Tag Archives: John T. Johnson

The Judge Who Objected to Muddy Baptism


The following story is recorded in Recollections of Men of Faith, by W.C. Rogers, in the chapter on John. T. Johnson.  This book will soon be available in the Jimmie Beller Memorial eLibrary, as well as in print from Cobb Publishing.  But we thought this section was well worth sharing, and we hope you do too.  Enjoy!

In company with Elder R.C. Ricketts, a prominent preacher in Kentucky, John T. Johnson visited Little Rock, Ark., for the purpose of proclaiming the Gospel in its primitive purity and power.

After the meeting had advanced a number of days, and quite a number of persons had become obedient to the faith, an incident occurred of more than ordinary interest, and which I feel ought to be preserved. Judge Johnson, of the city of Little Rock, a brother of the evangelist, a prominent politician, had been attending the meeting nightly with his wife, but neither belonged to any religious body. Like many others, Judge Johnson had never given the subject of Christianity very much thought; perhaps owing to the fact that he was constantly engaged in the affairs of this life, and had no time, as he supposed; it may have been that he knew not what to do, because of the many sad divisions in Christendom. Through courtesy or curiosity, he and his amiable wife had been attending church and listening to the preaching of John T. Johnson and R.C. Ricketts. But sometimes it turns out that those who attend religious services through curiosity become deeply concerned for their souls’ salvation. This was the case with the Judge and his wife at the time of which we are speaking, although, I presume, neither would have acknowledged it.

One morning after breakfast, seated in the parlor with his brother, John T., Elder Ricketts, and his wife, the Judge filed several formidable objections to the course pursued by the preachers in the meeting they were then conducting. Of course he did this, be it understood, in the most polite manner possible; still, with honesty, and desiring, no doubt, that a change be made in the management of the meeting. When offering his advice, the Judge supposed he understood himself perfectly — knew precisely what he would do under given circumstances. But it is difficult to know one’s self. It is certainly not an easy task to divine what the strongest minded persons would do under heavy pressure of circumstances. “The best of men are men at best.” It would be well to remember this in all of our wise forecastings. The preachers had baptized several persons in the Arkansas River, and now the Judge had come to the conclusion that this ought to be stopped. And why? Because the waters were too muddy in which to administer this divine ordinance. “If I should ever be baptized,” he continued, “it will “never occur in the Arkansas River. I will never go down into that muddy stream of water — never. I would prefer to go to a beautiful clear pool of water near the city, should I ever consent to be baptized. Besides, I seriously object to your administering the ordinance of baptism, while the lawyers, doctors, and the reckless ones about the city, are lining the banks of the river, and some are engaged in talking and laughing and making unbecoming remarks. This is certainly not in good taste — is certainly not in harmony with my views of propriety or good order, under such circumstances I could not consent to be baptized. I must have pure, clear water, and only a few friends.”

“Very well,” said Bro. Ricketts, “we will go with you and a few chosen friends to some clear pool and baptize you whenever you are willing to make the good confession — whenever you are prepared to submit to this command of Christ.”

The Judge replied: “Understand me, I am not saying that I ever intend to become a member of the church. I do not know that I will ever join any church. I am only telling you that I do not think it proper to baptize in the Arkansas River, and that I never could, under the circumstances, consent to be, as others have been. Again, should I ever join the church — and I may or may not — I trust to be able to control my feelings a little better than some who have come forward during this meeting and confessed faith in Christ. They have shown great weakness in weeping like children — at least it seems so to me. Should I ever be induced to go forward and confess Christ, I hope I shall have manliness enough about me to do so without shedding a tear.” “Come forward, Judge, in your own way; if you are a believing penitent, and fully prepared to obey the Gospel from the heart, in order to the enjoyment of all the blessings promised, we care not as to the manner,” rejoined Bro. Ricketts. The following remarks were offered by the Judge in closing: “You and my brother may suppose from what I have said that I purpose becoming a member of the church. I confess that I understand the teaching of Christ and the Apostles as I never did before. I see a fitness, beauty, and adaptation in the plan of redemption which has been hid from me heretofore. But I have not at all determined to join the church. I am fully persuaded that it is the duty of all persons to attach themselves to the church of Jesus Christ, but I am not prepared to say I am ready to do so now. I trust you will not look upon what I have said to you as meddling; pursue your own course. Still, I am convinced that there is far too much feeling manifested by those who confess Christ and obey him in your meeting, and that you ought, if in your power, to suppress it.”

