It is of much interest to have the leading facts of the life of a devoted minister of Jesus Christ, sketched by his own hand, for the edification and encouragement of those who are to succeed him; for what a good man of sound discretion may say about himself, for the benefit of those who survive him, in generally better said to that purpose than can be expressed by another. There will, in such case, be more of life in its real experience developed, and this will be brought out with less of human frailty than will probably appear from the pen of a surviving admirer.
But though the subject of this memoir was often urged by his brethren to leave in manuscript some such data as would afford the opportunity of giving, from his own hand, a full history of his ministry, he left nothing--not a line--for this purpose; not that he was indifferent to the desires of his brethren--but few men of his intellectual strength have as humble an estimate of their real worth as he invariably manifested: modesty was one of his leading characteristics.
To decline to speak of one's self is certainly to be considered a high personal virtue, in so far as it stands in opposition to ostentation; but as no man should withhold a talent from active service for God while he lives, certainly he ought to be willing that his talents, in connection with his personal experience and labors, should still be fresh and strong in their power to do good, even after death may have removed him from the scenes of usefulness in the Church below.
The reader must be satisfied, in this contribution, with such facts as have been gleaned from observation, and that made without any expectation of such a duty as this being required.
Samuel B. F. Caldwell was born in Russellville, Kentucky, on the 25th day of June, 1804.
He was the fifth son of his parents. His father, Gen. Samuel Caldwell, was a lawyer of some prominence in his State. His mother was a devoted Christian woman, of a high order of mental cultivation for that day. Hers was such a spirit as will likely be impressed upon the offspring for good. She was led to Christ, and to membership in the Cumberland Presbyterian Church, under the ministration of Father Harris, and exemplified through life much of that earnest, active Christianity for which his labors were so remarkable.
As a result of her consecrated life as a Christian mother, all her children were converted to God in early life; and all these, but one, became members of the Church of their mother. That exception--William--is a highly respected minister in the Baptist Church.
What a happy thing if all mothers were thus consecrated in heart, and in training their families for God! If so, we would have many more entire households walking together in the paths of Christian purity and usefulness.
Samuel embraced the Saviour at Mt. Moriah Camp-ground, five miles west of Russellville, in his fourteenth year, and was received as a member of the Liberty Congregation about a month thereafter, by the Rev. David Lowry. From the time of his conversion his life was given to Christ. This was exemplified not only in his private devout walk, but also in his taking such part in the public service of God thereafter as his age and ability would warrant.
With parental approbation, he placed himself under Dr. Jones, of his native town, to study medicine, in which science he made marked proficiency; but God intended that his life should be employed in bringing dying sinners to the great Physician of souls.
While in Dr. Jones's office, he had much of mental struggle and darkness on this question. Fearing lest he was mistaking some human impulsion to the ministry for that of God, he withheld his convictions of felt duty; and hence he did not enter a course of preparation for the ministry for several years after he first realized drawings of soul toward this great work.
While engaged in the study of medicine, however, he would frequently go out with the young men of his town, who were entering the ministry, to their meetings, and aid them by prayer and exhortation in their work. There was much more of exhortation in these services then than now.
His natural timidity shrunk from the fearful responsibility of becoming a preacher of the gospel; but so deep and moving was the conviction that he must surrender all considerations to God and engage in this work, that he finally decided, trusting in God to change his whole plan of professional life, and teach sinners the way to God.
Having this question settled, he placed himself under the care of the Logan Presbytery of his Church, as a candidate for the ministry, at Pilot Knob Meeting-house, in Simpson county, Kentucky, in the fall of 1825. From this time his course of study had exclusive reference to the work to which God had manifestly called him. He read his first discourse under direction of the Presbytery, at Russellville, early in 1826; and the second one at Mt. Moriah, about the first of October of the same year, when he was licensed to preach. It was during this meeting of Presbytery that he preached his first sermon. It will be remembered that it was here that God had taught his young heart to trust and love the Redeemer. Then, how suitable was it that he should here begin to cry, "Behold what manner of love the Father hath bestowed upon us that we should be called the sons of God!"
As directed by his Presbytery, he immediately took charge of what was then known as the Logan Circuit, on which his labors were greatly blessed as a young preacher.
