B. Rush Rhees.

Eulogium on the life and character of the Rev. Henry Holcombe, D.D., pastor of the First Baptist Church of Philadelphia online

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Delivered at the request of the congregation on the 20th June, 1 824.

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" Shall blood stained heroes, when they yield their breath,
To him whose cause they servM, — their sovereign death ;
Shall these awake the boasted powers of verse,
To blazon deeds we deem our greatest curse ? —
And shall a Champion on the Christian plain
Fall undistinguished, 'mid the vulgar slain ?"


Stavely & Bringhurst, Printers.



Extract from the minutes of the meetings held by the
members of the congregation.

THE death of the Rev. Dr. Henry Holcombe hav-
ing been announced to the First Baptist Church and
congregation, a meeting of the latter was held, on
Sunday morning, May 23d, for the purpose of express-
ing the sorrow of its members, at the melancholy event
of his dissolution, and their high sense of his pre-emi-
nent excellence.

Mr. Charles Keen was called to the chair, and Mr.
William Harper appointed secretary, whereupon a
committee, composed of the following gentlemen, viz:
Messrs. Thomas Shewell, Aaron Kille, William E.
Garrett, William W. Keen, and B. R. Rhees, was in-
structed to prepare resolutions, expressive of the sen-
timents of the congregation, on the mournful occasion
which had led to its meeting. The committee accor-
dingly reported at a subsequent meeting, held on the
25th instant, the following preamble and resolutions,
and they were unanimously adopted, viz :

The members of this congregation, sympathising
with the First Baptist Church, under the afflicting dis-
pensation of heaven, which has deprived her of her
venerable and invaluable Pastor; and feeling deeply
sensible, that they have themselves sustained a very
serious loss, in his sudden and unexpected dissolution,

Resolve^ I. That the moral rectitude, and inflexible
integrity of the late Dr. Henry Holcombe as a man.
the sincerity and unblemished purity of his character as
a Christian, and the uniform zeal and ability with
which he performed his arduous duties as a public
Preacher, entitled him to the highest respect, and the
warmest affection, and rendered him worthy of being
ever held in grateful and lively remembrance.

II. That, as his services, and virtues, are deserving
of universal commemoration, it is due to the deep and
unfeigned sorrow, of his former auditors, and friends,
on the melancholy termination of his career, that a
public tribute be paid to his memory ; therefore

Resolved, III. That a member of this congregation
be appointed to deliver an Eulogium on his life and
character. Dr. B. Rush Rhees was appointed to per-
form this duty, when, on motion, it was

Resolved, That a committee be appointed to present
a letter of condolence, accompanied with the foregoing
resolutions, to the widow of the late Dr. Holcombe.
The following letter was accordingly submitted by the
committee and adopted : —

To Mrs. Frances Holcombe.

Highly Esteemed Madam,

In adopting and presenting to you the enclosed reso-
lutions, the members of the congregation assembling
in the meeting house of the First Baptist Church, have
done no more, than pay a feeble and imperfect tribute
to justice. Permit them, therefore, to add the expres-

sion of their sincere condolence with you, on a loss,
calculated to overwhelm you with grief, and to call
forth the tenderest sympathies of all who are able to
appreciate the value of the highest order of moral ex-

The loss of a beloved and respected Pastor ; of one
whose counsel has guided us, and whose pathetic and
tender exhortations, have so often affected our hearts,
is to us a severe affliction. On you the stroke has fal-
len far heavier ; for you have been deprived of the sup-
port and comfort of your declining years, the affec-
tionate partner of your solicitudes and pleasures, the
dear and devoted friend, who was appointed by heaven
to cheer and console you amid the cares and calami-
ties of life. A privation such as this, awakens a sorrow
in your bosom, which can be divested of its poignancy,
only by the influence of that religion, which robs death
of his terrors ; and this we are assured has been to
yoUf a source of the richest consolation.

We will not, therefore, intrude further on the mo-
ments you would devote to the tranquillizing exercise
of religious contemplation ; but beg you to accept the
offering, of our sincere sympathy with you, in your pre-
sent distress ; and the individual regard we shall ever
entertain for you, under every circumstance of your fu-
ture life.

