The ancient Israelites were commanded to "hallow the fiftieth year." It was with them an important division of time preceded by "seven weeks of years." Seven was the perfect number, and "seven Sabbaths of years" were forty and nine years. Then "the trumpet of the Jubilee" was "to sound on the tenth day of the seventh month;" and it is added, "In the day of atonement shall ye make the trumpet sound throughout all your land." (See Leviticus, 25th chapter.)
We are not required to hallow the fiftieth year more than any other year. There is no injunction on the Baptist Israel of Kentucky to do this; but the expiration of half a century from the formation of the General Association suggests the propriety of indulging reminiscences, so as to correct mistakes and form wiser purposes for the future.
The topic assigned me for discussion on this occasion is The Condition of the Baptist Cause in Kentucky in 1837.
The imperfection of my knowledge renders it certain that I shall not treat the subject with adequate justice; but it "is required of a man according to that he hath, and not according to that he hath not." Having never kept a diary, I shall have to go to the storehouse of memory and see what is laid up there.
It was in the first third of this century that a few of our ministers in this State began to feel the importance of a closer union among the churches. Of these ministers, Dr. Silas M. Noel, of Frankfort, and Rev. John S. Willson, of Elkton, were most prominent. The former initiated the first movement toward a general union, and the latter seconded it. For some years little was done. The truth is, there was much of the anti-mission spirit in the churches, and that spirit was fostered by what, in no offensive sense; I am obliged to call Campbellism. Rev. Alexander Campbell, of Virginia, had a "Debate on Baptism," in the year 1823, with Rev. W. L. M'Calla, a Presbyterian minister. The debate took place at, the village of Washington,
Mason County, near Maysville. Mr. Campbell made such a display of controversial learning and ability as the Baptists of the State had known nothing of before. They at once regarded him as their champion, and were disposed to consider favorably whatever views he presented. Very soon after the debate he began the publication of a monthly paper called The Christian Baptist, which he issued for six years, and it then became The Millennial Harbinger. Strange to say, Mr. Campbell, with all his intelligence, published many things in The Christian Baptist against missions, colleges, Sunday-schools, paying preachers, etc. He changed his theory and practice on these matters afterward; but in the early part of his editorial career he satirized with great severity the subjects I have named. His satire was an indirect appeal to the covetous principle, and many Baptists held their purse-strings tighter than ever, and the cause of missions, for the time, received in various places a staggering blow.
Messrs. Noel and Willson, with others, felt that something should be done to supply the destitute parts of the State with the preaching of the gospel. In furtherance of this object, the Kentucky Baptist Convention was organized at Bardstown in March, 1832. Dr. Noel was chosen moderator, and the number of messengers was only thirty-seven. Truly this was, in one sense, "the day of small things," but, in another sense, it was the day of great things. It was the planting of a grain of mustard seed which germinated slowly and grew slowly in its early years, but which has now become a tree of respectable size, and destined, as we trust, at no distant day to send out its branches so that all parts of the State may enjoy its grateful shade.
From the Constitution adopted at Bardstown, we learn that the chief functions of the Convention were to "devise and execute plans for supplying destitute churches and neighborhoods with the gospel of Christ," to "disburse moneys contributed by the churches and Associations in the manner specified by the contributors, provided special instructions are sent, and to send forth men of tried integrity and usefulness to preach the gospel."
The Convention began its work with less than two hundred dollars in its treasury, and if all the Baptist ministers in the State had been its friends the number would not have been much in excess of two hundred, while the churches were not far from five hundred, and the members not much more than thirty-five thousand. The difficulty of bringing these comparatively small numbers into harmonious co-operation was much greater than most persons can now easily imagine. Many brethren were, of course, suspicious of interference with the independence of the
churches, and many others knew that, as the purposes of the Convention could not be carried into effect without money; the best way to keep their money was to stand aloof. There were doctrinal differences among ministers. Some in the upper part of the State were, probably, too Calvinistic, and some in the Green River section had Arminian proclivities. Brethren were afraid of one another, and very jealous for the interests of orthodoxy as held by themselves. Each minister believed himself orthodox, and always looked away from himself to find heterodoxy, and very often found what he looked for. In short, the state of things was by no means promising.