It will be recollected that at that time of our history as a Church itinerant preaching was common. In order to supply the spiritual wants of the people, our preachers then traveled extensively through the country, preaching in family residences, and school-houses, and under the forest-trees, wherever a door of usefulness was open to them. God greatly approved these laborious and self-sacrificing services. Thousands were thus brought to Christ.
There certainly has no other system of ministerial labor proved equally efficient in new portions of the country, or where the gospel has not before been preached in its true spiritual character.
Brother Caldwell was tall, and, while comparatively young, was straight, and of well-proportioned weight. In mental ability, as well as in ease, clearness, and pleasantness of address, he was much above mediocrity. He had a large, warm heart, fully under the reign of Divine grace. He could endure, and willingly performed, a heavy amount of labor for God and souls. Multitudes flocked to his services, drawn by his native powers of soul, his unusual oratory, and his heart-moving fervor of spirit.
He was ordained at Glasgow, Kentucky, a few years after his licensure. He was one of the five ministers who thereafter constituted the Kentucky Presbytery upon its organization. He was a member of this Presbytery five years, during which time he built up two large and influential congregations, in Scott county, as a part of the result of his labors.
He has already been intimated, he was an orator. This to him was nature's own free gift. He did not, indeed, neglect the proper means of improving his address; but there was nothing like the artificial in his masterly eloquence. It flowed with all the freeness and naturalness of the morning breeze. Whether in boldness of figure or its judicious selection, whether in the beauty of his imagery or its baptized consecration, his address was that of a master of the highest order. The writer can safely say he has never heard him equaled. When presenting the attributes of God, the character and atoning work of the Lord Jesus Christ, and many other topics, his soul would grow in power of expression, and impression upon his hearers, so that his eloquence would become simply enrapturing.
Though not a great talker in private circles, yet he was genial and sufficiently communicative to make him one of the most companionable of men. His conversation, while sufficiently varied in its topics, was always dignified and instructive. It is not strange that he was so much beloved in the field of his early and later ministry. His meek and unpretentious manner made the intrinsic worth of the man the more highly appreciated by all who admire true nobility in human character. It is not held that he was without fault. No. Like all others of our race, he had faults; but it may be said truly that these were the exceptions in his character, and that they were largely lost to view by the glowing nature of his many manly and Christian virtues.
He removed with his family to Illinois in 1835, where he labored about five years as a member of the Rushville Presbytery. His labors were here, as in Kentucky, abundant in good results to souls. His fellow-workers held him in high esteem for his spirit and works' sake. Most of them have, with him, gone up to their reward in heaven; so his co-laborers in Kentucky. A beloved and venerable Lowry, Traughber, Hunter, Thomas, and a younger, but no less beloved, Anderson, and perhaps a few others, yet survive to honor their Master; but the most of his fellows in labor are together enjoying their eternal inheritance.
From Illinois he removed to Missouri, in the latter part of 1840, and early in 1841 became a member of the McGee Presbytery.
He aided in the organization of the Kirksville Presbytery, in 1859, of which he remained a member until 1862, when he resumed his relation with the McGee. Of this latter he was one of the most beloved and consecrated members.
Having become gray prematurely, he rather early in life received the appellation of "Uncle Sam," by which he was tenderly called in his more intimate circles by both young and old.
He resided in Shelby county for a number of years after he came to Missouri. Thence he removed to Bloomington, remaining in that town for some years, being the pastor of our Church there the most of that time. In 1862 he removed to Cairo, in Randolph county, where he closed his labors on earth.
