James Madison Pendleton was born at Twyman's Store, Spottsylvania county, Virginia, November 20, 1811. His father was an admirer of President Madison, hence the middle name, Madison.
In the autumn of 1812 his father moved to Christian county, Kentucky. James was just one year old the day his father reached the neighborhood which was to be his future home.
James Peudleton's educational advantages in youth were limited, but notwithstanding his poor opportunities he became a most accurate Latin and Greek scholar, and his ability to write and speak pure English was marked. Few men have ever lived who could express themselves so clearly and forcibly as he.
The first school he attended was in a little log house in the neighborhood, with his father as teacher. His father was well educated for his day, but his education would now be considered entirely too limited for a school teacher. Pendleton, in his book, "Reminiscences of a Long Life," has given the following description of the school house and the school:
"It was built of rough logs, the chinks between which were imperfectly filled and daubed with red
clay. There were no windows worthy of the name, but parts of logs were cut out to let in the light, and panes of glass were so adjusted as to keep out the cold. The floor was of dirt, and the chimney had a fireplace six feet wide and four feet deep. The benches were made of slabs, and those were the outside of sawed logs. There were no backs to the benches, and everything seemed to be so arranged as to keep the feet of small children from reaching the floor. This, though not so designed, was the refinement of cruelty. Not less than six hours a day were spent in school, and during that time the small children had no support for their backs and feet. I know of no epithet that can describe the injustice of this arrangement, and will say no more about it.
"I think I must have been nine or ten years old when I first went to school, though I had learned a little at home. I was required to devote especial attention to spelling and reading. Noah Webster's 'Spelling Book' was used, and when I got as far as 'Baker' I thought my progress considerable, but when at the end of the book I was able to spell and define from memory, 'Ail, to be troubled,' and 'Ale, malt liquor,' I supposed myself very near the farthest limit of scholarship. The course of reading embraced 'Murray's Introduction to the English Reader,' the 'Reader' itself, and then the 'Sequel' to it. No other book was read in the school. In due time Arithmetic, as far as the 'Rule of Three,' 'Geography and Grammar' were studied, but not thoroughly. My studies were often interrupted,
for, when necessity required, I had to work on the farm."
This was the school and this was the manner in which J. M. Pendleton made his start!
James had the care for some time, David-like, of his father's sheep. One of the ewes died, leaving a lamb which was given to him, and he raised it, "feeding it milk with a spoon." When it grew up he sold it, and with the money bought a Bible, the first purchase of any kind he ever made. This was only an incident, but it looks like a prophecy of the future life of the man.
From earliest childhood he was taught to believe as true the statements of the Bible. He states in his Reminiscences that he never doubted in his life any of the fundamental doctrines of the Bible. Besides this, there never was a time in his memory, before his conversion, that he did not fully intend to some day become a Christian. He fully resolved, at the age of fifteen years, to seek the salvation of his soul. His idea of salvation was to escape Hell. It never occurred to him that salvation was from Sin, not from Hell. The sense of his sins became more and more acute until he saw he was too great a sinner to make amends for what he had done. He plainly saw that he must have help or he would be lost. He then resolved to do his best and ask the Lord to supply his deficiency. The sense of his wickedness grew on him, and from reading the Bible he found that it would be just and right for God to refuse to save him and to let him perish in Hell. He could
not understand how God could justly save him. He did not want to be saved at the expense of justice. How then could he be saved? Was there any way by which he could satisfy justice? Here I will use his own words:
"While in this state of mind I read a sermon by Rev. Samuel Davies from I Corinthians 1:22-24: 'For the Jews require a sign and the Greeks seek after wisdom; but we preach Christ crucified, unto the Jews a stumbling block, and unto the Greeks foolishness,' etc. This sermon, delivered in 1759, which I have recently read, is an excellent one, and Mr. Davies was an admirable sermonizer. In the discourse now referred to I was specially impressed with his remarks on the union of mercy and justice in the salvation of sinners through 'Christ crucified.' This was shown to be happily possible through the atoning death of Christ, whose obedience and blood 'magnified the law and made it honorable.' Having read this sermon I went into the forest to pray, and while kneeling by a tree I had new views of the way in which sinners could be saved. I saw that mercy could be exercised consistently with justice through Jesus Christ. I felt a lightness of heart to which I had been a stranger for about two years. Strange to say, the joy I felt was not on my personal account. I was glad that other sinners could be saved, but did not think of myself as a saved sinner. I knew faith in Christ was indispensable to salvation, but I ignorantly thought that to believe in Christ was to believe myself a Christian."
Converted! Saved! and that through the reading of a sermon! What a power is the consecrated printed page! Let writers of religious books take courage, and let the colporters and book agents magnify their office. J. M. Pendleton was converted by the reading of a sermon! If a soul is converted by the reading of one of the sermons in this book the author will be well paid for his work, for "there is joy in the presence of the angels over one sinner that repenteth."
