Reminiscences of a Long Life
By James M. Pendleton
The pen has fallen from the hand of him who wrote the preceding pages, and it now devolves upon me to chronicle the fact and the date of his departure. This is done at his request; but filial devotion will not suffer the simple mention of an event that forms an epoch in so many lives. It will prove of interest to his absent children and his friends to know something of the last months and the last days of his earthly existence. Upon his arrival at Upland, in the Spring of 1890, his appearance was such as to awaken in the hearts of friendly observers a fear that his days on earth were numbered. He was evidently in failing health. As the summer advanced he seemed to grow weaker. At times, his sufferings were acute and intense. He bore them, however, with an almost sublime patience. While the ills of the flesh weighed heavily upon him, his spirit showed a peacefulness and serenity that indicated a ripening for heaven.
In view of the manifest approach to the closing of this eventful life, his friend, Dr. John C. Long, who had previously more than once made the suggestion, now again urged that Father should reduce to some permanent form the scenes and incidents of other days, many of which he had witnessed, and in many of which he had participated. Because of his habit of close observation and of his remarkably retentive memory, it was felt that he must possess a fund of information, which, unless thus imparted by him, would be lost to history. Absorbed as he was in his duties as a student and a teacher of Divine truth, he yet found time to feel and to express, throughout all the years of his active life, an eager interest in current politics. By profession a theologian, he yet possessed a knowledge and a grasp of public affairs that would have secured for him no mean rank as a statesman or constitutional lawyer.
It has been remarked by some of his friends that he knew nothing but theology, but knew that, well. It is true that he ever declined to lay claim to scholarship or breadth of culture; but, whenever induced to enter upon the discussion of a given question, whether political, social, moral, metaphysical, or linguistic, it was generally discovered that his ignorance, if such it may be termed, was more blissful to himself than to his opponent. The secret of his success as a debater was the perfect accuracy of his information and his absolute mastery of the subject in hand.
Possessing such qualities of mind, he could not fail to throw valuable light upon the burning questions, the momentous issues, and the wondrous achievements of the era in which he lived. Such was the opinion of those who desired him to add his contribution to the history of his times. But, urgent as was the request, so great was his fear of incurring the charge of egotism, that he repeatedly refused to undertake the work. It was my good fortune to strike a responsive chord in his affectionate heart; and this was by the suggestion that such a sketch of his life of observation and experience would be a source of interest and of profit to his children.
It was then a labor of love on which he entered, when, on the 20th day of November, 1890, when just seventy-nine years of age, he set himself to the formidable task of recounting, unaided by memoranda, the ample outlines of a not inactive career of four score years.
Having decided to write his Reminiscences, he applied himself to the work with characteristic energy with a system and a regularity equally characteristic, devoting two hours a day to this particular subject. The last line was written on the 20th day of January, 1891.
This he called his Winter’s recreation. It did not interfere with his literary activity in other lines, as the columns of the denominational press for the period will testify. His pen was in constant use, until the day when attacked by his fatal illness. After his death I found among his papers an unpublished article on “The Woman of Canaan.” While he felt that the Reminiscences would prove the last of his extended literary efforts, he did not at first believe that his illness, contracted on the 10th day of February, would terminate fatally. It was pronounced by his physicians to be capillary bronchitis, and from the first, they offered no hope of recovery. When informed of his condition, he remarked, “Well, gentlemen, you may be right; but I do not feel like a dying man.”
The progress of the disease was rapid, and he soon passed into a state semi-conscious and, at times, delirious. For the greater part of his illness he was mercifully spared acute suffering. Now and again, full consciousness would return. Then he recognized the different members of his family and exhibited perfect clearness and strength of intellect. It was upon two of these occasions, so precious to those hovering about him, that he gave his parting messages to family and friends, and, with all the solemnity surrounding the dying bed of a Christian, testified to the strength of his faith and hope and to the gospel’s efficacy to support, when flesh and heart fail.