Bro. Ricketts added that he thought there was no improper excitement in the meeting. There had been no shouting, no clapping of hands, no swooning or fainting. No unjust means had been used to compel persons to become the disciples of Christ. The Gospel had been presented in its fullness, so far as the speakers were enabled to offer it to the people. “This glorious Gospel is God’s power to save those who believe and obey it, and, mark you, there is no power like it in this world. All persons are not alike in their make-up. Some, in renouncing sin, weep bitterly; others show but little feeling. This is owing to the difference in the emotional nature. And there is no need in our attempting to regulate these things; they must take their course. But few persons know themselves.”

The following night the Judge and his wife came to church and sat a little nearer the pulpit than usual, the wife placing herself on the end of the bench and next the aisle; the Judge occupying a place near the center of the house and directly in front of the pulpit. At the conclusion of the discourse, and while the invitation song was being sung, the Judge’s wife stepped forward and gave her hand to Bro. Ricketts. She took her seat on the front bench preparatory to making the good confession. The Judge, seeing this, could bear up no longer; so, stepping right over the benches, forward he came, and, weeping as a child, seated himself beside his wife, the great tears rolling down his furrowed cheeks. Making the good confession with much feeling, he remarked in the hearing of many, “I am now ready to go down into the muddy waters of the Arkansas and be baptized in the presence of the lawyers, doctors, and all who may be inclined to witness my obedience to the faith.” How few know themselves.


Restoration Movement Week – John T. Johnson

From Sketches of Our Pioneers: a Brief Restoration Movement History.


The religious movement of the Campbells was not only thoroughly evangelical, but it was intensely evangelistic. One of the best examples of this spirit among the pioneers is the subject of this sketch. He was born in Scott County, Ky., near Georgetown, October 5, 1788. His parents were Virginians and members of the Baptist Church. Kentucky was then a frontier state and Indians were still committing depredations upon the settlers. He received a fair education, completing his studies in Transylvania University. He studied law and practiced for a time. In 1811 he mar­ried Miss Sophia Lewis, a girl of fifteen. In 1813 he served as aid on the staff of Gen. W.H. Harrison and saw active service. After the war he was for several years a member of the Kentucky legislature and in 1820 was elected to congress.

He became a member of the Baptist Church in 1821. Speaking of this he said: “It was a most glorious thing for me. It preserved me from a thousand temptations and kept me a pure man.” “During the years ’29 and ’30,” he says, “the public mind was much excited in regard to what was vulgarly called ‘Campbellism,’ and I resolved to examine it in the light of the Bible. I was won over; my eyes were opened, and I was made perfectly free by the truth, and the debt of gratitude I owe to that man of God, Alexander Campbell, no language can tell.”

He began preaching and sought the refor­mation and enlightenment of the church of which he was a member. As they would not hear him, he, with two others, formed “a con­gregation of God,” February, 1831. He sur­rendered a lucrative law practice and began his career as an advocate of simple New Testa­ment Christianity. At this time in Kentucky there were eight or ten thousand people vari­ously styled “Marshallites,” “Stoneites,” “Schismatics,” but who claimed to be simply Christians, taking the Word of God as their only rule of faith and practice and repudiating all human creeds. He was soon associated with “that eminent man of God,” Barton W. Stone, and became co-editor of his paper, The Christian Messenger, then published at George­town, in 1832, the same year the followers of Stone and Campbell effected a union.

“I was among the first of the reformation in co-operation with Stone,” he tells us, “to suggest and bring about a union between the Christian churches and that large body of Baptists who had abandoned all human isms in religion.” 1833 was a remarkable year in Kentucky. Asiatic cholera swept the state. It was remarkable also for the success of this new plea for the union of Christians and con­version of the world. Thousands were added to the churches. J.T. Johnson was eminently successful. For the first time he extended his labors beyond the borders of the state, vis­iting Walter Scott at Carthage, Oh., and preaching with great power and acceptance to the people. His advocacy of the principles of reform in the Messenger was at the same time forcible and untiring.

