THE ministry in this State has been called to mourn the untimely death of many of its most brilliant and useful members. Men, strong, vigorous, and full to power to work for their Divine Master, have been called to their reward in the very morning of their days. Among these we notice the names of Kirkpatrick, Witherspoon, Daniel Weedin, and Reed.
Then, again, the brilliant and the gifted--men of genius and learning--the scholar, and the orator, such as Davis and Suddath, have been cut down in the noon-hours of their great work. To human apprehension, there is a fitness in the benign providence which calls to his final reward him who has spent the years of a long life in the faithful service of his Master. When such men as Morrow, Sloan, and Smith lay their tired and toil-worn bodies down to rest, in the dreamless slumbers of the grave, we all can appreciate the wisdom of the Divine dispensation. But when the young tree of the forest, glorious in its splendid foliage, and stretching out its arms to the sunshine and storm, in the buoyancy of exuberant life, is scathed and smitten by the lightnings of heaven, we cannot comprehend it. We can only bow our heads in humble submission to the Supreme Majesty who directs the affairs of the universe as seems to him best.
Among those whom the Church in this part of the country has been called to mourn, she has lamented the death of none more profoundly than that of Rev. J. A. Drennan. I presume it is a fact, not requiring to be sustained by proof, that no minister of the denomination in this State had more generally and thoroughly insinuated himself into the love and affections of the people than Dr. Drennan.
Too modest and retiring to excite the jealousy of any one, yet manly and decided enough to command the respect of all, there was a simplicity and harmony in the elements of his character that produced no jarring or discord in the practical workings of every-day life. To discharge faithfully the duties that lay before him was an elevated principle with him, which controlled absolutely the ministerial labors of his life. Then there were a profound humility and an abiding faith, which became the beacon-lights of his life, and cast a glowing illumination over his pathway. There was also to him an unfailing resource, and of this he never lost sight, to which all the humble followers of Christ may alike have access. To the old it proves the fountain wherein perpetual youth may be renewed. To the feeble and timid, impregnable shields are supplied. To the soldiers of the Most High, effectual weapons of warfare are furnished. To those in danger, it becomes a city of refuge. To those assaulted by enemies on all sides, it becomes a strong tower of defense. To all who may be cast down and annoyed by the vexing cares of life, it brings peace and joy; and to all wounded spirits, it proves a healing balm and a soothing consolation.
This resource is simply the privilege of prayer. The infinite value of this agency is only known to those who have often and effectually tried its divine efficacy. It is to be spoken to the shame of thousands of Christians, that they have never personally tested the full power of this instrumentality. Christian men, accustomed to employ it, and who know the potency and value of its influence, would surrender the privilege only with their lives. Upon this point the testimony is most abundant, that Mr. Drennan had for years been devoted to the duty and delighted with the privilege of prayer. In all his times of trial and need it was to him an unfailing remedy. In all his preparations for the duties of the pulpit, he was known to spend much of his time in humble petitions for divine guidance and illumination.
This, then, discloses the secret of his power in the pulpit, and the source of that sweet and delightful spirit which reigned in his heart, and which spread its aroma all over and about the ordinary duties of his every-day life.
James A. Drennan was born in Wilson county, Tennessee, on the 20th day of May, 1825.
Of the early life of Mr. Drennan we have no reliable information. It was his good fortune to be brought up in a pious household. His father was an elder in the Sugg's Creek Congregation of the Cumberland Presbyterian Church for many years. His mother died when he was quite young. It is presumed, however, that the early years of his life were similar to those of his contemporaries of that day, who were the sons of farmers, and whose worldly circumstances were so limited as to require the daily labor of all the members of the family for their ordinary support.
It seems that the chief inheritance to which he and most of his early companions were born was the necessity of hard labor, and the poor privilege of attending poor country schools for short periods of the year.
In his sixteenth year Mr. Drennan first became interested on the subject of religion, and in the following year (1842) became hopefully converted, and connected himself with the Cumberland Presbyterian Church.
From the limited history we have of this period of his life, it would appear that the matter of becoming a minister of the gospel had not been seriously entertained, for in the year 1846 he was ordained a ruling elder in his congregation.
In two years, however, after this event, he was received under the care of Presbytery, in the city of Nashville, as a candidate for the ministry. At the end of one year he was licensed to preach, and then he became a student in Cumberland University, and remained in college two years and a half.
On account of the financial embarrassments of his father, he was compelled to leave the University, and gave his time and labor for a considerable period to the matter of school-teaching, in order to assist his parent in his pecuniary difficulties.
He remained in college sufficiently long, however, to become a very good classical and scientific scholar. He could read Greek and Latin with considerable fluency; and his general attainments were altogether above the average of his young contemporaries in the ministry.
In October, 1853, at that old country church of historical fame, "Sugg's Creek," he was ordained to the whole work of the ministry. From the date of his licensure on down to the days of his last illness, we find a regular and systematic plan of labor in his profession. The evidence of this is on record, and I will speak of it hereafter. I refer to it here merely to show that his mind was fully made up for the work of ministry, and that he entered upon it as a life-duty, and not as a recreation for a day or a year.
