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attachment, but devoted himself with a zeal that never
wearied, and a love that never grew cold, to promote the
best interests of the Church of his choice. Not that he
became a bigot, or allowed himself to be blinded by the
subtle dust of sectarian prejudice. He was, during his
whole life, a model of large-hearted catholicity, and was
frank in the declaration of the sentiment that " the sorest
evil which presses upon the American Churches the
chiefest obstacle to their real prosperity in holiness and
usefulness is the spirit of sectarianism."

" Bigotry," he says, on another occasion, " is, in my de-
liberate opinion, one of the chief obstacles in the way of
the gospel one of the devil's main engines to carry for-
ward his warfare against the kingdom of God. From the
depths of my soul, I loathe the miserable sectarianism, by
whatever name called, which keeps Christ's disciples at
variance ! I would abandon my own denomination without
hesitancy if it refused to recognise others as true Churches
and true ministers of Christ."

But while he avowed his hostility to that spirit, and de-
nounced it on all proper occasions, he had little sympathy
for the men who know nothing of that endearing intimacy,
that heart-communion, by which the faithful of every



STEPHEN OLIN.



denomination are linked together ; and by which they are
impelled, not to love others less, but their own more. He
prized the peculiarities which distinguished the people of
his own communion, and was ever ready to uphold and
defend them, while at the same time he saw the excel-
lences of others, and gave them all due honour. But he,
especially if he were a minister, who, under any specious
pretext, forsook his own fold for another, the renegade,
was ever an object of his utter contempt, mingled indeed
with pity, when, in the judgment of charity, such an emo-
tion might be deemed justifiable.

As is almost universally the case with the young con-
vert, his first desire, after he found his own feet placed
upon the Rock, was to make known to his relatives and
friends how great things the Lord had done for him, and
invite them to a participation of the same blessedness.
Some of the letters which he addressed at this time to
those near his heart are models of faithful earnestness and
eloquent entreaty. Among those to whom he thus wrote
were two young men who had been his fellow-students,
and who, he had reason to suppose, had been hardened in
a course of sin by his own example at college ; and it is
remarkable that both of them soon after embraced the
Saviour and became preachers of the gospel the one in
the Protestant Episcopal, the other in the Congregational
Church. The latter gentleman, in relating the circum-
stance, says : " It was a most faithful letter a model of
Christian fidelity and friendship, and truly characteristic
of the nobleness of his spirit. It is worth vastly more
than anything I can write respecting him. That it had
a great influence in producing a change in myself is
certain."



STEPHEN OLIN. 325

It is not wonderful, therefore, that in after years he who
had been by God's blessing so successful in the first efforts
of his religious letter-writing, should have dwelt frequently
upon the good effects likely to result from thus following
the dictates of the Spirit, and that he should have urged
the performance of the duty in his own impressive style.
Beautifully and truthfully he says, and the sentiment, as
we have seen, was founded upon his own experience:
"The glow and outbursting joyous gratitude of the new-
born soul, the fervours of his first love, the fresh lustre
of his beautiful garments, become potent agencies for
good, and no more pleasant incense than his ever rises up
to heaven."

Yery soon after uniting with the Church he was invited
occasionally by one of the itinerant ministers to go with
him to his appointments on the Sabbath, and to close the
service by exhortation and prayer. His exercises of this
kind were, from the first, strikingly impressive, and the
young exhorter was soon licensed, according to the forms
of the Church, to preach the gospel. His first regular
sermon, although, in fact, his exhortations had all been
sermons, was delivered at a quarterly meeting in the
neighbourhood of his school-room, and gave bright promise
of what the Church might expect from one so gifted and
so entirely bent upon doing his Master's will. It was lumi-
nous, energetic, and, at times, overwhelming. " Never in
the memory of the oldest Methodists had so powerful a
preacher burst with so sudden a splendour and tremendous
an effect upon the Church." Such is the recorded testi-
timony of his earliest sermons, and thus he continued until
the end, sparing not himself in the pulpit even when
debilitated by disease, and when fully conscious that the



326 STEPHEN OLIN.

effort would be succeeded by weeks and perhaps months
of prostration and suffering. The love of Christ con-
strained him, and although before entering the pulpit he
agreed fully with the advice of friends, and resolved to be
prudent and moderate, yet, when there, he appeared to be
borne onward with the resistless tide of his own feelings,
swelled as it always was by the visible and sometimes
audible emotions of his hearers, and prudence was for-
gotten and self lost sight of.