The Convention having been formed at Bardstown, adjourned to meet at New Castle in October, 1832. Here my personal knowledge of the Convention begins. Rev. John S. Willson wished me to go with him to New Castle, and we went on horseback, he from Todd County, and I from Christian. He had appointments to preach on the way, at Russellville, Bowling Green, Mumfordville, Elizabethtown, Bardstown, Bloomfield, and Shelbyville. The appointments were for night, though there was an exception at Bardstown. The preaching was to be there at 11 o'clock in the day. The distance from Elizabethtown being twenty-five miles, we started before day, at 3 o'clock, with the purpose of reaching Bardstown in good time, We did reach there; but very soon after I behaved badly -- I fainted; and if my memory serves me, the experience through which I passed was not exhilarating.
The Convention at New Castle was not numerously attended, but some choice spirits were there. I saw Dr. Noel, a fine looking man, somewhat inclined to corpulency, and as competent to say a good deal in few words as almost any man I have seen; Dr. George W. Eaton, then of the Faculty of Georgetown College, was there, and said eloquent things, Dr. Ryland T. Dillard was present, a fine specimen of manly beauty, and the words he spoke were words of wisdom. A. few other ministers were there, among whom was Blackburn, of Woodford County; but they have all passed away. I am, so far as I know, the only man living who was at the Convention at New Castle in 1832.
In May, 1833, the annual meeting of the Convention was held in Lexington, and the introductory sermon was preached by Rev. George Waller. The attendance was small, only twenty-six messengers present. Ninety weeks of missionary labor were reported by ten missionaries who had baptized over four hundred persons. Receipts of money during the year amounted to nearly six hundred dollars. There was an adjourned meeting of the
Convention at Russellville in October of the same year, though Dr. Spencer in his History does not refer to it. I remember well Rev. William Warder was moderator, and the ministers present were George Waller, John S. Willson, William C. Warfield, Robert T. Anderson, Daniel S. Colgan, and others. Of the laymen present, there was no better specimen of a Christian gentleman than Dr. A. Webber, of Hopkinsville.
The Convention transacted very little business, but passed a number of resolutions. It has ever been easy to resolve.
The second annual meeting of the Convention was held in Louisville, October, 1834. Rev. Alfred Bennett, of New York, agent of the old Triennial Convention for Foreign Missions, preached, by request, the introductory sermon. The discreditable fact can not be denied, that fifteen messengers only were present. The receipts of the year were a little more than half as large as those of the preceding year. This was discouraging; but it was more discouraging that such men of God as David Thurman, Herbert Waggener, J. H. L. Moorman, and David Kelley had fallen victims to cholera. The last two were missionaries, and their death cast sadness and gloom over the Convention. The prayer of the Psalmist was appropriate, "Help, Lord, for the godly man ceaseth."
The Convention met, by adjournment, at Frankfort, in January, 1835. It was a small meeting. There were present ten ministers and seven laymen. A sermon introductory to business was preached by Rev. John S. Willson, and a committee, appointed at the annual meeting in October, 1834, "to devise a more efficient plan of itinerant preaching," made a long report. This committee consisted of John S. Willson, George Waller, U. B. Chambers, John Scott, Silas M. Noel, and Samuel Haycraft. The report is rather a strange paper, and what it says about "subordination and coincidence in the arrangements for systematic labor" defies the comprehension of ordinary mortals. It was referred to by John Stevens, editor of The Baptist Advocate, of Cincinnati, as an "able report." It was written by Willson, and concurred in by the other members of the committee; and while Willson was exceedingly brilliant as an exhorter; he was not very happy as a writer.
