Theodore Clapp.

Autobiographical sketches and recollections : during a thirty-five years' residence in New Orleans online

. (page 3 of 28)
Online LibraryTheodore ClappAutobiographical sketches and recollections : during a thirty-five years' residence in New Orleans → online text (page 3 of 28)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

full statement of his case, Dr. Woods gave substan-
tially the following decision. I do not pretend to
give his precise words.

" Your friend has indeed grossly violated the laws
of holiness ; but his misconduct is not generally
known. It has come to the knowledge, you say, of
but very few persons, who are all friendly to him and
the church, and- are anxious that the scandal should
spread no farther.

"Moreover, he is a man of great popularity and
consideration in the place of his residence. He is
very rich, and liberal in his contributions to religious
and charitable societies. By bringing his case pub-
licly before the church for discipline, you may do an
irreparable injury, not only to the man himself, but
also to his amiable, unoffending family. In my
judgment, no good could possibly accrue from such
a measure. You had better pass it by with a pri-
vate admonition, and continue to use his elevated
position and extensive influence in building up the
Redeemer's cause in your peaceful and flourishing

After this case was disposed of, a second was pre-
sented for deliberation. A member of the same
church had been heard to avow repeatedly his disbe-
lief in the doctrine of the Trinity. He was in the
habit of talking against it among his acquaintances.
True, his moral character was unexceptionable ; nay,
it was excellent — rich in every virtue that could
serve to make one a light, charm, ornament, and
blessing in society. "But," said the doctor, "no


matter how good or benevolent he is ; disbelieving
the Trinity, he denies the faith once delivered to the
saints, and is not fit to be the member of a Chris-
tian church. He should be arraigned for heresy,
and if ho continue contumaciously in error, let him
be excommimicated."

The deacon then bade us farewell. During the
above consultation, my lesson for the morning was
totally unheeded. Two thoughts had for the first
time entered my mind- First, a rich member of the
church, honorable in the eyes of the world, may be
dissolute with impunity. Secondly, it is not so hei-
nous an offence to break the seventh commandment,
as to affirm that there are not three persons in the
Godhead. Previous to this day, I had supposed that
those within were always not only superior in good-
ness to any persons outside of the church, but were
also invariably actuated by the principles of unsul-
lied honor, unswerving truth, and impartial justice
to all men, without regard to the distinctions of
wealth, rank, fashion, or office. It was painful to
give up my long-cherished and implicit faith in the
spotless purity of ministers and professors of reli-

Dr. Woods not only permitted, but urged me to
apply to him, whenever I needed assistance in solv-
ing difficult problems relating to theology, or the
interpretation of Scripture. A sermon had been
preached in the chapel, in support of the doctrine
of plenary inspiration, as it is called, or that the
original Bible was dictated by the infalUble Spirit of
God — a standard of faith and practice in which there


was not a single error — nothing deficient and noth-
ing superfluous. Tlie assertion was, that not only all
its thoughts came directly from Heaven, but even its
words ; that man had no more share, strictly speak-
ing, in producing the sacred Scriptures, than in cre-
ating seas, stars, or planets. Human hands, indeed;
inscribed the words on parchment, but they were
directed by a supernatural, resistless influence, so
that it was not in their power to record a syllable
but what was in accordance with the will of God.

A suspicion that this view of the subject was un-
true I had never before entertained for a moment.
It had been inculcated in my hearing from the nur-
sery up, by all those whom I listened to as oracles,
as teachers of indisputable authority. But the ser-
mon just referred to had the effect to set me think-
ing and doubting on the subject. Two difficulties
struck my mind. Was it possible that the disgust-
ing impurities and horrid imprecations recorded in
some parts of the Old Testament (for examples, see
Psalm cix., and twenty-third chapter of Ezekiel)
should have emanated from a being of infinite love
and holiness? Further, it was admitted on al'
sides, that the original manuscripts of the Bible ai
not in existence. Every copy now in the world
came from uninspired hands. Into our version, then,
or any other version extant, corruptions may have
crept, though its authors were ever so upright and