In behalf of the congregation.

(Signed,) ROBT. MAUL, )

JAMES MANN, V Committee.


The Eulogium having been delivered on the 29th of
June, a meeting of the congregation was held on the
6th of Julj, when it was

Resolved, That the thanks of this congregation be
presented to Dr. B. Rush Rhees, for the appropriate
manner in which he performed the arduous duty im-
posed on him, in pronouncing the Eulogium on our
late venerable and lamented Pastor, on Tuesday last,
and that he be requested to furnish a copy of the Eulo-
gium, prepared for publication.





iiia^B' " '

Friends and Fellow Citizens,

IF it be useful to cherish the recollection of distin-
guished worth, if honour be due to those who have
given to the world examples of the beauty and dignity
of virtue ; the purpose for which you are now assem-
bled, is neither trifling, nor unimportant. It is, on the
contrary, calculated to elevate your feelings, and lead
to reflections as salutary, as they must be serious. Sin-
cerely do I regret, that the task of awakening these re-
flections in your minds, had not devolved on some one
more competent to do justice to the solemn and impres-
sive subject from which they spring. With powers ade-
quate to its performance, it would be a grateful duty,
to trace the noble features of that exalted character,
which I have been called to eulogize. I do not, how-
ever, appear in this place as one, daring to expect that
these features can be portrayed in their proper colours.
It is, as one, uniting with you in your veneration of
moral excellence, and holding communion with you, in
your sorrow, on the removal of any of its possessors
from the earth — as one who saw it shining with tran-
scendent lustre in the life of hinij who but lately, occu-
pied this place, and as one, who mingled his grief with
yours, when the melancholy tale of his dissolution was


Days and weeks have passed away since you follow-
ed his lifeless body to the silent tomb ; yet this grief re-
mains undiminished. It must indeed be lasting as it
was poignant, for it was excited by no ordinary cause.
Wherever the shaft of death may strike, on whomsoever
his heavy and icy hand may be laid, sorrow must be
the consequence — the peace of some living being, must
be slain. Though the grave be opened to receive the
humblest of God's responsible creatures, there will be
some one to shed tears upon it. A wife is bereft of a
beloved husband, a mother of her darling babe, or a
sister of a tender and devoted brother. A child is left
fatherless, or a friend, friendless — some small circle
has had its gaiety repressed — some house of joy has
been converted into a house of mourning. These are
the common, and necessary consequences of death's in-
trusion, even into the habitations of the obscure and the
ignoble. How much more deeply and widely are they
felt, when he who sinks beneath the relentless blow of
the destroyer, is not only a father, and a husband ; but
the counsellor and friend of thousands — an advocate of
the poor and the oppressed — a bold defender of civil and
religious liberty — a zealous promoter of knowledge —
a firm and fearless foe to vice, and a faithful guar-
dian, not only of the temporal, but of the immortal in-
terests of his fellow men ! Such was he, whose virtues
you have thronged hither to commemorate, and whose
death has been felt, as a sad and serious calamity, far
beyond the bosom of his mourning family. You, who
were united to him by the bonds of Christian fellow-
ship, who have bowed down with him before the altar
of the mighty God, and who have been partakers with

him, of that holy sacrament, which forms the pledge
of your devotion to the Christian faith, and the memen-
to of your fraternal union here, and your common des-
tinies hereafter ; — you have felt his loss, for you have
been deprived of a friend and brother, whose " like
you may not look upon again."

You, who have witnessed his unwearied labours in
the cause of truth, who have heard his voice filling
this place with its impressive tones, and who can wit-
ness with what resistless energy it fell upon your senses
and your souls ; — you have felt it, for he loved you also,
and laboured to advance your highest interests. You,
who are engaged in the same sacred cause, to which
his life was devoted — whose hearts are consecrated to
the same holy service, and whose hopes are directed
to the same celestial honours ; — you too have felt it,
for the cause of Christianty has lost an able advocate,
and the interests of virtue, a bold and intrepid cham-
pion. All who knew him, and who know the value of
moral excellence ; all who have hearts capable of feel-
ing and minds capable of comprehending the beauty of
a life spent in doing good, have felt it, for such a life was
closed, when the venerable apostle, who has just been
taken from us, terminated his career. But we have
not met together for the single purpose of giving ex-
pression to our grief. We come to raise our friend, and
not to bury him. He who was worthy of such deep
and general sorrow, must be worthy also, of our united
eulogies. The elevated station he occupied among us,
entitles him to this peculiar mark of our respect and
veneration. If those who act well their part, even in
the common walks of life, are deserving of the approv-