It is fitting that his words, uttered in this impressive manner, and taken down as they fell from his lips, should be recorded for the comfort of that devoted inner circle, now broken, and of that larger circle that loved his living, and now venerate him departed. *
I have very little to say of myself. My letter of resignation expresses it. A poor sinner saved by grace. I have performed some labor in my day, but everything has been tinctured with imperfection and impurity. If God should speak to me and tell me that if I could find one sermon that I had preached in all these sixty years that was free from imperfection, I might depend on that, I would not listen to it for a moment. It is grace, grace, from first to last. I just expect to go into eternity, saying: Lord, here I am, a poor, weak, sinful creature, having no claim, and the only hope of being saved is that Jesus Christ died in the place of sinners. I know no other hope. I believe what I did sixty years ago, just exactly. Yes, it is the same old story, not one particle of change in my views. In March, 1865, when I thought I was going to die, I felt this way, and that is my feeling yet. Tell the other children the same. They may know that I think about them every day; pray for them every day; for years and years have done that. My prayers have been that my descendants to the remotest generations, may be found among the servants of God.
I have published a great many things in my day. You may say that I have never had the first regret that I devoted myself to the ministry. I have had a good many trials, in one way and another, in connection with it.
Speaking to his daughter, Mrs. Procter, who had nursed him so faithfully, day and night, throughout his illness, he said: “You could not have done more than you have done. If my death should occur here, it seems fitting that I should end my career where I began it pretty much where I brought my bride, once so cheerful and happy, now so sad. She cannot see those she loves most. If I should die I would wish her to remain in this family. It will be but a little while. It is not worthwhile for me to say to any of you, be kind to your mother. I know you will be. Be kind, be kind, be kind.”
My object has been to be an accomplished debater; claiming nothing unjust, yielding to nothing unjust. My grand supreme purpose has been the establishment of truth. I have never attempted to disparage any other brother. My hope is as strong as it ever was. I do not know that my hope is as bright as, when a boy, I hitched my horse and went into the woods to thank God that He sent His Son into the world to die; but it is as strong as ever. You young people may lay too much stress upon the joy of religion. I do not suppose it is necessary for me to say more. I have written so much Give my love to Dr. Robinson, Dr. Weston, and the members of the faculty of the Seminary. Give my love to the pastor and church, and Sunday-school and Bible class at Upland.”
As the days passed away, he seemed more fully to realize his condition. After attending to some little matters of business, and having expressed his desire as to mother’s earthly future, his spirit was calm and peaceful. He seemed to have done with the things of earth, save the evident enjoyment of listening to the conversation of the members of his family present, and the solicitous messages of the absent ones. It was a source of grief to his eldest daughters that they were unable, because of distance and ill health, to be with him. Yet it will comfort them to be assured that he fully appreciated the cause of their absence, and felt that they acted wisely.
He was greatly surprised and pleased by the visit of his brother-in-law and friend of more than half a century, Uncle William Garnett, of Chicago. He and mother are the survivors of a family of twelve. How deep and tender the solicitude of the brother as he ministered words of comfort to the sister entering the shadows of widowhood.
Father greatly enjoyed the seasons of prayer, and was interested in the Scripture selections. He asked, upon one occasion, for the one hundred and sixteenth Psalm, remarking: “They generally read the one hundred and fifteenth at such times, but I prefer this.” He was the only one unmoved at the reading of the verse: “Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of His saints.”
At another time he suggested the reading of the seventh chapter of Revelation. His soul was then yearning for the land of the redeemed. He longed for a sight of that multitude come out of great tribulation. He wished to be with them. “For the Lamb which is in the midst of the throne shall feed them and shall lead them unto living fountains of waters, and God shall wipe away all tears for their eyes.” This was a favorite passage with him, and more than once have I heard him say that Robert Burns, wicked man that he was, could not read the verse with tearless eyes.