And thus we have indicated one element of the power
by which he swayed so majestically the multitudes who
listened spell-bound to his eloquence. In addition to this
apparently utter forgetfulness of self, there was also an
absolute dependence upon the promised aid of the Holy
Spirit and faith in lively exercise. It was a solemn thing
to be in the pulpit with him when, before commencing
the service, he knelt and wrestled, with head upturned and
outstretched arms, as if seeing the Invisible, and then rose
with a sunny smile upon his countenance which evinced
that he had prevailed with God.

His style, manner, and action were everywhere, and
especially in the pulpit, peculiarly his own, unique in fact,
formed after no model, and certainly at variance with the
prescribed rules of oratory and homiletics. Measured by
those rules and tested by such standards there was much
to find fault with, and many things that might have been
different; but who would have had them altered? Ere
the head could have thus decided, the heart, taken cap-
tive, decreed that it was all as it should be. His gestures
were not graceful, yet were they never inappropriate, and
at times a grammatical error would escape him, a solecism,
or a word pronounced not according to the arbitrary



STEPHEN OLIN. 327

standard of the most recent lexicographer. But who ever
thought of the application of mere rhetorical rules while
listening to his impassioned tones, and receiving into his
soul those masses of hallowed truth which he hewed out
with a giant's power, and threw among his hearers with
an apparently inexhaustible prodigality ?

He carried no notes with him into the pulpit, where it
was his wont, after announcing his text, to close the Bible,
and, without announcing formally the divisions of his sub-
ject, to explain it with simplicity, and thence onward to
the close with increasing energy and accelerating power
to enforce it by argument and apt illustration. But his dis-
courses were all perfectly systematic, thoroughly digested,
well-studied. Few men were more careful in their prepa-
rations. The oil which he brought into the sanctuary was
beaten oil. He prepared himself as if he expected no aid
from the Holy Spirit, and threw himself upon the promises
as if no preparation had been made. ^ On this point he
practically exemplified his own precepts, urging, as he did,
upon every young minister with whom he had influence,
the indispensable necessity of diligent study and the most
careful preparation. He saw and felt the importance of
theological schools, and, at a time when it was not popular
to do so, he advocated their establishment and their claims
to the patronage of the ministry and laity of his own
denomination. Writing to a brother clergyman who had
asked his opinion upon the subject, he gave it frankly.
"It is," said he, "that such institutions are not only desira-
ble but indispensable. "We got along passably well," he
continues, " when other denominations were wasting their
strength in attempting to explain and inculcate the blind
mysteries of Calvinism ; but now, when they unite great



328 STEPHEN OLIN.

learning and zeal to as much Arminianism as gives them
access to the popular mind, we must educate our ministry
better or sink" Adverting to the popular objection that
the mission of the Methodists is especially to the unlearned
and the indigent, he says, " "We may boast of preaching to
the poor, but without the due intermixture of the rich
and influential we cannot fulfil our destiny as a Church.
Nothing can save us but an able ministry, and this cannot
be had but by thorough education." This was his unwa-
vering conviction upon a subject with which at times he
was, in his own language, "full to overflowing and to
agony."

His sermons usually occupied two hours, and frequently
more, in their delivery, yet could it not be said that he
violated the injunction of the Discipline, "Do not preach
too long," for he held the attention of his hearers to the
end, and the time passed so imperceptibly that only by
turning their eyes to the clock did they become aware of
its flight. A sermon delivered by him on the last night
of the year 1845, in the church in Madison-street, New-
York, the pulpit of which he had occupied on the three
preceding Sunday mornings, was one of his greatest efforts,
and in its effects most overwhelming. It was a watch-
night, the first and the only time he preached on a similar
occasion. It had been intended that the pastor of the
church should follow the discourse with an exhortation,
and the last hour of the year was to be spent in prayer.
The service commenced at eight o'clock, and the prelimi-
nary exercises occupied twenty-five or thirty minutes,
when he arose and announced his text. It was Ephesians
iv, 30, and a meagre outline of the sermon is found in his
published works. For the first hour he dwelt mainly, in a



