Peter Thacher.

A sermon preached June 12, 1799, before His Honor Moses Gill, Esq., lieutenant governor and commander in chief : the honorable Council, Senate and House of Representatives of the commonwealth of Massachusetts at the interment of His Excellency Increase Sumner, esq., who died June 7, 1799, aet. 53 online

. (page 24 of 51)
Online LibraryPeter ThacherA sermon preached June 12, 1799, before His Honor Moses Gill, Esq., lieutenant governor and commander in chief : the honorable Council, Senate and House of Representatives of the commonwealth of Massachusetts at the interment of His Excellency Increase Sumner, esq., who died June 7, 1799, aet. 53 → online text (page 24 of 51)
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was a clergyman, should be called in to pray with him,
he said, "I do know that it would be right to pray abso-
lutely that my life should be prolonged — I have already
gone beyond the usual limit of human life — and the
present may be the best time for my removal." — " Gon-
stans et libens fatum excepistif"

How like a philosopher! How closely in keeping
with the spirit of that page of the Roman philosopher
with which he closed his classical instructions ! — " J¥os
vero, si quid tale acciderit, ut a deo denuntiatum videa-
tur, ut exeamus e vita, . . . eo simus animo, . . .ut nihil
in malis ducamus quod sit vel a diis immortalibus vel
a natura, parente omnium, constitutumP But it was not
philosophy which sustained our departed friend in that
last conflict. Or rather it was the highest philosophy —
the philosophy of the soul which confides in the wis-
dom and goodness of God. On that bed of death, in a
calm conversation with his dearest friend, some hours


before his departure, he avowed his trust in God through
Jesus Christ, and responded to the Christian hope, that
all the members of that dear family should finally be
gathered for more blessed and everlasting society. Nor
was this delightful testimony to the sustaining power of
the religion of Christ the only evidence of his religious

In the year 1808, he made a public profession of
religion, and he adorned that profession by an unblem-
ished life. He wrought righteousness. He worshipped
God with his household every passing day. And all
along the course of that half century, the heart which
he instinctively strove to keep from the view of men,
was so far revealed, that we see that it cherished and
was cheered by the truths of religion. In his last
conversation with one of his colleagues he said, that from
early childhood, when he enjoyed the instructions of a
Christian mother, his mind had been occupied with the
subject of religion — that there had been a time, when
his mind had been aroused, and a crisis in his life had
seemed to occur. He, at the same time, expressed
himself with earnestness, as being under the greatest
obligations for the impressions on this subject he had
received at home. He was a student of the Bible.
He had been accustomed, particularly of late, to spend
much time in reading its contents in other languages.
In his family there had been observed a growth of
religious feeling, especially discoverable in the daily
prayers of the household. He acknowledged our depend-
ence on the grace of God, speaking with peculiar
earnestness of our " infinite need of the regenerating
influences of the Holy Spirit." But the delicacy of his


nature had generally during his life prevented his giving
frequent utterance to his religious feelings. "Who can
tell how much he may have been troubled with this
unwilling reserve, or how carefully he may have con-
sidered it in his heart ? The phases of the Christian
life are as various as are human hearts.

His life is ended, and as we contemplate it in its
great usefulness, its completeness, and the crowning glory
of its purity in obedience to God, which through faith
made its close so calm, we feel that all is well.

" Why weep ye then for him, who, having won
The bound of man's appointed years, at last,
Life's blessings all enjoyed — life's labors done,
Serenely to his final rest has passed ;
While the soft memory of his virtues yet
Lingers, like twilight hues when the bright sun is set!"


tmaxml ai







Pastor of the Center Church ;


Pastor op the North Church;


Professor in Yale College.