The report recommended that the State be divided into three parts, to be styled Eastern, Middle, and Western, and that a "Helping Evangelist" be appointed for each division. There was to be in each division what was called the "Evangelical Band" (probably evangelistic was meant), and this, "Band" was to be aided by the "Helping Evangelist," and to make report to him.
The report, though it seems to have in it some of the visionary element, was adopted by the Convention, and three "Helping Evangelists" were elected by private ballot, namely, William C. Buck for the Eastern, George Waller for the Middle, and William C. Warfield for the Western Division. It is not probable that these brethren accepted the places offered them: If they did, so far as we know, they made no report of their work. Indeed, it is almost certain that they saw, on reflection, that they were clothed with powers, the exercise of which would not be agreeable to ministers or churches.
The third annual meeting of the Convention was held in Louisville in October, 1835. It met with the First Church, on Fifth and Green streets. It was a time of sadness and sorrow. The pastor, the beloved John S. Willson had died the preceding August, and the church made great lamentation over him. He was followed to his grave by a loving band of sincere mourners. It was arranged for Dr. Noel to preach a funeral sermon on Sunday morning of the Convention. His text was Luke xii, 37: "Blessed are those servants whom the lord when he cometh shall find watching."
I remember well the majestic form of the preacher, and how his deep emotion was indicated, by his quivering lip and tearful eye. He pronounced a deserved eulogy on the departed, whom, he had learned to love with warm affection in a revival at Shelbyville, a few months before. The love was mutual, for Willson had written to me what he thought of Noel.
There was but little business done at this meeting of the Convention, and there was not much to justify, the hope that the organization would ever accomplish a great deal. The Convention, however, held an adjourned meeting at Greensburg in May, 1836; and in the meantime the stroke of death had fallen on William C. Warfield and Walter Warder, whose brother William died, in August following. Thus the workers were ceasing, while the work demanded earnest prosecution. Prospects were gloomy, and the friends of Zion wept in secret places.
If there was an annual meeting of the Convention in October, 1836, it has escaped my memory, and Dr. Spencer makes no reference to it in his History. This, however, does not absolutely prove that the Convention did not meet; for Dr. Spencer does not mention the meeting at Louisville in October, 1835, and the one at Greensburg in May, 1836. This shows how difficult it is not to overlook some historical facts; for who could do better than the historian of Kentucky Baptists has done?
The probability is that, at the time to which I refer, there
was a feeling of depression among many of the brethren, and that they despaired of accomplishing through the Convention what they desired. Things did not work well, and it was thought best to change the plan of operation. Kentucky Baptists have done a good deal of planning, and Dr. J. M. Peck once said to me, "The difficulty with the Kentucky brethren is that they can not get a plan to work itself." There was more truth than comfort in this statement. No plan could ever be found that would work itself in an impersonal way, and hence there were modifications of plans. The policy of having "Helping Evangelists" and "Evangelical Bands" was not at all satisfactory, and possibly hastened the death of the Convention. Then, too, the very name Convention was objected to by many. The old brethren had ever been familiar with Associations, and they liked the name. The term Convention did not sound well in their ears, for they connected it with politics. Formerly, candidates for the Presidency were nominated by congressional caucuses and State legislatures; but in 1831national conventions were inaugurated, and they continue to this day. Kentucky's most illustrious son, Henry Clay, was nominated for the Presidency in such a convention at Baltimore, December 12, 1831.
As the term convention, in its application to religious organizations, was not acceptable to some brethren, it was understood, by a sort of common consent, that it should be superseded by the familiar word association. To an Association intended to embrace the State, the epithet General must be applied to distinguish it from District Associations. "A call was made on the churches and the District Associations to send messengers" to this city to consider the question of State Missions, and to devise the best methods of promoting them. These messengers, fifty-seven in number, met in the First Church, on Fifth and Green, fifty years ago to-day. As introductory to the deliberations of the brethren, an admirable sermon was preached by Rev. William Vaughan, from Acts xx, and the last clause of the 24th verse: "To testify the gospel of the grace of God." It was shown with great clearness and force that the gospel had its origin in the grace of God, and that the divine plan is for the gospel to be testified. It was urged that preachers should be sent forth among the destitute in the State to testify this gospel, and that the churches should sustain them. The impression made by the discourse was decidedly favorable to the missionary cause.
