T. DE WITT TALMAGE AS I KNEW HIM
BY THE LATE T. DE WITT TALMAGE, D.D.
WITH CONCLUDING CHAPTERS BY MRS. T. DE WITT TALMAGE
NEW YORK: E.P. DUTTON AND COMPANY 1912
FIRST MILESTONE SECOND MILESTONE THIRD MILESTONE FOURTH MILESTONE FIFTH MILESTONE SIXTH MILESTONE SEVENTH MILESTONE EIGHTH MILESTONE NINTH MILESTONE TENTH MILESTONE ELEVENTH MILESTONE TWELFTH MILESTONE THIRTEENTH MILESTONE FOURTEENTH MILESTONE FIFTEENTH MILESTONE SIXTEENTH MILESTONE SEVENTEENTH MILESTONE BIOGRAPHICAL SKETCH OF HIS LAST MILESTONES— FIRST MILESTONE SECOND MILESTONE THIRD MILESTONE LAST MILESTONE
LIST OF ILLUSTRATIONS
THE REV. T. DE WITT TALMAGE, D.D. DAVID AND CATHERINE TALMAGE—PARENTS OF DR. T. DE WITT TALMAGE DR. TALMAGE IN HIS FIRST CHURCH, BELLEVILLE, NEW JERSEY DR. TALMAGE AS CHAPLAIN OF THE THIRTEENTH REGIMENT OF NEW YORK THE THIRD BROOKLYN TABERNACLE THE FIRST PRESBYTERIAN CHURCH, WASHINGTON, D.C. DR. AND MRS. T. DE WITT TALMAGE FACSIMILE OF PRESIDENT ABRAHAM LINCOLN'S LETTER
I write this story of my life, first of all for my children. How much would I now give for a full account of my father's life written by his own hand! That which merely goes from lip to ear is apt to be soon forgotten. The generations move on so rapidly that events become confused. I said to my son, "Do you remember that time in Philadelphia, during the war, when I received a telegram saying several hundred wounded soldiers would arrive next day, and we suddenly extemporised a hospital and all turned in to the help of the suffering soldiers?" My son's reply was, "My memory of that occurrence is not very distinct, as it took place six years before I was born." The fact is that we think our children know many things concerning which they know nothing at all.
But, outside my own family, I am sure that there are many who would like to read about what I have been doing, thinking, enjoying, and hoping all these years; for through the publication of my entire Sermons, as has again and again been demonstrated, I have been brought into contact with the minds of more people, and for a longer time, than most men. This I mean not in boast, but as a reason for thinking that this autobiography may have some attention outside of my own circle, and I mention it also in gratitude to God, Who has for so long a time given me this unlimited and almost miraculous opportunity.
Each life is different from every other life. God never repeats Himself, and He never intended two men to be alike, or two women to be alike, or two children to be alike. This infinite variety of character and experience makes the story of any life interesting, if that story be clearly and accurately told.
I am now in the full play of my faculties, and without any apprehension of early departure, not having had any portents, nor seen the moon over my left shoulder, nor had a salt-cellar upset, nor seen a bat fly into the window, nor heard a cricket chirp from the hearth, nor been one of thirteen persons at a table. But my common sense, and the family record, and the almanac tell me it must be "towards evening."
T. DE WITT TALMAGE
AS I KNEW HIM
Our family Bible, in the record just between the Old and the New Testaments, has this entry: "Thomas DeWitt, Born January 7, 1832." I was the youngest of a family of twelve children, all of whom lived to grow up except the first, and she was an invalid child.
I was the child of old age. My nativity, I am told, was not heartily welcomed, for the family was already within one of a dozen, and the means of support were not superabundant. I arrived at Middlebrook, New Jersey, while my father kept the toll-gate, at which business the older children helped him, but I was too small to be of service. I have no memory of residence there, except the day of departure, and that only emphasised by the fact that we left an old cat which had purred her way into my affections, and separation from her was my first sorrow, so far as I can remember.
In that home at Middlebrook, and in the few years after, I went through the entire curriculum of infantile ailments. The first of these was scarlet fever, which so nearly consummated its fell work on me that I was given up by the doctors as doomed to die, and, according to custom in those times in such a case, my grave clothes were completed, the neighbours gathering for that purpose. During those early years I took such a large share of epidemics that I have never been sick since with anything worthy of being called illness. I never knew or heard of anyone who has had such remarkable and unvarying health as I have had, and I mention it with gratitude to God, in whose "hand our breath is, and all our ways."
The "grippe," as it is called, touched me at Vienna when on my way from the Holy Land, but I felt it only half a day, and never again since.
I often wonder what has become of our old cradle in which all of us children were rocked! We were a large family, and that old cradle was going a good many years. I remember just how it looked. It was old-fashioned and had no tapestry. Its two sides and canopy were of plain wood, but there was a great deal of sound sleeping in that cradle, and many aches and pains were soothed in it. Most vividly I remember that the rockers, which came out from under the cradle, were on the top and side very smooth, so smooth that they actually glistened. But it went right on and rocked for Phoebe the first, and for DeWitt the last.
There were no lords or baronets or princes in our ancestral line. None wore stars, cockade, or crest. There was once a family coat-of-arms, but we were none of us wise enough to tell its meaning. Do our best, we cannot find anything about our forerunners except that they behaved well, came over from Wales or Holland a good while ago, and died when their time came. Some of them may have had fine equipages and postilions, but the most of them were sure only of footmen. My father started in life belonging to the aristocracy of hard knuckles and homespun, but had this high honour that no one could despise: he was the son of a father who loved God and kept His commandments. Two eyes, two hands, and two feet were the capital my father started with.
Benignity, kindness, keen humour, broad common sense and industry characterised my mother. The Reverend Dr. Chambers was for many years her pastor. He had fifty years of pastorate service, in Somerville, N.J., and the Collegiate Church, New York. He said, in an address at the dedication of the Brooklyn Tabernacle, that my mother was the most consecrated Christian person he had ever known. My mother worked very hard, and when we would come in and sit down at the table at noon, I remember how she used to look. There were beads of perspiration along the line of her grey hair, and sometimes she would sit down at the table, and put her head against her wrinkled hand and say, "Well, the fact is, I'm too tired to eat."
My father was a religious, hard-working, honest man. Every day began and closed with family worship, led by my father, or, in case of his absence, by Mother. That which was evidently uppermost in the minds of my parents, and that which was the most pervading principle in their lives, was the Christian religion. The family Bible held a perfect fascination for me, not a page that was not discoloured either with time or tears. My parents read out of it as long as I can remember. When my brother Van Nest died in a foreign land, and the news came to our country home, that night they read the eternal consolations out of the old book. When my brother David died that book comforted the old people in their trouble. My father in mid-life, fifteen years an invalid, out of that book read of the ravens that fed Elijah all through the hard struggle for bread. When my mother died that book illumined the dark valley. In the years that followed of loneliness, it comforted my father with the thought of reunion, which took place afterward in Heaven.
To the wonderful conversion of my grandfather and grandmother, in those grand old days of our declaration of independence, I trace the whole purpose, trend, and energies of my life. I have told the story of the conversion of my grandfather and grandmother before. I repeat it here, for my children.
My grandfather and grandmother went from Somerville to Baskenridge to attend revival meetings under the ministry of Dr. Finney. They were so impressed with the meetings that when they came back to Somerville they were seized upon by a great desire for the salvation of their children. That evening the children were going off for a gay party, and my grandmother said to the children, "When you get all ready for the entertainment, come into my room; I have something very important to tell you." After they were all ready they came into my grandmother's room, and she said to them, "Go and have a good time, but while you are gone I want you to know I am praying for you and will do nothing but pray for you until you get back." They did not enjoy the entertainment much because they thought all the time of the fact that Mother was praying for them. The evening passed. The next day my grandparents heard sobbing and crying in the daughter's room, and they went in and found her praying for the salvation of God, and her daughter Phoebe said, "I wish you would go to the barn and to the waggon-house for Jehiel and David (the brothers) are under powerful conviction of sin." My grandparent went to the barn, and Jehiel, who afterward became a useful minister of the Gospel, was imploring the mercy of Christ; and then, having first knelt with him and commended his soul to Christ, they went to the waggon-house, and there was David crying for the salvation of his soul—David, who afterward became my father. David could not keep the story to himself, and he crossed the fields to a farmhouse and told one to whom he had been affianced the story of his own salvation, and she yielded her heart to God. The story of the converted household went all through the neighbourhood. In a few weeks two hundred souls stood up in the plain meeting house at Somerville to profess faith in Christ, among them David and Catherine, afterward my parents.
My mother, impressed with that, in after life, when she had a large family of children gathered around her, made a covenant with three neighbours, three mothers. They would meet once a week to pray for the salvation of their children until all their children were converted—this incident was not known until after my mother's death, the covenant then being revealed by one of the survivors. We used to say: "Mother, where are you going?" and she would say, "I am just going out a little while; going over to the neighbours." They kept on in that covenant until all their families were brought into the kingdom of God, myself the last, and I trace that line of results back to that evening when my grandmother commended our family to Christ, the tide of influence going on until this hour, and it will never cease.
