Reminiscences of a Long Life
By James M. Pendleton
The Winter of 1884-85 I spent in Austin, Texas, and while there wrote my book on “The Atonement of Christ.” The time passed pleasantly, for I was in the family of my son-in-law, Prof. Leslie Waggener. He and his wife did everything necessary to the comfort of my wife and myself; and their seven children contributed not a little to our pleasure.
Austin, the capital of the State, is a beautiful place of fifteen thousand inhabitants, on the Colorado River. It does not appear to advantage from every point; but when I went into the University building and, from the third story, took in all the surroundings, I pronounced it the most beautiful city I ever saw, nor have I changed my opinion. It will be gratifying to some for me to say that Bowling Green, Kentucky, as it appears, with its environment, from its reservoir is, in my judgment, next to Austin in beauty. What I think of the two places is, however, a matter of little importance. While I was in Austin, that is in the Spring of 1885, I witnessed the laying of the corner-stone of the State House. The ceremony attracted a large crowd. The building is now complete, and is thought superior to any State Capitol in the Union. Texas may well be proud of it.
In April, 1885, the energetic Dr. O. C. Pope arranged and superintended an excursion to Monterey, to attend the dedication of the Baptist meeting-house in that city. This was the first house of worship erected by Baptists in the Republic of Mexico. I was in the excursion, and Dr. Pope generously met all the expense incident to my going, and I also went by request of Dr. H. L. Morehouse, Corresponding Secretary of the American Baptist Home Mission Society.
I was greatly disappointed on the trip when I reached Laredo and saw the historic river Rio Grande. I was looking for a large stream, not as wide as the Mississippi, but comparable to the Ohio or the Cumberland. It is much smaller than the Cumberland at Nashville. Soon after leaving the Rio Grande I thought we would encounter terrific storms, for very dark clouds seemed to be rising in different directions. I learned that what I thought clouds were dark mountains, and I saw neither storm nor rain in Mexico.
Rev. Thomas M. Westrup, pastor of the church in Monterey, arranged for the dedication services, which were full of interest. Dr. Powell preached the sermon in Spanish, not ten words of which did I understand. Several *of the visiting brethren made addresses in English, which were translated by Mr. Westrup into Spanish. My topic was, “Through Christ to the Church,” and when I spoke a sentence I paused, and Mr. W. translated it. I was told afterward that a Presbyterian Missionary criticised what I said; but I still think that Baptists alone can truly say, “Through Christ to the Church.” Pedobaptist denominations must say, “Through the Church to Christ.”
Dr. W. C. Wilkinson, of Tarrytown, New York, was present at the dedication, and we, having been sent to the same hotel, occupied the same room. I have ever since regarded this as a very fortunate thing for me. I thus became acquainted with a very intelligent Christian gentleman, from whom, if I did not learn many things, it was my fault. Dr. Wilkinson has acted a prominent part in the preparation of a number of volumes for the Chautauqua course of reading, and he has an enviable place in the republic of letters.
We of course heard a good deal about the capture of Monterey by General Taylor’s forces in the Mexican War, and some memorable places were pointed out. The excursion made a visit of a few hours to Saltillo, the headquarters of Dr. Powell’s missionary operations. Everything seemed hopeful and prophetic of success.
The civilization of Mexico is strikingly different from that of the United States. The houses are different, and their flat roofs give them an Oriental appearance. In leaving Monterey I felt almost as if I were leaving some city in Syria. My imagination was at work, as I never saw Syria. Returning from Mexico to Austin, I enjoyed for a few days the company of kindred and friends, among whom were Dr. William Howard, pastor of the church, and Drs. J. B. Link and O. C. Pope, editors of “The Texas Baptist Herald.”
Early in May I left Austin with my wife for Murfreesboro, Tennessee, where we spent the Summer with Mr. and Mrs. Waters, and the next Winter with Mr. and Mrs. Proctor, Bowling Green, Ky. Here I wrote my last book, “Notes of Sermons,” which was published during the year 1886. It has had a respectable circulation. In January of this year there was at Bowling Green the coldest weather I ever felt. That is to say, the thermometer was twenty degrees below zero, and the snow was twenty-seven inches deep. I had never seen the thermometer so low, by a number of degrees, nor the snow so deep.
In May of this year we returned to Pennsylvania, spent the Summer with our son and family, and saw many old friends. In the absence of the pastor, Rev. Willard H. Robinson, I preached for the First Baptist Church, West Philadelphia, five Sundays, and was frequently at the Minister’s Conference. In November, 1886, we returned to Austin and passed the Winter very pleasantly.
The Summer of 1887 found us again at Murfreesboro, where we remained till we went to the Jubilee meeting at Louisville, Kentucky, in October. Here an explanation is necessary. The General Association of Baptists was formed at Louisville, October 20, 1837, and at the approach of its fiftieth year, it was decided to hold a Jubilee October 20, 1887. The arrangement was for all who were Messengers in 1837, to be guests of the Association at the Jubilee. The number of survivors was small, namely, J. L. Burrows, E. G. Berry, George Robertson, M. W. Sherrill, John Handsborough, and myself. We only had lived through the fifty years that had just expired.
