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John A. (John Alexander) Roche.

The life of John Price Durbin ... with an analysis of his homiletic skill and sacred oratory online

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Presidenl i/r' Dickinson ColL'tfe^.



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THE LIFE



OF



OHN PRICE DURBlli, D.D.. LLD,

WITH

AN ANALYSIS OF HIS HOMILETIC SKILL AND
SACRED ORATORY.

BY

JOHN A. ROCHE, M.D., D.D.
WITH AN INTRODUCTION

BY

RANDOLPH S. FOSTER, D.D., LL.D.,

Bishop of the Methodist Episcopal CnrRCH.



" The proper study of mankind is man." — Pope.

Study to show thyself approved unto Ood, a workman that needeth not to l)c
ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth." — 3 Tim. 2. /j.



NEW YORK: PHILLIPS &^ HUNT.
CI NCI NX A Tf: CRANSTON dr- STOU'E






V-J -v



f



35448B



Copyright, 1889, by
JOHN A . ROCHE

New York.



TO

THE YOUNG MINISTERS OF METHODISM:

IN

WHOM THE SUBJECT OF THIS BIOGRAPHY CHERISHED THE

DEEPEST INTEREST ;

FOR

WHOSE ADVANCEMENT IN PULPIT POWER HE WAS EVER READY TO

EMPLOY THE BEST MEANS AT HIS COMMAND ;

AND
AS AN EXPRESSION OF THE HIGH SENSE ENTERTAINED

BY
THE AUTHOR

OF THE VALUE OF KEEPING BEFORE OUR RISING MINISTRY

SO NOBLE AN EXAMPLE

OF

THE POSSIBILITIES OF THEIR HOLY CALLING :

to

THIS BOOK IS
RESPECTFULLY DEDICATED.



3

O



PREFACE.



IN the May number of the Methodist Review of 1887
there appeared an article designed to sketch the life
and characterize the ministry of Dr. John P. Durbin.
So deep was the interest thus awakened in the subject,
that many and earnest requests came to the writer to
give some larger account of this great man. The in-
telligence of the persons expressing this wish compelled
the inquiry as to available material for a biography.
Great weight was given to these private suggestions by
the action of the Wilmington and the Philadelphia
Conferences, which at their last session passed strong
resolutions requesting the Avritcr to prepare a life of
Dr. Durbin. These two Conferences had formed but
one body nearly all the time of Dr. Durbin's member-
ship in the Philadelphia Conference, and felt a com-
mon interest in his character and services.

The New York East Conference, of which the writer
is a member, passed a similar resolution. To such ex-
pression no one of sensibility could be indifferent.

But candor constrains the confession that the writer
had long entertained the thouglit that " Homiletics and
Sacred Oi-atory," taught with so much care and profit in
text-books and by able professors, might be impressed
hy example of their most weighty and influential prin-
ciples. The writer's knowledge of Dr. Durbin for
forty years presented him as an illustration of the great-
est number of those principles that he had met in one
minister. The consideration led him to commence the
writing of this book. It will be seen, therefore, that



vi PREFA CE.

its object is twofold: 1. To narrate the life of Dr.
Durbin ; and, 2. To analyze his powers as a preacher.

Tiie writer makes his grateful acknowledgments to
all wdio have in any way contributed material that
served the ends of this volume. He is under pre-
eminent obligations to Mrs. Augusta F. Whitaker, of
Philadelphia, and to Alexander C. Durbin, Esq., of
Montclair, N. J., the surviving children of Dr. Durbin.
They have placed at his disposal the manuscripts in
their possession. From an autobiographical fragment
the most accurate and comprehensive information con-
cerning Dr. Durbin's early labors has been furnished.

The author cannot in adequate terms express his
indebtedness to remaining members of the family of
Christopher Smith, Esq., of Cincinnati. From and
through his son-in-law, Edward Sargent, Esq., new
sources of knowledge have been opened to the writer.

Cordial thanks are rendered Judge John Chambers,
of Eaton, Ohio, for the minutes of a quarterly confer-
ence kept by young Durbin. A like expression is due
the Rev. J. O. Roberts for his account of the early
efforts of Durbin; and to a lady friend in Philadelphia
who has permitted the writer use of memoranda of great
value. Thanks are also due the Rev. G. W. Lvbrand,
of the Philadelphia Conference, for original matter as
well as for numerous references; and to the Rev. G. D.
Carrow, D.D., for material that was sought with care.

