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Evolution In My Mission Views - or -
Growth of gospel Mission Principles in my Own Mind
By Tarleton Perry Crawford, D.D., 1903


      A few years prior to his death Dr. T. P. Crawford, then residing at Tai-an-fu, China, received from Rev. J. A. Scarboro, a request for a written statement of the facts connected with the development of his views as to the Scriptural conduct of Mission Work. Mr. Scarboro’s purpose in making this request was that he might publicly use the information which he should thus gain. This book contains Dr. Crawford’s reply to Mr. Scarboro’s request. Believing that their contents would be publicly employed Dr. Crawford exercised great care in the preparation of these letters. All statements of facts, dates, etc., and all quotations were carefully verified by reference to contemporaneous correspondence, records and manuscripts.

      Since Dr. Crawford’s death, which took place at Dawson, Ga., April 7, 1902, many of his friends have urged that these letters be published exactly as they left the pen of their venerable author. This book now appears in compliance with this wish.

      It is to be regretted that a life of so many years of earnest faithful service, which furnished so many exemplifications of self-sacrificing devotion to God’s truth, should not be better understood than that of Dr. Crawford’s seems to be. An unprejudiced review of the following pages will aid the reader to a correct conception of the principles which he advocated and for the sake of which he suffered much. At least, the reader will be brought into touch and sympathy with the basal motives of a noble life.

      Although this book is not issued for controversial purposes, it is hoped that its influence may effect the church and individual life of our Baptist brotherhood. It is a protest against the manifest tendency of the age toward the centralization of power and authority in the hands of those in control of religious organizations and institutions. And, inasmuch as organizations cannot exist without control; and, inasmuch, also, as control cannot be exercised without power and authority, the book is a protest against the existence of the organizations themselves. But it is more than a protest. It is an appeal. It is an appeal for a return to the simple mission methods employed in apostolic times - for the employment of spiritual means only in the performance of spiritual work. Large gatherings, magnetic speeches, enthusiastic hearers, large collections of money etc., are the things upon which our people are coming to put their faith as evidences of the progress of Christ’s Kingdom. We are in danger of believing in these things until in the midst of our noise and enthusiasm we forget the "still, small Voice,” and fail to realize that, after all, what we are doing may be but as sounding brass or a clanging cymbal.

      These remarks will have reference both to the management of our mission work in the home land; also, to the conduct of that work upon the field. For serious dangers beset us on both sides. In the home land the tendency is toward the centralization of power and authority, as the following pages, supported by the recent troubles connected with the work in Mexico and Cuba, abundantly evidence. On the field the tendency is more and more toward the use of means, which, whether intentionally or otherwise, prove an enticement to become Christians; for example the use of money dispensed as charity, furnishing of positions, free schools often including board and clothing, hospitals, etc. These things easily draw a crowd of followers to the encouragement of the missionary who does not look too deeply, and thus furnish matter for enthusiastic reports to the home land.

      As intimated above, the appeal contained in this book is not the negative one of mere opposition. It is that ignoring the temptations and tendencies of this present time, the churches and missionaries give themselves over to the guidance and power of the Holy Spirit, and with aggressive earnestness, prosecute the work commanded by our Lord and Savior. The appeal is that each church shall assume its own proper authority and responsibility as laid upon it by God; and that the missionary shall devote himself to the work of preaching Christ Jesus and Him Crucified - wherever he may obtain a hearing and, having so done his duty, leave the results in the hands of the Holy Spirit, who alone is able to draw the sinner to Christ

      Many prayers and hopes follow this book. May God own and bless it with a large influence for good.

      Tarleton Perry Crawford was the fourth of ten children born to John and Lucretia Kemble Crawford. John Crawford was an industrious, thrifty farmer, with what was considered in those days a moderately good, common school education, and was for many years clerk of the Baptist church, of which he was a member. He was descended from the Crawford family which settled at an early day in Southern Virginia and Northern North Carolina. Lucretia Kemble was of Philadelphia Quaker parentage, and was educated partly at the Moravian school at Salem, N. C. She was a woman of unusual mental endowments, and an insatiable thirst for knowledge, which were inherited by her son Tarleton. Soon after their marriage, Mr. and Mrs. Crawford moved to Missouri, which was at that time a wilderness. They had, however, removed to Warren County, Kentucky, near Bowling Green, before the birth of Tarleton, which occurred May 8, 1821. In that sparsely populated frontier, early in the nineteenth century, school advantages were poor, and the thrifty farmer kept the seven brothers pretty busy at farm work. The mother, however, sedulously taught them, keeping regular school with them when farm work was slack, and teaching them at night and on rainy days at other seasons. Like his mother, Tarleton was a voracious reader, soon mastering all the books in his father’s limited library and borrowing all he could from neighbors.