He was the common property of Christianity. Although a Cumberland Presbyterian, and that, too, in all that constitutes a noble mind fully satisfied of the truth of any position, yet he was no sectarian in any exclusive or disagreeable signification of the term. This was evinced in the cordial greetings he received from the people of all the various Churches. But while truly catholic in spirit, he was jealous for the truth of God. During a camp-meeting held in Monroe county, Missouri, a number of years since, the Rev. Dr. ________, of Philadelphia, was in attendance, and being invited, he preached on Sabbath, greatly to the edification and satisfaction of his hearers. He preached again on Monday, presenting as his theme the "New Birth," which he treated as a change in the determination of the sinner to cease to oppose God, and to comply with his will. Brother Caldwell listened to this discourse with more manifest regret at what was saying than the writer had ever before seen in him. Though he betrayed no desire to arrest the train of thought as presented by the speaker, yet it was manifest to those who knew him well that he was unwilling that the sinners of the audience should be led to rely upon their own personal determination, instead of the Spirit of God, for their regeneration. As by the arrangement for the day he was to follow the Doctor, he took a text leading him to discuss the same theme. Without any direct allusion to what had been said in the previous discourse, or any reference to the former speaker, he presented the great truth of the Spirit's work in the sinner's salvation with such a clearness and power as I had never before heard him or any other man present it. His great soul swelled with interest as he proceeded with his convincing, scriptural arguments. The congregation was deeply moved; for the Holy Spirit was evidently present, applying his own inspired truth to the hearts of the hearers. Christians were made to rejoice aloud, and sinners in large numbers came weeping and trembling to the altar of prayer, crying to God for mercy. The work of God was powerfully revived, resulting in the salvation of many precious souls. The writer never saw the truth of God more clearly and fully vindicated, practically as well as in its theory.
That afternoon, before the Doctor left, he said to Brother Caldwell that there was one thing he had never been able to understand. Said he: "Many even of your young men seem to have a clearer view of the great truths of the gospel, and to be able to present them with more efficiency, than our ministers who, after taking a regular course in the Theological Seminary, have spent years in the active ministry." Brother Caldwell responded, with a melting smile: "That is because we go directly to our Bibles for God's truth." The interview ended pleasantly. As before said, God's word had been vindicated. It was not meant by this response by Brother Caldwell that he ignored, or even lightly esteemed, the importance of a high grade and literary and theological training for the gospel ministry. To the contrary, his sermons and his instructions to the probationers for the ministry evinced that he would have all God's embassadors thoroughly trained in all parts of ripe scholarship and sound theology; but he would have all to understand and enforce the saving truths of the gospel.
As a theologian he had but few superiors. His sermons and lectures were convincing evidence of his thorough study of the Holy Scriptures. His research was shown to be close and exhaustive. Added to this, his ready command of language made him highly entertaining and instructive as a preceptor. The "boys," as he would often call the probationers for the ministry, loved him tenderly as an own father is loved. It may be added that it is a superior pleasure to love such a man.
He was not one of the class of preachers who "wear out" by having preached to a people for a number of years. There were a freshness and sweetness in his discourses which made these all the more relishable to his regular hearers by his often preaching to them. Yet he was a strong advocate of the itinerant system of preaching, and especially did he urge in Presbytery that the young preachers should be trained in this "school," as he termed it, for true practical life--holding that in new portions of the country it was the most efficient means of bringing the gospel to the very doors of the people; and at the same time, it made the rising ministry of the Church more active and self-denying in their early ministerial habits.
Whether this was the result of his own early training, the reader will judge. It was not peculiar to him, however, but may be said to be the opinion, especially, of most of our old men.
Early associations have a great deal to do in the formation of our habits of thought for life; but, at the same time, all take pleasure in recognizing the fact that those who have gone before us in our ministry were, for the most part, men of unusually sound judgment on subjects of practical ministerial life. While we may not in all things do as they did, and especially because they so acted, still it will be well for the world if, under God, we continue to be as successful in winning souls to Christ as their examples invite us to be. They were wise to know their times, and the best means of success therein. May their sons not be less wise nor less successful! We love their memory. They were holy men, greatly approved of God.
In the spring of 1843 Brother Caldwell was employed by the Presbytery (McGee) to preach throughout its bounds a a missionary, and the writer was ordered to accompany him for instruction and to aid him in his labors. It was here my own active ministry began. The events of the year will never be effaced from memory. There I found, as many before and since have realized, that to be with him as a pupil afforded a pleasant and sure opportunity of improvement. Great good resulted from his labors that year, at many of the points visited.
As an expounder of the doctrines of the gospel, he brought the intermediate system of theology, as held by our Church, before the people, in the spirit of his Master, resulting largely in the solid growth of the Church.
It will not be out of place to introduce an incident of that year, illustrative of his ability so to control present circumstances as to bring forth very unexpected good out of unpromising events. Brothers S. C. Davis and Alvin Mussett had, during the early part of this year, visited a neighborhood in what is now Putnam county, of this State, where a few Cumberland Presbyterians had settled, and held a very interesting series of meetings, resulting in the salvation of many souls and the organization of a respectably large congregation.