STEPHEN OLIN. 329

didactic style, upon the peculiar offices and work of the
Holy Spirit, and upon the duty of Christians with refer-
ence to His operations upon the heart. Thus far his course
had been like that of a majestic river, widening and deep-
ening in its onward course. During the second hour the
solemn stillness of the vast assembly attested the presence
of that celestial Agent who was the theme of the discourse,
and the speaker, evidently baptized afresh, poured forth
an irresistible tide of expostulation and entreaty which
appeared to subdue every spirit and to take captive every
will. The stillness and the solemnity increased ; and
during the momentary pauses of the preacher you might
hear the beatings of your own heart amid the half-stifled
sobs of those around you, and read in their tearful eyes a
resolution like your own, then and there to commence a
new life. And now he had brought us within the last
hour of the departing year, and as he depicted the dread-
ful state of him who had grieved the Holy Spirit for the
last time, when hope had fled and mercy shrieked fare-
well, an unutterable horror fell upon the hearts of his
hearers, whence arose a responsive echo to the prayer with
which he closed " Take not thy Holy Spirit from me."

When he sat down there remained but time for a few
minutes of silent devotion, in which the congregation
joined, and then the 'New Tear was ushered in. It did
seein on that occasion as if there was no hyperbole in the
sentiment of one who tells us that he felt as if " Olin could
convert anybody ; and that once fastened within the sound
of his voice, conviction and conversion were inevitable."
Those who heard that sermon could well understand how
it was that no less than thirteen persons found peace in be-
lieving while listening to his voice at a camp-meeting, and



330 STEPHEN OLIN.

that in the earlier stages of his ministry scores frequently
rushed to the altar for prayers, after one of his discourses,
without waiting for an invitation.

His sermons were totally devoid of anything like the
trickery of oratory. There was no affectation, no clap-
trap. He never told stories in the pulpit. He reasoned
with his hearers, and his reasoning was clear and conclu-
sive, cumbered at times with a superfluity of verbiage, and
overloaded with the gorgeous drapery of his rhetoric. But
he introduced no ornaments for their own sake, and in the
minds of his hearers there never arose a suspicion that the
speaker was seeking, for himself or for his most elaborate
discourses, so paltry a thing as their admiration. He
sought to win their hearts for his Master, keeping himself
in the background and ever making prominent Christ and
his cross. The exuberance of his style and the affluence of
his diction indicated the exhaustless riches of grace in the
treasury of his soul, and the overwhelming tide of his elo-
quence seemed to flow necessarily from the depth of the
well-spring of living waters within him.

His illustrations were drawn mainly from the Bible, and
circumstances and events in the historical parts of the Old
Testament were frequently brought forward with great
beauty, and always with wonderful pertinency. His de-
scriptive powers were of the highest order, and his pictures,
if we may so call them, were drawn so vividly, were so
striking and so truthful, that they left an almost indelible
impression upon the mind. The conclusion of his watch-
night sermon, to which we have adverted, may be taken as
an illustration ; and another, equally striking, although not
so dreadful, for that was terrible almost beyond endurance,
was given before the Genesee Conference, during its ses-



