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Full text of "Early Religious Beginnings in Illinois: An Address by Rev. Russell F. Thrapp, Jacksonville, Ill. Delivered at the State Convention of the Disciples of Christ, Held at Danville, Illinois, Sept. 4-7, 1911"

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EARLY RELIGIOUS BEGINNINGS IN ILLINOIS. 

AN ADDRESS BY REV. RUSSELL F. THBAPP, JACKSONVILLE, ILL. 

DELIVERED AT THE STATE CONVENTION OF THE DISCIPLES 

OF CHRIST, HELD AT DANVILLE, ILLINOIS, 

SEPT. 4-7, 1911. 

To write the history of any state that has made an 
impression for good upon the world is to recount the 
deeds of the moral leaders who were its first settlers. 
If we go backward through the centuries, where shall we 
find a great commonwealth, that was not founded by a 
moral teacher? Abraham, the founder of the Hebrew 
commonwealth, a moral leader; Moses, accomplishing the 
redemption of Israel and establishing the theocracy in 
the Promised Land, a moral leader; the Greek Cities 
trace their beginnings back to men who stand for wisdom 
and morals ; Martin Luther stands back of modern Ger- 
many; religious teachers back of Holland; back of the 
Pilgrim Fathers we behold the form of the preacher, 
John Robinson. In the settlement of the great West, a 
minister led the first group of pilgrims across the Alle- 
ghanies. The history of Iowa, Illinois and other western 
states is one story. Twenty-five home missionaries led 
twenty five different bands of colonists out of New Eng- 
land, to settle these middle states. They were men who 
believed in God, in Jesus and in the Bible. Like Abram 
of old, they were led by the unseen hand out from the 
eastern land into a new, to establish a great country with 
institutions that would bless the world. These were men 
of faith, not infidels or sceptics ; not those in search of the 
golden fleece, but impelled with a holy desire to advance 
the Kingdom of God. 



304 

In these days of materialism, with its rush for pre- 
ferment, glory and wealth, we do well to recount the deeds 
of our fathers, that we may pledge ourselves to live nobly 
for those institutions for which they nobly died. Our 
generation makes much of the men who equip the state, 
who clothe the state, and feed the state; it is in danger of 
overlooking those who instruct the state, who inspire, 
exalt and refine the moral sentiments of all the people. 
John Mason Peck, one of the first protestant missionaries 
to enter Illinois, represents in sentiment all those early re- 
ligious and moral leaders: "I have put my hand to the 
plow! Lord, may I never turn back, never regret this 
step. It is my desire to live, to labor, to die as a kind of 
pioneer in advancing the gospel. I feel a most heavenly 
joy when my heart is engaged in this work." These men 
toiled for the regeneration of the individual citizen. They 
sought with their whole strength, as the tide of humanity 
moved westward, to lift men steadily upward in moral 
and spiritual aspiration and achievement. They labored 
with scant praise of mien, to the end that moral and 
spiritual progress might keep pace with material advance- 
ment. Verily, there were giants in those days. 

Then New England grew great men. Great in soul and 
heart. University men and at the same time religious to 
the centre. When in the isolation of New England, they 
had developed their message and were ready as evangels 
to the great west, then in 1789 the barriers went down, 
and our fathers on foot and horseback started for the 
Mississippi Valley. It was a strange procession that 
formed that morning in front of the church at Ipswich, 
Mass. It was led by Manasseh Cutler. Men in hunter's 
garb, boys carrying their guns, woodsmen with axes, 
pack-horses heavily laden— all these made up a strange 
procession when they marched away. Some of them 
came to Illinois and founded Illinois College, Knox and 
Lake Forest and Shurtleff Colleges. Some went to 
Iowa and founded Iowa College, Tabor and two acad- 



305 

emies. Groups of theological students banded themselves 
together. They determined to take the west for higher 
education. These were picked men, the finest scholars of 
their era. They were statesmen; witness the fight that 
they and their sons made for liberty. The Christian 
home, the Christian Church, the Christian College and 
the free school were the instruments they fitted for the 
development of manhood. On their way to this new 
State one day they paused on the summit of the Alle- 
ghanies, and the leader placed his hand to his ear and 
stood in the attitude of an eager listener. "What do 
you hear?" whispered one of his companions, fearing 
an ambush of Indians. Uncovering his head, the leader 
answered, "I hear the tramp of coming millions." He 
might have dreamed what an English manufacturer has 
lately said, that the Mississippi Valley is to become the 
Birmingham and the Sheffield of the future. On this pro- 
cession came and founded here the institutions we love. 
Enemies have arisen to take from us the free school, and 
demoralize the Christian home. Unless we oppose every 
influence that would heathenize us, we shall be false to 
our Fathers and our God. 

