James H. McConkey A MAN OF GOD
LOUISE HARRISON McCRAW
“Glorious Triumph,” “Blue Skies,” etc.
I. AS THE TWIG IS BENT 10
II. WIDENING CIRCLES 22
III. LENGTHENING CORDS AND STRENGTHENING STAKES 31
IV. OTHER SHEEP 39
V. FRIENDSHIPS IN PITTSBURGH 45
VI. BIRTH OF THE SILVER PUBLISHING SOCIETY 54
VII. PROGRESS OF THE SILVER PUBLISHING SOCIETY 66
VIII. VARIED MISSIONS OF THE GOD-GIVEN MESSAGES 81
IX. THE BRAILLE CIRCULATING LIBRARY 89
X. IN ALL THINGS, CHARITY! 98
XI. A YOKEFELLOW – NOT A DOGMATIST 108
XII. BACK TO RICHMOND (IN 1927) 116
XIII. LAST YEARS IN RICHMOND 126
XIV. LAST YEARS 138
XV. AFTERWARDS 147
“James McConkey was a most unusual man, deeply spiritual and widely used. Miss McCraw has written a very instructive and interesting memoir. Many well known servants of Christ appear in these pages who in one way or another were in contact with Mr. McConkey, giving a marvelous realization of what true Christian fellowship is. I am glad to commend the book heartily to the people of God.”
H.A. Ironside, LITT.D.
Pastor, Moody Memorial Church,
Dr. Robert C, McQuilkin, President of Columbia Bible College, writes:
“Louise Harrison McCraw’s life sketch of James H. McConkey admirably answers the question as to want is the secret of the vigor and vitality and spiritual power of the McConkey leaflets and booklets.
“This is such a biography as he would have chosen, apart from its praise of him.”
Dr. E. Schuyler English, of Philadelphia, writes:
“There are infrequent occasions when there falls into one’s hands a book which combines three qualities so rare and yet so vital in good Christian literature: excellence of style, richness of theme, and depth of spiritual discernment… Here is such a book… to say that I am delighted with it is to put it far too mildly… beautifully written and with wise restraint tells something of the life-story of a great servant of the Lord, whose testimony still lives. It holds one’s interest from cover to cover, but far more important, it reaches into one’s soul like a search-light, revealing the ‘should-not-be’s’ of the daily life, and it exhorts one to a fresh abandonment to the indwelling of God. We believe that God will use this book and the savour of James H. McConkey’s life in Christ to enrich many hearts.’”
Those of us who are familiar with the writings of James McConkey will have noted the fact that they have a vigorous quality about them not usually characterizing the literary productions of highly spiritual men. They are declarative without being argumentative, and strong without being dogmatic; for James, like his predecessor, James the Just, was no weakling. On the contrary, he was strongly convinced as to God’s truth and fearless in his expressions concerning it. One, therefore, cannot read his pamphlets and books without feeling that here is a man of faith whose beliefs are well worth sharing, and a man of courage whose bold and steadfast way is well worth following. There are men who impart newness of life to those who are weary and out of the way: James McConkey was one of them.
And yet there was an anomaly of life in our brother and friend the like of which is not often seen among men. This strong man was as lowly-minded as a child and as tender-hearted as a woman. There are some of us who have felt his arms encircle our neck, and his cheek laid against our cheek and have heard his vibrant greeting, “My beloved!”, and this without the least suggestion of effeminacy, but conveying the impression that here was a Mr. Greatheart whose love could not be restrained. This tenderness was in all he said and did. It was in his face, in the tone of his voice, in the touch of his hand, in the actions of his life. Way back in college days this was true, and in later life it was conspicuously true. It was his nature from the first, but it became his new nature as be learned to practice companionship with the gentle Christ and became more and more like Him. James McConkey loved everyone, particularly those who were of the household of faith; and conversely, everyone loved him. It is strange that he never married for he needed the strengthening and comforting of a woman companion, and he had the heart to make such an one supremely happy. He told me, once, that he did not know why he had not married. I judge that he was not set against marriage but was preoccupied with his work and especially with his Lord. Perhaps we gained as a result of this. At any rate, he gave all the love he had, which was infinitely great, to his friends and the world at large.