My mother died in her seventy-sixth year. Through a long life of vicissitude she lived harmlessly and usefully, and came to her end in peace. We had often heard her, when leading family prayers in the absence of my father, say, "O Lord, I ask not for my children wealth or honour, but I do ask that they all may be the subjects of Thy converting grace." Her eleven children brought into the kingdom of God, she had but one more wish, and that was that she might see her long-absent missionary son, and when the ship from China anchored in New York harbour, and the long-absent one passed over the threshold of his paternal home, she said, "Lord, now lettest Thou Thy servant depart in peace, for mine eyes have seen Thy salvation." The prayer was soon answered.
My father, as long as I can remember, was an elder in churches. He conducted prayer-meetings in the country, when he was sometimes the only man to take part, giving out a hymn and leading the singing; then reading the Scriptures and offering prayer; then giving out another hymn and leading in that; and then praying again; and so continuing the meeting for the usual length of time, and with no lack of interest.
When the church choir would break down, everybody looked around to see if he were not ready with "Woodstock," "Mount Pisgah" or "Uxbridge." And when all his familiar tunes failed to express the joy of his soul, he would take up his own pen, draw five long lines across the sheet, put in the notes, and then to the tune he called "Bound Brook," begin to sing:
As when the weary traveller gains The height of some o'erlooking hill, His heart revives if 'cross the plains He eyes his home, though distant still;
Thus, when the Christian pilgrim views, By faith, his mansion in the skies, The sight his fainting strength renews, And wings his speed to reach the prize.
'Tis there, he says, I am to dwell With Jesus in the realms of day; There I shall bid my cares farewell And He will wipe my tears away.
He knew about all the cheerful tunes that were ever printed in old "New Brunswick Collection," and the "Shunway," and the sweetest melodies that Thomas Hastings ever composed. He took the pitch of sacred song on Sabbath morning, and kept it through all the week.
My father was the only person whom I ever knew without any element of fear. I do not believe he understood the sensation.
Seated in a waggon one day during a runaway that every moment threatened our demolition, he was perfectly calm. He turned around to me, a boy of seven years, and said, "DeWitt, what are you crying about? I guess we can ride as fast as they can run."
There was one scene I remember, that showed his poise and courage as nothing else could. He was Sheriff of Somerset County, N.J., and we lived in the court house, attached to which was the County Jail. During my father's absence one day a prisoner got playing the maniac, dashing things to pieces, vociferating horribly, and flourishing a knife with which he had threatened to carve any one who came near the wicket of his prison, Constables were called in to quell this real or dramatised maniac, but they fell back in terror from the door of the prison. Their show of firearms made no impression upon the demented wretch. After awhile my father returned and was told of the trouble, and indeed he heard it before he reached home. The whole family implored him not to go near the man who was cursing, and armed with a knife. But father could not be deterred. He did not stand outside the door and at a safe distance, but took the key and opened the door, and without any weapon of defence came upon the man, thundering at him, "Sit down and give me that knife!" The tragedy was ended. I never remember to have heard him make a gloomy remark. This was not because he had no perception of the pollutions of society. I once said to my father, "Are people so much worse now than they used to-be?" He made no answer for a minute, for the old people do not like to confess much to the boys. But after awhile his eye twinkled and he said: "Well, DeWitt, the fact is that people were never any better than they ought to be."
Ours was an industrious home. I was brought up to regard laziness as an abominable disease. Though we were some years of age before we heard the trill of a piano, we knew well all about the song of "The Spinning-Wheel."
Through how many thrilling scenes my father had passed! He stood, at Morristown, in the choir that chanted when George Washington was buried; talked with young men whose fathers he had held on his knee; watched the progress of John Adams's administration; denounced, at the time, Aaron Burr's infamy; heard the guns that celebrated the New Orleans victory; voted against Jackson, but lived long enough to wish we had another just like him; remembered when the first steamer struck the North river with its wheel-buckets; was startled by the birth of telegraphy; saw the United States grow from a speck on the world's map till all nations dip their flag at our passing merchantmen. He was born while the Revolutionary cannon were coming home from Yorktown, and lived to hear the tramp of troops returning from the war of the great Rebellion. He lived to speak the names of eighty children, grand-children and great-grand-children. He died just three years from the day when my mother sped on.
When my father lay dying the old country minister said to him, "Mr. Talmage, how do you feel now as you are about to pass the Jordan of death?" He replied—and it was the last thing he ever said—"I feel well; I feel very well; all is well"—lifting his hand in a benediction, a speechless benediction, which I pray God may go down through all the generations—"It is well!"
Four of his sons became ministers of the Gospel: Reverend James R. Talmage, D.D., who was preaching before I was born, and who died in 1879; Reverend John Van Nest Talmage, D.D., who spent his life as a missionary in China, and died in the summer of 1892; Reverend Goyn Talmage, D.D., who after doing a great work for God, died in 1891. But all my brothers and sisters were decidedly Christian, lived usefully and died peacefully.
I rejoice to remember that though my father lived in a plain house the most of his days, he died in a mansion provided by the filial piety of his son who had achieved a fortune.
The house at Gateville, near Bound Brook, in which I was born, has gone down. Not one stone has been left upon another. I one day picked up a fragment of the chimney, or wall, and carried it home. But the home that I associate with my childhood was about three miles from Somerville, N.J. The house, the waggon-shed, the barn, are now just as I remember them from childhood days. It was called "Uncle John's Place" from the fact that my mother's uncle, John Van Nest, owned it, and from him my father rented it "on shares." Here I rode the horse to brook. Here I hunted for and captured Easter eggs. Here the natural world made its deepest impression on me. Here I learned some of the fatigues and hardships of the farmer's life—not as I felt them, but as my father and mother endured them. Here my brother Daniel brought home his bride. From here I went to the country school. Here in the evening the family were gathered, mother knitting or sewing, father vehemently talking politics or religion with some neighbour not right on the subject of the tariff, or baptism, and the rest of us reading or listening. All the group are gone except my sister Catherine and myself.
My childhood, as I look back upon it, is to me a mystery. While I always possessed a keen sense of the ludicrous, and a hearty appreciation of fun of all sorts, there was a sedate side of my nature that demonstrated itself to the older members of the family, and of which they often spoke. For half days, or whole days, at a time I remember sitting on a small footstool beside an ordinary chair on which lay open "Scott's Commentaries on the Bible." I not only read the Scriptures out of this book, but long discourses of Thomas Scott, and passages adjoining. I could not have understood much of these profound and elaborate commentaries. They were not written or printed for children, but they had for my childish mind a fascination that kept me from play, and from the ordinary occupations of persons of my years.
So, also, it was with the religious literature of the old-fashioned kind, with which some of the tables of my father's house were piled. Indeed, when afterwards I was living at my brothers' house, he a clergyman, I read through and through and through the four or five volumes of Dwight's "Theology," which must have been a wading-in far beyond my depth. I think if I had not possessed an unusual resiliency of temperament, the reading and thinking so much of things pertaining to the soul and a future state would have made me morbid and unnatural. This tendency to read and think in sacred directions was not a case of early piety. I do not know what it was. I suppose in all natures there are things inexplicable. How strange is the phenomenon of childhood days to an old man!
How well I remember Sanderson's stage coach, running from New Brunswick to Easton, as he drove through Somerville, New Jersey, turning up to the post-office and dropping the mail-bags with ten letters and two or three newspapers! On the box Sanderson himself, six feet two inches, and well proportioned, long lash-whip in one hand, the reins of six horses in the other, the "leaders" lathered along the lines of the traces, foam dripping from the bits! It was the event of the day when the stage came. It was our highest ambition to become a stage-driver. Some of the boys climbed on the great leathern boot of the stage, and those of us who could not get on shouted "Cut behind!" I saw the old stage-driver not long ago, and I expressed to him my surprise that one around whose head I had seen a halo of glory in my boyhood time was only a man like the rest of us. Between Sanderson's stage-coach and a Chicago express train, what a difference!
And I shall always marvel at our family doctor. Dear old Dr. Skillman! My father's doctor, my mother's doctor, in the village home! He carried all the confidences of all the families for ten miles around. We all felt better as soon as we saw him enter the house. His face pronounced a beatitude before he said a word. He welcomed all of us children into life, and he closed the old people's eyes.
THE SECOND MILESTONE
When moving out of a house I have always been in the habit, after everything was gone, of going into each room and bidding it a mute farewell. There are the rooms named after the different members of the family. I suppose it is so in all households. It was so in mine; we named the rooms after the persons who occupied them. I moved from the house of my boyhood with a sort of mute affection for its remembrances that are most vivid in its hours of crisis and meditation. Through all the years that have intervened there is no holier sanctuary to me than the memory of my mother's vacant chair. I remember it well. It made a creaking noise as it moved. It was just high enough to allow us children to put our heads into her lap. That was the bank where we deposited all our hurts and worries.
Some time ago, in an express train, I shot past that old homestead. I looked out of the window and tried to peer through the darkness. While I was doing so, one of my old schoolmates, whom I had not seen for many years, tapped me on the shoulder, and said: "DeWitt, I see you are looking out at the scenes of your boyhood."