On the second Sunday in April, 1829, at the age of eighteen years, he united with the Bethel Church, Christian county, Kentucky, and on the 14th day of the same month was baptized in the creek near the meeting house by Eld. Jno. S. Willson. Thus he began his Christian life by submitting to the "beautiful ordinance of baptism, which commemorates the burial and resurrection of Christ, symbolizes the believer's death to sin and his rising to a new life, while it anticipates the resurrection of the saints at the last day."
In February, 1830, at the age of nineteen years, he was licensed to preach by Bethel Church. His first efforts were miserable failures. He tried to teach a country school, and was asked to give it up by the directors, and he quit teaching and went home.
He attempted to preach his first sermon at West Union Church, in Christian county, near the line of Trigg county, Ky. He made a failure, and was advised by good brethren to give it up and quit trying. His own account of his first efforts is as follows:
"During the years 1831 and 1832 I accompanied different ministers on their preaching excursions. Sometimes they gave me an encouraging word, and at other times what they said was not complimentary. One of them, in referring to my attempts to preach, said: 'You certainly could do better if you would try.' Another said: 'You are scarcely earning your salt.' The language of the third brother was: 'You say some pretty good things, but your preaching is neither adapted to comfort the saint nor alarm the sinner.'
"Of course those good men, now in heaven, did not know how depressing the effect of their words was, and how my spirit was crushed."
This was the start of J. M. Pendleton as a preacher. But he became the strongest preacher and writer, in some respects, that the Baptist denomination has produced, and he lives on after he is dead.
In 1831 he sought a higher education. He entered a private school at Russellville, Ky., and studied under Rev. Robert T. Anderson. He made a special effort to become proficient in Latin and He was kindly assisted by the brethren and sisters in Russellville as to his board, and by their assistance was enabled to spend ten months under so able a teacher as Anderson.
In 1833 he became a student in an academy at Hopkinsville, Ky., and prosecuted his studies under James D. Rumsey, who was a fine classical scholar. During this year he was pastor of Bethel church for
half time at a salary of one hundred dollars a year, and he also preached for the Hopkinsville church for half time at a salary of one hundred dollars a year. This enabled him to pay his board and buy his books and pay tuition and keep himself well clothed while he sought a higher education.
While in this situation he preached every Sunday and two Saturdays in the month, making ten sermons a month, and recited his lessons five days in the week. It was more work than any man ought to do, but out of such conditions come great men. During the first year at Hopkinsville he was ordained to the full work of a gospel preacher. It was on November 2, 1833.
After spending three years in school at Hopkinsville, during which time he preached every Sunday, he was called, in 1836, to the care of the church in Bowling Green, Ky. He began his labors in Bowling Green, Jan. 1, 1837, and continued as pastor for twenty years, with the exception of a few months that he preached in Russellville, Ky. His salary for a number of years in Bowling Green was four hundred dollars a year, and that was the largest salary paid to any preacher in all that part of the State.
His labors in Bowling Green were blessed in the conversion of souls, and the church became one of the strongest, and continues to be one of the strongest, churches in the South. While in this pastorate he had the assistance of the celebrated J. R. Graves in a protracted meeting which stirred the whole town
and resulted in seventy-five additions to the church by baptism. At this meeting a friendship began between Pendleton and Graves which lasted as long as they lived. Pendleton became a regular contributor of the Tennessee Baptist, and thus began his career as newspaper and book writer.
Dr. Pendleton was in the organization of the first General Association of Kentucky in October, 1837, and was made one of the secretaries of the body. He was married on March 13, 1838, to Miss Catherine S. Garnett, and was permitted to live with this excellent woman for over fifty years, and she survived him. Their devotion to each other was beautiful.
The other pastorates held by Dr. Pendleton were for five years in Hamilton, Ohio, and for eighteen years in Upland, Penn. He also preached two or three years in Murfreesboro, Tenn. In every pastorate his work was successful and he gave eminent satisfaction to his people, unless it was at Hamilton, Ohio, which, probably, was a comparative failure.
Dr. Pendleton is well known as a Landmark Baptist -- some even charge him with being the father of Landmarkism, but that is not true, since Landmarkism is as old as the Baptists, although it was not named until Pendleton wrote his book on "An Old Landmark Reset." His influence was widely felt, and but few men have made a more lasting or, more wholesome impression on the Baptists than he.
Dr. Pendleton was a great writer, and he states that he used the greatest care in whatever he wrote
and that he never revised any of his manuscripts. He says: "I may have carried this thing to a greater length than most writers, for I have written nothing a second time. All my books have been written once and then printed." This constant care in composition made him a powerful writer -- a model for simplicity and force.
