Muscular Christianity

“Only a week ago he made a young man wade up to the neck in a creek because he had his Sunday clothes on.” 

Fort Worth Daily Gazette (April 16, 1890)

It was a man by the name of Stevens who had such an enmity for the Christian religion that he made a lad submit to this second baptism, and thereby ruin his Sunday clothes.  Stevens was a tough who lived on Roans Prairie, some twenty miles east of here, and he seems to have divided his time between harassing Christians and standing trial for murder.  Since the six-shooter was, for Stevens, an indispensable accoutrement of the well-dressed man, we may suppose that the sorry young Christian waded into that creek at gunpoint.

One week after ensuring that this young man’s sins had been well and truly washed away, Stevens and an accomplice by the name of Macrae were slouching in the back of the Fairview church*, doing all they could think of to bring some viewpoint diversity to the Sunday evening prayer meeting.  When the Christians of Fairview talked about Jesus, “Stephens and Macrae . . . cause some disturbance by talking about whiskey.”

Finding the Christians of Fairview closeminded on the question of whisky, Stevens and Macrae withdrew from the  church, but then demonstrated their love of whiskey on the front steps, where they were joined two or three additional disciples of the Corn-Juice Cult.  In a short while, the men on the porch were possessed by the Ardent Spirit, and “Stevens went about fifty feet from the church and fired a pistol in the air.”  Deftly exhibiting the antiphony for which the Corn-Juice Cult is famous, “Macrae then fired his on the ground.”

It is said that no one can serve God and Mammon, and it is no less true that no one can serve God while someone else serves whiskey on the front steps of the church; so “an old member of the church came out to endeavor to restore order.”  For this assault on their religious liberty, Stevens and Macrae cursed the old coot as “a gray-headed son of a ——-” and threatened him with violence.

The disciples of the Prince of Peace thereupon adjourned their prayer meeting and gave the Corn-Juice Cult a lesson in the deeper meaning of Christian love.

The details are not related, but I believe the whiskey rebellion found itself outgunned by the no longer prayerful Christians.  Stevens and Macrae were disarmed and a “promise of good behavior” was extracted from them.  Once the honorable Christians of Fairview church had obtained this promise, “their pistols were returned to them.”  Once the dishonorable Stevens and Macrae recovered their pistols, “they again became outrageous, threatening several persons by name, and went off avowing their intention to ‘bring all the guns from Roan’s prairie’.”

By ‘guns,’ they of course meant all the rootin’ tootin’ disciples of gunplay, Corn Juice and muscular infidelity.  Of these disciples there were on Roans Prairie in those days not a few.  So, “at a late hour a considerable number of them returned fully armed and threatening to kill certain persons.”  Having turned the other cheek more than once that day, the Christians of Fairview were, I am happy to say, in a stern and won’t-get-fooled-again frame of mind.  As the newspaper reports, “if it had not been a law-abiding place, Stevens and Macrae would have needed the attention of an undertaker.”

* * * * *

In 1890, the Christians of Fairview had not succumbed to the simpering poltroonery that nowadays afflicts so many who fly the same flag.  Three years after the Christians of Fairview gave the Corn-Juice Cult this lucid lesson in the limits of Christian charity, the following poem was published.  I believe its author wrote it as a satire, but that is no reason why we cannot read it as hortatory and exemplary.

The scene is a lumber camp in the pineries of northern Michigan.  Winter is coming to an end and the lumberjacks are waiting for the spring thaw that will “flood” the river and float the logs downstream.  The name “Jackson” in line three refers to the Michigan State Penitentary, which is in Jackson, Michigan.

Theology in Camp**
Clarence Henry Pearson
1893

I was on the drive in  ’eighty,
Workin’ under Silver Jack,
Which the same has ben in Jackson,
Doin’’ time for some years back;

An’ there was a chap amongst us
By the name of Robert Waite,
Kinder cute, and smart, and tonguey,
Guess he was a graduate.

He could talk on ary subject.
From the Bible down to Hoyle;
An’ his words flowed out so easy, —
Jest as smooth an’ slick as oil.

He was what they call a skeptic,
An’ he loved to set an’ weave
Hifalutin words together,
Tellin’ what he didn’t b’lieve.

One day, while we all was waitin’
For a flood, we set around,
Smokin’ niggerhead tobacker,
An’ a-hearin’ Bob expound.

Hell, he said, was all a humbug,
An’ he showed as clear as day
Thet the Bible was a fable,
An’ we ‘lowed it looked that way.

“Meracles,” says he, “an’ sech like
Is too rank for me to stan’;
As for Him they call the Savior,
He was jest a common man.”

“You’re a liar!” someone shouted;
“An’ you’ve got to take it back.”
An’ then everybody started—
’Twas the voice of Silver Jack!

An’ he cracked his fists together,
An’ he shucked his coat, and cried,
“It was in thet thar religion
Thet my mother lived an’ died;”

“An’, although I have n’t alius
Used the Lord exactly white,
When I hear a chump abuse him,
He must eat his words or fight.”

Now, this Bob, he warn’t no coward.
So he answers bold and free,
“Stack yer duds and cut yer capers,
For there ain’t no flies on me.”

An’ they fit for forty minutes,
An’ the lads would whoop and cheer
When Jack put mournin’ on an eye,
Or Bobby split an ear.

But at last Jack got him under,
An’ he slugged him onct or twict,
An’ Bob straightway acknowledged
The divinity of Christ;

But Jack kep’ reasonin’ with him,
Till the poor cuss gin a yell,
An’ allowed he’d ben mistaken
In his views concernin’ hell.

Then the fierce discussion ended,
An’ they got up from the ground,
An’ someone fetched a bottle out
An’ kindly passed it ’round;

An’ we drank to Jack’s religion
In a solemn sorter way,
An’ the spread of infidelity
Was checked in camp thet day.

*) The hamlet of Fairview moved half a mile east and became the town of Richards, Texas, when the Trinity and Brazos Valley Railroad was built through Grimes County in 1908.  Only the cemetery remains.
**) Clarence Henry Pearson, The Prayer Cure in the Pines and Other Verses (1893), pp. 18-22.

11 thoughts on “Muscular Christianity

  1. Pingback: Muscular Christianity | Reaction Times

  2. I would say this doesn’t showcase the limits of Christian charity but rather the fulfillment of it. Christian charity isn’t contiguous with niceness or tasteful restraint. Christ is being very charitable by running the money-lenders out of the Temple with a whip.

  3. Pingback: Muscular Christianity – Carlos Carrasco

  4. Pingback: Sturdy Self-Reliance and a Readiness to Sternly Chastise – The Orthosphere

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