Friday, January 09, 2015

This Week in Texas Methodist History  January 11

Isaac G. John born January 14, 1827

One of the most accomplished preachers ever to serve in the Texas Conference was the Rev. Isaac. G. John whose birthday we celebrate this week.  John was born in Indiana, converted at Cincinnati and immigrated to Texas in 1845.  He married Ruth Eblen (b. 1833 in LaGrange)and served Richmond, Rutersville, Washington, Bastrop, Lockhart, and Presiding Elder of several of the districts.  He was editor of the Texas Christian Advocate from 1866 to 1884.  While editor, he also pastored churches in Galveston and was the Presiding Elder of the Galveston District.  In 1880 Ruth died in Galveston.    After one year in Huntsville, he was elected Missionary Secretary at the MECS General Conference of 1886.  He moved to Nashville and spent the rest of his career writing and editing publications for the missionary efforts of the MECS.  

As he was nearing the end of such a long, distinguished ministry—approaching fifty years as a member of the Texas Conference, he realized that he would not be able to make the trip from his home in Nashville to Bastrop, the site of the 1896 Texas Annual Conference.  He wrote a letter to the Conference which is particularly interesting because it reveals that the half-century ministry almost never happened.  Candidates for ordination in his era were asked if they would be willing to accept a foreign missionary appointment, and John could not bring himself to answering that question in the affirmative.  The other potential barrier to conference member was his poor health.  The examining committee did not think he would survive the two year probationary period riding the Texas circuits.  They almost refused his admission on the grounds that he was not expected to live two years.  

The story is better told in I. G. John’s own words.

. . .at the time the following rule was in the Discipline.  It was been stricken out, but I often think it should be again restored.  It reads:  “At each Annual Conference, those who are received on trial, or are admitted into full connection, shall be asked whether they are willing to devote themselves to the Missionary work; and a list of the names of all who are willing to do so, shall be taken and reported to the secretary of the Missionary Board; and all such shall be considered as ready and willing to be employed as Missionaries, whenever called for by any one of the bishops.”  I was preparing for deacons orders and this question before the Conference was, to me, a matter of profound concern.  The General Conference in 1846, without a dissenting voice had decided to enter the work of foreign missions and China had been chosen as the field.  Taylor and Jenkins had been accepted.  When Bishop Andrew preached his sermon on the occasion of their ordination as elders, he closed with deep regret that, “instead of a forlorn hope of two missionaries to be sent from the Southern Methodist church, it was not in his power to send a band of fifty faithful men to the benighted millions of the Flowery Kingdom. Why should I not answer this call?  With earnest prayer I re-examined the commission of our Lord.  “The field was the world.”  Without sufficient reason to stay, I must go.

In those days our presiding elders were the counselors of the younger preachers, and I went to Brother Alexander for advice.  He listened thoughtfully and fully endorsed the breadth of the great commission, but said:  “Two years ago the Conference doubted whether it could receive you on trial as but few expected you would live two years.  Bishop Capers said, “Young preachers are needed in this new land.  This candidate is willing to go.  He may do much work in two years.  We better accept him.”  These words decided your admission.  Now the case is different.  For the foreign field, men of feeble health are never accepted.  It is useless for you to volunteer, for Bishop Andrew is calling only for vigorous men.” 
Several times since then I have felt that less than two years of labor seemed all that was allowed me, and yet I still remain in the ranks, until Bro. Wesson (James Wesson  1819-1898, buried in same Navasota cemetery as Martin Ruter) and myself alone linger in the Texas Conference roll, while those who received appointments from Bishop Capers have answered the roll call in heaven. . .

I. G. John died the following March 17, 1897.   His surviving sons (his oldest son, Alfred S. John, former mayor of Beaumont, predeceased him in 1888)  brought his body back to Georgetown where a suitable funeral was conducted.  His remains were interred in Georgetown. 


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