Before they left they arranged with the brethren there for a camp-meeting the ensuing autumn, to be held near where the new congregation was organized--both promising, if possible, to be in attendance. It so occurred, however, that these two brethren afterward thought they could not be at the meeting. Of this they gave Brother Caldwell notice, requesting him to fill the engagement. He so arranged his plan of work, and we reached the ground on Thursday, about the middle of the afternoon. The first service had been appointed to open on that evening, at "candle-lighting."
We found five or six new log camps already occupied by hospitable owners, who were there in readiness to receive the two expected preachers. They had not before this met with Brother Caldwell. We rode conveniently near, dismounted from our horses, and, preacher-like, took off our saddle-bags, and went to one of the camps, where Brother Caldwell introduced himself and the two boys who accompanied him. They cared for us, as strangers, kindly, and soon had us a good dinner on the table. While we were eating, they began to come in from the other camps, each to inquire, as our host and hostess had already done, "Where are Brother Davis and Brother Mussett?" "Will they not be here at all?" "Dear me! we are so disappointed! We had such a good meeting when they were here in the spring, and we thought we would have another such," etc., etc. We heard a number of such addresses from all sides.
Brother Caldwell bore these unpleasant salutations meekly. Bore it, I say; for it was a little trying to frail humanity. He had traveled near a hundred miles through heat, and the prairie flies, which were then exceedingly annoying to our horses; he was very much jaded by his journey; and now to be spoken to with so little cheer, was indeed trying; many would have retaliated in bitter complaints, but not a word of dissatisfaction did he utter. This was not because he was insensible to such treatment; he was naturally sensitive. As before stated, they, however, treated us to the best they had in store, of their ample means of rural rest and refreshment.
At night-fall the candles were lighted in one of the camps, as there were no more in attendance at that service than could be comfortably seated therein. Brother Caldwell conducted the service; he did not preach. Having read, and sung, and prayed, he gave us a talk, and O what a talk it was! His generous soul had arisen superior to the unpromising surroundings; he was fully ready to do service for God. He modestly referred for a moment to his past experience in connection with such meetings, saying that he had sometimes permitted himself to be very deeply impressed by the opening circumstances of a meeting for good or discouragement. "But," said he, "I have been praying to God since I have been here that I might be preserved from any such impressions at this time. We have come here to endeavor to do good in the name and strength of Jesus Christ; but we find you depending for good wholly upon your fellow-men. They are good men, and successful workers in the hands of God; but what if they were here, and Jesus Christ should not manifest his presence? Could they save you, save your children, or save your neighbors who may attend here with you? We have heard from you many anxious inquiries about these dear brethren's coming to this meeting; but as desirable to you and to us as their presence and labors may be, is it not better to have our Saviour with us? Yet we have heard no word from any of you about his being with us, or even that you desire him." Then, with flooded eyes, he exclaimed, "O Jesus, Jesus, Saviour of sinners, art thou to be thus treated in the house of thy friends!" These and similar sentiments he spoke in tones of tenderness. It had the desired effect. His address broke them loose from their human moorings. While his exclamations to Jesus were yet falling from his lips, the already full hearts of his Christian hearers burst out in audible language of confession, and earnest pleadings for the divine presence, as all that they needed or desired. His soul flowed out in a powerful exhortation. The effect was wonderful: before the service closed, the supplications of the Christian part of the little company were in several instances turned to praises, and the few unconverted who were present kneeled in agonizing prayer to God for pardon. It is enough to add that God was greatly glorified through the ministrations of this faithful servant during this meeting. Every person of the many who attended all the services after Friday embraced Christ, except one man. This man passed through that great work of grace not unmoved, but still impenitent: it is believed that he is still out of Christ. Brother Caldwell left the meeting amidst many tears of Christian attachment. No man ever left in the heart of a people more of love for him, in view of services rendered, than this beloved brother left there. He was never known to make any unpleasant reference to the above facts; he would sometimes allude to them as an illustration of the power of Jesus to manifest himself graciously even under very discouraging circumstances.
Another incident, though of a different character, may be introduced illustrative of this happy talent of arising above great discouragements.