With hope and confidence, I applied to the doctor
to relieve me from these painful misgivmgs. I said
to myself, It is indeed a glorious privilege to be the


member of an institution which can guide the anx-
ious, inquiring student through tlie intricacies of
error, and help liim up the mountain of divine truth,
" laborious, indeed, at the first ascent, but else so
smooth, so green, so full of goodly prospects and
melodious sounds on every side, that the harp of
Orpheus was not more charming." I thought that
if I could look at revealed religion aright, it would
appear to me only beautiful, grand, and harmonious.
Tlie first objection was met by the remark, that " be-
cause God is infinite, we are not competent to sit
in judgment on the morality of his doings. Parts
of revelation may seem to contravene man's ideas of
refinement, honor, and rectitude. But God's thoughts
are not as our thoughts, nor his ways as our ways.
What to the infinite One is fit, proper, and benev-
olent, may appear to short-sighted, sinful mortals
deformed, monstrous, unjust, and even malevolent.
It is enough for us to know that God is boundless
purity ; therefore, in the blessed volume which he
has mercifully vouchsafed to indite for our salvation,
and which is a transcript of himself, there cannot be
any thing corrupt or unholy. As it came from God,
every item of it must be Godlike, from the first
verse of Genesis to the last of the Apocalypse."

Such was the reasoning put forth to quiet my
doubts as to plenary inspiration ; to reconcile the
discrepant, to explain the absurd, and throw a haze
of moral beauty over passages inexpressibly abhor-
rent to my natural, unperverted taste and reason.
Notwithstanding my youth and inexperience, I then
felt, with all the force of intuition, that if God's sov-


ereignty were divorced from what we are compelled,
by the very constitution of our nature, to regard as
pure and righteous, then all the dearest interests
of mankind, for time and eternity, would be afloat
upon a boundless sea of doubt and peril ; and the
way would be prepared for baptizing the foulest
despotism by the name of almighty and infinite

The second objection was answered by advancing
a fallacy. " True," said the great man, " all the
Bibles now in the world are but transcripts of an
original which vanished from the face of the earth
centuries ago. But from the infinite wisdom of
God, it follows that he would not suffer a book com-
posed by himself to fail of accomplishing the end for
which it was given. It is reasonable, then, to be-
lieve that the transcribers of the sacred volume, in
every age and place, have been the subjects of a
divine influence, qualifying them to set forth God's
word in the various languages spoken by man, ac-
cording to its primeval import and genuineness."

The above instances are fair samples of the so-
phistical arguments employed to defend the peculiar
dogmas then taught at Andover. My desires to find
the truth were most sincere and intense ; but instead
of being gratified, they were doomed to constant
disappointment. Reading and studying the pre-
scribed books and theses only served to thicken my
darkness and multiply my perplexities. The pro-
fessor said to me one day, that my chief difficulties
undoubtedly arose from the fact that I had not been
thoroughly drilled in the principles of implicit faith.


He defined implicit faith to be " a trusting to the
word or authority of another, without doubting or
reserve, or without examining into the truth of the
thing itself." " Tlie doctrine of the Trinity," he
remarked, "is inexplicable to human reason, and
fruitless attempts to solve the mystery may unsettle
one's faith, and plunge him into infidelity."

But "was it not my mission at Andover to investi-
gate truth, independent of human authority, creeds,
and formulas? "No," said Dr. Woods, "your
proper business here is to learn to read the Bible
aright, and to receive its plain, undisputed assertions
with an unquestioning credence, as the oracles of
God. It is within the legitimate pi'ovince of reason to
inqviire, first, whether the Bible is divinely inspired ;
and secondly, what does it actually teach? Fur-
ther than this you cannot go. Reason is not compe-
tent to decide upon the philosophy of Scripture.
We receive the teachings of God, however strange
or incomprehensible they may appear to us, simply
because we know that he cannot utter an untruth."

These memorable sayings furnished a clew enabling
me to escape from the labyrinth in which I had been
long wandering. From that day to the present, the
object of all my researches has been to ascertain
whether God has actually spoken to the children of
men in the Bible, and what is the real import of the
communications therein addressed to us. I have
stood firmly upon this platform for the last forty
years. I love the original Scriptures; have read
them by day, and meditated thereon by night.