Mr. Drennan kept a book in which he noted down the places of all his appointments to preach, gave the text from which he preached at each time, and the fact whether there was any interest in the congregation during the service. Thus we have the time, place, and text of every sermon he preached during the nineteen years of his ministerial labors. It was a singular notion to keep this sort of diary, which could be of little value to any one except himself. Indeed, I suppose it was only for his own reference that the record was kept, and to him it was of value, as affording a succinct view of the class of subjects that he was in the habit of discussing in the pulpit. To one who could understand the force of the several texts from which he preached, it would disclose the general drift of the preacher's thoughts, and indicate the line of subjects which he preferred to discuss. As I cannot draw from the record this sort of information, it must remain to me and to my readers sealed book. But it indicates another habit of mind which is useful to every professional character; and that is,t he habit of system and order in all his work. The book is more a memorandum of dates and texts than a journal of facts, and it affords us only a few facts to be used in this sketch; and one is, the matter of his constant application to the duties of the pulpit, and the unfailing regularity with which they were discharged. There is another thing disclosed in these memoranda, and that is a rigidly honest dealing with himself, in omitting to state that there was any interest in the meeting, when such was not the fact. All through the long list of sermons we find frequent mention of religious interest, but in very many instances an entire omission.
This memorandum shows another fact, and a most melancholy one it is. It gives a minute statement of all the pecuniary aid he ever received for preaching, and the congregations from which received. It discloses how utterly insufficient was the pay of one of the best preachers in the Church until within the last year or two of his life, when he served as pastor of Lexington and Mount Hebron Churches. The only wonder is, that he found it in his heart to preach at all to any people who were so niggardly in their support, and who were so incapable of appreciating at its true value the riches of the gospel.
On the 19th of December, 1854, Mr. Drennan was married to Miss C. M. McKay, in Tennessee; and from that time on till his removal to Missouri, he continued his usual ministerial labors among the Churches in the vicinity of his home. We have no data as to the special, or even general, results that followed his work in this field of labor. Judging, however, from the diligence and faithfulness which he exhibited during his ministry in this State, and which came directly under the observation of many witnesses still living, we may safely conclude that all the early years of his ministerial work, of which we have no record, were alike faithful and productive of the very best results. In the journal of texts already referred to, we have the fact stated, that his time was quite occupied, and frequent statements that there was public interest manifest in his congregations.
Beyond this we are unable to state any thing that would be reliable.
In the spring of 1858 Mr. Drennan moved with his family to Missouri, and settled in Bates county. In the following year he connected himself with Lexington Presbytery, and devoted the most of that year to itinerant labor in company with the Rev. J. H. Houx. It was under the circumstances of their joint labor in the itinerant field that so tender and lasting a friendship sprang up between Mr. Houx and the deceased. Mr. Houx understood and appreciated the character of Mr. Drennan better than any other man in the State, and he was, therefore, capable of rendering a juster tribute to his memory than any one else; and I shall avail myself of some excellent articles that were published in the Church papers by Mr. Houx, on the character of Mr. Drennan as a preacher. His judgment of the deceased as a preacher is derived from long and intimate association with him, and from close observation of his pulpit performances for a number of years.
From the time of his first settlement in Missouri till 1863, including two terrible years of the war, Mr. Drennan labored extensively among the Churches in his section of the State. He organized a number of Churches which have since become flourishing congregations. It was still his bad fortune to work for those who could not appreciate the value of his labors, and who consequently rendered to him very poor compensation for that work.
After the war had reached through the second year, it was simply impossible for any man to live in peace anywhere in his part of the State, and accordingly he moved across the Missouri River, into Callaway county, in 1863, and continued to reside there for about three years. He immediately entered upon his ministerial labors in his new field, and for three years preached to the Providence Congregation, and occasionally to some others in the same section of the country.
After peace and quiet had once more returned to the region of his old home, Mr. Drennan came back, and settled in the town on Butler, in 1867. This year he preached in that place, and to several other contiguous congregations.
About three years previously to this time, the wife of Mr. Drennan died,and left to his care several young children. From the record before us, we find that he was married the second time, on the 28th of January, 1868, to Mrs. A. M. Witherspoon, then of Otterville, Cooper county, Missouri.
This lady was the daughter of Mr. John McCutchen, of Pilot Grove, in that county, and was formerly the wife of the Rev. F. A. Witherspoon. I would like to feel that I had the privilege of saying a word about this excellent lady. She is still living, and her extreme sense of delicacy might be wounded by any eulogium in this connection. I will say, however, that there is no lady in the Church or out of it, of my acquaintance, who is so eminently fitted for the position of a preacher's wife as is Mrs. Drennan; and this by reason of her fine literary culture, her excellent sense, and her abounding piety. I hold her up to the ministry as a model woman for a preacher's wife.
Shortly after his marriage, Mr. Drennan was called to the charge of the Churches in Lexington and Mount Hebron. Before the war, the former of these congregations was in a most flourishing condition. It had the pastoral services at different times of Dr. Davis, Dr. Dennis, and Dr. Brown, now editor of the Cumberland Presbyterian. It was able to pay a liberal salary, and could command the best talents in the Church; but for nearly eight years it had not had a preacher. The membership was scattered to the four winds, and but a small handful was left to reestablish the broken altar. It was arranged that Mr. Drennan should spend half of his time with each congregation, and thus he entered upon his work.