In the Center Church, March 12, 1858,


If, in these obsequies, we might regard exclusively the grief
that darkens the circle of domestic love and the wider circle of
personal and private friendship, we could not but turn to some
of those familiar themes of Christian consolation which are
always fresh and bright in the hour of sorrow. But the grief
which brings us together in this concourse, is something more
than an ordinary sympathy with those who are following the
remains of a husband and father to the grave. A great and
honored institution of sacred learning is here to-day as a mourner.
Hundreds of the public and official ministers of God's word —
some of them veterans in the service — some of them in this
assembly, and some far away in the remotest regions to which
the intelligence of this bereavement has been conveyed on the
lines of magnetic communication— feel in their hearts the break-
ing of the tie that bound them to their venerated teacher. Not
the aged members of one church only, but all these churches,
share in the bereavement. A great light has been extinguished :
no, not extinguished, but removed to shine on us, henceforth,
only from the historic past ; removed to shine in that high and
blessed sphere where " they that are wise shall shine as the
brightness of the firmament, and they that turn many to rights
eousness, as the stars forever and ever."

The public relation, then, of these funeral services, leads me
to select, as the subject of brief discourse, and as opening a
field of thought appropriate to the occasion, the words in which
our Saviour spoke of John the Baptist and his ministry.

JOHN V. 35. He was a burning and a shining light ; and ye were will-

The man of whom these words were spoken had a remarkable
eminence as a minister of God and a rjreacher of righteousness.
Not only was his special function one that made him eminent

above ail ancient prophets, but he was eminent in the greatness
of his gifts, in the power of his preaching, in the impression
which he made upon his hearers, in the wide agitation and in-
quiry that were caused by his labors, and in the general move-
ment of expectation and of personal repentance and reformation
which he inaugurated, as preparatory to the coming of that
new kingdom of God which the Christ, long promised and
waited for, was then about to establish.

Christ himself is the light of the world — the true light — the
sun of righteousness, with healing in his wings. He himself
testifies, " I am the light of the world : he that folio we th me
shall not walk in darkness, but shall have the light of life."
His coming into the world is the rising of an infinite light on
them who were in darkness. He makes God, duty, sin, and the
relations of the conscious soul to God and eternity, manifest in
this dark world, and " that which maketh manifest is light."
Where he is made known in the story of his incarnation, of his
life on earth, of his death and resurrection, and of his ascension
and kingdom-— where he is made known in the divine beauty of
his character, in the simple grandeur and power of his teaching,
and in the ineffable condescension and ineffable glory of his re-
deeming work — there is light ; for there God is revealed to
men, and especially revealed to every attentive, trembling, peni-
tent and believing soul.

Yet Christ says to his disciples, " Ye are the light of the
world." They are the light of the world because he shines in
them, and by means of them he makes God manifest to men.
Every believer in Christ becomes a witness for him, and an in-
stance and illustration of his power to save. Every believer in
whom Christ is the hope of glory, and who, being in Christ,
becomes a new creature, renewed in knowledge and true holiness,
shines as a light in the world, holding forth the word of life.
Christ is with them — he hath given them light ; and therefore,
where such men are, there God is known — there God's govern-
ment, God's holy displeasure against sin, God's mercy and for-
giveness, and all the soul's relations to the unseen world, are
felt to be realities. Where such men are, an illumination from
Christ strikes on the consciences of all who become acquainted
with their principles, aims, sympathies and hopes. It is by
virtue of their relation to Christ, and of the testimony which
they give for him, that they are the light of the world.

Thus it becomes evident in what distinctive sense it is that
every true minister of Christ is, in the measure of his gifts and
of his fidelity in using them, a light in the world. His work is

to make Christ known — to call men to Christ — to overcome, by
teaching and persuasion, the difficulties which hinder men from
seeing Christ and feeling the attraction of the cross — to say, as
John said, when he saw Jesus coming to him, " Behold the
Lamb of God." His work is like that of Christ's immediate
fore-runner, of whom we read, " The same came for a witness, to
bear witness of the Light, that all men through him might be-
lieve. He was not that Light, but was sent to bear witness of
that Light."

It is no misapplication, then, of the words in which the
Saviour spoke of John the Baptist, if we use them as descrip-
tive of that eminent preacher of Christ, whose work of almost
half a century is now finished. We honor Christ when we say
of his departed servant, " He was a burning and shining light,
and ye were willing for a season to rejoice in that light."