The hour came when his earthly work was done. For seven long and weary years, as a result of a broken hip, he had lain in his bed or in an invalid’s chair and this without complaining. And at last came the heavenly call, the closing of the eyes in sleep, and the passing into those eternal habitations of which he had thought, written, and spoken so much. How the trumpets must have sounded as he arrived triumphantly home! And how his heart must have thrilled as he looked upon the face of Him who had been his all in all and in Whose Name he had valiantly conquered! Who then could wish him back to that bed of pain and away from those infinite and eternal joys! Yea, we who loved him well and long to see him again are willingly separated from him until the shadows pass from our lives as they have passed from his.
Henry W. Frost
of the China Inland Mission
(Mr. McConkey’s classmate at Princeton
University, and his abiding friend)
After the shock that accompanied the news of Mr. McConkey’s Home-going (for it is always a shock, no matter how long the preparation may have been) my first reaction was that of gratitude to God for allowing me the privilege of setting down, in order, some of the events in his life, of attempting to explain the secret of power in that life. If our association had been stretched over a longer period, doubtless this would have been a larger book; there would have been more incidents recorded. However, I trust that the Lord has brought to my remembrance sufficient to prove to all who read this, one thing: in James McConkey, that is, in his flesh, dwelt no good thing, but Christ lived in him – and this is quite enough! Left to himself, he would have been, doubtless, a gentleman distinguished for intelligence, kindness, and culture, and perhaps for success in some chosen career, but spiritually, he would have been as sounding brass and a tinkling cymbal. If at any point, the author seems to have fallen short in drawing clearly the line between human and Divine, natural and spiritual, let it be recognized as an unwitting error of the head and not of the heart – that through it all the man may be recognized only as an instrument, but that instrument which the Lord Jesus Christ used to bring the writer into His very presence!
It will be apparent to all who read, no doubt, that the making of this biography would have been humanly impossible but for the cooperation of Mr. McConkey’s relatives and many of his close friends, who have been most kind in furnishing incidents and suggestions. Their names appear on various pages of the book, and to each, the author is profoundly grateful.
In view of the fact that Mr. McConkey left no immediate family, one of his nephews, Mr. W. McConkey Kerr, kindly consented to represent the McConkey family in the matter of editing the manuscript. With painstaking care, Mr. Kerr went over each page, each word, making changes, eliminations and additions. Many of the sentences are his expressions and several entire paragraphs were written by him. It was at his suggestion that many of the quotations from Mr. McConkey’s books and tracts were included as he felt that some who might read these pages would be constrained thereby to go further into such reading. It was his privilege to know his uncle very intimately. This close, personal relationship combined with his training and experience has peculiarly fitted Mr. Kerr for the task of editing Mr. McConkey’s life story.
Before the manuscript was sent to the publishers, it was read carefully by Dr. Henry W. Frost, whose own literary skill and spiritual insight have made his suggestions of inestimable worth. Because of the value of their services, I wish to express publicly to both Dr. Frost and Mr. Kerr my sincere appreciation of their help.
- H. M.
“There was a man sent from God…”
– St. John 1:6
There are hero-worshipers who deplore the debunking tendency of this age, but sane realists recognize the fact that, if the world is to get at the truth about personalities, a certain amount of debunking must be done. The question is, Who is to do it? Nearly nineteen centuries ago a saint of God wrote under inspiration, “If we judged ourselves, we should not he judged,” and occasionally a man is found who applies this truth to himself.
One winter, when James H. McConkey was on his annual visit to Richmond, Virginia, a young lady, who was very devoted to him and followed all his speaking engagements, became irritated because of an introduction given him by the acting assistant pastor of the old Trinity Methodist Church. There was an unusually large congregation that Sunday morning, due partly to the fact that Glenna James, a senior from Westhampton College, had made it her business to bring a large delegation of college girls across the city to hear a man whose books had meant something vital in her life. A thrill of expectancy passed over the congregation, but when the assistant pastor rose to introduce the visitor, he seemed to find nothing to say except, “Our speaker for this morning is Mr. James H. McConkey, of Pittsburgh.”
Afterwards the loyal friend, who always listened jealously to every word of the introductions, said to Mr. McConkey, “Mr.–––– made me tired this morning. These ministers never do say enough about you.”