Two hours before his death, he sent a message to his second daughter: “Tell Fannie, ‘Call upon Me in the day of trouble and I will deliver thee.’ That is indefinite. It does not say what kind of trouble, nor ‘when He will deliver.” Highly favored one, to receive the last words of such a Father. With a heart ever throbbing with love and sympathy for his children, his ruling passion was strong in death. He spoke not again, but from his eyes there shone a depth of affection more eloquent than words. The inevitable end was approaching. It was fitting that the faithful servant of the Prince of Peace should sink to rest in the presence of his loved ones. The family sat by the bedside and watched the ebbing away of that life so full of precious significance to them and to the world. There, in the background, in tearful silence, stood representatives of that race for whom he had done and suffered not a little. Close at hand were the friend and brother of his youth, and he whose devotion, as that of a son in the flesh, had brightened the sunset of life. Still nearer was a scene that must have moved the least impressible. Son and daughter supported the mother as her sightless eyes seemed to strain after even a passing glimpse of her loved one. The hand of the blind was clasped in the hand of the dying-the eloquence of a voiceless, sightless grief.
Thus came the hour of departure. So gently did he pass away that mother knew not when his spirit fled. At high noon, on the 4th day of March, he closed his eyes, and peacefully and painlessly entered that land that is fairer than day.
To his two children who were present, it was a new and strange experience. Death is pictured as the King of Terrors. It is often attended by the most excruciating physical suffering, which, in the case of the godless man is aggravated by the most fearful spiritual convulsions. Death is to such the King of Terrors, but not so to him who serves the King of kings. So tranquil, so easy the exit of the soul from the body, we could but exclaim: Can this be death! Well might we inquire, “Where, O death, is thy sting; where, O grave, thy victory!” The sun shone in noontide splendor. Nature gave glad response to its genial warmth. Stern Winter had melted into smiling spring. Winter, emblematic of trials and bereavements, forever past; Spring, the fore gleam of that restful vision on which his eyes had opened. Blessed closing! blissful opening! To the cares of earth, forever closed; to the joys of heaven, forever open.
Whatever the bereavement of those left behind, they possess this priceless consolation, that he has achieved the two-fold object of his sanctified ambition: He is like Jesus, for he has seen Him as He is. Blessed the pure in heart, for they shall see God. He saw Him, on earth, even in the midst of dark providences. Now, in unbeclouded light, and with the problems of life made plain, he sees Him face to face.
When father crossed the Ohio River, in the fall of 1862, he had little idea of ever returning to the South. He had then reached middle age. The land was convulsed by a fratricidal war that bade fair to rend the nation into irreclaimably hostile sections. He feared that his usefulness was ended. Borne down by the grief of a patriot over the distracted condition of his beloved country, and overwhelmed by the sore bereavement in the loss of his son, he probably did not look for length of days. Brighter days, however, came. The war closed. His usefulness had been re-established; but in a different climate and among new surroundings. As the years glided away and old age came on apace, it was his desire, when death should come, to find a resting place in the little cemetery at Upland, among those to whom he had devoted the latter years of his ministry.
But it was decreed otherwise. He resigned his charge in Pennsylvania, and he and mother found it congenial to their feelings to divide their time among their children. Upon her marriage in 1876, his daughter, Mrs. Procter, became a resident of Bowling Green, Kentucky, and still resides there. Thus, by a succession of events, unforeseen and altogether improbable, at the date of his leaving Bowling Green, in 1857, he returned to his former home, after thirty-three years of life in Tennessee, Ohio and Pennsylvania. There is a poetic fitness in the providence that turned the heart of the old man toward the scenes of his youth; that brought him back to the State of his first love, there to rest in the bosom of the land sacred with the precious dust of his kindred.
It was in January of 1837 that he began his ministry at Bowling Green. It was at Bowling Green, on the 25th day of January, 1891, that he preached his last sermon. His text was taken from the fourth verm of the fifty-first Psalm. His topic was “Sinning Against God.” God was the center of his preaching. His first sermon treated of repentance; his last, of sin. Sin is sin against God. Repentance is repentance toward God.