"Oh, yes," I replied, "I was looking out at the old place where my mother lived and died."
I pass over the boyhood days and the country school. The first real breath of life is in young manhood, when, with the strength of the unknown, he dares to choose a career. I first studied for the law, at the New York University.
New York in 1850 was a small place compared to the New York of to-day, but it had all the effervescence and glitter of the entire country even then. I shall never forget the excitement when on September 1st, 1850, Jenny Lind landed from the steamer "Atlantic." Not merely because of her reputation as a singer, but because of her fame for generosity and kindness were the people aroused to welcome her. The first $10,000 she earned in America she devoted to charity, and in all the cities of America she poured forth her benefactions. Castle Garden was then the great concert hall of New York, and I shall never forget the night of her first appearance. I was a college boy, and Jenny Lind was the first great singer I ever heard. There were certain cadences in her voice that overwhelmed the audience with emotion. I remember a clergyman sitting near me who was so overcome that he was obliged to leave the auditorium. The school of suffering and sorrow had done as much for her voice as the Academy of Stockholm.
The woman who had her in charge when a child used to lock her in a room when she went off to the daily work. There by the hour Jenny would sit at the window, her only amusement singing, while she stroked her cat on her lap. But sitting there by the window her voice fell on a listener in the street. The listener called a music master to stand by the same window, and he was fascinated and amazed, and took the child to the director of the Royal Opera, asking for her the advantages of musical education, and the director roughly said: "What shall we do with that ugly thing? See what feet she has. And, then, her face; she will never be presentable. No, we can't take her. Away with her!" But God had decreed for this child of nature a grand career, and all those sorrows were woven into her faculty of song. She never could have been what she became, royally arrayed on the platforms of Berlin and Vienna and Paris and London and New York, had she not first been the poor girl in the garret at Stockholm. She had been perfected through suffering. That she was genuinely Christian I prove not more from her charities than from these words which she wrote in an album during her triumphal American tour:
In vain I seek for rest In all created good; It leaves me still unblest And makes me cry for God. And safe at rest I cannot be Until my heart finds rest in Thee.
There never was anyone who could equal Jenny Lind in the warble. Some said it was like a lark, but she surpassed the lark. Oh, what a warble! I hear it yet. All who heard it thirty-five years ago are hearing it yet.
I should probably have been a lawyer, except for the prayers of my mother and father that I should preach the Gospel. Later, I entered the New Brunswick Theological Seminary. Why I ever thought of any other work in the world than that which I have done, is another mystery of my youth. Everything in my heredity and in my heart indicated my career as a preacher. And yet, in the days of my infancy I was carried by Christian parents to the house of God, and consecrated in baptism to the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Ghost; but that did not save me. In after time I was taught to kneel at the Christian family altar with father and mother and brothers and sisters. In after time I read Doddridge's "Rise and Progress," and Baxter's "Call to the Unconverted," and all the religious books around my father's household; but that did not save me. But one day the voice of Christ came into my heart saying, "Repent, repent; believe, believe," and I accepted the offer of mercy.
It happened this way: Truman Osborne, one of the evangelists who went through this country some years ago, had a wonderful art in the right direction. He came to my father's house one day, and while we were all seated in the room, he said: "Mr. Talmage, are all your children Christians?" Father said: "Yes, all but De Witt." Then Truman Osborne looked down into the fireplace, and began to tell a story of a storm that came on the mountains, and all the sheep were in the fold; but there was one lamb outside that perished in the storm. Had he looked me in the eye, I should have been angered when he told me that story; but he looked into the fireplace, and it was so pathetically and beautifully done that I never found any peace until I was inside the fold, where the other sheep are.
When I was a lad a book came out entitled "Dow Junior's Patent Sermons"; it made a great stir, a very wide laugh all over the country, that book did. It was a caricature of the Christian ministry and of the Word of God and of the Day of Judgment. Oh, we had a great laugh! The commentary on the whole thing is that the author of that book died in poverty, shame, debauchery, kicked out of society.
I have no doubt that derision kept many people out of the ark. The world laughed to see a man go in, and said, "Here is a man starting for the ark. Why, there will be no deluge. If there is one, that miserable ship will not weather it. Aha! going into the ark! Well, that is too good to keep. Here, fellows, have you heard the news? This man is going into the ark." Under this artillery of scorn the man's good resolution perished.
I was the youngest of a large family of children. My parents were neither rich nor poor; four of the sons wanted collegiate education, and four obtained it, but not without great home-struggle. The day I left our country home to look after myself we rode across the country, and my father was driving. He began to tell how good the Lord had been to him, in sickness and in health, and when times of hardship came how Providence had always provided the means of livelihood for the large household; and he wound up by saying, "De Witt, I have always found it safe to trust the Lord." I have felt the mighty impetus of that lesson in the farm waggon. It has been fulfilled in my own life and in the lives of many consecrated men and women I have known.
In the minister's house where I prepared for college there worked a man by the name of Peter Croy. He could neither read nor write, but he was a man of God. Often theologians would stop in the house—grave theologians—and at family prayer Peter Croy would be called upon to lead; and all those wise men sat around, wonder-struck at his religious efficiency.
In the church at Somerville, New Jersey, where I was afterwards pastor, John Vredenburgh preached for a great many years. He felt that his ministry was a failure, and others felt so, although he was a faithful minister preaching the Gospel all the time. He died, and died amid some discouragements, and went home to God; for no one ever doubted that John Vredenburgh was a good Christian minister. A little while after his death there came a great awakening in Somerville, and one Sabbath two hundred souls stood up at the Christian altar espousing the cause of Christ, among them my own father and mother. And what was peculiar in regard to nearly all of those two hundred souls was that they dated their religious impressions from the ministry of John Vredenburgh.
I had no more confidence in my own powers when I was studying for the ministry than John Vredenburgh. I was often very discouraged. "DeWitt," said a man to me as we were walking the fields at the time I was in the theological school, "DeWitt, if you don't change your style of thought and expression, you will never get a call to any church in Christendom as long as you live." "Well," I replied, "if I cannot preach the Gospel in America, then I will go to heathen lands and preach it." I thought I might be useful on heathen ground, if I could ever learn the language of the Chinese, about which I had many forebodings. The foreign tongue became to me more and more an obstacle and a horror, until I resolved if I could get an invitation to preach in the English language, I would accept it. So one day, finding Rev. Dr. Van Vranken, one of our theological professors (blessed be his memory), sauntering in the campus of Rutgers College, I asked him, with much trepidation, if he would by letter introduce me to some officer of the Reformed Church at Belleville, N.J., the pulpit of which was then vacant. With an outburst of heartiness he replied: "Come right into my house, and I will give you the letter now." It was a most generous introduction of me to Dr. Samuel Ward, a venerable elder of the Belleville church. I sent the letter to the elder, and within a week received an invitation to occupy the vacant pulpit.
I had been skirmishing here and there as a preacher, now in the basement of churches at week-night religious meetings, and now in school-houses on Sunday afternoons, and here and there in pulpits with brave pastors who dared risk having an inexperienced theological student preach to their people.
But the first sermon with any considerable responsibility resting upon it was the sermon preached as a candidate for a pastoral call in the Reformed Church at Belleville, N.J. I was about to graduate from the New Brunswick Theological Seminary, and wanted a Gospel field in which to work. I had already written to my brother John, a missionary at Amoy, China, telling him that I expected to come out there.
I was met by Dr. Ward at Newark, New Jersey, and taken to his house. Sabbath morning came. With one of my two sermons, which made up my entire stock of pulpit resources, I tremblingly entered the pulpit of that brown stone village church, which stands in my memory as one of the most sacred places of all the earth, where I formed associations which I expect to resume in Heaven.
The sermon was fully written, and was on the weird battle between the Gideonites and Midianites, my text being in Judges vii. 20, 21: "The three companies blew the trumpets, and brake the pitchers, and held the lamps in their left hands, and the trumpets in their right hands to blow withal; and they cried, The sword of the Lord, and of Gideon. And they stood every man in his place round about the camp; and all the host ran, and cried, and fled." A brave text, but a very timid man to handle it. I did not feel at all that hour either like blowing Gideon's trumpet, or holding up the Gospel lamp; but if I had, like any of the Gideonites, held a pitcher, I think I would have dropped it and broken that lamp. I felt as the moment approached for delivering my sermon more like the Midianites, who, according to my text, "ran, and cried, and fled." I had placed the manuscript of my sermon on the pulpit sofa beside where I sat. Looking around to put my hand on the manuscript, lo! it was gone. But where had it gone? My excitement knew no bound. Within three minutes of the greatest ordeal of my life, and the sermon on which so much depended mysteriously vanished! How much disquietude and catastrophe were crowded into those three minutes it would be impossible to depict. Then I noticed for the first time that between the upper and lower parts of the sofa there was an opening about the width of three finger-breadths, and I immediately suspected that through that opening the manuscript of my sermon had disappeared. But how could I recover it, and in so short a time? I bent over and reached under as far as I could. But the sofa was low, and I could not touch the lost discourse. The congregation were singing the last verse of the hymn, and I was reduced to a desperate effort. I got down on my hands and knees, and then down flat, and crawled under the sofa and clutched the prize. Fortunately, the pulpit front was wide, and hid the sprawling attitude I was compelled to take. When I arose to preach a moment after, the fugitive manuscript before me on the Bible, it is easy to understand why I felt more like the Midianites than I did like Gideon.