His reply was: “Oh yes, my minister friends are very kind. They always say enough – too much usually. But you know, I had a dentist friend to present me once, and his introduction suited me better than any of the rest. All he said was, “This is an old piece of clay that the Lord works through!”
There it is! All claims denied except to clay! There is no need for us to go further into unearthing his weaknesses. Everyone realizes the worthlessness of clay in itself. It is only the potter who deserves credit. Often when he quoted with half-closed eyes, “I know that in me, that is, in my flesh, dwelleth no good thing,” we wondered if Paul himself could have said it with more intensity of realization. And since he was only clay, and since no good thing dwelt in his flesh, it would be entirely illogical to sound one note of praise of James McConkey. However, as we cast our eyes back upon his life, doubtless, we shall be praising God continually for His gifts to this man and for his use of those gifts after they had been yielded to Him.
There was, however, in his early life, no special yielding and no special consciousness of heaven’s favor. Like the average boy, he accepted his heritage as a matter of course. Later he must have thanked his God upon every remembrance of his honorable ancestry and the luxurious surroundings in which his boyhood was spent. Perhaps in after years the Lord used this easy assurance of social position to give entree into otherwise difficult circles, and most probably it was an influential factor in preventing any trace of snobbery to develop in his nature. Like the typical gentleman, he acted on the assumption that there were none above him and none below! This was a natural gift but none the less a gift of God.
The McConkeys were one of the first families of the section of Pennsylvania contiguous to Lancaster and York, their Scotch-Irish ancestors having settled in Lancaster County in 1756. The first William McConkey, who was a great-grand uncle of James, was an intimate friend of Washington, and it was his home at Washington Crossing, above Trenton, in which the General spent the night before crossing the Delaware on December 25, 1776. All down the line the heads of the families were prominent in business, state and church affairs. William McConkey, the father of James, left Peach Bottom, where he had been brought up, and settled in Wrightsville, which town, by the way, missed being chosen as the Capital of the United States by just one vote. Here he was engaged in a large mercantile business, became one of the owners of the Aurora Furnace, president of the First National Bank, and represented York County in the legislature in 1855.
At 200 Front Street in a big, plain, brick house with a queer little porch at one end facing the Susquehanna River, thirteen children were born to William and his wife, Susan Ruth Silver. The seventh of these was James Henry, named for his grandfather, born February 15, 1858. Four died in infancy, leaving Caroline, Elizabeth, Martha, Julia, Susan, James, Margaret, Edwin, and Blanche.
It was while the family lived in this house that General John B. Gordon with his twenty-eight hundred Confederate troops invaded the town, three days before the battle of Gettysburg. Several hours previous to this, the Union troops had burned the bridge, the bridge fired the lumber yards, the burning lumber fired the town, and General Gordon, with his characteristic chivalry, helped to save private property. James McConkey, then a boy of six, little knew that the Reverend John B. Gordon, of Richmond, a relative and namesake of this same General Gordon, would later become one of his dearly beloved friends, when war-time prejudices were wiped out and both were one in Christ.
In 1875 the family residence was transferred to a very imposing red brick mansion of fifteen rooms built by the father nearer the center of town. This house, set back a short distance from the street with its full- length porch, its white pillars, its three stories – all with high ceilings and inside blinds – is still one of the most handsome in Wrightsville. It was in the spacious, oblong parlor, with the tapestried library at the back, that the family orchestra played, James leading with the violin. Just across the wide hall was the living-room with the dining-room back of it, and joining that the kitchen where, occasionally, the children with a few of their intimate friends were allowed to take part in a square dance while the father played the violin. But James did not indulge, not because of scruples, but somehow even a square dance was not in keeping with his quiet, studious nature; and from his youth up, he unconsciously avoided discords.
His outstanding characteristics were inherited from the gentle, retiring mother rather than from the aggressive, public-spirited father. He adored her and never grew weary of extolling Christian motherhood, for he recognized her as the finest embodiment of this ideal. Susan Silver had left her old home, Silver Mount, in Harford County, Maryland, at the age of nineteen 10 enter seriously the career of home-making, and indeed the task of bringing up nine children in the nurture and admonition of the Lord was a life work not to be despised.