      He was about sixteen years old at the time of his conversion. One day he was entertaining several of his brothers and a large number of playmates by preaching a mock sermon as he stood mounted upon the stump of a fallen tree, imitating some of the preachers he had heard. In the midst of his discourse, which was very amusing to most of his auditors, his brother Thomas, next older than himself, raised his hand at him and said: “Tarleton, haven’t you enough sins upon yourself already without adding the sin against the Holy Ghost, which has no forgiveness in this world nor the world to come?” This remark went to the heart of the mimic preacher, who with all dispatch climbed down from the stump and with “hair standing on end,” as he often said, went home. Unperceived he got a large Bible and going behind an open door to secrete himself, he there lay face downwards and began to search the Bible to find out what it said about the sin against the Holy Ghost. Deep conviction seized him. He lost his appetite - could not work - read only the Bible, and finally took his bed almost in despair. About a week after his brother’s rebuke, as he lay near his mother, telling her of his deep sense of sin and of his lost condition, his mother said to him: “My son, whom did Jesus come into the world to save?” “Sinners,” he replied promptly. “And are you not a sinner?” “Yes, a great sinner.” “Then He came to save you - give yourself to Him - trust Him fully and He will save you.” At this he turned himself on the bed toward the wall and suiting partly the outward action to his mental effort, he cast himself, soul and body into the arms of Jesus - to be saved by Him or to be eternally lost, if He did not save. Instantly joy filled his soul and he began to sing and praise God. He said: “I will spend my life in telling of his great mercy.”

      He seems thus to have been called to the ministry from his conversion, but temptation came afterwards, and many years passed before he finally, once for all, surrendered himself fully to this work. A great temptation was to enter the profession of law with his brother Thomas, who urged him to do so. His mind also, taking hold of a remark he heard from an old preacher, who said: “Don’t enter the ministry as long as you can keep out,” endeavored to “keep out.” But he could never entirely get rid of the conviction and finally gave himself up to be, as he said: “a poor, despised Baptist preacher.”

      At the age of nineteen, with his father’s reluctant consent and $2.50, he started out to make his own way in the world - not yet having gained his final assent to God’s call. He worked a while and then used the money thus earned in going to school, repeating the process several times. Then he taught and attended school alternately until the beginning of 1848, when he entered Union University, Murfreesboro, Tenn., being sustained in part by the West Tennessee Baptist Convention, having several years previously set out to prepare for the ministry to which he had by this time yielded himself. He was a most indefatigable student, never leaving anything until it was thoroughly mastered - qualities of persistent and patient study that characterized him through life. He graduated in 1851 at the head of his class, having already been appointed by the F. M. B., S. B. C., as a missionary for China.

      On March 12, 1851, he married Miss Martha Foster, Tuscaloosa County, Ala., and they sailed together for Shanghai on the seventh of November of the same year, by way of the Cape of Good Hope. They reached Hong Kong the last of February, 1852. After a week or two there, they sailed for Shanghai on the schooner Minna, where they landed on March 30, 1852.

      He entered upon the study of the Chinese language and of his missionary work with all the ardor of his nature, keeping watch of every turn, lest he go astray. He was aware that modern mission methods were not yet settled (at least in his own mind) and his aim from the beginning was to walk along on New Testament lines as far as he could discover them.

      He had many struggles and difficulties, and as he himself afterwards acknowledged, some ambitions. A short while before his death he said to his wife, as he had often said before: “All my ambitions were given up on that memorable day in 1859 while we were at the Female Institute in Richmond, Va., when I surrendered myself to the Lord to be His alone, to work and live only for Him. I then and there cast away every desire for selfish ends and have never since allowed ambition or a love for the favor and praise of men to come in as a factor in my work for my Master.” In after years, when he felt it his duty to differ from the great majority of the Baptist brotherhood and return, almost single-handed and alone, to what he believed to be the way of God as shown in His Word, it was often suggested, and even urged, upon him that he would thus sacrifice his popularity, and with it much of his usefulness. - that he would be kept out in the cold - that he would lose his standing in the denomination. But these considerations carried no weight with him, and he would simply reply: “I know it.” “If you take this step you may as well lay your head upon the altar,” some one said. “It is already there,” he promptly replied, and there he stood to the last, never wavering even in the darkest moment.