This and other mishaps with manuscripts helped me after a while to strike for entire emancipation from such bondage, and for about a quarter of a century I have preached without notes—only a sketch of the sermon pinned in my Bible, and that sketch seldom referred to.
When I entered the ministry I looked very pale for years, for four or five years, many times I was asked if I had consumption; and, passing through the room, I would sometimes hear people sigh and say, "A-ah! not long for this world!" I resolved in those times that I never, in any conversation, would say anything depressing, and by the help of God I have kept the resolution.
The day for my final examination for a licence to preach the Gospel for ordination by the laying on of hands, and for installation as pastor for the Reformed Church of Belleville, N.J., had arrived. The examination as to my qualifications was to take place in the morning, and if the way proved clear, the ordination and installation were to be solemnised in the afternoon of the same day. The embarrassing thought was that members of the congregation were to be present in the morning, as well as the afternoon. If I made a mistake or failure under the severe scrutiny of the Ecclesiastical Court, I would ever after be at a great disadvantage in preaching to those good people.
It so happened, however, that the Classis, as the body of clergy were called, was made up mostly of genial, consecrated persons, and no honest young man would suffer anything at their hands. Although I was exceedingly nervous, and did not do myself justice, and no doubt appeared to know less than I really did know, all went well until a clergyman, to whom I shall give the fictitious name of "Dr. Hardman," took me in hand. This "Dr. Hardman" had a dislike for me. He had once wanted me to do something for him and take his advice in matters of a pastoral settlement, which I had, for good reasons, declined to take. I will not go further into the reasons of this man's antipathy, lest someone should know whom I mean. One thing was certain to all present, and that was his wish to defeat my installation as pastor of that church, or make it to me a disagreeable experience.
As soon as he opened upon me a fire of interrogations, what little spirit I had in me dropped. In the agitation I could not answer the simplest questions. But he assailed me with puzzlers. He wanted to know, among other things, if Christ's atonement availed for other worlds; to which I replied that I did not know, as I had never studied theology in any world but this. He hooked me with the horns of a dilemma. A Turkish bath, with the thermometer up to 113, is cool compared to the perspiration into which he threw me. At this point Rev. James W. Scott, D.D. (that was his real name, and not fictitious) arose. Dr. Scott was a Scotchman of about 65 years of age. He had been a classmate of the remarkable Scottish poet, Robert Pollock. The Doctor was pastor of a church at Newark, N.J. He was the impersonation of kindness, and generosity, and helpfulness. The Gospel shone from every feature. I never saw him under any circumstances without a smile on his face. He had been on the Mount of Transfiguration, and the glory had never left his countenance.
I calculate the value of the soul by its capacity for happiness. How much joy it can get in this world—out of friendships, out of books, out of clouds, out of the sea, out of flowers, out of ten thousand things! Yet all the joy it has here does not test its capacity.
As Dr. Scott rose that day he said, "Mr. President, I think this examination has gone on long enough, and I move it be stopped, and that the examination be pronounced satisfactory, and that this young man be licensed to preach the Gospel, and that this afternoon we proceed to his ordination and installation." The motion was put and carried, and I was released from a Protestant purgatory.
But the work was not yet done. By rule of that excellent denomination, of which I was then a member, the call of a church must be read and approved before it can be lawfully accepted. The call from that dear old church at Belleville was read, and in it I was provided with a month's summer vacation. Dr. Hardman rose, and said that he thought that a month was too long a vacation, and he proposed two weeks. Then Dr. Scott arose and said, if any change were made he would have the vacation six weeks; "For," said he, "that young man does not look very strong physically, and I believe he should have a good long rest every summer." But the call was left as it originally read, promising me a month of recuperation each year.
At the close of that meeting of Classis, Dr. Scott came up to me, took my right hand in both his hands, and said, "I congratulate you on the opportunity that opens here. Do your best, and God will see you through; and if some Saturday night you find yourself short of a sermon, send down to Newark, only three miles, and I will come up and preach for you." Can anyone imagine the difference of my appreciation of Dr. Hardman and Dr. Scott?
Only a few weeks passed on, and the crisis that Dr. Scott foresaw in my history occurred, and Saturday night saw me short of a sermon. So I sent a messenger to Dr. Scott. He said to the messenger, "I am very tired; have been holding a long series of special services in my church, but that young Talmage must be helped, and I will preach for him to-morrow night." He arrived in time, and preached a glowing and rousing sermon on the text, "Have ye received the Holy Ghost?" As I sat behind him in the pulpit and looked upon him I thought, "What a magnificent soul you are! Tired out with your own work, and yet come up here to help a young man to whom you are under no obligation!" Well, that was the last sermon he ever preached. The very next Saturday he dropped dead in his house. Outside of his own family no one was more broken-hearted at his obsequies than myself, to whom he had, until the meeting of Classis, been a total stranger.
I stood at his funeral in the crowd beside a poor woman with a faded shawl and worn-out hat, who was struggling up to get one look at the dear old face in the coffin. She was being crowded back. I said, "Follow me, and you shall see him." So I pushed the way up for her as well as myself, and when we got up to the silent form she burst out crying, and said, "That is the last friend I had in the world."
Dr. Hardman lived on. He lived to write a letter when I was called to Syracuse, N.Y., a letter telling a prominent officer of the Syracuse Church that I would never do at all for their pastor. He lived on until I was called to Philadelphia, and wrote a letter to a prominent officer in the Philadelphia Church telling them not to call me. Years ago he went to his rest. But the two men will always stand in my memory as opposites in character. The one taught me a lesson never to be forgotten about how to treat a young man, and the other a lesson about how not to treat a young man. Dr. Scott and Dr. Hardman, the antipodes!
So my first settlement as pastor was in the village of Belleville, N.J. My salary was eight hundred dollars and a parsonage. The amount seemed enormous to me. I said to myself: "What! all this for one year?" I was afraid of getting worldly under so much prosperity! I resolved to invite all the congregation to my house in groups of twenty-five each. We [A] began, and as they were the best congregation in all the world, and we felt nothing was too good for them, we piled all the luxuries on the table. I never completed the undertaking. At the end of six months I was in financial despair. I found that we not only had not the surplus of luxuries, but we had a struggle to get the necessaries.
[A] While at Belleville Dr. Talmage married Miss Mary Avery, of Brooklyn, N.Y., by whom he had two children—a son, Thomas De Witt, and a daughter, Jessie. Mrs. Talmage was accidentally drowned in the Schuylkill River while Dr. Talmage was pastor of the Second Reformed Church of Philadelphia.
Although the first call I ever had was to Piermont, N.Y., my first real work began in the Reformed Church of Belleville, N.J. I preached at Piermont in the morning, and at the Congregational meeting held in the afternoon of the same day it was resolved to invite me to become pastor. But for the very high hill on which the parsonage was situated I should probably have accepted. I was delighted with the congregation, and with the grand scenery of that region.
I was ordained to the Gospel Ministry and installed as pastor July 29th, 1856, my brother Goyn preaching the sermon from the text, First Corinthians iii. 12, 13. Reverend Dr. Benjamin C. Taylor, the oldest minister present, offered the ordaining prayer, and about twenty hands were laid upon my head. All these facts are obtained from a memorandum made by a hand that long since forgot its cunning and kindness. The three years passed in Belleville were years of hard work. The hardest work in a clergyman's lifetime is during the first three years. No other occupation or profession puts such strain upon one's nerves and brain. Two sermons and a lecture per week are an appalling demand to make upon a young man. Most of the ministers never get over that first three years. They leave upon one's digestion or nervous system a mark that nothing but death can remove. It is not only the amount of mental product required of a young minister, but the draft upon his sympathies and the novelty of all that he undertakes; his first sermon; his first baptism; his first communion season; his first pastoral visitation; his first wedding; his first funeral.
My first baptism was of Lily Webster, a black-eyed baby, who grew up to be as beautiful a woman as she was a child.
I baptised her. Rev. Dr. John Dowling, of the Baptist Church, New York, preached for me and my church his great sermon on, "I saw a great multitude which no man could number, of all nations, and kindreds, and people, and tongues, clothed in white robes." In my verdancy I feared that the Doctor, who did not believe in the baptism of infants, might take it for a personal affront that I had chosen that evening for this my first baptism.
Sometimes at the baptism of children, while I have held up one hand in prayer, I have held up the other in amazement that the parents should have weighted the babe with such a dissonant and repulsive nomenclature. I have not so much wondered that some children should cry out at the Christening font, as that others with such smiling faces should take a title that will be the burden of their lifetime. It is no excuse because they are Scriptural names to call a child Jehoiakim, or Tiglath Pileser. I baptised one by the name of Bathsheba. Why, under all the circumambient heaven, any parent should want to give a child the name of that loose creature of Scripture times, I cannot imagine. I have often felt at the baptismal altar when names were announced somewhat like saying, as did the Rev. Dr. Richards, of Morristown, New Jersey, when a child was handed to him for baptism, and the names given, "Hadn't you better call it something else?"