And now passing back beyond the coming of Puritan 
influences to Illinois, we will notice briefly the work of 
missionaries of the Eoman Catholic faith. With the 
French there came to Illinois Jesuit and Recollect priests, 
whose names are familiar to all who have read the history 
of our State. They moved along together, the explorer 
and voyager giving protection to the missionary, and the 
latter in return aiding them to conciliate and make friends 
with the natives. Of the missionaries connected with 
Illinois, Fathers Marquette, Allouez, Gravier, Rasle, 
Marest were Jesuits ; Fathers Membre, Douay and Hen- 
nepin belonged to the Recollects. These two sects were 
at war with each other, which very much hindered the 
spread of Catholicism. To the Recollect Monks of St. 
Francis was first assigned the care of the missions, but 



306 

subsequently Cardinal Richelieu superseded this order 
and confided the spiritual welfare of the people to the 
priests of the Society of Jesus, the disciples of Loyola. 
The former felt very keenly their exclusion from the field 
and left no means untried to regain their supremacy. 

Father Marquette was a native of Laon, France, born 
in 1637. He was the first in the company of Joliet, to 
make a journey down the Mississippi, coming first in con- 
tact with the Indians, a tribe named the "Ulini;" mean- 
ing the "Men." This was in 1673. Down the Mississippi 
these intrepid men went in their frail canoe as far as the 
mouth of the Arkansas river ; and then after four weeks 
on the unknown river, forced their way against the swift 
current, toiling by day under a July sun and sleeping by 
night amid mosquitoes and the deadly vapors of stagnant 
marshes, on and up until several weeks of hard labor 
brought them to the mouth of the Illinois ; here they were 
informed by the Indians that this stream furnished a 
near route back to Wisconsin. Acting upon this informa- 
tion, they entered the river. Their journals tell in 
picturesque language the beauty of the country they 
passed through. They tell of prairies spread out before 
them beyond the reach of vision, covered with tall grass 
and undulating like the waves of a sea. The surface was 
studded with clumps of timber. Flowers, surpassing in 
the delicacy of their tints the pampered products of civi- 
lization, were profusely sprinkled over the grassy land- 
scape. Immense herds of buffalo and deer grazed on 
their rich pastures ; the river, as now, swarmed with fish, 
great quantities of wild fruit grew in the forest and 
prairies and so numerous were the birds and waterfowl 
that the heavens were frequently obscured by their flight. 
These explorers spoke of the land as a terrestrial para- 
dise, in which earth, air and water, unbidden by labor, 
contributed the most copious supplies. 

Passing far up the river, they stopped at a town of the 
Illinois, called Kaskaskia, whose name afterwards trans- 



307 

ferred to a different locality, has become famous in the 
history of the country. They proceeded further to Lake 
Michigan by way of the rivers Illinois, Desplaines and 
Chicago. Following the western shore of the lake, they 
entered Green Bay the latter part of September, having 
been absent about four months and traveled a distance of 
2,500 miles. 

Joliet hastened on to Quebec to report his discoveries, 
while Marquette remained to repair his shattered health, 
and then the following year established a mission on the 
plain between the Illinois river and the site of the present 
town of Utica. Here he preached to some 500 chiefs and 
a great concourse of warriors, women and children. He 
spoke to them with great earnestness on the duties of 
Christianity and the necessity of making their conduct 
conform to its teachings; the audience was deeply im- 
pressed with the sermon, and eagerly besought him to re- 
main with them, a request which his fast wearing strength 
rendered it impossible to grant. 

