Reminiscences of a Long Life
By James M. Pendleton
On the first day of January, 1857, I left Bowling Green and removed to Murfreesboro, Tennessee. Nothing had been more unexpected by me. The explanation of the matter is this: The Trustees of Union University decided to establish a Theological Department in the Institution, and, to my amazement, they appointed me professor. When informed of the fact I promptly declined the appointment and told the Trustees that I was utterly incompetent, having never been to a theological school, and knowing nothing of theology except what I had learned from the Bible. I thought this would end the negotiation, but the Trustees said they wanted a man who had learned his theology from the Bible. I then replied that preaching the gospel was my business and that I could not give it up for anything in the world. I supposed that this would settle the matter, but the Trustees were ready to meet this state of the case. They said that the Baptist church in Murfreesboro was without a pastor, and that I would be chosen to the pastorate, so that I could preach every Sunday and teach theology during the week. They argued that in this way my usefulness would be increased, and this consideration alone induced the acceptance of the professorship offered me. I thought it my duty to God to place myself in a position promising greater usefulness. I therefore, with a sad heart, resigned my pastorate at Bowling Green, and, in broken accents, preached my last sermon, which was heard by many whose eyes were filled with tears. It was a day of sorrow. It is proper to say that, at that time, the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary had not been established, and it was thought wise to have theological instruction in colleges. Thorough teaching was, of course, out of the question, and the plan was for instruction in theology to be interspersed with literary pursuits through the collegiate course. This was the best that could then be done, but the work of the Seminary now supersedes this arrangement. While connected with Union University I had, first and last, between forty and fifty ministerial students under my instruction. The different classes could not be so arranged as to give me more than an hour a day for my class in theology; and it was not long before other classes were given me, so that I had to teach five hours a day. Marvellous to say, I had to teach many things of which I knew absolutely nothing, except what I had learned myself without the aid of any one. I had therefore to go ahead of the classes, and it is a wonder to me to this day how I was able to conceal my ignorance so as to avoid the ignominy of its exposure. In the Theological Department, the text-books I used were Horne’s Introduction, Ripley’s Sacred Rhetoric, Dagg’s and Dick’s Theology. One brother, rather more candidly than encouragingly said that the department was a “one-horse concern.” Even so; but the students had to learn what they could from one teacher, as they could not go to a regular theological seminary. The greatest improvement I saw in the young preachers was in the art of sermonizing. They studied Ripley to great advantage, and listened attentively to my extemporaneous explanations. I trust they received some benefit, and some of them became useful.
Dr. Joseph H. Eaton was President of the University. He was a man of intellectual power and broad scholarship, not inferior, as I think, to his brother George W., who died President of Madison, now Colgate University. Dr. Joseph H. was a very laborious teacher, enthusiastic in his work, and almost compelled by the cares of the Presidency to do overwork. When I first knew him he was a fine specimen of manly beauty, and his sermons and addresses were replete with vigor and eloquence. But his noble physical frame succumbed to disease and he died in the prime of his life, January 1859, leaving a bereaved University, a bereaved church, and a more bereaved family. It devolved on me to preach the funeral sermon and the text was, “Lord Jesus, receive my Spirit.” (Acts vii: 59). The general feeling was, “A great man has fallen in Israel.” Mrs. Eaton, left to feel the desolateness of widowhood, was a remarkable woman, equal in intellectual and spiritual qualities to her husband. She spent many years of her life in teaching, and left her impress on the minds of many young ladies. She lived a widow more than twenty-five years and died in Louisville in 1886. I preached her funeral sermon also, from Rev. xiv: 13: “Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord,” etc. Two children survive, Rev. T. T. Eaton, D.D., and Mrs. J. E. Peck, who are worthy representatives of their parents, and who are occupying positions of usefulness.
After President Eaton’s death the faculty consisted of Professors George W. Jarman, Paul W. Dodson, and A. S. Worrell, with all of whom my relations were specially pleasant. For two years I acted as Chairman of the faculty and therefore presided on commencement occasions, and handed to the graduates their diplomas in testimony of their scholarship.