More than*forty-eight years ago, the First Church in this city,
having rejoiced for a season in the stirring and powerful ministry
of Moses Stuart, was deprived of its pastor by his removal to
that different service in which he afterwards became so widely
celebrated. Two years and three months elapsed before the
vacancy was filled. At last, on the 8th of April, 1812, forty-
six years ago, another pastor was ordained. He was the only
candidate on whom, in all that period, the choice of the Church
and Society had fallen. Once he had declined their invitation,
and it was only in deference to a second and more harmonious
call that he consented to accept the weighty charge.

It was indeed a weighty charge which he accepted. The
brief ministry of his immediate predecessor had been attended
by a memorable revival of religion, the first great awakening
which this Church or this town had known in half a century.
A revolution had been effected in the character of the Church
and in its religious habits and sympathies, bringing it over to
the side of what was then called u New Divinity." But the
new order of things had hardly been consolidated. There were
elements in the Church, which might easily have fermented into
discord, and which required special gifts of power and wisdom
in the pastor. A rash man, or a man of only moderate power
in the pulpit, would have been wholly unfit to encounter the
difficulties of the crisis. But the pastor who came to the task
of guiding the Church, and of preaching the word of God to
the people here, though lie was a young man, less than five
years a graduate, and though wholly unexperienced in pas-
toral responsibilities, brought with him a more than ordinary
preparation for his work. In his study of theology he had had

the benefit of a special relation to his illustrious teacher. To
say that he was a favorite pupil of President D wight, does not
adequately express the intimacy of the relation between them.
Kesiding for two years in the family of the President, writing
habitually from the dictation of those eloquent lips, he was not
a mere amanuensis, nor merely a favorite pupil. In the relation
thus established, there was the mutual attraction and mutual
excitement of two powerful and kindred minds, unequal indeed
in age and office, each differing from the other in many pecu-
liarities of intellectual constitution, yet both alike profoundly
interested in the great questions and debates which form the
science of theology. It was in such an intimacy, and under
such an influence, that the young pastor of this Church in 1812
had been trained to handle the great themes of God's revelation
to men.

His ministry here was even more honored than that of his
predecessor. Whatever lack of unanimity there may have
been in regard to his settlement, all traces of it were soon re-
moved by the unquestionable power and fidelity of his public
ministrations and the suavity of his private intercourse with
families and individuals. Those solid and massive discourses,
full of linked and twisted logic, yet giving out at every point
sharp flashes of electric fire, was just what was needed to carry
on the work which his predecessor had begun. In the third
year of his ministry, he began to see a great result of his labors.
That year, 1815, was marked in the history of this Church, and
in the religious history of the city and the College, as a year
of awakening and of the conversion of souls to Christ. Another
and more signal revival of God's work began in the year 1820,
and continued till the close of the ensuing year. Some of those
whose heads are now gray, remember with the deepest sensibility,
that Sabbath, the last day of the year 1820, when more than
seventy persons, old and young and of every condition in life,
filled those aisles, as they came from their seats to take the
vows of God upon them, and to enter into covenant with the
Church. That was a day for which an earnest and willing
pastor might well be willing to die. How many of that com-
pany, whom the pastor then counted with joy as the seals of
his ministry, and whom he then welcomed to the communion
of the saints on earth, have now welcomed him to the fellowship
of the glorified in heaven !

His official connection with this Church was dissolved in De-
cember, 1822. The reorganization of the system of theological
education in Yale College, restoring the original design of the

