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Category: Personal Recollections of Pardee Butler

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I came to Kansas in the spring of 1855, having been preaching in that part of Illinois known as the Military Tract, during the three preceding years; but my residence was in Cedar County, Iowa, one hundred and fifty miles from my field of labor, and twenty-six miles to the northwest of the city of Davenport. I had been employed for one year in Iowa as a co-laborer with Bro. N. A. McConnell; but the church at Davenport, which was the strongest and richest church in the Cooperation, determined to sustain a settled pastor, and this left the churches too poor to support two preachers, and I was left to find another field of labor.

When I first came to Cedar County I came simply as a farmer; and there were but nine families in the township in which we settled. But when the country came to be settled up the result was not favorable to the expectation that we should have prosperous churches in that region. Those who have watched the progress of the temperance reform in Iowa have noticed that, while the prohibitory law is enforced almost throughout the State, there are yet exceptions in the cities of Davenport and Muscatine and the adjacent counties. Here the law is set at defiance. This is owing to the presence of a German, lager-beer-drinking, law-defying population, Godless and Christless, and that turn the Lord's day into a holiday. This tendency had begun to be apparent before I left Iowa.

When it became manifest that I could not any longer find a field of labor in Southeastern Iowa, I was recommended to the churches in the counties of Schuyler and Brown, in the Military Tract, Illinois.

My first introduction among them was dramatic, if, indeed, we could give to an incident almost frivolous and laughable, the dignity of a dramatic incident; and yet the matter had a serious side to it. I had been commended by Bro. Bates, editor of the _Iowa Christian Evangelist_, to the church at Rushville, where I held a meeting of days. The meetings grew in interest, there were some important additions, and the church was greatly revived. Twelve miles from Rushville was the town of Ripley, a small village, where the people were engaged in the business of manufacturing pottery ware. Here two Second Adventist preachers, a Mr. Chapman and his wife, were holding forth. This Mr. Chapman was a devout, pious, and earnest man, and a good exhorter, and had an unfaltering faith that the Lord was immediately to appear. But his wife was the smartest one in the family. She was fluent and voluble. She had an unabashed forehead and a bitter and defiant tongue. It was her hobby to declaim against the popular idea of the existence of the human spirit apart from the body. With her this was equivalent to a witch riding on a broomstick or going to heaven on a moonbeam. Spirit is breath--so she dogmatically affirmed--and when a man breathes out his last breath his spirit leaves his body. But it was her especial delight to declaim against the Pagan notion of the immortality of the soul, and to affirm that the Bible says nothing of the immortality of the soul. A Bro. McPherson undertook to contest the matter with her, but, not finding the scripture he was looking for, she exclaimed with bitter and vixenish speech, "Ah! You can't find it! You can't find it! It isn't there! I told you so!" And thus this couple were fast demoralizing the church, Billy Greenwell, the richest man in the church, being wholly carried away with this fanaticism. John Brown lived half way between Ripley and Rushville, but was a member of the church at Rushville. Bro. Brown was a man of good sense, excellent character, and had been a member of the Legislature. He attended our meeting at Rushville, and, in the intervals of the meeting, was full of questions concerning this heresy that had been sprung on them at Ripley.

Our meeting at Rushville came to a close. It had been a good meeting; the church had been revived, and there had been important additions. I took dinner with Bro. Brown, and in the afternoon we rode toward Ripley. On crossing the ferry at Crooked Creek, "Old Rob Burton," the ferryman, a tall, stalwart Kentuckian, looking down on me, asked, "Are you the man that's goin' to preach at Ripley to-night?"

"Yes."

"Wall, don't you know thar's a woman thar that's goin' to skin you?"

"Well, I don't know. We shall see how it will be?"

At Rushville I had done my best, and now, being withdrawn from the excitement of the meeting, felt exhausted; and determined not to touch any debatable question that night. The house was crowded with eager and expectant listeners. My fame had gone before me, and the "woman preacher" was present, ready for a fight. But, alas! My sermon was a bucket of cold water poured on the heads of my brethren. At any other time it would have been accepted as a good and edifying exhortation; but now, how untimely! The meeting was dismissed and the buzzing was as if a hive of bees had just been ready to swarm. The woman's disciples were jubilant; and, above the din and hurly-burly, I heard a thin, squeaking voice say, "Give that woman a Bible, and she would say more in five minutes than that man has said in his whole dis-c-o-u-rse." This was Billy Greenwell.

