IN the month of January, 1826, when I was sixteen years and six months old, I first met Nathaniel Macon Crawford, then a boy perhaps eighteen months younger than myself. The place of meeting was Franklin College (now the State University).
He entered college with a prestige that no other student at that time could claim. He was the son of Hon. William H. Crawford, who was Georgia's great statesman - the idol of the party which then dominated the politics of Georgia. And it so happened that in 1826 a very large majority of the young men in college, though for the most part too young to vote, were in sympathy with that party. Hence when young Crawford came among them as a fellow student, they received him gladly, even proudly.
Such a reception with such a prestige as his would have turned the head and made a fool of many a youth. But it had no effect on N. M. Crawford. He did not seem to know that there was such a thing as prestige. I remember his very first recitation. It was in geometry. When it came his turn to go to the blackboard, he rose modestly, but with perfect self-possession, and walked across the room to where the board stood, picked up the chalk and drew the diagram. Then, returning to his seat, he faced the blackboard and proceeded with the demonstration. He went through with unerring accuracy. As he reached the Q. E. D., the professor passed on to the next in order, evidently charmed with the new-comer. All his recitations were of like character. It was soon apparent that he ranked among the best members of the class.
His college life was a model of propriety. His father had charged him when he was about to leave his home to this effect: "My son, when you enter college I want you to remember that you will become subject to its laws. I want you to be a law-abiding student. You know that I have allowed you and your brothers and sisters here at home to play certain games of cards; but at college you will find that such games are strictly prohibited and I want you to make up your mind to abstain from card-playing while you are in college." This timely admonition was faithfully observed by his son. Not only so, he generalized the principle. He was able to see that the principle applied with equal force to all the rules of the institution. Hence it came to pass that through his whole course, he never had a demerit mark scored against him.
When the class had passed its final examination in 1829, we were called before the faculty to hear of the awards which they had made of the commencement honors. Our venerable president, Doctor Waddell, after a few appropriate remarks, proceeded to read the decisions which the faculty had reached. The class numbered twenty-one young men. We were all waiting with intense interest. When the first announcement was made saying, "We have awarded the first honor to Nathaniel Macon Crawford," the class spontaneously gave a hearty and cordial applause. There was one valedictorian who stood among his classmates untouched by a breath of envy.
Young Crawford's first step in life was to prepare himself for the legal profession. This he did, and was admitted to the bar. But I am not sure that he ever entered upon the practice of that profession.
Nearly nine years after we had graduated, I became the pastor of the Baptist church in Milledgeville. And there I found N. M. Crawford acting as one of the clerks in the executive department, under the administration of Governor Gilmer. Our acquaintance was soon renewed and we enjoyed for two years many pleasant interviews. In the meantime Oglethorpe University was established in the village of Midway, only two miles south of Milledgeville, and Mr. Crawford was elected professor of mathematics in that institution.
His mother was a Presbyterian and he had been raised in that faith, but as yet he had manifested no concern about his own salvation. In his early years he would often use profane language and he seemed to be wholly indifferent to the subject of religion. But these facts serve to give an additional interest to the story of his conversion.
There was a protracted meeting going on in Milledgeville. One evening after the usual service an invitation was given to those who felt willing to seek the Lord to come forward to the front seat. While the people were singing I was standing near the pulpit looking over the large audience. I saw Professor Crawford, my friend and classmate, sitting far down the aisle. My heart prompted me to go to him. When I came near, I took his hand and said: "Macon, will you not go with me to the altar and let us pray for you?" Rising promptly from his seat he went with me to the front and there we kneeled together in prayer. When the exercises were over, I learned from him to my surprise and yet to my great joy that very recently he had obtained a hope in Jesus. He told me briefly some of his experiences. He told me enough to give me confidence that he had become a new creature in Christ Jesus.
Not long afterwards he and I were again together. During our walk, I said to him: "Macon, take the New Testament and read it through and when you come to the verse that clearly teaches infant baptism, turn down the leaf and when you see me again show me the verse, and I will give you five hundred dollars." He smiled at my words but made no reply. I did not press him further, for I took it for granted that he had made up his mind to join the Presbyterian church, and this purpose he soon accomplished.
While living in Midway, he found a Baptist lady who won his love and it was my privilege to unite them in marriage. A few years later he resigned his seat in Oglethorpe University, and for a short time took his family to the old homestead at Woodlawn, where his mother was then residing. It was at Woodlawn that he became a Baptist. He and his wife had lived together in perfect harmony in Christian fellowship, though of different churches. But now he found himself a father and he knew that the rules of his church required him to have his children baptized. But he knew also that his wife was opposed to it.
Here was a dilemma. To settle it he sought for guidance in the New Testament. His conscientious mind could not be satisfied with anything less than divine authority for his decision. It may be he remembered the challenge which I had given in Milledgeville. Like many others who had ventured upon the same line of investigation, he failed to find the authority which he sought. At once he went to his wife and to her surprise informed her that he had concluded to join the Baptist church.
Accordingly he was soon baptized by Rev. B. M. Sanders into the Antioch Church, of Oglethorpe County. And not long afterwards he was ordained to the Baptist ministry.
Then began his career as a Georgia Baptist. His public life among us was truly brilliant, but it was so recent and is so well remembered by thousands of living Baptists, that I need not give its history in all its details. It must suffice to say that after holding a few important pastorates first in Georgia and then one in Charleston, South Carolina, he was elected to the chair of theology in Mercer University, and entered upon his duties in that institution in January, 1847. It was here he did his most valuable work. It was here he developed his full character as a scholar of profound and extensive learning, as a Christian of deep and fervent piety, and as a man of spotless integrity, adorned -with the most charming social virtues and with a charity that was as wide as the world.
It was at Mercer University that he first met the question concerning Christian paradoxes. He never lost sight of the subject till at length he added that most valuable book, "Christian Paradoxes," to the religious literature of the present century. It deserves to be in every religious library.
Doctor Crawford lived only threescore years. When he reached his sixtieth birthday he said to some of his friends that he would not, if he could, add ten years to his life, preferring rather to leave himself wholly in the hands of God. He could speak of his own death with perfect cheerfulness, for the everlasting arms were around him. His death was sad only to his weeping friends; to himself it was rather like a bridal day.
===========[Shaler Granby Hillyer, Reminiscences of Georgia Baptists, 1902, pp.141-46. Scanned and formatted by Jim Duvall.]
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