Reminiscences of a Long Life
By James M. Pendleton
In August, 1882, Upland was made sad by the death of Mrs. John P. Crozer, who, as she was born in the year 1800, had reached her four score years. She was a remarkable woman, with sound judgment and a large measure of good sense. In all the relations of life she acted well her part. As a wife her devotion to her husband was beautiful, and he felt her influence in amassing his fortune. He ever consulted her as his safest counselor. As a mother she was loving and judicious in training her children, and they thought no other mother equal to her. They were devoted to her while she lived, and her death intensified their reverence for her character. Their memories have a fond place for her. As a neighbor she was kind, and gave many proofs of her thoughtful consideration. She was dignified and ladylike in her manners, commanding the respect of all who knew her. Her Christian character was lovely in youth, in middle age, and supremely lovely in her old age. For many years she taught the large infant class in the Upland Sunday-school, and “even down to old age” she was present at the prayer-meetings and at the public services on the Lord’s day. During the years of her widowhood she gave thousands and tens of thousands of dollars to benevolent objects. I have known no woman her equal in pecuniary liberality.
Mrs. Croxer’s death was preceded by protracted and painful disease, but her mind was clear and peaceful. I saw her not long before her death; it was Sunday morning, and I repeated the text I was going to preach from, “These things I have spoken unto you, that in Me ye might have peace.” (John xvi:33.) She added, “I have that peace,” and these words are on her tombstone. Her funeral was largely attended on a beautiful Saturday afternoon; remarks were made by Dr. Bliss and others, and the sermon by the pastor the next day was commemorative of her life and character. It was from Rev. xiv:13: “Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord,” etc.
I gratefully recognize my obligations to Mrs. Crozer, for she had much to do in making my Upland pastorate of eighteen years a pleasure and a joy. Her long life, full of good deeds, is ended, and she rests by her loved one. Being for many years united in the busy activities of life, they now have the silent companionship of the grave. This concerns their bodies only, and we think of their spirits as among “the spirits of just men made perfect.”
In the month of June, 1883, I resigned my pastorate. I knew that judicious ministers had expressed the opinion that a man should not be pastor after reaching seventy years of age. I had transcended the limit by nearly two years, but I feel no special regret that my resignation did not bear an earlier date, in view of the fact that, after I had reached my “three score years and ten,” there was a quiet revival, in which I baptized more than forty persons.
The following is my letter of resignation:
TO THE UPLAND BAPTIST CHURCH:
Dear Brethren and Sisters – I now have to perform one of the most painful duties of my life. I have more than reached my “three score years and ten,” and the weakness of old age is coming on me. You need as a pastor a man of greater physical, mental and spiritual vigor, and I therefore resign my pastorate, the resignation to take effect the last of October. I fix on this rather remote date that you may have ample time to select my successor, and that I may complete eighteen years of service among you. I ask that my resignation be quietly accepted, and that no “resolutions” be passed. I know that your kind feelings for me will not permit you to vote resolutions of censure, and I have done nothing which calls for resolutions of commendation. I leave you as I came among you, nothing but a poor sinner, “saved by grace.” I trust you will cast the mantle of your charity over the many imperfections you have seen in me, and if my ministry has been a blessing to any of you, to God belongs the glory.
I have received uniform kindness at your hands, and if any one of you has done or said anything with a view to hurt my feelings, I have never known it. Whatever becomes of me in the short space of life that remains to me, I shall ever rejoice in your prosperity, and my prayer is that God will give you in my successor a better man, a better Christian, a better minister. My dear brethren and sisters, the Lord abundantly bless you, and grant you the consolations of that gospel which, for nearly a score of years, I have preached to you. As your names come into mind tears come into my eyes, and you will please think of these tears as proofs of a love which words cannot express. Most affectionately yours in the Lord,
J. M. PENDLETON.
The resignation was accepted, and in spite of my request that it should not be so, commendatory resolutions were adopted.
