History Part 2

The Brandon Circuit – from Autobiography, Incidents & Observations, by the Rev. Tobias Spicer, published by Carlton & Porter, 1860
Property of Mrs. Thomas Reed, Pittsford.

Brandon Circuit — 1810, 1811

At the conference held in Pittsfield, in 1810, I was admitted on trial into the traveling connection, and appointed on Brandon circuit with Rev. Daniel Bromely. Brother B. was, at that time, an excellent man and a useful minister; he was friend and father to me; but I am sorry to say that, since then, this brother has missed his way.

Brandon circuit was, at that time, very large; it embraced no less than 31 towns, and 30 regular appointments. If I recollect, we had 23 societies. These appointments were each visited once in four weeks, so that they has preaching once a fortnight. In order to attend these appointments, each of us had to ride about 400 miles in four weeks. This was preformed on horseback, and in many places the roads were exceedingly bad, especially in the spring and fall; and, at that time, our accommodations were not always the most agreeable. To me, it was a year of great toil and labor. I traveled nearly five thousand miles, and attempted to preach four hundred and nine times.

It was a year of some interest and of some revival of religion on the circuit. We found out way into several places where hitherto Methodism had been unknown, and, of course, where we were looked upon with a jealous eye, and heard with considerable prejudice. In one place, I had an invitation to preach not far from Rev. Mr. G’s Church. This gave him some offence; I was looked upon as an intruder in his parish. After I had preached there a few times, he felt his duty to warn his people against the intruder. This he did by reading a discourse to them on Romans XVI : 17: “No I beseech you, brethren, mark them which cause divisions and offenses contrary to the doctrines ye have learned, and avoid them.” He reminded them of the doctrines they had learned. These were the doctrines of Calvinism; these he particularly enumerated, not even omitting that which teaches that God had, from all eternity, unchangeably decreed whatsoever comes to pass. Then he went on to particularly mark the men who should be avoided.
1. They were such as preached contrary to the doctrines they had learned.
2. They were such as introduced themselves into places where they already had the stated means of grace, their only object being to pull down other churches.
After he described the Methodist preachers as well as he knew how, he earnestly exhorted his people to avoid them; they must not contribute to their support, nor hear them preach, nor receive them into their houses.

This discourse gave us occasion for self-defense, and for calling in question the truth of some of the doctrine, which his people had learned. It was the occasion of considerable discussion on doctorial subjects. Some thought it rather strange that whatsoever comes to pass, should be so displaced when it has come to pass that a Methodist preacher has visited that place, and preached doctrines contrary to what they had learned. Although he did all he could prevent our preaching, and to keep his people from hearing us, it was unavailing; the people would hear and judge for themselves. When he found he could not defend his peculiar doctrines which he and his people has learned, he called in the aid of neighboring minister, the Rev. Mr. W. This gentleman undertook to defend the beloved doctrines, which the people have learned. He preached from Jer. XLIV 10: “My Counsel shall stand, and I will do all my pleasure”.
1. He undertook, first, to shoe that God had from eternity decreed whatever comes to pass, and, of course, every event was in exact accordance with God’s unchangeable counsel.
2. That, notwithstanding God has decreed the actions of all men, yet all men were free moral agents, and accountable for what they do as much as though their actions has not been decreed! When he had established both these doctrines to his own perfect suppose you will say, “Now, if you please, reconcile the decrees of God with man’s free agency”. He then lifted up both his hands and stood in perfect silence a moment, them solemnly said, “I frankly acknowledge I cannot, — let us pray:” and so dismissed he people by prayer.

As strange as it may have seemed to Rev. Mr. G., even this discourse did not convince the people of the truth of the doctrines they has learned, nor prevent them from hearing us preach. The good man was at length obliges to submit to witness a Methodist society forms within his parish, and to lose some of his good members, who became convinces of the errors of some of the doctrines they has learned, and of the truth of Methodism.

In another part of the circuit, I as invited to preach in a gentleman’s house on a weekday evening. Several or the villager attended, and among them was the Rev. Mr. H. I endeavored to show the necessity of Christians maintaining their religious character in a world where we were beset by so many evil influences. In order to give any force to such an exhortation, I was under the necessity of showing that it appearance, that the old gentleman present was a minister, I gave an opportunity for any to speak who might wish. Upon this, the elder arose and remarked that he disagreed which had been taught was very erroneous and dangerous. It was some apology, however, formed much acquaintance with his Bible. He would furthermore say it that it was a very unnatural doctrine; the heart of a Christian did not naturally incline to believe it; but to a simple-hearted Christian it was very revolting.

