The sound of the Gospel, as also the howling of the wolf, were among the loud noises heard in the wilds of Mason County by the early settler. The pioneer minister imagined himself a second John "crying in the wilderness," and, in humble imitation, he not only cried but howled before his congregation, gathered in the woods for want of houses to worship in.|
One of this class of preachers was old Moses Ray-a forty-gallon Baptist minister of the olden time. In one of his black-jack sermons he was laboring to reconcile and harmonize the doctrine of election and fore-ordination, and the goodness, justice and mercy of God with the free will and free salvation of man. As he waded into the depths of his discourse, it soon dawned upon his bewildered mind that the arguments being used were illogical and contradictory, and, becoming dumbfounded, he called a halt of some moments of profound depression in the midst of his discourse, and then began talking to himself, as it were, and soliloquized thusly: "Be keerful, old man Ray-be keerful; you are getting in deep water, and had better keep near shore;" and then he waded out of the deep water that has bothered many wiser heads than his!
On another occasion, he was preaching in the timber at the south of Field's Prairie, where it took all the people of the south end of the county to make a respectable congregation. In the midst of his profound discourse, he observed some persons, forgetting the solemnity of the occasion, smiling and not giving the attention that a minister of the Gospel is supposed to be entitled to, and immediately addressed himself to the parties, modestly reproving them in this wise: "Ef the friends are laughing at what old man Ray is saying, and doubt the truth of it, he can tell you that he has the documents in the lids of the Bible to obstantiate every word he says (giving the Good Book a tremendous whack with his open hand), but ef they are laughing at the ignorance of the old man, and because he can't edify them, why then, old man Ray will subsist, and you kin go and hear some preacher with more larnin', ef you kin find any sich!"
There were many preachers, in early days, of the type of old man Ray. Among the early preachers in the county were John Camp, the County Judge, and Baldwin, the fisherman. Of the better class was John H. Daniels, of Bath, who is a man well posted in religious lore, and is still preaching to the Baptist Societies of the county, where he has been laboring for the past thirty-five years. He has also served the people as a Justice of the Peace and as an Associate County Judge, but is not as well posted in the law as in the Gospel. A pretty good joke is told on him, asserting that, while a Justice of the Peace, he sold a piece of real estate, made out the deed himself, took his own acknowledgment and that of his wife, certifying that he had examined her "separate and apart from her husband!" as the law directs.
In these modern times, we have experienced a great change in the ministry, as well as in the kind of religion taught. No longer are the horny-handed sons of toil-dressed in homespun coat and short pants, that seldom deigned to meet with the dirty socks-the shepherds of the flocks. The modern minister, in order to meet the requirements of society, has become an educated man, and, in order to be popular with his Church-especially those of the female persuasion-pays special attention to the vestments he wears in the pulpit, as well as to the utterances that come therefrom. He has learned that "cleanliness is next to godliness," and that good clothes and good behavior are not altogether unbecoming the minister of the Gospel.
The changes in religious teaching in the past third of a century, are still more remarkable. No longer are the blasphemous utterances against God as the author of infant damnation, and endless punishment in hell fire, heard in the land. The God of hatred and vengeance has been changed into a loving and merciful Being, through the processes of education and development. The ignorant and the vicious person makes for himself or herself an imaginary God of evil attributes; and the more enlightened and better-hearted the person, the better kind of God is required for that person; so that, in fact, every thinking man is the Architect of his own ideal Supreme Being. Of all the strange and confused notions about the Deity, among the different churches and people, it is impossible to find out who is wrong or who is right; for the Bible tells us that "no man hath seen God"-only His "hinder parts," on one occasion-and from that imperfect view, very little can be known of Him or His attributes.
The time is fast approaching when it will be a matter of vastly more importance to the world what men DO, rather than what they may THINK of religious dogmas. "Whatsoever ye would have others do unto you, do ye even so unto them," is a good and wise maxim, whether uttered by Jesus Christ or by Confucius, hundreds of years before Him. That maxim implies a good, square, honest, kind and neighborly life-nothing more, nothing less!
There are five church edifices in Havana, occupied by the Methodists, Baptists, Reformed Church, Catholics and Lutherans.
In Mason City, there are four church buildings, occupied by the Methodists, Baptists, Presbyterians and Catholics.
In Bath, there are two church edifices, belonging to the Methodists and Christians.
In the other towns in the county, there are also a number of churches to accommodate the church-going people.
In the county, there are not less than thirty-six church edifices, belonging to the various denominations that worship therein.
The character of the ministers in the county is certainly above the average, as there have been but few ministerial scandals, compared with those in other portions of the country.