EXPLAINED AND DEFENDED,
SERIES OF SERMONS;
TIMOTHY DWIGHT, S. T. D. LL. D.
LATE PRESIDENT OF YALE COLLEGE.
THE LIFE OF THE AUTHOR.
IN FOUR VOLUMES.
PRINTED AND PUBLISHED BY S. CONVERSE.
STEREOTYPED by A. CHANDLER.
[ 2 ]
DISTRICT OF CONNECTICUT, ss.
BE it remembered, that on the fifth day of January, in the forty second year of the Independence of the United States of America, Timothy Dwight, and William T. Dwight, both of said District; Administrators of the Rev. Timothy Dwight, now deceased, and late of the said District, have deposited in this office the title of a book, the right whereof they claim as Administrators as aforesaid, and Proprietors, in the words following, to wit:
Theology; explained and defended, in a Series of Sermons; by Timothy Dwight, T. D., LL. D. late President of Yale college. With a Memoir of the Life the Author,. in five Volumes. Vol 1.’’
In conformity to the Act of the Congress of the United States, entitled, " An Act for the encouragement of learning, by securing the copies of Maps, Charts, and Books, to the authors arid proprietors of such copies, during the times therein mentioned."
R. I. INGERSOLL,
Clerk of the District of Connecticut.
A true copy of Record, examined and sealed by me.
Clerk of the District of Connecticut.
This document was scanned from an original printing.
The text of this and other superb works are available on-line from:
The Willison Politics and Philosophy Resource Center
Reprint and digital file June 2, 2001.
We are pleased to be able to present this astonishing biography of one of Yale's most influential Presidents, TIMOTHY DWIGHT, as found in this 1823 printing of his Yale theology lectures which are commonly known as 'Dwight's Theology". Republished many times over, they serve to deliver a very useful body of applied theology, superb in depth of learning, concerning the human, moral, and spiritual issues of this world, and of infinite importance for every person, to that of the next world, the eternal and spiritual dimension we shall all enter into
Due to its length, we have divided it into two parts. Part 1, ( pp. 1-30 ) begins with his remarkable family background, and concludes with his entrance to Yale's Presidency. Part 2, (pp. 31-61) continues with his published works, a dramatic account of his final days preceding his death, and a review of his life, in particular as it affected others, which as president of Yale flowed forth vicariously through the thousands who passed through its doors, and then to the world in manifold and elevated stations of life.
To aid the reader, we have retained the original page numbers in brackets as shown here: [ 3 ]
Portions that present, in our opinion, items of import have been highlighted in bold face. No bold face appears in the original.
Here begins the original text:
[ 31 ]
Yet his ardent desire to do good, by improving the education of the young, by diffusing valuable knowledge, by advancing the literary character of the country, and by promoting the prosperity of the church of Christ, rendered these gratuitous services for others not irksome, but pleasant.
During the period of his presidency, he was often called to preach, at the ordination of ministers, at the funerals of distinguished individuals, and on other public and extraordinary stations. Many of these sermons were printed. The following is a catalogue of these productions, and of various others of a different character published during that period.
In 1797, he published two Discourses on the nature and danger of Infidel Philosophy, addressed to the candidates for the Baccalaureate in Yale College.—And a sermon at the funeral of the Rev. Ehizur Goodrich, D. D.
In 1798, a Sermon, entitled" The Duty of Americans at the present Crisis," delivered at New-Haven, on the 4th of July in that year.
In 1800, a Discourse on the character of Washington.
In 1801, a Discourse on some events of the last century.
In 1804, a Sermon on the death of Mr. Ebenezer G. Marsh.
In 1805, a Sermon on Duelling.
In 1808, a Sermon on the opening of the Theological Institution in Andover, and the ordination of the Rev. Eliphalet Pearson, D. D. [ Available on-line at willisoncenter.com]
In 1809, a Sermon occasioned by the death of Governor Trumbull.
In 1810, a Charity Sermon, preached at New-Haven.
In 1812, The Dignity and Excellence of the Gospel—a Discourse delivered at the Ordination of the Rev. Nathaniel W. Taylor.
A Discourse, in two parts, on the Public Fast, in the same year. A Discourse, in two parts, on the National Fast, in the same year.
In 1813, a Sermon, before the American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions.
Observations on Language, published in the Memoirs of the Connecticut Academy of Sciences, in 1816.
An Essay on Light, also published by that Institution the same year.
In the years 1810, 1811, 1812, and 1816, he published several important articles in two religious periodical publications in New-England.
In every situation in life, President Dwight was distinguished for hospitality. At New-Haven he was still more liable to company than at Greenfield; and very few men, in any profession, or employment, in that state, ever entertained more, and no one with more absolute kindness and liberality. A great proportion of respectable
[ 32 ]
strangers, almost all clergymen and persons of a religious character, visiting or passing through that town, were desirous of being introduced to him. It is believed that very few, who enjoyed the opportunity, ever left him without being gratified with the interview. Notwithstanding the variety and importance of his avocations, he was never unprepared to entertain strangers, or to enjoy the conversation of his friends.
Twice, during his presidency, the Corporation thought it expedient to state the circumstances of the College to the legislature; and to show that body the extreme inconvenience under which it laboured, for the want of buildings to accommodate the students. They had multiplied to such a degree, that about one third of the whole number were obliged to take rooms in the town; and, of course, were placed out of the immediate inspection, and control, of its officers :—a state of things almost necessarily productive of evil to the Institution, he was appointed one of the agents of the Board to present their statement. It will scarcely be believed that these applications were unsuccessful. On both these occasions, his address to that honourable body was universally admired as a distinguished specimen of forensic eloquence. It drew, from all who heard it, the strongest expression of applause.
