that was seen in that country was bought by this pioneer at Jefferson, Texas, where he went once or twice each year to market his produce and lay in his meager supplies of such as he did not grow on his own farm.

Jefferson was located on a bayou connected with Red River, up which steamboats could come from New Orleans, the only means of traffic then, except the prairie schooner, an ox wagon with wooden axles, greased with soft soap or pine tar, which, when this lubricant was scarce, would notify the neighbors half a mile away with its moans and shrieks, as the wagon passed along the road.

When the cook stove arrived the pioneer made a big dinner, and invited all the people in northern Hunt County. The country was so thinly settled that there were only about forty people at the dinner, although nearly all came who were invited. The whole country wanted to see food cooked in the new way, so when the time arrived for dinner they all went down into the kitchen, which was a room built of clapboards nailed to poles for studding, with a dirt floor, and not a glass window in it.

The fire was built of rich pine-knots, which were picked up in eastern Texas while on the trip to Jefferson, and when the fire began to burn and the damper was turned down so that the fire would roar big, the people all left the room screaming. They were afraid that the “patent thing” would blow up.

The schoolhouse where his children attended the three months school was in the village of Hog Eye. There was one store kept by some Dutch people, an ox mill with a big inclined wheel forty feet across for motive power. In this mill the corn was ground for bread for all the country around, and later a wheat attachment was added for making flour. There was a blacksmith shop, a burying ground, where this pioneer was buried beside his wife years ago, and the old meeting house, that was both church and schoolhouse. It was a two-story affair with a Masonic Lodge on the second floor and the church and school were kept in the room below.

Through this little village ran the old Sherman and Jefferson road, over which were hauled in ox wagons all of the lumber and supplies for Sherman and other western towns. Great caravans of these prairie schooners could often be seen on this road, as many as twenty at a time, one following another, one or two men with each wagon, long whip in hand as they yelled out to their oxen, “Whoa, come Larry! Gid’up Buck!” Then you would hear the clear ring of the cracker on their long, ugly whips.

The seats in the schoolhouse at Hog Eye were made of long logs split open and two big auger holes bored in each end, in the rounded side of the log, where pegs were driven for legs. They had no backs, and often were worn so slick that they were difficult to sit on. In one end of the schoolhouse was a desk, made of boards nailed to the wall, for writing. Each student took his turn at the writing desk, learning to write. Such a thing as a writing tablet was altogether unknown, but each student carried a slate and slate pencil, which when it was worn too short to hold in the fingers would be stuck in the end of a small cane, and used until there was not an inch of it left.

One day while the three months’ school was in session at Hog Eye there came a band of desperadoes galloping over the hill, shooting off their revolvers, and yelling like Cheyenne Indians. They rode their horses into the little store, ran the keepers away, and drank the whiskey, which was always a part of the stock in trade in all stores then in the West. They ate his canned goods, robbed his cash drawer, and while their horses rested they indulged in pistol practice in front of the store for an hour, with tin cans in the air for targets.

The teacher and pupils in the schoolhouse, about two hundred yards away, were so frightened that they all lay flat on the floor to keep out of range of a stray bullet, and out of sight of the marauders.

Most of the schooling that this pioneer’s children had was around the fireside in their own home, taught by their mother on long winter evenings. It was a familiar sight in this home to see the father with medical book in hand (as he had again taken up the practice of medicine), the mother with a magazine in her lap as she knitted the family stockings, while the children, school books in hand, surrounded the mahogany table (the relic of bygone days) on which was a long, homemade tallow candle, which gave all the light the home had.

When all were weary with study and reading, the father would take down the old family Bible and read a chapter and then all would kneel in prayer to God. Then the children, one by one, would kneel with head in mother’s lap while they would say their “Now I lay me down to sleep,” and then kiss father and mother and slip off to bed. A happier family never lived than this one.

The whole family would go and camp at the old Harrell’s camp grounds, where there had been a campmeeting annually since 1857. People would come for miles, often from distant counties, and camp the full two weeks of the campmeeting. These meetings were always attended by old-time power, and there would sometimes be a hundred people converted in one campmeeting. Often they would fall off of their seats like dead men and lie for hours, to come through shouting in the old-time way.