As a boy, James was just like any other boy, only more quiet and reserved, not given to pranks. He was very fond of baseball and fishing, and many a time his tall, slender form would be seen creeping stealthily along the top of the dam of the Susquehanna in search of rockfish. The fish would come near the dam and if the fisher wore rubber boots he might go near enough to cast the fly and bring in a good catch. But this was before he heard the call to become a fisher of men!
During his boyhood he showed no special promise of becoming a spiritual leader, and it was not until he reached young manhood that any profession of faith in Christ was made. He went to Sunday school (Miss Ella Lloyd from Albany, New York, was his teacher) and church as a matter of course, but his boyish heart was set, not toward things eternal, but things temporal.
At the age of eighteen he entered LaFayette College, matriculating August 31, 1876. He roomed in Number 4, McKeen Hall; but for some reason he changed to Princeton College the following year and was graduated from that institution in the class of 1880. The fact that he entered as a sophomore might have impaired his popularity, but evidently not, for he was elected president of the class, which position he held throughout his course and for seventeen years afterwards. In regard to this, Dr. Henry W. Frost says: “All of this was the more remarkable as there was nothing in McConkey to appeal to the usual sentiment of college men. He was not an athlete; he was not even a good mixer. He moved to and fro quietly, almost sedately, though the smile upon his face and the kindliness in his tone of voice indicated that he was no separatist. In ways almost unknown to us and altogether unknown to himself, he became a leader among us, and when we wanted good, sane advice about class and college affairs, we turned instinctively to him. There was, even in those early days, a good deal of the rock about him. He was solid, unshakable, dependable.
“But it is not to be understood that James, in his college days, was preeminent as a Christian. He was a member of the Philadelphian Society and, along with Jackson and Janvier, was a clear voice in the college wilderness which called to manly and decent living. Everyone knew that he was a Christian but few thought of him as headed for a ministerial or missionary career. A curious episode which happened later in his and my life illustrates this:
“In the year 1895, I was visiting China and was resident in our mission home in Shanghai. At the particular time in mind, I was sitting in my bedroom and talking with a Mr. Lewis, who was one of our North American missionaries from Philadelphia. Suddenly he said, ‘Mr. Frost, is your name Jack?’
“ ‘Well,’ I replied, ‘it depends upon the men you may be talking with. If you would meet any of my college classmates, you would not hear me spoken of by any other name than Jack.’
“Then Mr. Lewis asked, ‘Did you go to Princeton College?’
“ ‘Yes, I did!’
“ ‘Did you know James McConkey?’
“ ‘If you mean our classmate, Jim, I certainly did.’ “Then it was my turn to ask questions. I said, ‘Where is James? And what is he doing?’
“My companion replied, ‘He is giving Bible readings.’
“ ‘Giving Bible readings!’ I exclaimed. ‘I am astonished beyond measure.’
“ ‘That’s curious,’ said Lewis, ‘that’s what he said when I told him that you were a Bible teacher.’
“This meant that neither of us at Princeton had been pronounced in our Christian testimony.”
The three years spent at Princeton were very happy ones for Jim McConkey. He loved the scholastic atmosphere of the place with all its rich associations. He enjoyed his intimate friends, but books were his first love; study, his first consideration. He was known primarily as a student. In the class just ahead of him – the famous class of 1879 – he had a friend whom the boys called Tom, but whom the world came to know as T. Woodrow Wilson. (Mr. Wilson dropped his first name, Thomas, as soon as he became a writer.) Those who have read the booklet, Holy Ground, will remember Mr. McConkey’s mention of their meeting in Pittsburgh, years afterward, during Mr. Wilson’s second term as Chief Executive; of Mr. McConkey’s contentment in “the little two-room office” God had given him for the carrying on of his God-given work; of his inability to envy President Wilson; his profound thankfulness to God for leading him into the work that had been foreordained for him.
As he walked alone under the Princeton elms and considered the legal career ahead, his heart leaped high at the thought of possible honors to be his in the future. He possessed a lawyer’s brain and the lawyer’s passion for logic, which, coupled with a lawyer’s training and indomitable energy, might accomplish almost anything. Yes, he would go back to the city of York, just twelve miles from Wrightsville, and make the name of McConkey more illustrious in that community than ever before. This was his dream.
