Reminiscences of a Long Life
By James M. Pendleton
When I went to Upland in 1865 the American Baptist Publication Society was not what it is now. Its headquarters were at 530 Arch Street, Philadelphia, and it was plain enough that there was not sufficient room for the convenient transaction of the business of the Society. No one was more fully convinced of this than Dr. Griffith, the Secretary of the Society. He therefore began to agitate the question of a new building. He was the man who engineered the whole matter, and in doing so was fortunate in availing himself of the pecuniary liberality of the Crozers and of Mr. William Bucknell. Without their aid it is evident that there would have been no new building. Dr. Griffith’s connection by marriage with the Crozer family has been an inestimable blessing to the Publication Society. The site selected for the new edifice is 1420 Chestnut Street, and the structure extends from Chestnut to Sansom. Street. It is worthy of the important objects of the Society. I was placed on the Board of Managers, and for about eighteen years rendered some service, chiefly on the Committee of Publication. This Committee had a laborious work to perform in the examination and recommendation of manuscripts. The plan was for a manuscript to be referred to two members of the Committee, and if reported on favorably it was ordered to be published; if not, it was declined. If the two members differed in opinion the manuscript was given to a third brother, whose opinion decided the matter.
I think I can safely say that I read ten thousand pages of manuscript, and I often wished that some persons could write more legibly. The Publication Society has done, and is doing a great work in the publication of books and Sunday-school literature. Its issues embrace a Commentary on the whole New Testament and the tiny leaflet, with all intermediate publications. Baptists may well thank God for the operations of the Society. Their principles are ably discussed and advocated.
“The Baptist Ministers’ Conference,” of Philadelphia and vicinity is an important and interesting organization. It meets every Monday, and ministers fatigued by the labors of Sunday enjoy rest and recreation. Some brother is appointed beforehand to prepare and read an essay, which becomes the subject of discussion and criticism. The essays are generally good and the discussions edifying. Sometimes the themes written on are not very suitable and excite but little interest. Still the Conference is the means of doing much good in bringing to light views which are discussed in a fraternal spirit.
Dr. Wayland, the editor of the National Baptist, is generally present and gives in his paper a synopsis of what is said, though he does not report the wit with which he often enlivens discussions. At the expiration of my “Fifty Years in the Ministry, ” the conference was pleased to request me to prepare an essay on the subject. This I did, and read it November 21, 1881. It was a day of solemn interest to me, and the brethren said some very kind things. I copy, for the satisfaction of my children, the following:
“P. S. Henson, D. D., said: I have witnessed many scenes of interest in this room, but none so august as that we have just witnessed. I have felt as though we were looking on the face of Moses as he came down from the mount. I have heard it said that reverence for age and wisdom is decaying among us. I am glad that the spectacle of to-day puts the brand of falsehood on that libel. When I see the tribute paid to our brother, I say, ‘There is hope for us, if we keep our hearts young, as he has done.’ For myself, while I touch my hat to the young lieutenant in the ministry I take off my hat and bow in reverence to the Captain of the Lord’s host, who has served for three score years and ten. I offer the following:
“Resolved, That the Conference has listened with the deepest interest and pleasure to the review of ‘Fifty Years in the Gospel Ministry,’ which our honored brother and father, J. M. Pendleton, D. D., has read at the invitation of the Conference, a paper marked alike by wisdom, ripened experience, and good taste: we thank God who has granted to our brother the distinguishing privilege of preaching Christ for half a century, and who has crowned his labors with a rich blessing to the Church of Christ; it is our earnest prayer that the Lord will be pleased long to spare to us his counsels, his prayers, and his example of matured piety and unswerving patriotism, and that the evening of a day so full of beneficent labor may be made bright and glorious by the softened effulgence of the Sun of Righteousness.” The Minutes state that “The resolution was adopted by a unanimous rising vote.”
I may add that I would be much less than a Christian man and minister not to appreciate these kind sentiments of brethren with whom I had met for many years. May the blessings they invoked on me fall richly on their own souls. My children and grand-children will also read with interest the following letter from President Anderson:
“ROCHESTER, December 1, 1881.
“MY DEAR BROTHER:-I have just read with the greatest interest your paper reviewing your life as a pastor and teacher. I beg leave to congratulate you on this protracted and efficient service rendered to Christ and His people. The difficulties which you have overcome in your long career have given you a vigor of mind and character, which has made you respected by the entire Baptist denomination in the United States. Your fidelity to our Union in the time which so tried the souls of loyal men in the South, is worthy of remembrance for all time. Your fidelity to your convictions, whether moral, religious, or political, has won for you the profoundest respect wherever you are known. It matters little what I think of your honorable career; but I have felt an impulse which I could not restrain to write as I have; and I pray God to give you still many years of life to defend Christian truth by your voice and pen, and to illustrate it by your example. Very truly yours,
“M. B. ANDERSON.”
What I read in my “Fifty Years in the Ministry” was copied by several papers, and I have made extracts from it in other portions of these Reminiscences.
