Estimate of Character
It is no easy task to give a just and proper estimate of the character of Dr. T. P. Crawford. Standing in the presence of his life work, which was the outward manifestation of his splendid character, one can only note some of the traits which it exhibits. The modest opinion he always entertained of himself impressed every one who met him. There was very little of the personal vanity, self-esteem or egotism, which is in some degree seen in the greatest and best of men. Some years ago, when the subject of a memorial volume of his life was first mentioned to him, he wrote:"In looking over my past life, my wanderings by sea and land, exposure to dangers seen and unseen, I sometimes wonder why I have never met with a serious accident, while so many friends, younger and stouter and less exposed to dangers, have been in various ways taken away. But our Father ruleth in heaven and on earth; yes,
"Lord, Thou dost reign,
And sway maintain
Through Thy domain —
We trust in Thee, O Lord, in Thee.
"As to facts for the future memorial of which you speak I have only to say that I highly appreciate your wishes. I have looked over the whole course of my life, and I confess to a feeling of opposition. No sort of a thing, in my candid opinion, can be made of it, and it would not pay the printer. I hope and believe it has been honest, earnest, and to some little extent useful; but it has been exceedingly tame and commonplace. Was born, lived and died in the ordinary way, I suspect, would about express it. Perhaps in future years I may think differently on the subject. At all events, I have no desire to withhold any facts connected with it. . . . My real life has been thus far spent in China, and is likely to continue to be to
the end, and should be written, if at all, in Chinese and for the Chinese."Through his earnest and laborious life, his energies were given entirely to his work, and he seemed utterly careless as to having any of it published to the world. One of his colleagues thus speaks of his earnestness:"There was no half-heartedness about Dr. Crawford in anything. He was altogether in favor of a cause, or he would have nothing whatever to do with it. He put his whole strength to whatever he undertook. I call to mind an incident which occurred once while we were out on a preaching trip together. We had been talking in an inn until it was late at night, but the crowd still remained. I was tired and in the notion of asking them to go and leave us to our needed rest. But Dr. Crawford said, 'Why, we came out here to preach, and this is our opportunity; let us do what we came to do. We can rest when we get back home.' But even when he was at home, he almost daily went out for his 'preach,' and never failed to seize an opportunity for personal work. Whether we consider his life as a whole or in detail, it is everywhere characterized by that same spirit of earnestness."He was great intellectually, and was an unwearying student of the Bible. Another of his colleagues, himself a great man, says,"I consider Dr. Crawford one of the most profound thinkers I ever knew, and also a man of very deep piety, with the simplest, most childlike faith. Yet his was a faith that could stand, like a mountain of solid rock, against adverse storms. I have been by his side when he knew that he was maligned and persecuted, and he manifested the spirit of the meek and lowly Lamb. I have also been with him when physical danger was imminent, and he stayed himself on God with the solid grip of faith. . . . I think of Dr. Crawford as a rugged, sturdy oak. He was often blunt in manner, but never weak, and always loving."Another says,"I was deeply impressed by ... his intense and realistic faith in God, and in the Bible as God's word. He did not talk as much as some about his personal experience, or about religion considered subjectively; his was an objective faith. That he was conscious of God's sovereign care, and of the Spirit's constant presence, was evident by his every word and act. He studied the Bible as God's message; not merely for theological purposes, but that he might know and obey God's will and teach others to do the same. His whole life as a missionary is an exemplification of this truth. He loved the esteem of his brethren as much as any one,
and the separations which his course in life enforced were keenly bitter to him. But when it came to the question of following God's word, or regarding the favor of men, or any earthly advantage, there was never any second choice with Dr. Crawford."He was a man of strong and deep convictions. He thoroughly mastered every subject he considered, and when once satisfied with his conclusions, his convictions became a part of his manhood that could not be eradicated. And his conscientiousness gave him the courage of his convictions. For him to believe a course of action was right meant that he would follow that line of action at all hazards. He never made compromises with his conscience. To follow the leadings of his conscience after he had been convinced by God's word that he was right, was more to him than the favor of friends or the reproach of enemies. While he freely yielded the same right to others, and while he was very considerate of the opinions of his brethren, yet he could not be turned aside from following his own convictions, despite the consequences.
Dr. Crawford was a man of great tenacity of purpose; not for the sake of having his opinion prevail, nor for the gratification of any personal ambition, but for the sake of having what he believed right to triumph. D'Israeli says, "Tenacity of purpose is the secret of success." But with Dr. Crawford it was not primarily the question of success, but that what he believed to be right should prevail.
