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The miners called him the "Wandering Jew." That was behind his back. To his face they addressed him as Father Newton. He walked his circuits in the northern mines. No pedestrian could keep up with him, as with his long form bending forward, his immense yellow beard that reached to his breast floating in the wind, he strode from camp to camp with the message of salvation. It took a good trotting-horse to keep pace with him. Many a stout prospector, meeting him on a highway, after panting and straining to bear him company, had to fall behind, gazing after him in wonder, as he swept out of sight at that marvelous gait. There was a glitter in his eye, and an intensity of gaze that left you in doubt whether it was genius or madness that it bespoke. It was, in truth, a little of both. He had genius. Nobody ever talked with him, or heard him preach, without finding it out. The rough fellow who offended him at a camp-meeting, near "Yankee Jim's," no doubt thought him mad. He was making some disturbance just as the long bearded old preacher was passing with a bucket of water in his hand.
"What do you mean?" he thundered, stopping and fixing his keen eye upon the rowdy.
A rude and profane reply was made by the jeering sinner.
Quick as thought Newton rushed upon him with flashing eye and uplifted bucket, a picture of fiery wrath that was too much for the thoughtless scoffer, who fled in terror amid the laughter of the crowd. The vanquished son of Belial had no sympathy from anybody, and the plucky preacher was none the less esteemed because he was ready to defend his Master's cause with carnal weapons. The early Californians left scarcely any path of sin unexplored, and were a sad set of sinners, but for virtuous women and religion they never lost their reverence. Both were scarce in those days, when it seemed to be thought that gold-digging and the Decalogue could not be made to harmonize. The pioneer preachers found that one good woman made a better basis for evangelization than a score of nomadic bachelors. The first accession of a woman to a church in the mines was an epoch in its history. The church in the house of Lydia was the normal type - it must be anchored to woman's faith, and tenderness, and love, in the home.
He visited San Francisco during my pastorate in 1858. On Sunday morning he preached a sermon of such extraordinary beauty and power that at the night-service the house was crowded by a curious congregation, drawn thither by the report of the forenoon effort. His subject was the faith of the mother of Moses, and he handled it in his own way. The powerful effect of one passage I shall never forget. It was a description of the mother's struggle, and the victory of her faith in the crisis of her trial. No longer able to protect her child, she resolves to commit him to her God. He drew a picture of her as she sat weaving together the grasses of the little ark of bulrushes, her hot tears falling upon her work, and pausing from time to time with her hand pressed upon her throbbing heart. At length, the little vessel is finished, and she goes by night to the bank of the Nile, to take the last chance to save her boy from the knife of the murderers. Approaching the river's edge, with the ark in her hands, she stoops a moment, but her mother's heart fails her. How can she give up her child? In frenzy of grief she sinks upon her knees, and lifting her gaze to the heavens, passionately prays to the God of Israel. That prayer! It was the wail of a breaking heart, a cry out of the depths of a mighty agony. But as she prays the inspiration of God enters her soul, her eyes kindle, and her face beams with the holy light of faith. She rises, lifts the little ark, looks upon the sleeping face of the fair boy, prints a long, long kiss upon his brow, and then with a firm step she bends down, and placing the tiny vessel upon the waters, lets it go. "And away it went," he, said, "rocking upon the waves as it swept beyond the gaze of the mother's straining eyes. The monsters of the deep were there, the serpent of the Nile was there, behemoth was there, but the child slept as sweetly and as safely upon the rocking waters as if it were nestled upon its mother's breast - for God was there!" The effect was electric. The concluding words, "for God was there!" were uttered with upturned face and lifted hands, and in a tone of voice that thrilled the hearers like a sudden clap of thunder from a cloud over whose bosom the lightnings had rippled in gentle flashes. It was true eloquence.
In a revival meeting, on another occasion, he said, in a sermon of terrific power: "O the hardness of the human heart! Yonder is a man in hell. He is told that there is one condition on which he may be delivered, and that is that lie must get the consent of every good being in the universe. A ray of hope enters his soul, and he sets out to comply with the condition. He visits heaven and earth, and finds sympathy and consent from all. All the holy angels consent to his pardon; all the pure and holy on earth consent; God himself repeats the assurance of his willingness that he maybe saved. Even in hell, the devils do not object, knowing that his misery only heightens theirs. All are willing, all are ready - all but one man. He refuses; he will not consent. A monster of cruelty and wickedness, he refuses his simple consent to save a soul from an eternal hell! Surely a good God and all good beings in the universe would turn in horror from such a monster. Sinner, you are that man! The blessed God, the Holy Trinity, every angel in heaven, every good man and woman on earth, are not only willing but anxious that you shall be saved. But you will not consent. You refuse to come to Jesus that you may have life. You are the murderer of your own immortal soul. You drag yourself down to hell. You lock the door of your own dungeon of eternal despair, and throw the key into the bottomless pit, by rejecting the Lord that bought you with his blood! You will be lost! you must be lost! you ought to be lost.
The words were something like these, but the energy, the passion, the frenzy of the speaker must be imagined. Hard and stubborn hearts were moved under that thrilling appeal. They were made to feel that the preacher's picture of a self doomed soul described their own eases. There was joy in heaven that night over repenting sinners.
This old man of the mountains was a walking encyclopedia of theological and other learning. He owned books that could not be duplicated in California; and he read them, digested their contents, and constantly surprised his cultivated bearers by the affluence of his knowledge, and the fertility of his literary and classic allusion. He wrote with elegance and force. His weak point was orthography. He would trip sometimes in the spelling of the most common words. His explanation of this weakness was curious: He was a printer in Mobile, Alabama. On one occasion a thirty-two-page book-form of small type was "pied." "I undertook,", said he, "to set that pied form to rights, and, in doing so, the words got so mixed in my brain that my spelling was spoiled forever!"
He went to Oregon, and traveled and preached from the Cascade Mountains to Idaho, thrilling, melting, and amusing, in turn, the crowds that came out to hear the wild-looking man whose coming was so sudden, and whose going as so rapid, that they were lost in wonder, as if gazing at a meteor that flashed across the sky.
He was a Yankee from New Hampshire, who, going to Alabama, lost his heart, and was ever afterward intensely Southern in all his convictions and affections. His fiery soul found congenial spirits among the generous, hotblooded people of the Gulf States, whose very faults had a sort of charm for this impulsive, generous, erratic, gifted, man. He made his way back to his New England hills, where he is waiting for the sunset, often turning a longing eye southward, and now and then sending a greeting to Alabama.