Tries to Become a Politician. Fails. Last Act as a Politician. Tries to Join the Southern Army. Fails Again. His First Appointment. Feeling of Responsibility. His Plan. Text. Analysis of Sermon. Buys a Family Bible. Rules of Life.
When I obeyed the Saviour, the brethren urged me to begin at once to preach the gospel. I had been accustomed to making political speeches, and public addresses of different kinds, and they thought I could just as easily preach a sermon as to make a speech on any other subject. But I was not thus inclined. I had political aspirations, and was not disposed to give them up. My idea was, that I could have a good influence on public men, in conversation and association, by being a faithful and consistent Christian. I regarded this as a field in which the influence of Christianity was much needed; and I decided to make this a specialty, while leading a public political life. But it did not take long for me to learn that there was at least a strong probability that the influence would go the other way. However successfully some men may be politicians and Christians both, I soon discovered that, with my temperament, the two things would not work harmoniously together. I concluded that if I continued in politics I would be a very sorry kind of Christian, if one at all. For a thing of this kind I had a deep repugnance. The issue, then, as it appeared to me, was finally forced upon me: Shall I give up politics or Christianity? Of course I was not compelled to give up Christianity in theory, but I felt that I would virtually do so in practice; and with me the difference between the two was hardly worth considering. While I felt that it was a great sacrifice, in a worldly point of view, to give up the golden dreams of a brilliant future, I decided in favor of Christ and the Bible. I shall never cease to thank God for the decision.
My last act in political life was attending, as a delegate, a State Convention at Frankfort, in August, 1861. This was, in some respects, a miserable affair, and I became thoroughly disgusted with politics and politicians, such as seemed to be pushing to the front, and crowding modesty and decency and honesty out of sight. I decided that that kind of association, that kind of companionship in the profession, that kind of trickery and treachery as food for daily thought, however successful one might be, was disgusting and debasing. I went home from the convention determined upon a clear cut-loose from the whole concern.
During the convention, Gen. Wm. Preston remarked in a speech that in one year from that day, |the stars and bars| would be waving from the dome of that capitol. In twelve months to a day, I went to Frankfort to see the Board of the Christian Education Society, about assisting me in college. The railroad was not in use, and I went by way of the Shelbyville pike. When I got in sight of the city, I saw |the stars and bars| waving from the dome of the capitol! Gen. Kirby Smith had possession.
When the brethren learned of my determination to give up politics, they renewed their solicitations in regard to my preaching. But I had become intensely concerned about the cause of the Southern Confederacy, and longed to take a part in what I then considered her struggle for independence and justice. In my misguided zeal, I regarded this a duty that patriotism would not allow me to exchange for anything till it was performed. Then, if spared, my life-work should be begun. A peculiar circumstance, greatly lamented at the time, kept me out of the Southern army. But I have long regarded it as a special providence of God.
I was an officer in a large cavalry company under the training of Col. J. W. Griffith. He had fought through the Mexican war, was an intelligent man, and a good soldier. He also fought through the late war, and was several times promoted. We had been drilling for some weeks, and the time was set for our departure. I had a good deal of unsettled business at Louisville, and went to the city to settle it up. During my absence the Federal authorities of Louisville were apprised, in some way, of the movements and purposes of our men, and two companies of cavalry were sent out to intercept them. Our men were notified of this, and went twenty-four hours in advance of the set time. Of all this I knew nothing, and when I got home the company was gone. I knew not which way it had taken, for our Colonel kept his own counsel. When night came I left home, determined upon an earnest effort to find the trail of the company and follow them. Twice I came near being caught by the soldiers in pursuit, and after a night's fruitless search, I was compelled to return disappointed. I had not another opportunity, and ere long I gave up the vain idea. But for that disappointment I should have gone into the Southern army; and what the result would have been will remain a secret till the day in which the results of all contingencies are known. But it is highly improbable that I should have ever become a preacher of the gospel of the grace of God. Thank Him for the providence that overruled me!
I finally yielded to the importunities of the brethren, and allowed them to make an appointment. This was in May, 1862, one year after making the confession. The meeting was announced two weeks ahead. It was a fine day, and through curiosity a great crowd assembled. I had never been in the pulpit before, nor made any remarks in the church except to pray. The brethren had a Bible-class every Lord's day when there was no preaching, and no public speaking was indulged in except a few remarks at the Lord's table, by one of the elders. Though I was accustomed to speak in public, I felt a responsibility in this matter that I never felt before. I decided upon three things as insuring success, or at least resulting in no harm:
1. To select a plain, practical subject, on which I would not be likely to indulge in false teaching.
2. To thoroughly study the subject, rather than the sermon.
3. To make myself thoroughly familiar with the analysis of the subject, and then talk about it, without relying upon memory as to language.
Relying on memory has been the cause of ten thousand failures, and has taken all the |snap| out of ten thousand more, that were considered a success. The intellect never leaps and bounds with vivacity when it is chained by verbal memory.
I selected for my text Matt. xvi.24: |Then said Jesus unto his disciples, If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me.| I went into the pulpit alone, |introduced,| as the saying is, for myself, and then spoke for forty minutes. While I felt embarrassed by a sense of responsibility, there was no confusion of thought in regard to the subject; hence no difficulty in its presentation. As it was my first sermon, the analysis of it may be of some interest.
I called attention, first, to the universal offer of salvation: |If any man.| Second, to the freedom of the will: |If any man will.| Third, personal responsibility involved in the foregoing. Fourth, self-denial as a condition of eternal life. Fifth, the nature and necessity of cross-bearing. Sixth, examples of self-denial and cross-bearing on the part of Christ and the apostles.
The church in which I preached my first sermon was the same in which I made the confession, and near which I was reared. For it I did my first regular monthly preaching, while in college, and in it held a number of successful protracted meetings, one annually, during the early years of my ministry. The old church is dear to me yet; its old members are my devoted friends, and I delight to visit them when Providence permits.
Immediately after obeying the Saviour I bought a family Bible and a pocket Testament; not that we had none before, but they were not such as suited my convenience. At home and abroad, in the city or the country, in the store or on the road, I had my Testament. As I drove all day along the highway, I would look at it occasionally to see how a certain passage read, and then study its meaning. I have never read the Bible largely, as some do, but I have studied it every day since I knew the way of life, unless I was too sick to have anything in mind. I have studied, doubtless, a hundred times as much without the book in my hands as with it. The idea that one can study the Bible only as he has opportunity to sit down with the book in his hands, is a great mistake. Hence many people complain of having no time to study the Bible, when the fact is they have nearly all their time, if they only knew it. I early learned to study the Bible at any time or under any circumstances, and the advantages of this to me have been beyond estimation.
As soon as I got my family Bible, I wrote on a flyleaf a few simple
RULES OF LIFE.
1. To study this book carefully and prayerfully every day.
2. To try to understand its teaching, regardless of the theories and traditions of men.
3. To make it the man of my counsel, the source and limit of my knowledge of divine things, and to speak on such matters only as it speaks.
4. To measure myself in everything by this standard, and bring my life, in all respects, in subjection to its divine authority.
5. To strive to grow in grace, and in the knowledge of the truth, that I may become strong in the Lord, be a blessing to my fellow men, and at last obtain a home in heaven.
These rules, in some respects, have been closely observed; especially the first three. While in the others I have fallen immeasurably short, I feel that, upon the whole, the rules have been of great advantage to me.