The following was printed on the back of the sheet containing the previous account
of the trial:
In view of the above facts, the unreasonableness of the charge, and the base injustice that was done the man, a great part of the Church became greatly dissatisfied, and the following notice was read on the following Sabbath in the meeting house:
In view of present circumstances it has been thought proper that a meeting be held in this place at one o'clock next Saturday for the purpose of taking into consideration the propriety of forming a new church.
The old house was refused them, and on Saturday, February 1, 1851, one o'clock
the congregation assembled at the residence of Deacon Jno. T. Short. The
meeting was called to order by appointing R. A. Bradley, Esq. chairman, and
Jno. McLaughlin secretary. After prayer by H. S. Gordon, the chair explained
the object of the meeting. The meeting being properly organized, proceeded
to discuss the propriety of a new church organization. The brethren
and friends conversed freely on the subject, and the meeting was addressed
by Rev. H. S. Gordon, Dr. Job Lawrence, Rev. Jno. Mathews and M. E. Lofton,
Esq. After the subject had been freely discussed for some time, Bro.
Gordon offered the form of a constitution for the further consideration of
the meeting. After sufficient deliberation it was proposed that all
who wished to form a new organization and adopt such a constitution should
come forward and take their seats, whereupon twenty-five presented themselves-all
members of the Baptist church at that place-and organized themselves into
a church, adopting the following covenant and constitution:
We whose names are hereunto subscribed, being personally acquainted and having confidence in each other piety, agree to associate ourselves together in church relationship for the purpose of each other's mutual benefit, to watch over each other in the spirit of Christian kindness, to pray with and for each other, and in all prudent manner seek each other's present and eternal good. Agree to adopt the following as our constitution:
Article 1. We wish to be call the Baptist Church of Christ.
Article 2. We agree to take the scriptures of the Old and New Testaments as the all-sufficient rule of our faith and practice.
Article 3. We understand the Scriptures to teach the sovereignty of God-the accountability of man-the divinity of Christ-the influence of the Spirit-the resurrection of the dead-the final judgment-the everlasting happiness of the righteous, and the misery of the wicked.
Article 4. We understand the Scriptures to teach the necessity of repentance for sins, faith in the Lord Jesus Christ; the all importance of humble devout prayer to God: salvation through the merits of Jesus Christ alone, and free for all who would embrace it.
Article 5. We view Baptism as an indispensable duty that all believers in Christ should perform, and that immersion is the proper mode of receiving it.
Article 6. We believe it to be our duty to invite all Christians to partake with us in communion at the Lord's table and to exercise Christian charity to all mankind.
Article 7. We further believe it to be our duty to extend the preached Gospel to the destitute as far as in our power lies.
Article 8 We also believe it to be our duty to live peaceably with all men, as far as possible, and keep a conscience void of offence toward God and man.
Article 9. This constitution may be altered or amended at any regular meeting of the Church; provided notice has been given at at preceding meeting, and two-thirds of the members present are in favor of the alteration.
Thus you will observe how God providentially seems to have led in this whole matter, whereby Bro. Gordon became the leader and founder of a body of Christians in Southern Illinois, without any selfish interest, ambition or motive prompting, only to be true to his convictions.
There were now two churches, and shortly after he organized Pipestone, at what is now called Denmark; also another near Rockwood, still called Pleasant Ridge. These four he organized into an association in 1851 and named it the Southern Illinois Association of Free Communion Baptists. Under his ministry these churches grew very rapidly, and the new church at Georgetown had built a new house within the first three months and had increased its membership to 60. His preaching was pungent and powerful and at every service persons were added to the Church and baptisms occurred every month.
Bro. Gordon's ability as a preacher, his remarkable vocabulary, fine usage of language, native oratory, great earnestness, and natural adaptability to the work to which he had been so unexpectedly called, admirably fitted him to become the leader of a more advanced and liberal view of Christianity at a time in the history of the Baptist Church when it was anything but popular. But it was not popularity he was seeking after. Although the people came by thousands to hear him preach, and every service witnessed conversions frequently by the score, and every monthly meeting ,baptisms.
With this terrible pressure he continued to go from place to place, everywhere preaching the Gospel.
I would not be saying too much, no, not enough, if I should say that he had done more to create a moral and religious sentiment in the towns of Percy and Campbell Hill, where he had preached and lived, than any other dozen men in the community.