The writer cannot express his obligations to those
who have furnished letters concernino; Dr. Durbin.
Among those is one who had the highest honor in the
first graduating class of Dickinson College under Dr.
Durbin, whom the Church now honors as its senior
Bishop, Dr. Thomas Bowman.



CONTENTS.



PAR.T I.

Memoir of John P. Durbix, D.D., LL.D.

CHAPTER I.

Ancestry — Yoiith — Father's death — Mother's energy and character
— Wise care of his brothers— Learns cabinet-making — Troubled about
a call to preach — Searching question of his grandfather — Sent as a
preacher to Limestone Circuit, Ky., in a week after joining the Cluirch
— Counsel of Benj. Lakin Page 3

CHAPTER II.

1819. Received into Conference — Greenville Circuit — Little salary
— Judge Chambers's fac simile of his Quarterly Conference Minutes —
Close student — Rules of conduct — Account of jerks — Preaches on the
deity of Christ. 1820. At Lawrenceburg — Studies English Grammar
by the aid of his colleague, James Collard — Learns of fruit of his first
ministry — Circulates tracts — Means of a conversion. 1821. Hamilton
Station — Studies Latin — Attends Miami University — Conversion of
his host — His skill. 1822. Lawrenceville Station — David Young coun-
sels him. 1823. Lebanon — Trouble in tlie Church — Depressed.
1824. In Cincinnati — Happy home with Christopher Smith — Enters
Cinciimati College — Encouraged by General William Henry Hnrrison,
afterward President of the United States — Graduates with honor. .17

CHAPTER III.

Exalted character as student and preacher mnde in seven years —
Professor in Augusta College — Marries — Agent for the college — His
vigorous efforts — Resigns liis chair — Elecled Professor of Natural
Science in the Weslej'an University, Middletou-n, Conn 42



VUl CONTENTS.

CHAPTER IV.

Chaplain totheUuited States Senate — Views of usefulness — Reports
of the difficulties of the position— What he found — His influence in
the place — His studies — Clay's eloquence — Daniel Webster's tal-
ents 59

CHAPTER V.

The persistent student in Baltimore and Washington — Fame does
not impair his energy 79

CHAPTER VI.

Elected editor of The Christian Advocate and Journal — His intel-
lectual vigor — Just estimate of the duties of the place — AVeighty
lessons that he impressed on people and preachers— Progressive. .88

CHAPTER VII.

Presidency of Dickinson College — Its history — The faculty — Dr.
Durbin secured — Success 98

CHAPTER VIII.
Travels in Europe and the East — His observations and interest. 109

CHAPTER IX.

The General Conference of 1 844 — Tlie great men — Debates on tho
case of Bishop Andrew — Dr. Durbin's part 122



CHAPTER X.

Pastorate and presiding eldersliip in Philadelphia — Full of work —
Great influence 141

CHAPTER XI.

The Missionary Secretaryship — His interest — Plans — Labors — In-
fluence — Success 156

CHAPTER XII.
Sermons on special occasions — Their wonderful power 165

CHAPTER XTII.
Correspondence concerning Dr. Durbin in the places that hefiUed. 180



CONTENTS. IX

PAR.T II.

Analysis of His Power. Homiletics and Sacred Oratory.

CHAPTER XIV.

His eloquence — Summerfield — Bascom — Less vehement in advanc-
ing life — More concentrated — Was he an artist ? 229

CHAPTER XV.
His style as a means of moving men — Plain, animated, sublime. .248

CHAPTER XVI.

His imagination, dramatic power, voice, unction, as elements in his
ministry 257

CHAPTER XVII.
Extemporization — p]xtent of its use — Conditions of success. . . .278

CHAPTER XVIII.
Homiletic taste and skill — Subjects — Treatment 295

CHAPTER XIX.

The influence of a conscious call to the ministry — Prompts, justifies,
sustains 313

CHAPTER XX.

Eloquence a worthy study — What it is — The efforts others make for
its attainment — Not less valuable to a minister — That few attain high
excellence is no reason for its neglect — Wesley's encoumgement —
Durbin's example — Bascom and Durbin compared — Resemblances and
contrnsts 326

CHAPTER XXI.

His death — Relations — Famil^y — Friends — Conference — His person
— Intercourse — In Conference — Christian character — Common sense
— Uncommon mental power — A consecrated life — Contrast between
tlie labors of the Christian minister and an arch infidel — His life a
moral folio for the study of young ministers 347



INTRODUCTION.