During a camp-meeting at Sugar Creek, Randolph county, Missouri, a number of years since, a preacher of another Church attended; he was invited to preach on Sabbath-night, and then the next day. He declined in both cases, but afterward went to the minister in charge, and said that he would preach if he could have choice of hours. Through deference to him and his brethren, this was promptly granted on Monday.
The meeting had already become quite interesting.
Contrary to expectation, the invited preacher led off in a bitter controversial discourse, delivered in a very unfraternal spirit. All were sadly disappointed, and not a little surprised, to hear him, under existing circumstances, assail the theological tenets of the Church whose courtesies he was sharing. It cast a gloom over all who had expected better things, and called forth some pro and con remarks at the close of the discourse, of no pleasant character. He left immediately after, and so did several of his brethren who were camped on the ground. All were grieved that the good prospects of the meeting should be so sadly blighted. The question arose, What shall be done? Who shall preach?
It was very unusual for Brother Caldwell, on any occasion, to intimate that he desired to preach, when others might be appointed; but at this time, and doubtless led by the Spirit of God, he said to the brethren that he desired to preach.
After an intermission of an hour, he opened his service, which was deeply impressive throughout; he made no allusion to the disturbing events of the day. At the close of the sermon, he invited the penitent forward for prayer, and a number were converted to God before the close of the service.
At that period of his ministry, it was not very common for him to invite the penitent forward for prayer, seeming to think that others of his brethren were better qualified for that work. But it was a common remark among the preachers, that Uncle Sam;s mourners nearly always obtained religion soon after coming forward. This may have resulted from the fact that he did not ordinarily make such a call, unless the audience was more than usually moved; but it was doubtless a result, at least in part,of his clear and forcible presentation of divine truth.
His greatest strength was mostly seen in the pulpit, and in personal interviews; while as a Presbyter his judgment was not often at fault, yet he generally said but little in the judicatories of the Church. This was the case, at least, after the writer's acquaintance with him. His influence in his Presbytery and Synod was controlling when exerted, but he ordinarily here said but little. He was thought by most who knew him well, to be too reticent in the Church courts, considering his good judgment, and its weight when expressed. Few men retire more persistently through life from distinction than he did.
He would have honored and sanctified any pulpit; and still his chosen services were generally confined to unconspicuous places.
This, too, may have been a result somewhat of his early training of thought. But He who declared that the "poor have the gospel preached unto them," no doubt, often disposes some even of his most gifted and consecrated servants to choose the humbler walks of usefulness.
His private life and his ministry became more spiritual and successful as his measure of time was drawing to a close. This is a pleasing feature. How happy to see the closing scenes of Christian life the culminating point of earthly existence, and this, too, well marked by the Holy Spirit! It was not uncommon for him, in his heart-interchanges with his brethren, to praise God with uplifted hands, and streaming eyes of joy and gratitude.
The writer passed his residence a day or two after hearing of the death of the late lamented Dr. Davis, of Memphis, Tennessee. Having called a few moments with him, he was asked if he had heard of that event. He answered, "Is he dead? Well, tell me how he died." Upon the last triumphant words of that dying man of God being repeated, the dear brother broke forth in vocal praise to God for his victorious grace.
Before the mind to-day are many scenes when, in his preaching Christ, his soul would overflow with rapturous joy. Not a few person will long remember his aiding in a Presbyterial communion service, in Macon, Missouri, in October, 1868: as he spoke of the Saviour's love in his atoning death and intercessory life, and in his preparing mansions of rest for all his followers, his soul was raised high in the scale of Christian enjoyment. With his long arm elevated, he exclaimed, "O my dear brethren, I feel to-day as if I had my thumb on the latch of heaven's pearly gate!" Though under other circumstances, and by other speakers, such a remark might have seemed unsuited to such an occasion, yet the effect was powerful upon the large audience. Many lifted up their voices with their hearts in praise to God.
He aided the writer in a meeting in Roanoke, Missouri, during the fall of 1866, in which his services were remarkably successful. He remained in the meeting twelve days, preaching once or oftener each day with increasing interest to his own soul and to his hearers. He had never been clothed with more of the divine power to sin souls to Christ than at this meeting. Each discourse seemed to be a marked improvement in clearness and power upon those already delivered.