I now quote a few lines from Spencer's History: "The meeting was called to order by Elder W. C. Buck, when on motion
Elder George Waller was appointed chairman, and brethren "John L. Waller and J. M. Pendleton, secretaries pro tempore."
A constitution was adopted which, for substance, remains till now, the first article of which reads thus: "This body shall be called the General Association of Baptists in Kentucky." The fourth article is the important one, namely: "This Association shall, in a special manner, aim to promote, by every legitimate means, the prosperity of the cause of God in this State." This is a very comprehensive purpose, the full execution of which would make all parts of the Commonwealth "blossom as the rose."
It reminds us of the mortality of our race to know that of the fifty-seven brethren who met in this city fifty years ago, a few only survive. At last advices, Rev. F. F, Seig was living at Americus, Ga., and besides him I know of no minister except Dr. J. L. Burrows and myself yet "in the flesh." The rest are gone. Their faces are not seen to-day; their voices are not heard. The grave claims their bodies, and we think of their spirits as "present with the Lord." I am glad to meet again my friend of half a century, Dr. Burrows. We have passed through various scenes; we have labored in different parts of the Lord's vineyard; but years of peace and years of war have left our friendship unimpaired, and even intensified. I am happy that we meet once more before we "cross the river" and enter on our explorations of the heavenly land.
When I think that nearly all who took part in the formation of the General Association have passed away, the language of another comes to me:
When I remember all
The friends so linked together
I've seen around me fall
Like leaves in wintry weather,
I feel like one
Who treads alone
Some banquet hall deserted,
Whose lights are fled,
Whose garlands dead,
And all but he departed.
But I must not indulge in what may seem to be sentimental. My business is to say something about the "condition of the Baptist cause in Kentucky in 1837." There was a Baptist cause, and there was no reason for despair as to its "condition." True, Campbellism had made encroachments on the Baptist
ranks; but the line had been drawn about the year 1830, and the "Reformers," so-called at that time, stood on one side of the line, and Baptists on the other. Mr. Campbell drew off comparatively few of our ministers, and of the few only a few were first-class. We lost more largely in private members; some good men and women departed from the old faith; but it may be stated as a general fact that those most distinguished for spirituality and experimental piety remained firm. They had an "unction from the Holy One," and this is the best preservative from doctrinal heresy. The Baptist host became more compact, and were far more numerous than the Reformers. They exceeded in numbers all orders of Presbyterians, that is to say, Old School, New School, and Cumberlands. The Episcopalians, few now, were fewer then, and the Methodists were by some thousands behind the Baptists.
It will be seen, therefore, that while the Baptists of Kentucky in 1837 were few as compared with their present number, they were ahead of every other denomination in the State. They had the vantage ground; but they made some sad mistakes. There were very few of the churches that gave with any regularity to the cause of missions, whether foreign or domestic. They had but few Sunday-schools, and a very scanty religious literature. There was nothing like a proper appreciation of ministerial education among the brethren generally. Things were improving in 1837; but in 1830 Roger Quarles, President of the Board of Trustees of Georgetown College, advised me not to go to that institution; and his principal argument was that Jeremiah Vardeman, without a collegiate education, had been the most useful preacher in the State. Any brother now holding this view would hardly have a place in a board of college trustees.
As ministerial education was not suitably appreciated, there were few educated ministers. Dr. Noel was among the number, and from 1825 to 1832 Rev. Spencer Clack, who taught a flourishing school at Bloomfield, was perhaps the best scholar we had in the State. He had been a student under Dr. Staughton, of Philadelphia, and was thought to know a good deal about Greek for that day. His preaching, though good, did not specially impress me.
