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 38 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 38 of 51)
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entrance to public life, as associates in the profes-
sion, have passed away before him. Others who
stood for a time by his side, and came but half-way
to the goal, fell before him. Bright lights these,
shining for a season ; now extinguished. Of the
earlier, were Hosmer and Russell, Whittlesey and
Storrs ; of the later, Griswold and Spencer. May
the honors of the bar, its influence for good, not
be diminished, though those who once had here a
name and a glory are no more. May the virtues
of the dead be perpetuated in the living; and when
another and another of the brotherhood shall pass
away, may the memorial be then as now :

" A doctor of the law, had in reputation among
all the people."

>Ma flU64u*A6^fa^&f*<*^f W^

% memorial




Feb. 8, 1863.


Utfj an "Sppentiti.

" That is not a common chance
That takes away a noble mind."


245, Washington Street.


% llUmorid



Feb. 8, 1863.


Emitfj an appenitx.

" That is not a common chance
That takes away a noble mind."


245, Washington Street.



5, Water Street.


1 Cor. xv. 54 : " Then shall be brought to pass the saying that is
written, Death is swallowed up in victory."

A struggle for life, ending for this world in death,
bnt for the invisible world in the victory of the eter-
nal life of the spirit, is the lot of man, as we view his
existence on the earth, and interpret his destiny by
faith in God.

In man, as we first see him, as he first sees himself,
and as he first acts and suffers in life, we find merely
a living soul, such as Paul says the first Adam was
made, without visible token of his native divinity, un-
conscious of the kingliness and the kingdom of the
hidden and indestructibly perfect spirit sprung from
God, not obedient to the sacred law of that inner
heavenly man, and so self-excluded from the inalien-
able sonship of an heir of God. The popular ideas
of human nature and its common first tendencies, the
largely prevalent fears and teachings in regard to the
peril and the saving of the soul, and the usual types
of human virtue and human hope, are on this lower
level of the development of man. Here he is as if

under nature only ; without God, except by some
formal provision in special cases ; a creature of sin,
and a child of wrath ; crushed by woes, and stricken
with fear ; in the highest duty, under hard law ; with
the brightest hope, but snatched from burnings ever-
lasting ; and shut up to a communion which permits
no broad human fellowship, which denies the inde-
structible covenants of human love. In reality, if we
dismiss the vain hope of a separate life for a select
few, — a hope as unnatural to the love which man
should be as it is untrue to the love which God is, —
we see that man, knowing himself only as a living
soul, is born to trouble without remedy, and to the
fear of death without relief.

But that which he is made to himself, by the dark-
ness of his understanding alienating him from the life
of God, does not affect the everlasting fact of the
foundation of his nature, and of his growth, in the
communication of divinity to his spirit from the one
Spirit which is the only God, Father of all care, eter-
nal Word of all wisdom, and holy Comforter of ,all
grief unto full help and heaven for man. As the
years of man and the ages of the race go on, this fact
makes itself manifest in the dawning of light, the
springing of hope, and the growth of faith, — in
the inspiration of the prophet, the enthusiasm of the
hero, and the serenity of the saint ; until, in one
transcendent normal instance, a Master of men and a

Captain of salvation is set forth to show what man
shall be, what man is in the finished estate of an heir
of God, his humanity completed with the fulness of
that divinity by which he is the kingdom of the
Father, the heir of eternal life, and the Son of God.
The Christ who thus outruns his race, to be to his
fellows in humanity a standard lifted up of their di-
vinity, a witness to God with us, though coming to his
own, and not received to this day in all the simplicity
and glory of his mission, because obscured from the
first by inadequate conceptions of the will of God
in him and the word of God by him, was clearly in
Paul's mind, as he has been substantially in the purer
faith of the Christian ages, the earnest and verifying
instance of the superiority of man to every foe, and
his ultimate victory, in the order of God, over every
enemy, to the utter extinction of the sting of death,
the strength of sin, and the terror of the grave. Thus
taking for man the helmet of salvation in the crown
of his sonship in God, and the sword of the spirit in
the inspired sense of divinity within, after the pattern
of Christ and his teaching of the coming kingdom,
Paul made with heroic heart that good fight against
the ills of life, and the power of evil, and the doubt of
the world, whose record is the noblest page of all the
history of the work of man, as the story of Jesus is
the brightest page of all the history of the nature of