An incident or two will show the unusual ability with which he here did the Master's work. On the sixth evening of the meeting, a minister of a sister denomination, who is highly respected for his piety and talents, came into the meeting, and having heard Brother Caldwell for the first time, retired to spend the night with a Christian friend. The visitor say with such continued silence that he was asked by his brother if he was ill. He briefly replied that, since he had heard the sermon that evening, he had about reached the conclusion that he had not been called of God to the ministry. Upon his brother's asking him what he meant, he responded that his sermons were so far below the one they had just heard in spirit and power that he was really considering whether he might not be mistaken as to his duty to preach. His brother very sensibly said to him, "You must remember God did not call you to do Brother Caldwell's preaching."
On the last night he was in that meeting, he improved the history of Christ's healing blind Bartimeus, as illustrative of his love and ability to save. His descriptive power was life-like, and in this discourse he transcended any thing the writer ever heard from him or any other man. The power of the Holy One expanded, and strengthened his ability in thought and imagery; his words seemed to glow with the divine compassion. Just as he brought Bartimeus before his audience as healed of his blindness, and in astonishment beholding and admiring his wonderful deliverer, the speaker suddenly, but with ease to the hearers, turned attention to the Saviour as present to cure spiritual blindness of all who would like Bartimeus call upon him. The analogy was so beautiful, and so striking, that many of the audience at once burst forth in rapturous, joyous exclamations of praise to the Saviour.
It may seem to the reader as rather an extravagant remark, but it is nevertheless true, that at the time to which reference has just been made, the room seemed to be flooded with unearthly light. This was doubtless mental illumination--the indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit manifesting his glory in his earthen vessels.
The result of the service was glorious, not only to the children of God, but also to many penitent sinners. The closing appeal was brief but powerful, resulting in a large number coming to the altar of prayer, fifteen of whom were made happy in the Saviour's love in less than ten minutes after the sermon closed.
The writer never witnessed--never experienced--such a service before nor since; never saw such remarkable effects upon hearers as on that night. A number of others who were there expressed themselves similarly.
This was the last revival-meeting I was permitted to enjoy with him. I know not that I may expect to enjoy brighter and more transporting light in the divine service until I stand on Zion's hill, near to the great white throne.
The reader must not suppose that he was a boisterous man: neither in the pulpit, nor out of it, was he ever liable to such a charge. But he was profoundly impressive, speaking live words from the very altar of God.
He continued in the active ministry until prostrated by fatal disease. His last sermon, delivered on the day before this attack, is said to have been one of the best of his life.
His last illness was very painful, and somewhat protracted; but this he bore with true Christian fortitude. He was a ripe sheaf, in readiness for the heavenly garner.
The last interview I held with him, but a few days before his death, will always remain bright in memory. Upon entering his room, I was met with a tender, parental smile on his much-shrunk face. With a warm embrace of his emaciated arms, he pressed me to his bosom, saying in a low tone of voice, "O my dear brother, I am so thankful to God that I have the privilege of seeing you again before I go home!"
As his strength permitted he referred to many happy incidents of our ministerial association, adding that as tenderly as he loved his family and his brethren, if he had a desire to regain his health, it was that he might preach the great doctrines of the atonement of the Lord Jesus Christ, and regeneration by the Holy Spirit, with more faithfulness than he had done. In this connection he said, "You have heard me preach upon these precious subjects often, when my heart felt near to God; but since lying here, I have had such a blessed realization of the divine power and excellency of these saving truths that, if God so directs, I shall feel a greatly increased interest in urging sinners to become the recipients of their happifying and saving effects."
But God saw that he had been sufficiently faithful in all his works; that it was best for him to be honored with his eternal reward.
While he continued in a low whisper to speak the utterances of his full soul, I urged him to withhold for the night, and take rest. During our evening prayer with the family, his feeble voice could be heard in joyful thanksgiving to God whom he was so soon to see in glory.
In the morning I found him much refreshed by the slumbers of the night. As soon as he had received some simple nourishment, he sent for me to come to his room. After our morning prayers he resumed the conversation of the past evening, saying, "You have heard me, dear brother, often preach about God's promises to his people--that God will sustain them, and cause them to realize his faithfulness even amidst the Jordan of death. Now," said he, "I feel these precious truths in my own soul." He added, "I am not as high on the mount of spiritual rapture as you have seen me, and especially as you have seen me of late years; but I am nevertheless happy, my soul enjoys a sweet consciousness of security and comfort in a present, gracious Saviour. Not a cloud floats about my soul to disturb my view of heaven as my home; but still I have not as much ecstasy as I have often felt."
