George W Briggs.

A sermon delivered at Plymouth, at the funeral of Rev. James Kendall, D.D. : senior minister of the First Church, in Plymouth, Sunday afternoon, March 20, 1859 online

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Online LibraryGeorge W BriggsA sermon delivered at Plymouth, at the funeral of Rev. James Kendall, D.D. : senior minister of the First Church, in Plymouth, Sunday afternoon, March 20, 1859 → online text (page 1 of 3)
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Note. — The author desires to express his thanks to Rev. Dr.
Sprague, of Albany, for kindly permitting him to use the " Reminis-
cences of Dr. Kendall's Life,** which are referred to in the following
pages. He has thus been enabled greatly to enlarge and improve that
part of the Discourse which attempts to give a sketch of the events
of Dr. Kendall's life. The rest of the Sermon is printed as it was
originally delivered, with slight alterations.

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Job v. 26.


The Christian mind sees a prophetic meaning, a
holy beauty, in the ministry of death, in whatever
period of life it may come. When the innocent or the
faithful are called away, the angel of death is always a
messenger of light, as well as of gloom. It is so even
.when the youngest die. Parental aflFection is smitten
with peculiar grief when the budding beauty of the
infant's life is blasfed, and the lovely form, whose
every motion was a spell to enchant the heart, is laid
low in an apparently untimely grave. The mother
to-day, like the mother in Rama, weeps for her child,
and almost refuses to be comforted, when it is thus
early gone. It is right that she should weep. Yet,
in calmer hours, she begins to see that the departure
of these little ones not only illumines the dark valley,
but becomes a peculiar revelation of the immortality
beyond it. The soul which had scarcely begun to
develop its powers in the gardens of human love, is

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transplanted into the garden of God, to unfold amid a
heavenly beauty. It fades not into death, but into a
higher life. And, at length, when faith has bidden
the waves of grief be still, even the mother's heart
hears the words, " Suffer little children to come unto
me," " Of such is the kingdom of heaven," as if chanted
by angelic voices around that little tomb, until her
tears cease to flow, and she feels herself drawn up
towards the heavens by the yearnings of human affec-
tion, and the inspiration of immortal hopes.

Light mingles with the gloom, also, when those of
maturer years depart. Death seems most mysterious
when it breaks into the midst of life, to interrupt its
noblest work ; when it takes the mother upon whose
breast the infant rests, or strikes down the manly
strength on which many lean for support and guidance.
Why, we ask in wonder, — ^why are not such spirita
left to finish the sweet and holy work which seemed
to have been given to them alone to do ? But we feel,
and are inwardly assured, that the tide of life which
flowed with a current so full and deep until it disap-
peared from sight, must still be rolling on, like the
river after it passes beyond our view. Reverently and
joyfully, we say, "Those who thus live can never
die." And therefore, when human hopes are most
sadly wrecked, when all that is most charming in
womanly grace and virtue, or most inspiring in manly
power and genius, is suddenly taken from our sight,
the deepest and most sacred persuasions of immortality

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are borne in upon the heart. As the stars of heaven
come within our view only in a part of their glorious
course, and then pass on into deeps of space impene-
trable to mortal eyes, so these true and lovely spirits,
brighter than the stars, only touch this earthly sphere
in a little portion of their appointed track of light,
and then pass quickly on, to be God's angels still in
realms of life which " eye hath not seen, nor heart

But when the aged go, when those depart whose
earthly life has been lengthened out through many
years of varying, yet blessed experience, until infirmity
has bowed the once vigorous frame, and the crumbling
body is no longer a fitting dwelling-place for the
immortal spirit, then the light dispels every trace of
gloom. Then we look upon a " finished life." The
fruit has ripened in our sight It is not mysterious,
but natural, that the heavenly reaper should come to
gather in the harvest. When the race has been fully
run, indeed, why should we grieve to have the spirit go
to receive its crown ? It is no mystery, in one view,
that the young and innocent should die, — that they
should be taken up into the guardianship of angelic
teachers before the stains of earth could soil, or its
sorrows cloud their spirits. It is no mystery, in any
view, that the old and the saintly should die ; that,
when the temptations of the world have been bravely
met, and its work nobly done, the soul should cast off*
the burden of the failing flesh, and lay aside that

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which cannot be immortal, and put on the garments
of a new and celestial youth.