For a year and a half he served the two Churches as above stated. At the Presbytery in October, 1869, it was decided that he should devote his entire time to the Lexington Congregation. At that session of Presbytery he was taken sick--typhoid fever, I believe, was the disease. He came home and went to bed, and, lingering for nearly a month, died on the 26th of October, 1869.
The particulars of his last illness, and of his death, are most feelingly and graphically described by his bosom friend, the Rev. J. H. Houx, and I will insert his account of that event, rather than any I could give myself. It may suffice to say, that the death of Mr. Drennan was a conspicuous addition to the long list already furnished from the hosts of Christ's followers, of those who vindicated in their dying hours the truth of the Christian religion, and who demonstrated in that supreme moment its power to sustain, support, and conquer on the threshold of the eternal world. A man whose religion stands this test has realized from it all that its divine Author has promised to give.
In my reflections upon the character of Mr. Drennan I shall be guided in great part by the estimation in which he was held by the Church and the community where he was known. It was not my pleasure to have been intimately acquainted with him, nor did I ever hear him preach. But I know well the judgment of his compeers in the ministry, and the opinions of the people at large in relation to his merits as a preacher and to his standing as a Christian gentleman. In addition to this, I have before me the written testimony of one who knew him better than all others, and who was eminently qualified to pass a sound judgment upon all his leading characteristics as a preacher, and upon the results of his work in the pulpit. Even at this day I cannot realize the fact that he is dead, without a profound sorrow over the event, because of the great loss which the Church and the world have sustained by the sad bereavement.
I felt so much solicitude for the recuperation of of the Church at Lexington--for the reestablishment of the altars at which I had so long worshiped in my former years--and I felt so confident that Mr. Drennan had laid well the foundations for that work, that I realized it not only as a public loss, but rather as a personal bereavement, when he died. It is a sad, and to me a most inscrutable, dispensation to see a strong man, in the meridian of his life and in the maturity of his powers, stricken from his feet and consigned to the remorseless tomb. The young may die, and the old must and will; but the middle-aged man, with stalwart form and brawny limbs, would seem to be endowed with powers that could resist disease and fling defiance into the very face of the great enemy of human life. I love to look upon a strong, powerful man, with mental and physical powers fully matured, and full of buoyant hope and vigorous life, and then calculate his capacity for usefulness to the Church and the State.
The concurrent testimony of public opinion and private judgment is to the same effect, and that is, that Mr. Drennan was a most humble-minded, devoted Christian gentleman. In his manners he was quiet, sometimes rather reserved, but candid, sincere, and cordial. He would impress the public mind as being a most reliable man in all the relations of life. He was one whom we could trust without any misgivings as to the consequences. The uprightness of his life was so conspicuously exhibited, both in his public and private walks, that all persons at once yielded to the conviction that he was a noble and good man. When he ascended the pulpit on Sabbath, there was no lurking suspicion in the minds of any one that he had either misjudged his calling, or that he was not the right man in the right place. His uniform life simply commanded the confidence of the people; and this declaration is fully sustained by the fact that when he died a whole city and county were in mourning. Every minister in the city where he died closed his church on the Sabbath to attend upon the funeral-services. The whole community felt the loss, and deplored it with all sincerity and candor.
Mr. Drennan's literary culture was above the average of his contemporaries in the ministry. His mind was well disciplined, and he was thus qualified to think accurately and investigate thoroughly. Taking, then, his humble piety, his uniform propriety of conduct, his mental training, his literary and theological attainments, and we have all the elements of a first-class preacher. That all these elements, in a high degree, did combine in Mr. Drennan, will be fully demonstrated in the excellent articles of the Rev. Mr. Houx, to which reference has already been made.
From this brief outline we are able to discern very clearly the distinct proportions of a beautiful and harmonious character. There seem to be no conflicting elements to mar the unity and integrity of the whole. A sound and cultivated mind, in a sound and well-developed body, with the heart renewed and the spirit sanctified by grace, presents the most splendid exhibition of the power and goodness of the Almighty that mortal vision has ever beheld. I love to look upon such a character as this, and I love to see such a person in the pulpit, standing in the august presence of his great Master, and assuming to speak for him. Look at him, as with solemn mien and earnest voice he calls sinners to repentance. Presently his theme will be changed, and he will speak of heaven--of its untold glories and unimagined splendors--and rising up to the great heights of his sublime mission, he will hear the "music of the spheres," and will catch the light of the heavenly world, and fling a halo of glory all over his audience. Then see him pause for a moment, and commence his sudden descent to the regions of the thunder and the storm, and catching a fiery bolt upon his pathway, he will hurl it in avenging wrath upon the impenitent unbeliever.
O what a grand mission it is to preach the gospel of the Son of God to a dying world!