BIOGRAPHICAL art is as rare as genius. Except
to the stupid most biographies are stupid — mere
arid recitations of matters of no interest whatever. A
sufficient reason for tlie dullness, in a great majority
of cases is no doubt that there was no reason why
the life should be written. It is astonisliing how
few lives, even of conspicuous men in high posi-
tions — statesmen, men eminent in the professions, or
who have won distinction in literature or art, or in
any other way — h:ive in them any thing deserving of
commemoration after tliey have passed away from the
earth. Immediate relatives and partial friends, unwill-
ing to have them forgotten, seek to prevent it by
publishing a biography which perhaps they read or
glance through, but which no one else finds interesting
unless it should be some one, or some classes, who, un-
acquainted with more profitable reading, derive some
entertainment and possibly some profit from the recital.
Where there are few books, any thing — an old almanac
— is better than nothing. After all there is scarcely a
poor excuse for inflicting a biography on the present
age of even a more than ordinary person in his peculiar
line ; if he be less than really extraordinary, or unless
there be that in his character and achievements and the
incidents of his life which is suggestive and inspiring,
it is better that he be permitted to go quietly to rest.
The age is too busy and full for commonplace. Many
a man who has wshone with noticeable brilliancy in the



xii introduction:

pulpit, at the bar, in the senate, and who not only won
but deserved admiration, even wide fame, will not bear
the strain of a biography. The attempt to dress liim
up for suc-li a show is little short of abuse. He ought
to live in traditions, in the glamour of affectionate
memories, in the innocent exaggerations which simply
rank him with sufficient indetiniteness as among the
great men of the generation of giants w^ho lived in the
age just gone. The growing fables will be greatly
more just to his memory than any narrative can be.
The imagination will do better by him than the facts.
We protest, in the interest of a class of worthy men
who have well served their time and deserve to be
well thought of and affectionately remembered, against
their being paraded and dwarfed in the pages of dull
biography.

There are occasional men who, for one reason or
another, or even for many sufficient reasons, deserve to
be handed down to posterity in the embalmment of a
book ; not necessarily greater than other men or the
very greatest of all, but for some unique qualities, or
possibly some accidental environments, or some inex-
plicable magnetism, or some triumph over peculiar and
great difficulties, or some marvelous influences which
emanated from them, or the conspicuous part wdiich
they played in their generation, or some incident or in-
cidents of their history w-hich are suggestive and help-
ful, especially to the young, or for other reasons.

It is a happy conjuncture w^hen such a man finds a
Boswell to enshrine him or a biographer w^orthj^ his
subject ; and it is not always to be deplored when, as
in the case of the great essayist, the affections of the
biographist render him sensitive to the finest traits of
the subject, or even if the reflected image, tinted by
overfondness, should possibly flatter the original. The



INTRODUCTION. xili

imagination may safely play a part. A photograph
or portrait in any style ought to be characteristically
realistic rather than ideal ; but it ought not to be com-
plained of when it gives the best expression, or even
though it should in a degree, not grossly exaggerate,
but mildly drape the form.

American Methodism rank among all her gifted and
eminent sons, in any work of official distinction or min-
isterial service has never had one, if we except her first
Bishop, and he only by the accidents of his position,
who more richly deserved a classic niche in her tem])le
of fame, or who has furnished a finer subject for the
pen of genius than John P. Durbin. If there have
been greater or more loyal sons we do not know of
them. If anv have excelled him we are not able to
name them. He came on the stage in the heroic days
of the nation and of the Church, and for fifty years and
more, without a flaw or failure, stood in the public gaze
only to be honored by those whose respect is discrimi-
nated praise, and by wiiom to be esteemed great is
proof of real greatness. He was not simply the pride
of his own Church, but equally of all those of other
Churches, whether in pulpit or pew, and of the cultured
of no Church as well, who were capable of appreciating
sacred eloquence or admiring the charm of noble and
magnetic manhood. Modest as a child in mien and
spirit in the common intercourse of life, he was, when
at the post of duty and roused with the mighty themes
of his great commission, impassioned, fervid, irre-
sistible as the electric flash or the great forces of
nature when stirred to their wildest fury; but whether
in the cloister or amid the amenities of social life, or in
the pulpit careering on the storm of matchless eloquence,
alike in all places he won and swayed all hearts. No
orator ever had more complete mastery of his audi-



xi V JNTR OD UCTION.

ences ; but it was always as the ambassador of the
great King that he delivered his messages and reached
his loftiest climaxes. He was never forgetful of his
great commission, and never compromised the dignity
and glory of his adored Master.

