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WORKS OF NATHANIEL EMMONS, D. D.
The Works of Nathaniel Emmons, D. D., late Pastor of the Church in Franklin, Mass., with a Memoir of his Life. Edited by JACOB IDE, D. D. Six volumes, 8vo. Boston, Crocker & Brewster. 1842.
THE reader may expect not a little gratification in perusing the biographical sketches prefixed to these works. First, he will find an autobiography, written as no other man but Dr. Emmons could write, and showing, by its manner, even more than by its matter, the character of that singular mind which dictated it. Next, he will find an "additional memoir, by the editor," Dr. Ide, in a remarkably chaste, easy, and perspicuous style, and containing, among other things, a very friendly though fair statement of the peculiar doctrines of Dr. Emmons. Dr. Ide, being his son-in-law, and long his intimate friend and confidant, enjoyed the best opportunities for becoming qualified for the task he has so ably and impartially executed. Finally, the reader, if already acquainted with Prof. Park, of Andover, will be by no means unhappily disappointed in reading nearly fifty pages of anecdotes and remarks, from his glowing pen, in respect to Dr. Emmons and other New England worthies of his age. These three productions together give a very full view of their subject, while they infuse into the whole picture a variegated interest not otherwise attainable.
Dr. Emmons is a decided Congregationalist; but his works are the exclusive property of no one sect; and our prayer is, that all the benefit they are fitted to impart may be enjoyed by every class of the followers of our common Lord and Master. And if he has taught errors, many or few, our wish also is that one and all of them may, if possible, be just as clearly exposed to the view of all and abjured by all, as the venerable patriarch would himself abjure and expose them, were he, with his purified vision, again to come among us.
Nearly the whole of the six volumes are filled with sermons, a large part of which had before been published. Dr. Ide has also given us a long catalogue of other publications from his pen, which are not included in this collection, a part of which we should be glad to possess in this form, instead of being compelled to search for them, when needed, in the pages of a periodical, or in some repository of forgotten pamphlets. He also informs us of a large and valuable mass of manuscripts still unpublished, from which a selection may be made for some additional volumes, should there be a demand for enlarging the present collection. Such a demand, we believe, there will be; for Dr. Emmons's writings, whether believed or disbelieved, loved or hated, will be sure to be read; just as men cannot help going, Sabbath after Sabbath, to hear a Hopkinsian preacher of the genuine stamp, though they spend the whole week in reviling both him and his doctrine. We hope, therefore, that Dr. Ide will employ his leisure hours and his own sound judgment, in such a selection as may most benefit the present and future generations.
And here we would beg leave to suggest to the respected editor, that doctrinal topics are especially the themes on which the religious public will desire to hear further from him who, though dead, yet speaketh to more thousands than ever during his protracted life. And the more he shall be allowed to say, just as the longer he was spared to live, the more weighty will be the voice of his authority, provided it be not a repetition of what he has already said. What would have been his authority as a teacher in Israel, provided he had put forth only some half a dozen of even his best discourses? But now, all wish to know his opinion, and to see his argument, on every important topic, be that opinion right or wrong. His opposers long for so luminous a target at which to aim their shafts; and the disciples at his feet, desire his artillery for their own defence and further conquests. And though, indeed, we want no more prolix Thomas Aquinases, yet it is a fact that Thomas himself shines forth from amid the gloom of the dark ages, and will shine for ever, not by the lustre of a few single performances (which would soon have vanished), but by the united splendor of his whole constellation of folios. The more dicta a man utters, provided they are sound, or even acute, the greater the value attached to each one of them. What would we not give for another page of traditionary
VOL. VII.-NO. XXVIII.
matter from the mouth of Socrates, through the pen of a Plato or a Xenophon! Hence we may well thank Prof. Park for the anecdotes he has so industriously collected and vividly combined, as well as Dr. Ide for lucidly arranging and presenting the more ponderous portions of these octavos. As yet, American divines have hardly begun to vie with those of Europe, in the bulk of their productions, however superior we may regard many of them in their intrinsic value.
Two of these volumes are filled with doctrinal discourses, so arranged as to present, in a connected and orderly manner, an outline of the doctor's theological system. This is an important collocation, especially for students in divinity. The rest of the sermons were, to a great extent, occasional, and preached at funerals, ordinations, on fast days, &c.
Dr. Emmons made preaching the grand business of his long life, and especially doctrinal preaching. And not only Dr. Ide, but all who know anything of the history of the New England pulpit, for the last half century, well know that Dr. Emmons's influence, through his numerous pupils and otherwise, has done much, and very effectually, to increase a taste for doctrinal preaching. Other distinguished men, as Dwight, Strong, and Bellamy, have also contributed to the propitious change.