It has often occurred to me that many good preachers fail to truly apprehend the majesty of their heavenly calling. When delivering their message to the congregation, the very nature of the theme should bring inspiration. The importance of the occasion should produce elevated conceptions, and suggest flowing language. The sacredness of the mission should lead to sublime thoughts, and the infinite danger to the sinner should develop the very highest qualities of persuasive eloquence. The gift of speech is God-given, and it is capable of being made the most potent influence that ever was brought to bear upon the minds of men. Preachers should study to be eloquent. But mere vehemence is not eloquence; mere sound is not sense; beautiful thought, clothed in stirring language, will at once enlist the attention, then reach the conscience, and then strike home to the heart.
The wonder is, that so few ministers of the gospel are really eloquent speakers.
We have the testimony of his excellent wife upon the matter of Mr. Drennan's habits in preparing for the labors of the pulpit. First, it is asserted that he would not content himself with feeding his people on chaff; that he labored diligently to entertain and instruct, and thereby to edify, his audience. He availed himself of all the aids and facilities that books and prayerful study could afford, in order to qualify himself for the grand work of speaking for his heavenly Master. Having a proper apprehension of the magnitude and sacredness of his calling, he fitted himself for his high duties by every means within his reach. But there is a fact in this connection which deserves to be noted with special emphasis. When he entered upon the work of preparation for the coming Sabbath, it was his custom to go to his library room and shut the door, and devote the long hours of the day to reading and studying the Scriptures on his knees. Actually in this attitude he would spend hours, imploring divine assistance in comprehending the great mystery of salvation by Jesus Christ. With humility of heart and body, he sought the divine guidance in the preparation of the banquet which he should serve to the followers of the meek and lowly Saviour. On some occasions, when more than ordinary light was desired as to the true meaning of some of the sacred writings, he would spend days together in this labor and study, and usually his pleadings and prayers were so earnest and faithful that his mind was made to glow with divine illumination, and his heart became expanded with the fullness of the great truths he was made to discern. During these periods of seclusion no member of his family would intrude upon his privacy. All alone with his divine Master, in the very dust of humility, would he seek his qualifications for the work of the Sabbath-day. Books and other human aids he would avail himself of, but nothing could serve as a substitute for that divine light which emanates from the source of all light and knowledge. Is it any wonder, then, that Christians of all denominations loved the man, and hung upon the words of his ministry with joy and rejoicing? This preparation upon bended knees was the source of his power in the pulpit. This discloses the secret of that divine unction which usually attended the later years of his ministry. He appealed to the right source for help, and was not turned away empty.
I believe in the largest literary qualifications for the work of the ministry; but no amount of human learning will answer for that ray of divine light which God will send into the heart of his humble minister. I believe in the efficacy of prayer to bring this light, and to bring blessings on the preacher and on the message which he delivers to the people. Deprived of the privilege of prayer, I would not give a cent for the Christian religion.
As to the personal and domestic habits of Mr. Drennan, I present the following extracts from the pen of one who knew him most intimately, and who is too candid to even exaggerate, much less to misstate, the facts:
"My only desire in reference to this sketch of his life is, that 'he, being dead, may yet speak.' His self-denial was so great, his every-day, earnest piety so consistent, that I feel it due to him that the Church should reap the fruit of his labors. He had no desire whatever to be conspicuous before the world; on the contrary, his only thought seemed to be to hide himself behind the cross, and hold up Jesus to a perishing world. He loved to think and talk, at home, abroad, and in the pulpit, about Christ, as being an atoning high-priest. He deemed himself unworthy to be thought of or considered when so illustrious a personage as Christ was before the world, demanding its every thought and attention; and I feel that I would be doing injustice to his precious memory, and robbing him of some of the fruits of his labors, were I to write one word that would lead any one to think more of the man than the God whom he served."
Speaking of Mr. Drennan's habit of guarding against besetting sins, we find the following:
"Almost daily, even through the last years of his life, have I heard him at the family altar incorporate in his prayer the petition that God would help us make our words few and fitly chosen, seasoned with grace. Thus beholding every besetting sin, so carefully watched, and divine aid constantly sought, you are prepared to see the keen, flashing eye, formerly so full of fire, softened into the sweet, mellow light of love and sympathy, and the quick, elastic motion of body, so touched with grace as to impress even a stranger with the thought that there was a man of God."
Referring to his habits while in his study engaged on his preparations for the pulpit, we quote as follows:
"At one time, soon after we were married, he came to me from his study, and said that I should make him some pads; that he studied much upon the floor, and that the floor was very hard. I gave him a cushion, and told him to put it upon his chair, and when he desired, to put it on the floor to kneel upon it. I think on no occasion did I go into his study, after he came out, without finding the cushion upon the floor, near the table or bed where he could lay his Bible and read and pray while on his knees. Such heavenly communion as he then frequently enjoyed was wonderful to behold. He sometimes came out with his face all aglow with such radiance as to make you feel that he had just come down from the mount of God."
