John Bowman New
Biographical Sketch On The Life Of John B. New
ELDER JOHN BOWMAN NEW was born in Guilford county, North Carolina, November 7th, 1793. His father, Jethro New, was a native of Kent county, Delaware, horn September 20th, 1751. He served as a soldier under General Washington, in the war of Independence; and was one of the guards over the unfortunate Major Andre, whose execution he witnessed. His mother, whose maiden name was Sarah Bowmm, was also born in Kent county, Delaware, on the 25th of May, 1764. His parents were both Calvinistic Baptists, thoroughly orthodox on the subject of Predestination; and careful to instill into the minds of their children the traditions of the fathers.
In the Fall of 1794, they emigrated to Kentucky, and settled in Franklin county, in Dry Run, about five miles from Frankfort. This long journey through a rough, wild country, the mother and her infant son John B. made on horseback, the iron horse having not yet been created.
After a residence of five years in Franklin county, they removed to within fifteen miles of the Ohio river; entered three hundred acres of wild land in Owen county; and settled upon it, about three and a half miles from where the town of New Liberty now stands. Their nearest neighbor at that time lived at distance of five miles. It was therefore several years before the settlement was sufficiently populous to secure the advantages of a school. The first one was taught by Willis Blanton, to whom, on the first day of the term, flocked stalwart youths and blushing maidens, all—or nearly all—in their A B C's. The first day, Johnny New—as he was then called—learned his alphabet plus a line or two of spelling; and throughout the term his progress was satisfactory to both teacher and parents. Subsequently his teachers were a Mr. Ward, Nathan Briton, and Henry Miller; under whose instructions he obtained a tolerable education, according to the standard of those times. The little one-story cabin in Owen county with its rude benches and puncheon floor, was the highest school he ever attended—to him it was both college and theological seminary.
The education of his heart began at an earlier period than that of his head. When only four years old he had learned, and could sing very well, a song of fourteen stanzas, relating to a Roman Catholic girl who had been burnt at the stake for joining a Protestant church. This little hymn inspired his young heart with devotion to the truth and hatred of religious intolerance. His parents, brothers and sisters were all good singers; and the family spent much of their time in singing the songs of Zion.
When seven years of age he attended, for the first time, a meeting for the worship of God. It was a prayer-meeting of the members of the Baptist church, not then organized, and was held in a log-cabin erected in the forest by James Blanton. At the close of the exercises they extended to one another the hand of brotherly love; and an old brother by the name of Moses Baker, warmly shook the hand of the little boy who was intently beholding their devotions. The little fellow was highly pleased with this expression of regard for him; and from that day to this Elder New has been a great lover of prayer-meetings.
Soon after this occurrence the first sermon he ever heard was preached by a Baptist named John Reece, a German who had been a soldier under General Washington. The next sermon he heard was by a Methodist preacher, by the name of Hardy. His text was, "Say to the righteous it shall go well with them, for they shall eat the fruit of their doings; but woe to the wicked, it shall go ill with them, for the reward of their hand shall be given them." Although he had never been disobedient to his parents or guilty of falsehood or profanity; yet he felt that he was classed among the wicked; and, desiring that in eternity it should go well with him, and not ill, he resolved to seek a place among the righteous. To this end he read the Bible daily, and prayed often and fervently; and for a while he thought he was making rapid progress in "the divine life." But one day while guiding an old-fashioned plow around a large tree that stood in the field, the point of the plow caught under a root, throwing up the handles with such force as to hurt him severely, and causing the horse, in his recoil, to plant his foot on a hill of corn. This threw him into a terrible passion, which destroyed in a moment all confidence in his righteousness. The accident has been of great service to him, admonishing him all along the journey of his Christian life to put away anger which "resteth in the bosom of fools."
The next discourse to which he listened was delivered by John Scott, a Baptist of more than ordinary ability. His subject, "The Cumberers of the Ground," was presented in such a manner as to cause young New to address himself again to the task of "seeking religion"—a search which was anxiously prosecuted for several weeks.
At length on a certain afternoon, as he rose up from prayer for the fifteenth time that day, he felt that his sins had been blotted out. But after a few moments' reflection he concluded that this peace of mind was not owing to the presence of the Holy Spirit—that it was only Satan whispering to his conscience "peace, peace, when there was no peace." He therefore applied himself again to the work of prayer, that he might obtain from God an evidence of pardon, or some new revelation of the divine will concerning him.
Finally, after struggling a long time in the Slough of Despond, he read in Romans:—"If thou shalt confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus and shalt believe in thy heart that God hath raised him from the dead, thou shalt be saved." He read also in Mark:—"He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved." Though he did not then know that baptism, preceded by faith and repentance, is "for the remission of sins;" yet he determined to confess the Messiah before men; and be baptized in obedience to his command. At the next opportunity he did so; and as he walked out of the water he proclaimed with a loud voice, to the many spectators:—"This is the way, walk ye in it."