The funeral services were held at two o’clock, March 6th, in the Baptist church at Bowling Green. It was appropriate that in this building, the scene of his faithful and efficient labors, should be gathered a multitude to do honor to his memory: fellow ministers of the Word; descendants of the friends of other days; his children in the faith; with here and there the whitened locks and streaming eyes of those who with him had borne the burden and heat of the day, and will soon again meet him in the Celestial City.
It was his expressed desire that Dr. T. T. Eaton, of Louisville, should conduct the services. For the parents of Dr. Eaton he had performed the like mournful duty. The services were opened with the singing of the hymn, “Servant of God, well done.” A Scripture selection (II Corinthians iv: 6 to v: 10) was read by Rev. A. M. Boone. Rev. M. M. Riley, the pastor, offered a fervent and touching prayer in behalf of the widow and children. Mrs. Lucien D. Potter most effectively rendered the beautiful solo, “This Place is Holy Ground,” being No. 1099 of the Psalmist. How appropriate the close of the second stanza:
“Life so sweetly ceased to be,
It lapsed in immortality.”
Dr. Eaton delivered an address drawn from the words of II Timothy iv: 7: “I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith.” He dwelt with special emphasis upon the last clause of the verse, and, defining “faith” in this connection, as the body of doctrine, illustrated the truth of the assertion as applied to Father, in that he had ever felt himself to be set for the defense of the Gospel; had ever proved himself the champion of orthodoxy; had ever contended for the faith once delivered to the saints, and had thus accomplished that “grand, supreme purpose” of his life, “the establishment of truth.” It is impossible to furnish an adequate outline of the discourse. It can only be said that it was chaste in diction; vigorous in thought; eloquent in delivery; full of tender feeling and appropriate in eulogy; worthy of him who uttered it; just to its subject and grateful to the family and friends.
Then was sung that hymn, the comfort of the living and the dying saint:
“How firm a foundation.”
It was a source of regret that because of the distance, no representative of Crozer Theological Seminary could be present to participate in the services.
Father had been a Trustee of that institution since its foundation, and had ever felt and shown a more than official interest in its welfare; ever rejoiced in its prosperity, and thanked God for the work accomplished by its faculty and graduates. It had been the habit of Dr. Weston to ask him, when present, to offer special prayer for the graduating class at Commencement; and there are many who will remember how earnest were his petitions, and how more than once he expressed the regret that he was not again young, to join with them in the well-loved work of preaching the Gospel. How he loved that work, and how righteously envious of those who were going forth with physical and mental vigor, to toil in the fields white to the harvest!
It was, however, doubly gratifying that Dr. William H. Whittsitt could be present, and on behalf of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary as well as of Father’s former students, offer his tribute of respect and veneration to his departed friend and instructor. Few, but touching and appropriate were his words. As to courage of conviction and stern fidelity to duty, the eulogist drew a parallel between his subject and the prophet Elijah; and gazing into heaven, whither the spirit of God’s servant had fled, could well exclaim with Elisha: “My Father, my Father, the chariot of Israel and the horsemen thereof.”
A memorial service was held in the Baptist church at Upland, on Sunday, the 22d day of March. Dr. Bliss and Dr. Weston offered special and earnest prayer for the widow and family. The choir sang the appropriate anthem, “Blessed Are the Dead Who Die in the Lord; ” also the beautiful hymn, “It I Well With My Soul.” Rev. C. L. Williams, the pastor, delivered a memorial address, wherein he spoke of transparency of character, fidelity of friendship, tenderness of his wife and unflinching devotion to the Gospel of Christ as among the striking traits of his predecessor in the Upland pulpit.
The discourse was eloquent, able, polished, and was couched in language tender, beautiful and fully appreciative of the life and character of its subject. It was a just tribute to him who was devoted in his love to that church, and was a fitting chaplet to lay upon his grave.
In view of Father’s long and intimate connection with that body, it will not be considered out of place to insert in this sketch the following minute, which was adopted by the Philadelphia Conference of Baptist Ministers, on the 9th day of March, 1891:
The Conference places on record the deep feeling with which it has learned of the death of James Madison Pendleton, D. D.