In the home he was very social, fond of company and enjoyed a joke, sometimes quite facetious. I asked him to tell me something of his early life and his reply was, "There was nothing remarkable about my early life except my extreme awkwardness."
Free Will, Free Grace, and Free Communion, became the theme on every tongue, and calls to preach elsewhere multiplied upon him, and the work broadened and enlarged until it had reached over several counties. he organized a church at Ava, then called Headquarters, Camp Creek, Sato, DeSoto, several across Muddy river and eastward into Franklin and Hamilton counties. the apostle of a new doctrine, and success crowned his efforts and the enormity of the work began to dawn upon him and how God was mysteriously impelling him forward not only as the founder but leader in this very popular movement, and bringing to his assistance such men as Hon. R. A. Bradley and Judge Wm. Bradley, who were both brought into the church and the ministry under his preaching. He began to cast about him for somebody who held to and believed the Bible as he did, and hearing of a people in Indiana who preached and practiced baptism by immersion and free communion, resolved to go and see for himself what there might be. And so in the fall of 1854 he associated with himself Rev. Wm. Bradley and Deacon John T. Short, and equipped with wagon and team, blankets and some provisions, coffee pot and fry pan, started out on what in that day was a long and tedious journey (for there was not a railroad in Southern Illinois at that time), to attend a meeting of the Liberty Association of General Baptists, and there he met their founder, Rev. Benoni Stinson, learned from whence they came, who and what they were, their doctrines, & c. which resulted in a fraternal and reciprocal correspondence which was continued for many years. Finding them one in doctrine and church governments, two years later he with his people adopted the name "General Baptist," which name they bore for about twenty years.
Father Gordon was truly a reformer, and took advanced stands upon all the moral questions of the days, a very pronounced temperance man, 30 years before the Murphy movement began, and a strong advocate for legal prohibition, he voted as he preached, and from 1880, when Neal Dow ran for President on the Prohibition ticket to the date of his death he voted the Prohibition ticket straight. All questions that came to him received careful consideration. A profound thinker, a careful and logical reasoner, a safe councilor, a philanthropist, and the true friend of humanity. There was a sternness of character and determination of purpose in him that was equaled only by his gentleness and kind heartedness. Solemnity rested upon him as a mantle when he approached the mercy seat, and when he communed with God he talked as man to man. A friend to education, his voice was always heard in behalf of our public school system, having given some time to the school room, the ferule and the recitation class himself.
He still continued to preach and organize churches and to enlarge his field of usefulness. He went through heat and cold, through dust and mud, crossed swollen streams and traversed trail less ways to reach his appointments; traveled more miles, preached more sermons and baptized and received into membership more persons than any Baptist minister of his day. His life work was an illustration of the possible strain and endurance of the human body, and with all his manifold duties and labors, the oversight and care of the churches he never for a moment lost sight of home responsibilities, the care of a large family and the cultivation of a large farm, all of which under God's blessing enlarged and prospered.
Aside from doctrinal sermons his preaching was of a peculiar type, his favorite themes being "Love", "The Angels", and 'Heaven", and his descriptions of the New Jerusalem, or his celestial flights among the angels, or his dissertations upon the "Love of God," were not only an inspiration to any one ambitious to preach or hear the good news of the Kingdom.
He was not made up of idiosyncrasies, nor attracted the people by his eccentricities, nor was he unlike common humanity in the main, but there was one thing he did not like, and that was chicken. Returning one Monday morning from his appointment, as the day began to wear away he thought he would stop at the house of an old friend and get some dinner. Dismounting he hitched his mare at the gate and went in. After the usual salutation he told his business, and presently he saw two of the girls after a chicken. He sauntered leisurely down to the gate and mounting his old black filly he rode away. Here we have one case at least on record of a preacher who did not like chicken. He possessed a very keen sense of honor, and held truth in very high esteem, fond of flowers, music and poetry, especially did he admire Milton, Pollock and Young, and in his preaching quoted very largely from the poets. I remember hearing him tell of a vain search for his poet's name, how he forgot what the poet said, and so had to inform his audience that he had "forgotten the poet's name and what he said." Soon after his return from college he was honored with having a minister of considerable ability to hear him preach. After the service the minister approached him with, "I was much refreshed under your preaching." Indeed? "yes, I had a real good nap." He enjoyed a joke, especially if it was on himself.