At the next meeting of the Baptist church he united with them; and for the space of three years continued to walk in what he believed to be all the statutes and ordinances blameless, praying often in secret and reading the Bible and other books of a religious character, prominent among which were Pilgrim's Progress and Whitfield's Sermons.
About this time, being then sixteen years of age, he first conceived the idea of becoming, one day, a preacher of the gospel.
In May, 1812, he was drafted as a soldier for six months, to defend Indiana Territory against the invasion of the Indians. He was not called into service until the next August, on the I7th of which month he joined Colonel Wilcox's regiment at Louisville, where he was inspected by General Harrison, then on his way to Cincinnati to take command of the army of the north-west. Having been armed and equipped at Jeffersonville, his regiment marched first to the defense of Fort Harrison, then commanded by Captain Zachary Taylor, subsequently President of the United States. Afterwards they marched up the Wabash to a point near La Fayette, whence they returned in January, having passed the Winter thus far in the flax-linen clothing with which they left home in August! During the campaign he saw but one Indian, who was running at such a rate that he could not obtain a shot. Like Frederick V. in his dying hour, he could say, "There is not a drop of blood on my hands." Since his prejudices against that unfortunate people have worn away, he is exceedingly glad that he took not the life of one.
In the Spring of 1813 he entered the establishment of Matthew Craigmiles for the purpose of learning the trade of a cabinet maker. There he served out his apprenticeship; and afterwards opened a shop in the town of Cynthiana, Ky.
Toward the last of February, 1814, the weather, which had been very warm, suddenly became extremely cold, occasioning a fearful disease, which the physicians called Cold Plague—a malady similar in many respects to Asiatic Cholera.
After having lost a beloved brother and several other relatives, Elder New was himself seized with the swift destroyer. The attack was severe; the physicians decided that he must die; and his friends prepared for him his grave clothes. But while reflecting one day he came to the conclusion that he would not then die; that his work for the Lord was not yet all accomplished; and, perhaps, through the mysterious influence which the mind exerts over the body, or, it may be, through the providence of God, the long-balanced scale turned in favor of life; and he slowly regained his wonted health.
On the 2d of February, 1815, he located in Madison, then a small village in Indiana Territory. The cause of his leaving Kentucky was the same that had driven many a good citizen from her fertile soil—namely, the institution of human slavery. His object in coming to Indiana was to assist in making it a free State. His views of slavery may be most fairly given by an extract from an article written by himself. In his own peculiar style, he says: "I saw that a man in a slave State might possess twice as much property as his slaveholding neighbor; might have four times as good fare upon his table; might have eight times as much sense; and might manifest sixteen times as much honor in his business transactions; and yet the slaveholder would not regard him as his equal. The possession of a few poor, ignorant, debased slaves was a standard of respectability that I was unwilling for myself and my posterity to be measured by."
In April, 1815, he cast his first vote, as a citizen of Indiana, for delegates to form the first free State constitution. In the same month he looked upon the first steamboat that ever ascended the Ohio. When the six-pounder announced her approach to the port, every man, woman, and child in the village—in all about forty families—ran down to the river to see the great wonder, the Robert Fulton; while the cattle, differently affected, fled affrighted to the hills.
Soon after his arrival at Madison, he entered the cabinet shop of Henry Critz, where he worked as a journeyman for two or three years; during the greater part of which time he served as clerk of the Baptist church at Mount Pleasant, near Madison.
At this time and place the "great salvation" was generally neglected; and, falling in with the popular current, he too soon became "barren and unfruitful." But he soon repented of his folly, and with tears sought the favor and the forgiveness of God. In order to renew his spiritual strength, he determined to visit New Liberty, Ky., near which place protracted meetings were then being held with great success. He went in the spirit of David, praying God to create within him a clean heart, and restore unto him the joys of his salvation.
The people among whom he went most certainly had a zeal for God, though their knowledge of the truth was imperfect. Their doctrine was corrupt, but their lives were pure; and it is to be regretted that in many respects neither time nor the Reformation has produced their superiors in moral excellence. They were a praying people—in the family as well as at church; in secret as well as in public. They were a simple people, comparatively free from "the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eye, and the pride of life." They were a happy people, singing aloud the praises of God as they went to and from the house of worship. They were a patient people, never growing restless under a sermon sixty minutes long; but often assembling an hour before sunset, and protracting their worship until midnight. Among such a people it was good for a faltering pilgrim to go; for they that act thus "declare plainly that they seek a country." On the next day after his arrival there he delivered his first exhortation, at the house of a brother, Samuel Sneed; and, throughout the long series of meetings which followed, he took an active part in singing, prayer, and exhortation.