institution by giving to it a distinct Faculty of Theology, was
in part the result of his great success in preaching the Gospel,
and of those theological studies of his which were identified
with the power of his ministry. There were those who believed
that one so gifted as he was for the systematic exposition of
Divine truth, and so successful in winning souls, ought to have
the opportunity of employing his gifts, and of turning his ex-
perience and skill to the best account, in the special work of
training men to preach the Gospel. I think I do not speak at
random when I say that the Dwight professorship was founded
for him, and that the Theological Department was planned with
the expectation of making him a teacher of theology. At the
age of thirty-six-, he relinquished the pastoral office, and with a
physical constitution seriously impaired by the intense and long
continued mental excitement which had characterized his minis-
try, he entered on his new employment. His lecture room was
soon filled ; and his pupils, fascinated with the charm of his
enthusiasm in the sublime science which he taught, were them-
selves enthusiastic in their admiration of his teaching. This is
the thirty-sixth year of his service in that chair of instruction.
In all, he has had nearly seven hundred pupils. Of these, not
a few have been — not a few are now — widely honored for their
work's sake. Their usefulness in the field, which is the world,
is the expansion and perpetuation of his. Their grateful re-
membrance of him — their affectionate testimony to the exciting
and guiding power of his great mind — is his living monument.
His retirement from the pastoral office did not imply in his
thought any relinquishment of the work of the ministry. For
a long course of years, his weekly labor in the pulpit was almost
without interruption. To the congregation of his former charge
he continued to preach, at the invitation of their committee,
with great frequency, and to their great satisfaction, till he sus-
pected that his readiness to do so was diminishing their sense of
the necessity of choosing a new pastor. Only a year and a half
after the settlement of his successor, he began to preach (Sept.
1826) to the Third Congregational Church, then just instituted,
and till 1830 he was, in effect, though not in form, its pastor.
For nearly a year he preached, statedly, to the North Church
in Hartford. In the memorable year 1831, his labors, as a
preacher, were abundant in these churches and elsewhere ; for
in the wide religious awakening of that year, such preaching as
his was greatly sought after. There is no Congregational church
in this city, almost none in this neighborhood of churches, which
has not, in some vacancy of its pastorate, sought and enjoyed


his powerful ministration of the word. Probably in every one
of these churches there are some who acknowledge, with grate-
ful sensibility, the deep impression which the Gospel, ministered
by him, has stamped upon their spiritual being forever.

Others may speak, elsewhere, of his theological controversies,
and may criticise the peculiarities of his philosophical and theo-
logical system. But I may be allowed to say, that those who
knew him best, know how painful controversy, as distinguished
from discussion, was to him. He loved discussion ; his mind
rushed to an argument like a war-horse to the battle ; he re-
joiced in the well-guarded statement and strenuous defense of
truth ; his intellectual nature exulted in the discovery of a latent
inaccuracy ; he had an instinctive and ineradicable confidence
in the power of logic to convince ; but controversy, with its
personal alienations, its exasperating imputations, and its too
frequent appeals to prejudice and passion, was what his soul
abhorred. In the earnestness of debate he might charge an
opponent with absurdity and nonsense ; but it was not his wont
to charge a brother with heresy, or to represent an unguarded
statement or an inconclusive argument as identical with heresy.
How well he continued to love old friends, whom the sharpness
of theological difference had alienated from him, they can tell
who remember his brotherly visit to the death-bed of the one
whom he loved the most, and who, in a pious but erroneous
zeal, had done the most to destroy his good name. There were
no dry eyes in that chamber of suffering when Taylor fell weep-
ing on the neck of Nettleton and kissed him.

I may speak the more freely in commendation of him as a
theologian — and perhaps with the more weight — inasmuch as it
is no secret that there are some points in his philosophy, and
some principles in his method of solving certain difficulties in
theology, which I have never been able to accept. Let me say,
then, that he was the last, as the elder Edwards was the first,
of the great masters in the distinctive theology of New England.
When I speak of great masters in theology, I do not mean all
who have been useful or eminent as instructors of candidates for
the ministry, or who have powerfully maintained and defended
the accepted truth. I mean those who have contributed to the
progress of thought by more exact definitions and distinctions
in theology. The names in that succession, from the elder
Edwards, are few, — Hopkins, the younger Edwards, Smalley,
Emmons, Taylor, — and the last, not least in the illustrious dy-
nasty. We need not claim for any of those great names the
honor of infallibility. We need not accept the opinions of any

of them as great discoveries, free from all mixture of error — but
these men have been the great originators of thought in the
progress of the New England theology : and their spirits rule
us, and will rule us " from their sceptered urns."