He was a member of Whig Hall at Princeton, and was successor to Woodrow Wilson as president of this society. There he debated with many men who were later to become famous in their profession. He had the honor of winning a debate over Robert McCarter, who subsequently became one of the greatest corporation lawyers in the country. In those days, Whig and Clio Halls were debating societies between which the keenest rivalry prevailed, the only secret organizations at Princeton. The Halls still exist in the beautiful and stately simplicity of their architecture, but they are no longer secret societies.
In December of his senior year, a blow came that shattered all his plans – the first tragic break in the family circle. William McConkey, devoted, indulgent husband and father, was stricken with a fatal illness.
His death left James, the eldest son, as the logical head of the house. There seemed nothing for him to do but go home and take up the burden of responsibility that was now his plain duty. He continued his studies at home, however, and returned to Princeton for his final examinations, which he passed most creditably, graduating fourth or fifth in his class.
As the narrative of his life unfolds, we shall see how James McConkey became a great overcomer through prayer and the power of the Holy Spirit, Who was his constant and unfailing companion through the years. In the tract, Beauty for Ashes, he relates how the Lord helped him to overcome the demon that is so prevalent in our high-pressure business world. Worry threatened to shorten his life as it did his father’s.
“I recall an experience in my own Christian life. My father was dying of a disease brought on by worriment. A great physician had been summoned from the city. He was closeted with my father for a long time. Then he came out of the sick chamber soberly shaking his head. There was no hope. My father’s race was run. Then my dear mother asked the great doctor to take me aside for a conference. For I myself was breaking in body, and from the same dread enemy which overthrows so many Christians – anxious care. So the kind-hearted physician took me into the parlor, and we sat down for a heart-to-heart chat. Very searchingly and with all the skill of an expert did he draw forth from me the humiliating fact that I was a prey of worriment and suffering from its dread results. Then he turned to me and in a few, keen, incisive sentences with no attempt at concealment, told me that I had fallen a victim to the same habit which had been nay father’s undoing, and that unless I overcame it, there was no hope for me even as there was none for him.
“I went upstairs. I threw myself upon my knees in my bedchamber. I cried out in my agony of soul – ‘Oh, Christ! He says I must overcome worriment. And Thou alone knowest how I have tried to do so. I have fought. I have struggled. I have wept bitter tears. And I have failed. O Lord Jesus, unless Thou dost undertake for me now it is all over with me!’ Then and there I threw myself in utter self-helplessness upon Christ. Somehow, where before I had been struggling I now found myself trusting as I had never quite done before. From that time onward Jesus Christ began to give me the beauty of victory for the sombre ashes of defeat!”
As best he could, he assumed his father’s responsibility for an invalid mother, seven sisters and a brother of sixteen. If the old adage that a lawyer must starve two years before he can make a living were true, then law, for the present, was out of the question, although he took the State Bar examinations and was admitted to the bar in York. But the roseate dreams of practicing law must be put aside while the matter of an immediately profitable business was faced. Those familiar with The Dedicated Life know that a wholesale ice business was the result, that he and “another young man” (I. W. Miller), embarked all they had and considerably more in this venture. This partnership of McConkey and Miller continued for fifteen years.
Meantime things went on in the home as well as could be expected without the husband and father. Mrs. McConkey considered James as head of the house, and he looked after her with as much tender solicitude as his father could have done, until her death in 1884. His room was next to hers, that she might call him at any time during the night if she needed him. Susan McConkey, large in body and spirit, had been faithful to her trust in rearing her family, and now laid aside by paralysis, she was patient in suffering. Through the long summer days she would sit in her invalid’s chair in the shady yard, while neighboring children played around her; and Frances, the Irish cook who had been with the family for many years, went in and out attending to her duties.