The history of the efforts of Dr. Emmons in this respect, and the origin of his practice, is found in the following sentences from his autobiography. "When I entered into the ministry, I imagined that people were generally becoming more fond of superficial than of doctrinal preaching, and were imperceptibly falling into a state of gross ignorance of the fundamental doctrines of the gospel. Viewing our churches and religious societies in this dangerous situation, I thought I ought to contend earnestly for the faith which was once delivered to the saints. This led me to preach doctrinally to my people." Doubtless he had just reason for his fears, in those times of degeneracy which followed the revivals of Whitefield and Edwards. And doubtless there, is still much occasion, in particular regions, for regretting a want of taste, in both preachers and people, for sound doctrinal preaching. But if Bellamy, and West, and Strong, and Dwight, and Spring, and Hopkins, and Smalley, and Emmons, found their age superficial, and deficient in a taste for doctrinal discussions, they did not leave it such. First in their pulpits, and then through the press, they betook themselves to the task which
the crisis demanded. And if we would know how their laurels were won, we must view thein in both these modes of warfare.
This brings us to say a few things of the eloquence of Dr. Emmons. And the first is, to assert the fact that he was eloquent, and that in no ordinary manner or degree. So different, indeed, was his manner-not only in language, but also in utterance, and attitude, and action-from what is vulgarly deemed essential to the art, that comparatively few would think of him as an orator, In fact, while listening, they would not be likely to think of him at all; their thoughts would be engrossed with his subject. Most might even laugh at the suggestion of his being an orator, and say, that he did not act like an orator. But, if to chain the breathless attention of an auditory, from the beginning to the end of a long discourse-perhaps on a topic commonly deemed the most intricate, barren, dry, repulsive-and, what is more, either completely to gain his cause, or, at least, to silence all objections, if this is the best proof of eloquence, then was Dr. Emmons eloquent.
Nor was his an ephemeral eloquence, depending on conventional notions of propriety and excellence, or heightened by the charms of youth, of personal appearance, or of novelty. It stood that severest of all tests, the test of time. For, Sabbath after Sabbath, for more than fifty years, did he continue to rivet the attention of the same people. As he drew towards the close of his career, he was found standing amid a large congregation, who had grown up around him. This spectacle we once had the happiness of witnessing; and it was partly for the purpose of witnessing it, that we contrived to pass a Sabbath in Franklin. And that Sabbath, in its instructive recollections, has now stood in our calendar as an high day for more than thirty years; and the scene is as fresh in memory as though it were of yesterday. From the annunciation of the doctrine, nay, from the very reading of the text, a profound and increasing interest was apparent in the hearFor a while we suspected that the interesting theme, together with the rather paradoxical form in which it was expressed, had excited an uncommon attention on that occasion. But we have since been repeatedly assured by his pupils, who heard him at different periods in his life, that they always witnessed the like eagerness in his hearers.
Nor was it merely among his own people, where he was so deeply revered and so ardently loved, that his discourses found a listening ear. Though he was very rarely far from home, yet once, at a subsequent period, we chanced to hear him in a city more than a hundred miles distant, where he preached in the evening to a large congregation, most of whom were probably ignorant of his character, if not of his name. It was on short notice; and, as he had no time for special preparation, he was extremely loth to engage to preach, and seemed even nervously sensitive at the honor of the invitation, and at the fear of a failure, as he would have to depend entirely on his notes, and might find it difficult to read them. He yielded at length to the entreaties of his friends, and entered the pulpit. When he commenced his sermon, instead of laying his notes on the desk, and only glancing at them occasionally, he was observed to grasp them firmly in both hands, and, holding them up near one of the lamps, to rivet his eyes immovably on their contents. All hope of witnessing a rhetorical display now vanished from such as had assembled for no higher purpose; and, after a momentary attention, perhaps a score of such hearers speedily left the assembly. During this unseemly movement, the clear, but not loud voice of the sensitive patriarch reached every attentive ear; and when order was again restored, there ensued a stillness like that of the tomb, and a listening like that at an oracle. While the preacher read on, with eyes fixed on his page, and hands still grasping his note-case, no eye was averted from him, and no ear became impatient for his amen. And, if we may judge from our own feelings, we would confidently say, that no one desired to see him attempt a gesture. A charm had come over the assembly, half intellectual, half devotional, and all of it of that higher and unsensual order, which no gesticulation can aid, but is sure to mar. It was clear thoughts, coming forth from an earnest mind, and entering into other minds which had become earnest to receive them, and which would be annoyed by even the diversion of a gesture. It was a soul, communicating with other souls in a manner too ethereal for the assistances which an inferior intercourse craves.
That which could so chain the attention of a very highly cultivated and intellectual assembly of strangers that evening, and which could command the unabated interest of a common