The chief contribution which the last of these great masters
has made to the progress and defence of theological science, is
in the clearness and fullness with which his teachings has de-
veloped the distinction and mutual relations between God's all-
comprehending providence and God's government over his rea-
sonable and responsible creatures. Doubtless this momentous
distinction was recognized in theology before he began to illus-
trate and apply it, just as the distinction between natural and
moral inability was recognized before Smalley defined and un-
folded it. But the effect of his teaching is felt to-day by theo-
logians of various schools and systems, who have never con-
sciously accepted any of his formulae ; and it will continue to
be felt when the distinctive theology of New England shall
have been merged in the general and united progress which the
universal Church is yet to make in the knowledge of God and of
the glories of his word.

But I may not dwell upon this particular aspect of what this
servant of God has done in the work of advancing the knowl-
edge of truth. After all, it was by his power as a preacher of
the word, more than by any power which he exerted as a mere
teacher of theology, that he was a burning and a shining light.
Those sermons of his, which have been heard by so many thou-
sands, especially in times of religious awakening — those strong
and terrible appeals to the conscience of the soul unreconciled
to God — those magnificent and more than Miltonic portraitures
of God's government — those expostulations in the name of In-
finite Pity — those thunderings and lightnings from eternity —
these, in the deep heavy tones of that trumpet voice, and with
the impressive flashes of that eye through which the soul looked
out from beneath the "dome of thought" — these live in our
remembrance, and will live in tradition after us — these live in
the impression they have made on our immortal nature. It \vas
in times of religious awakening and revival, that he loved to
preach. His favorite sermons were composed under such ex-
citements ; and to his own mind every one of them was redolent
with blessed memories of success. A revived, awed, anxious
state of religious feeling, in the community, was needed, that
they might have their appropriate surroundings, and might pro-
duce their legitimate effect, All his theology was shaped and
framed with reference to the doctrine and work of the conversion



of sinners to God. If he could have had his choice, he would
have said, Let me die in a time of religious revival. He would
chosen that his funeral should be attended by a throng of souls
awake and alive to the great realities of responsibility and eter-
nity. He would have chosen that the silence of his coffin should
preach to souls oppressed with the sense of need and guilt before
God. In such a time as those in which he most loved to labor
for Christ, he would have chosen to " depart and be with Christ,
which is far better."

Five or six weeks ago, he ceased from all his active work ;
and like Aaron on the mountain, he put off his garments and
lay down to die. More than once, when he was reminded of a
former recovery from similar weakness, he replied, " No, I have
done, — I can only wait, committing myself, like Stephen, to the
Lord Jesus Christ." And so, waiting in humble trustfulness, he
has passed away. Meanwhile, unconciously to him, a religious
though tf ulness and earnestness has been spreading through this
community, once so highly blessed with his labors. May we not
say he has died in the midst of a revival of religion ? Let us bury
him with thoughts like those with which a conqueror is buried on
the field of victory. Are there not in this assembly many whose
souls are, even now, poised on the choice between the world and
God, between death and life ? "0, that those lips had language !"
0, for one more utterance of the voice which death has silenced !
0, might we listen to him yet again, here, in his old place of
power ! But no ; one by one, God's ministers must depart, to
utter his word no more with mortal voice. Yet God remains.
His mercy endureth forever. His Gospel remains with its of-
fers and its promises. " Christ is the same yesterday, to-day,
and forever." The one true light of the world, the sun of
righteousness, shines on, while the lesser stars, that reflect his
glory, fade and disappear.

" Nor sink those stars in empty night,

But lose themselves in Heaven's own light."

Preached in the North Church, March 14, 1858,



BY S. W. S. DUTTON, D. D., Pastor.

HEBREWS XL 3. "And by it he, being dead, yet speaketh."

The great English dramatist puts into the mouth of one of
his characters this sentiment,

" The evil that men do lives after them ;
The good is oft interred with their bones."

Online LibraryPeter ThacherA sermon preached June 12, 1799, before His Honor Moses Gill, Esq., lieutenant governor and commander in chief : the honorable Council, Senate and House of Representatives of the commonwealth of Massachusetts at the interment of His Excellency Increase Sumner, esq., who died June 7, 1799, aet. 53 → online text (page 24 of 51)