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ARTICLE VII.-PROFESSOR PARK'S MEMOIR OF DR.
Memoir of Nathanael Emmons, with Sketches of his Friends
and Pupils. By EDWARDS A. Park. Congregational Board of Publication, Boston. 1861. Published, also, as a part of the first volume of the Works of Dr. Emmons.
A very interesting Essay, comprising Memorabilia of Dr. Emmons, was contributed by Professor Park to the former edition of Emmons's works. In the new issue of his writings, which has been put forth by the Congregational Board of Publication, we part with that Essay, but are presented with an expanded and elaborate Memoir from the same skillful pen. The materials for a biography of Emmons are scanty; more so, perhaps, than was ever true of any other man who lived to an advanced age, and attained to equal distinction. The whole period of his professional life was spent in a little farming town in eastern Massachusetts. His most noteworthy exploit, as a traveler, was a single journey, undertaken in his old age, to the New York religious anniversaries. In the circle of his acquaintance were very few persons who were much known beyond the parishes where they lived. His correspondence, even with theologians, amounted to so little, that hardly a dozen of his letters have been thought worthy of an insertion in this copious Memoir. Although his active life extended from the first dissension between America and Great Britain, which led to the war of Independence, through all the mighty changes attending the French revolution, and was thus contemporaneous with a most eventful era, he has left no record of the reflections and judgments awakened in his mind by the grand occurrences of which he was a witness, unless an occasional fast-day sermon, like the severe satire upon Jefferson in his Jeroboam discourse, be counted an exception. We look in vain among the memorials of Emmons for such observations and comments upon passing affairs, as we commonly expect from intellectual men whose lives are given to
the public. He moved on one track, turning neither to the right or the left, suffering the man to be very much absorbed in the theologian. Yet he was a person of marked individuality, of uncommon force of mind, and of extensive influence. Professor Park, with the same industry which he exhibited in preparing the Life of Hopkins, has collected from every quarter whatever can be learned of the subject of his biography. As Emmons acted upon the public through his pupils, who were apt to be stamped with his image, considerable space is given to sketches of the more distinguished of them. Since he is chiefly known as an author, the characteristics of his style, his habits of thought, and the opinions he advocated, are fully described. Being an example of the New England pastor of former days, an account of his ministry involves a picture of our New England parochial life as it was before the advent of modern customs. It is simply just to say that Professor Park has made the most of his materials, availing himself of all the side lights within his reach, and has drawn up a narrative which forms an important contribution to American theological history.
From the numerous topics of interest which are brought forward in the Memoir, and which are named in the synopsis at the beginning, we cull out a few for special remark.
The early life of Emmons reminds us how closely in those days the abstract doctrines of religion, or the knotty points of theology, entered into religious experience. He obtained his Christian hope while a theological student with Smalley, and in connection with new views upon divine sovereignty. The younger Edwards was converted in a similar manner by studying theology in the family of Hopkins. Theoretical truth, in forms which might be expected to reach the philosopher more than the sinner, had for our fathers—laymen as well as ministers—the deepest practical interest. Propositions which are dry and cold in the estimation of most Christians, were heard by them with silent, but intense emotion, and discussed in all their farm-houses. Theorems relative to the government of the universe would excite in their hearts a fearful struggle
which proved the turning point of character. It was a metaphysical habit of mind, the result of Calvinistic training upon a people with whom religion was the principal subject of thought. Vigor and acuteness of intellect, and depth of religious principle, were the result of this peculiar training. But many minds, we doubt not, were puzzled by the doubtful disputations which sounded in their ears from childhood, and many starved spiritually for want of concrete, living expressions of truth. Tenderness to the poor, gentleness, pity for human infirmities, gracious courtesy, and the like virtues, were often stunted in their growth. We must acknowledge that with grand virtues, a degree of unlovely asceticism was mixed. A comparison of the portrait of Calvin with the portrait of Luther will suggest the faults that are likely to spring up in the countries where these leaders respectively bear sway. Luther seems to say: “The earth is the Lord's and the fullness thereof;" and Calvin, “ Come out from among them and be ye separate.”
