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THE AUTHOR'S LIFE.
MEMOIRS of persons, who have been eminent for their usefulness, or distinguished for their piety, can scarcely fail to excite an interest. All who feel a solicitude for their own moral improvement, or an ardent desire to see others attain to equal eminence, will commonly find in them some new motives and excitements to animation, in running the race that is set before them.
It is with this ardent wish to stimulate others to strive af er things that are excellent, that the editors of the following Discourses republish, with some additions, what on a former occasion has been laid before the public, respecting the character of their author. To gain celebrity to his memory, is the least object of desire. Whilst living he sought most of all the praise of God; and now that he is dead, the applauses of men, could he be conscious of them, would to him be a matter of the smallest moment, and less than the shadow of a shade.
In the biography however of the author, variety should hardly be expected. The incidents of a pastor's life are commonly few, and the sameness of his duties leads to a sameness of employment. Yet to all to whom it is an agreeable exercise to contemplate goodness of heart with sensations of pleasure, and usefulness of life with emotions of approbation, the perusal may be attended with salutary effects.
SAMUEL STILLMAN was born in the city of Philadelphia, of parents respectable for their virtues, and of the religious persuasion of Particular Baptists. At the age of eleven years he was removed with them to Charleston, South Carolina, and there received the rudiments of his education, at an academy under a Mr. Rind. His improvements there were such as presaged his future worth ; and he gave early indications of a mind seriously impressed with a sense of religious truth. In one of his manuscripts we find some account of very early religious impressions being made upon his mind. These, however, he observes, were generally of short continuance, until more effectually awakened by a sermon delivered by the late excellent Mr. Hart, when, to borrow his own language, he says, “My mind was again solemnly impressed with a sense of my awful condition as a sinner. This conviction grew stronger and stronger. My condition alarmed me. I saw myself without Christ and without hope. I found that I deserved the wrath to come, and that God would be just to send me to hell. I was now frequently on my knees, pleading for mercy. As a beggar I went, having nothing but guilt, and no plea but mercy." How long he continued in this distressed condition is not particularly stated, but it appears from several passages of scripture, he obtained a degree of hope and comfort, though not entirely satisfied. Not long after, he heard Mr. Hart discourse from Matt. i. 21. “ And she shall bring forth a son, and thou shalt call his name Jesus ; for he shall save his people from their sins.” From this sermon he received consolation, and adds, “ Christ then became precious to me, yea, all in all. Then I could say of wisdom, “ Her ways are ways of pleasantness, and all her paths are peace.” That I still think was the day of my espousal. Glory be to God, for the riches of his grace to me. Why me, Lord ? &c.” He was soon after baptized, and received into the church under the pastoral care of Mr. Hart.
After finishing his classical education, he spent one year in the study of divinity with that gentleman. Being called by the church, he preached his first sermon on the
17th of February, 1758; and on the 26th of February, 1759, was ordained in the city of Charleston, South Carolina, to the work of an evangelist.
Immediately afterwards, however, he settled at James Island, a most pleasant situation opposite the city. Soon after he visited the place of his nativity, and on the twenty-third of May, the same year, married Hannah, the daughter of Evin Morgan, Esq. merchant of that place, by whom he afterwards had fourteen children. He also took his degree at the university there, and returned to his society on James Island. But he had not continued above eighteen months with his affectionate and united people, before a violent attack of a pulmonary complaint, forced his removal to another climate. He accordingly fixed himself with his family at Bordentown, New Jersey, where he supplied two different congregations for the space of two years. His ill health somewhat improved, but by no means restored, determined him at length to visit New England, hoping that the exercise, together with the change of air, might yet further mend his impaired constitution.
On his arrival here, 1763, at the request of the Second Baptist Church, he removed his family to Boston, and after preaching one year as 'ani assistant to the late Rev. Mr. Bound, accepted an invitation to settle with the First Baptist Church, and was installed over it January 9, 1765.