Rev. William C. Warfield, having been a student in Transylvania University, and also in Princeton Seminary, had the reputation of being an educated man, but he did not build so well as he might have done on the foundation laid. After his collegiate course, he seems not to have prosecuted his classical studies to
any extent; and I am satisfied from my personal acquaintance with him that he could not, without a lexicon, read any ten consecutive verses in the Greek New Testament. But he died in 1835.
Among educated men present when the General Association was formed, I may name Rev. B. F. Farnsworth, Rev. J. L. Burrows, John L. Waller (he was not then a preacher); and Rev. Rockwood Giddings. The last named was for a short time President of Georgetown College, and died in 1839. He was a young man full of promise. His sermons indicated a depth of thought that would have done credit to Andrew Fuller or Robert Hall. His presidency infused new life and hope into the friends of the College, and they looked for a long and prosperous administration of its affairs. But his career was a short one. It was in October, 1839, that I stood by his sick-bed, and on the 29th day of the month he breathed his last. From then till now, his death has been to me one of the unsolved problems of Providence. A thousand times I have wondered why I was not taken, and he left to fulfill what seemed so bright a destiny. How much better, as I look at it, would it have been for the interests of our denomination and the welfare of the world! But God is often pleased to remind us of what he said by his prophet long ago: "For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, saith the Lord. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts." (Isaiah lv, 9.) We must adjourn dark problems to the last day, and, then their solution will be so satisfactory, so bright, as to call forth the sweetest hallelujahs of heaven.
My reference to the fact that our churches in 1837, and for years before, had no adequate appreciation of ministerial education has led me, by a pardonable digression, to name a few men who had attained a respectable degree in the ranks of scholarship. It is now proper to say that, while no great importance was attached to ministerial education, the question of ministerial support received little attention. I remember that about the time I began to preach, in 1831, my father remarked that the churches, by their practice, said, "The Lord keep our preachers humble, and we will keep them poor." It is to be borne in mind, however, that there were individuals in many of the churches who believed "the laborer worthy of his hire;" but, owing to unfortunate surroundings, they did not often show their faith by their works. Preachers, as a general thing, lived on farms or taught school. Five days in the week they devoted
their farming operations, or were found in their school-rooms. They preached Saturday and Sunday, and there were some narrow-minded brethren who said that it took them as long to hear a sermon as it did the preacher to preach it, and that therefore they came out even at the close of the discourse. There were other brethren who occasionally gave a dollar or two to a minister; but the giving seemed to proceed from impulse rather than from principle. Some were not willing for the left hand to know what the right hand did, and they gave in secret. I call to mind a brother who at different times gave me two silver dollars. It was always done when we told each other good-bye, and as he was conscientious in making his right hand do so as for the left not to know, and as I gave him my right hand at parting, it was difficult for us to shake hands with the generous energy when we bade each other adieu as when we met. He wished me to have the two dollars, and I made no objection. Sometimes a sister in a country church, when wool could be had, would spend her spare moments in knitting, and in due time would present her pastor with a pair of socks, feeling, no doubt, that she had met all the obligations of Christian duty.
The subject of ministerial support was not understood, and pastors generally were afraid to discuss it, lest it should be said that they were preaching for money. In the latter years of his life the venerable Jacob Locke, of Barren County, seeing that he had made a mistake in preaching for nothing, determined to use his influence with the churches in favor of ministerial support. It was very affecting to hear him say, "I speak for my brethren, not for myself;" and, raising his toil-worn hands, he would add, "These hands have ministered to my necessities."