I suggested that our Father in heaven knows the kind of food most suitable for his children, adding, Your body is too feeble now to bear the raptures realized when you were in health. He smiled as he said, "I see it, I see it now; that is it, that is it. Thank God, I feel as if I heard falling warm from his own divine lips, 'My grace is sufficient for thee.'"
Before I left him he said, "It is not probable that we will again meet in the flesh; but we will by God's grace meet in heaven, will we not?" Upon my responding to his assurance, he added, "Thank God, thank God!"
He remarked during the interview, "I have told Brother Sharp (Rev. J. E. Sharp) what I want done when I am dead--he will tell you all. When you preach my funeral-discourse, do not indulge in any laudation. I know yours and Brother Sharp's love for me; but let Jesus be the theme, not me. The people all know Uncle Sam, preach Jesus. I want you to tell all the probationers for the ministry in college (McGee) that it is my dying counsel to them to be fully devoted to the work of the ministry. If so, God will take care of them. Tell them, for me, to hold up Jesus to dying sinners--to preach the necessity, the fact, and the nature of the New Birth; that, while they should give suitable attention to all other topics to be discussed in the pulpit, yet to let the burden of their message be the essential doctrines of Christianity. They know what these are. They are plainly taught in the word of God. They are distinctly recognized and enforced in our system of theology."
I may again suitably say, I have never had another such an interview as this. It seemed as if we were seated on a beautiful sward; that near to us ran a narrow and placid stream, separating us but a little distance from the evergreen shore of heaven. I have at no time felt nearer the good land. It did me good; for I may safely say that I have ever since had heaven more regularly and joyfully in view than before then.
He had often said in private and in his sermons, "I want to die rational; I want in death to bear witness for God in Christ." This desire was graciously granted, and that in a large measure. He was rational to the last, and to Brother Sharp gave similar testimony to the truth of God as above recorded.
He gently and without a struggle breathed his last on the 3d day of March, 1869.
He had been a highly-respected member of the Masonic Fraternity for a number of years. Brother Sharp asked him, a few days before his death, whether he wished to be buried by the Masons. He replied: "I do not know; I have not thought particularly about that. What do you think about it?" Brother Sharp responded: "Uncle Sam, we want to carry out your own will in this matter." To this he replied: "Well, Brother Sharp, if I can have my preference, I want to be buried by my brother-preachers. They are nearer to my heart than any other body of men. If enough of them can be present, I want them to carry my body to the grave, and place it therein." It was so done.
How suitable this arrangement! They had been fellow standard-bearers of Jesus Christ. It was proper that they should fold up his body in the banner he had so faithfully held afloat, and lay him down to rest in care of the great Redeemer.
The immensely large concourse assembled at his funeral-services, calling into requisition a special train on the railroad, and the deep emotion manifested during the services, spoke, as language cannot tell, the warm attachment of the multitude for him. A great man in Israel had fallen!
Since then a beautiful minister's monument has been erected in the cemetery of Grand Prairie Church, in Randolph county, Missouri, on the spot where his body rests. This was reared by those who loved him while he was on earth, and love his sainted memory still.
He left a dear companion and several children to mourn his death. In all the social relations of life he was tender and faithful, unless by indulgence his faithfulness had fault.
He was scrupulously careful so to manage his business transactions that unvarying integrity would always be promoted.
In him one of the purest of men has passed away. He is not, for God has taken him!
The author of this volume here appends to the foregoing excellent narrative of Dr. Mitchell some reflections, for a purpose which will be developed in the pages which follow:
When the reader has finished the foregoing graphic and beautiful sketch of one of the most pious and gifted men of the denomination, let him preserve in his mind the simple picture which has been so truthfully painted by learned author. I would not erase a line or reduce a shade of the coloring, but would reenstamp it all upon the heart, and burn it into the memory, of every son and daughter of the Church who may do themselves the pleasure to read it.