The meeting was held in the Walnut-street Church, and Rev. Green Clay Smith presided. Dr. John A. Broadus made an address of welcome, to which it was expected that Dr. T. G. Keen would respond, but he had died the month before. The response was therefore made by Dr. Henry McDonald, of Atlanta, Georgia, formerly a resident of Kentucky. Instructive papers were read by Drs. J. H. Spencer, William M. Pratt, D. Dowden, J. L. Burrows, and W. H. Felix; and interesting addresses were made by Drs. A. D. Sears, R. M. Dudley, George C. Lorimer, and Brother Thomas C. Bell. I had been appointed to prepare and read a paper on “The Condition of the Baptist Cause in Kentucky in 1837.” It was rather adventurous in me at the close of my paper to refer, as I did, to my wife, and I felt some anxiety about the matter. When, however, the Moderator and Dr. Broadus told me I was justifiable, I was relieved. Another brother said that it would not do for every preacher thus to refer to his wife, but that in this case “there was a WOMAN behind what was said.” I regarded this as a high compliment. I quote in part what I read, as follows:
“She, the wife of my young manhood, of my middle age, and of my old age, is here to-day to enjoy these exercises. Deprived of sight, she can only hear your voices. How glad she would be to see your faces, and specially the face of the Walnut-street pastor, whose father and mother she so much admired and loved thirty years ago. But it cannot be. Still, there is comfort unspeakable in the thought that there is in reserve what the ‘old theologians’ called the ‘beatific vision.’ The Saints are to ‘see God:’ they are to serve Him and ‘see His face.’ They are to behold the Lamb in the midst of the throne, His head once crowned with thorns, now wearing a crown of glory brighter than the sun; His hands, once stretched forth in quivering agony on the Cross, now swaying the scepter of universal empire, while all the hosts of heaven shout His praise. To see Him of Calvary enthroned in majesty. what a vision will that be! How will it compensate for all the disabilities and privations of physical blindness!”
When I read this, it was grateful to my feelings to witness the sympathetic emotion excited in the audience.
After the Jubilee was over we went to Bowling Green, where we staid till the 13th of March, 1888, the time of our “Golden Wedding.” This day would probably have passed unnoticed if the editor of the Western Recorder, Dr. T. T. Eaton, had not suggested the propriety of celebrating it. Arrangements were made for its celebration. Cards of invitation were sent to many friends, and more than a hundred responsive letters were received. The celebration occurred in the Baptist church in Bowling Green. Prayer was offered by the pastor, Rev. M. M. Riley, and the opening address was made by Dr. Eaton. In referring to other days at Murfreesboro, when his parents were there, his feelings became so much excited as to impede his utterance and to make it evident to all that he could not say what he intended to say. His broken accents and his silence were eloquent. Inability to speak is sometimes more effective than speech.
I had to respond, and the following is the substance of what I said:
I am embarrassed, and yet much obliged by the kind things Dr. Eaton has said. It is appropriate that the son of Joseph R. and E. X. Eaton should speak on this occasion. They were our friends of other years, and we cannot better express our estimate of them than by saving that when they died earth was impoverished and heaven enriched. We are gratified that their son is here to contribute so much to the interest and pleasure of this fiftieth anniversary of our married life.
Fifty years ago the two persons most deeply interested in this occasion had no expectation of living to see this hour. We did not enjoy vigorous health and did not anticipate long life. God has been pleased to disappoint us, and we can look back to twenty years spent here, five in Tennessee, three in Ohio, and eighteen in Pennsylvania. The last four years have been spent in four States in which our four children live.
In looking back for half a century we see a thousand things to be thankful for. We have found comparatively few thorns in our pathway and many beautiful flowers. Over our heads birds of bright plumage have sung their sweet songs. With delight we have heard these songs, though one of us in recent years has not been able to see the lovely flowers. But there is no murmuring on this account. We prefer to think of our mercies rather than of our privations and afflictions. We have found life a blessing, not a curse; a joy, not a sorrow; a privilege, not a misfortune; a benediction, not a calamity. For all this we give devout thanks to God; nor are we less thankful that we have been permitted to tread together the path of life for fifty happy years. We know that only a short space of time is before us, but from this fact we extract the precious consolation that when one of us is called away, the survivor will have to weep only a little while, a very little while, at the grave of the dead. Yes, we must both die, but we do not wish our children, grand-children, and friends to think of us as dead, but rather as having gone from the land of the dead to the land of the living. Through riches of grace in Christ Jesus the Lord we expect a home in the bright realms of immortal glory.
Now, dearest one, it is fitting that I speak a word to you. There is no earthly object so dear to my heart. You are not as you were fifty years ago to-night. Then with elastic step you walked with me to the marriage altar, and we pledged to each other our vows of loyalty and love. I do not recognize that elastic step now. Then your face was fresh and blooming; now the freshness and bloom are gone, and wrinkles have taken their place, while gray hairs adorn your head. Then, and forty-six years afterward, the expression of your mild blue eyes was always a benediction; now that expression is no longer seen, for blindness has taken the place of sight.
But, with these changes in you, my love has not changed. Bodily affliction has not eclipsed the intellectual and spiritual excellences of your character. You are the same to me, and no kiss during half a century has been more deeply expressive of my love than the one I now give you.
At the close of my remarks, the program required a song from the choir; but deep feeling made music impossible, and not a note was heard. I do not know how it was, but it was stated in a paper the next day, that when I kissed my wife, the audience was dissolved in tears.