On his return home he passed to his reward. His com- 
panions buried his body on the shore of Lake Michigan. 
Three years afterward, a party of Ottawas, opened the 
grave and carried the bones to St. Ignace across from 
Mackinaw, where they lie buried under the floor of a rude 
chapel. The piety, energy and self-denial of this noble 
man gives him a high place in the affections of religious 
people. He is a type of a multitude of Roman Catholic 
missionaries the world over, who have shown great zeal 
and heroism in the propagation of their faith. Whatever 
may be said in regard to their methods, it must be ad- 
mitted that the world today is better because of their ex- 
istence and work. 

More than 100 years before we have any account of 
any protestant minister within the bounds of the terri- 
tory of Illinois, Marquette, LaSalle, Joliet and Hennepin 
traversed the long distance from the Atlantic communi- 
ties through the unbroken wilderness to minister to the 



308 

scattered French settlements and Indians. As early as 
1700 they had established missions at Kaskaskia, Ca- 
hokia and Peoria, and other points on the Mississippi. 

Father Claude Jean Allouez arrived at the Kaskaskia 
village of the Illinois on April 27, 1677. Here he erected 
a cross twenty-five feet high, and preached to eight tribes 
there congregated. He made frequent visits to this mis- 
sion until 1687, when he returned to Wisconsin, dying in 
1690. The Peoria station was established by Father 
Gravier. 

With the coming of English control the French priests 
gradually withdrew from Illinois territory and few re- 
sults of their labors remained. But for the victory of 
Wolfe on the heights of Quebec in 1759, our country would 
have been French Catholic instead of English Protestant. 
The question of the dominant religion of Illinois and the 
whole of America was settled of God and English bullets 
in this famous battle. The rule of Louis, the Fourteenth, 
meant the rule of despotism. The English gave us the 
Puritan foundation in Illinois upon which is built our 
cherished institutions. 

The first Protestant! minister to enter Illinois was 
James Smith, a Baptist. He came from Kentucky in 
1787 and in fellowship with David Badgely and Joseph 
Chance, Baptist ministers, formed the first Protestant 
church at New Design; the first association of five 
churches, four ministers, with 111 members, was formed 
in 1807. A division growing out of the slavery question, 
occurred in these churches in 1809. Other causes of dif- 
ference resulted in the formation of three parties of Bap- 
tists, which existed for ten years and two of them much 
longer. The most numerous branch of the church, is de- 
nominated the Regular or Missionary Baptists. Of this 
church John M. Peck was the great missionary and or- 
ganizer in Illinois from 1822 until his death in March, 
1858. Worthy successors in central Illinois were Justus 



309 

Bulkley, D. Read, Washington Leverett, Alvin Bailey, 
James Lemen and B. B. Hamilton. 

The first Presbyterian minister who visited the Illinois 
country was John Evans Finley. He landed in Kaskaskia 
in 1797. The next ministers of that faith to come were 
Samuel T. Mills and Daniel Smith, who had been sent 
from the Massachusetts Missionary Society to the west. 
They came in 1814, but no church was formed until 1816, 
when James McGready of Kentucky came into White 
county and formed a church at Sharon. The members 
were mostly from Georgia, Tennessee and Kentucky, 
whose families were of Scotch-Irish extraction. The 
second church was organized in Illinois at Shoal Creek, 
Bond county in 1819; and the third at Edwardsville the 
same year. Long pastorates among this people seem to 
be the rule. Albert Hale was pastor at Springfield 
twenty-seven years. Livingston M. Glover at Jackson- 
ville thirty-two years ; while that of Robert W. Patterson 
was maintained in Chicago, that city of marvelous 
changes, for thirty years. The controversy between the 
old and new school branches culminated in a division into 
two separate organizations in 1837, but happily at Pitts- 
burg in May, 1870, measures were adopted which resulted 
in unity. 