In the light of what Jesus was and Paul did, we
can best judge the nature and the doings of man, and
especially of those men who have eminently followed
Paul in pressing forward for the mark of the prize of
the high calling of God in Christ. And this is the
divine judgment, which takes the testimony of the
divinity of the spirit, setting the struggles of the bur-
dened soul in the light of incarnate victory, quenching
the shadow of human faults and failings in the insuf-
ferable light of the crown of righteousness which is
the gift of God, and unveiling the silent and secret
heroism of that faithful walk with God whose record
is on high. As, in these fragrant and blooming sym-
bols of perfected life, we forget the seed and the clod
from which they sprang ; so in the day of loving judg-
ment, which is God's final judgment, we ought to re-
member chiefly that heroic wholeness of the spirit in
which our departed lived the true life, did the good
work, and kept faith, hope, and love unto the end.
Affection and justice alike demand of his pulpit to-
day all that choice flowers for the sense and true
words for the soul can express, if only for the fact
that our friend died as much true minister here,
to the extent of his activity, as if actual occupant of
his pulpit and parochial position. How he won
respect and affection with you all, overcoming how
much by sheer force of transparent truth and fidelity,
and how he has not and cannot lose one jot or tittle

of this honor and love, there is indeed no necessity to
relate to yon, who are the open epistle of his praise.
How he has been simply and wholly true to the
actual occupant of his place, as thoughtful and gene-
rous to an unknown and unchosen successor as he
could have been to a tried and selected executor of
his own life-wishes, pursuing magnanimity without
study and without display by the necessity of his
nature, — this is its own beautiful monument. It is
needful, however, to retrace the course of a life
whose close alone we saw here, in order to set in its
true light what I feel to be an unusual example of
elevated and elevating character.

Theodore Tebbets was the eldest son of the Hon.
Noah Tebbets and of Mary Esther Woodman; and
was born at Parsonsfield, Me., April 1, 1831. Few
New-England men could count among their ances-
tors a greater number of families of sterling merit.
Eor more than a hundred years, the home of the
family had been in Rochester, N. H. ; and to
this place they returned when Theodore was in his
fourth year. In his fathers home, especially in his
father s law-office, in this quiet country town, was
rapidly developed the nature in which so many in-
herited capacities met, with a large preponderance of
the activities of the mind which had made the father
more disposed to study than to the usual sports of
childhood. It is significant, as an indication of his


early and profound fitness for the vocation upon
which he finally entered, that his first emphatic expe-
rience was a decided choice between the old and the
new in religious faith. Before the close of his tenth
year, he encountered, under circumstances of extraor-
dinary pressure, the idea of getting his soul saved by
his own exercise and profession of particular senti-
timents and beliefs ; and, with all the force of a cha-
racter already pure and strong, he cast for ever from
him the vain conceit. In the unaffected modesty and
sincerity of a manly child, he shrank with intense pain
from the practical expression of this idea in the
religious excitement under the pressure of which he
was brought. So deep was this experience, so wholly
did it spring from the genuine humility of a pure
heart, and so painful had been that temptation to
fall from the simple grace of a humble walk, that
the detailed history of it was a sacred confidence ;
while the fact itself made him not only fearfully sin-
cere, but scrupulously reserved, in the profession of
his inward life.

