There is a class of men, rapidly disappearing from amongst us, whose memories should be honored — THE PIONEER PREACHERS OF THE WEST.
Soldiers of the cross, whose labors can be traced, in their glorious results, over all this great valley, they are continually passing away, without a word to record their noble deeds — soon to be forgotten by those who stand amid whitening harvests where these men went forth weeping into the wintry fields, bearing the precious seed. These pioneer preachers, who spent their lives in poverty and toil for Christ's sake, were men who walked by faith and not by sight. They believed firmly in God, and in the truth they preached; and consequently took no heed of what men said or thought. They were not miserable eye-servants to popular applause. They were not looking, at every turn, to see what the papers said about them. What work they did was not with an eye to the out-ward look of it. They were satisfied to know that the eye of the Eternal smiled approvingly on their toils, their sacrifices, and their victories. Seldom did they make even a note of the privations they endured or the blessings they scattered; and when they departed, in the language of the Roman, "The good that men do is oft interred with their bones."
The memories of such men we cherish. To us it is a delightful task to wipe the dust from their tombstones, and record their humble, obscure, yet glorious lives. "The memory of the good man shall not perish."
A noble type of the western pioneer preacher was David Doyle, of Boone county, Missouri. A hale, whole-souled man, with strong sense, keen discernment, natural eloquence, and a rich, joyous humor — he seemed fitted by Providence to influence and win the confidence of the early settlers of a frontier State. For a more independent and uncontrollable class of people can be found no where on the earth than is such a population. They are usually bold and energetic, who part with old homes and kindred, and plunge into new countries to win a home from the unbroken forest. It is not every man that is adapted to gain a permanent influence over such persons. But an influence almost omnipotent David Doyle held over such a population for forty years.
He was born in Rutherford county, North Carolina, January 13th, 1779. While a boy he was the subject of God's grace, and professed a change of heart when about sixteen years of age. We have heard the old man, after sixty years had intervened, tell the simple story of that work upon his heart; and we have looked around on the congregation among which were the strong-minded, the educated, and the skeptic, and have seen all — yes, all — melted into tears at the recital. "Ah," he would say, with a voice clear and silvery, "the remembrance of the mercy I found that day will gladden my poor old heart as it beats its last in death, and will gladden my soul as it sings its first notes in heaven."
A few years after his conversion he was licensed to preach, and at about nineteen he was ordained to the work of the ministry, in which he continued over sixty years.
His education was, for his time, quite liberal. He was a good English scholar, and had paid considerable attention to Latin. At the time he was ordained to the work of the ministry he had made considerable proficiency in medicine; and in 1816 he spent some time in Lexington, Ky., prosecuting that study.
But to preach the gospel was the desire of his heart, and he looked around for a field where he could work to advantage in his Master's cause. Missouri was then a Territory, thinly inhabited. It took some three or four weeks to pass from Kentucky, in keel-boats, to that far-off land. A party of Kentuckians about moving to the Territory were joined by Doyle, and in the winter of 1816 he landed in St. Louis.
The mighty metropolis of Missouri, destined to be the greatest inland city on the continent, was then an inconsiderable town, principally inhabited by the French. Mr. Doyle remained there through that winter, and held meetings in private houses. There were, in all, four Baptists in the town, and to them he broke the bread of life. This was in 1816, one year before the Baptist Board of Foreign Missions sent Elders Peck and Welsh to Missouri. Forty-four years ago the Baptist standard was raised in St. Louis by Doyle. What changes have transpired since then! Its seven Baptist churches, with their numbers, and wealth, and liberality, surrounded with a population of two hundred thousand — did any of them ever hear the name of David Doyle, the first man that raised the Baptist standard there? Should his name be left out in the history of the Baptist cause there?
The following spring Doyle moved up into Howard (now Boone) county, which was being rapidly settled. He soon went to work to gather up a little church, and in December following fifteen Baptists assembled at the house of Anderson Woods, and were constituted into a church. This church continues to this day — the mother church in all that country. From it went forth, as ministers of the gospel, Anderson Woods, whose memory still lives in the hearts of thousands, a deeply pious and most laborious man, who died in the harness at his post; and Robert S. Thomas, former President of William Jewell College, who did more to direct and elevate the Baptists of Missouri than can now be possibly appreciated; and John Harris, who labored faithfully the short time he lived; and, among others, the writer of this memorial. That old Bonne Femme church, where thousands have bowed before the cross — what recollections does it awaken! The Hickmans, Harrises, Johnsons, Basses, Jewells, Woods — the men who gave energy to the cause in that battle ground with Campbellism and antinomianism — they are gone to their rest, but their memories are immortal.
It will be pardoned if we dwell a little longer on the peculiarities of the subject of this brief memorial. With his strong sense, happy, smiling face, and jovial humor, he had many of the eccentricities of the old pioneer preachers.
We remember once that a dashing declaimer visited the neighborhood of Bonne Femme church, and was invited to preach on Sabbath. The congregation was very large; the old log meeting-house was crowded. The visitor towered among the stars, and peopled them with innumerable and happy inhabitants.
Father Doyle arose after him. He commenced exhorting, and he seldom exhorted but what he melted all present to tears. Just as the congregation was at the highest point of excitement, and as the tears were running down the old man's cheeks — happening to allude to the stars he stopped suddenly, and in a low voice said: "We have been told, and I have heard it often, that the stars have all sorts of people in them." And then raising his voice to its highest pitch, he exclaimed: "My brethren, I have been just as near the stars as any of them, and I never saw any body there in my life." The effect was comical.
On another occasion the old man was preaching along with great earnestness, when referring to the long period he had been serving the Saviour, his feelings rose, and he turned to the younger portion of the audience and said: "I have been serving the blessed Jesus for fifty years, and I feel as young this day as I did one hundred years ago." A smile was seen on many a face, but it was followed by a tear, under his forcible appeals.
From the old church a new one, some six miles off, was constituted in 1831. In 1844 it consisted of four hundred members, most of them brought into the church under Father Doyle's ministry. A sad division took place, caused by the anti-missionary feelings, but the church recovered, and was for years the largest church in the State.
Often the old man, in his declining years, during those most pathetic and truly eloquent exhortations of his, said: "Brethren, if spirits are permitted to come back to the earth, then, after I am gone, you may expect me to be about here when the church meeting day comes round. Oh I shall want to know whether my dear children are serving the Lord, whether his truth is preached in this pulpit, whether these children are seeking the Saviour."
But we must close. A generation has passed away since the old man moved to the place where he died. The storms of eighty-one winters had passed over his silvered brow. He had attended the bedside as a physician and as a religious guide, the parents of nearly all those for fifty miles around him. He had baptized the hundreds who composed those churches, as he had most of their parents before them. He was peculiarly a father in Israel — loving and loved, — and exerted an influence which few men ever wielded for so long a time in any community.
But no short year ago he wrote a letter to the East Baptist church, in this city, full of sympathy and paternal counsel. A month afterwards he passed away, in his eighty-first year, full of hope, of peace, of trust, in glorious triumph.
Blest be the good man's memory. Let it grow greener with years. —
[From Samuel H. Ford, editor, The Christian Repository, October, 1860, pp. 744-748. — jrd]
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