STEPHEN OLIN. 331

sion at Vienna, 1ST. Y., in September, 1844. His congrega-
tion, amounting, as was estimated, to above five thousand,
were ranged before him in a beautiful grove. The time,
the afternoon of a lovely Sabbath, as the shades of evening
were drawing on; his hearers, among whom were two
hundred Methodist preachers; the serenity of the scene,
its sacred stillness, and the certainty that he should never
again address that assembly, all conspired to stir the great
fountain of his soul to its utmost depths ; and for two hours
and a half that immense throng hung upon the speaker's
lips in rapt silence, broken occasionally by a responsive
amen or an involuntary hallelujah. Toward the close of
his discourse he described a party of pleasure. They were
in a boat upon the bosom of a beautiful and placid river.
There was music and dancing. The merry song went
round, and the wine-cup. Gaily and gallantly they were
borne onward; and now, O God! they are within the
rapids ; but they heed not, hear not the cry of warning from
the banks of the river, and are fast approaching a point
where it will be beyond the power of earth and Heaven
combined to save them. A little further a little further,
and the precipice will be reached, and the hoarse cataract
will chant their melancholy, ceaseless, unavailing requiem.
Turning then to the preachers who sat around him, with
outstretched arms and tearful eyes, and in a voice almost
suffocated with emotion, he cried, " It is for you, brethren,
to rouse these infatuated voyagers from their maddening
dream ; to spare no effort, to shun no cross, if perchance, by
God's blessing, you may stop them, and rescue them, and
save them, ere they reach the verge of that tremendous preci-
pice from the base of which, if they take the fearful plunge,
the smoke of their torment will ascend forever and ever."



332 STEPHEN OLIX.

"We profess not to give the precise language of the
speaker, for, as the editor of a religious paper who was
present remarked, one might as well attempt to report the
thunders of Niagara or the blast of a hurricane ; but we
have given the sentiment, and must leave to the reader's
imagination the effect produced. In a letter to a young
friend he thus speaks of the sermon referred to : " Last
Sunday I preached to the Genesee Conference a body of
nearly two hundred ministers. It was a season of the pres-
ence of God, and will long be remembered by many who
were present. I was enabled to say plain things, and the
hearts of the people were open. I love such seasons.
They are eras in my past life on which I look back and
thank God. In nothing do I so exult as in this work of
the ministry this holding up Christ as the one object of
faith, and love, and admiration. I have often thought that
I would willingly spend six days of every week in a cell,
on a sick bed, if on the seventh I might be allowed to
preach Christ crucified. It is not merely a duty, and, so,
grateful to the conscience in the discharge of it; it is
always a joyful season, a feast to my own feelings. And
yet I am not likely to do much of this work."

A melancholy sentence that last, coming though it did
from a heart subdued, and chastened, and submissive.
" Not likely to do much of a work" in which his soul found
its chiefest joy, which he did so faithfully and so well, and
for the privilege of doing which he would gladly have en-
dured privation and suffering! Truly this was a fathom-
less mystery, one of the strangest things in the providential
dealings of the infinitely wise God, that he who by his gifts
and graces might have done so much was permitted to do
so little, to preach so seldom. It frequently tempted the



STEPHEN OLIN. 333

soul that longed for the prosperity of Zion to say unto the
great Head of the Church, What doest thou ? Truly His
thoughts are not as our thoughts ; and the example of the
sick man, silent upon his couch of suffering, joyously listen-
ing to what others were permitted to do for the promotion
of God's glory, or for it offering praises to his name, while
it subdued the spirit, prompting the utterance of the Sav-
iour's language, " Even so, Father, for so it seemed good in
thy sight," did but postpone the solution of the mystery
until the hour when we shall no longer see through a glass
darkly.

A few months of actual service as a pastor in the city of
Charleston were all that the Church was permitted to enjoy
in this relation. Then followed a season of suffering, jour-
neyings in quest of health, a little respite, the duties of a
professor's chair, entered upon with bright anticipations and
prosecuted with diligence, and then the sick-bed again;
"an old man ; a broken reed at twenty-seven P And thus
it was all through the years of his pilgrimage. As pro-
fessor of rhetoric in Franklin College at Athens in Georgia,
as President of Randolph Macon in Yirginia, and of the
Wesleyan University at Middletown in Connecticut, he
had occasional seasons of renovated health, when he was
permitted, with gladness of heart, and O with what entire
devotedness ! to apply all the energies of his mighty soul to
the work before him.

