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ties of Auburn that he might suffer the death penalty as a substitute for a prisoner who was condemned to die, though on the principle he was emphatically opposed to capital punishment. Extreme opposites met in this man. In one respect of character he was a man of sorrow,— while in another aspect he was the soul of wit and good cheer. The breath of slander never touched his garments. His sweetness of temper, his vivacity, his patience, his resignation and devotion to humanity, - these were the qualities which inspired the lasting attachment of his friend, James. His body now sleeps beneath the green sod in the town where he had offered himself as a voluntary sacrifice!
In the year 1842, on Christmas Eve, the church in Oxford was tastefully adorned with evergreens and burning tapers. The services were impressive, being led by Rev. Mr. Goodrich, wlio preached from the text, — "Who hath believed our report.” The discourse thrilled the auciience, and the whole house seemed pervaded with ministering angels. The soul of young Peebles was stirred to its depthis. A voice seemed to come out from the silence saying: "Claim thy possibilities and they shall be realized. Now thou hast received the secret of power. Use it for the welfare of thy fellow-men.” And so, then and there, the purpose was distinctly fashioned in his mind to enter the Universalist ministry. And with him a purpose once formed was the prelude to its persistent execution. He, therefore, immediately commenced his theological studies with Rev. A. G. Clark, of McLean, N. Y., and subsequently read with Rev. A. O. Warren. In the meantime he kept his oratorical powers in training whenever occasion offered. He was a frequent attendant at debating schools, and even sought opportunities to speak in orthodox revival and experience meetings. He went with a friend one evening to a revival several miles away on the Chenango River. Long cloaks were the fashion in those days, and James and his companion were each provided with one. They were both strangers at the meeting. At length the minister became
hoarse, and invited any exhorter or clergyman present to come forward and assist.
“That means me,” whispered Peebles to his friend, and rising with much dignity he gracefully marched straight to the desk, and fell upon his knees and prayed. He then walked the aisles, put his hands on the heads of the young converts, exhorting and encouraging them to persevere in an upright and religious life. There was much weeping and emotional fervor, and the minister cordially thanked him for his very “ effective work." But there was a buzzing and much commotion in the air when it was afterward learned that the young preacher was a Universalist student at Oxford.
High hopes now beat in the young man's breast. He was soon to become a gentleman of the “cloth.” He was to walk upon the high plane of professional life and officiate as a minister of the gospel. He was to point the way of life which bringeth peace to perturbed spirits, and joy to the hearts of the afflicted. He stood on the threshold of a promising career, confident, strong, brave, somewhat aggressive, determined to consecrate his best energies to the upbuilding of humanity. Little did he realize, however, how much was involved in the everyday life of a clergyman; how he was to be locked in, chained, starved, pampered, loved, slandered, flattered, rebuked, tempted, and betrayed by a capricious church and public. He did not then realize how single-hearted unselfishness would be discredited; how petty jealousies would divide the flock which he was trying to make a unit for humanitarian service. Indeed, he had not thoroughly analyzed the multitudinous motives that actuate the members of an average church organization.
He was only twenty years old when he acquired the title of “Reverend,” being tall, slim, having light hair, red cheeks, charming in the eyes of the young maidens, wearing a white cravat, tall silk hat, and tight-fitting kid gloves. Thus caparisoned and qualified he walked seven miles to a conference meeting in Gridley Hollow, and on the way got his boots
muddy, which was very mortifying to his clerical dignity. He preached his first sermon in McLean, N. Y., in the presence of his preceptor. That was an ordeal over which he spent a few sleepless nights, but he passed it successfully and felt that he had acquitted himelf creditably. The McLean church evidently thought so, too, for later they made him its pastor for five successive years. But his first permanent settlement was at Kelloggsville, N. Y., for three years. He had charge, also, of two other societies at the same time, Genoa and Mottville, engaging Rev. Harter and others to supply his pulpits.
Whatever the Rev. Mr. Peebles undertook he prosecuted with enthusiastic zeal. He put his soul into his work, and always found a ready way of access to the hearts of his hearers. He gave untiring devotion to make himself proficient in his profession. He was enthusiastic. A stray leaf from his diary will serve to show his whole-souled earnestness :
“ TUESDAY, May 25, 1849. Started about eight o'clock for Scipio. Had a pleasant ride; reached there about eleven o'clock. Put up with Bro. Hudson, a noble, good soul.
“ Had a fine session of the Sabbath-school this afternoon. Bro. O. A. Skinner's and J. M. Austin's remarks were excellent. Bro. Sawyer preached this evening, and a glorious sermon it was,- plain, logical, yet eloquent. His delivery is calm sang-froid - yet impressive. Stayed with Malachi Fish, one of God's best specimens of humanity.”
“WEDNESDAY, May 26, 1849. "A fine morning, with Malachi Fish. Bro. O. A. Skinner preached this morning an excellent discourse. I admire his fervidness. It seems to come from the heart. Bro. L. S. Everett preached this afternoon; a good sermon. Oh, how many warm hands I have grasped this day! Confident I am that few love their friends as I love mine. Bro. Skinner preached this evening. He is a splendid speaker and a good man. There is rich music in his voice. Went home with Selah Cornell. He is a glorious soul.”
Rev. Mr. Peebles received his “Letter of Fellowship" at a session of the Cayuga Association of Universalists, held at McLean, on the 25th and 26th of September, 1844. For several years thereafter he was standing clerk of the Association. On the 24th of September, 1846, in Kelloggsville, he was ordained to the “ work of an evangelist." The following was the order of the services:
“I. Prayer by Rev. J. H. Harter.
II. Sermon by Rev. J. M. Austin.
THE RAPPINGS- RADICAL PREACHING
“ Be not cast down, my soul,
But sing thy song in peace;
It was only two years before the “rappings" startled the world that Mr. Peebles's ordination occurred. Universalism was then the hope of the Liberals. It was the advance outpost of Protestant Christianity, and its ministers were confident that it was to be the final rallying point and stable ground whereon the everlasting church was to be builded. Vain hope! No sect seems to have ever dreamed that it was a “half-way house" for pilgrims in search of something which may serve as a ground of reconciliation between the permanent and the variable,— between the final deposit of traditionary belief and advanced knowledge.
Our young preacher, however, was not yet crystallized and ossified. His opinions were on probation in the formative stage. He was not yet sure how far he should accept tradition as a finality, nor yet what limits he should impose in deciding the truth or falsity on theories predicated on scientific discoveries. But he possessed an intimate love of truth, and was open and receptive to the inspirations of the new time that was dawning. Though approbative and very sensitive to public opinion, in the final test and trial hour, his love for truth would claim the victory. He had already heard the