After several weeks, the meetings closed with about two hundred additions; and he reluctantly returned to Madison. On the first Saturday after his arrival, at the request of the pastor, Jesse Vawter, he gave the church at Mt. Pleasant an account of the Kentucky revivals; and exhorted them to diligence in the great work of saving a world that "lieth in wickedness." This address was quite unexpected to the brethren, causing them to partially open their eyes and awake from their sinful slumber.
On the next day—Sunday—after a sermon by the pastor, Elder New again arose, and began an earnest and touching exhortation. Many in the audience were soon weeping profusely; and, when he sat down, the pastor, with tears streaming down his face, began to go through the house, exhorting and shaking hands indiscriminately. The effect was electrical; and from that meeting the interest spread into the country on both sides of the Ohio; nor did it abate until great numbers were "added to the saved."
After his return to Madison, he endeavored to atone for past delinquencies by double diligence in the service of God. He quit all secular business, and entered upon the study of the Bible, with the aid of Scott's Commentary, resolved that, if the Lord should call him to preach the gospel, he would not be disobedient. He believed firmly in the doctrine of "a divine call" to the ministry, as did thousands in his day, who, while waiting to receive it, saw multitudes go by in the broad road to destruction, who, but for this grievous doctrine, would have been among those who shall ascribe "blessing, and honor, and glory, and power to Him that sitteth upon the throne, and to the Lamb forever and ever."
After studying and praying over this subject for several months, he finally compromised the matter by resolving that the church should assign him his sphere of action; and that he would endeavor to do whatever they might require at his hands. They decided that he should preach; and he accordingly began about the year 1818. But, having spent all his money while investigating the question of a divine call, he was obliged to betake himself again to manual labor. Yet, with characteristic order and economy, he reserved four hours out of the twenty-four for study.
On the 19th of February, 1818, he was married to Miss Maria Chalfant, the third daughter of Thomas and Mary Chalfant, who resided in Kentucky, seven miles from Madison, on the Frankfort road. Her parents were from Pennsylvania; and both they and their daughter were Baptists, and opposed to the institution of slavery. The choice of his youth, and the sharer of his toils and trials in the gospel, is still the companion of his old age.
Soon after his marriage, he and several others were appointed a committee to amend and enlarge the rules of decorum of the Mt. Pleasant church. When the committee met, he inquired of them if, in their opinion, the church required rules to enforce any thing which the Lord had not commanded in the New Testament. They said, "Certainly not." He next inquired if they thought the church needed rules forbidding any thing which the Lord had not forbidden in the Scriptures. This was also answered in the negative. "Then," said he, "it would take much time, ink, and paper to write out all the Christian duties and privileges; and, on looking into the law of the Lord, I find that he has graciously relieved us from so much labor and expense, by enumerating them for us; I therefore move that this committee recommend to the church the adoption of the Holy Bible as their all-sufficient rule of faith and practice." Such a report was accordingly made and adopted by the congregation. It will be remembered that this was at a very early period. As yet no great reformer had clearly brought to light the evil of creeds; and he reached his conclusions by following the plain reading of the word of God.
In March, 1821, he removed to Vernon, Jennings county. In a short time Joel Butler, an orthodox Baptist preacher of Indianapolis, delivered a discourse at the house of Luther Newton, near Vernon; and called on brother New to close the meeting. In doing so he pressed upon the audience the duty of complying with the "conditions" of the gospel. After dismission, the chief speaker approached him, with an air of great concern, saying, "Brother New, are there any conditions in the gospel? If so, what are they?" In reply to this singular question he quoted Mark xvi. 16, Rev. ii. 10, and Heb. x. 38. Most of the Baptist preachers of that day were equally ignorant of the plan of salvation. They believed that God either would or would not have mercy, according to his own good pleasure; and that the sinner either should or should not be saved, according to his predestination to glory or to shame.
On this subject of predestination he had much controversy with his brethren, who stigmatized him as an Arminian because he was not a Calvinist. On one occasion, a Baptist from Kentucky preached in the court house at Vernon; and vulgarly announced to the audience that he was "a predestinarian up to his knees, with a steel hoop and an iron jacket." He and Elder New went to the same house for dinner; and at the table a controversy arose between them, which continued, with a short intermission for sleep, until nearly noon the next day. It is said that when Sir Orthodox went back to Kentucky, he unlaced his jacket somewhat, and did not wade quite so deep in the mire of predestination.
The first standard work on theology that he read was Gill's Body of Divinity. Finding that it advocated the doctrine of a partial atonement, he laid it aside, when finished, and christened it Gill's Body of Humanity; because it was, in his opinion, as unlike the Divinity of Christ as John Gill was unlike the Messiah. He next read Andrew Puller's Gospel, which he found to be very different from Paul's; for, although it taught that Christ made an atonement for all, yet none could believe unless first regenerated by the Holy Spirit, which was effectually imparted "according to the determinate counsel and fore-knowledge of God;" thus virtually attributing the loss of the non-elect to Adam and the Almighty, while Gill laid the blame upon Adam and the Redeemer!