For many years he had associated with him Rev. Wm. Bradley. They had grown to be very fast friends. In the troublesome times of the Civil War, when the nation was shook from center to circumference, and men were wild with excitement, and war's terribly demoralizing influence was affecting the social fabric in every department, they went everywhere preaching the Word, and amidst the excitement and strife, such as this country never felt before or since, he went straight forward with the Master's business.
The doctrine of open communion among the Baptist in the West was an unknown factor in religious circles anterior to 1850, and it took a fearless and courageous man to declare for it. Perhaps it required as much firmness to espouse the Free Communion question in 1850 as it did in the days of Randall to launch out against the Baptists and Congregationalists on the doctrine of Calvinism, the freedom of the will. Of course he incurred the displeasure of the Close Baptists. While today it is rare to find a Missionary Baptist church in an of our cities excluding any Christian from the Lord's table, but simply set the table and say nothing about it, let come to the table who may, doing virtually the very same thing for which they excluded him from their fellowship. He lived in advance of his age, not only on the communion question, but many other questions. This, however, was the pivotal point then. This was the question of all others, and developments in the past few years has proven him more farsighted than they all.
He and his followers were quite frequently dubbed "Freewillers, "Free Communionists," "the Freewills" & c., in derision, of course, but in time they "benevolently assimilated" the first part of the name and since 1876 have been known as Free Baptists, having in that year been connected with the large body of Baptists in the East, holding identically the same views on Free Grace, Free Will, Free Salvation and Free Communion.
It is a matter of some regret that no memoranda was kept of his travels, churches organized, sermons preached, number of marriages solemnized, persons baptized, &c., by which an adequate idea of his indefatigable labors might be set in order, giving facts and dates, that it might be an incentive to others in emulate his busy, active life. But 'tis enough to say that for 60 years he never faltered , nor hesitated but went where duty called. The last few years of life he did not take much regular work, but did continue to preach to the end, preached the funeral of Aunt Mary Underwood, one of his oldest members, only about two weeks before he died, and these last years when he could not go out of nights or bad weather, he took great delight in working in the Sunday school each Sabbath morning. the night he died he spent about an hour explaining to two of the teachers the quite obscure lesson of January 9th, 1898, of the "Temptation of Jesus," as recorded in Matthew, fourth chapter and 1-11 verses, where he was "led of the spirit into the wilderness to be tempted of the Devil," and when "he was a hungered," and "the pinnacle of the temple," and the "exceeding high mountain," they both remarked how clear his brain and how beautifully he set forth this rather difficult and perplexing scripture. In spite of almost 82 years, his mind seemed to have lost none of its former vigor, nor his tongue to speak in that remarkably wide vocabulary that to him was a special gift, but few men are endowed with so broad a range of words or gifted in choosing just the right ones in the right place. This accounted largely for his ability as an orator. He could hold an audience spell-bound for hours.
The sixteenth annual meeting of the Southern Illinois Association of General Baptist was held with Mount Olivet church in Hamilton Co., in October 1866, Bro. Gordon preached the introductory sermon, "and on motion, Rev. J.S. Brown, of the Union Baptist Church, of near Lebanon, Ill. being present, was invited to sit with us in council; also the correspondence to be reciprocated, Rev. H. S. Gordon was chosen to visit the above church. "I was clerk of that meeting, and remember quite well when those two brethren met at that time, both having been excluded from the Baptist church because of the communion question; how they fell upon each other's necks and wept. This visit resulted in bringing their three churches into the Association. In 1869 the annual meeting was held at Georgetown, (now Steelesville) and the Association had grown so large and unwieldy, embracing Randolph, Franklin, Jackson, Saline, Williamson, Hamilton, Washington, St. Clair and Perry counties, that upon a motion by Rev. Wm. Carlyle "that the territory be divided and all the churches east of the Illinois Central railroad be formed into a new association, to be known as the Mt. Olivet Association of General Baptist, which was carried," and "H. S. Gordon, Wm. Bradley, J.C. Gilliland and G. A. Gordon be appointed from this meeting to assist them in their organization." Father Gordon was Moderator of this meeting. The labors of Bro. Gordon began to bear fruits across the Mississippi river in Missouri, and about this time a quarterly meeting was organized over there, known as the St. Francois Quarterly Meeting. So churches continued to increase in numbers, ministers were gathered about him, the membership of the churches increased rapidly. A lack of religious literature, suited to the needs of his people, with no schools or colleges at all, created a demand on this line that needs must be satisfied. Acquaintanceship with the Free Will Baptist, who had two religious newspapers and a number of good schools had ripened into personal visitations by this time, that opened the way for a consolidation of our forces, which now number six Quarterly Meetings. About this time there was a general movement all over the states among liberal Baptist in this same direction, and conventions were being held to further this end. Rev. J.C. Gilliland, Wm. Bradley, the writer and others were active in this direction, and on the fourth Sunday in March 1877, a convention was called by the writer to meet at Looney Springs church, to determine upon what action should be taken in the matter. Rev. H. S. Gordon was Moderator of this meeting, and it was unanimously agreed to adopt the name "Freewill" and report to the next session of the Central Illinois Yearly Meeting, which had been organized at Elkton the fall before by four of the smaller Quarterly Meetings of this Association. Franklin Co. quarterly Meeting did the same thing and now the whole entire body of six Quarterly Meetings were thrown together in the work.