The study of the Bible, according to the most


approved rules of exegesis, has led me to repudiate
the theological views which were embraced at the
Andover Seminary when I lived there. They have
also been repudiated virtually by the great body of
the New England churches. A milder and more ra-
tional faith prevails among the descendants of the
Puritans, than that of their stern, rugged forefathers.
Genuine Calvinism has died in the Northern States,
by a necessary and almost imperceptible decay.
Professor Stuart, of Andover, did more, in his time,
to bring about this revolution than Harvard Univer-
sity and all the Unitarian writings combined.

The opinion is quite common in the Southern and
Middle States, that evangelical religion of late has
suffered an alarming degeneracy among the people
of New England in general. These lugubrious
views are chiefly confined to clergymen of different
denominations — clergymen, too, most sincere, pious,
good, and charitable. They see that some of the
long-established creeds and forms of our venerable
ancestors are fading away. Opinions which they
held sacred and essential are now not only contro-
verted, but denied and trampled under foot, by Uni-
tarian and other kindred sects. Multitudes look
upon this deviation from the ways of our predeces-
sors as the prolific parent of intemperance, libertin-
ism, profanity, desecration of the Lord's day, and
other abominations. This is not to be wondered at.
The contemporaries of our Saviour were perfectly
honest in charging him with the most odious offences
— irreverence towards God, dangerous heresies, in-
toxication, breaking the Sabbath, consorting with


gluttons and wine bibbers, and preaching doctrines
which tended to latitudinarianism, and the sub-
version of all wholesome laws, both human and

I would say to all those clergymen who cherish
gloomy forebodings about the fate of revealed re-
ligion, that if you are sincere in the belief that the
Bible came from God, you cannot consistently enter-
tain any apprehensions in regard to its accomplishing
the ends for which it has been given to the world.
If a man, when gazing upon the sun in its sub-
limity, as it is sinking below the horizon, should
say to you, " I am afraid we shall never see the sun
again — that it has set to rise no more ; " would you
not regard him as partially deranged — at least as
laboring under some strange hallucination ? How
much more absurd to be afraid lest man's folly and
delusions shall blot out the uncreated sun of right-
eousness, that illumines the moral universe with an
eternal radiance ! It is the promise of Jesus that
the gates of hell shall never overthrow the religion
of the New Testament. It will survive all the vicis-
situdes to which human society is liable, and demon-
strate its legitimate claims to that lofty character
which it assumes, as being not only the glorious, but
the everlasting gospel of the blessed God. What a
low estimate must that man form of Christianity
who supposes that it can be reasoned, legislated,
frowned, laughed, or ridiculed out of the world !

Church history tells us of the rise, decline, and
disappearance of many denominations that, in their
day, undoubtedly, were necessary and useful, and


represented the highest religious development of
which their respective votaries were capable. Could
the admirers of those ancient forms come back from
that unseen world, where pride, bigotry, and con-
tention will never be known, they would be able to
trace scarcely a resemblance between the ecclesias-
ticism of the present times and that mode of worship
and teaching to which their prayers, their writings,
their fortunes, and their lives had been devoted in
vain. But still, praised be God, revealed religion
has lost none of its original powers. And though
all the various sects that flourish in our day were
swept into oblivion, along with the accumulated
rubbish carried down by the resistless surge of time,
Christianity would live on in undecaying bloom and
beauty. Archbishop Whately says, " Christ did not
ordain an immutable outward style for administering
his religion, but left the machinery of its forms and
rules free, that, by a spontaneous unfolding, they
might accommodate themselves to the ever-varying
wants, taste, and progress of humanity. A system
wanting this freedom and flexibleness would carry
strong proof in itself that it did not emanate from
God. Different ages require different modes of wor-
ship and communion."