The months passed away, and the fourth Sunday in October came. What a day was that – a day of sadness and sorrow to my heart. I number it with the days when I saw my father and my mother buried, and heard of the death of my first-born son. Ties were to be broken that touched the nerve of the heart. It was painful to leave the friends of my love, but I say without hesitation that the supreme sorrow of that day grew out of the fact that I was closing my work in the ministry of the gospel. I knew that in future I could only expect to preach occasionally; for not many congregations are willing to hear an old man. I was therefore obliged to consider my work of preaching virtually done. This thought with its excruciating power agitated my soul. Language was not invented to express the feelings of my heart on that day of sorrow. No miser ever loved his gold more than I have loved my work of preaching. This love has not wavered for more than half a century. I have not seen the day during that time when, if the option had been given me to go over life again, I would have chosen any other calling but that of a minister of God. I think I have proved my love for my work. For the first twenty-five years of my ministry my salary ranged from two hundred to six hundred and fifty dollars, and often I had to study, as hard as I studied theology, how to meet my pecuniary obligations, knowing that nothing but positive immorality more cripples a minister’s usefulness than debt. I preached regularly during those twenty-five years when my support was a scanty one; I have preached since when my support has been ample; and I preached during the war with no prospect of support. The greater part of my ministerial life, my salary did not enable me to educate a child or to bury a child, though I did both in another way. I mention these things to emphasize my love of the work of preaching the gospel of the grace of God. In view of all this, it is not strange that my heart was crushed with sorrow when I preached for the last time as pastor at Upland. It seemed that the burden resting on me would sink me into the earth. But I remembered the words, “Cast thy burden on the Lord, and He shall sustain thee.” (Psalm lv:22.) I think I have often proved the truth of the declaration, “He shall sustain thee.” It is not said what will become of the burden, and this is a matter of little consequence, while it is said, “He shall sustain THEE.”
I survived the day of sorrow and the next day departed, bearing with me the generous gifts of the Crozer family, to whom I shall ever feel my indebtedness. My wife and I, with sad hearts, left dear Upland for Nashville, Tennessee, to spend the approaching winter with our son-in-law, Rev. James Waters. After reaching there, one of the first things I did was to baptize three of my grand-daughters into the fellowship of the Edgefield Baptist Church, of which Rev. Wm. Henry Strickland was then pastor. The ordinance was administered in the presence of a large and deeply interested congregation. I remember well my feelings in saying to the eldest of the three, “My grand-daughter in the flesh, but my sister in the Lord, I baptize thee,” etc. Not often does a grand-father enjoy such a privilege as this. I spent the winter chiefly in writing my “Brief Notes on the New Testament,” and finished them March 4, 1884. As I began the work on the patriotic 4th of July, I completed it in precisely eight months. As my health was feeble, and as I had heard of the death of several brethren in Philadelphia, I began to fear that I might die leaving my task unfinished. I therefore wrote with great industry and energy, even to the disadvantage of my health.
There was another sorrow before me. My wife’s eyes were failing, and it was necessary to see an optician who, we had no doubt, could furnish suitable glasses. The optician advised that an oculist be consulted, and to our dismay he, on examination, said that there was a cataract on each eye. The information penetrated the depths of our hearts and excited the deepest grief. My wife soon became tranquil and expressed her gratitude to God that the affliction had not come on her during my pastorate. Having been a Sunday-school teacher for more than fifty years, she took a class in the Edgefield school and taught for some weeks before the class knew she was blind. Her way of preparation was to have one of her grand-daughters, Lila Belle, read over the lessons to her, and then she was competent to teach. What woman of a thousand would, in these circumstances, have persevered in attending a Sunday-school ? I record this fact to her credit and for the gratification of her children and grand-children. In 1885 we made a visit to Professor Irby and family in Jackson, Tennessee. Dr. Savage, now of Vanderbilt University, was recommended to us as an accomplished oculist. He removed the cataract from the left eye, thinking that the more hopeful of the two. He was very skillful, and everything seemed to be going on well, but inflammation set in and the eye was lost. We have never attached the least blame to Dr. Savage. In 1888 we were advised to engage Dr. Risley, of the Pennsylvania University, to remove the cataract from the other eye. He did so and pronounced the healing process “perfect.” The eye appeared as natural as ever, but the sight did not return. There is only a glimmer of light which makes a little difference between day and night, but does not avail to the recognition of the face of the dearest friend. The Doctor thinks there is some weakness in the eye, the cause of which cannot be found out. Thus hope is gone, and she who once gazed with delight on the works of nature and of art will never see them again. In this dark providence we find the only recipe for comfort in the words of Jesus: “Even so, Father; for so it seemed good in thy sight.”
The wise man said, and the foolish man knows it, “Truly light is sweet, and it is a pleasant thing for the eyes to behold the sun.” No one enjoys the pleasures of vision more than would my wife, if it were the Lord’s will, but I have heard from her no murmuring word on account of the deprivation she suffers. Her spiritual vision seems more distinct and clear, and I trust that “beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, she will be changed into the same image from glory to glory, even as by the Spirit of the Lord.”
It would be an unpardonable omission in these Reminiscences if I did not record my high appreciation of my wife. She has been more than all the world to me. In times of prosperity and times of adversity, in days of joy and days of sorrow, I have ever heard her voice encouraging and blessing me. We have trodden together the path of life for more than half a century, and I trust that we shall walk the streets of the New Jerusalem together. I shall have more to say of her when I refer to our “Golden Wedding.”