It was largely due to the inheritance and inspira-
tion of his father's character that so young a believer
was so true to the inward law. Judge Tebbets, the
father of Theodore, although not a church-member,
and shrinking from what seemed to him " almost a
profane proclamation of his own worth," as well as
not assenting to the prevalent creed, was remarkable


for benevolence, tenacity of affection, humble trust
in God, and spotless integrity. He inherited a fee-
ble constitution, strong and reserved feelings, quick
and varied capacities, and a most sacred memory of
the mother who died when he was but eleven years
old, and who drew him all his life so near to the un-
seen and the eternal, that one cannot wonder that he
sought no communion of the saints " of the earth,
earthy." An accomplished lawyer, a thorough and
ready scholar, an ardent devotee of the sanctities of
home, gifted and genial in conversation, open and
sincere in opinion, reverent of human nature, uni-
formly generous and kind, studious of outward nature
as God's work, and unconscious as a child of his own
powers, he made Theodore the companion of his life
and studies and work to an extent unusual even be-
tween friends of equal years ; implanting in him very
early an ardent love of the law, a remarkable ac-
quaintance with its principles and forms, a strong
taste for classical scholarship and English literature,
a passion for integrity and fidelity in all humble as
well as high places, a vigorous sincerity of every pure
emotion, a thorough and modest distaste for senti-
mental demonstration, and, in and over and above all,
an intense and reverent love of this so helpful and so
honored father, which drew the soul of the child up
heights of manliness and intelligence and culture
rarely attained by youth of twice his years. Thus


the susceptible child had, from the first, a present and
ingrafted example of the divinity of a true spirit in
man, and of the nature of pure religion to aim simply
at truth in the inward parts and the daily life, in hum-
ble and entire trust in God. Of necessity, therefore,
he saw in man, not a doomed son of Adam, but a
spirit sprung from God ; in faith, not a passport
out of a human lot of woe and wrath, but earnest
and trusting obedience to God's good-will to all ; and
in religion, not the profession of our sentiment for
the saving of self, but reverence for God and his
kingdom in all unto wholeness of nature and condi-
tion and destiny in eternal walk with God, and life
in him. Thus he became by inward development,
and the mediation of divinely true fatherhood, what
he was not made by outward religious training, —
a liberal believer of the purest sort.

The death of his father, Sept. 9, 1844, deprived
Theodore, about the middle of his fourteenth year,
of the human presence and fellowship which was
to him his world and his church, his great help
for life and for faith and feeling, the shelter and
the strength of his active and sensitive nature. It
was like violently tearing away in mid-winter the
walls of a green-house filled with rare and delicate
plants just coming to their first bloom, leaving to
fatal chill the tender and precious products of a rich
nature and unusual care. It was emphatic proof of


strength of character in one so bereaved of his strong-
est stay, both for the spirit and for the world, that he
wholly covered the wound from which his life ebbed,
though it was a veil of silence and of merely acciden-
tal and external manners which he drew over his
stricken and bleeding heart ; and that he made with
patient courage a manly struggle to supply to his
widowed mother and the still little ones what a boy
could of their loss. He was older by ten years at the
father's death than the surviving younger sons ; and it
therefore fell on him to do and to bear first of all in
the rough encounter with the world to which a family
deprived of its head and support, and with narrow
means, is inevitably brought. He had now, as al-
ways, what he never failed to prize, — the care of a
devoted mother, a woman of zealous piety, of ardent
Methodist faith, and of judicious and faithful labors
within and without her own house ; and, when it was
plain that the whole bent of Theodore's nature was
toward the higher labors of the cultivated mind,
members of his mother's family lent their ampler
means to aid him in his chosen career. The sorrow
of his own soul, while it blighted somewhat the out-
ward expression, blessed the inward man with a near
sense of the invisible and the eternal : so that he after-
wards denied the notion of an intermediate sleep of
the soul after death, on the ground of his own know-
ledge of the presence to his spirit of a beloved fa-


ther's spirit ; and ascribed his best life to the spiritual
quickening gained and sustained by the undying and
unbroken influence and support of this cherished
presence. He so accepted his life, with all its cir-
cumstances of trial and difficulty, as to prove —

"That every gift of noble origin
Is breathed upon by Hope's perpetual breath."