The Church and all the admiring friends of the
great Diirbin have reason to congratulate themselves in
his biographer. Dr. Roche brought to his chosen task
the indispensable conditions of success : deep personal
affection ; long and intimate acquaintance ; special op-
portunities for the observation and study of his sub-
ject ; a discriminating understanding and appreciation
of sacred eloquence ; dramatic skill of arrangement ;
to which must be added spiritual sympathy. Through-
out he is on fire with his theme ; never wearies of it ;
never grows dull or vapid. He lives it over, from the
boy on the Kentucky " blue-grass " farm, through all
the windings of a grand and beautiful career, even to
its culmination. There is notliing wanting, nothing
omitted to mar the charm of the mind picture. He
makes it live as he tells the story.

The rare charm of the volume, the highest stroke of
biographical skill and genius, is that it is full of Dur-
bin himself. From the first he is present with you ;
you see him, hear the tone of his voice, feel the charm
of his sympathy ; he is talking with you ; drawing you
to him ; you are with him on the circuit ; at the homes
among the people where he stopped ; reading the books
he read ; thinking his thoughts. Further on, after boy-
hood has widened into manhood, and early promise has
grown into fruition, and study has ripened into scholar-
ship and position, you are sitting before him in
the college chapel feeling the spell of his prayers, his
loving, reprovinir, and persuasive counsels, in the reci-
tation-room, thrilled by his inspirations and lifted by



INTRODUCTION. XV

his instructions : anon you are with him in the senate
house, where his sermons and prayers hold the mighty
men of the nation spell-bound ; and yet, over and over
again you are hearing those wonderful sermons which,
in great city pulpits and from the rude stands of the
camp-ground, swayed the multitude as the tempest
bends and lashes the forests.

There is so much reproduction from memory gathered
from different sources, and so much from his own pen,
that you seem to be listening again to the matchless
orator and hearing the very tones of his voice, and find
yourself crouching under those amazing gestures of his
which no one who beheld can ever forget. That flash,
rather shall I say glare, of his eye startles you as it did
when you sat before him, that transfigured countenance,
that upturned face, that wand of the uplifted hand, to-
gether with the words that made him the most magic
of preachers, come to you over and over again as you
read the interesting pages.

I must not detain you. Dr. Roche has nobly done
his noble task. If I mistake not the book will not only
be read with thrilling interest by multitudes of the
present generation who knew and admired the great
Doctor, not indeed in the glory of his prime, but in the
toned autumn of his declining age ; but it will live on
as a classic of the now rapidly-vanishing mythic age of
our church life ; the age amid whose shadowy outlines
we discern with sufficient indistinctness to magnify
their forms the heroic men who laid its foundations.
" Distance lends enchantment to the view ; " but there
were great men in those times. None among them all,
in the best respects, excelled the hero of this story.

The young men in the ministry of the present gener-
ation, who come upon the stage with such improved
equipment, entering as they do into the labors of these



X vi INTRO D UCTIOK

honored fathers will not permit their memories to
perish or their laurels to fade ; but coming again and*
again to the study of their struggles and story of their
successes will strive to emulate them in spirit and power.
They will continue forever to be the great legion in
our traditions and in our affections.

The Church will not grow weary of the story of the
past or of the men who made it illustrious. We com-
mend Dr. Roche's book with unqualified indorsement.
Let it be read by our children in the thousand homes
of our Methodism in city and country. It will not fail
to inspire them to a noble life as well as entertain them
with the fascination of a romance. Let it find a place
in every Sunday-school library for the more advanced
youth it will inspire them with love for their Church.

There are hints and rules as to the use of time and
habits of study and methods of preparing sermons
which cannot fail to be educating in a high degree to
young ministers. The book abounds with allusions to
other men in all the professions, but especially the most
celebrated preachers of all Churches who were the con-
temporaries of the subject of the memoir, so that a
most valuable light is thrown upon the age itself. There
is scarcely a celebrity that has not a discriminative and
appreciative analysis of his peculiar powers. It is really,
in the closing cliapters, a treatise on sacred eloquence
as well as an historical resume of the men and their
peculiar styles of thought and speech who in the forum
and the pulpit impressed the generation just gone — as
Webster, Clay, Calhoun, among statesmen ; Bascom,
OUn, Maffit, among pulpiteers ; as well as the great
orators of all countries and all times. The book is thus
rendered rich in a remarkable degree.