ing smiles of their fellow men ; far more than ordinary
approbation is due to those, who have filled with faith-
fulness and honour, posts of high distinction and re-
sponsibility. Such is the general sense of mankind. The
hero who has led the armies of his country to victory,
or who has caused her banners to float in triumph on
the ocean breeze, has a thousand tongues to proclaim
his praise. His achievements become the theme of
poets and of orators ; and the vault of heaven is made
to ring, on their recital, with the plaudits of admiring
millions. The statesman, whose wisdom has framed,
and whose energy has led to the adoption of laws,
tending to promote the happiness of the community in
which he lived, has his name repeated with applause,
long after the tones of his eloquence have ceased to
charm the ear, and the fire of patriotism to burn in his
bosom. He who has devoted his life to the develop-
ment of nature's mysteries, and the discovery of the
causes, by which worlds are kept in harmonious mo-
tion : he who has watched over you in the hour of sick-
ness, and brought back the blush of health to your
cheek, when you had surrendered every hope of a re-
newal of your earthly pleasures ; who has guarded your
streets against pestilence, and who has carried the be-
nign influence of his art into the hovels of misery and
want: he who has administered justice with impartia-
lity, and suffered not the widow nor the orphan to sink
beneath the cruelty of rapacious and unfeeling adver-
saries ; these are deemed worthy of your praises, and
they have been bestowed upon them. And shall those
remain unhonoured, who have been the ministers of
health to your diseased minds ;— who have been the ex-


positors of divine (not merely natural) truth ; who have
advanced the interests and happiness of mankind, by
bringing the reckless and the profligate into subjection
to the laws of God ; who have grappled with foes more
mighty than men, and triumphed in the contest ; who
have driven the enemies of your religion, from post to
post, and from field to field ; stormed the citadels of im-
morality, and caused the proudest banners, under which
man can fight, the banners oi' virtue, to wave in triumph
over the prostrate forces of the prince of evil ; shall
these remain unhonoured ? Shall these be consigned to
the tomb in silence, and shall their names be forgotten
by those who were the witnesses of their worth ? Jus-
tice forbids it, and proclaims, that these, above all others,
are deserving of our eulogies. The station of a Chris-
iian Preacher, is indeed, higher than any other occupied
by man. The purity of principle, and integrity of life
required to fill it, as it should be filled ; the weighty and
important {Imies it imposes, and the magnitude of the
objects which mu3t be ever in the view of those who
are exalted to it, entitle it to this superiority. It is
their peculiar province, to comfort the disconsolate, and
awaken hope in the breasts of the despondent ; to in-
struct the unenlightened, and convince the faithless ; to
point out the path of pleasantness and peace to those
who are rushing onward to ruin ; and to fire with new
zeal, those who have buckled on the armour of religion:
to suppress the ebullitions of lawless passion, and to
invigorate the reason, and the virtuous feelings of those
who are committed to their trust : — to unmask the hy-
pocrite ; to put the blasphemer to shame, and in a word,
to impress anew, upon the soul of man, the lost image


of his God. It is required of them, that their lives
be pure, and holy, as the precepts they inculcate ; and
that humility, self-denial, and every other virtue which
can adorn the character of man, should shine conspicu-
ously in them. Their situation is one of danger, as
well as of difficulty and trust. The ignorant and de-
praved, by whom they are surrounded, and whose eyes
are intently fixed upon their steps, are ever busy with
their fame ; seeking, with malicious industry, to find
something in their lives injurious to the cause they ad-
vocate — something to cast reproach on their religion.
By such, the smallest error of their judgments will be
magnified into a wilful perversion of truth; and the
most trifling deviation from the path of moral recti-
tude, into a grossly criminal violation of virtue. Their
zeal will be called bigotry — their liberality, want of de-
votion — their firmness, obstinacy — and their indepen-
dence, ambition, and a thirst for power.