We recall with profound gratitude the high privilege of intimate intercourse with him during a quarter of a century, since he joined the Conference November 6, 1865. We have loved and honored him as a man of exalted piety, of large scriptural knowledge, of undeviating fidelity to conviction, of tender and loving spirit.
He has been a pillar in the Temple of our God, in the Conference and in the Denomination, a pillar of strength, a column of beauty.
As we bid farewell to this good and great man, we look forward with hope and cheer to the renewed and endless union amid the Church of the First-born in the world that lies
“Beyond the smiling and the weeping,
Beyond the sowing and the reaping.”
At the annual meeting of the Board of Trustees of The Crozer Theological Seminary, held on the 10th day of June, 1891, the following action was taken on the recommendation of Rev. George Dana Boardman, D.D., Chairman of the Committee on Resolutions:
“In making a minute of the death of our late colleague, James Madison Pendleton, Doctor of Divinity, we hereby place on record our deep appreciation of his eminent worth aa a Christian, his reverent conscientiousness as a Bible student, his signal fidelity as a preacher and a pastor, his conspicuous loyalty as a Baptist, and especially his indefatigable devotion as a Trustee of the Crozer Theological Seminary.”
In the midst of the family bereavement, our love and sympathy cluster about her who is the central figure in the scene of mourning. God gave her as a helpmate to her husband. Her unceasing devotion to him and to his work; her unflagging interest and zealous efforts in the cause nearest his heart; her sympathy and her prayers, proclaim her the ideal wife. Nothing in their later years has been more touching or beautiful than the lover – like devotion of the old man to the one who, though stricken with blindness and the infirmities of age, ever remained to him the bride and the love of his youth.
To her has come the saddest day of earth. To him, the lifetime-keeper of her heart’s profoundest love, she must say farewell. She sorrows, but in the sweetness and the assurance of her faith, sorrows not as they that havre no hope. She must say “Farewell,” but it is “Farewell, till we meet again.” She misses the strong arm and the loving voice, but can say and feel, “The Lord is my refuge and strength; a very present help in trouble.” He is the comforter of the widow. He is eyes to the blind. And so, she calmly waits by the riverside. It is the late afternoon of life. The sun is approaching its setting. She waits for the coming of the hour when the darkness of earth shall be exchanged for the clear light of heaven; when her heart and its great treasure shall again be united, and so shall husband and wife be ever with the Lord.
To our mother and her children very grateful have been the many kind and sympathetic words that have been spoken and written by those whom Father loved and honored. We rejoice to believe that his work has not been in vain; that the Lord has prospered his preaching of the Word; that in the crown which the Righteous Judge shall give him, will appear many stars as seals to his ministry. The body of our Father sleeps in the beautiful cemetery, well called Fairview, a mile outside of Bowling Green. There the birds sing, the branches wave, the flowers bloom, and the summer breezes chant a requiem. But he is not there. He is absent from the body. He is present with the Lord.
To the heavenly visitants that stand guard over his consecrated dust, he speaks forth the language of that hymn, the comfort of his last hours, the consolation of his bereaved ones, and the prophecy of his resurrection:
Ye angels that watched round the tomb,
Where low the Redeemer was laid,
While deep in mortality’s gloom
He hid for a season his head.
Ye saints who once languished below,
But long since have entered your rest,
I pant to be glorified too,
To lean on Immanuel’s breast.
O, sweet is the season of rest,
When life’s weary journey is done;
When the blush spreads over its West,
And the last lingering rays of the sun.
Though dreary the empire of night,
I soon shall immerge from its gloom,
And see immortality’s light
Arise on the shades of the tomb.
Then welcome the last rending sighs
When these aching heart strings shall break,
When death shall extinguish these eyes
And moisten with dew the pale cheek.
No terror the prospect begets,
I am not mortality’s slave,
The sunbeam of life as it sets
Paints a rainbow of peace on the grave.
* It is thought best to omit special messages to the children and grandchildren, these having been preserved in another form.- ED.