By nature he was endowed with a sprightly genius, a' good capacity, and an uncommon vivacity and quickness of apprehension. His feelings were peculiarly strong and lively, which imparted energy to whatever he did, and ander the influence and control of religious principles, served to increase and diffuse his eminent piety. To this constitutional ardour both of sentiment and action, which led him to enter with his whole soul into every subject which engaged his attention, he united a remarkable delicacy of feeling and sense of propriety, and such sprightliness and affability in conversation, such ease and politeness of manners, and at the same time such a glow of pious zeal and affection, as enabled him to min
gle with all ranks and classes of people, and to discharge all his duties as a Christian minister and a citizen, with dignity, acceptance, and usefulness. The lively interest he appeared to take, in whatever affected the happiness or increased the pleasures of his friends, the gentleness of his reproofs and the gratification he seemed to feel in commending others, united to his social qualities, endeared him to all who knew him.
The popularity of a preacher commonly declines with his years. Dr. Stillman, however, was a singular exception to this general remark. He retained it for upwards of forty-two years; and his congregation, which, upon his first connexion with it, was the smallest in the town, aç the age of seventy, the period of his death, he left amongst the most numerous.
As a minister of Christ, his praise was in all the churches, and wherever his name has been heard, an une common degree of sanctity has been connected with it. His principles were highly Calvinistic, and all his sermons borę strong marks of his warm attachment to that system. The natural strength and ardour of his feelings, indeed, imparted zeal to whatever opinion he espoused, and activity to whatever duty he performed. Yet with all his quickness of perception, and acuteness of feeling, his temper was under admirable control, and he was always the thorough master both of his words and actions. Thus embracing what have been denominated the distinguishing doctrines of the gospel, he explained and enforced them with clearness, and with an apostolic zeal and intrepidity.
On the leading principles of the gospel, he always preached and conversed as a Christian minister, who took a deep and hearty interest in their diffusion and establishment. But he did not depend for success on his zeal and fidelity. He knew that what he was, and what he was enabled to do in the cause of God, were wholly by his gracious influence. Whilst he realized his own entire dependence, and that of others, he was animated in duty, believing that the Lord meeteth all who rejoice and work righteousness, those who remember him in his ways,
A subject on which he often spoke with grateful adoration was, the true and proper Godhead of the Lord Jen sus Christ. His views of sin as an infinite evil necessarily impressed upon his mind this truth. He considered the Saviour as an infinitely worthy object of divine worship, and in consequence of this dignity of character qualified to make atonement for sin. On this foundation rested his hope of salvation ; and if this were not a reality, he despaired of entering into glory, and believed the salvation of every sinner an impossible event. But having no doubt on this cardinal point, he was enabled to preach the gogpel with clearness.
On the subject of the trinity and unity of God, he literally believed the declaration of John, “ There are three that bear record in heaven, the Father, the Word, and the Holy Ghost, and these three are one ;” but as to an explanation of the manner or mode of subsistence of the divine nature, he would say he had nothing to do ; for revelation did not explain it. He only declared it as a truth to be believed on the divine testimony.
The total moral depravity of man was a principle on which he much insisted on all proper occasions. He had no idea that there was any latent spark of holiness in the heart of a natural man, which, as some suppose, can be kindled by the exertions of the sinner, and kept alive by the same means. This opinion he reprobated with all his heart, viewing it as a denial of that grace which is revealed in the gospel, and as having a natural tendency to take the crown of glory from the head of IMMANUEL. In contradiction of this error, he would often remark on this text as a motto congenial to the feelings of a believer, “Upon himself (Jesus) shall his crown flourish.” So far was he removed from such mistake, that he believed the real Christian, though renewed by the Holy Spirit, was constantly dependent on God's immediate agency for the origin and continuance of every gracious exercise. Although he believed the entire sinfulness of the natural heart, he did not erroneously connect with it a license to șin, nor suppose that men are released from moral duties