As fast as he could condemn such doctrines of men by comparing them with the word of God, he threw them aside; for he had determined that, in matters of doctrine, he would reject every thing which was not as old as the New Testament; and that he would confine himself as closely as possible to the language of the Book, when speaking of Father, Son, Holy Spirit, faith, repentance, baptism, remission of sins, and whatever else is intimately connected with man's salvation—a practice which, if adopted by all preachers, would soon utterly destroy the worthless dogmas that distract the church and stay the progress of the gospel.
So numerous were these dogmas then, that it often happened that there would "be several sorts of Baptists in one congregation. At one time the church at Vernon wished to prepare a letter for the Silver Creek Association. In carrying out their wish a difficulty arose as to the manner in which the said letter should be prefaced. Some desired that the adjective "United" should be prefixed; others preferred the prefix "Regular;" while some, for the sake of compromise, suggested the single word "Baptist." To this Joel Butler stoutly objected, and, in his turn, suggested that it be written: "The Calvinistic Close-Communion Baptist Church"—a name eminently commemorative of him who loved the church and gave himself for it! But, says the practice of the orthodox,
Soon after his removal to Vernon, he began to preach once a month in Ripley county, where he soon organized a church according to the word of the Lord. Among the many additions to that congregation was old father Wiley, then seventy-five years of age—almost ready to descend into an earthy, instead of a watery grave. He had been a Methodist for forty years, and when he walked out into the stream he took hold of his coat with both hands and turning toward the large assembly he said, "Some may think that the old man is about to change his coat in his old age; but if I change it for the better I hope you will excuse me." His wife, who had been a Methodist for thirty years, preceded him into the kingdom. They both walked worthy of their vocation during the remainder of their earthly pilgrimage; and died in full assurance of faith.
A little prior to the immersion of father Wiley, a few of that congregation, through the influence of Baptist preachers, became greatly afraid that Elder New would lead the church into "Campbellism." They therefore summoned, from the neighboring churches, a council to assist them in placing their pastor on the iron bedstead. On a certain day the counselors came, and after a discourse by Elder New, the clerk of the church, who was one of the alarmists, asked permission to read the Articles of Faith of the Silver Creek Association. Permission being granted the articles were read; whereupon a brother James McClusky arose, and offered the following resolution: "Whereas the church of Christ at this place has lived together in peace and love, under the government of the Lord without any rules of man's device, therefore
"Resolved, That the said church continue to live by and under his laws alone, as revealed in the New Testament." This resolution was adopted by a vote of thirty-five to seven; and the "council" retreated in the direction of Silver creek!
About this time, it seems that others became alarmed at Campbellism. While the Association was in session at Shann creek, Bartholomew county, a brother Daniel Pritchard arose and delivered the following lamentation. Said he, "I expect to be compelled to live and die with Arminians, a thing which I can submit to, though it hurts my feelings to call them brethren; but to live in full fellowship with Campbellites (glancing at Elder New) is more than I can endure." Upon this Elder New stood up, and, with an air of great seriousness, observed that, if there were such persons about, it would be well to have them pointed out so that all good people might avoid them. The conscientious brother, who afterwards came into the Reformation, did not say any thing further, being no doubt in the condition of another opposer who said of a certain discourse, that he would have liked it very well if it had not been so full of Campbellism. "True," said he, "I do not know what Campbellism is, and God forbid I ever should know."
In April, 1830, there being much strife and disorder in the congregation at Vernon, he, with some eleven others, including his wife and his brother Hickman New, obtained from the church letters of dismission in full fellowship, designing to organize as a separate church. For the satisfaction of all concerned they requested that a council should be summoned from six adjacent churches, by the decision of which they pledged themselves to be governed. The council met and decided that they should postpone the new organization for one year, in hope that in the mean time Providence would indicate some means by which they might all dwell together in peace. He therefore waited until the next Spring, when he began to preach the Reformation in the Baptist church. In July following he immersed his brother Hickman's wife "for the remission of sins." On Saturday evening before his regular meeting in September, he preached at his own house, and Perry M. Blankenship, whom he had brought up and educated, confessed his faith in the Son of God. Brother Blankenship's entrance into the kingdom was strangely opposed by his relatives, especially by his mother, who, when she heard of his confession, declared that she would rather have heard of his death!—The next day she came post-haste to meeting to prevent his immersion. But her objections were finally overruled, and her son, through obedience, became a son of God. He afterwards studied theology, though compelled to labor at the work bench; and has been for many years an efficient evangelist.
In November, 1831, he organized the Church of Christ at Vernon, with about thirteen members, to whom were soon added several others, including the wife of P. M. Blankenship.