This is not all. It is not at the fireside, or in the se-
cret conclaves of the dissolute and designing only, that
judgment will be passed on their characters and con-
duct. The report of their trifling errors, or, when
these cannot be found, the invented charges of those,
who are unfriendly to their cause or calling, will be
borne from house to house, on the unwearying wing of
culumny, and blazoned forth as proofs of their insin-
cerity, or, ivorse than this, of their apostacy.

From these dangers, they are never safe ; for though
to-day, they may imagine that the voice of unkind ness
and malignity is still; to-morrow it may disturb their
rest. Those who are about them, may now be the
avowed advocates of the truth they teach, and the de-


dared admirers of the firmness and energy with which
they urge it on the mind ; to-morrow they may desert
them, and be arrayed against their peace. To-day
they may sing hosannas to their names, and to-morrow
may be heard to cry, crucify them, crucify them! These
are not fancied dangers we have thrown round the
ecclesiastical profession. The founder of the Christian
faith passed through them, and there is not one of his
disciples, however pure his life, that may not, one day,
be called to encounter them.

In thus noticing the important requisitions, the noble
objects, and the peculiar difificulties of the station of a
Christian preacher, it has been my purpose to lead you
to the conviction, that none are more worthy of your
eulogies, than those who have filled it through a long
life, with fidelity and honour; and who on quitting it,
for still higher posts in heaven, have given proof of the
sincerity of their professions, and of the celestial origin
of the religion they had laboured to extend. Such was
the case with Dr. Henry Holcombe. He occupied
this, as well as other stations, for more than forty years,
" without having been subjected during that period, to
a single admonition, either civil, military, or ecclesiasti-
cal;" and on leaving it, gave the strongest proof, that
death was to him, promotion to a nobler rank, among
nobler beings.

On a survey of his life, we shall discover, that it was
a series of efforts to benefit his fellow men, and that
the principles by which his conduct was uniformly go-
verned, were the offspring of the purest, and the no-
blest feelings. To the biographer, we must, however,
leave the minute details of his life, while we expatiate


on those prominent features, in his character and con'
duct, most worthy of our admiration. These are nei-
ther few, nor faintly marked ; yet, to these, we shall
not exclusively confine ourselves, but shall, occasion-
ally, endeavour to draw, from circumstances, apparent-
ly trivial, such general reflections as may serve to en-
list our feelings in the cause of virtue and religion.

Henry Holcombe was born in Prince Edward
county, Virginia, on the 22d of September, 1762.
While he was yet a child, his father removed with his
family to the state of South Carolina ; ' where, at eleven
years of age, he completed, (to use his own words,)
" all the education he ever received from a living pre-
ceptor.'^'* This fact is worthy of particular notice, when
considered in connection with his intellectual endow-
ments, and the extent of his acquisitions in after life.
Even the poor, and indifferent means of instruction,
within his reach, were taken from him, at a period, too
early to admit of the presumption, that he could have
derived much profit from their employment. Nature
must therefore have endowed him with a mind, rich in
its own resources, and vigorous, even in its youth, or
he could not have extended his researches, as success-
fully as he did, into the sublimest and deepest myste-
ries that can occupy the attention of rational man.
She i(;«5thus bountiful to him. She taught him to think,
and led him, even in boy-hood, to fix his thoughts on
the noblest of her works. At an age, when her less fa-
voured children are amused with toys and trinkets, he
delighted to dwell on the grandeur and magnificence
of those countless orbs, with which she has filled the
immensity of space. Is it not pleasing, here, to trace the


correspondence between the nobleness of the objects
to which his early attention was directed, and the lofti-
ness of his subsequent pursuits ? His youthful mind is
found ranging among the planets, and gathering from
the contemplation of their splendour, the rudiments of
that knowledge, the first principles of that ennobling
faith, which, in manhood, bore it far beyond the planets,
and fixed its aspirings on a closer acquaintance with
theGoDwho made them. His soul seems to have been
placed, almost on the very day of its creation, far on-
ivard in that track which leads from truth to truth,
from wonder to wonder, and from glory to glory, up
to the throne of the great Jehovah. — But we must not
anticipate our subject, nor forget what our departed
friend once was, in thinking of him as he now is.