While the churches in the first third of this century failed, for various reasons, to support their pastors, it must be remembered that there was not then one fifth of the money in the State that there is now. This may be thought an apology for the churches; but it is not an adequate one, in view of the fact that money then had a greater purchasing power than at present. Pastors did not claim for themselves a maintenance, and the churches thoughtlessly withheld it; at any rate, it was thoughtlessly withheld in many cases. Pastors and churches, at the period referred to, were mutually blamable. They both made a lamentable mistake. There was great room for improvement, and improvement began gradually to take place. So far as the Green River section of the State is concerned, the church at Bowling Green deserves the credit of first setting the example of giving its pastor a competent support, and John Burnam, Esq.,
is entitled to the credit of engineering the matter and making it a success. When, after the death of the lamented William Warder, in 1836, who, though living thirty miles away; had supplied the church with monthly preaching for a series of years, I was called to the pastorate at a salary of $400 a year, it was thought the wonder of wonders. Some supposed that it indicated the near approach of the millennium. For a preacher to "live of the gospel" was something new. There had been nothing like it before; and I am not sorry that I was the first recipient of the benefits of the novel arrangement.
As nearly all the churches, fifty years ago, failed to support their pastors, it will not be supposed that they made regular contributions to the benevolent objects which now claim the attention of every church that is living and growing. They were practically anti-mission, anti-Bible, anti-Sunday-school, anti-education. It is sad to say this; but, with few exceptions, it was true. While, however, historical candor requires me to find fault with the churches of half a century ago, for the reasons indicated, there are other things for which they deserved commendation. In some important respects they were in advance of the churches of to-day. Their superiority, if I mistake not, appears in such things as these:
They were more careful in the reception of members. They required what they called "an experience of grace." This always embraced two things: First, conviction of sin leading to repentance, the latter including hatred of sin, and sorrow for sin, with the purpose to forsake it. Second, trust in Christ for salvation, followed by a consciousness of acceptance with God, and peace with him for Jesus' sake. It would have been difficult for any body to get into one of our churches without giving satisfaction on these points. This experience of grace was indispensable in candidates for baptism. In this carefulness in receiving members the churches of to-day might well copy the example of, those of fifty years ago.
The line of demarkation between the churches and the world was much more distinct in 1837 than in 1887. Those who then "named the name of Christ" seemed to feel it an imperative duty to "depart from iniquity." I state this as a general truth requiring qualification, of course, in particular cases. Church members acted under the impression that they had been called out of the world, and were therefore separate from it and antagonistic to it. They were afraid of the world, and watched against the encroachments of worldly influences. They had not heard of the ruinous fallacy which teaches that Christians should live
pretty much as do men of the world, that the latter may thereby be led to think more favorably of Christianity. They dreaded any thing that looked like an obliteration of the line between them and the world, and thought it a matter of supreme importance for that line to be kept so distinct that all could see it. I think, therefore, that there was greater spirituality in most of our churches, to say the least, fifty years ago than now. This spirituality, unfortunately, did not show itself to any great extent in the consecration of money to the Lord's cause; but it appeared in other forms, such as these:
Family worship was more conscientiously observed. In proportion to the number of families connected with the churches there were many more family altars then than at present. The personal religion of parents seemed to find a natural development in family religion. There was a recognition of God as the author of family blessings, and there were earnest prayers that households might be brought into "the household of faith" and become component parts of the redeemed family in heaven.
There was more religious conversation formerly than now. Brethren and sisters spoke often one to another. They talked about the dealings of God with their souls. Frequently, they would begin with what they called their "experience," and tell how they were first led out of darkness into the light of salvation; how the Lord had afterward led them in ways they knew not, how great had been their conflicts with their spiritual enemies, how they had been delivered, and how the deliverance had inspired hope of deliverance in all the future, and preservation to the heavenly kingdom. Those sharing in these conversations could often say, "Did not our hearts burn within us?" and often tears flowed from eyes that have long since ceased to weep. Conversation on religious topics precluded gossip and backbiting, things now too common in many places.