The following incident is related, as illustrating the effect of his preaching:
"On one occasion, during a revival meeting at a place where he was a comparative stranger, he preached a very impressive sermon on the prayer of the Pharisee and publican. He spoke of the character and office of the publican, and how odious he was to the Jewish people. He also delineated many of the sins of the people of the present day, and with so much force that it reached the conscience of one sinner at least. Among those who came forward for the prayers of the Church was a man of Irish birth. He seemed to be utterly prostrated with fear and terror. Mr. Drennan spoke to him in reference to his condition, and the moment he recognized the preacher's voice he threw up both hands, and piteously exclaimed: 'O I am no republican! I did not do all those things!' Mr. Drennan explained that he had not preached any thing about politics, but was trying to lead him away from his sins to that God who could have mercy and forgive. The sinner again exclaimed: 'O do not murder me! I did not kill the man! I did not do all they say about me! Mrs. W. can tell you I was away during the war for most of the time.' Thus he continued for some time, occasionally confessing his sins, and then trying to conceal them--exhibiting, however, the most pungent conviction, and that the preacher had fully awakened and alarmed his conscience. He piteously begged the preacher to pray for him, and after a long struggle he was enabled to confess his sins to God, and to look to him alone for hope, and was finally happily converted. Afterward it was ascertained that he name of this man had been connected with a robbery and murder which had been committed in the neighborhood some years previously."
As illustrating the habitual distrust with which he regarded his pulpit performances, the following is related:
He had filled his usual appointment at Mount Hebron, and returning home while his wife was temporarily absent, he went to bed, and on her return he was interrogated as to his troubles. The practiced eye of his wife soon detected that the difficulty was mental, and not physical; she laughingly told him that he had made a signal failure in his last sermon, and had seriously compromised his own and his family's standing in the community. He answered very quickly, Who told you about that? It was afterward ascertained that the congregation generally regarded that sermon as one of the very best he had ever preached--several different individuals spoke of it as having proved to them a special means of grace.
We could multiply incidents similar to the foregoing, but our space will not allow.
We conclude this brief and imperfect sketch by introducing the following, which was prepared and published by the Rev. James H. Houx, pastor of the Cumberland Presbyterian Church at Warrensburg, who was the bosom friend and ardent admirer of Mr. Drennan:
In the inscrutable providence of God, the Rev. J. A. Drennan, pastor of the Cumberland Presbyterian Church in Lexington, Missouri, has been called from his career of labor and extensive usefulness to his account and heavenly reward. Brother Drennan departed this life at his home in Lexington, on last Saturday morning, at 9 o'clock, being the 26th October.
He suffered a tedious illness with typhoid fever for nearly one month, terminating in his dissolution.
He was taken from us in the prime of manhood, and in the midst of extensive usefulness, and with fine prospects before him of increased success.
He returned home sick from the fall meeting of the Lexington Presbytery, held at Clinton, which he served as Moderator. Early in his illness, the best medical counsel available was procured, and never did physicians and nurses labor more faithfully, but all proved unavailing.
For the last eighteen months he had alternately served the Lexington and Mount Hebron Congregations greatly to their satisfaction, and had wonderfully gained their confidence and love; also that of the entire community. No man was laboring with greater unity of purpose, or more hearty consecration to the cause than he. Never did I know a community to exhibit such intense anxiety for the recovery of a man as was witnessed in this instance. Not only was this the case with his own members, but it extended to all the Churches, and the entire community. Public prayers were offered in all the churches, and all seemed equally anxious for his recovery.
How strange the Providence that has taken such a man, under such circumstances, in the midst of great usefulness, and with such prospects for usefulness!
Sabbath morning, 11 o'clock, was set for the funeral-services; and the use of the Methodist Church--it being a very spacious house--was tendered for the occasion. All the Churches in the place omitted their usual services, and pastors and people came to join in the solemn service of the funeral obsequies. The house was jammed, and many remained in the vestibules and out-doors. The Masonic fraternity having brought the corpse in front of the pulpit, were called up and sang--"I would not live always," etc. Invocation, and reading John XIV. 1-20, by the Rev. Dr. Burrows, pastor of the Baptist Church. Sang--"God moves in a mysterious way," etc. Then prayer. Then the author of this notice, after song, "Now let our drooping hearts revive," addressed the solemn assembly from these words: "What I do, thou knowest not now, but thou shalt know hereafter." (John xiii. 7.) At the close of the sermon, the Rev. A. A. Moore, of our Church, offered the concluding prayer, and made a few very appropriate and touching remarks. During the entire service a profound solemnity pervaded the entire assembly, and many eyes were suffused with tears.
After services were through in the church, the Masons bore the mortal remains to the city cemetery, attended by a long procession, where they with Masonic honors interred the body in the same lot where the ashes of the Rev. W. W. Suddath lie.
Brother Drennan leaves a devoted wife, and three children--two of which are by his previous marriage--to realize what an irreparable loss they sustain in his death. Sad realization indeed! They have largely shared the sympathies and assistance of the Churches and communities for which he labored. This may greatly mitigate, but cannot relieve, their anguish.
But a few weeks anterior to Brother Drennan's last illness, he had fortunately taken a three-thousand-dollar policy on his life.
The Church has lost in him one of its able, consecrated, and most godly ministers. Truly "God makes darkness his secret place."