In the Summer of 1832, Colonel John King, the county surveyor, came to Elder New's house on Sunday morning with a change of raiment. After some conversation on the subject of religion, he confessed his faith in Jesus, and stated that he had come on purpose to obey him. After the morning service at church he was immersed, and in a short time he became a zealous and successful preacher. Through his influence, his father, then a deist, profane and dissipated—was brought occasionally into the sanctuary. He had not long heard the word until he also believed; and one day, while Elder New was in the midst of a discourse, he rose up in the congregation and expressed his desire to confess the Saviour before men, and be buried with him by baptism into death. The sermon being discontinued and an invitation given, he, his son George, and several others came forward to the acknowledgment of the truth. His wife, who had been brought up a Presbyterian, soon followed him into the Reformation, as did others of the relatives, in all about twenty. The old man continued a faithful and devoted disciple until the day of his death, Christ and the cross being his constant theme.
In August, 1832, he attended a meeting at the Bluffs of White River, some fifteen miles below Indianapolis. There he first met John O'Kane, who agreed to meet him at Greensburg in September and go with him thence to Vernon to assist in a protracted meeting to be held there in October. They met according to agreement, and held their meeting at Greensburg on the last Saturday and Sunday in September. On the next day they set out for Vernon by way of Madison, preaching at New Marion, Hebron, Madison, and Franklin's school-house. At the last place David C. Branham was immersed—the first of that large family that came out in opposition to all human creeds. On Friday morning they arrived at Vernon, where they met with a sore disappointment. They found that the Baptist church, which had long been engaged for the occasion by the Disciples, was occupied by the Presbyterians of Hanover, who were holding in it their Presbytery. A Methodist Quarterly Meeting was in progress in the court house; and there was left no better place for holding their meeting than in Hickman New's cabinet shop. Previous to their arrival the brethren had set the shop in order, and, hoping that all things would work together for good, they began their meeting. It continued for about a week, and resulted in forty-five additions—the truth triumphing gloriously over its allied opposers. The Presbyterians had no accessions; the Methodists drew only a few to the anxious seat, the most of whom went away to the Christians' meeting, and obtained pardon by attending to what had been appointed for them to do; while the Baptists were rewarded for their faithlessness by the loss of ten of their members, who went over to the Reformation.
About this time he began to preach monthly at Coffee creek, some twelve miles from Vernon. It was a Baptist community, and he held his meetings in the Baptist church. It was not long however until the chain and padlock— "the last arguments to which errorists resort''—were placed upon the door. At this crisis two of the Baptists, more noble than the rest, invited him to preach in their houses, at the same time addressing him as "brother New." For this act they were arraigned before the church, which had already agreed to be governed by the word of God. To that word they appealed, but were informed that they were to be tried by the Baptist rules. They then plead successfully that those rules did not forbid their calling a good man brother or inviting him to preach in their dwellings. It was then charged in the indictment that they had hurt the feelings of the church. On this charge they were excluded; but through the door, which was opened for their egress, about twenty others went out—so great a matter did a little fire kindle. He continued his meetings and organized a church there which soon numbered a hundred members, about half of whom were from the Baptists. In a little while they built a substantial brick meeting-house, which, to this day commemorates the victory at Coffee creek.
In November, 1832, he and Carey Smith organized the Church of Christ at Madison, which consisted at first of about a dozen members. Among the original members were Jessee Mavity and his wife. Elder Mavity had been preaching for a few years and was an educated and promising evangelist. To support his family he taught school in the basement of the Masonic Hall, assisted by his brother Henry Mavity. Prior to the organization of the church, he had preached with great acceptance for the several denominations of the city, all of whom were liberal patrons of his school. But no sooner was an effort made to build a church on the foundation which God has laid in Zion, than they induced him to change his common school to a High School, assuring him that he would thus make a better support with less labor. The change being made, they withdrew so much of their patronage that the High School proved a failure. He was therefore compelled to leave the city and retire into the country—a movement which deprived the infant church of a pastor. This seems to have been a strategic movement on the part of the allied sects to which they were no doubt prompted by the Scripture which saith, "Smite the shepherd, and the sheep shall be scattered."
The stategy, however, did not succeed. Elder New went to the relief of the congregation, which he visited once a month gratuitously until they were able to sustain a preacher. Thus he not only planted, but also saved, the Church of Christ at Madison.
Having assisted in building a good brick meeting-house at Vernon, and having placed the cause upon a good footing, he determined to entrust the work, in that county, to his brother Hickman and several other young preachers. Accordingly in October, 1839, he removed to Greensburg, Decatur county, where there was a languishing church of some thirty members. His first meeting was on a beautiful Lord's day in October; but, the brethren had so far forsaken the assembling of themselves together, that there were but thirteen of them and three small boys present. After the discourse, he and his wife handed their letters to one of the bishops, and were received into what little fellowship the church possessed. The prospect was so dark that his wife wept bitterly; and his stouter heart was not a little discouraged. They had left their comfortable old home; were in debt for their new one; and without even the promise of a single dollar from the church at that place. But he looked upon the Lord's vineyard, all grown over with thorns, and also upon the field ripe for the harvest; he girded up his loins with truth; set his sickle in order; and resolved to labor, and wait for his reward until the resurrection of the just.
