Religion Today: Saddles and Salvation

Guest Writer Spotlight: Saddles and Salvation – By Richard Lewis

“While riding through the rain and dark, with no human being with me, my soul was comforted on the reflection of the omnipresence of my Saviour: I felt he was near to bless and preserve me.”  Isaac Boring, 1829.   

There is a 100-year period of American history when itinerant pastors took to horseback to spread the gospel. In the mid to late 1700’s there were many small settlements and towns where residents were hungry for God’s word. These towns were often too small to support a local church and so traveling pastors would ride a loop or “circuit” of 25-30 small congregations on horseback. They would meet in people’s homes, saloons, in fields or any place big enough for people to gather.

These horse preachers, saddlebag preachers or circuit riders, as they came to be known, became a major force in spreading the gospel in these formative years of the United States frontier. In the Methodist denomination alone, the number of circuit riders quickly grew from about 40 to over 3500. The circuits varied in size and it might take a month or more for a rider to hit all his congregations. They would help celebrate communion and officiate at weddings and funerals. Many a wedding date was planned around when the circuit pastor could make it through the melting snow to perform the ceremony.

SEE OTHE RECENT DEVOTIONALS BY RICHARD LEWIS:

Religion Today: A Wallet in the Sea – A Picture of the depths of God’s Love

Religion Today: What good will it be for someone to gain the whole world

Religion Today: Revisiting the Cross at Christmas

Religion Today: His Outstretched Arms

Religion Today: The Scars on His Hands

Religion Today: Am I Going to Die?

The vast distances involved made this a rough and lonely life with their only possessions carried in their saddlebags. The annual pay from the church denomination was about $60 per year and their horse was provided. Sickness, bad weather, wild animals, dangerous river crossings and highway bandits were just a few of the realities. These individuals were usually young and single as this was not the life for a family man with attachments. In many cases, the riders had little formal education or qualifications other than they loved God and were responding to His calling on their lives and many of them sacrificed their very lives. It was estimated that only about half of the circuit riders lived to age 33. The circuit riders who survived and retired from the ministry often went on to become community leaders. Peter Cartwright, a retired circuit rider from Illinois, was twice elected to the state legislature and was a political opponent of Abraham Lincoln.

Seen in this 1924 image, The Circuit Rider, by Alexander Phimister Proctor and located in Salem Oregon’s Capitol Park, is just one of many similar statuary tributes to Francis Asbury, ‘Black Harry’ Hosier, and other traveling ministers who during the mid to late 1700s took to horseback to spread the gospel to those struggling to build their lives on the United States frontier.

Circuit rider, Francis Asbury, and his former slave friend and fellow minister, ‘Black Harry’ Hosier, are said to have traveled over 250,000 miles and preached 16,000 sermons during their circuit riding years together. To give you some idea of the commitment the riders made to their calling, it was said that Asbury was often so ill he had to be tied to his horse to keep him from falling off. Asbury’s favorite Bible verse was 1 Timothy 1:15 “Here is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners—of whom I am the worst.”

Hosier, was a perfect example of the type of man God called to this unique ministry. He was completely illiterate but had been able to memorize large sections of the Bible as they were read to him. Declaration of Independence signer, Dr. Benjamin Rush, called Hosier, “the greatest orator in America.” This was a man gifted by God who could not read but could still tell others of God’s love!

As they rode their circuit the riders would often bring morality, literacy and education to the children and families where they stayed as guests. The riders sometimes brought along Bibles, hymnals, and other religious books which became the early reading materials for young children. The first visitor for a newly arriving family was often their circuit pastor coming to help them get settled in. During the daytime hours they might work side by side with members of their congregation to earn their keep and to make new friends. At night and on Sundays they would be teaching or preaching. After a day or two they would be off to their next stop with the promise they would return in a month and for the family to invite their friends to join them next time for worship and religious instruction. Soon that one family would become several families and a new church would be born. Eventually, they would outgrow the farmhouse, and someone would offer their barn or a field for their meetings. Of course, this was just like we read about in the book of Acts except that the apostles weren’t riding horses!

