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CHAPTER VII.
WINEBRENNER?A CHARACTER SKETCH.


      It is easy to agree with Emerson that "an institution is the lengthened shadow of one man." And now, that we are about to leave the man to follow the lengthened shadow, it seems fitting that a few things, in addition to the facts already given, should be recorded concerning the one who, by divine grace, became the leader of an important religious movement.

      Winebrenner's personal appearance is briefly but clearly described by one of his intimate contemporaries, Dr. George Ross, who says:

      "He was tall and slender, about six feet high, and very erect, whether walking, or standing, or in the pulpit; with high forehead, and rather long, thin face, bluish eyes inclining to gray. His hair was smooth and of light chestnut color when younger, but later in life it was slightly mixed with gray, and which he wore rather long. Dignity and solemnity were prominent features in his countenance; and it was impossible to be in his company without feeling that you were in the presence of a great and good man. Yet there was little stiffness in his manner, so that a little child could readily approach him with confidence."

      The domestic relations of Winebrenner are naturally of interest to the student of history. His first marriage was to Charlotte M. Reutter, of Harrisburg, October 10, 1822. This union was blessed with six children. After a happy married life of nearly twelve years, Mrs. Winebrenner was called to the heavenly home, May 20, 1834. His second marriage was to Mary H. Mitchell, also of Harrisburg, November 2, 1837. Of the four children by this marriage, three, John A. Winebrenner, Marshall H. Winebrenner and Emma W. Christman are living at this time (1926). Their mother passed away May 22, 1888.

      The real character of a man, whatever it may appear to be elsewhere, is certain to be revealed in the family circle. But the domestic life of the true man is always in accord with his public life. So it was with Winebrenner. Through the kindness of his only surviving daughter, Mrs. Emma Winebrenner Christman, we have recently come into possession of much historical matter never before available, including a good deal of her father's domestic correspondence. When away from home, as he was much of the time, his frequent letters bear on every page the charm of a loving husband and father. There was counsel, comfort and encouragement for the wife and thoughtful kindness for the children. In a letter from Wooster, Ohio, June 10, 1850, while he was on his long trip to the West in company with Harn, he asks:

      "How does Emma and the little boys come on? Are they good children, going to school and church and trying to learn? Give them all a sweet kiss for me, and tell them if they are good I will soon send them something." [57]

      In a long letter of November 27, 1851, to his daughter Ellen, who had recently accompanied her husband, Rev. James Colder, to a mission field in China, we find him saying:

      "During the time of your voyage, whilst tossing amid the ocean waves and perils, many anxious thoughts flitted through my mind, and many ardent prayers for your health and safety were addressed to Him whose voice the winds and the waves obey. The emotions felt and the impressions made at the time of our parting on the first of March, when we gave you the parting hand and commended you to God and bade you an affectionate adieu, will not soon nor easily be forgotten. Your grateful remembrance of my parting words, 'God bless you, my child, farewell!' are not more fondly cherished by you than your deep emotions, your tender look, your soft hand, and your sweet warm lips in giving the parting kiss are and shall be by me. Feelings and recollections so pure and intense, time and distance shall never obliterate."

      In speaking and writing about his parents, as he frequently did, Winebrenner always made a distinction between his father and mother in reference to the spiritual life. "Both of my parents," he says, "were members of the German Reformed denomination. My mother was pious. She prayed much with and for her children and carefully taught them the duties and principles of religion. The prayers and instructions of my mother impressed my mind with a sense of my duties and obligations to God at a very early period of my life." Evidently his father's life was that of the average member of the German Reformed Church?a life marked by religious formality but lacking in spirituality. Winebrenner felt that his father needed the blessing of regenerating grace, and he urged this necessity upon him from time to time. In a letter written November 18, 1835, he said:

      "My dear Father: Having been much concerned about you since my last visit, I beg leave to drop you a few lines and request you to let me hear from you. I should like to know whether you have found peace and salvation. I have been trying to pray for you night and day, and I do hope that the Lord has done something for you. If, however, you have not yet obtained a blessing, don't give up looking to Christ by faith and prayer, and he will yet manifest himself to your soul. My prayer shall still be for your welfare."

      These human touches, deep and tender, give us a revelation of character that is well worth remembering.

      The supreme passion of Winebrenner's life was for the salvation of souls. This was why he preached, and this was why so much of his preaching was of a strictly evangelistic character. He began his ministry with this message, as we have already seen, among a people whose formality needed it but refused to accept it. And this passion possessed him to the end of his public ministry. The last General Eldership which he attended was that of 1860, at Upper Sandusky, Ohio, where he preached the Sunday morning sermon. His subject was "God's Compassion to the True Penitent," with Jeremiah 31:18-20 as a text. It was an unusual subject for such an occasion, but entirely characteristic of Winebrenner. And it was a fortunate selection, for it enabled him to preach out of the fulness of his heart and with an earnestness, pathos and fervency which enabled his brethren from the different Elderships to remember him for what, more than anything else, he was, an exceptionally able and effective evangelistic preacher of the gospel of the Son of God.