During the years, beginning with January, 1857, just preceding the civil war, he was Professor of Theology in Union University, now located at Jackson, Tenn., and known as the Southwestern Baptist University. This great school was then located at Murfreesboro, Tenn. While he was teaching theology in the school he served the Murfreesboro church as pastor.
The war drove him to the North, as he was a strong Union man. He was not an Abolitionist, but he was an Emancipationist. The difference between an Abolitionist and an Emancipationist was that the Abolitionist was in favor of setting the negroes free at once, while the Emancipationist favored a system that would gradually free the negroes. This would avoid revolution and give the people time to adjust themselves to the great change. But his views were hateful to the Southern people and it was not safe for him to remain in Tennessee, and he therefore made his way to the North and that led to his pastorates in Ohio and at Upland, Penn.
Pendleton was not noted as a revivalist. He was a great teacher -- a seed sower, while other men reaped where he had sown. Yet he was blessed
with the conversion of hundreds of souls under his preaching, and a few times he held great protracted meetings.
The most notable revival under his ministry was in Upland, Penn. This meeting lasted two months; he preached every night in the week except Saturday night, and for nine Sundays in succession there was baptizing in that church and there were two hundred additions to the church.
At the age of seventy-one years he resigned the care of the Upland church. During the last year of his ministry there, with no ministerial assistance, he baptized over forty converts. This fact teaches us that an old man may be an effective preacher and pastor and that long pastorates are generally the best.
During his stay at Upland he did most of his work as the author of Denominational books. He also served on the Committee of Publications of the American Baptist Publication Society, and it was his duty to read the manuscripts submitted to the Society for publication and decide whether the manuscript was worth publishing. This work required a great deal of his time. He says, in his Reminiscences, that, "I can safely say that I read ten thousand pages of manuscript, and I often wished that some persons could write more legibly."
We are indebted to Dr. Pendleton for the following excellent books: "An Old Landmark Reset," which has reached a circulation of about sixty thousand copies. It is a small pamphlet and is published
at the close of this sketch. "Three Reasons Why I Am a Baptist," which has reached a circulation of about fifty thousand copies. "Church Manual" has become a standard Baptist work, and not less than fifty thousand have been sold. "Distinctive Baptist Doctrines" has reached a good circulation, though not so large as it deserves. "Christian Doctrines or a Compendium of Theology " is a most valuable book and has had a wide circulation and is still selling well. He lived to see eleven thousand copies circulated, and since his death as many more have been sold. In 1883 he wrote a brief commentary on the New Testament, beginning with Acts. Dr. George W. Clark wrote a brief commentary on the Gospels, and the works of the two were published in one volume by the Publication Society under the title of "Brief Notes on the New Testament." This is a very helpful book for Bible students. "The Atonement of Christ" was written in 1885 and has had only a small circulation, but it is a strong book and well worth reading. In 1886 the Publication Society issued his "Notes on Sermons," which in fact are well arranged short sermons. This book has had as wide a circulation as such books usually have.
After his resignation at Upland he came South, and, after visiting in Bowling Green, Ky., and at Austin, Tex., and in Nashville. Tenn., and then back to Upland, Penn., he settled for the remainder of his days at Bowling Green, where he wrote, just three months before his death, his "Reminiscences of a
Long Life," which was published by the Baptist Book Concern. During this time of visiting among his children at the places mentioned, he wrote constantly for the Baptist periodicals. He was never idle.
In Bowling Green, Ky., he was taken sick, and the doctors pronounced his sickness unto death. He talked of death calmly. Some of his death bed testimony is worth preserving.
He said: "I just expect to go into eternity, saying, Lord, here I am, a poor, weak, sinful creature, having no claim, and the only hope of being saved is that Jesus Christ died in the place of sinners." Again: "I believe what I did sixty years ago, just exactly." "My prayers have been that my descendants to the remotest generations may be found among the servants of God." "You may say that I have never had the first regret that I devoted myself to the ministry." "My object has been to be an accomplished debater, claiming nothing unjust, yielding to nothing unjust."
On the fourth day of March, 1891, he closed his eyes in death, in his eighty-first year. He died as he had lived, a Landmark Baptist. He stated in his Reminiscences, page 104, that he did not think his position on that question had ever been answered, and that he was of the same opinion in 1891, the year of his death, as he was in 1855, the time he wrote it.
He was laid to rest in the cemetery at Bowling Green, Ky., March 6; Eld. T. T. Eaton, D.D.,
conducted the funeral exercises in the Baptist Church. "Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of his saints." (Psalm 116:15.)
"O, sweet is the season of rest,
When life's weary journey is done,
When the blush spreads over its West,
And the last lingering rays of the sun.
"Though dreary the empire of night,
I soon shall emerge from its gloom,
And see immortality's light
Arise on the shades of the tomb."
[Ben M. Bogard, editor, Pillars of Orthodoxy, or Defenders of the Faith, 1900. Scanned and formatted by Jim Duvall.]
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