At one of these meetings the writer, then a nine-year-old boy, was gloriously converted, and the next Sunday united with the Methodist Episcopal Church, South, where he held his membership until he was sanctified, and then was compelled to leave it on account of his preaching holiness.

 

A WONDERFUL PRAYERMEETING

 

A great revival meeting was held in the Wesley Methodist Episcopal Church, South, in Greenville, Texas, where the writer and his wife held their church membership. This meeting was conducted by Rev. E. G. Kilgore. The whole town was stirred and many people found the Lord. At the close of this revival there were several prayermeetings started in different parts of the town, and put in charge of laymen.

There were no holiness people in Greenville, Texas, at that time, but Rev. E. C. DeJernett moved there that spring, and made preparations to begin the Greenville holiness campmeeting that summer, although he at that time did not preach the doctrine of entire sanctification very clearly; but he attended these prayermeetings and aided in them by exhortation and testimony. Mrs. D. A. Hill, of Tyler, Texas, came to Greenville that summer to visit some of her people and, hearing of this live prayermeeting, she attended the first one that she could get to, and gave a clear, definite testimony to the experience of entire sanctification as a second work of grace; telling of her consecration, and how the blessing came, then she began to shout and to praise God for what she had received. Her face shone with the glory and her voice gave no uncertain sound. This stirred the people and especially the leader who had never heard such a story before but his very heart longed for the blessing the very thing that he had been ignorantly seeking for years. Could it be possible that there was such an experience for humanity. He went away from that meeting determined to put God to the test as Sister Hill had told them. He went home to tell his wife of the good news that he had heard. He did not attend church that night at his own church, just six doors from his home. He had been a regular attendant there, but had never been told that God had such a “balm” for the sin-sick soul. He could not sleep that night, but rolled and tossed on his bed. He ate no breakfast the next morning. Old-time conviction had seized him. He must be wholly sanctified!

He arose early the next morning and assisted his wife in getting breakfast as usual, while the hired man fed the team, but his whole mind was absorbed in the one thought: “That testimony—I must have the blessing!”

He turned to his wife and said, “I believe old Dr. Wright is a hypocrite.”

“Why?” she asked.

“He keeps talking about people whom he knows who are sanctified; and I want him to ‘put up or shut up’—get the blessing and tell me how; or quit talking about it.”

“Why,” his wife replied, “didn’t Sister Hill tell you how to get it?”

This ran through him like a dagger, and he left the room weeping, saying, “I’ll have the blessing today or die alone in the woods.”

About this time the breakfast bell rang, he went into the dining room and sat down at the table and returned thanks, but could not eat a bite; excused himself and left the room.

Soon the hired man came down to the barn where he had gone, and they were off to the woods three miles away, where they were to work that day on a lease in some new ground that they were plowing. The hired man started the plow, and he went to work chopping wood. The plow did not give satisfaction and he was called, and told that they could get Mr. Tally’s plow at his home a half mile away. He started at once for the plow with his head bowed while he prayed to God to be sanctified. On his return with the plow on his shoulder praying and weeping as he went, the “fire fell” and he was gloriously sanctified. He lost his plow, but got the blessing, and from that day has had little use for a plow. He told the Lord that if He would hitch the Holy Ghost to the gospel plow, that he would take off the back-band, put the clevis in the top notch, and ride the beam, and plow a furrow that all hell could not cover up. “Immediately he conferred not with flesh and blood,” but began at once to hunt some one to preach to. He saw the hired man struggling with the plow, and ran to him, telling him about his new-found experience, while he stood trembling but would not kneel for the blessing in the field, but promptly asked, “Where is the plow?”

From that day forward his theme has been the baptism with the Holy Ghost that sanctifies. The farm was left behind and the call to evangelize Hunt County, Texas, was answered, and there was only one town in that county that he did not assist in holding a meeting in, besides dozens of schoolhouses, and he saw hundreds of his own neighbors and friends sweep into the kingdom.