Bro. Gordon still continued to lead and direct in this grand work for God
and humanity, and was unanimously regarded as our greatest preacher, and
acknowledge leader, and to whom all looked for council and advice. The
result of these years of labor so far is difficult to properly estimate,
as in those days there were many people restless and unsettled, a condition
in part growing out of the years of war that had preceded and
partly the very common custom of going West and "growing up with the country."
Naturally ministers would be affected in the same way, thus a number
of our ministers went to Missouri, Kansas and elsewhere, who continued to
preach the doctrine of the Free Will Baptist Church. And thus has gone
out an influence from Bro. Gordon's preaching and teaching that has in a
measure entered into the warp and filling of a number of bodies of Liberal
Baptists. The Mt. Olivet Association of General Baptists, a direct result,
the Southeast Missouri Yearly Meeting of Free Baptists, and individual
churches scattered all over the adjacent territory can trace their origin
to the work and teachings of Father Gordon. In all these years of constant
travel and preaching, seldom missing a Sabbath in a year, he strove carefully
not to be burdensome to the churches, and so sensitive was he upon this subject
that he received comparatively no salary at all, or at best only such things
as would be given him-a pair of knit woolen mittens, or wool socks, a wagon
laod of pumpkins. During the war when a great deal of cotton was grown
in Southern Illinois, he brought home a bushel of cotton seed, which was
planted on the farm, and when gathered and ready to sell, was obliged to
hauled in wagons over hilly roads for 35 or 40 miles to a cotton gin to get
the seed out of it.
Occasionally a good old sister who wanted to help spread the Gospel would give him a pair of hand knit gloves in two colors. These, of course, were something fine, such as only a preacher could afford. The wonderful part of it all is that for 60 years a man would continue to go constantly, persistently, with no let up or rest, and it did always disgust him with a minister who was worked so hard that his church would have to give him a vacation every summer. The fact is he had but little patience with such weaklings. If he had a weakness himself it was an indisposition to kill anything for food, such as a beef or hog or chicken.
Others could kill if they chose, but he would do without flesh to eat all of his natural life before he would take the life of anything for food. And accustomed to hard labor he never shirked the hardest place upon his farm, and then in that day farming was not as profitable as it might have been. I remember hearing him tell of raising one year a corn crop which when gathered, shelled and sacked, had to be hauled in wagons 17 miles. His crop that year (to sell) was 100 bushels, for which he received a $10 bank note, and it proved to be a counterfeit, and the man would not take it back. In telling this circumstance he said it was hard to ever forgive that fellow. In his personal habits he was systematic and orderly, was rather averse to fashionable dressing and finery; while extremely social with all with whom he came in contact, he was always dignified and genteel.
He held moral character in very high esteem; have often heard him say that morality was a large half of Christianity. He especially disliked untruth and deceit.