It will, of course, be inferred from what has been said, that there was a stricter church discipline fifty years ago than now. Some churches now seem practically to acquiesce in the absurd interpretation of the parable of "The Tares," which makes "the field" the church instead of "the world," as Jesus declared it. Our fathers adopted no such view as this. They knew that the exercise of discipline was essential to the distinct preservation of the line of demarkation already referred to. When the fellowship of a church was disturbed by an offending member, he was dealt with kindly, but firmly, and required to give satisfaction by confessing his offense and asking forgiveness. If satisfaction was not given, the last resort was the withdrawal of fellowship
from the offending member. This was considered essential to the purity of the church. Scandalous offenses, of course, are not tolerated now, nor were they formerly; but things are endured at present that would have received no toleration fifty years ago. No church would then have held in fellowship a dancing, theater-going, card-playing member, nor would the presence of a member at a horse race " have been tolerated. The doctrine then was that the professed friends of Christ must be "the salt of the earth," and the light of the world." Much importance was attached to such Scriptures as these:
"Be ye not conformed to this world." "Wherefore come out from among them, and be separate, saith the Lord, and touch not the unclean; and I will receive you, and will be a Father to you, and ye shall be my sons and daughters, saith the Lord Almighty." "Be ye holy; for I am holy." If we compare the discipline of the churches in 1837 with the teachings of the apostolic epistles, we shall hardly complain of too great strictness; but our failure to complain will be an implied censure on many of the churches of this day. But so it should be. Let every thing worthy of commendation, then and now, receive our approval; and let our censure rest on every thing which does not command our sanction.
This imperfect address will be more imperfect if I fail to say something about the preaching of fifty years ago. The ministers of that period were men of God, and the state of the churches forbade their entering into the ministry influenced by pecuniary considerations. They did not expect compensation or their labors. The motive which prompted them to engage in their work was an earnest desire to glorify God in the edification of saints and the salvation of sinners. This desire made them willing, as they often expressed it, "to expose their ignorance." They preached sin and salvation. This they were competent to do, for they had felt themselves to be lost sinners, and, they had personally offered the prayer of the publican, "God be merciful to me a sinner." Feeling their just exposure to the curse of the divine law; and despairing of salvation by their own works, they trusted in Christ and found peace and joy in believing. They were able, each one, to say to their hearers, "Jesus can save you, because he has saved me." This species of knowledge can not be dispensed with by ministers of any generation. The godly men to whom I refer had good common sense; but, with few exceptions, they made no pretensions to scholarship. They did not understand grammar; but they did not frequently violate its rules. Accustomed to the best society in their spheres
of labor, they learned by ear the best forms of speech, and did not often give offense to persons of cultivated taste. Their earnest zeal was considered a full atonement for any infelicities of expression. They seemed to convey their weighty thoughts in the best language they could command, and their style, though not elegant was direct and forcible. They dwelt on the plain topics of the gospel. They preached "repentance toward God and faith in the Lord Jesus Christ." They called on believers to be baptized, and took great pleasure in administering the ordinance. They urged the baptized disciples to be "steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord." They were constrained by the love of Christ, and their argument for Christian consecration was that "Jesus died and rose again." They said much about heaven, describing as best they could its glory and its joy. They often referred to it as a social place, and in the exercise of sanctified imagination seemed to behold the redeemed around the throne clothed in garments of salvation, and they caused many a way-worn pilgrim to say with the "Great Dreamer," "which when I had seen I wished myself among them."
"The righteous shall be in everlasting remembrance," and these men of God are worthy of such remembrance. We shall never know how much we are indebted to them for the denominational prosperity we enjoy. If I forget them, "let my tongue cleave to the roof of my mouth."
These godly men knew little or nothing about sermonizing in the present homiletical sense of the word. They generally seized on some leading thought in their texts, and attempted to unfold it, but sometimes they were so carried away with their feelings as apparently to forget their texts in their impassioned appeals to their hearers. In these appeals there was often a loudness of voice which became almost a vociferous scream. This was not pleasant to hearers; and it possibly shortened the lives of a few preachers. The impression seemed to be that the deepest feeling found expression in vociferation. This was a mistake, for the profoundest emotion does not and can not find utterance in this way.