This difficult period was the Lord’s training-time; this situation, the crucible in which James’s life was molded. In the beginning of it he knew very little of the meaning of “yielding” and “surrender” – terms which he used with so much harnessed force in later years; but he recognized plain duty and accepted it, and it was in this prosaic path of duty that the Lord spoke to him, as He did to Moses, while tending the sheep. But for the shattering of a cherished dream, and imposition of heavy and burdensome responsibilities which literally threw him on his God, he might have lived his life with no more impress of Christ upon his fellow-man than had been made at Princeton; but an infinitely wise Father looked down and saw that strong forces must be used to break the strong will of this man; that the man himself must be bruised, yea, broken, before he could be made a vessel fit for such holy and acceptable use as He had in mind. Very early in the bruising process came a failing in health – the wolf that came to destroy, mentioned in The Sure Shepherd. He had made a public profession of faith in Christ at the age of twenty, and four years later he was made an elder in the church, which office he held as long as he lived. For years he was superintendent of the Sunday School, and it was during this period that he went abroad for his health. The following letter addressed to the teachers and pupils of his Sunday School, in care of Mr. Matthew Kerr, has been preserved:
“Wednesday, December 10, 1884
“Dear Scholars and Teachers:
“I had hoped to be able to write you a letter from Germany, describing to you the Christmas customs of that country, for there, as with us at home, Christmas is the great day of the year. The climate, however, was so cold and raw that I was obliged to leave and come to Italy, and am thus unable to write you a description of a German Christmas. Nevertheless, I would be greatly disappointed if I could not hail you across the great ocean with a ‘Merry Christmas to all!’ so I am going to do so by letter.
“And first, let me thank you all for the many kind inquiries which I receive concerning my health. We had rather a rough passage across the Atlantic and I must frankly state that I missed a great many of my meals, and felt a good part of the time as though I were riding on that elegant ‘Flying Horse’ which our popular librarian sometimes puts up for us at our celebrations. Still, this feeling left me before the voyage ended, and I am now enjoying good health and have good reason to hope that I shall return entirely restored.
“I am among the Alps of southern France and quite close to the frontier of Italy. The country is very beautiful, indeed, far more so than you could imagine, or than I could picture to you. The railroad winds among the mountains and valleys and is lined with vineyards and olive, lemon, orange, and palm trees. The mountains are very grand and lofty, and the valleys, sunny and fertile. There are many interesting sights and many funny ones, too. You meet a big, two-story cart with a large load of hay hauled by a little donkey about the size of the ordinary American hobbyhorse. Indeed, if the roads were not so smooth and hard as they are, it would be impossible for a donkey so laughingly small to haul such loads as they do.
“The people have the usual Italian dark complexion and black hair, are lively and excitable and chatter away like a lot of blue jays. Among the mountains, the peasants dress in bright, gay colors and seem to be equally gay and happy in disposition. The manners and customs of all these nations, are, of course, strange and unlike our own. Children are children the world over, however, and it is very pleasing to find the children so much like our own. For the little ones are merry, happy, and natural and always make one feel at home. In Germany the small schoolboys wear high-top boots, also little knapsacks in which they carry their books. Of course you can imagine how proud they feel when rigged out in this style, and they look like little soldiers as you meet them in the streets trooping home from school. This little story will show you that they, like all children, are very quick and bright in some of their sayings and doings:
“A party of four American boys, in tramping through the mountains, met a little peasant lad who wanted to go with them to the top of a certain mountain which they were going to climb. In order to turn him back, they began, as we say in America, to ‘chaff’ the little fellow. They told him their company was very valuable, and that if he wanted to go with them, he would have to pay them for the privilege. At this, young Fritz took off his little cap, made a very polite bow, pulled out his tiny purse and offered them a piece of silver. Of course they refused – as he knew they would – and he continued to follow them, being bound to go to the summit. By and by, they thought they would frighten him back so one of the four said: ‘Fritz, we eat all the small boys we meet. Would you like to be eaten?’ Again Fritz took off his cap, made his bow, and replied very seriously, ‘If you please, sir, I would prefer being eaten on top of the mountain!!!’ I think he was as smart as a certain boy in Hellam township, York County, who thought everybody ought to know that blackberries were ‘all aready’ in October.
“They do not celebrate Christmas in Italy and France as we do at home, and it makes one feel as though such countries cannot be as happy as our own. I fear I shall be somewhat homesick for my Sunday School at Christmas-time, and will miss the sweet songs which we have always sung together then. I will certainly appreciate them to the full when I hear them again.