Rev. J. R. Graves had long been editor of the Tennessee Baptist, published at Nashville, and in 1858, Rev. A. C. Dayton and I became joint editors with him. Dr. Dayton (not a D.D. but an M.D.) is best known as the author of “Theodosia Ernest,” a book of great celebrity, having had a wide circulation, and which was written, as I know, to show that there is, in the republic of letters, a realm which sanctified fiction should claim as its own. My becoming editor did not impose on me the necessity of writing more than I had done; for I had been for several years engaged to supply two columns a week for the paper, and was one of the editors of the Southern Baptist Review for the six years of its existence, immediately preceding the war. It may be inferred that mine was not an idle life in Tennessee. My body would probably have sunk under the mental strain if I had not taken active exercise on my little farm. I often plowed by way of recreation in the afternoon, and did other work which needed to be done. Usually I finished my editorials by nine o’clock Saturday night. I did too much for any mortal man to do. I advise no one to copy my example except in part. While engaged in performing these onerous duties, I was charged with being an “Abolitionist.” The charge, so far as I know, was first made by Dr. Dawson, then editor of the Alabama Baptist paper. In justice to him it is proper to say that he had, as he stated it, no feeling against me “personally;” but he declared boldly that no man of my anti-slavery views ought to belong to the faculty of any Southern college. I suppose he made no distinction between an “Abolitionist” and an “Emancipationist.” The latter was in favor of doing away with slavery gradually, according to State Constitution and law; the former believed slavery to be a sin in itself, calling for immediate abolition without regard to consequences. I was an Emancipationist, as I have said, in Kentucky in 1849; but I was never for a moment an Abolitionist. The application of this term to a man was, at the time referred to, the most effectual way of creating hostility to him. I suppose one fact intensified the hostility in my case. In 1859 John Brown made his raid into Virginia, and, as Greeley says in his “American Conflict,” “The fifteen slave States were convulsed with fear, rage, and hate.” The excitement in Tennessee was great and, farther South, still greater.
Then it was that articles which I had published in Kentucky in 1849, in connection with the Emancipation movement there, were republished in a Nashville paper to excite prejudice against me, with a view to my dismissal from the faculty of the University. The thing was as cruel as the grave, and I did not know till the war was over who furnished the articles for publication. Then I learned that they were furnished by a brother who had delivered a course of lectures to our theological students, and whose traveling expenses had been paid in part by me. This was the poetry of the case. He was, in spite of his strong pro-slavery feeling, a good man, a just man, and his recent death has no doubt released him from all earthly imperfections and introduced him into the blest region where “the spirits of just men are made perfect.”
The Trustees did not dismiss me. As an honorable man I told them that if my views of slavery were unsatisfactory to them, and they thought my influence was injuring the University, they could have my resignation at any time, and that there was no earthly power that could compel me to remain in my position. The Trustees did not wish me to offer my resignation, and I did not. I therefore continued in my place till the Institution suspended in April, 1861.
It was while I was in Murfreesboro, that is, in my forty-ninth year, that I began to feel the need of spectacles. I first detected my failure of sight by my inability to see the figures opposite to the first lines of hymns in the Psalmist, which book we then used. I wondered why figures could not be as plain as letters, not thinking that there was anything the matter with my eyes. From my forty-ninth year till now (1891) it has not been necessary to change my eye-glasses. This, I suppose, is something unusual, and my children may be interested in knowing it. They need not be told that I have used my eyes by day and by night.
It was during my residence in Tennessee that I had a little discussion with Alexander Campbell. He was a celebrated man and quite adroit in controversy. I wrote an article for the Tenneesee Baptist, in which I argued the priority of repentance to faith. Mr. Campbell published a long reply in his Millennial Haringer. To my astonishment, he treated me with marked respect, a thing he did not always do with his opponents. He insisted that faith must precede repentance. In proof of my position I quoted such Scriptures as these: “Repent and believe the gospel,” “Testifying repentance toward God, and faith toward our Lord Jesus Christ.” (Mark i:15; Acts xx:22.) Mr. Campbell said that the mention of repentance first was a matter of no significance. I insisted that in explaining Scripture it is often indispensable to take things first that come first. In proof of this I quoted I Timothy v:14, “I will therefore that the younger widows marry, bear children,” etc. The point I made was of course that younger widows should marry before bearing children. There was, there could be no reply to this.
Mr. Campbell was a great man, had a high reputation for scholarship, but this reputation was somewhat impaired by his Revision of the Acts of the Apostles for the American Bible Union. Having referred to Mr. Campbell, I will now quote a long sentence from him in his written controversy with a “Clergyman,” as published in the Harbinger. Bishop Smith, of Kentucky, was no doubt the “Clergyman.” The Bishop contended that the validity of gospel ordinances depends on their administration by men Episcopally ordained. Mr. Campbell in reply used these words, which made such an impression on my memory that I have not forgotten them in thirty years. I quote them that my children may have an unsophisticated laugh.
The long sentence is as follows:
“If my salvation depended on a pure administration of baptism, I would rather have a pure, godly man to immerse me, on whose head the hands of Romish or British prelates were never laid, than to be baptized by any Bishop under these heavens, whose sacerdotal blood has run through ecclesiastic scoundrels ever since the flood which the fiery dragon issued out of his unsanctified mouth to drown the apostolic church in its early youth.”
A premium may well be offered for any sentence equal in all respects to this.