Emmons was more addicted to reading, than he is commonly thought to have been. Professor Park points out the current mistake upon this matter, showing that he studied the standard writers in English theology and metaphysics. He was accustomed to require of his theological pupils an essay on each leading doctrine in the Christian system, and he prepared them to write it by placing in their hands the ablest author in opposition to what he considered the correct view, together with the best treatises on the right side. He wisely deemed it better for them to acquaint themselves, before they left their instructors, with the most plausible errors in religion, and to detect the fallacies on which they depend. Emmons read, as he relates in his brief autobiography,“ deep, well-written tragedies, for the sake of real improvement in the art of preaching." They appeared to him “the very best works to teach true eloquence.” “A preacher can scarcely find a better model for constructing a popular, practical, pathetic discourse, than a good tragedy; which all along prepares the mind for the grand catastrophe without discovering it, till the whole soul is
wrought into the proper frame to feel the final impression." Among the pithy observations of Emmons which are scattered along the pages of his Memoir, we have met with few of more weight than the following: “Though I was fond of reading, yet I was still more fond of examining and digesting what I read. I always found a disadvantage from reading more than I could digest. This never failed to unsettle my mind, and give it a bias towards skepticism. And I believe there is scarcely any circumstance, which has a more direct tendency to turn learned men into skeptics, than reading too much and thinking too little. When a large number of different and opposite ideas upon a subject are collected in the mind, without being properly examined and arranged, it requires more than common discernment to discover where truth lies; and many a weak mind has, I doubt not, been plunged in darkness by too much light.” These are golden words. Men who are able to master their reading, may fail to do it through lack of patience to reflect, or led away by their passion for books. Mental bewilderment is the result of hurry. It was by careful and patient thought that Emmons became the man he was. “In the course of my studies,” he writes, “I have endeavored to obtain certainty upon all points which would admit of it. Many points in Divinity, as well as in other branches of science, will not admit of demonstration, and must remain problematical, after all human researches; but some may be brought to a fair and full decision. In all cases in which I supposed certainty could be obtained, I made it a practice to pursue a subject until I was completely satisfied I had found the truth." Emmons understood, also, the value of conversation as a stim. ulant and a means of learning how a subject looked from other points of view than his own. It is unfortunate for his system that he had so few opportunities of meeting, in free conference, foemen,—and foemen worthy of his steel.
The authority of Emmons in the exercise of his pastoral office is worthy of notice. An Independent of the most decided stamp, in his ecclesiastical theory; opposing national religious societies for fear that they might imperceptibly assume power over the churches; jealous of a state Association of ministers for the same reason; he, nevertheless, enjoyed a practical authority in his own parish, that was almost unbounded. He guarded his prerogatives against all assailants from within or without. A personal deference, as great as one man ought to yield to another, was paid to him. It was partly a reverence for his office, and partly the force of his character, which obtained for him this power. Curious examples of the control which he exerted, are presented in the Memoir. The right of private judgment, we must allow, lay under some embarrassments in a country parish over which a man like Emmons presided, and among a people who were brought up to revere his station and his person, and to listen with awe to solemn anathemas against dissenters from his interpretation of the Gospel.
As a preacher, Dr. Emmons has been justly praised for the perfection of his style. We miss, to be sure, the sweep of imagination and the occasional passages of high eloquence to be found in the elder Edwards. But in perspicuity, in freedom from a stilted elevation on the one hand, and from vulgarity on the other, in a natural force and an easy flow of style, he surpasses all the New England theologians before him. He draws from the well of English undefiled. A beautiful simplicity marks every sentence. It is delightful to read Emmons merely for the style. And his method is likewise perfect; a steady, irresistible march to the goal which his own mind has previously set. In his discourses there is no delay, no turning aside; but every sentence is a step forward. In regard to form they are a model for the class of sermons to which they belong. They are argumentative sermons; a real or imaginary antagonist being always in view. A few introductory remarks lead to a definite proposition. The proposition is defended under a series of heads; then deductions from it conclude the discourse. Emmons uniformly chose his subject first, and found a text to match it; and his sermons are all cast in one mold. A continuous meditation, where there is no attempt to prove a point; an exposition, where pregnant words and phrases of Scripture are made to yield their contents, and the audience are brought into living inter