He appointed a protracted meeting to be held early in November; and obtained the assistance of George Caldwell of Rush, and Samuel Ellis of Decatur. At the first meeting on Saturday morning eight persons were present, one of whom had walked from Hartsville, a distance of fourteen miles. On Saturday night there were twelve present; on Sunday twenty-five; and the big meeting adjourned sine die. It was about four months before he could get a tolerable hearing; but he received as much pay, almost, from the empty pews as from the people, so he toiled on, preaching in town every Thursday night and five times on one Saturday and Sunday of each month, and holding meetings in school-houses and private dwellings throughout a district of ten miles square. Such persevering industry, accompanied with fervent prayer to the Giver of all increase, could not fail to produce some good results; and during the first year there were seventy-five additions to the church. He preached at Greensburg one fourth of his time for six years; and each year brought about fifty into the fold of Christ. Under his diligent culture, the small seed which he found there took such deep root that it has steadily grown into a great tree under whose shadow all other gospels enjoy but a sickly existence.
In December, 1839, he went to Cincinnati, where he preached five discourses and had twelve additions. This was the beginning of the great meeting, which lasted three whole months, and resulted in two hundred and fifty accessions to the cause of righteousness and truth.
In January, 1840, he organized a church five miles south of Greensburg; and continued to preach for them monthly until they reached a membership of sixty. In June of the same year he held a meeting at Napoleon, Ripley county. At this point there was no Christian church, nor were there more than two or three disciples in all that region. After a meeting of four days' continuance, there was a church there of twenty-four members. The twenty-two additions were from eleven different religious parties! Hence it appears that the ancient gospel, which in the days of Paul made "of twain one new man," has not yet lost its power; for it has in this century made of eleven one new church. Notwithstanding their differences of opinion previous to their union, they afterwards stood together as one man; and Christ became "all and in all." So would all material differences of opinion perish, were they not embalmed, like Egyptian bodies, in the Creeds and Confessions of Faith.
In May, 1841, he held a meeting at Milroy, in Rush county. The padlock being on the door of the M. E. church, he preached at the house of Austin Smith. There was then no Christian church at that place, and only one disciple, the wife of Dr. Samuel Barbour. On Monday morning the citizens said to him that if he would return in eight weeks they would have a house ready for his use. When he came, accompanied by Jos. Fassett, the house was ready. They preached in it a few days, and left there a church of seventeen members. Them also he fed with the sincere milk of the word, until they were able to take care of themselves. They are still a large congregation, and have a good house of worship.
In August, 1841, he and Joseph Fassett held a meeting of two days at Shelbyville, and immersed one. There were then but three disciples at that place, and the opposition was very strong. He returned in March, 1842; preached several days in the town and vicinity, and with great difficulty collected sufficient materials to organize a church, to which, in April following, he added some twenty disciples.
The same year, 1842, he organized two more churches—one at Milford, and the other at Blue River. He also held that year a number of protracted meetings, extending his circuit as far as Rising Sun.
On the first Lord's day in March, 1843, the weather being very cold, he began a protracted meeting at Edinburg, Johnson county. When he arrived at the church on Monday morning, a little before the hour for preaching, he found the door still locked. He hunted up the key, unlocked the door, and proceeded to examine the stove, which he found cold as the church, and nearly full of ashes. These he carried out, and began to cast about him for wood to make a fire. Finding none save some large hickory logs, he procured an axe, prepared wood, and soon had a comfortable fire. By this time a faithful few had assembled; and, being already "warmed up," he discoursed to them with unusual ease and fluency. Notwithstanding this sad beginning, he continued the meeting for several days; and closed with nineteen additions, most of whom were persons of wealth, intelligence, and moral worth.
In September, 1846, he held a meeting at Williamsburg, Johnson county. When he began, a certain brother observed that he would not be afraid to promise him a hundred dollars for every one he would immerse, there being much sickness in the neighborhood, and also a great sale of personal property, which attracted the attention of the people. He continued to preach to very small audiences until Thursday afternoon, at which time there were sixteen persons present—ten citizens of the kingdom, and six "foreigners." Of these six, he immersed, that afternoon, five; and the other waited only a few days, to obtain the consent of his mother. This circumstance fairly illustrates his perseverance and hope.
In October, 1846, he was appointed by the State Meeting as missionary to Fort Wayne, for a period of one year. He was to receive out of the treasury two hundred and fifty dollars, and the balance of his expenses he was to meet by the labor of his own hands. On the 7th of November he arrived at Fort Wayne, in which were then only two sisters and one brother. On the evening of the 15th he preached his first sermon, in the court house, all the churches being closed against him. Fort Wayne then contained eleven churches, and a population of about four thousand, of whom one thousand were Roman Catholics and nearly another thousand German Lutherans. The claims of the ancient gospel were firmly disputed by the "clergy," who spared no pains to prejudice the public mind against it. From any point of view the prospect was by no means flattering, if not absolutely discouraging. However he still persevered in the work, and it was not long until his efforts were rewarded by the conversion of an Episcopal minister by the name of Edward Hodgkins, who became an able advocate of primitive Christianity.