One can imagine little children at night saying their prayers and asking God to keep their circuit rider pastor safe in his travels. One can also imagine children saying, “Mama, I don’t want to grow up to be a lawman anymore but a circuit rider just like our preacher, so I can tell people about Jesus.” This hard life was what little kids’ dreams were made of: Reading the Bible by campfire light with their rifle by their side, sleeping outside looking up at stars and then the next day telling people about the God who had made those very stars. Life could not be any better or more exciting than that!

The circuit riders often were rotated to a new circuit each year and this allowed them to reuse their simple messages on a new group of people. Of course, sometimes a beautiful, godly woman would catch their eye and they would marry and settle down to become a pastor for a local congregation that they had originally helped to start.

Just like in the parable of the sower in Matthew 13 – The seed – God’s Word that the riders sowed fell on good ground. There would be almost 100 years of circuit riding and countless more years of pastors, missionaries, teachers and others who were inspired by them.

It is thought that the circuit riders and the camp meetings of this era set the stage for the Great Revival of the early 1800’s.

These brave pastors on horseback took seriously the command of our Lord in Mark 16:15 He said to them, “Go into all the world and preach the gospel to all creation.”

Let us take that Great Commission to heart and follow their brave example and bring Jesus to all of those we meet along the road of life.

Sources:


Richard Lewis is a graduate of Arizona State University (Advertising) and California Baptist University (Computer Information Systems). Richard and his wife Sue met while they served as staff members at Campus Crusade for Christ for 8 years in the 1970’s. Richard served in the Campus Ministry at University of Texas at El Paso, Louisiana Tech and at the International Headquarters in San Bernardino, California.

Following their ministry in Campus Crusade Richard was the owner and manager of a bicycle shop in Riverside California for 19 years. After retraining in the computer field at California Baptist University, Richard worked as a Information Systems contractor and employee at Boeing for 17 years.

Richard has written over 150 published articles in Information Systems and Computing publications including Windows Magazine and Windows Scripting Solutions. He has also served in a leadership role as a Deacon and Elder in several churches as well as being a meditation presenter and Men’s Ministry coordinator.

Richard has written hundreds of meditations and devotionals that have been used in church and small group meetings. Many of these have been published in The Upper Room and Racers For Christ publications and on their web sites. 

In 2021, Richard published a collection of his devotionals. These are available in a Kindle and paperback format on Amazon (ISBN 979-8705738878) “Life Stories to Uplift and Encourage”.


Want to be featured in a future “Guest Writer Spotlight” article? 
Contact the editor: trevor.rcns@gmail.com

Trevor Montgomery, 50, moved in 2017 to the Intermountain area of Shasta County from Riverside County and runs Riverside County News Source (RCNS) and Shasta County News Source (SCNS).

Additionally, he writes or has written for several other news organizations; including Riverside County based newspapers Valley News, Valley Chronicle, Anza Valley Outlook, and Hemet & San Jacinto Chronicle; the Bonsall/Fallbrook Village News in San Diego County; and Mountain Echo in Shasta County. He is also a regular contributor to Thin Blue Line TV and Law Enforcement News Network and has had his stories featured on news stations throughout the Southern California and North State regions.

Trevor spent 10 years in the U.S. Army as an Orthopedic Specialist before joining the Riverside County Sheriff’s Department in 1998. He was medically retired after losing his leg, breaking his back, and suffering both spinal cord and brain injuries in an off-duty accident. (Click here to see segment of Discovery Channel documentary of Trevor’s accident.)

During his time with the sheriff’s department, Trevor worked at several different stations; including Robert Presley Detention Center, Southwest Station in Temecula, Hemet/Valle Vista Station, Ben Clark Public Safety Training Center, and Lake Elsinore Station; along with other locations.

Trevor’s assignments included Corrections, Patrol, DUI Enforcement, Boat and Personal Water-Craft based Lake Patrol, Off-Road Vehicle Enforcement, Problem Oriented Policing Team, and Personnel/Background Investigations. He finished his career while working as a Sex Crimes and Child Abuse Investigator and was a court-designated expert in child abuse and child sex-related crimes.

Trevor has been married for more than 30 years and was a foster parent to more than 60 children over 13 years. He is now an adoptive parent and his “fluid family” includes 13 children and 18 grandchildren.

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