During the four years which intervened between
his father's death and his admission to the sophomore
class in Harvard College, Theodore passed through
the experiences which formed his introduction to the
wider world, — some of discomfort, and some helpful.
His preparation for college was made at the Phillips
Academy, at Exeter, N.H. ; where he obtained a scho-
larship, the insufficient aid of which he eked out
by humble industries, by a winter of school-keep-
ing, and still more by a cheerful disregard of priva-
tions whose peril he was too hopeful and too self-
denying to suspect. In the academy, he held a high
rank for manliness and force of character, and for
accurate and elegant scholarship : here also he formed
genial and warm fellowships which never failed. His
short and first experiment at this time in the difficult
art of teaching was a success the more signal and
gratifying from the fact, that the burly pupils of his
winter common-school at first resolved that the aca-
demy-boy should never control them, yet were con-
trolled not only to obedience, but to enthusiasm and


affection. At the close of his thorough course of
study at Exeter, he entered Harvard College in 1848,
in the second year of the course.

In college, Theodore Tebbets loved scholarship for
its own sake, and for the hope of service to the world ;
he also sought its honors ardently, that he might jus-
tify the expectations with which he had been already
fixed on as a future instructor at Exeter. Reticent
by nature, reserved by habit, extremely suspicious of
insincere demonstration, as averse to empty manners
as he was tenacious of genial manhood, his outward
bearing was an imperfect manifestation of the real
qualities within ; although these qualities, once known,
were the secure basis of friendships far sweeter and
stronger than fall to the lot of men more conformed
to the ways of society, but of less pure and vigorous
human sympathies. To many he was little known,
or was not rightly known ; while, by a few at least, his
mind was admired, his heart loved, his society sought,
and his winning power fully acknowledged.

It was at this time that the early passion for the
law, which his father's memory had consecrated, was
gradually weakened by the spiritual attractions of the
Christian ministry. It is a striking testimony to the
thorough truth and pure aspiration of his nature, that
he was thus weaned from his ardent desire and the
fixed resolve of long years to follow in his father's
steps. In one of his vacation-letters, he speaks of the


revival of his early feeling for the law while spending
some days in the old familiar office of his father, but
declares that it does not shake his purpose to preach
and to teach the gospel. Throughout his letters at
this time, there are traces of conscientious pause and
self-distrust, in view of the responsibilities of an office
whose sacredness and importance he so weightily
dwelt upon in this pulpit. He expressed to you at
the last, what he felt from the first, " an ardent faith
in the necessity of the Christian ministry;" " a profound
sense of the grand opportunities and urgent demands,"
" the dignified and blessed privilege, of this responsi-
ble and solemn office." While in college, Mr. Teb-
bets was attracted to the South Congregational Church
in Boston, then under the ministry of Dr. Hunting-
ton ; with whom he formed an intimate and lasting
friendship, and in whose Sunday school he rendered
efficient service. It evinced the catholic breadth of
his sympathies, that the cordiality and lasting satisfac-
tion of their intercourse was unbroken to the end.

During the three years of his college course, our
friend was assisted by the loan of money for his most
necessary expenses ; and, upon graduating with high
honors in 1851, he at once returned to Exeter as an
instructor in the Academy, in order to repay these
loans, and to provide means for further prosecuting
his studies. As a teacher, he developed his rare fac-
ulty of winning the favor of those least predisposed


to sympathy with his character and office. With no
sacrifice of dignity or success as an instructor, he ob-
tained the confidence and affection of all his pupils,
and discharged every duty of his position so accepta-
bly, that, after his return to Cambridge, the trustees
of the Academy voted him a considerable gratuity
beyond what they regarded a sufficient salary for the

Before the close of his second year here, the proffer
of renewed aid enabled him to enter at once upon
his theological studies, which he did at the Cambridge
Divinity School in the spring of 1853. Here not
only did he attend successfully to his studies, and
assist himself during the last year by taking a private
pulpit, — a means to which he afterwards still further
resorted for lifting off the burden of debt, — but he
also made occasional contributions of unusual literary
merit to religious periodicals; and from October, 1854,
preached almost every Sunday. He first preached,
but for three Sundays only, in the summer of 1853.
His first sermon was upon " A Finished Life," in
which he describes success as consisting, " not in the
gross amount of what we do, but in the religious
spirit of our labors, in the earnestness and sincerity
of our lives ; " an almost prophetic anticipation, not
only of his own work, but of his destiny, in the min-