Geologists have proved that our globe, from the
beginning, has been constantly going through a suc-
cession of changes, while the principles by which it is
governed have always remained the same. So it is
with the church of Christ. In essence, it is the same
yesterday, and to-day, and forever. Yet it is con-
tinually manifesting itself in new and higher forms


of glory. The church evinces nowadays her love
for man in practical reforms never before attempted.
Think of what is doing among us for the reforma-
tion of juvenile offenders ; for the improvement of
discharged convicts ; for the training of the blind,
the deaf, and the dumb. Think of those splendid
palaces, reared for the accommodation of the insane
and idiotic ; think of the numerous institutions for
the relief of widows and orphans ; for the benefit
of seamen ; for the promotion of temperance ; for
the suppression of war ; to ameliorate the condition
of prison houses ; and to exalt the state of the de-
pendent, industrial classes generally. Then we have
tract societies ; missionary enterprises ; the gratu-
itous distribution of Bibles and other books ; Sunday
schools, free libraries, lyceums, &c. ; by which pow-
erful instrumentalities the truths, hopes, and mo-
tives of the gospel are so wielded as not only to
secure the salvation of the young and inexperienced,
but also, in many cases, to arrest and reclaim hard-
ened and inveterate offenders. To assert that, under
such a multiplicity of divine means, — such a rich,
unprecedented array of appeals and agencies, — our
people are not advancing in religion and morality,
is just as absurd as to deny that the happiest system
of agriculture is adapted to increase the products of
our fields, or to deny that the best appliances of edu-
cation tend to promote the diffusion and increase of
knowledge. No creeds, no forms, are essential to
practical Christianity, but simply a life of pure,
humble, and systematic beneficence. The recogni-
tion of tliis principle, coeval with Jesus Christ, is a


characteristic of the present age, and a clieering
proof that we have renounced fables for trutli —
" liave left the good old times far behind, never to
see them again but in the retrospect of things gone
by." It is ushering in a brighter era, when Chris-
tianity will bear, in rich abundance, fairer flowers and
more delicious fruit than the world has ever yet tasted.
To me the principles of the gospel are unassaila-
ble and incomparable. They give us rules, hopes,
and consolations infinitely beyond the reach of
human philosophy. Take away this last and only
prop amidst the wreck of all earthly hopes and pos-
sessions, and to what shall the departing spirit cling
for salvation, as it looks into the grave ? It has no
Jesus to lean on ; it must sink in remediless agony
and despair. Human reason admires the triiths of
the Christian revelation ; human experience affords
them her loud and uniform testimony, and they find
a congenial response in the affections of every noble
heart. What are these truths ? I would answer,
in general, the paternity of God ; the brotherhood
of man ; that true religion consists in piety, purity,
and disinterestedness, and an existence of immortal
blessedness for all mankind beyond the grave.

In October, 1817, license to preach the gospel was
given me, by an association of Congregational minis-
ters in my native county. A few weeks previous, I
had made an engagement to spend a year, in the
capacity of chaplain and teacher, to a private family,
in the neighborhood of Lexington, Kentucky. When
I reached the place of my destination, the Rev. Mr.


Larned, my predecessor in the First Presbyterian
Church, New Orleans, was expected to arrive there
daily. His fame had preceded him as an eminent
pulpit orator. On a Saturday afternoon, advertise-
ments were posted along the streets and public
places, that he would preach in a certain pulpit the
next morning, at the usual hour of holding services.
Long before the appointed time, the house was com-
pletely filled, and multitudes sought in vain for an
admission. When he arose, and pronounced the
text, — "He is the propitiation for our sins," —
I thought that with such a subject, however ably
discussed, it would be entirely beyond his power to
answer the excited expectations of the audience.
But he had scarcely uttered half a dozen sentences,
before all fears of his failing vanished from my mind.
I was rapt, elevated, and carried away, in common
with others, by the charms of his singular and over-
powering eloquence. I will present a brief sketch
of this remarkable sermon.

He began by saying, that " all acknowledged be-
cause all felt their need of a Saviour. Your lot, my
hearers, is cast in pleasant places, and you have a
goodly heritage ; your city is in the midst of regions
on which Nature lavishes her richest gifts. You
have all the comforts and elegances which wealth,
art, and refinement can bestow. Still the capacious
desires of your immortal minds are not satisfied,
because they crave that higher and better good
which an outward world can neither give nor destroy.
Jesus came to point our eyes to the only and narrow
way that leadeth unto life. Your earthly posses-


sions must perish. You may be great and po-werful ;
magnificent in talents, designs, and achievements;
admired, honored, and caressed by your contempora-
ries. Can such advantages save you ? —

' The boast of heraldry, the pomp of power.
And all that beauty, all that wealth e'er gave,
Await alike the inevitable hour ;

The paths of glory lead but to the grave.'