The period of his youth was one of severe trial to
our common country. She was just then emerging
from a state of dependence on an empire, which had
lost sight of her own, and the interests of humanity, in
attempting to fasten chains on freemen, and in daring
to require, that the noble and the brave should bow the
knee at her behest. It was a period in which the souls
of your fathers were sorely, and severely tried. Their
homes were deserted for the tented field, and their
wives and daughters left alone, at the fireside, and at
the domestic altar, hoping and fearing, praying for
their triumphant return, yet dreading to hear the dis-
mal tidings of their discomfiture and death. Your
cities and villages were filled with hireling hordes, and
throughout this portion of your beloved country, no-
thing was heard but the loud alarm of war.


It was at this period, so interesting to your fathers,
so interesting to you, and to all, whose souls have not
been debased by vassalage, that the lofty and indepen-
dent spirit of Henry Holcombe first displayed itself.
He heard the tale of those wrongs of which his country
was complaining, and learned, with mingled emotions of
pride and patriotism, that her sons had pledged ^^ their
lives, their fortunes, and their sacred honour, ''^ t© redress
them. At once that fire was kindled in his breast,
which, centuries before, had infused into Grecian and
Roman bosoms, the soul animating love of freedom. He
waited not for the arrival of manhood before he drew
his sword, but entered promptly into the service of his
country, determined, with every patriot of that momen-
tous period, to live free, or die. His ardour and intre-
pidity, tempered as they were, by that discretion and
soundness of judgment, without which courage is una-
vailing, and boldness becomes impetuous rashness, soon
raised him to command ; and here, as in every other
station in which he was found in after life, he acquitted
himself well, and gave the fullest proof that the
trust reposed in him by his fellow soldiers, was not
misplaced. More than once he led his troop to battle,
and as often, was preserved from the winged ball, and
the blow aimed at his life. His was not an arm that
would be raised in vain. It could force a passage
through a host of foes ; for heaven was holding an
aegis before him, which no deadly weapon could pene-

But it is not as a military chief, exclusively, that
we are to contemplate his worth. While an officer in
the army of our revolutionary country, he was led to


those reflections which eventually inclined him to re'
nounce the pomps and vanities of the world, and to
seek for happiness in the calm contemplation of reli-
gious truth.

He had tasted of the cup of earthly pleasure, and
found there was bitterness in it. He had pursued the
track, to which his natural propensities and passions
pointed, and he saw that it would finally lead him to
dishonour, and never ending misery. He sought for a
path, which would conduct him to something more
cheering in its aspect, more attractive in its nature,
and he found that which leads up to heaven. He be-
came a Christian. Christian! And what does this
term imply ? Does it mean a Baptist, or an Episcopa-
lian, or a Presbyterian ? God forbid ! The only religion
calculated to promote the universal interests of man on
earth, and to fit him for fellowship with superior be-
ings in the world to come, cannot be contracted with-
in the narrow limits to which these terms of man^s cre-
ation would confine it. Its scope is far wider, and
though there may exist the greatest diversity of senti-
ment on points not essential to the preservation of its
purity, or the attainment of its grand and ultimate ob-
jects ; among those who believe its truths, and who
obey its precepts, there will be something found in all
to distinguish them from the unchristian world, some-
things in common, to show that all are followers of

Yes ! by whatever name you may be called, in what-
ever forms you may be pleased to worship the author
of this holy religion, if you hwxfeel its ennobling influ-
ence, when you approach his throne, if you but present



your petitions in the name of Am on whose mediation
you rest your hopes of never ending felicity, you must
forget the idle titles by which you are distinguished
among men, and banish from your thoughts the recol-
lection of your differences. Here, all your names are
merged in the high and dignifying epithet. Christian;
here you learn, that though the temple of your faith
may have a thousand spires, all alike point up to hea-
ven, from the smallest, and the plainest, to the most
gorgeous and highly finished. It is as a Christian,

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Online LibraryB. Rush RheesEulogium on the life and character of the Rev. Henry Holcombe, D.D., pastor of the First Baptist Church of Philadelphia → online text (page 1 of 3)