“A Merry Christmas then to you all! dear scholars and teachers. May this day of holy memories be free from all sickness and sorrow, and bring to each member of our beloved little school a wealth of joy and happiness and purest pleasure. That the memory of the sweet Christ-child, whose glorious birth we commemorate, may fill our hearts with tenderness and peace and good will, and that His everlasting and richest blessings may abide with you, is the earnest wish of Your affectionate Superintendent,
“James H. McConkey”
His stay in Europe, where he traveled by bicycle through Germany, southern France, Italy, and Switzerland, was an experience he never forgot and one that colored his writings in after years. The matchless splendor of the Alps, the quiet beauty of southern France, and the historic grandeur of Italy, were meat and drink for his beauty-loving soul. But it had not been necessary to go so far away to find beautiful scenery, for it was all around in York and Lancaster Counties. He told an old friend at home that in all his travels he had seen nothing more beautiful than “Round Top,” the little mountain two miles north of Wrightsville on the same side of the Susquehanna as the town.
One day on a railroad train in Switzerland, Mr. McConkey and a Scotch minister, with whom he had formed a friendship, noticed a beautiful young woman just across the aisle from them. Feeling sure she would not understand English, they began to tease each other about her – about trying to get an introduction to one so charming, while she was apparently unconscious of it all. This went on until her station was called, and then, just as she passed out to the platform, she waved a hand good-naturedly and said, “Good-by, Americans!”
This incident was unusual, not characteristic!
It is hard to record spiritual facts in chronological order but during these fifteen years (from 1880 to 1895), James McConkey began to study his Bible under the instruction of the Holy Spirit. The responsibility of witnessing was laid upon him and, most of all, the duty and privilege of surrendering all he had, in fee simple, to the Lord Jesus Christ. To use his own phraseology, he had got all of Christ when he accepted and confessed Him, but Christ had not got all of him. Now he saw that nothing else would do. The exact date of his definite surrender of himself to the Lord has not been kept, but he says in The Surrendered Life that he had been a Christian, an officer in the church and a Sunday school superintendent for years, so it is natural to suppose that it came sometime after his trip abroad. He also says that as a result of the prayer that followed a consecration message he heard in a near-by city, he was strongly moved. The one sentence, “Lord, thou knowest we can trust the Man who died for us,” stayed with him all the way home, and that night in the quiet of his room he definitely yielded every purpose and plan of his life, himself, to the Man who had died for him. The name of the speaker who was thus used of God to follow his message with this Spirit-breathed prayer, we do not know. He may have died in obscurity, but doubtless he will share in the reward given James McConkey for trophies won by him. And who would be more delighted than this Apostle of the Surrendered Life to share anything good?
The following Sunday, the transaction he had made in his prayer closet, was made public is the Presbyterian Church of Wrightsville – the same church he had attended since childhood. Perhaps the church people wondered, that Sunday morning, why such an exemplary character as James McConkey should take a step like that little did the average church member know what it cost to yield that strong will. Things were not so hard to give up, but the will was different! And he knew in his heart of hearts that the will was what God had His eye upon. He understood what Tennyson meant by those familiar lines:
“Our wills are ours, we know not how,
Our wills are ours to make them Thine.”
Perhaps that was why he made his consecration public, to seal the decision for himself, to enforce it, to make him remember that the neighbors were watching to see if he kept his agreement with God.
The word “surrender” has been used in certain religious groups to connote the giving up of pet sins by people, not necessarily saved, who thereby curry favor with God by such action. Some Christians dislike the word because it has been defined thus. But those who knew Mr. McConkey, even those who knew him merely through his books, realized that the word applied only to Christians; that it meant simply handing over the life to the One who had already bought it with His blood – the natural act of “delivering the goods” already paid for. It was not a second blessing, but only the fullness of the first; the one thing required of God before the life could be used by Him. During later years he often spoke of “eating” the Word, and once remarked that it took him fifteen years to eat Romans 12:1.[i] I do not remember hearing him say that this was his life-verse, but I can think of no other that fitted him quite so well.
There was no conspicuous Christian service immediately following this act of consecration. He went quietly on with the usual activities in Sunday school and church, using whatever opportunities came his way for witnessing to those in his own providentially-prescribed circles, among them, his brother Edwin, and his hired man, William. Yet there was a constantly deepening work of the Holy Spirit in his life, an ever-increasing illumination of the Scriptures and a growing testimony, for these follow complete surrender as the day the night.
[i] I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that ye present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God, which is your reasonable service.