On this occasion I had adopted the theory, which I long since abandoned, that an officiating clergyman at baptism should take the child in his arms. Now, there are many ministers who do not know how to hold a baby, and they frighten the child and increase the anxiety of the mother, and may create a riot all along the line if there be other infants waiting for the ceremony.
After reading the somewhat prolonged liturgy of the dear old Reformed Church, I came down from the pulpit and took the child in my arms. She was, however, far more composed than myself, and made no resistance; but the overpowering sensation attached to the first application of the holy chrism is a vivid and everlasting memory.
Then, the first pastoral visitation! With me it was at the house of a man suffering from dropsy in the leg. He unbandaged the limb and insisted upon my looking at the fearful malady. I never could with any composure look at pain, and the last profession in all the world suited to me would have been surgery. After praying with the man and offering him Scriptural condolence, I started for home.
My wife met me with anxious countenance, and said, "How did you get hurt, and what is the matter?" The sight of the lame leg had made my leg lame, and unconsciously I was limping on the way home.
But I had quite another experience with a parishioner. He was a queer man, and in bad odour in the community. Some time previously his wife had died, and although a man of plenty of means, in order to economise on funeral expenses, he had wheeled his wife to the grave on a wheelbarrow. This economy of his had not led the village to any higher appreciation of the man's character. Having been told of his inexpensive eccentricities, I was ready for him when one morning he called at the parsonage. As he entered he began by saying: "I came in to say that I don't like you." "Well," I said, "that is a strange coincidence, for I cannot bear the sight of you. I hear that you are the meanest man in town, and that your neighbours despise you. I hear that you wheeled your wife on a wheelbarrow to the graveyard." To say the least, our conversation that day was unique and spirited, and it led to his becoming a most ardent friend and admirer. I have had multitudes of friends, but I have found in my own experience that God so arranged it that the greatest opportunities of usefulness that have been opened before me were opened by enemies. And when, years ago, they conspired against me, their assault opened all Christendom to me as a field in which to preach the Gospel. So you may harness your antagonists to your best interests and compel them to draw you on to better work. He allowed me to officiate at his second marriage, did this mine enemy. All the town was awake that night. They had somehow heard that this economist at obsequies was to be remarried. Well, I was inside his house trying, under adverse circumstances, to make the twain one flesh. There were outside demonstrations most extraordinary, and all in consideration of what the bridegroom had been to that community. Horns, trumpets, accordions, fiddles, fire-crackers, tin pans, howls, screeches, huzzas, halloos, missiles striking the front door, and bedlam let loose! Matters grew worse as the night advanced, until the town authorities read the Riot Act, and caused the only cannon belonging to the village to be hauled out on the street and loaded, threatening death to the mob if they did not disperse. Glad am I to say that it was only a farce, and no tragedy. My mode of first meeting this queer man was a case in which it is best to fight fire with fire. I remember also the first funeral. It nearly killed me. A splendid young man skating on the Passaic River in front of my house had broken through the ice, and his body after many hours had been grappled from the water and taken home to his distracted parents. To be the chief consoler in such a calamity was something for which I felt completely incompetent. When in the old but beautiful church the silent form of the young man whom we all loved rested beneath the pulpit, it was a pull upon my emotions I shall never forget. On the way to the grave, in the same carriage with the eminent Reverend Dr. Fish, who helped in the services, I said, "This is awful. One more funeral like this will be the end of us." He replied, "You will learn after awhile to be calm under such circumstances. You cannot console others unless you preserve your own equipoise."
Those years at Belleville were to me memorable. No vacation, but three times a day I took a row on the river. Those old families in my congregation I can never forget—the Van Rensselaers, the Stevenses, the Wards. These families took us under their wing. At Mr. Van Rensselaer's we dined every Monday. It had been the habit of my predecessors in the pulpit. Grand old family! Their name not more a synonym for wealth than for piety. Mrs. Van Rensselaer was one of the saints clear up in the heaven of one's appreciation.
Wm. Stevens was an embodiment of generosity. He could not pray in public, or make a speech; but he could give money, and when he had plenty of it he gave in large sums, and when monetary disaster came, his grief was that he had nothing to give. I saw him go right through all the perturbations of business life. He was faithful to God. I saw him one day worth hundreds of thousands of dollars. I saw him the next day and he was not worth a farthing. Stevens! How plainly he comes before me as I think of the night in 1857 after the New York banks had gone down, and he had lost everything except his faith in God, and he was at the prayer meeting to lead the singing as usual! And, not noticing that from the fatigues of that awful financial panic he had fallen asleep, I arose and gave out the hymn, "My drowsy powers, why sleep ye so?" His wife wakened him, and he started the hymn at too high a pitch, and stopped, saying, "That is too high"; then started it at too low a pitch, and stopped, saying, "That is too low." It is the only mistake I ever heard him make. But the only wonder is that amid the circumstances of broken fortunes he could sing at all.
Dr. Samuel Ward! He was the angel of health for the neighbourhood. Before anyone else was up any morning, passing along his house you would see him in his office reading. He presided at the first nativity in my household. He it was that met me at the railroad station when I went to preach my first sermon as candidate, at Belleville. He medicated for many years nearly all the wounds for body and mind in that region. An elder in the Church, he could administer to the soul as well as to the perishable nature of his patients.
And the Duncans! Broad Scotch as they were in speech! I was so much with them that I got unconsciously some of the Scottish brogue in my own utterance. William, cautious and prudent; John, bold and venturesome—both so high in my affections! Among the first ones that I ask for in Heaven will be John and William Duncan.
Gasherie De Witt! He embodied a large part of the enterprise and enthusiasm of the place. He had his head full of railroads long before the first spike was driven for an iron pathway to the village. We were much together and ardently attached; went fishing together on long summer days, he catching the fish, and I watching the process. When we dedicated the first Brooklyn Tabernacle, he was present, and gave the money for building a baptistry in the pulpit, and gave besides $100 for his wife and each one of his children. When we parted from each other at Oxford, England, he to go to Geneva, Switzerland, to die, and I to come back to America, much of sweet acquaintanceship and complete confidence ended for this world, only to be taken up under celestial auspices.
But time and space would fail to tell of the noble men and women that stood around me in those early years of my ministry. They are all gone, and their personality makes up a large part of my anticipation of the world to come.
THE THIRD MILESTONE
My first sermons were to me the most tremendous endeavours of my life, because I felt the awful responsibility of standing in a pulpit, knowing that a great many people would be influenced by what I said concerning God, or the soul, or the great future.
When I first began to preach, I was very cautious lest I should be misrepresented, and guarded the subject on all sides. I got beyond that point. I found that I got on better when, without regard to consequences, I threw myself upon the hearts and consciences of my hearers.
In those early days of my pastoral experience I saw how men reason themselves into scepticism. I knew what it was to have a hundred nights poured into one hour.
I remember one infidel book in the possession of my student companion. He said, "DeWitt, would you like to read that book?" "Well," said I, "I would like to look at it." I read it a little while. I said to him, "I dare not read that book; you had better destroy it. I give you my advice, you had better destroy it. I dare not read that book. I have read enough of it." "Oh," he said, "haven't you a stronger mind than that? Can't you read a book you don't exactly believe, and not be affected by it?" I said, "You had better destroy it." He kept it. He read it until he gave up the Bible; his belief in the existence of a God, his good morals; until body, mind and soul were ruined—and he went into the insane asylum. I read too much of it. I read about fifteen or twenty pages of it. I wish I had never read it. It never did me any good; it did me harm. I have often struggled with what I read in that book. I rejected it, I denounced it, I cast it out with infinite scorn, I hated it; yet sometimes its caricature of good and its eulogium of evil have troubled me.
With supreme gratitude, therefore, I remember the wonderful impression made upon me, when I was a young man, of the presence of a consecrated human being in the pulpit.
It was a Sabbath evening in spring at "The Trinity Methodist Church," Jersey City. Rev. William P. Corbit, the pastor of that church, in compliment to my relatives, who attended upon his services, invited me to preach for him. I had only a few months before entered the Gospel ministry, and had come in from my village settlement to occupy a place in the pulpit of the great Methodist orator. In much trepidation on my part I entered the church with Mr. Corbit, and sat trembling in the corner of the "sacred desk," waiting for the moment to begin the service. A crowded audience had assembled to hear the pastor of that church preach, and the disappointment I was about to create added to my embarrassment.
The service opened, and the time came to offer the prayer before sermon. I turned to Mr. Corbit and said, "I wish you would lead in prayer." He replied, "No! sharpen your own knife!" The whole occasion was to me memorable for its agitations. But there began an acquaintanceship that became more and more endearing and ardent as the years went by. After he ceased, through the coming on of the infirmities of age, to occupy a pulpit of his own, he frequented my church on the Sabbaths, and our prayer-meetings during the week. He was the most powerful exhorter I ever heard. Whatever might be the intensity of interest in a revival service, he would in a ten minute address augment it. I never heard him deliver a sermon except on two occasions, and those during my boyhood; but they made lasting impressions upon me. I do not remember the texts or the ideas, but they demonstrated the tremendous reality of spiritual and eternal things, and showed possibilities in religious address that I had never known or imagined.