We gather here, to-day, to pay our tribute of aflFec-
tion and respect to a " finished life ; " to one who goes
to his grave in a full age, and with a ripened spirit.
Though increasing years seemed but slowly to impair
his strength, and threw few shadows over his mind,
and none upon his heart, — though his affections flowed
out as freshly and tenderly as ever in all the relation-
ships of life and love, and a noonday brightness lingered
even to his setting sun, still he has long been standing
with his loins girt about, ready to cross the mysterious
stream. He felt that his work was done ; and with
no reluctance to stay, and no impatience to go, he
calmly waited for the expected summons. And now
that he has gone, reverently and tenderly we bear the
form which his spirit so long glorifiied to the altar at
which he ministered for so many years, to let it rest
here for a little space, while we contemplate his char-
acter, and give thanks for his memory ; and then we
carry it, with love and honor, to the place of its final
repose. Most fitting is it that his form should rest
here, on its passage to the tomb, in the place which
he loved so well, on the day which he loved so well,
to give another consecration, in all your hearts, to the
place of your prayer and worship. And most fitting
it surely is, that we should gather up some of the
lessons of his life ; not, simply, for his sake, in justice
to his memory, but much more, for our own sake, in

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order that we may appreciate the priceless worth of
his example.

In a conversation with me in his last illness, he
expressed the wish, that if it should be thought
advisable to have a public funeral service for him, I
would attempt to speak on that occasion, — adding
these characteristic words : " I want nothing said of
me which is not true ; and I want nothing said of me
which is true, unless it will do good to others." Let
me endeavor to fulfil this sacred commission in the
spirit of that injunction. And yet I must speak from
my impression of our venerated father's character, and
not from his own. I would not offend his humility,
if he is a present witness to my words ; but he must
pardon me if, while pouiing out my veneration and
my love, I should, in any point, transcend the estimate
made by his self-distrust. I shall do but poor justice
to my feeling at the best. He ** wist not how his face
shone" to us.

My sketch of the events of his life must be brief.
He was the youngest son of Major James Kendall, of
Sterling, Mass., and was bom in that town on the third
of November, 1769. He had two brothers; one of
whom was a physician, and the other a schoolmaster,
who died in Danvers, Ifess., at the age of 27. His
mother's original name was Elizabeth Mason. She
was bom in Lexington, Mass. In some reminiscences
of his own life, written at the age of 84, he describes
her as ^* a sensible and pious woman, of a strong

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mind, and a kind and generous heart ; discreet and
faithful in the discharge of all the relative duties of
life ; " and adds, that " her children were greatly
indebted to her for their youthful training, and their
early religious impressions." He was nearly fitted to
enter Harvard University at the age of 14, under the
instruction of Rev. Reuben Holcomb, the minister of
Sterling, who was a graduate of Yale College, and a
good classical scholar. But his eyes failed in conse-
quence of the closeness of his application to the study
of Greek in the evening ; and, for several years, he was
obliged to give up the hope of obtaining a liberal
education. From that time until the age of 21, he
worked upon his father's farm in smnmer, and, when
old enough, taught school in winter. During that
period, in which he was unconsciously accumulating
a capital of physical health to secure a life of such
remarkable vigor, even to his ninetieth year, his eyes
recovered their strength ; and, returning gladly to his
studies, under the direction of Mr. Holcomb, he was
prepared to enter college in 1792. In his collegiate
course he manifested the same persevering energy
which had characterized his previous life. He de-
frayed the largest portion of his expenses by his own
exertions. He taught school in the vacation; and
during the term-time he rendered services in the
college hall, by which he saved the expense of board.
In his reminiscences, he says : " It is some satisfaction
to me in looking back to this period of my life as an

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undergraduate, to remember that I had no mark for
delinquency in college exercises, unnecessary absences,
or any misdemeanor." One of his surviving class-
mates, says of him: "He always showed evidence of
industry and great fidelity in his recitations. He had
the just reputation of using his talents well. He was
most amiable in his temper, just, unobtrusive and
kind in all his conduct ; more anxious to do his duty
than to gain applause. Hence he was, I think, uni-
versally respected and beloved," He took a very high
rank in a class which comprises distinguished and
honored names among the living and the dead, and
had the second English oration assigned him, — the
late Dr. Woods, of Andover, having the first, — at the
Commencement in 1796. His subject was " The tri-
umphs of Philosophy ;" and the " Columbian Centinel "
of that day, speaks of his performance in the follow-
ing terms: "Mr. Kendall's oration was an elegant
composition and well delivered." There is a peculiar
interest in this early association of his name with that
of Dr. Woods in connection with later incidents in
their lives. Though they never felt themselves rivals
at college in their aspirations for its honors, yet they
were opponents in after years in their theological
position. But they were friends, both in their earlier
and later days. Though separated from each other
while in the midst of active labors, yet when ^;hey
had both partially relinquished their work, their hearts
drew them together ; and by interchange of visits and

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of letters, they mutually and gladly recognized that
life which makes men one notwithstanding diversity of
creeds, — and which it is the only fitting oflBlce of all
creeds alike to build. After all the experience and
speculations of many years, they came together in
their age with a closer friendship than that of youth.
They were separated again, for a brief period, when
Dr. Woods passed on to his immortal life ; but they
have once more come together now, in that higher
school of God.