As an instructor of youth and as presiding officer of a
literary institution he had few equals, and, in all soberness
it may be said, no superior. A strict disciplinarian, and
yet full of benignity and kindness, the students loved him.
His one great object, the best interests of those committed
to his care, was so evident, and, in fact, in all he said and



334: STEPHEN OLIN.

did, so perfectly transparent, that even an attempt to impose
upon or deceive him seemed on their part like the grossest
moral obliquity, and very few were so callous as to attempt
it. " The secret of his government," says one of his stu-
dents who has attained a high position in the world of let-
ters, " consisted in awakening and keeping in active exer-
cise a sense of moral obligation. He never appealed to a
base or ambitious motive ; and, though it might have been
proper enough to have done so, he never appealed to the
decision of public sentiment to popular opinion not even
to the opinions of parents and friends. ' Thou God seest
me' was the burden of his appeals. In aid of his govern-
ment he entered into the religious exercises connected with
the daily operations of college with such a spirituality
and pathos and heavenly-mindedness that they shed a
restraining and hallowing influence upon the whole col-
lege body."

Deservedly popular as an instructor, and highly appre-
ciated as were his collegiate labours, they were very far
from reaching his own standard of duty. He, indeed, was
continually pressing toward that mark. A month or two,
not indeed of health but of comparative convalescence,
would be succeeded by weeks of prostration, which threw
him back, disarranged his plans, and infused into his cup
bitterness known only to himself and his God. One of the
last and, perhaps, most trying of his disappointments was
shared by the members of the University, and is a source
of unavailing regret to the entire literary world. He com-
menced a course of lectures upon the theory and practice
of scholastic life ; and how did he rejoice and give thanks
that now, indeed, he had a prospect of doing something
worthy of himself and of the position which he occupied.



STEPHEN OLIN. 335

His whole heart was in the work. Beautiful and full of
wisdom were these elaborate productions of his pen ; but,
as in so many previous undertakings, his projected course
was brought suddenly to a close. He was not even per-
mitted to read the lectures he had prepared, and the last,
half-finished, remains a memorial a broken memento of
his zeal in the cause of religious education and of his
blighted hopes.

It was owing to the peculiarity of his disease that he did
not receive from those who were but slightly acquainted
with him, and even from some of his more intimate
friends, that sympathy to which he was entitled. His
general appearance was robust and rugged; he had for
the most part a good appetite, and during the intervals of
his most acute suffering he was industriously occupied and
cheerful, even amid the utter derangement of his entire
nervous system. Industry and cheerfulness, these were
prevailing traits of his character. Nothing but absolute
inability to do anything reconciled him to even a day's
idleness. He loved to work, and the wonder is, not that
he did so little, but that he performed so much. "When
others would have thought themselves perfectly justifiable
in seeking their own ease, and in the enjoyment of the
luxury of returning convalescence, he was busied with his
pen striving to rouse the slumbering energies of the Church
to vigorous efforts for the education of the young ; setting
forth her delinquencies upon the great cause which was
still nearer to his heart the cause of missions; arrang-
ing and rewriting the brief notes of his travels in foreign
lands, from which he prepared those noble volumes
which are deservedly placed in the first rank of similar
productions; watching with paternal anxiety over the



336 STEPHEN OLIN.

interests, temporal and spiritual, of the students, and pre-
paring those masterly discourses with which he met them
on the last Sabbath of their intercourse, and of which, it
is not too much to say, the graduating class of no semi-
nary received, at their departure, a more faithful or a
more precious legacy.

Manfully did he struggle with his disease, making it a
matter of conscience to avail himself of every means within
his reach, that if by any possibility he might do effective
service in the cause of God. For this he journeyed by
sea and land, in his own and in foreign countries, put
himself under the care of physicians of different schools,
attended with punctilious accuracy to the regulations pre-
scribed for his daily life, followed the plough for hours
at a time, toiled in his garden like a day-labourer, and
might have been seen, especially during his latter years,
long ere the chapel-bell had called the students from
their beds,

" Brushing with hasty steps the dews away,
To meet the sun upon the upland lawn."

To the common observer these things did not indicate a
suffering invalid; nor did his sermons, so long, so ener-
getic, so full of pathos and of power, for the delivery of
which he had roused himself from a couch of pain and
returned to it at the close of the service. And then how
companionable he was, his spirits how buoyant; even
when stretched at full length upon the sofa, unable to
stand or sit, his conversation seemed to fill the whole room
with sunshine, and the hearts of all present with a portion


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Online LibraryJohn McClintockSketches of eminent Methodist ministers → online text (page 23 of 26)