The following is furnished by one who was at his bedside during the whole of his long confinement before his death:
"As has been stated by Brother Houx, Mr. Drennan came home from Presbytery quite unwell. The disease rapidly developed into typhoid fever. While hew as yet conscious, he requested me to write to his brethren, then in Synod at West Port, that he was unable to be with them, and to pray for him in his affliction. The second day he was delirious, and only at intervals after that was he conscious of his surroundings. But in his wildest moments of delirium I could always soothe him by speaking of Jesus and his love, or by singing to him of heaven in low, soft tones. Never have I known any one who was so perfectly in love with the name of Jesus (I can express it in no better terms) than he was. The softest whisper of that name was 'music to his ear.' On one occasion a kind Christian lady sang just near his ear, in low, sweet tones, a beautiful song, with the chorus, 'Jesus, blessed Jesus,' and his face lighted up with an unearthly radiance, and he reached out his hands as though he would not, could not longer stay.
"The evening before he died, his delirium disappeared, and the fever was subdued. Our hearts were filled with the hope that he might get well. Just at twilight I was sitting by the bed holding his hand, and with his darling boy in my lap, he opened his eyes, and looked calmly and serenely in my face for several minutes. Then his eyes were fastened upon the young son upon my lap; then he surveyed all the persons present in the room, just as one aroused from a long sleep. Again his attention was arrested by the babe and his mother, and there beamed from those long-slumbering eyes such an unutterable sympathy as no language can express. It was his farewell look upon those he held most dear on earth. It seemed that his soul would utter his last blessing upon the heads of his beloved ones, through the organs of vision, while the faculty of speech was denied him. It was the final farewell of a sainted spirit already breathing the aroma of the heavenly garden, and already bathing in the sunlight of that beautiful land which lies beyond the stars. Breathing as gently and sweetly as an infant on its mother's breast, for a few hours still, he closed his mortal existence, without a movement of limb or muscle, and without a trace of that mortal agony which is usually exhibited in the last supreme moment.
"How comprehensive and complete is the victory which Christ has achieved for all his saints over the last great enemy of man!"
Physically, he was of medium stature, square in build, but of rather slender proportions, and very erect in his carriage. In temperament, the bilious was decidedly predominant; his hair and eyes were dark, his forehead prominent and massive, his nose slightly aquiline, and his lips comely. His mien was dignified, his movements natural and graceful.
Intellectually, he was no mediocre. He possessed the powers of very critical and thorough investigation, and constantly exhibited a characteristic fondness for method. His investigations evinced very vigorous mental action; and his decisions, patient and mature deliberation. He aspired to themes in themselves grand and commanding, and these he skillfully touched with a master's hand. His method in the presentation of his subject made it clear, attractive, and very impressive.
His taste in subjects was indeed exquisite, leading him to select the good, the chaste, and the lovely. His life was an exemplification of the injunction: "Whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely--think on these things." His taste in language and imagery was peculiarly refined; seemingly without effort he used the very best words that could have been selected, and a liberal share of appropriate imagery well applied. He possessed skill both to please and deeply to impress; and while his taste and culture qualified him to please the cultivated, his labors were not lost on the less favored. He, to a remarkable degree, commanded all classes.
Socially, he was what few men are--what few men can become. Not that he was forward in extending his acquaintance; he was modest and retiring at first acquaintance, and timid almost to a fault. In his modesty, however, he evinced nothing of confusion, but ever appeared manly and self-possessed. His unexceptionable deportment, his manifestations of respect, and deference for others, induced in them reciprocal respect, and a desire to extend their acquaintance, and a pleasure in that acquaintance. He so fully entered into sympathy with his friends and their circumstances that none were left in doubt of the real companionship of his feelings. His expressions of attachment and admiration for his friends on many lips would sound as flattery, indeed would be such; but with him there was no counterfeiting; he was too sincere to feign what was not real. The flatterer has learned the symbols of true affection, and skillfully uses them in a heartless way to accomplish an ulterior design. His expressions, however, were but the clear stream flowing from the pure fountain in the heart. In his associations his manners were free and cordial, but always dignified. His sociability won the affections of all, while his dignity commanded their profound respect.
He ardently loved all his brethren in the ministry, and fully appreciated every good point, both in their character and their sermons; seeming to realize that they were better men and better workmen than himself. He had learned "in lowliness of mind to esteem others better than himself," and was entirely free from even the semblance of jealousy toward his brethren, and was ever rejoiced at their success.
The impress of his social worth, and of his manly and Christian virtues, is deeply fixed in many minds and hearts that loved him, and the memory of these, like some bright image, stands out in all its symmetrical proportions. A multitude would join in the exclamation: Dear departed brother! May that image remain undimmed by time and change, till "flesh and heart shall fail," and we be reassociated in brighter climes in all the "beauties of holiness." J. H. HOUX.
He was not only a fine but a powerful preacher. An air of gravity and serenity attended him, which at once showed him to be soberly in earnest. His voice was full and round, his enunciation clear and perfect. His manner was that of thoughtfulness and self-possession, equally free from hesitation and rashness. His gestures were at first few and slow, and ever natural and graceful, and seemingly without effort. He stated his positions with perspicuity, and his distinctions in thought were clearly made in the use of language chaste and comprehensive. He was favored with a taste and a love for the use of imagery, and often dwelt on the parables, narratives, and historic portions of the Scriptures with convenience and much force. He exhibited quite a familiarity with the principles and facts of science, which he commanded with fine effect in illustrating and enforcing the truths of the gospel.