Brother Brown said nothing that night; but the next morning he said to me:

"Bro. B., the people were disappointed with you last night."

"Why, Bro. B., was it not a good sermon?"

"Yes; but it was not what the people expected."

"Bro. B., did the people expect me, uninvited, to pitch into a quarrel with which I have nothing whatever to do?"

"Oh, is that it? Well, wait a little and you shall have an invitation."

Bro. Brown went out, and soon returned with a request that I should discuss the question that Mr. Chapman and his wife had been debating. I sat down and wrote out a statement of the subjects on which I proposed to speak in all the evenings of the coming week. The first commanded universal attention: "Does the spirit die when the body dies?" They had never thought of that. They had been thunderstruck when this woman told them that the Bible says nothing about the immortality of the soul, but beyond this they had never gone. There was probably more Bible reading that day in Ripley than any day before or since.

At night the house was jammed, and "the woman" was there, Bible in hand. I began: "The Bible speaks of a man as composed of body, soul and spirit. The body is that material tabernacle in which a man dwells, and which Paul hoped to put off that he might be clothed with a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens. The soul is that animal life we have in common with all living and material things. Thus Jesus is said to have poured out his soul unto death. But what of the spirit? God is spirit, and God can not die. The angels are spirits, and the angels can not die; Jesus says so. Man has a spirit, and can man's spirit die? But spirit sometimes means breath. Yes, and heaven sometimes means the firmament above our heads, where the birds fly. But does it never mean more than this? Paradise sometimes means the happy garden where Adam and Eve dwelt; but does it never mean more than that? So, granting that spirit sometimes means breath, may it not also mean more than that?

"When Jesus said, 'Into thy hands I commend my spirit,' did he mean, 'Into thy hands I commend my breath'? So, when the disciples saw Jesus walking on the water and cried out, 'It is a spirit,' did Jesus say to them, 'This is an old wives' fable; there is no such thing as a spirit'? Did he not rather say to them,--'It is I; be not afraid.' So, also, when he appeared to them in a room, the doors being shut, and they cried out, 'It is a spirit,' he said to them, 'Handle me and see; for a spirit hath not flesh and bones, as ye see me have.' In all this Jesus encouraged the disciples to hold the idea which was then popular among the Jews, that the spirit may exist apart from the body, and after the body is dead."

I thus discoursed to them for one hour in development of the Bible teachings concerning human spirits; and in my turn ridiculed the persons that had ridiculed the ideas that had evidently been held by Jesus and the apostles.

Mrs. Chapman had always invited objections; but she was sure to make an endless talk over them. I said, "We will not have an endless confabulation to-night; but I will quote one passage of Scripture, and on that I will rest my case. Any other person may then quote one passage of Scripture and on that rest the case. I have preached one sermon; the other party has preached twenty. So far we will count ourselves even, and it only remains that I should quote my Scripture, and let the other party quote the one Scripture on the opposite side, and then we will be dismissed." I gave the views of the Pharisees and of the Sadducees as detailed by Josephus, and then quoted Luke in the Acts of Apostles: "The Sadducees say there is no resurrection, neither angel nor spirit; but the Pharisees confess both." And Paul says, "Men and brethren, I am a Pharisee, the son of a Pharisee." So I also say, I am a Pharisee, the son of a Pharisee, and hold to the existence of human and angelic spirits.

When I announced that I should call for objections, I saw Mrs. Chapman take up her Bible in a flutter and nervously turn over its leaves. When I sat down all eyes were turned on her, and there was a death-like stillness in the house. Then she rose up, and in a moment was out of the house. She left the town the next morning and never came back. Then it was "Old Bob Burton's" turn to speak. He said to Billy Green, "Your chest is locked, and the key is lost in the bottom of the sea."

The brethren were gratified that the power of this "soul-sleeping" delusion was broken. Billy Green never recovered from his infatuation. He afterwards built a house that, in the number of rooms it contained, was wholly beyond his necessities. But he thought that when the Lord should come, and he should own all the land that joined him, and should have children to his heart's desire, then he would need all the room

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