WINEBRENNER COMES UPON THE SCENE.
We now turn, for a short time, to Frederick county, Maryland, and imagine ourselves there in the latter part of the eighteenth century, at least a generation farther back than the time of which we have been thinking. Here, in a part of the country so close to Pennsylvania, the conditions as to the people, their occupations, their circumstances and their religion were naturally very much the same as those of the latter State, described in the preceding chapter.
Among the prosperous German farmers of Glade Valley, in the county named, was Philip Winebrenner, whose farm of some two hundred acres was located about eight miles from the town of Frederick. It was on this farm, occupied by Philip Winebrenner and his wife, Eve C. Winebrenner, that John Winebrenner, their third son, was born March 25, 1797. In 1810, when John was thirteen years of age, the family moved into a newly-finished and substantial stone farm house, and it was here that the one who is to become the outstanding human character of our historical study spent the days of his youth. His birthplace, a log house, soon disappeared; but this stone house, with a frame addition built later, still stands in an excellent state of preservation, after the lapse of a hundred and sixteen years.
John Winebrenner's parents were members of the Glades Reformed Church, a country congregation whose meeting-house was about a mile from their home. His father was apparently satisfied with the formalism which characterized the religion of the Reformed Church at that time. His mother was more inclined to seek after the spiritual teachings of the word, and her influence had most to do with the serious impressions made on his early life.
The oft-repeated story of young men feeling the divine call to the Christian ministry and fighting against it for years is not a part of the biography of John Winebrenner. He had the ministry in mind from the days of his boyhood, and was constantly and eagerly looking forward to the time when he could enter the sacred calling. In due time he began to plan for his education, with the ministry in view. He received the prompt and hearty consent of his mother, but had to overcome the opposition of his father, whose consent and financial assistance he finally received. After his early years spent in a country school, which met in a small frame building on the opposite side of the road from the Glades Reformed church-house, he attended a school of higher grade at Frederick for a time. With this preparatory training he entered Dickinson College, at Carlisle, Pennsylvania, expecting to graduate in 1818. But the college was closed from 1816 to 1821. In 1817 he went to Philadelphia, where he received three years of theological training under the Rev. Samuel Helfenstein, during which time he made his home with the family of his instructor. College facilities at that time were very meagre, and it was not until 1825 that the theological seminary of the Reformed Church was established at Carlisle, Pennsylvania, an institution which, after several removals, reached its present location at Lancaster. This explains why certain ministers of the Reformed Church added to their pastoral labors the work of training young men for the ministry. Dr. Samuel Helfenstein, it is said, prepared twenty-seven young men for the sacred calling.
And it was here, during the same period of his life, that Winebrenner received that which was of vastly greater value than his theological training. It was his personal experience of God's regenerating grace, that great event known as the new birth, the event around which clustered all the subsequent testimony of his godly life. It has already been noted that he was of a devout turn of mind and heart from his youth up. The formalities of religion, as taught by the Reformed Church, had been attended to. He had been christened in infancy, and later catechised and confirmed. He had received the training of the church and of the different schools. All that his denomination required as a religious and secular preparation for the sacred office of the gospel ministry had been done or was being done. But all the while he felt that there was something still lacking in his life, something that was necessary to fully equip him for the great work before him. For this priceless possession he had long been yearning, and it became his, to the joy and satisfaction of his soul, on Easter Sunday, April 6, 1817. It was in the First Reformed Church on Race street, between Third and Fourth streets, under the preaching of his theological teacher, Dr. Samuel Helfenstein, that the Sun of Righteousness arose "with healing in his wings," and made that the happiest day of his life. Thus Winebrenner at last found the great blessing which he had felt the need of for several years, and which he had failed to find elsewhere. This was at the beginning of his theological course. That he found Christ as a personal Savior here indicates that this church and its pastor had much of the evangelistic spirit. That such was the case is further indicated by the fact that in 1828 they secured the evangelistic services of Rev. Charles G. Finney, the great revivalist.
As the end of his theological course drew near Winebrenner received a call from the German Reformed charge at Harrisburg, which consisted of four churches: Harrisburg, Shoop's and Wenrick's in Dauphin county, and Salem, near Shiremanstown, in Cumberland county, at an annual salary of one thousand dollars. He agreed to accept the call after he had finished his course in theology, which he did. He was ordained by the General Synod of the German Reformed Church at Hagerstown, Maryland, September 24, 1820, and began his pastorate in Harrisburg on Sunday, October 22, 1820. Harrisburg was then a country town with a population of less than four thousand, with neither railroad nor canal, a few places of business and four churches.