The first Methodist minister who visited the State was 
Joseph Lillard, a local preacher of Kentucky, who gath- 
ered a few scattered Methodists into a class and appointed 
Capt. Joseph Ogle as their leader. This was in 1793. 
Four or five years later John Clark visited the settle- 
ments of Illinois. He was a Scotchman. In the same 
year that Mr. Clark came, Hosea Bigg, the first resident 
local preacher, settled in the American Bottom in St. 
Clair county. In 1807 Jesse Walker held the first camp 
meeting ever held in the State, about three miles south of 
Edwardsville. The meeting was a powerful one, and 
many present were affected with that strange movement, 
"the jerks/ ' Among the powerful preachers of Method- 



310 

ism in Illinois was Peter Cartwright. His career is with- 
out parallel among his people. He was a man of great 
physical power, great energy, superior mental force and 
remarkable organizing and executive ability. Much of 
his life, after coming from Kentucky, was spent at Pleas- 
ant Plains, in Sangamon county. He was a fighter for 
what he believed to be the truth. He was a type of many 
of that day, who contended earnestly for the faith. An- 
nouncing the text, "they went everywhere preaching the 
word." Their preaching was largely doctrinal, polemical 
and hortatory. They had deep and clear convictions 
concerning the great truths they proclaimed. 

Among the early preachers were some noted for vari- 
ous eccentricities. William Stribling was an illustration 
of this. He was a very able and eloquent preacher. His 
command of language was most extraordinary. The fol- 
lowing specimens will show his love of the larger and 
more profound words of the dictionary. Being violently 
opposed to the use of tobacco, he administered the follow- 
ing reproof to an old slave of the weed : ' ' Venerable sir, 
the deleterious effluvia emanating from your tobacconistic 
reservoir so overshadows our ocular optics and so ob- 
fuscates our sensorium, that our respirable apparatus 
must shortly be obtunded, unless, through your abundant 
suavity and pre-eminent politeness, you will disembogue 
that illuministic tube from the stimulating and sternuta- 
tory ingredient, which replenishes the rotundity of the 
vastness of its concavity." The proverb, "You can't 
make a money purse out of a sow's ear," he refined in 
this manner: "At the present era of the world it has 
been found impracticable to fabricate a sufficiently con- 
venient pecuniary receptacle from the auricular organ of 
the genus suo." 

The first Congregational church was organized at 
Mendon, Adams county, in 1833, followed by others the 
same year at Naperville, Jacksonville and Quincy. 
Among the pioneer preachers were Jabez Porter, also a 



311 

teacher in Quincy, Asa Turner, Julian M. Sturtevant, 
Truman N. Post, Edward Beecher and Horatio Foot. 
The leading spirits in the organization of Illinois and 
Knox colleges were Congregationalists. 

The pioneer Episcopal leader was Philander Chase, 
coming in 1833. In 1834, three churches were organized. 
At Jacksonville, Rushville and Galena. 

The pioneers in the movement for the restoration of 
Apostolic Christianity were on the ground early. They 
came from Kentucky, Ohio and West Virginia. They 
were of rugged type and believing in Christian education. 
Early in the century colleges were established at Eureka, 
Abingdon and Jacksonville. The Bible was the text book 
in religious training. Various parts of the State today 
religiously bear the mark of the early religious impres- 
sions. Draw a line east from Rock Island to Joliet. 
North of that line in Illinois the Congregationalists and 
Presbyterians are numerous, while south of that line the 
Disciples of Christ have the larger number of their seven 
hundred churches in Illinois. The religious divisions of 
the State today are determined by the religious opinions 
of the early comers. Many churches known as simply 
" Christian' ' or "Churches of Christ" were organized 
before 1830. They were called in derision "Campbell- 
ites" by the outside world and often by their religious 
neighbors. They contended for the simple name " Chris- 
tian/ ' and said that they were "Christians only" and 
not the "only Christians. ,, Feeble was the beginning of 
this now powerful and influential body of Christians. 
They now number 116,954 in Illinois, with 746 churches, 
and are at the forefront of every movement for good. 
Sometime in the early twenties the church now known 
as the Christian church at Cantrall, Sangamon county, 
was organized as a Baptist church by Stephen England 
and later on joined in with the Disciples. This is believed 
to be one of our oldest congregations. In 1828, a group 
was organized at Hittle's Grove, under the leadership of 



312 

Wm. Miller. The church at Armington grew out of this 
movement. There is still a congregation at Little Grove, 
near Paris, Edgar county, which was established in 1826. 
On Sept. 27, 1824, Ebenezer Rhodes effected an organiza- 
tion at Blooming Grove, south of the present city of 
Bloomington. 

