Christian Explorers:

Trail for God & Country

The American Sunday School Union,

the circuit riders, even explorers built

spiritual vigor into the fabric of the new

American republic as its people pushed

back the frontier.

Some elements of today’s society seem “deathly scared” of anything religious. They seem totally ignorant that Christians have given America the very moral fabric upon which the nation has prospered. The Bible has never threatened America. It has helped to build it.


                                        The American Sunday School

                                       Movement: Planting Churches

                                                in a Fertile Land.

Perhaps no movement in early America undergirded its evangelism with the spirit of patriotism as did the American Sunday School Union. The Sunday school movement had originated in England with Robert Raikes. It was transplanted to America by another Englishman, Robert May. It took root with special vigor around

Philadelphia, and out of that city in 1824 came a national movement called the American Sunday School Union. In the next century and a half it planted thousands of Sunday schools across America, following the migration west from the Appalachian cabins to the frontier towns and the isolated hovels of the western Indian. Churches eventual! sprang up from the majority of these Sunday schools —more than three thousand of them in this century alone.

The American Sunday School Union’s link to great past patriots is easy to doc-ument. Its prime mover was Dr. Benjamin Rush, signer of the Declaration of Independence and the most eminent American physician of his generation. Among its original vice presidents was Bushrod Washington, nephew of George Washing- ton. The American Sunday School Union originated probably the most widely circulated hook ever written on George Washington. Also among its early officers was John Marshall, one of the great Chief Justices of the United States Supreme Court.

Another long-time vice president was Pennsylvania Governor John Pollock who, as director of the United States Mint in Philadelphia, first inscribed on our coins the motto, “In God We Trust.” But one of the movement’s most illustrious figures, who served as a manager and vice president from the time of the American Sunday School Union’s inception until his death eighteen years later, Once found himself held captive aboard a British ship outside the city of Baltimore, near Fort McHenry. He watched “the rockets’ red glare, the bombs bursting in air.” Then Francis Scott Key wrote The Star Spangled Banner.


Circuit Riders:

 Evangelizing the Pioneers.

These were preachers on horseback, who roamed the wilderness in all kinds of weather to search out pioneers who needed to hear the gospel and Christians who needed encouragement. Though people were hidden in the wilderness, they missed few cabins.

Methodists took the initiative with the circuit rider concept. Probably the most amazing of them all was Francis Asbury. in the early 1800s, when thousands of pioneers left their homes and churches in the East and trekked through the Cumberland Gap into the forest beyond, Asbury went after them. He was determined to bring Jesus to them where they were. Despite the peril of Indian attacks the cold winters and the absence of roads, Ashury roamed the American wilderness for forty years. He planted the seeds of the gospel everywhere, like a spiritual Johnny Appleseed, and then came hack year after year to examine the harvest. It is said that Francis Ashuiy may have traveled more than one quarter million miles. And he preached some twenty five thousand (25,000) sermons!

Before the Revolutionary War, the Anglican church arid the Congregationalists had dominated American Protestantism. But they weren’t prepared for the great migration West. The Anglicans, in particular, were content to remain entrenched in their churches along the Eastern seaboard. The Methodists, still rather obscure on the American religious scene, sent out circuit riders. The Baptists sent their “farmer- preachers.” A half century later, these two groups had surged far ahead. Those churches that had once dominated America’s religious scene were now far outdistanced by these who had dared to leave the comfort of their own churches and evangelize.

 The early frontier circuit rider, and others of like spirit, knew that in order to spread the gospel far and wide, they had to go where the people were. (Editors note.)

A could-be-true, famous old story, oft-told because it typifies the circuit-riders that made this legacy recited above so true, goes like this:

As the time for the rally grew near the tent looked just as was to be expected because the weather had grown from bad to worse throughout the day. The rain and thunder, not to mention the lightning, surely was making this a “no-show” for everybody-------except one lonely twelve-year boy.

Right in the middle of the front row he sat and waited. As the preacher looked from the curtain of the stage he decided to talk to the boy and explain why their would not be any preaching tonight. He approached the wet, rumpled boy and explained what had happened and also what would not be happening. The boy listened politely but then said to the famous preacher. “I’m just a farm boy, no famous preacher, but I have many cows in my flock. I have to take care of them, and I do a good job of it. If tonight, in this bad weather, if only one had showed up to be fed, I would have fed her. Maybe, I just don’t understand.

He had said just the right thing. It was profound. What had he been thinking?

The preaching started promptly at 8:00 as planned and announced by posters.

After about 15 minutes the preacher began to warm to his subject matter. He was supposed to tell this youth about Jesus. He continued to tell him about Jesus. The preacher forgot the size of the audience, it didn’t matter. He was a good preacher.

FINALLY - he finished. “Now, how was that, young man?” The old preacher asked. “ Great! GREAT!” was the childish answer. “But, Reverend – if I went out to feed the cows, and for some reason only one showed up, I don’t think I’d dump the whole damn load on her!”

Christian Explorers: Blazing a

Trail for God and Country.

 John Wesley Powell, the famous American explorer who discovered the Colorado River, once studied at what is now Wheaton College in Illinois and also at Oberlin College in Ohio, founded by evangelist Charles Finney.Powell, son of a circuit-riding preacher, taught science at a Christian school before leaving to explore the West.

In 1859 Powell, who had one arm amputated during the Civil War, put together an 11-man expedition to explore the rapids of the Colorado River and the Grand Canyon where no white man had ventured before. Among the expedition’s during task-force of geologists, historians, and various scientists were three ministers.

Some of the men later turned hack. Indians killed three members of the expedit-ion. Yet those who completed the trip told the world of an unimaginable frontier wilderness and beauty. What made Powell push on when he might have fled in fear? One biographer put it this way: “He was made by wandering, by hard labor, and by the Bible...”

In l826 Jedediah Smith, Bible-totin’ trailblazer and American explorer, became the first white man to cross the Great Salt Lake Desert and the Sierra Nevada Mountains. His daring took him as far as Fort Vancouver in the Pacific Northwest. Jedediah Smith was killed by Comanche Indians near the Cimarron River in southwestern Kansas on May 27, 1831.


Christian Colleges: Educating

a New Generation.

Evangelical Christians of an earlier year planted many of America’s colleges as the nation moved west, including such major institutions today as Northwestern University near Chicago (founded by the Methodists) and the University of California at Berkeley (founded by evangelical Presbyterians). Those who today would secularize America destroy the nation’s very heritage.


Publisher - Arthur S. DeMoss Foundation - Philadelphia


Copyright @ 1986 - Arthus S. DeMoss Foundation, pgs. 49-51

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