Rev. W. D. King says,"Dr. Crawford was a man of persistence. He hardly knew what it was to be daunted by discouraging conditions. Having once made up his mind that some course of action was right, and so a duty, he never failed in pursuing it to the end. He finished what he started, or never ceased working at it. A member of another mission once remarked to him, 'When a man has spent forty years on a certain line of action without apparent results, isn't it time to quit?' The reply was, 'No, not if that course of action is right.' And this is what any one knowing him would have expected him to say.
"Dr. Crawford was always forceful and impressive. No one after meeting him could ever forget him. He was always interesting. His information was wide, and he knew well how to use his knowledge. His company was not only entertaining but helpful. His positive faith in God, his earnestness of manner, were strengthening and stimulating to those about him. The impress of his life is not only felt by his foreign associates, but by the many Chinese with whom he came in contact during his long life. His character was
more of the robust than the winning type. One was not easily drawn into a feeling of intimacy with him, but the friends he made were bound 'to his soul with hooks of steel.' I feel that these poor words very inadequately express my love and respect for this great and good man; but I trust that the act of writing may speak more than the words."Professor H. T. Cook, of Furman University, Greenville, South Carolina, wrote thus in a missionary publication in May, 1902:"In a profound comprehension of New Testament principles, and in a knowledge of their application to the needs of fallen humanity, individually and collectively, he had no superior. In his young manhood he set himself to his task as a missionary, and what he sought was more light on the dark problem. With his Bible in his hands and in his heart, and with his head and heart in his work, he closed his missionary service of half a century with views far different from those he began with; but his evolution was not away from, but back to, the word of God. This was the reason for his progress far in advance of his brethren. He had reached that sunny eminence from which human contrivances and the power of the living God could be rightly compared and judged; and along with that knowledge came the power to walk in the light of the truth.
"He was honest, intelligently honest, perseveringly honest, if he was anything. Being no mean philosopher, his thinking on religious subjects was intense; and what makes his close of life like the fall of the tall poplar, or the long-leafed pine, was that his own rules of private life and conduct kept pace with the light of his thinking and learning. What a benediction it was to those who were favored with his presence in his riper years, to listen to his words of instruction and wisdom, which came out in battalions from his full storehouse of experience and memory! Some men come and go like the noonday shadows, or like the flitting bird, but into whatever heart Dr. Crawford entered he remained a permanent and welcome guest.
"What a rare combination of greatness! Great physical and mental strength presided over by a strong faith in the unseen verities of another world! Simple and guileless as a child, and so philanthropic that even those who acted as enemies toward him never put themselves outside the sphere of his good wishes. In no sense was he a narrow person; for while strict with himself, and as narrow as the truth in his own practice, he was as broad as the ocean in his love of all his brethren.
"He could love his brethren, while opposing their errors. He was too great and too original a man to be carried along by the current, and later years will appreciate the brawny man in his small canoe, who kept his bearings and reached the port in spite of the times and tides.It is said of him in earlier life, "He entered upon the study of the Chinese language and of his missionary work with all the ardor of his nature, keeping watch at every turn lest he go astray. He was aware that modern mission methods were not yet settled (at least in his own mind), and his aim from the beginning was to work along New Testament lines as far as he could discover them.
"Dr. Crawford is not dead! No man ever dies who lives for the truth. Such a life in the sight of God, not to mention men of sober judgment, is worth more than rubies.
"If near-sighted mortals could take a full view of life's great puzzle pictures, true greatness would often be found where there appear only snatches of an aimless pen. And beginning at the cross and coming down to the present day, how many of earth's really great ones will be seen ending their lives in apparent failure, 'hanging on the ragged edges of the outside:'"
"He had many struggles and difficulties, and, as he himself afterwards acknowledged, some ambitions. A short while before his death, he said to his wife, as he had often said before: 'All my ambitions were given up on that memorable day, in 1859, while we were at the Female Institute, Richmond; Virginia, when I surrendered myself to the Lord, to be His alone, and to, work and live only for Him. I then and there cast away every desire for selfish ends, and have never since allowed ambition, or a love of the favor and praise of men to come in as a factor in my work for my Master.'
"In after years, when he felt it his duty to differ from the great majority of the Baptist brotherhood, and to return, almost single-handed and alone, to what he believed to be the way of God as shown in His word, it was often suggested and even urged upon him that he would thus sacrifice his popularity, and with it much of his usefulness — that he would be kept out in the cold — that he would lose his standing in the denomination. But these considerations carried no weight with him. He would simply reply, 'I know it.' 'If you take this step you might as well lay your head upon the altar,' some one said. 'It is already there,' he promptly replied. And there he stood to the last, never wavering in the darkest moment."
Go to Chapter 27
[From L. S. Foster, Fifty Years in China - An Eventful Memoir of Tarleton Perry Crawford, D. D., 1909; reformatted and reprinted in 2005. The document was provided by Jackie Battles, Winchester, VA. - jrd]
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