I simply wish to put upon record my own high appreciation of the character and splendid abilities of the faithful old soldier who has laid off his battered armor, and assumed the habiliments of the heavenly land, which have been prepared by Christ for all his faithful followers. I have such a profound admiration for the gifts of pulpit oratory, that I feel like bowing my head in respect and reverence to the gifted possessor of such wonderful powers. The themes of the gospel are so grand and magnificent, that I love to look upon the man who can fully comprehend and suitably proclaim them to a dying world. When a man of the deepest and humblest piety, without a trace of egotism or vanity, can bring himself up to the great height of a true conception of Christ in the gospel, and can utter those wonderful conceptions in the very language of the angels, then we can begin to comprehend something of the grandeur of the minister's divine calling. The same great truth, uttered by Mr. Caldwell when in one of his divine ecstasies, and by one of the commonplace preachers of the day, would find a parallel in the difference between the dialect of the heavens and the low provincialisms of earth. No wonder, then, that men were startled by his words, as they flamed out from his great, burning heart. No wonder that he could lift up the poor, feeble soul, redeemed by the blood of atonement from its earthly surroundings, and present it at the very portals of the glory-land. No wonder that he sometimes would gather about his own head a halo of divine light, and then fling it, warm and glowing, over his whole congregation. The preacher, of fervid fancy and glowing imagination, who kindles the fires of his soul with live coals from heavenly altars, will not only exalt the hopes of the Christian, but he can flash into the face of the ungodly the scathing lightnings of God's wrath. He can not only "put his thumb upon the latch of the pearly gate," and beckon all Christendom into its glowing portals, but he can hurl an avalanche of anathemas against the impenitent sinner. He can lift his own head far above the atmosphere of earth, which is filled with clouds and storms, into the regions of perpetual sunshine, and can point out with unerring precision the pathway for all the sin-smitten sons of earth to follow; and from this sublime and dazzling elevation he can reach up into the very armory of heaven for weapons of warfare against sin and its thousand votaries.
What an exalted privilege it is to be permitted, even at long intervals, to look from the summit of the outer wall upon the marvels of the heavenly land! Such being the wonderful powers of the great orator, what is to hinder the Church from being blessed with scores of such men? This inquiry had been suggested to my own mind very many times before. Is it not as consistent for the Church to pray for great and powerful men to be sent into the ministry, as it is to pray al all for the increase of the ministry? There is no prescribed limit to the blessings which Christ will bestow upon his Church, if that Church will humbly wait on him in faithful prayer. We are taught in the Scriptures to pray the Lord of the harvest to send forth more laborers; and while we are asking for this blessing, may we not ask that the men to be sent shall be such as will become eminently fitted for their great work? Mediocre men, and even "educated dullness," may do some good in the world, provided they are humble and faithful; but such men will never cause a ripple on the surface of general society. They will never reach the great sources of influence which mold and control public opinion. There are so many thinking men in the land now, that the Church must come up with men of like powers and attainments, or she will never reach that class of persons with her beneficent influence. The Church must have men of mark and power, learning and eloquence, wisdom and piety, or she will be kept forever skirmishing about the outposts of sin and wickedness, and cannot hope to assault successfully the citadels of crime.
And why should not very many able and eloquent men be found in the ranks of the ministry? There are two reasons to be found, in our Church, at least. The Church is too easily satisfied with small men--with men of meager attainments and insignificant natural endowments. We seem to think that our mission as a Church is to the poor and unlearned, and therefore an inferior order of preachers will do for us--this is one reason. Another is, we don't look among the gifted, promising men of the Church for our recruits to the ministry. This class of young men are generally sent to the law school or to the medical college, or to the cities to learn to become merchant princes. I have no doubt that there are many person now occupying high positions in society, in secular callings, who ought to be in the pulpit, and who would be there if the proper attention had been given to them when about determining upon their pursuits for life. Mr. Caldwell commenced preparing for the medical profession, but was providentially led, probably through the influence of pious parents, to give heed to his divine call to the ministry. What a world of good would have been lost if he had pursued his original purpose! Now, this is the improvement I wish to make of my appendage to Dr. Mitchell's excellent narrative--that the Church needs, and must have, more able and eloquent men in her ministry.
[Source: Ewing, R. C. 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. Nashville, Tenn.: Cumberland Presbyterian Board of Publication, 1874, pages 385-417.]