The church at Jacksonville was organized in Oct. 1832. 
Among the leaders are the names of Barton W. Stone, 
Josephus Hewett, Wm. Happy, Jonathan Atkinson, the 
first president of Berea college, A. J. Kane, John Eads, 
Matthew Elder, Harrison W. Osborne, D. Pat Henderson 
and Enos Campbell. Here in 1832 took place the union 
of the early church and a similar religious organization, 
known as Stoneites. 

The church at Springfield was constituted in 1833. 
Josephus Hewitt, Alexander Graham, Jerry P. Lan- 
caster, Wm. Brown, and A. J. Kane are familiar names 
with the older members of this congregation. The San- 
gamon Journal published at Springfield, 111., in its issue 
of March 16, 1833, made this announcement: "Rev. 
Josephus Hewitt, of Jacksonville, will preaqh in the court 
house in this town today and tomorrow. Services to com- 
mence at 11 A. M." How he had the courage to announce 
himself as "Rev." I am not quite able to understand. 
However, no damage seems to be done as I find no record 
of reproving editorials or heresy trial. Chas. P. Kane 
describes Mr. Hewitt in the following language: "Mr. 
Hewitt was a remarkable man. He had qualities that 
would have distinguished him in any society, in any age. 
Large of stature, dignified of mien, he at once impressed 
individual or assemblage. As a speaker he was effective 
and forcible; I have heard many persons describe him 
as a great preacher." Thus is described for us a type of 
that heroic body of men who stood for "the faith once for 
all delivered to the Saints," often misunderstood and the 
very nature of their message calling out bitter opposition, 
yet in the love of the truth they crossed these prairies, 



313 

proclaiming the watchword, " Where the bible speaks, 
we speak; where the bible is silent, we are silent/ ' All 
honors to them. We have entered into the enjoyment of 
the fruit of their labors. 

Julian M. Sturtevant records in his Autobiography an 
incident illustrative of the opposition to the Disciples in 
an early day: "From a very early period in the history 
of Jacksonville the people known as "Disciples," the fol- 
lowers of Alexander Campbell of Bethany, Virginia, were 
very active. They were then regarded with much dis- 
trust by other denominations, and in fact were scarcely 
considered an evangelical body. Having occasion to 
spend a night a few miles from Jacksonville, at a house 
of entertainment kept by a prominent member of this 
body, I was invited by him to preach on some Sabbath 
before long, in the church near his house. As it was my 
practice to embrace every opportunity to preach the gos- 
pel I accepted the invitation, leaving it to him to fix the 
day. After some delay the appointment was announced. 
On reaching the place on the appointed day I found a 
large meeting of the Disciples in progress and several of 
their prominent preachers in attendance. The great con- 
gregation gave close attention to my discourse. It would 
appear that my utterances on that occasion were ortho- 
dox, since Dr. Beecher after listening to the same sermon, 
delivered two or three years later in his church in Cin- 
cinnati, cheered me at its close by exclaiming in his char- 
acteristic manner, "That's right I" 

When I promised to preach for the Disciples it did not 
occur to me that the question of joining with them in the 
communion service was also involved. But since it is the 
invariable custom of that denomination to follow the 
Sabbath morning discourse with the observance of the 
Supper, I perceived the moment I entered the church that 
I must face that question. There was not much time to 
think. Nor did I see much reason to hesitate. These 
people had been listening with profound and reverential 



314 

attention to what I believed to be the gospel. I saw no 
reason to doubt that they received it intelligently and 
sincerely, and I could not refuse to join with them in 
breaking bread in the name of the Lord. And I am 
bound to say that I have seldom witnessed a more rev- 
erent and devout observance of that rite. At the close of 
the service strong men with whom I was acquainted in 
business relations but whom I had never before met in 
Christian worship, sang "Rock of Ages, Cleft for Me," 
with tears rolling down their cheeks. I could say with 
Peter, "I perceive that God is no respector of persons.' ' 
God taijght me that day to beware how I called any body 
of professed Christians "common or unclean." 