He was so unique in manners, in pulpit oratory, and in the entire type of his nature, that no one will ever be able to describe what he was. Those who saw and heard him the last ten or fifteen years of his decadence can have no idea of his former power as a preacher of the Gospel.
There he is, as I first saw him! Eye like a hawk's. Hair long and straight as a Chippewa Indian's. He was not straight as an arrow, for that suggests something too fragile and short, but more like a column—not only straight, but tall and majestic, and capable of holding any weight, and without fatigue or exertion. When he put his foot down, either literally of figuratively, it was down. Vacillation, or fear, or incertitude, or indecision, were strangers to whom he would never be introduced. When he entered a room you were, to use a New Testament phrase, "exceedingly filled with his company."
He was as affectionate as a woman to those whom he liked, and cold as Greenland to those whose principles were an affront. He was not only a mighty speaker, but a mighty listener. I do not know how any man could speak upon any important theme, standing in his presence, without being set on fire by his alert sympathy.
But he has vanished from mortal sight. What the resurrection will do for him I cannot say. If those who have only ordinary stature and unimpressive physique in this world are at the last to have bodies resplendent and of supernal potency, what will the unusual corporiety of William P. Corbit become? In his case the resurrection will have unusual material to start with. If a sculptor can mould a handsome form out of clay, what can he not put out of Parian marble? If the blast of the trumpet which wakes the dead rouses life-long invalidism and emaciation into athletic celestialism, what will be the transfiguration when the sound of final reanimation touches the ear of those sleeping giants among the trees and fountains of Greenwood?
Good-bye, great and good and splendid soul! Good-bye, till we meet again! I will look around for you as soon as I come, if through the pardoning grace of Christ I am so happy as to reach the place of your destination. Meet me at the gate of the city; or under the tree of life on the bank of the river; or just inside of the door of the House of Many Mansions; or in the hall of the Temple which has no need of stellar or lunar or solar illumination, "For the Lamb is the Light thereof."
After three years of grace and happiness at Belleville I accepted a call to a church in Syracuse. My pastorate there, in the very midst of its most uplifting crisis, was interrupted, as I believe, by Divine orders. The ordeal of deciding anything important in my life has always been a desperate period of anxiety. I never have really decided for myself. God has told me what to do. The first great crisis of this sort came to me in Syracuse. While living there I received a pastoral call from the Second Reformed Church of Philadelphia. Six weeks of agony followed.
I was about 30 years of age. The thick shock of hair with which I had been supplied, in those six weeks was thinned out to its present scarcity. My church in Syracuse was made up of as delightful people as ever came together; but I felt that the climate of Philadelphia would be better adapted to my health, and so I was very anxious to go. But a recent revival in my Syracuse Church, and a movement at that time on foot for extensive repairs of our building, made the question of my leaving for another pastorate very doubtful. Six weeks of sleeplessness followed. Every morning I combed out handfuls of hair as the result of the nervous agitation. Then I decided to stay, and never expected to leave those kind parishioners of Syracuse.
A year afterward the call from Philadelphia was repeated, and all the circumstances having changed, I went. But I learned, during those six weeks of uncertainty about going from Syracuse to Philadelphia, a lesson I shall never forget, and a lesson that might be useful to others in like crisis: namely, that it is one's duty to stay where you are until God makes it evident that you should move.
In all my life I never had one streak of good luck. But I have had a good God watching and guiding me.
While I was living in Syracuse I delivered my first lecture. It was a literary lecture. My ideas of a literary lecture are very much changed from what they used to be. I used to think that a lecture ought to be something very profound. I began with three or four lectures of that kind in stock. My first lecture audience was in a patient community of the town of Hudson, N.Y. All my addresses previously had been literary. I had made speeches on literature and patriotism, and sometimes filled the gaps when in lecture courses speakers announced failed to arrive.
But the first paid lecture was at Hudson. The fifty dollars which I received for it seemed immense. Indeed it was the extreme price paid anyone in those days. It was some years later in life that I got into the lecturing field. It was always, however, subordinate to my chief work of preaching the Gospel.
Syracuse in 1859 was the West. I felt there all the influences that are now western. Now there is no West left. They have chased it into the Pacific Ocean.
In 1862 I accepted a call to the Second Reformed Church of Philadelphia.
What remembrances come to me, looking backward to this period of our terrific national carnalism! I shall never forget the first time I ever saw Abraham Lincoln. We followed into his room, at the White House, a committee that had come to Washington to tell the President how to conduct the war. The saddest-looking man I ever saw was Abraham Lincoln. He had a far-away look while he stood listening to an address being made to him by one of the committee, as though beyond and far and wide he could see the battlefields and hospitals and conflagrations of national bereavement. One of our party asked for his autograph; he cheerfully gave it, asking, "Is that all I can do for you?" He was at that time the most abused man in America.
I remember the alarm in Philadelphia when General Lee's army invaded Pennsylvania. Merchants sent their goods quietly to New York. Residents hid their valuables. A request for arms was made at the arsenals, and military companies were organised. Preachers appealed to the men in their congregations, organised companies, engaged a drill sergeant, and carried on daily drills in the yards adjoining their churches.
In the regiment I joined for a short time there were many clergymen. It was the most awkward squad of men ever got together. We drilled a week or two, and then disbanded. Whether General Lee heard of the formation of our regiment or not I cannot say, but he immediately retreated across the Potomac.
There were in Philadelphia and its vicinity many camps of prisoners of war, hospitals for the sick and wounded. Waggon trains of supplies for the soldiers were constantly passing through the streets. I was privileged to be of some service in the field to the Christian Commission. With Dr. Brainerd and Samuel B. Falls I often performed some duty at the Cooper shop; while with George H. Stuart and George T. Merigens I invited other cities to make appeals for money to forward the great work of the Secretary and Christian Commissions. In our churches we were constantly busy getting up entertainments and fairs to help those rendered destitute by the loss of fathers and brothers in the field.
Just before the battle of Gettysburg a long procession of clergymen, headed by Dr. Brainerd, marched to Fairmount Park with spades over their shoulders to throw up entrenchments. The victory of the Federal troops at Vicksburg and Gettysburg rendered those earthworks unnecessary.
A distinguished gentleman of the Civil War told me that Abraham Lincoln proposed to avoid our civil conflict by purchasing the slaves of the South and setting them free. He calculated what would be a reasonable price for them, and when the number of millions of dollars that would be required for such a purpose was announced the proposition was scouted, and the North would not have made the offer, and the South would not have accepted it, if made.
"But," said my military friend, "the war went on, and just the number of million dollars that Mr. Lincoln calculated would have been enough to make a reasonable purchase of all the slaves were spent in war, besides all the precious lives that were hurled away in 250 battles."
There ought to be some other way for men to settle their controversies without wholesale butchering.
It was due partly to the national gloom that overspread the people during the Civil War that I took to the lecture platform actively. I entered fully into the lecturing field when I went to Philadelphia, where DeWitt Moore, officer in my church and a most intimate friend, asked me to lecture for the benefit of a Ball Club to which he belonged. That lecture in a hall in Locust Street, Philadelphia, opened the way for more than I could do as lecturer.
I have always made such engagements subordinate to my chief work of preaching the Gospel. Excepting two long journeys a year, causing each an absence of two Sundays, I have taken no lecturing engagements, except one a week, generally Thursdays. Lecturing has saved my life and prolonged my work. It has taken me from an ever-ringing door-bell, and freshened me for work, railroad travelling being to me a recuperation.
I have lectured in nearly all the cities of the United States, Canada, England, Ireland and Scotland, and in most of them many times. The prices paid me have seemed too large, but my arrangements have generally been made through bureaus, and almost invariably local committees have cleared money. The lecture platform seemed to me to offer greater opportunity for usefulness. Things that could not be said in the pulpit, but which ought to be said, may be said on the lyceum platform. And there was so much that had to be said then, to encourage, to cheer, to brighten, to illumine the sorrow and bereavement. From the first I regarded my lecture tours as an annex to my church. The lecture platform has been to me a pastoral visitation. It has given me an opportunity of meeting hundreds of thousands of people to whom, through the press, I have for many years administered the Gospel.
People have often asked me how much money I received for my lectures. The amounts have been a great surprise to me, often.
For many years I have been paid from $400 to $1,000 a lecture. The longer the journey the bigger the fee usually. The average remuneration was about $500 a night. In Cleveland and in Cincinnati I received $750. In Chicago, $1,000. Later I was offered $6,000 for six lectures in Chicago, to be delivered one a month, during the World's Fair, but I declined them.
My expenses in many directions have been enormous, and without a large income for lectures I could not have done many things which I felt it important to do. I have always been under obligation to the press. Sometimes it has not intended to help me, but it has, being hard pressed for news.
During the Civil War, when news was sufficiently exciting for the most ambitious journalist, they used to come to my church for a copy of my Sermons. News in those days was pretty accurate, but it sometimes went wrong.