Before the close of his seminary course, Mr. Teb-
bets was invited to the pastorate of the First Unitarian


Society in Lowell; and on the 19th of September,
1855, he was ordained to this charge. After a ministry
of bnt ten days, having preached but two Sundays, he
was attacked by a violent and lingering fever, under
which he languished for many weeks : and when, at
last, a promise of returning health appeared, permitting
his removal to the residence of a relative at Cambridge,
renewed illness, of a painful and dangerous character,
brought him again to the verge of the grave, early in
December ; the shattering effects of which compelled
him, after eight weary months, to resign his charge at
Lowell in May, 1856. It is impossible not to remark
here, how sad it was that one so little prone to a con-
sciousness of his own needs, so ill qualified to struggle
with physical disabilities, so largely and nobly devoted
to intellectual labors, and so burdened by the necessi-
ties of self-support, should not have earlier felt the
blessing of that tender care and abounding generosity
which later smoothed his path and soothed his pain.
Then might the fond affection and the noble friendship
which first offered him full sympathy for his higher
longings, and adequate relief from heavy care, have
saved to the world a life full of rare promise, lost
now, not so much by any single calamity, as by the
long insufficiency of that human help which is the
human shield against all calamities.

Although there were fears that Mr. Tebbets's phy-
sical powers were already broken, he recovered suf-
ficiently, under the restorative influence of a summer


at the Isles of Shoals, to feel confident of sound
health; and resumed preaching Sept. 21, 1856, after
an interruption of almost a year. On the first Sunday
of November, he preached for the first time in this
pulpit ; and was further heard as a candidate, Nov.
30 and Dec. 21. He was called to the charge of the
parish, Dec. 29 ; assumed the supply of the pulpit, by
exchange, Feb. 15, 1857 ; and, on the loth of April,
was installed as pastor. In a little less than one year
and ten months (Feb. 6, 1859), his labors were sus-
pended by an illness which had been stealing upon
him for some time. After an absence of five months
in the pursuit of health, during which the pulpit was
generously supplied by the parish, and his expenses
met by the thoughtful kindness which never failed
him here, he preached with new hopes " A Pastor's
Greeting to his People," on the 3d of July, 1859 ; a
touching witness to his affectionate devotion to his
charge, and his loving trust in the paternal care of
God. He had reached only the third Sunday of this
renewal of his labors, when he was again prostrated
with serious illness, from which he never sufficiently
recovered to return to his pulpit. In the following
October, he tendered a resignation of his ministry.
To this you made the " noble and affectionate re-
sponse " which encouraged him to anticipate a return
to his " pleasant labors " here. But, after some months
of waiting and of journeying, the impossibility of


further labor in the profession was so manifest, that
your beloved minister was compelled to " the hard
and sad duty" of offering a final resignation of his
charge. On the 29th of July, his farewell discourse
was read to you by his early and devoted friend ; and
with your words of tender regret, and your renewed
tokens of grateful regard, he went out from among
you. With such strength as a year of rest and medi-
cal care afforded, he renewed his residence here in the
autumn of 1861, hopeful still of life ; and, for more
than a year, made a noble struggle to lift his cross,
and do the work which was left him to do. But the
end of labors and of burdens came at last ; and after
a brief and most happy residence in New York, a
closing season of the quiet domestic life which was
his most sacred delight, he was released from mortal
woes on the morning of Thursday, Jan. 29, 1863.
It is matter of comfort to us all, that here his home
remained ; that here he was still cherished with un-
stinting and noble regard ; and that, to our sympa-
thies, his precious remains were returned for the last
sad office of mourning love.

The nature of Mr. Tebbets was singularly true and
direct, both in its inspiration, and access to God, and
in its sympathy and service for man. His faith was
free and fearless, — " always true to a progressive
Christian consciousness ; " accepting " no other Lord
of thoughts and words than the God of truth and


love ; " and declaring " unimportant the forms of

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 38 of 51)