In 1834 he closed his connection with the paper, Stone having removed to Illinois, and in the following year he began the publication of the Gospel Advocate. In labors he was every way abundant. He preached constantly and gathered into the churches large numbers of converts. In a meeting of ten days in Sep­tember of this year 135 persons “were im­mersed for the remission of sins.” “There was nothing of excitement peculiar to revivals so called. Nothing was preached to excite the animal feelings. It was the gospel of truth that did the work.”

The cause of liberal education had also a large place in this good man’s affections. Ba­con College, of which Walter Scott was the first president, was founded in 1836 at George­town, afterwards was moved to Harrodsburg and later became Kentucky University. John­son was a fast friend of this institution. His suggestion also that some work should be undertaken for orphan children no doubt had its influence in bringing into exis­tence, through the efforts of Dr. L.L. Pinker­ton, that noble beneficence known as The Mid­way Orphan School.

In the year 1837 he published The Christian, in the editing of which he was assisted by Walter Scott. In a meeting conducted by him in Madison County, Kentucky, about this time, 185 persons obeyed the gospel in three weeks. Two meetings held at Caneridge and North Middletown resulted in 300 accessions. A man of most sanguine and buoyant nature, enthusiastic and unwearying in his labors for the spread of the gospel, he was a wonderful evangelist. He never for one mo­ment doubted the correctness of the great principles he advocated and of their ultimate triumph. He was thoroughly absorbed in the work of converting the world and building up a united church as his master passion. He led thousands to decision for Christ. Some idea of the intense interest in the work of these men may be formed from the character of their meetings. They would speak for hours to audiences that never wearied. His labors were by no means confined to his own state. In 1843 he made a visit to Missouri in company with John Smith, preaching at St. Louis, Palmyra, Hannibal, and other points. In 1845 he made an exten­sive tour in the Southern States, holding meetings in Little Rock, New Orleans, and elsewhere. In 1845 he visited Virginia and labored in Louisa, Caroline and York counties, and in the City of Richmond, meeting with great success.

He was full of the spirit of missions. “The imperious mandate of our King to his apostles,” he declares, “is ‘Go into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature.’ The law says the laborer is worthy of his wages. Can we get along without consultation and co-operation? If we can, there is no need of congregations. Every divine dispensation of God’s goodness, Patriarchal, Jewish and Chris­tian, has been distinguished by consultation and co-operation.” He suggested an appor­tionment plan for raising money, that church officers take the list of members and let each member furnish the committee the value of his estate, the committee ascertain at an equal vote what each member has to pay and affix it to his name, and the members be furnished each with a quota in writing.” His idea of the relative importance of the different de­mands upon the benevolence of the church is seen in this illustration: “Let the church de­cide upon the amount that can be raised with­out oppression, say $600. Let this sum be divided according to the magnitude of the objects to be accomplished. For example, expend $225 for preaching at home and the support of the poor, $200 for evangelical oper­ations, $100 for colleges, $75 for the education of beneficiaries.” Such a system as this, if practiced, he thinks would “soon bear the gospel over America and Europe.” He advo­cated the sending of A. Campbell to England and David S. Burnet to the old world.

He was an ardent temperance advocate. Not only was he a total abstainer, but he publicly opposed the making, vending, and using of intoxicants as “Anti-patriotic, Anti- philanthropic, and Anti-Christian.” On this great issue the pioneers were sound. A. Campbell wrote in 1842: “For my own part for more than twenty years I have given my voice against the distillation of ardent spirits at all. I have both thought and said that I knew not how a Christian man could possibly engage in it. And how a Christian man can stand behind the counter, and dose out dam­nation to his neighbors at the rate of four pence a dose, is a mystery to me, greater than any of the seven mysteries of popery. I wish all the preachers who drink morning bitters and juleps would join the temperance society. All persons too should take the vow of total abstinence who habitually or even statedly or at regular intervals, sip, be it ever so little of the baleful cup.”

John T. Johnson fell asleep in Christ on December 18, 1856, at Lexington, Mo., where he was in the midst of a successful protracted meeting. His remains were taken to Lexing­ton, Ky. Thus he fell in the ranks. His whole life for a quarter of a century was a series of protracted meetings. In labors he was as constant as Wesley. A man of delicate frame yet of great endurance and intense en­thusiasm, he rested best when most laboriously and successfully engaged in the great work to which he had devoted his life. A man of apostolic zeal and fervor he was an evangelist of evangelists.