      In 1863, on account of failure of health in the sickly climate of Shanghai, he removed to Teng Chou, in Shantung Province, where that salubrious atmosphere soon restored him to health. Owing to the separation from the Board in late years, and the consequent desirability of laboring in a different field, he removed from Teng Chou in 1893, and in 1894 settled in Tai-An-Fu, several hundred miles inland, in the same province.

      Through all his missionary life his great aim was to give the gospel to the people and to build up self-supporting, aggressive, Scriptural churches. He was emphatically a preacher, publicly and privately presenting the claims of the gospel in season and out of season. After he had sufficiently acquired the language at Shanghai, he went daily into the native city to preach alternately at the large chapel where great congregations could be gathered every day, and at a rented room upstairs on a more quiet street. To the latter, his wife accompanied him and they took lunch in with them, or went after an early lunch, spending the remainder of the day, after the sermon, in private, individual talking, the one to the men, the other to the women. On other days they often walked out together among the numerous villages - sat down before a friendly door or on a harvest floor, and talked to the people, who crowded around them. After removing to Teng Chou, he preached on market days as well as every Sunday, keeping open the door of his street study or chapel. This study door was left open daily when he was at home and every passer-by was welcome in to hear the gospel. In Spring and Autumn he made tours among the towns and villages, having his headquarters at inns in different market towns, where he talked every night to the incoming crowds. During the day he would go from village to village, generally preaching from four to seven or eight times a day at as many towns, resting his voice while walking or riding from one to another. For several years he used a tent in Spring and Autumn, pitching it first at one town and then another, as this had some advantages over the inn, being a place he could temporarily call his own. During the Summers he went out almost every good evening, after supper, on the streets of Teng Chou, and preached to the crowds who had left their steaming dwellings for the cooler breezes outside. In Winter it was his habit to go out about noon when he could find people resting from their work, on the sunny side of the street, and preach to them there, the women, too, often coming out when they heard his voice, to listen to what he had to say. He faithfully instructed the church members, some of whom often accompanied him on his preaching tours.

      In the midst of these arduous labors he found time to write several books in English, and some in Chinese. Among those in English was the “Patriarchal Dynasties,” published in 1877. Some years afterward he prepared a larger work in the same line called “The Reign of Man,” a chronological treatise containing translations of the ancient records of Babylonia, Egypt, Assyria, Persia, India, China and the Hebrews. This he never published because he thought there was so little demand for this kind of reading in our county that the sales would not meet the cost of printing. “I could have it printed,” he said, “but that would not secure readers, and what is the use of printing volumes to lie on shelves and be devoured by worms?” This work and a smaller one are still in manuscript.

      At different periods he wrote a few hymns in English. One of these, of five stanzas, written in 1898, is inscribed on his tombstone at Dawson, Ga., as below:

“Dear Jesus, Friend above,
On Thy strong arm I lean,
In ev’ry trying scene
I cling to Thee.

“When earthly hopes depart,
And friends deceitful prove,
With unabating love
I cling to Thee,

“When darkness shrouds the sky,
And dangers thick unfold,
With faith’s unwav’ring hold
I cling to Thee.

“When death shall seize my frame,
And all around give way,
My ransom’d soul shall say,
I cling to Thee.

“Dear Jesus, Lord above,
Redeemer of my soul,
While ceaseless ages roll,
I’ll cling to Thee.”

      He also wrote “A Poem for the Churches,” containing about four hundred lines, which was published at Greenville, S. C., in 1899. His tract “Churches to the Front” and a selection of strong articles, called “The Crisis of the Churches,” both bearing on the Gospel Mission Movement, have had considerable circulation. He also wrote a number of other pamphlets.

      In Chinese he prepared several books which have had extensive circulation. A hymn book cost him more earnest study and labor than any other and has no doubt been the most useful. His first one in the Shanghai dialect was used only in manuscript by the church members, but was afterwards enlarged and published by Rev. A. B. Cabaniss, and was with its still larger successor, prepared by Dr. Yates, used by the Baptist church at Shanghai for many years. In 1870, he published a hymn book in the Teng Chou Mandarin (or court dialect) which continued to be the only hymn book used by the Baptist church there as long as he remained at that city - and for some time after. It is still used at Tai-An-Fu, Chining and Kwei Tei Fu. His last poetry in Chinese was a baptismal hymn, written in 1898.