He respected the opinions of those who differed with him socially, politically
or religiously, but tied himself down to no man's theories, notions nor opinions,
carefully investigated for himself all subjects and doctrines that presented
themselves or came up for solution or consideration. And in all those
60 years of public life was not sidetracked, but kept steadily on,
right on. And in those years very many theories and fads flourished
and grew fat, for instance, Millerism, which almost run the country wild,
Mormonism which carried off its scores, and hundreds to Nauvoo and Salt Lake.
Spiritualism which swept this country like wild fire and in places took
whole communities, but our leader pursued the even tenor of his way and
turned naught to the right hand or to the left. He was quick to discover
truth, and equally quick to detect error. In argument he was logical
and scholarly, and above all intensely scriptural. He was master of
his text book, the Bible, quoting whole chapters from memory. He moved
around among its promises, its parables and its miracles, as familiarly as
friend with friend. Nor is its history, law, poetry or prophesy any
the more perplexing.
Truly a man of God, and learnedly learned in the deep things of his word. It was a real pleasure to sit and hear him expound th Bible , to unravel the intricate and perplexing questions that almost defy solution. And with the lapse of years there seemed to be no abatement of his intellectual forces, but to almost 82 years of age his mind was clear and as active as at 50. He attended Quarterly Meetings in his last years and took as profound interest in them as before, in fact such a meeting was held at his old home church at Percy, Ill., on Friday, Saturday and Sunday before he died on Monday. All of its sessions he attended, except Sunday night, and took his wanted interest in the business of the session.
A discussion upon the propriety of establishing a religious newspaper in the bounds of the Central Illinois Yearly Meeting was before the body, and he spoke upon the subject, which was both prophetic and pointed. He introduced his remarks by saying "My work is finished, and I have nothing more to do, but if I was a young man I should not hesitate a moment, but know what I should do." And then pointing to the clerk of the Quarterly Meeting said, "If I was you I would start the proposed paper." And so with any business of importance that was considered he took the same lively interest as in former years.
The eighty-two years had not whitened his hair, and bent his form and bowed his head, as is most generally the case. His step had grown unsteady, which was the most visible sign of advancing age, but in spite of all those many years of activity, mentally and physically, he was a remarkably well preserved man. I have often heard him ask the Lord that when he came to die he might retain his mind. And it would seem this his prayer was answered and his desire granted, for he passed away without a struggle.
The Quarterly Meeting was to close that night with a sermon, preceded by the young people's A. C. F. Society, and as the church was crowded to overflowing, hundreds being turned away, I remained at the house to talk with him and mother until the young people's meeting was over, so stayed until about 7 o'clock, and upon bidding them good-bye, for I was going home on the night train after church was over, he holding on to my hand complimented my sermon that I had delivered that day at 11 o'clock, which was the first time in my thirty years that I had stood by him in the pulpit he had ever said a word complimentary or otherwise about my preaching. I went down to the church, and two of the neighbors, J. S. Weedon and Isaac Rury, who could not get in the church, called at the house, and they spent about an hour talking on the Sunday school lesson, in which he took the leading part, explaining some. Scriptures hard to understand. And immediately upon their departure the old folks retired. He slept like a child all night, and the next morning at 6 o'clock he complained of being cold. Sister Mary Grizzell had stayed all night, being in attendance at the Quarterly Meeting. She and mother did what they could to make him comfortable, but in an hour he was unconscious and died the following evening, doubtless without a pain, at least without a struggle. I was notified and was early at his side next morning, and as I watched the "last sands falling from the hour glass," and saw that life going out, which could rise to the dignity of founding and leading a denomination to victory, or stoop to relieve the smallest want of his helpless child. I felt that his prayer, "give me a peaceful hour in which to die," had been fully answered.
It was meet that a life so well rounded up should spend his last waking hour
on earth talking and teaching from the Book. He was held in high esteem by
all who knew him, old and young. Everyone who approached his door received
a hearty and a cordial greeting, and the very large funeral cortege that
followed his remains to the grave was a fitting expression of the affection
that thus found utterance. The funeral services were appropriately
conducted by Rev. J.C. Gilliland, T. O. McMinn and_________at the old home
church at Percy, Ill., where his voice had been so often heard for almost
half a century, speaking words of encouragement and hopefulness to afflicted
and sorrowing humanity. January 12th, 1898, we laid him to rest under
the wide spreading limbs of a sturdy old oak in the Jones grave yard, one
mile west of Percy, Ill.
Diaries & Memoirs Index