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HIS CHARACTER AS A WRITER. - AS A PREACHER. — AS A PASTOR.
AS A CITIZEN.
In a memoir prefixed to his works, there seems to be little necessity of saying any thing of him as an author. The contents of the accompanying volumes will exhibit his character in this respect more perfectly than it can be described; but still it may not be improper here just to glance at some of the qualities by which his writings are distinguished. There is some variety in his style; but all this variety may be expressed by what Dr. Blair would term plainness, neatness, and elegance. For the most part, his style may be said to be plain, or neat. passages it is elegant. But whether it be clothed with a greater or less degree of ornament, it is always eminently perspicuous. Perspicuity is its distinguishing characteristic. It is read without effort. So perfectly naked are his thoughts, that his reasoning upon the most profound subjects in theology is read with less effort of the mind than a common paragraph in a newspaper. A feeble minister was a short time since heard to say that he could read Emmons's sermons on the Sabbath, after being so exhausted by the labor of the day, that he could not endure conversation, nor even read a religious periodical.
In all his discourses he has an object at which he aims. This is always one of great interest and importance. His plan for the attainment of his object is often so natural and so plain, that it seems to be the only one that could with propriety be adopted; and yet it is often one which nobody ever thought of before.
The following description of the style and sermons of Dr. Emmons, by the author of the Triangle, is so graphic and just, that no reader will be displeased with its insertion in this place.
"I shall not pronounce on the peculiar opinions of Emmons. Whether they are correct or not, I leave to the decisions of that day which shall rectify every error, and bring truth to light. But they are surely not of a nature which ought to interfere with Christian fellowship and communion. But Emmons, regarded as a sermonizer, is surpassed by few writers of that class, either living or dead; and few sermons, considered in all respects, are superior to his. His subjects, generally important, are judiciously selected, and skilfully raised out of an appropriate text. His sermons are rea ith ease and pleasure; with pleasure, because his object is perfectly obvious, his conceptions clear, and his arrangement natural and luminous; and with ease, because short and always rapidly progressing. “Semper festinat ad eventum.' Emmons is an original of the noblest class, and certainly one of the most decided character. No candid reader who reads for instruction, is disappointed, or rises from the perusal of one of his sermons without some benefit. His sermons generally indicate extensive knowledge and acuteness of judgment. His style is neat, appropriate, pure, and correct, though less elegant and splendid than that of Hall, and less easy and graceful perhaps than that of Jay. In fervency and pathos, we may have some in our own country who excel him; and his sermons are, perhaps too didactic — too much the essay, and not sufficiently the popular address, to answer, in the best manner, all the ends of preaching. With less of the flowers of May, or fruits of October than some others, his sermons may be compared to the meridian hour of a clear day in June, when the Sun puts forth his strength, the Summer displays her maturity, and Vegetation all her energy.
“The reader of Emmons's sermons is like one passing over an extensive and well-cultivated farm; the fences are substantial and erect; the fields are verdant, square, and regular, not triangular; the meadows are separated from the woodlands, and the pastures from the tillage; the mansion house is not lofty, but neat and spacious, and speaks itself the seat of wealth, but not of dissipation — of happiness, but not of ambition. The prospects are diversified with hills and valleys, and enriched with springs and rivulets.
“The audiences who heard Emmons have heard more truth, and are better instructed, waiving all peculiar and discriminating points, than those who heard Davies or Witherspoon; and trusting that time will cure prejudices, and assured that selfishness will soon yield the ground to a benevolence purely disinterested, I frankly declare, that I would as lief be thought the writer of the sermons of Emmons as of Watts or Baxter, Hall or Fuller, Sherlock or Tillotson, Saurin or Claude, Bossuet or Bourdaloue.
“After the critic has screwed up his nose, scowled, hissed, snuffed, tossed, and pronounced a few such phrases as "ignorance! - no taste !— impudence!” and the like; I would request him to read a sermon of Davies, of Saurin, of Baxter, of Sherlock, of Massilon, and of Emmons; and then ask himself which of them conveys the most important truth, with fewest words, most simplicity and force, least affectation and labor, and greatest clearness. I must caution him, however, to break fairly through the blinding halo that surrounds great names; to be on his guard against the splendor of the great assemblies of London and Paris, where nobles and monarchs worship; to fortify his auditory nerves against the titillation of pompous phrases, and majestic circumlocution, which add little to the force, beauty, or impression of truth.
"A sermon is, or ought to be, a portion of the gospel of Christ, adapted to the attention of a public audience. Its style and manner may be compared to the vessels on which a public feast is served up. Important truth is the food itself. Now, the service of dishes may be of gold, silver, porcelain, or common earthen-ware, pewter, or even wood. Some forty years ago, when the good people of this country used to eat on wooden trenchers, even a pewter service was thought quite splendid and luxurious. Emmons treats his audience in a handsome service of silver ; and if there are those who can go as high as gold, enriched with diamonds, I am glad. Let it be remembered, however, that very indifferent food may be served up in gold, and many a deadly draught has lurked in a golden goblet."
The sermons of Dr. Emmons are written in an argumentative, but not in a controversial manner. Though he was powersul in argument, and not altogether unconscious of his ability to detect and expose the errors of the times, yet he was not disposed to engage to any great extent in public controversies. His “ Dissertation on the scriptural qualifications for admission and access to the Christian Sacraments," and his “ Candid Reply" 10 Dr. Hemmenway's Remarks on that publication; his Review of the Sermon of Mr. S. on the subject of Submission in a letter to his neice, and his reply to Dr. Smalley upon " The Doings of the Unregenerate;” are rare specimens not only of logical acumen, and controversial tact, but of Christian candor and courtesy towards an opponent.