Immediately after leaving college Mr. Kendall was
appointed assistant teacher in Phillips Academy, at
Andover, of which Mr. Mark Newman was then the
principal. Here he passed two years, at the same
time diligently pursuing his theological studies, under
the direction of Dr. Tappan, then Professor of
Divinity in Harvard University, and Bev. Jonathan
French, minister of the Second Church in Andover.
He first connected himself with the Christian Church
at Andover, and was approbated to preach by the
Andover Association in 1798. In that year he was
chosen Tutor of Greek in the college, and removed
to Cambridge, where he still continued his theological
studies, with the advice and aid of Dr. Tappan. He
was the particular tutor of the then Junior Class, of
which Buckminster and "Q^ashington Allston among
the dead, and Chief Justice Shaw and Dr. Lowell
among the living, were members. During his residence
ux Andover he had occasionally preached theie, amj

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in the vicinity. While he lived in Camhridge he
preached more frequently; and, for a short time,
supplied the pulpit of the First Church in Boston,
and the First Church in Quincy. He first preached
in Plymouth on the second Sabbath in October, 1799.
He was the first candidate after the death of Rev. Dr.
Robbins ; — and, having preached four Sundays, on the
fourth of November, 1799, he was invited by a vote
of twenty-three to fifteen on the part of the Church,
aad two hundred and fifty-three to fifteen on the part
of the congregation, to become the minister of this
ancient parish. His answer of acceptance was given
on Thanksgiving Day of that year. He was ordained
January 1, 1800. Rev. Jonathan French, of Andover,
preached the sermon. Rev. John Howland, of Carver,
gave the charge, and Rev. William Shaw, of Marsh-
field, the right hand of fellowship.* He was the sole
pastor of the society for thirty-eight years. After the
settlement of a colleague, in 1838, he preached fre-
quently for a number of years, in his own pulpit, in
the pulpits of those with whom he was accustomed
most frequently to exchange, and in comparatively
distant places, during several journeys into various
parts of the country. He preached his semi-centen-
nial sermon January 3, 1850. Only one male member
of the parish, at the time of his settlement, still lives
to tell how the old and the young gathered to greet

♦See Note. I

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him on his ordination day. During the nine years
since his jubilee, many have passed away to join
the great company of those who had previously
gone. One of his ministerial brethren who took part
in the services of that day, and gave an additional
jittraction to the occasion by a loving contribution of
his poetic genius, while pressing on towards the holy
city of Judea, was suddenly called to the holier Jeru-
salem above.* But there is a host of witnesses to tell
how the old and the young gathered round him then,
as he preached, although in his eighty-first year, with
the vigor of far earlier days ; and as he stood in the
social throng, amidst a crowd of friends, to receive, in
glad surprise, the many tokens of their unabated love.
Since that time he has occasionally preached, both at
home and abroad. He never took a formal leave of
the pulpit, and never wished to bid it farewell. He
preached for the last time on Thanksgiving Day,
November, 1857. One of his last public services, — a
service never to be forgotten by those who were present,
— was at the* ordination of his associate minister, on
the fifth of January last, only a little more than two
months ago. He stood in this pulpit again to offer a
fervent prayer at the close of the first services, of your
new pastor, on Sunday, January 9, and yet once more
to take the same part at the close of service, Sunday,
January 17 ; and then his public ministry was ended.f

* See Note II. f See Note HI.