The report of my doings on that Sabbath startled the 
community, the story could not have been circulated with 
greater rapidity or repeated with more emphasis had I 
committed an infamous crime. A few defended my ac- 
tion, but most of my good neighbors were shocked.' ' 

In 1860 this large hearted man wrote of the Disciples 
in Jacksonville: "It is my belief that no portion of the 
religious community around us has grown in grace more 
rapidly than that denomination. If my efforts have in 
any degree contributed to that end I am thankful. I 
ascribe their remarkable progress to the fact that from 
the beginning they have constantly held that, "The Word 
of God only is the rule of our faith." 

In Danville and vicinity the work began in 1835. In 
that year Dr. W. Walters, a physician, settled in Dan- 
ville. The nearest body of the Disciples was eighteen 
miles away. He went there to worship regularly until 
the church was constituted in the city of Danville. Time 
would fail me to tell the whole story of this powerful 
people in Illinois. Their early labors were characterized 
with heroism, sacrifice and a devotion to the truth, which 
won the admiration of many. The Illinois Christian Mis- 
sionary Society, constituted in 1850 has organized over 
300 churches in the State. Among them the churches at 



315 

Quincy, Peoria, Gibson City and Champaign. Among the 
many who served as president of the society, I find the 
the honored names of Happy, Jones, Enos Campbell, Al- 
len, Hobbs, Gilbert, Hardin and many others, some of 
whom are still living. My own recollection calls out the 
names of N. S. Haynes and J. Fred Jones, who have ac- 
complished mighty things as the secretaries of the society 
during late years. Every strong church in Illinois should 
be linked in the support of some needy field in our own 
State. 

And now, may a double portion of the spirit of our 
fathers rest upon the sons of the present. We have 
mighty problems in Illinois, which can only be solved by 
the principles of the gospel. This is no time for rest, 
compromise or soft words. Shall Illinois be Christian? 
We must help in the solution of that question. The best 
that is in us must be used without stint for the King. 
We need even yet the spirit of the mighty Luther. The 
appearance of Luther before the Emperor of Germany 
at the Diet of Worms is a picture to be burned upon the 
soul of every preacher in Illinois. The evening has come. 
The torches have been lighted and cast a flickering glare 
over the faces of the earnest men who have come together 
to hear this monk from Wittenberg. As Luther goes 
through the door, the greatest general of Germany taps 
him on the shoulder and says: "My poor monk, my 
poor monk, you are on the way to make such a stand as 
I have never made in my toughest battle.' 9 And what 
the general said was true. A great company of electors 
and princes are there and on the table the books Luther 
has written. As a student he has learned that church 
councils can make mistakes. He has said so openly. The 
question now is— will he recant? The emperor tells him 
haughtily that he is not there to question matters which 
have been settled in church councils long ago, and that 
what he wants is a plain answer without horns, whether 
he will retract what he has said contradicting the de- 



316 

cisions of the Council of Constance. Luther rises to re- 
ply and this is what he says: " Since your Imperial 
Majesty requires a plain answer, I will give one without 
horns and hoofs. It is this, that I must be convinced 
either by the testimony of Scripture or by clear argu- 
ment. I can not trust the pope or councils by themselves, 
for both have erred. I can not, I will not retract/ ' A 
profound silence falls upon them all. And then the 
Augustinian Monk continues: "I can do nothing else. 
Here I stand. So help me God. Amen." And as 
Iiuther passed out the door some Spaniards who were 
present hissed him. Spain was at that time the leading 
Nation in the world, and God heard those hisses, and he 
laid his hand on Spain and led her slowly to the rear of 
the procession of European Nations, and God laid hold 
of Germany, then one of the most belated nations, and 
told her to go higher, and she today stands in the fore- 
front of all the nations of Europe, because she followed 
Luther. 

Our blessings are many ! Our perils are mighty ! Mam- 
monism, the liquor traffic, the problem of the city, cor- 
rupt rulers, rear their mighty heads to devour all who 
oppose. Men are needed now with the spirit of Luther, 
yea, with the courage of the men of the early days in 
Illinois — "to stand for the faith once for all delivered 
to the saints," and also with open minds and the courage 
to receive all new and tested truth which God shall break 
out of his World and Word. 

"He has sounded forth the trumpet that shall never call 

retreat, 
He is sifting out the hearts of men before His Judgment 

seat. 
Be swift my soul to answer Him; be jubilant my feet, 
Our God is marching on!"