I cannot close this brief Introduction without per-
sonal mention of the distinguished subject of this ex-



INTR OD UC TIOX. X V i i

ceedingly interesting sketch. I feel under personal
obligation to the author for doing that, and doing it so
admirably well, which I had almost despaired of seeing
done at all. It seemed that the man who most of all
deserved a memoir was not to find a biographer. It
must have been an inspiration that led Dr. Koche to
undertake the work. Perhaps no other living man
could have done it so well.

My recollection of the great Doctor dates back nearly
fifty years, just at the time when he was in the zenith
of his fame. He had just passed out of his youth into
the full strength of his mature manhood. It was when
Bascom and Hamline were at the height of their power.
Simpson was just in the dawn of his rapidly-rising
popularity. I think it is safe to say that Methodism
has never since had four comparable names, and prob-
ably never will again. Circumstances have greatly to
do, certainly, with the quality of men's fame ; possibly
with the quality of men themselves.

The country was new. The age was uncritical. The
pulpit was the great throne of power. The pen and
printed page were less in use. The people were eager
to hear. Impassioned speech thrilled and swayed the
vast expectant assemblies who rushed for miles to hear
the famous orator. There was eloquence in the air.
All the circumstances conspired to kindle enthusiasm.
It was inevitable that, standing in the focus of such
forces, the speaker should be at his best. The effect
was inchoate before he began. Hungry of combustion,
the assembly took fire at the first spark. On the eager
flame, the orator himself more impassioned, rose and
soared to the sublimest heights of inspired eloquence.
The effect was often magical. It is impossible for this
generation to conceive of it. The waves of feeling
that rushed over the assembly were as visible as the



X V iii INTR on UCTION.

effect of the storm on ocean or forest. Hundreds
would rise to their feet under unconscious impulse,
lean forward, press toward the speaker, weeping, sob-
bing, or shouting, under the thrilling appeal. Many
times numbers fell like the slain in battle. Under
Durbin and Bascom I have repeatedly witnessed all
these effects myself. It would not accord with truth
to say that there are not as great men now living ; but
the times make it impossible that any should produce
such visible signs of emotion as attended those mighty
and glorious men. I must stay my pen. Read the
book, and you will read it again, and will thank Dr.
Roche that he has set in order his admirable words
commemorative of the great life whose sjcjell still lin-
gers with us.

R. S. F.



PART I.



MEMOIR OF JOHN P, DURBIN, D,D„ LLD,



2



MEMOIR OF JOHN P. DURBIN, D.D., LL.D.



CHAPTER I.

Ancestry— Youth— Early Ministry.

HUMAN greatness commands the savage and the sage.
It inspires the genius of the poet and is the chosen
theme for eloquence. History records its results and
wisdom avails itself of its benefits. In exalted reputa-
tions and influence men are "not born to die." Their
lives do honor to our nature and their history is the
heritage of the race. When, therefore, one has sub-
limely served his generation by the will of God, duty
may demand that we gather up the facts that made him
illustrious, and thus impress lessons of value upon those
who survive. The Bible immortalizes, by name and deed,
the great and good, and teaches that no man liveth to
himself and no man dieth to himself. Tamerlane was
accustomed to read of his progenitors, not for boast-
ing, but to improve his virtues. The noble acts of our
predecessors may lure us from paths of indolence and
awaken a just ambition to imbibe their spirit and follow
in their steps. Worth begets worth. As from the ashes
of the phenix others rise, from great men others are
produced.

Few men in any Church have ever occupied and filled
with efficiency and honor so many important positions
as Dr. Durbin. We may, then, be allowed to say, "As
some entranced limner seizes the setting of the golden
sun to sketch the landscape when lighted up with rays



4 JOHN P. DURBIK

still glowing, thougli fast fading away — as filial rever-
ence seeks the artist's skill to portray a parent's face
while expressions of the past yet play amid the wrinkles
of age; or as the Nestor of some old philosophy en-
circles it with the last halo of enthusiasm ere yet new
theories are called to occupy the uppermost seats," so
would the writer, were it in his power, present the feat-
ures of a character that remains and perpetuate the
memories that linger to enshrine the man who, while



Online LibraryJohn A. (John Alexander) RocheThe life of John Price Durbin ... with an analysis of his homiletic skill and sacred oratory → online text (page 1 of 29)