On a Sabbath night, at the close of a preaching service in Philadelphia, a reporter of one of the prominent newspapers came into my study adjoining the pulpit and asked of me a sketch of the sermon just delivered, as he had been sent to take it, but had been unavoidably detained. His mind did not seem to be very clear, but I dictated to him about a column of my sermon. He had during the afternoon or evening been attending a meeting of the Christian Commission for raising funds for the hospitals, and ex-Governor Pollock had been making a speech. The reporter had that speech of the ex-Governor of Pennsylvania in his hand, and had the sketch of my sermon in the same bundle of reportorial notes. He opened the door to depart and said, "Good evening," and I responded, "Good evening." The way out from my study to the street was through a dark alley across which a pump handle projected to an unreasonable extent. "Look out for that pump handle," I said, "or you may get hurt." But the warning did not come soon enough. I heard the collision and then a hard fall, and a rustle of papers, and a scramble, and then some words of objurgation at the sudden overthrow.
There was no portable light that I could take to his assistance. Beside that, I was as much upset with cruel laughter as the reporter had been by the pump handle. In this state of helplessness I shut the door. But the next morning newspaper proved how utter had been the discomfiture and demoralisation of my journalistic friend. He put my sermon under the name of ex-Governor Pollock at the meeting of the Christian Commission, and he made my discourse begin with the words, "When I was Governor of Pennsylvania."
Never since John Gutenberg invented the art of printing was there such a riot of types or such mixing up of occasions. Philadelphia went into a brown study as to what it all meant, and the more the people read of ex-Governor Pollock's speech and of my sermon of the night before, the more they were stunned by the stroke of that pump handle.
But it was soon forgotten—everything is. The memory of man is poor. All the talk about the country never forgetting those who fought for it is an untruth. It does forget. Picture how veterans of the war sometimes had to turn the hand-organs on the streets of Philadelphia to get a living for their families! How ruthlessly many of them have been turned out of office that some bloat of a politician might take their place! The fact is, there is not a man or woman under thirty years of age, who, born before the war, has any full appreciation of the four years martyrdom of 1861 to 1865, inclusive. I can scarcely remember, and yet I still feel the pressure of domestic calamity that overshadowed the nation then.
Since things have been hardened, as was the guardsman in the Crimean War who heartlessly wrote home to his mother: "I do not want to see any more crying letters come to the Crimea from you. Those I have received I have put into my rifle, after loading it, and have fired them at the Russians, because you appear to have a strong dislike of them. If you had seen as many killed as I have you would not have as many weak ideas as you now have."
After the War came a period of great national rejoicing. I shall never forget, in the summer of 1869, a great national peace jubilee was held in Boston, and DeWitt Moore, an elder of my church, had been honoured by the selection of some of his music to be rendered on that occasion. I accompanied him to the jubilee. Forty thousand people sat and stood in the great Colosseum erected for that purpose. Thousands of wind and stringed instruments; twelve thousand trained voices! The masterpieces of all ages rendered, hour after hour, and day after day—Handel's "Judas Maccabaeus," Spohr's "Last Judgment," Beethoven's "Mount of Olives," Haydn's "Creation," Mendelssohn's "Elijah," Meyerbeer's "Coronation March," rolling on and up in surges that billowed against the heavens! The mighty cadences within were accompanied on the outside by the ringing of the bells of the city, and cannon on the common, in exact time with the music, discharged by electricity, thundering their awful bars of a harmony that astounded all nations. Sometimes I bowed my head and wept. Sometimes I stood up in the enchantment, and sometimes the effect was so overpowering I felt I could not endure it.
When all the voices were in full chorus, and all the batons in full wave, and all the orchestra in full triumph, and a hundred anvils under mighty hammers were in full clang, and all the towers of the city rolled in their majestic sweetness, and the whole building quaked with the boom of thirty cannon, Parepa Rosa, with a voice that will never again be equalled on earth until the archangelic voice proclaims that time shall be no longer, rose above all other sounds in her rendering of our national air, the "Star Spangled Banner." It was too much for a mortal, and quite enough for an immortal, to hear: and while some fainted, one womanly spirit, released under its power, sped away to be with God. It was a marvel of human emotion in patriotic frenzy.
Immediately following the Civil War there was a great wave of intemperance, and bribery swept over our land. The temptation to intemperance in public places grew more and more terrific. Of the men who were prominent in political circles but few died respectably. The majority among them died of delirium tremens. The doctor usually fixed up the case for the newspapers, and in his report to them it was usually gout, or rheumatism, or obstruction of the liver, or exhaustion from patriotic services—but we all knew it was whiskey. That which smote the villain in the dark alley smote down the great orator and the great legislator. The one you wrapped in a rough cloth, and pushed into a rough coffin, and carried out in a box waggon, and let him down into a pauper's grave, without a prayer or a benediction. Around the other gathered the pomp of the land; and lordly men walked with uncovered heads beside the hearse tossing with plumes on the way to a grave to be adorned with a white marble shaft, all four sides covered with eulogium. The one man was killed by logwood rum at two cents a glass, the other by a beverage three dollars a bottle. I write both their epitaphs. I write the one epitaph with my lead pencil on the shingle over the pauper's grave; I write the other epitaph with a chisel, cutting on the white marble of the senator: "Slain by strong drink." The time came when dissipation was no longer a hindrance to office in this country. Did we not at one time have a Secretary of the United States carried home dead drunk? Did we not have a Vice-President sworn in so intoxicated the whole land hid its head in shame? Judges and jurors and attorneys sometimes tried important cases by day, and by night caroused together in iniquity.
During the war whiskey had done its share in disgracing manhood. What was it that defeated the armies sometimes in the late war? Drunkenness in the saddle! What mean those graves on the heights of Fredericksburg? As you go to Richmond you see them. Drunkenness in the saddle. In place of the bloodshed of war, came the deformations of character, libertinism!
Again and again it was demonstrated that impurity walked under the chandeliers of the mansion, and dozed on damask upholstery. In Albany, in Harrisburg, in Trenton, in Washington, intemperance was rife in public places.
The two political parties remained silent on the question. Hand in hand with intemperance went the crime of bribery by money—by proffered office.
For many years after the war had been almost forgotten, in many of the legislatures it was impossible to get a bill through unless it had financial consideration.
The question was asked softly, sometimes very softly, in regard to a bill: "Is there any money in it?" And the lobbies of the Legislatures and the National Capitol were crowded with railroad men and manufacturers and contractors. The iniquity became so great that sometimes reformers and philanthropists have been laughed out of Harrisburg, and Albany, and Trenton, and Washington, because they came empty-handed. "You vote for this bill, and I'll vote for that bill." "You favour that monopoly of a moneyed institution, and I'll favour the other monopoly of another institution." And here is a bill that is going to be very hard to get through the Legislature, and some friends met together at a midnight banquet, and while intoxicated promised to vote the same way. Here are $5,000 for prudent distribution in this direction, and here are $1,000 for prudent distribution in that direction. Now, we are within four votes of having enough. $5,000 to that intelligent member from Westchester, and $2,000 to that stupid member from Ulster, and now we are within two votes of having it. Give $500 to this member, who will be sick and stay at home, and $300 to this member, who will go to see his great-aunt languishing in her last sickness. The day has come for the passing of the bill. The Speaker's gavel strikes. "Senators, are you ready for the question? All in favour of voting away these thousands of millions of dollars will say, 'Ay.'" "Ay! Ay! Ay! Ay!" "The Ays have it." It was a merciful thing that all this corruption went on under a republican form of government. Any other style of government would have been consumed by it long ago. There were enough national swindles enacted in this country after the war—yes, thirty years afterwards—to swamp three monarchies.
The Democratic party filled its cup of iniquity as it went out of power, before the war. Then the Republican party came along and it filled its cup of iniquity a little sooner; and there they lie, the Democratic party and the Republican party, side by side, great loathsome carcasses of iniquity, each one worse than the other.
These are reminiscences of more than thirty years ago, and yet it seems that I have never ceased to fight the same sort of human temptations and frailties to this very day.
THE FOURTH MILESTONE
I spent seven of the most delightful years of my life in Philadelphia. What wonderful Gospel men were round me in the City of Brotherly Love at this time—such men as Rev. Alfred Barnes, Rev. Dr. Boardman, Rev. Dr. Berg, Rev. Charles Wadsworth, and many others equally distinguished. I should probably never have left Philadelphia except that I was afraid I would get too lazy. Being naturally indolent I wanted to get somewhere where I would be compelled to work. I have sometimes felt that I was naturally the laziest man ever born. I am afraid of indolence—as afraid of indolence as any reformed inebriate is afraid of the wine cup. He knows if he shall take one glass he will be flung back into inebriety. I am afraid, if I should take one long pull of nothing to do, I should stop forever.
My church in Philadelphia was a large one, and it was crowded with lovely people. All that a congregation could do for a pastor's happiness they were doing, and always had done.
We ministers living in Philadelphia at this time may have felt the need for combating indolence, for we had a ministerial ball club, and twice a week the clergymen of all denominations went out to the suburbs of the city and played baseball. We went back to our pulpits, spirits lightened, theology improved, and able to do better service for the cause of God than we could have done without that healthful shaking up.