      Soon after his arrival in Tai-An-Fu, in 1894, he had a long, severe illness which nearly cost him his life, brought on by the hardships of the removal and of the accompaniments of settling in a new, hostile place. He, however, recovered and became strong, and did much gospel work in this city and the surrounding country. In 1900, he fled with the rest of the missionaries, from the Boxers, and that Autumn continued the journey to the United States. The people in the South were, at that time, eager to hear about China, and he lectured, preached and talked beyond his strength. From one of these preaching trips in January, 1901, he returned to Greenville, S. C., where he and his wife were then domiciled, in a high fever with a severe cold which kept him in bed several days. He was never strong again, and was afterwards able to preach at intervals, only a few times. But his mind continued as active as ever, thinking along the lines of the great work that filled his heart.

      He gradually grew weaker, and was not able to return to China with Mr. and Mrs. King as he had hoped. In January, 1902, they went to some relatives at Dawson, Ga., among whom they found a comfortable home and loving hearts, where he could spend the evening of his days, not knowing how soon the end might come. When the physicians suggested that it would be well for him to get his matters all arranged, he replied: “They are all ready. I am ready to go whenever the Lord wills.” Three days before his death he wrote to his sister-in-law, in substance: “Of the details of life in heaven I know very little - but I am willing to leave them all in the hands of my Savior.”

      He continued to walk out daily, but these walks grew shorter and shorter. A few days before his death, as two little nephews came into the room with kindling for the night he said: “Thank you, boys - you will not have this to do for me many more times.” They replied: “We would like to do it every day.”

      He knew that the end was near, and all the last words were spoken between him and the one who had been his companion for fifty-one years, as they sat side by side, and read, or walked together - he now leaning upon the arm that had so long leaned upon his. Monday, April 7, 1902, about noon, they sat side by side on the veranda, talking about various matters. A friend passed along and stopped on the sidewalk for a short conversation. Almost immediately after this friend moved on, the aged man, with a slight exclamation, threw back his head, and for awhile both breath and pulse seemed to cease. They soon returned and he struggled ten or fifteen minutes for breath, when he became quiet and calmly passed away half an hour after the stroke.

      The estimate of his character as expressed by Prof. H. T. Cook of Furman University, S. C., is shared by others who were long and intimately associated with him. Prof. Cook says, (“Missionary Helper” for May, 1902) :

      “In a profound comprehension of New Testament principles and in a knowledge of their application to the needs of fallen humanity, individually and collectively, he had no superior. In his young manhood he set himself to his task as a missionary, and what he sought for in the long years was more light on the dark problem. With his Bible in his hands and his heart, and with his head and heart in his work, he closed his missionary service of half a century with views far different from those he began with; but his evolution was not away from, but back to the word of God. This was the reason of his progress far in advance of his brethren. He had reached that sunny eminence from which human contrivances and the power of the living God could be rightly compared and judged; and along with that knowledge came the power to walk in the light of the truth.

      “He was honest, intelligently honest, perseveringly honest, if he was anything. Being no mean philosopher, his thinking on religious subjects was intense, and what makes his close of life like the fall of the tall poplar or long-leaf pine was that his own rules of private life and conduct kept pace with the light of his thinking and learning. What a benediction it was to those who were favored with his presence in his ripened years, to listen to his words of instruction and wisdom, which came out in battalions from his full storehouse of experiences and memories! Some men come and go like the noonday shadows cast by a flitting bird, but into whatever heart Dr. Crawford entered, he remained, a permanent, welcome guest.

      “What a rare combination of greatness, great physical and mental strength, presided over by a strong faith in the unseen verities of another world, simple and guileless as a child, and so philanthropic that even those who acted as enemies toward him never put themselves outside the sphere of his good wishes. In no sense was he a narrow person; for while strict with himself and as narrow as the truth in his own practice, he was broad as the ocean in his love of all his Baptist brethren.

      “He could love his brethren while opposing their errors. He was too great and too original a man to be carried along by the current, and later years will appreciate the brawny man in his small canoe who kept his bearings and reached the port in spite of the times and tides.

      “Dr. Crawford is not dead! No man ever dies who lives for the truth. Such a life, in the sight of God, not to mention men of sober judgment, is worth more than rubies.

      “If near-sighted mortals could take a full view of life’s great puzzle pictures, true greatness would often be found where there appear only snatches of an aimless pen. And how many of earth’s really great ones would be seen ending their lives in apparent failure, ‘hanging on the ragged edges of the outside/ beginning at the cross and coming down to the present day!”


[Published by J. A. Scarboro, the editor, Fulton, KY; via Scanned and formatted by Jim Duvall.]

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