" When we reflect what human life is, however for-
tunate ; when we consider the ordinances and appoint-
ments, — the sudden alternations of health and sick-
ness, joy and sorrow ; these indescribable scenes of
endurance, privation, and bereavement ; these pain-
ful sunderings of the ties of affinity, friendship, and
affection that sadden our present existence, — how
obvious is it that the cross of Jesus is our only hope !
For this makes it certain that the works of creation,
the events of life, and the destinies of a coming
world, are but the unfoldings of a Father's infinite
wisdom ; that whatever befalls us between the cradle
and the tomb, though so strange, inscrutable, and
trying, is working to issues great and glorious be-
yond the reach of thought and imagination. Jesus
came to assure us that the Power which brought
man into existence is eternal, boundless, uncreated,
and immutable love — a love that taketh care for
all ; not one is neglected ; that watcheth over all ;
that provideth for all ; for infancy, childhood, ma-
ture years, decrepit age ; for want, for weakness, for
joy, and for sorrow, in every scene of this or another
life ; so that all forms of sin and evil shall finally


redound to the glory of God, and aid in accomplish-
ing the unsearchable wonders of redeeming mercy
revealed in the gospel. The teachings of Clirist
enable us to say all is good, all is well, all is right,
and shall be forever. Faith in Jesus, then, is an
inheritance, a refuge, and a rest for the soul, from
which the fates and fortunes of a mortal lot cannot
shake it.

"The gospel has abolished death, and brought to
light that spirit-land where the mysteries of earth will
be explained — the land of brightness and beatitude,
— the land of an immeasurable progress in wisdom
and glory — where, instead of trials, there will be only
triumphs ; instead of darkness, the effulgence of an
unveiled eternity ; instead of the bitter tears of sor-
row, the beamings of an ever-increasing joy beyond
the possibility of sin and temptation. ' Thanks be
unto God for his unspeakable gift.' What is death to
a true Christian ? It is the hour of release from the
burdens of mortality ; the hour of reunion with the
absent loved ones, who have gone before us ; the
hour when our inherent, irrepressible longings after
fairer forms of beauty, and more ecstatic degrees of
bliss than earth affords, will verge to their rich, ever-
lasting consummation. When I look on that cross,
illuminated by the radiance of God's own divinity, I
exclaim. How inexpressibly precious is the light it
sheds on our dark world, opening a way for all
mankind through the gloomy shadows of sin and
sorrow, and through the dark gates of the tomb, to
the enjoyment of an inheritance incorruptible, un-
defiled, and unfading ! "


I do not pretend to state the exact words of the
orator on this occasion, but the leading ideas of the
address, wlaich were indelibly impressed on my
memory. He did not even allude to the doctrine of
Christ's death being a substituted punishment, a
vicarious sacrifice to appease the divine wrath, in
order to make the salvation of mankind possible.
Passing by all the unintelligible points of controver-
sial theology touching the atonement, he presented
to view a beautiful and striking picttire, which need-
ed only to be looked at to win admiration — a pic-
ture of man's frail, eventful life from the cradle to
the grave. The whole audience saw that the por-
trait was true to nature ; and every one present, in
spite of his creed, was made to feel that without the
hopes of the gospel he had no outward prop to lean
upon, no satisfying source of inward reliance, no
adequate object for his ever-expanding loves, and
no asylum to betake himself to in trouble, want,
peril, sickness, or the final hour. He did not dog-
matize about Jesus Christ, but produced in the heai'-
ers a profound conviction, that without a Saviour
they were living in a fatherless and forsaken con-
dition, poor, benighted, trembling orphans, upon a
bleak and boundless waste, destitute, deserted, for-
lorn, and forsaken. The effect was wonderful.
Tears were shed by those who had never before wept
at the thought of all that is glorious and all that is
tremendous in the prospects of immortality. Many
of those seated in the pews at the beginning of the
sermon found themselves standing xip at its close.
They performed the act of rising unconsciously.


Yet the entire delivery of that powerful discourse
did not occupy more than thirty minutes. I had the
honor of sitting in the pew of one of the most dis-

Online LibraryTheodore ClappAutobiographical sketches and recollections : during a thirty-five years' residence in New Orleans → online text (page 3 of 28)