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After this, his strength slowly, yet gradually failed.
On Wednesday, the ninth of March, he was seized
with severe illness. He lingered through eight days
of oppressive weakness, with occasional attacks of
peculiar suffering, yet with a serenity and cheerfulness
of which we shall hereafter speak, and then, on the**
morning of Thursday, March 17, he fell quietly asleep,
at the age of 89 years, 4 months and 14 days, after a
ministry of more than fifty-nine years. He was con-
nected with this parish nearly twenty years longer than
any of his predecessors. His ministry, together with
that of Dr. Robbins, who was ordained January 30,
1760, covered almost a century.*

I leave this general outline of his life. Let me now
attempt to give some sketch of his character, both as
a man and a public teacher. And when I bring his
life before my mind, my first thought is of his remark-
able cheerfulness and equanimity. The first impres-
sion which he made in his age, certainly, and I am
sure that it must have been so in his earlier years,
before I had the opportunity and privilegeT of knowing
him, was that of a man whose life was benignity and
love. He carried with him, in his look and bearing,
as well as in his words, an atmosphere of serenity,
which seemed to be, and was, his daily breath. And
this serenity had a twofold cause. He had a sunny
temperament. Nature had endowed him with a peculiar

♦ See Notes IV. and V.

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measure of gentle and kindly affections. He seemed
to be literally incapable of harshness. He keenly
felt a wrong ; yet, if the flame of resentment ever
kindled for a moment in his breast, it went quickly
out, because there was nothing in his spirit to feed its
fires. The foundations of his being were laid in love.
And in addition to this beautiful nature, he had a
genial and loving faith. The idea of the Father was
a profound and bright reality to his mind and heart,
and in a childlike confidence, he rejoiced as in the
unfailing consciousness of that Almighty and All-
loving Presence. The world was illuminated to his
eyes with a celestial light. He seemed to see the
heavenly guidance as distinctly £is it was seen of old
in the pillar of cloud and flame. How naturally and
spontaneously, in his familiar conversation as well as
in his prayer, the expressions of Hebrew and of
Apostolic faith dropped from his lips ! He stood in
the same attitude of habitual reverence and trust ; and
the sweet words of the Psalmist, in his hours of con-
fidence and praise, or the triumphant exclamations of
Apostles as they looked through every present cloud
to the Eternal Throne, became his own vernacular

It was a beautiful combination, and I had almost
said, as rare as it was beautiful, — this mingling of a
most genial nature with a profound and loving piety.
It was the sunshine of natural temperament, bright-
ened, glorified, by the sunshine of a diviner love.

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And how beautiful was the flow of kindly feeling
which' welled up from the living fountains in his
breast! He carried the sunshine with him every-
where. How perpetually it beamed upon all within
his home, there are hearts which can feel, but there
are no words which can fitly tell. It rendered his
daily greetings constant benedictions. It pervaded his
manners, and made him the model of a Christian gen-
tleman. It inclined him to see the brighter side of
every scene; and each occasion of social gladness,
each gathering of friends into which he entered, gave
♦to him its fullest measure of joy. The same kindli-
ness of feeling entered into all his actions. It made
him confiding, unsuspicious, almost to a fault. He
was slow to believe in any wrong in another's heart,
and a designing man, base enough to have attempted
it, nlight have sometimes deceived his guileless spirit.
He was lenient even when he would condemn, and
always tempered his censures with words of kindness.
He shrank instinctively from controversy, even when
in the midst of provocations ; and thus, while he made
no enemies, his meek and genial disposition at last
disarmed those who had looked upon him with sus-
picion. Beautiful testimonies have coine up to him
in the course of years, to show how his Christian
bearing vindicated the man^ even if it gave no confir-
mation to his opinions, and caused opposers to take
him to their hearts, however separated from him in
faith. I think, indeed, that this peculiar and habitual


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gentleness obscured, for a time, the real strength of his
character. He had his own fixed opinions upon ques-
tions of religious faith, upon questions of politics, and
of reform ; but he held them so benignantly, and when
he expressed them with greatest strength, he declared
them in words so considerate of others' feelings, that
you would scarcely suspect their rocky firmness. The
beauty of his character came out so clearly, even at
the first glance, and beamed upon you so constantly,
day by day, that it was only by closer study, and fuller
knowledge, that you learned to recognize the strength
which was mingled with the beauty in the inner sane- .
tuary of his life.

Pardon me if I make one personal reference, in the
attempt to give the picture of his generous and loving
spirit. I cannot repress it even if I would. For
fifteen years I was connected with him as the associate
minister to this church and congregation. It is a del-
icate relationship. In consequence of our human
frailty, it too often happens that some jar of feeling
disturbs its harmony. It is a true test of the temper
of him who resigns a portion of his work to younger
hands, and admits another into those sanctuaries of
home and love where he has previously stood alone.

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Online LibraryGeorge W BriggsA sermon delivered at Plymouth, at the funeral of Rev. James Kendall, D.D. : senior minister of the First Church, in Plymouth, Sunday afternoon, March 20, 1859 → online text (page 1 of 3)