It was two full months before he could command a large audience; but, when he began to immerse believers in the canal, in which the ice was more than a foot thick, the inhabitants became anxious to know more of those people that were everywhere spoken against.
At the expiration of the first half of his year there was at Fort Wayne a Christian church of fifty members, with a well-attended and interesting Sunday-school. During the other six months he preached half his time at other points including Auburn and Newville, DeKalb county; Ashland, Wabash county; and Huntington and Wabashtown, Huntington county. The result of his labors for the year was two churches organized, and one hundred and fifty-five accessions to the cause of primitive Christianity.
During the next six months he preached for the churches at Marion, Ashland, Wabashtown, and Huntington. In those days he usually traveled in a buggy, and was frequently accompanied by his wife. The roads were sometimes in such wretched plight that the horse could with difficulty draw the buggy containing sister New alone. In such cases the evangelist would be compelled to alight, and, with pantaloons well rolled up, plod his weary way through almost unfathomable depths of mud. Yet he patiently endured all for Christ's sake and the gospel's; and, on reaching terra firma, he would mount again into his carriage, with all the hopefulness of the poet, when he sang:
In the Spring of 1848 he returned to Greensburg; and during the following Summer and Fall he visited most of the churches he had planted, confirming the brethren.
In January, 1849, he preached, by invitation, before the Co-operation Meeting then in session at Crawfordsville. In March following, he was employed for one year by the brethren at Crawfordsville, to which place he removed. The church was then in a sad state, owing to strifes and divisions. He labored long and earnestly in the capacity of a peace-maker, and finally succeeded in reconciling the most of them; but the influence of their example was such upon the world that he could accomplish but very little outside of the congregation.
At the close of his year he went back to Indianapolis, where he fixed his permanent residence, perhaps for life. For about six months after his return to that city he was employed as agent and evangelist for the State Missionary Society. During this time he traveled extensively in various parts of the State; and his efforts were attended with good success.
During the year 1852, being again employed by the Missionary Society, he preached in the counties of Madison and Delaware; and with such success that he was continued in that field six months longer. Within the eighteen months he organized five new churches, and made one hundred and twenty-five proselytes.
In February, 1853, he held a meeting at Terre Haute, which greatly strengthened the church in that city. In March following he organized the church at Paris, Illinois, and left it with thirty-seven members.
About this time the great controversy with regard to the powers of elders and evangelists was sweeping like a tornado over Illinois, laying church after church in ruins. Perceiving that general destruction was inevitable unless the tempest could be stayed, Elder New made a tour through that State, preaching almost exclusively to the brethren, and exhorting them to "keep the unity of the spirit in the bond of peace."
At Jacksonville he addressed the State Meeting on the subject of Missions, on which occasion he presented the following as the essential elements of a successful missionary: 1st. Godliness. 2d. A clear understanding of the Christian system. 3d. Aptness to teach. 4th. A thorough acquaintance with human nature.
During the year 1860, he served the congregations at Mishawaka, South Bend, and Harris' Prairie, St. Joseph county When he first visited those churches, some were weak and powerless on account of divisions. He succeeded in removing the most of these obstacles; and the gospel, in St. Joseph, now has "free course that it may run and be glorified." During the past year he has continued to reside at Indianapolis; from which point he has gone in every direction, preaching the gospel wherever there has been a demand for his services.
Having thus reached the present, history can proceed no further; but if one had the gift of prophecy this sketch might no doubt be considerably extended. For, though old in years, the subject of it is still young in spirit, and there is reason to hope that he will yet do much that will redound to the glory of God and the advancement of the Redeemer's kingdom. But already, as he looks back through sunshine and shadow to the churches he has planted, the schisms he has healed, the opposers he has vanquished, and the hearts he has cheered, he may well rejoice that he has not run in vain neither labored in vain.
In the physical contour of John B. New there is nothing remarkable. He is a man of medium size, blessed by nature with more than ordinary activity. Altogether, he is a man of very good appearance; and one, you may be sure, who never appears to disadvantage through any neglect of his toilette. Every hair knows its inevitable position; which position his nicely smoothed hat is careful never to disturb. His snow-white cravat is always tied precisely so, and his large full shirt bosom is spotless as the soul of a saint. His boots are generally well blacked, and you might as well search for the philosopher's stone as for a grease-spot upon his clothing. Yet you must not think he is foppish, he is only neat—hardly ever up with the fashion, but generally dressed a little after the style of the olden time.