* The quality of his writing constituted one of his leading traits as a preacher. It is well known that he was unisormly heard with deep attention and interest. Whether his auditors believed or disbelieved, liked or disliked what he said, they could not help hearing him; and generally speaking the interest excited was equal to the attention. The writer of this article has heard him about as many times as he has heard Dr. Griffin, who has been styled “ the prince of preachers” in New England. And while he remembers with unabated delight and admiration the eloquence of this wonderful man, he can truly say that the attention given to bim was not more uniform and profound than that given to Dr. Emmons. The form, the attitude, the voice, and the gestures of Griffin were more commanding than those of Emmons. He could thunder and lighten, raise the admiration and excite the astonishment of his hearers. By an occasional happy thought, clothed in language corresponding with its weight and importance, and uttered with the peculiar emphasis which the varied tones of his mighty voice could give, he would electrify bis audience, and produce impressions for the moment which Emmons could never make. But after all, he did not hold the attention more closely, nor impart a greater amount of instruction, nor excite a deeper interest, nor make more salutary and lasting impressions. Though there was nothing imposing in Emmons manner, nothing which at first struck the attention of the multitude, or excited VOL. I.
any high expectations respecting him; yet whenever he got the ear of his audience he kept it. It was not to his person, to his attitude or gestures, to his style of writing, to the tones of his voice or to any thing else in his manner of speaking, that their attention was directed. When he arose to address an assembly, the first thing that arrested their attention to any considerable degree was the truth presented before them. This almost invariably appeared in such an attitude as to excite at first a degree of curiosity in the hearer, either in respect to the proof that should be exhibited in its favor, or in its consistency with other acknowledged truth, or the uses to which it should be applied. His proof and illustrations would usually be so clear, concise, and conclusive, that the interest of the audience would increase at every step in his argument, and at the close, entire satisfaction would be felt. In the application of his subject, every doctrine and every duty which he inferred from his rain proposition would appear so obviously connected with it, that those who had given their assent to the one could not withhold it from the other. By his first inference he would often show his audience that in consenting to the truth of his main proposition they had given up the ground entirely on which they were accustomed to stand in the defence of some favorite error, or sin. In these circumstances, their curiosity to know what was coming next would often be intense. As he
progressed, the original truth would be constantly held up before them, and every time it was repeated, it would come associated with all the proof and illustrations to which they had just attended, and to which they had given their assent, and from the force of which they now found it impossible to escape; and what was still more surprising, at every re-appearance it would introduce some other truth, indissolubly connected with itself, and which could not be denied without giving up all they had received. Every eye would be upon him. The stillness of the grave would pervade the assembly. Emotions of high gratification and delight would be seen upon the countenances of some, while conviction, alarm, opposition, solemnity and all sorts of feelings, would often be indicated by the looks of others.
The power of Dr. Emmons as a preacher, did not however consist entirely in the structure of his sermons.
He had some peculiar excellences as a speaker. He was free from all affectation, and spoke in the pulpit with his natural, conversational tone of voice. He always got into his subject, fully imbibed its spirit, and spake under the influence of this and nothing else. Though his words made no noise, they were always alive. No man ever succeeded better in uniformly making
each of his hearers feel that he was speaking to him. His sparkling, penetrating eye, and perfectly natural tone of voice, gave a directness and power to his manner, which was sometimes almost irresistible.
A most important part of a pastor's work, is to feed his flock. No care which a shepherd can take of his sheep will prove a successful means of their comfort and growth, if they be not supplied with proper food. The only food which can sustain the flock of Christ, and by which their thrift and happiness can be promoted, is divine truth. The effort which Dr. Emmons made to enrich his mind with a knowledge of divine truth, and impart this to his people, in a manner suited to all their various circumstances, proves him to have been a devoted pastor. He studied hard, that he might be able always to give his people truth and not error. He aimed to teach them the truth on all subjects on which they needed religious instruction. He labored to select that portion of truth, which at the time was adapted to the character and circumstances of those whom he addressed. He made it an object to present the truth with so much simplicity and plainness, that they could not help understanding it. He never felt that the great object of his ministry, in respect to any of his flock, was secured, until, with the blessing of God, he had led them to receive the truth in love, and to make it the guide of their lives.
He was a watchful pastor. He kept an eye upon all his flock. From his studious and retired habits, many have inferred that he knew but very little about his people, or of what was going on among them. But such have entirely mistaken the man. He took great pains to be acquainted with all his people; and in the prime of his life, there were very few among them who were not well known to him, either in person or by their characters. Every part of his parish, and every individual in it, with whom he was acquainted, was an object of his almost daily consideration. He inquired into their belief and practice, on the subject of religion. He always noticed their attendance upon, or neglect of the means of grace. Whether they were saints or sinners, was a question of great apparent solicitude with him. He noticed with special interest the conduct of professors, and seriously considered the influence which, in their respective circumstances, they were exerting upon the cause of Christ. He always had his eye on the town, and upon men of influence in the town, and traced the bearings of every important transaction among them upon their religious interests.
. He noticed in a very intelligent and devout manner, every dispensation of Divine Providence, with which either individuals, or the great body of his people were seriously affected; and