Here, then, we are back again in eastern Pennsylvania, in the midst of the conditions set forth in the preceding chapter. But we have a new figure on the scene, a young minister twenty-three years of age, just beginning the work of his first pastorate, and whose career we are to follow with increasing interest. But let us pause, at the close of this chapter, to hear his own story of these interesting years. In an article prepared for a book called The Testimony of a Hundred Witnesses, compiled by Rev. J. F. Weishampel, and published by John F. Weishampel, Jr., in 1858, Winebrenner says:
"I was born in Frederick county, Maryland, on the 25th of March, 1797. My parents followed the occupation of farming, and both were members of the German Reformed Church. I received my English and classical education in the Glades school, in Frederick city, Dickinson College, and Philadelphia, under Dr. Samuel Helfenstein, of that city. I read and studied theology for three years. I was set apart, and solemnly ordained to the office of the Christian ministry, in the fall of 1820, at a Synodical meeting in Hagerstown, Maryland. From thence, I proceeded to Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, where I was settled as pastor of the German Reformed charge.
"I was, parentally and providentially, restrained from the paths of vice and immorality. And as my mother trained me, from youth up, in the fear and admonition of the Lord, and instructed me in the great principles and duties of religion, I was graciously brought to feel my obligations to God at an early age, and my mind was deeply exercised on the subject of my soul's salvation. These convictions, however, would sometimes wear off, and then be renewed again. Hence, I continued sinning and repenting for a number of years, till in the winter of 1817, when deep and pungent convictions laid hold of my guilty soul. Then, like Job, 'I abhorred myself,'?like Ephraim, 'I bemoaned myself,'?with the prodigal, I said, 'I will arise, and go to my father,'?and with the publican I cried, 'God, be merciful to me, a sinner.' And after 'chattering like the swallow,' and 'mourning as a dove,' for three or four weary months, my poor woe-fraught soul found redemption in Emmanuel's blood, even the forgiveness of sins. It was on Easter Sabbath, in the city of Philadelphia, in the presence of a large congregation of worshippers, that Jesus, the 'Sun of Righteousness' arose, and shone upon my soul, 'with healing in his wings.' Truly, that was the happiest day of my life! My darkness was turned into day, and my sorrow into joy. Jesus became the joy of my heart, and the centre of my affections. His people became lovely and precious in my sight. His word was my delight. In it I beheld new beauties and beatitudes. Sin, that dreadful monster, became more odious and hateful to my soul. Zion's welfare lay near my heart. My bowels yearned for the salvation of sinners. I was in travail for my friends and kindred. I felt constrained to join with 'the Spirit and the bride,' and say to all, Come O, come to Jesus!
"The work of the Christian ministry now became the uppermost desire of my heart. This desire, somehow, seemed a pent-up fire in my bones, from youth up. When but a boy, I longed, and sometimes attempted to preach to my comrades. In later years my mind became strongly impressed with the duty of preparing myself for the gospel ministry. I opened my mind to my parents, and requested them to have me educated with a view to that office. My mother readily consented, but my father strenuously opposed me. To divert my mind from this subject, and to induce me to abandon the idea of the ministry, he made various propositions. One was, to send me to Baltimore, and to have me become a merchant. Another was, to send me to Frederick city, to read law, or study medicine. Anything, he seemed to think, would be preferable to that of becoming a preacher of the gospel. However, none of these proposals had any charms for me; and the more I was opposed, the stronger my inclinations and desires grew for the Christian ministry. I felt, and sometimes said, nothing, I believe, in all the world, would give me permanent satisfaction and contentment, but preaching the gospel. My father at last yielded to my wishes,?sent me to school,?had me educated, and assisted me far beyond what I expected. Thus the Lord, 'whose I am, and whom I serve,' opened my way, and enabled me to prepare for my high vocation. And, after receiving a three years' theological training and course of instruction, I was solemnly set apart to the holy office and work of the ministry, at the age of twenty-three years.
"For five years I remained in connection with the German Reformed Church. During this period, some glorious revivals of religion took place both in town and country, and scores of precious souls were happily converted to God. These moral phenomena being new and strange things to the people, intense excitement and vehement opposition ensued. In consequence of these, I was brought to conceive more fully and clearly the errors and corruptions of the church, in her ministry and membership. This led me to a closer and more careful study of the Scripture; and this, in turn, led to a change of views, in relation to the subjects of baptism, confirmation, feet-washing, church titles, government, discipline, etc. Under God, and through these marvelous changes and reformations, I was led to fall back upon the primitive and scriptural platform of establishing churches, administering ordinances, and teaching the way of the Lord more perfectly."
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