At times some of the preachers of half a century ago gave rather ludicrous interpretations of Scripture. I refer to two instances of the kind, and I think the interpreters have no descendants now living. One brother was speaking of the passage, "Sell all that thou hast, and give to the poor," and he said the Savior meant" "Sell in your imagination," etc. I could not see then, nor have I been able to see since, how the poor could be benefited by the imaginary proceeds of an imaginary sale. The other brother preached from the words, "Save yourselves from this
untoward generation." He was not perfect in pronunciation, and pronounced the epithet, untoward, as if spelled, untoward. The burden of his discourse was to show that sinners are without a tower of refuge, and that if they would be saved they must get away from a generation that has no tower. This is, no doubt, true, but, as commentators sometimes say, not the truth taught in the text.
These were very exceptional cases of interpretation. Ordinarily the expositions of the pulpit at that day were quite judicious. But let us not suppose that fanciful interpretations were confined to that period. There are two Baptist ministers now living who draw very largely on the faculty of imagination in expounding two texts: One says that the expression, "Every man presseth into it," that is, into the kingdom of God, means that every man assails the kingdom, makes an attack on it, as if bent on its destruction!
The other passage refers to the Good Samaritan, the use he made of "oil and wine" in the case of the man who "fell among thieves." The interpreter says the oil was poured into the wounds of the unfortunate man, and the wine poured down his throat! Obviously, the "oil and wine" were mingled together, and, on account of their remedial virtues, were poured upon the bruises, for the Greek preposition epi in composition is used. I think that in view of these two expositions we should not flatter ourselves that the science of interpretation has even yet reached perfection. There is still room for a department of exegesis in all our theological schools.
Now, if you will bear with me in a few personal allusions, which may not be in good taste, I will soon close this rather versatile address. Having performed my little part in the formation of the General Association in 1837, I decided to do something toward forming a particular association. I therefore, in returning to my home at Bowling Green, went by Glasgow, and made proposals of marriage to Miss Catharine S. Garnett, whom I had known for a few months. We were married in the following March, so that we have spent almost fifty years of wedded life. I wish here to testify that I have found my supreme earthly blessing in my wife. She has ever encouraged me in my work, and in my darkest hours of discouragement and sorrow I have heard her voice, sweeter to me than music, cheering, sustaining, and strengthening. No language can express my obligations to her, and when she is called away, no purer spirit will have ascended the skies.
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 can not 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 host of heaven shout his praise. To see Him of Calyary enthroned in majesty, what a vision will that be! How will it compensate for all the disabilities and privations of physical blindness! What a place must heaven be, the select locality of the universe, where all holy beings are or will ultimately be, the place Jesus has gone to prepare.
We speak of the realms of the blest,
That country so bright and so fair;
And oft are its glories confessed;
But what must it be to be there!
We speak of its pathways of gold,
Its walls decked with jewels so rare,
Its wonders and pleasures untold;
But what must it be to be there!
We speak of its freedom from sin,
From sorrow, temptation, and care,
From trials without and within;
But what must it be to be there!
Do thou, Lord, 'midst pleasure or woe,
For heaven our spirits prepare,
And shortly we also shall know
And feel what it is to be there.
God grant that we all when called away from earth may know what it is to be THERE. Amen and Amen.
(Brief addresses relating to the topic discussed by Dr. Pendleton were made by Drs. J. H. Spencer, T. T. Eaton, George F. Bagby, J. S.Coleman, and W. W. Gardner.)
[From MEMORIAL VOLUME Containing the Papers that were Delivered at the JUBILEE of the GENERAL ASSOCIATION OF BAPTISTS IN KENTUCKY, Louisville, October, 1887, pp. 1-16. Scanned and formatted by Jim Duvall.]
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