The reason so many ministers think everything is going to ruin is because their circulation is lethargic, or their lungs are in need of inflection by outdoor exercise. I have often wished since that this splendid idea among the ministers in Philadelphia could have been emulated elsewhere. Every big city should have its ministerial ball club. We want this glorious game rescued from the roughs and put into the hands of those who will employ it in recuperation.
My life in Philadelphia was so busy that I must have had very little time for keeping any record or note-books. Most of my warmest and life-long friendships were made in Philadelphia, however, and in the retrospect of the years since I left there I have sometimes wondered how I ever found courage to say good-bye.
I was amazed and gratified one day at receiving a call from four of the most prominent churches at that time in America: Calvary Church of Chicago, the Union Church of Boston, the First Presbyterian Church of San Francisco, and the Central Church of Brooklyn. These invitations all came simultaneously in February, 1869. The committees from these various churches called upon me at my house in Philadelphia. It was a period of anxious uncertainty with me. One morning, I remember, a committee from Chicago was in one room, a committee from Brooklyn in another room of my house, and a committee from my Philadelphia church in another room. My wife [B] passed from room to room entertaining them to keep the three committees from meeting. It would have been unpleasant for them to meet.
[B] In 1863, Dr. Talmage married his second wife, Miss Susan C. Whittemore, of Greenport, N.Y. They had five children: May, Edith, Frank, Maud, and Daisy.
At this point my Syracuse remembrance of perplexity returned, and I resolved to stay in Philadelphia unless God made it very plain that I was to go and where I was to go. An engagement to speak that night in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, took me to the depot. I got on the train, my mind full of the arguments of the three committees, and all a bewilderment. I stretched myself out upon the seats for a sound sleep, saying, "Lord, what wilt Thou have me to do? Make it plain to me when I wake up." When I awoke I was entering Harrisburg, and as plainly as though the voice had been audible God said to me, "Go to Brooklyn." I went, and never have doubted that I did right to go. It is always best to stay where you are until God gives you marching orders, and then move on.
I succeeded the Rev. J.E. Rockwell in the Brooklyn Church, who resigned only a month or so before I accepted the call. Mr. Charles Cravat Converse, LL.D., an elder of the Church, presented the call to me, being appointed to do so by the Board of Trustees and the Session, after I had been unanimously elected by the congregation at a special meeting for that purpose held on February 16, 1869. The salary fixed was $7,000, payable monthly.
In looking over an old note-book I carried in that year I find, under date of March 22, 1869, the word "installed" written in my own handwriting. It was written in pencil after the service of installation held in the church that Monday evening. The event is recorded in the minutes of the regular meetings of the church as follows:
"Monday evening, March 22, the Rev. T. DeWitt Talmage having been received as a member of the Presbytery of Nassau, was this evening installed pastor of this church. The Rev. C.S. Pomeroy preached the sermon and proposed the constitutional questions. Rev. Mr. Oakley delivered the charge to the pastor, and Rev. Henry Van Dyke, D.D., delivered the charge to the people; and the services were closed with the benediction by the pastor, and a cordial shaking of hands by the people with their new pastor."
The old church stood on Schemerhorn Street, between Nevins and Power Streets. It was a much smaller church community than the one I had left in Philadelphia, but there was a glorious opportunity for work in it. I remember hearing a minister of a small congregation complain to a minister of a large congregation about the sparseness of attendance at his church. "Oh," said the one of large audience, "my son, you will find in the day of judgment that you had quite enough people for whom to be held accountable."
My church in Brooklyn prospered. In about three months from the date of my installation it was too small to hold the people who came there to worship. This came about, not through any special demonstration of my own superior gifts, but by the help of God and the persecution of others.
During my pastorate in Brooklyn a certain group of preachers began to slander me and to say all manner of lies about me; I suppose because they were jealous of my success. These calumnies were published in every important newspaper in the country. The result was that the New York correspondents of the leading papers in the chief cities of the United States came to my church on Sundays, expecting I would make counter attacks, which would be good news. I never said a word in reply, with the exception of a single paragraph.
The correspondents were after news, and, failing to get the sensational charges, they took down the sermons and sent them to the newspaper.
Many times have I been maligned and my work misrepresented; but all such falsehood and persecution have turned out for my advantage and enlarged my work.
Whoever did escape it?
I was one summer in the pulpit of John Wesley, in London—a pulpit where he stood one day and said: "I have been charged with all the crimes in the calendar except one—that of drunkenness," and his wife arose in the audience and said: "You know you were drunk last night."
I saw in a foreign journal a report of one of George Whitefield's sermons—a sermon preached a hundred and twenty or thirty years ago. It seemed that the reporter stood to take the sermon, and his chief idea was to caricature it, and these are some of the reportorial interlinings of the sermon of George Whitefield. After calling him by a nickname indicative of a physical defect in the eye, it goes on to say: "Here the preacher clasps his chin on the pulpit cushion. Here he elevates his voice. Here he lowers his voice. Holds his arms extended. Bawls aloud. Stands trembling. Makes a frightful face. Turns up the whites of his eyes. Clasps his hands behind him. Clasps his arms around him, and hugs himself. Roars aloud. Holloas. Jumps. Cries. Changes from crying. Holloas and jumps again."
One would have thought that if any man ought to have been free from persecution it was George Whitefield, bringing great masses of the people into the kingdom of God, wearing himself out for Christ's sake: and yet the learned Dr. Johnson called him a mountebank. Robert Hall preached about the glories of heaven as no uninspired man ever preached about them, and it was said when he preached about heaven his face shone like an angel's, and yet good Christian John Foster writes of Robert Hall, saying: "Robert Hall is a mere actor, and when he talks about heaven the smile on his face is the reflection of his own vanity." John Wesley stirred all England with reform, and yet he was caricatured by all the small wits of his day. He was pictorialised, history says, on the board fences of London, and everywhere he was the target for the punsters; yet John Wesley stands to-day before all Christendom, his name mighty. I have preached a Gospel that is not only appropriate to the home circle, but is appropriate to Wall Street, to Broadway, to Fulton Street, to Montague Street, to Atlantic Street, to every street—not only a religion that is good for half past ten o'clock Sunday morning, but good for half past ten o'clock any morning. This was one of the considerations in my work as a preacher of the Gospel that extended its usefulness. A practical religion is what we all need. In my previous work at Belleville, N.J., and in Syracuse, I had absorbed other considerations of necessity in the business of uniting the human character with the church character.
Although the Central Presbyterian Church in Brooklyn of which I was pastor was one of the largest buildings in that city then, it did not represent my ideal of a church.
I learned in my village pastorates that the Church ought to be a great home circle of fathers, mothers, brothers, and sisters. That would be a very strange home circle where the brothers and sisters did not know each other, and where the parents were characterised by frigidity and heartlessness. The Church must be a great family group—the pulpit the fireplace, the people all gathered around it. I think we sometimes can tell the people to stay out by our church architecture. People come in and find things angular and cold and stiff, and they go away never again to come; when the church ought to be a great home circle.
I knew a minister of religion who had his fourth settlement. His first two churches became extinct as a result of his ministry, the third church was hopelessly crippled, and the fourth was saved simply by the fact that he departed this life. On the other hand, I have seen pastorates which continued year after year, all the time strengthening, and I have heard of instances where the pastoral relation continued twenty years, thirty years, forty years, and all the time the confidence and the love were on the increase. So it was with the pastorate of old Dr. Spencer, so it was with the pastorate of old Dr. Gardiner Spring, so it was with the pastorate of a great many of those old ministers of Jesus Christ, of whom the world was not worthy.
I saw an opportunity to establish in Brooklyn just such a church as I had in my mind's eye—a Tabernacle, where all the people who wanted to hear the Gospel preached could come in and be comfortable. I projected, designed, and successfully established the Brooklyn Tabernacle within a little over a year after preaching my first sermon in Brooklyn. The church seated 3,500 people, and yet we were compelled to use the old church to take care of all our active Christian work besides.
The first Brooklyn Tabernacle was, I believe, the most buoyant expression of my work that I ever enjoyed. It drew upon all my energies and resources, and as the sacred walls grew up towards the skies, I prayed God that I might have the strength and spiritual energy to grow with it.
Prayer always meets the emergency, no matter how difficult it may be.
That was the substantial backing of the first Brooklyn Tabernacle—prayer. Prayer furnished the means as well as the faith that was behind them. I was merely the promoter, the agent, of a company organised in Heaven to perpetuate the Gospel of Christ. It was considered a great thing to have done, and many were the reasons whispered by the worldly and the envious and the orthodox, for its success. Some said it was due to magnetism.
As a cord or rope can bind bodies together, there may be an invisible cord binding souls. A magnetic man throws it over others as a hunter throws a lasso. Some men are surcharged with this influence, and have employed it for patriotism and Christianity and elevated purposes.
It is always a surprise to a great majority of people how churches are built, how money for which the world has so many other uses can be obtained to build churches. There are names of men and women whom I have only to mention and they suggest at once not only great wealth, but religion, generosity, philanthropy, such as Amos Laurence, James Lennox, Peter Cooper, William E. Dodge, Miss Wolfe, Mrs. William Astor. A good moral character can be accompanied by affluent circumstances.