It was while I lived at Upland that I became more of an author than I ever expected to be. My first book, as I have said elsewhere, was written at Bowling Green, Ky., and bore the title, “Three Reasons Why I Am a Baptist.” In 1868 I wrote my “Church Manual” which bears the imprint of the Publication Society. It is of course gratifying to me that it has attained a circulation of more than thirty thousand copies, and that it has been translated into the German language. My best and most important book, as I think, was published in 1878. Its title is, “Christian Doctrines,” containing a “Compendium of Theology.” There is something singular as to the origin of this book. I was urged by Dr. Howard Osgood to write it, and he was almost the only person who encouraged me to undertake it. He was pleased to say that I had command of a clear, simple style, easily understood, and that I could make many Bible truths plainer than they are sometimes made by theological writers. I wished to write a book suitable to the comprehension of colored ministers in the South, and at the same time acceptable to other classes of readers. I knew that simplicity of style, while important for colored ministers, would be no objection with white ministers.
I supplied myself with materials for my task and attempted to arrange chapters and a table of contents. I was utterly unable to do this and gave up the matter for a whole year. Then I undertook it again, and the result is before the public. When the book made its appearance I asked Dr. Griffith what he would consider “a success.” He said, “If there are a thousand copies sold within a year, that will be a success; and if two thousand are sold in all time that will be a success.” Not a year ago he told me that he would have discouraged the publication if I had not been his pastor. In view of all this I need not say that it is especially gratifying to me that the circulation of the volume has reached about eleven thousand copies, and that it is used as a text-book in most of the colored Theological Institutes of the South. Nor is this all; for I have reason to know that Doctors of Divinity, when they wish to refresh their memories on theological topics, and have not time to examine larger works, are accustomed to refer to “Christian Doctrines.” The smallness of the volume, in connection, I trust, with its merits, has had something to do in making it acceptable.
In the year 1881 Dr. John W. Ross, of the United States Navy, informed me that his father, James Ross, recently dead, had left a manuscript styled, “Life and Times of Elder Reuben Ross.” His descendants were anxious for its publication, and the Doctor said it would never be done unless I would consent to edit it and see it through the press. I hesitated to assume the task, for I knew something of the labor it would impose on me, but at last I consented. The book was published in 1882, fifteen hundred copies, but the sales were slow. It was expected that it would be in great demand in certain parts of Tennessee and Kentucky, where Elder Ross had been well known. This expectation was not met. He had been dead more than twenty years, and a generation had risen up that “I knew not Joseph.” When the book had about ceased to sell, Dr. Ross authorized me to dispose of the copies remaining (about one-half) as I thought best. I gave them away to institutions and to individuals. I sent quite a number of copies by mail to Maine and Oregon and intervening States. Though my labor was all gratuitous, I am gratified to know that I have had something to do in sending the name of a good and great man down to posterity. The memory of Elder Reuben Ross is blessed.
Another book which I published is styled “Distinctive Principles of Baptists,” which is, as I have said, an enlargement of my first book, “Three Reasons Why I Am a Baptist.” The object of this work is to show wherein Baptists differ from other religious denominations and to demonstrate that their principles are identical with those of the New Testament. This book has not had so large a circulation as I expected, but I have the satisfaction of knowing that it has been translated into the Swedish language and is useful in the propagation of Baptist principles among the Swedes. No one can tell how much good may result from the circulation of one book.
In the year 1883 George W. Clark, D. D., of New Jersey, and myself were appointed to write “Brief Notes on the New Testament.” The arrangement was for Dr. Clark to furnish Notes on the Gospels, and for me to write on the remaining portion of the New Testament. We did our work, and the volume published, the cheapest of the Society, has had a satisfactory circulation. The object of Dr. Clark and myself has been to furnish, in small compass, the results of our studies on the New Testament, and we hope our labors will do good while we live and after we are dead.
In the Winter of 1884-’85 I wrote a book on “The Atonement of Christ,” which I of course think presents that subject in its proper light. It treats of the “Nature,” “Necessity,” “Value,” “Extent,” and “Results” of the Atonement, with “Concluding Addresses to Ministers of the Gospel, to Christians, to Awakened Sinners, and to Impenitent Sinners.” The New York Examiner, in noticing this volume, has been pleased to say that there is no better book of its size on this great subject. Its circulation is not what it should be.
In 1886 the Publication Society issued my last book, entitled, “Notes of Sermons,” which I wrote with a view chiefly to aid young preachers in the construction and arrangement of their discourses. Kind friends are of opinion that the themes discussed are naturally deduced from the texts, and that the language used is full of simplicity, so that everybody can understand it.
I have now referred to all that I have done in the line of authorship. In my early life nothing was farther from my thoughts than that I should ever write a book. I do not now see how I could ever have attempted it but for my large experience in writing for newspapers. I trust it is not vanity that makes me hope that some persons, while I live, and others, after I die, will thank God that I employed my pen.
During the period reviewed in this chapter two important and solemn events occurred, namely, the death of President Garfield and that of Ex-President Grant. The former was shot in July, 1881, by a disappointed office-seeker, who had a badly balanced mind, and who said that his name would go “thundering down to posterity.” I choose not to mention his name.
President Garfield was an able statesman, and began his Presidency under favorable auspices. What would have been the results of his administration, had he lived, it is impossible to say. His death shrouded the nation in gloom and called forth many expressions of sorrow.
In August, 1885, General Grant died, beloved by his friends and admired by his political enemies. His name and deeds will fill a large space on the pages of history. I have referred to him in another place.
The names, Lincoln, Garfield, and Grant, remind us that in the United States of America, citizens may rise from obscurity and poverty to the most exalted station. This fact exhausts encomium on our Republican form of government, showing that there is no barrier in the way of eligibility to the highest office.