His taste, or his judgment, inclined him to descriptive and historic, rather than to rigidly doctrinal discourses, though in the latter he evinced decided ability. Above all others, experimentality in religion was his favorite theme. The love of God, the character, humiliation, and passion of the Redeemer, his exaltation, intercession, and especially his preciousness, are themes in which he delighted, and in which he excelled. Also the present felicitous estate and future glorious prospect of the Christian, are subjects on which he often dwelt with enrapturing delight.
Though characterized at the beginning by a dispassionate earnestness, with the advance of his subject he manifested a gradually increasing interest, indicated by the rapidity of thought, the force of gesture, the elevation and intonations of his voice, and the glow of his every feature, till the entire man became lost in the interests of his subject. Not, however, as some speakers who lose self-control in the excitement that possesses them; for never did he seem so completely to command himself as when all rapt and fired with his theme.
The matter of his subject, and the manner of his address, uniformly had the effect to fix and hold the attention of his auditory. Though at the first they realized only an agreeable entertainment, in the conclusion they discovered that gradually, and almost imperceptibly, their interest had grown into a deep concern, and often an abiding impression. Often his faith apprehended invisible things so clearly that they became to him as visible realities just before his eyes. His soul became all aglow with his theme, and every feature and gesture lent their force to increase his eloquence, till his own conceptions were so appropriately and strikingly expressed as to make his auditory see and feel them as he saw and felt. The effect at times was wonderful, and the results glorious. The hearts of Christians were made to leap for joy at the prospect, and sinners were constrained to tremble from fearful apprehensions. His warnings to the ungodly were faithful and startling, while his importunities in pleading with them were moving and winning.
Many glorious revivals of religion followed, consequent on his labors in Missouri, in which hundreds of souls were converted. He seemed with equal facility to perform missionary and pastoral labor. On his introduction to a people he uniformly attracted their admiration, and gained their confidence, which was always increased by extended acquaintance. Never did he leave a congregation but with their deep regret at his removal, and under their earnest protestation. To witness how fondly his charges were attached to him, it is only necessary to visit those fields where he once labored.
The eminent position Mr. Drennan attained in the ministry is but the result of adequate causes. These are found in his traits of character and habits of life. Also, the inference is legitimate, that in proportion as those traits and habits are found in others, just in that proportion will similar results follow.
As previously stated, he possessed the faculty both to please and deeply to impress. He pleased, because God had formed him in his personal appearance for dignity and gracefulness, and because he had diligently exercised a good taste in the development of the noble powers with which he had been invested; and also because in his course of preparation for the ministry he was favored with the association and counsel of some of the best men and finest models in the Church. These he improved greatly to his advantage, and to these he acknowledged his indebtedness. Among those to whom he felt himself obliged for valuable assistance was the Rev. H. B. Hill, who took him to his house and bestowed great attention upon him.
His personal appearance and address were such as to command the respect of all, and to commend his message to all, so that the most fastidious were indisposed to find fault; and at the same time, through his meekness, the more obscure and unpretending were made to feel assured of his respect and sympathy for them. These results, arising from such causes, should serve to instruct and inspire young men to raise themselves above the position of mere witlings and buffoons, and attain to that manly dignity and gentlemanly bearing which comport with their high calling, which will inevitably insure respect for their office and reflect credit on their persons.
But still, his success is traceable more to the internal spirit of the man than to all other causes. He lived under the abiding conviction that life involves weighty responsibilities, and under a comprehensive sense of the important relations he sustained to God and to the world. Hence he constantly endeavored faithfully to meet his obligations to the one and the other.
Another important element of his success was his almost unexampled meekness--his deep humility before God. Though he possessed parts and polish which most men might covet, still he considered his own powers and attainments as but trifling; he trusted not to these for success, but in his self-abasement looked to God for assistance and for success. What an evidence of humility, when that which is admired and loved by others is brought by its possessor to Jesus' feet, and there presented as a worthless sacrifice!
Another very important reason of his success was his habit and spirit of prayer. His habit was to pray often, statedly, and persistently. Not only was he scrupulous to allow nothing to interpose and prevent his observance of set hours for devotion, but often, at irregular intervals, when his engagements would allow, or his necessities demanded, he retired in secret and communed with God in prayer, and sought his assisting grace. Nor was he content with having formally discharged the duty. He looked for results, and ordinarily persisted in this exercise till he received the assurance of a gracious answer.
The following statement will evince his estimate of the importance of prayer: He spent much of his time while preparing his sermons on his knees. He read and meditated in this attitude, and no doubt in the spirit of prayer.
In connection with this, he was a man of vigorous and mature faith. I have no recollection of ever having heard him express a doubt as to his acceptance with God. He often expressed his full assurance. He regarded the truths and promises of Scripture as realities indeed. He took God at his word, and confidently expected an answer to his petitions. This spirit of prayer and faith he exercised on all subjects as he did on the subject of religion. His faith was no less evident in his sermons than his prayers. He was conscious that he served a faithful God, and that he preached a glorious gospel. He looked to God for success, and expected present results. His soul largely enjoyed his own sermons, and his features glowed with interest, according to the spirit of his theme. Such faith is not to be disappointed. As was his faith, so were the results.