To illustrate this last remark, he related the following circumstance: He said that some years ago, among the fruits of the labor of Elder S., a missionary in Canada, was an aged Dutch woman. She experienced a hope, and wished to be baptized and until this late time of life she has remained almost entirely thoughtless about religion. She was, therefore, a real child of nature. On examining her for baptism, he inquired of her respecting her experience and doctrinal views; and among the questions he proposed, was whether she believed in was possible to fall from grace. But he put it in this form: “Do You think, that, after Christ was gotten one of his elect children away from the devil, the devil can ever get him back again?” To this she replied, “O la, no! for if the devil is strong enough to get a saint away from Christ, he would be strong enough to have held on to him in the first place, and not let Christ have taken him away”. Upon this, the Rev. gentleman sat down. I then arose and remarked, that, as to my being but a young man, it was my misfortune and not my fault. I might outgrow it in time. My venerable friend, I suppose, was once but a young man, but he had outgrown this misfortune. As to the aged Dutch woman, to whom allusion had been made, it seems she was very ignorant of the Bible; and I did not quite agree with my venerable friend, for I did not think her testimony proved the doctrine false or unnatural. Now, I said, I will leave it for these friends present to judge, which knew the most about this subject, and which ought to be believed; those men who spoke as they were moved by the Holy Ghost, whose words I have quoted, — such men as the prophet Ezekiel, St. Paul, St. Peter, etc – or this old lady, who could not read the Bible, and who had lived all her days without thinking much about the subject of religion. For my part, I do not think she was a very good theologian, and shall therefore prefer the decision of the sacred writers, although they may have been somewhat younger than this old lady. At this, the old gentleman seemed somewhat nettled, and said, “Young man, direct your discourse to me, if you please, that I may reply.” I said, “Young man, direct your discourse to me, if you please, that I may for I am but a young man. So, I prayed and dismissed the meeting; and the reverend gentleman immediately left the room. He did not even bid me goodnight.

It was exceedingly difficult to preach in any place in those days without coming in contact with the views of some of our hearers. The peculiar doctrines of Calvinism had been so long inculcated among the people, under the imposing title of “Doctrines of Grace,” that many really seemed to think that Methodism was quite a graceless system.
In almost every place, we had to give account of ourselves to our Calvinist hearers.

Brother Bromely, with whom I traveled, was very kind to me, even as a father to his son. He gave me many lessons, which I have remembered, and by which, in many instances, I have endeavored to regulate my conduct. We used to meet ever other fortnight, when I had to take my turn and preach before him, and he would very kindly tell me my faults. I recollect, one time, I was giving an account to him of the various appointments I had attended since we had met and I said that at such a place I did not preach there were so few present; I only prayed with them and dismissed the meeting. He said, “If that is the way you serve the people when they take pains to come to meeting, it will not do for me to give out appointments for you. Did not the few, who did attend, deserve a good sermon as much as though the house had been full?” I confess I was rather confounded, and made up my mind to do so no more. And, I do not recollect that I have ever done the like since.
Toward the close of the year, I became convinced that it was not good for a man to be alone. I desired a companion and a home. After duly weighing the matter, and taking counsel of my senior bother, I concluded to marry Miss Phebe Jones, then living with her brother in a town adjoining my circuit. We had been aquainted with each other for about three years. We were united in marriage some time in March, in 1811.
In consequence of taking this step, I was, at the session of the ensuing Conference, discontinues or dropped. This was not because I had violated a rule, which had been adopted by the New York Conference some years before, concerning which I had no knowledge until it was made to bear upon my cases.
The year following this event, was, of course, a year of deep trials to me; but I suppose I did not feel quite as bad as I should of I had violated the law of God, and brought disgrace on the church or the ministry. Many sympathized, but none reproached me. The Quarterly Conference immediately gave me license as a local preacher, and I labored here and there as opportunity offered. During some part of the winter, I taught school in the town of Shoreham. I endeavored to study and improve my mind, so that I trust it was not wholly a lost year to me, nor eventually to the church. Probably it was all for the best.
The resolution of the Conference to which I have alluded, if I recollect, subjected the preacher, who should marry the first year of his probation, to be discontinued; or, if he is married the second year, he should remain on probation a third year. Those who voted for this resolution, I suppose, thought it did not appear well for a man just entering on the work of the ministry, to be seen seeking himself a wife immediately; and that such early marriages would burden the church with families beyond its means to support. The first reason would have had some weight, if the apostle had not long since decided that marriage is honorable in all; in preachers, I suppose as well as others, From this decision I concluded that a preacher has a right to lead about a sister, a wife, as well as other men, if he shall deem it expedient. And, as to burdening the church with a family, there may have been a time when this argument might have had some weight, but I have never seen that time in the Methodist church, and I am sure it does not now exist. If there be any burdens in this matter, the preacher and his family will have their full share in bearing them; so that the people need not complain. I think, therefore, the preacher must he the best judge of his duty and proper course in this matter.
It is, no doubt, a matter of prudence, and, indeed, his duty, to consult his senior in office before taking such a step. For the discipline of the church requires it. But, I do not think it belongs to the church, or any part of the church, to determine when and who a preacher shall marry, provided his marriage be not with an unbeliever, but with all due prudence, and under such circumstances as will probably increase his comfort and usefulness. I think that, in general, preachers can be when married than in a single state. They are certainly less exposed to a certain class of temptations and remarks. It is not their families that make men burdens to the church, but it is generally their own want of talents, activity, and deep and ardent piety.
On Brandon circuit I found many very kind friends, who received me very cordially into their houses, and who bore with my deficiencies and inexperience. The names of Young, Smith, Horton, Wheat, Hotchkiss, Eaton, Lamb, and many more, will long be remembered with pleasure and gratitude. But, they we nearly all gone to their graves, However, many of their children and their grand-children are the living witnesses of the truth. In many instances, these are among the most pious and active members of our church.

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