      But while he was always at his best when delivering the evangelistic message, it should not be inferred that he was lacking in ability along other lines of pulpit effort. The years of our history have produced no stronger preacher on strictly doctrinal subjects. When thus contending for the faith he was able to so marshal his arguments as to make them almost irresistible. And whatever the kind of sermon he preached, there was a clearness of thought, a plainness of speech, a fluency of expression and an impressiveness of manner which always made the sincere seeker after the truth feel that it was good to be there.

      Had it been possible for Winebrenner to spend all of his time in the evangelistic field the results of his work might have been even larger than they were. But while he was a preacher at large most of the time, he found it necessary to serve as a pastor for a number of years. And circumstances required him to assume a great many executive responsibilities. It naturally fell to his lot to be the leader in the work of organization, as well as along all other lines of activity. And all this, to say nothing of his labors as an editor, author and publisher, which will be considered in a later chapter. Besides, he was left for tile most part to rely on his own financial resources, and found it necessary to devote considerable energy and time to business enterprises. Truly he was abundant in labors, and the varied responsibilities of his busy life developed a versatility which otherwise would never have been disclosed. For his service was efficient and his efforts were commendable along all lines of Christian endeavor.

      All true Christians exemplify the word of God by their daily lives. But close observation will show that each Christian life manifests some part of the word in particular, and in some cases to such an extent that the life always suggests the scripture which it makes a living reality among men. From this point of view the character of Winebrenner was a suggestive illustration of the great principles set forth in the thirteenth chapter of First Corinthians. From a human standpoint his power was in his love, his kindness and his forbearance. He was a gentleman in the truest sense of that word. His was the charity that suffers long, envies not, vaunts not itself, "is not easily provoked," and "rejoiceth in the truth" [1 Corinthians 13:5, 6].

      The preceding paragraph may explain why Winebrenner never entered the polemic arena in public debate. He lived at a time when this was one of the means by which different religions bodies sought to further their respective interests. And, as the leader of one of these movements, he was the logical man to meet an opponent when the cause which he represented was assailed, just as Alexander Campbell, at the same period of time, stepped to the front when there was debating to be done for the Disciples. But he left this particular method of contending for the truth to Keller, Harn and others of his fellow workers. No doubt he rejoiced in their victories. But as for himself, it was not in keeping with his disposition. He confined his efforts to preaching the word, believing that the One whose mouthpiece he was in sending it forth would not permit it to return void. It is interesting to note, too, that the prevailing sentiment of the present is in accord with Winebrenner's attitude of the early years. Public debates on doctrinal questions make an interesting part of the religious history of the nineteenth century. And most of the time, from 1830, we had a few ministers who were eager to embrace such opportunities, and who acquitted themselves with credit to the cause. But this feature of church work is now wholly a thing of the past.

      The space of this volume is too limited to record the many tributes to the character and work of Winebrenner by those who knew him personally and labored with him. But from among the number we select the testimonial of James Mackey, an intimate friend and fellow minister for many years, who says:

      "My long acquaintance with John Winebrenner gave me every opportunity of a thorough knowledge of the man, who, whatever prejudice may invent, it is settled, was a great reformer of the nineteenth century. He was a model man of the age in which he lived, and though fallible, like other men, has perhaps sacrificed more than any man I know to serve God and promote His cause. In clouds or sunshine, through good and evil report, he persevered with wonderful steadiness, and his serenity of mind and devotion were constant. He has gone to his quiet rest, not amidst the applause of the unthinking multitude, nor surrounded with the gorgeous and fulsome praise of men who seek this from mortals more than that honor which comes down from above; but in the hearts and memories of God's people did our brother treasure up a good report and an affection which time will not obliterate. And our hope is unshaken, that with the blood-washed millions in heaven his ample reward, through the righteousness of his Redeemer, is forever secured."

      During the closing weeks of his life Winebrenner gave expression to a retrospective comment which indicates his own appraisement of his life and work. He said:

      "There are things in my life which I have to regret; but, upon the whole, I have lived with a conscience void of offense toward God and man. And if I had my life to live over again, I do not know that I would change it in any particular, except some little things in which I may have erred in judgment. I have never felt free to waste my time and talents, and sometimes I have thought I taxed my mind more than my body was able to bear. None of my troubles through life at any time disturbed my sleep, or destroyed my appetite. I have not been without my temptations to ease and comfort; but I have withstood them all, and find it is the best to go without the gates and wage war with the devil. And the great comfort of my life is to know, feeble as the effort has been, God has blest it."

      The inscription on Winebrenner's monument in the Harrisburg Cemetery is an appropriate paragraph with which to conclude this chapter:

      "An able minister of the New Testament?earnest and signally blest, in his efforts to save his fellow men. He has perpetuated his own memory, not on tables of stone, but on fleshy tables of the heart: 'They that turn many to righteousness shall shine as the stars forever and ever.' A successful reformer, he labored to build up the Church of God, she having one name, one faith, one baptism and one mission. This: To gather together in one all the children of God that are scattered abroad."

 
 
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