The above I consider some of the elements of his success. J. H. HOUX.
To say that Mount Hebron Congregation feels deeply sorrowful and sad over the death of their much-beloved pastor, the Rev. James A. Drennan, but poorly expresses the feelings of its membership, both elders and laymen. Neither, indeed, is this feeling of sorrow and regret confined exclusively to members of his own particular branch of the Church of God, but to members of others denominational names, and to persons of no religious pretensions--indeed, to all who knew him and attended his ministrations of the word of life.
He was preeminently a "man of God," and, like Enoch, his walk and conversation was with and of God. Whilst he was strongly attached to the doctrines and usages of his own Church, and ready on all proper occasions to elucidate and defend them, his soul was too great to be hampered by an odious sectarianism that very often impairs the usefulness of God's ministers of all denominations, thereby closing the ears of both saint and sinner to their teachings. His was a mind and heart that cleared all such barriers as he marched steadily forward, rightly dividing the truth, giving to both saint and sinner their "portion in due season."
His name and influence were a "tower of strength" to the cause of religion, wherever he lived. His very looks proclaimed him a minister of the gospel; his bearing was calm, thoughtful, and dignified, without the smallest modicum of austerity; he possessed meekness and charity in a rare degree. Some of his most effective sermons were preached in his ordinary every-day intercourse with his fellow-men, in the highways and in the social circle. Though he was not a "great talker," what he said was "seasoned with grace." which he often made a matter of petition to the divine throne. Whether in his public ministrations or private intercourse with society, he was a living embodiment of the truth of Christianity.
In the pulpit he shone conspicuously by "hiding himself behind the cross of Christ." He disdained the tinsel of rhetorical flourish, appearing at all times to have well matured his subject, and treating it in a clear, concise, and logical manner that amounted to a mathematical demonstration--never failing to show to the Christian, from the great chart of salvation, those sublime and encouraging truths so dear to the Christian's heart, or to demonstrate to the sinner outside of his own consciousness that he was a sinner, and that Christ's mission in the world was to save such. He possessed a fine imagination and most excellent descriptive powers, and could wield either with great force and effect, whenever he saw proper to do so. But, as before remarked, he dealt not in the flowers of rhetoric; his was a sublimity of thought, delivered with such an energy and pathos, that the language was lost in the contemplation of the theme.
Well does this community remember his last sermon in a "protracted meeting," held in the latter part of September last. It was evening-service, the congregation large and attentive; his sermon was most impressive, but, as is often the case, seemed to have but little effect on the impenitent--but one or two responding to his call to come to the "anxious seat." He extended his remarks in an exhortation that was heart-searching and terribly sublime. He told the sinners of the congregation that he "felt that he had done his duty," and if they were finally lost he felt that "his skirts were clear of their blood," and awful as the truth is, not one to this day can gainsay his declarations on that solemn night, nor in that terrible day when Christ in righteousness shall judge the world.
But he has left us, and we feel sorely the affliction; but when we reflect that God, in his infinite wisdom and goodness, took him from the sorrows and cares of earth to that "land" where cares and sorrows never come, we feel that it is all right, and bow in humble submission to the divine will.
We feel that as a congregation we have been peculiarly blessed and peculiarly afflicted during the twenty years of our organization--blessed in having had for pastors such men as Robert D. Morrow, Claiborne A. Davis, William Washington Suddath, and James A. Drennan--the two last-named officiating as pastors at the time of their death.
If it be that Christians have ministering angels to attend them during their sojourn in this world, what a consoling thought that such bright and noble spirits as Morrow, Davis, Suddath, and Drennan, may feel a solicitude in heaven for congregations they have preached to on earth!
As a mark of our esteem and love for the Rev. James A. Drennan, we adopt the foregoing preamble and following resolutions:
Resolved, That we bow in humble submission to the divine will in removing our beloved pastor from our midst, and that we will strive to profit by his teachings, and be more faithful to God in the future than we have been in our past lives.
Resolved, That we tender to his afflicted wife and children our heart-felt sympathies in this their sore bereavement, and that we will pray to the God of the "fatherless and the widow" in their behalf.
Resolved, That Mount Hebron Congregation, in the death of Brother Drennan, has lost a faithful and able preacher, a kind and sincere friend, who at all times manifested a deep interest in its spiritual welfare.
Resolved, That Lexington Presbytery has lost one of its best Presbyters, and the Church at large one of its ablest and most efficient ministers.
Resolved, That society, in his death, has sustained the loss of one of the brightest exemplars of the polished Christian gentleman.
[Source: Historical Memoirs: Containing a Brief History of the Cumberland Presbyterian Church in Missouri, and Biographical Sketches of a Number of Those Ministers who Contributed to the Organization and the Establishment of that Church, in the Country West of the Mississippi River. By Judge R.C. Ewing. Nashville, Tenn.: Cumberland Presbyterian Board of Publication, 1874, pages 296-335]