Not merely in dress, but in every thing, he is cleanly even to a fault. Should he see you enter your own house with a little mud adhering to your shoe, he would hardly hesitate to tell you to step out and remove the intruder; and if, in a house at which he is stopping, the children have very dirty faces—or if the window panes are so dusty that he cannot see out clearly—the good sister in charge need not be surprised to receive from him a gentle hint relative to the virtues of warm water. It is a matter of regret, therefore, that with some housewives he is not a favorite—yet he is "not a terror to good works but to the evil."
He takes care that every thing is done not only "decently," but also in order. Every book and paper must be in just the right place. When he writes every i must be dotted, and every t crossed; and, about the whole premises, every thing must be done just then and so. It is related of him that in one of his preaching tours he was tarrying on Saturday at the house of a brother, who to the neglect of his work had kept him company all the afternoon. Towards nightfall he observed to his host that if he had any chores to do, any wood to get, or chickens to catch, it was then the proper time to attend to such business. If this be true, there was not a particle of selfishness in the whole matter. It was not his appetite, but his bump of order that constrained him to offer the suggestion.
But with all these little faults, which lean to virtue's side, he is an agreeable, an amiable man. Deep down below these surface appearances he has a frank, generous nature; a pure, warm heart. He grasps your hand like a brother indeed; and when he says, "How do you do?" it is because he really desires to know that you are well. His mind is well informed, though neither of the highest order nor thoroughly cultivated. He has a large share of the sound common-sense which Providence bestowed on the generation past in lieu of the colleges and universities vouchsafed to the generation present. He has a remarkably good memory, retentive of time, place, and event; supplying him promptly with chapter and verse; and reaching back almost to infancy.
In the pulpit, he is an eccentric, yet safe teacher—an earnest and effective exhorter. His gestures are quick, cramped, and rectilinear; and he utters bluntly whatever he thinks, whether it relates to friend or foe. He is mainly argumentative, proving all things and holding very fast that which is good. Owing to his highly nervous temperament, he thinks and speaks rapidly; yet he is not always brief; and it need not surprise you if in his enumeration of topics he ascend even to thirteenthly. True, he very often looks at his elegant watch; but he cares no more for its admonitions than he does for a Confession of Faith.
He enters with spirit into his subject; but it is said that he never becomes so excited in speaking, that he fails to notice a dog if one ventures into the house of God. It is said further, that, in such a case, he stops suddenly; indulges in a few significant looks and gestures; and if no one else restores order, he quietly descends from the pulpit; takes his cane; expels the intruder; and then resumes his discourse. No Jew could have been much more zealous in excluding the idolater from the Holy Temple. Altogether he is a character worthy of the pen of a Shakespeare. He has done but little evil to live after him, and the good that he has accomplished can never be "interred with his bones." He may pass away, and his children in the gospel may lie down with him to sleep in dust; but the churches he has planted will flourish after his death; the principles he has helped to establish will survive even his memory; and the spirits of the just made perfect through the gospel he has preached, shall live and rejoice with him forever before the throne of God.
—Biographical Sketches of the Pioneer Preachers of Indiana, Madison Evans, pages 75-100
Men Of Faith And Action
John B. New, 1793-1872. In February, 1821, Mr. New came to Madison. The institution of slavery as practiced in Kentucky was not to his liking. He said the object of his coming to Indiana was to assist in making it a free State. For the first ten years of his ministry he preached in the Baptist Church. About 1830 he took a stand with the Reformers and organized a Church of Christ in Vernon in 1831. P.M. Blankenship, who later did a great work in Morgan and Monroe Counties, was one of his first converts. With Carey Smith he organized the church in Madison in 1832. He is credited with having organized the Milroy and the Shelbyville churches in the year 1841 and the next year he led in the formation of the Milford church. In 1846 the State Missionary Society sent him to Ft. Wayne. He had five in his first audience, but in six months there was a church with fifty members. In a little less than two years he had brought in two hundred and fifty members in Allen and surrounding counties. He later served as evangelist in Madison and Delaware Counties; in a little more than a year he organized six churches. He spent the latter part of his life in the city of Indianapolis.
—Excerpt from Disciples of Christ In Indiana, Achievements of a Century, Commodore Wesley Cauble, Chapter XII, Men of Faith And Action: Heroes of the First Generation, pages 197,198
Directions To The Grave Of John B. New
J.B. New is buried in the Crown Hill Cemetery, Indianapolis, Indiana. Traveling On I-65 North Out Of Downtown Indianapolis, Indiana Take The Dr. Martin Luther King Street Exit - Exit 117. (Note: If you cross White River, You Have Gone Too Far) Go North On Dr. Martin Luther King Street. Turn Right On West 32nd Street. Cemetery Will Be On Your Left. Go Until The Road Dead Ends Into Boulevard And Turn Left. There Will Be An Entrance To The Cemetery As You Cross The 34th Street Intersection. Turn Left Into The Cemetery. Be Sure To Click On The Map to find the exact location in the cemetery.