But notwithstanding the failure of these applications, the reputation of the College was extended, and its numbers increased, beyond all former example. Though in want of the requisite buildings, though chiefly destitute of funds and of patronage, it still flourished; and was considered, throughout the country, as inferior to no seminary of learning in the United States. Students from every part of the Union were to be found in it; and from some of the southern states, a great proportion of the whole number who were educated at the north. The College thus derived, from the talents and exertions of its government, that reputation and advantage, for which it ought, in a far greater degree, to have been indebted to the liberality of the state.
By such long continued and unintermitted application to literary and scientifical pursuits, it would be natural to expect, that at the age of sixty-three, his constitution would have begun to experience some marks of decay and infirmity. Such; however, was not the fact. The regularity of his habits, his temperate manner of living, and the uniform course of exercise which he pursued; all united to invigorate his constitution, and render him, at that age, more active and energetic than most men of forty. No apparent declension was discernible in the powers either of his body or his mind. His understanding was as vigorous, his imagination as lively, and his industry and exertions as uniform and efficient, as they had been at any former period. In September, 1815, he undertook a journey into the western parts of the state of New-York. When he reached Catskill, he made an excursion to the summit of the neighbouring mountains, with the same views, and
[ 33 ]
for the same purposes, as he bad visited so many similar objects in New-England. After travelling westward as far as Hamilton College, he relinquished the idea of proceeding further in his journey, in consequence of the state of the roads, which had been rendered extremely heavy and disagreeable by the extraordinary equinoctial storm of that year. As usual, he preached every Sabbath on that journey, and was thought by his friends never to have discovered more force of intellect, or higher powers of eloquence, than on these occasions. This was the last journey that he ever made. On the meeting of College in October, he resumed his customary labours in the chapel, and in the recitation-room, and performed them with his usual vigour, until the month of February; when he was seized with the first threatening attack of the disease to which he finally became a victim. That attack was severe and painful, to a degree of which those who did not witness it can have no conception. It made rapid and fearful ravages in a constitution which had increased in strength and firmness for more than sixty years, and which promised, to human expectation, to last to a " good old age." His patience, as well as his faith, were now brought to a most severe and heart-searching test. The pain which he endured, and endured with unyielding fortitude, was beyond the powers of description. For several weeks, during the month of April, scarcely any hopes were entertained, either by himself, his friends, or his physicians, of his recovery. Amidst all his sufferings, not a murmur, not a repining expression, escaped from his lips. His mind was perfectly clear, and his reason unclouded. Patience under suffering, and resignation to the will of God, were exhibited by him in the most striking and exemplary manner, from day to day. His conversation was the conversation of a Christian, not only free from complaint, but, at times, cheerful and animated; his prayers were fervent, but full of humility, submission, and hope.
At the end of twelve weeks his disease assumed a more favourable appearance. By surgical aid, he gained a partial relief from his distress; and his constitutional energy, still unbroken, raised the hopes of his friends that he might recover. He was unable to preach in the chapel until after the May vacation. On the 23 of June, he delivered to his pupils a sermon, composed for the occasion during his sickness, from Psalm xciv. 17, 18, 19: " Unless the LORD had been my help, my soul had almost dwelt in silence. When I said, My foot slippeth; thy mercy, 0 Lord, held me up. In thc multitude of my thoughts within me, thy comforts delight my soul." After a pertinent and solemn introduction, and an allusion to his own sickness and sufferings, the dangerous situation in which he had recently been placed, and the little probability there was, for a time, that he should recover, he proceeded to make a practical use of the doctrine, and the subject. The scene was peculiarly impressive and affecting. In no instance, during his presidency,
[ 34 ]
until then, had he been kept from his pulpit by sickness, or any other cause. The change in his countenance and general appearance, was great and alarming. The plan of the discourse was new, the thoughts were deeply interesting, the language plain, hut forcible, the manner of delivery solemn and impressive. The mind can scarcely imagine a case in which an audience, comprised of youths, full of feeling, and ardent in the pursuit of reputation and happiness, would be more deeply affected than this must have been, when hearing from the lips of their revered pastor and teacher the following truths, on the true character of worldly good:
"To him who stands on the brink of the grave, and the verge of eternity, who retains the full possession of his reason, and who at the same time is disposed to serious contemplation, all these things become mightily changed in their appearance. To the eye of such a man, their former alluring aspect vanishes, and they are seen in a new and far different light.
Like others of our race, I have relished several of these things, with at least the common attachment. Particularly, I have coveted reputation, and influence, to a degree which I am unable to justify. Nor have I been insensible to other earthly gratifications; either to such as, when enjoyed with moderation, are innocent; or, such as cannot be pursued without sin.
But in the circumstances to which I have referred, all these things were vanishing from my sight. Had they been really valuable in any supposable degree, their value was gone. They could not relieve me from pain; they could not restore me to health; they could not prolong my life; they could promise me no good in the life to come. What then were these things to me?
A person, circumstanced in the manner which has been specified, must necessarily regard these objects, however harmless, or even useful, they may be supposed in their nature, as having been hostile to his peace, and pernicious to his well-being. In all his attachment to them, in all his pursuit of them, it is impossible for him to fail of perceiving, that he forgot the interests of his soul, and the commands of his Maker; became regardless of his duty, and his salvation; and hazarded, for dross and dirt, the future enjoyment of a glorious immortality. It is impossible not to perceive, that in the most unlimited possession of them, the soul would have been beggared, and undone; that the gold of the world would not have made him rich; nor its esteem honourable; nor its favour happy. For this end he will discover, that nothing will suffice but treasure laid up in heaven; the loving-kindness of God; and the blessings of life eternal.
Let me exhort you, my young friends, now engaged in the ardent pursuit of worldly enjoyments, to believe, that you will one day see them in the very light in which they have been seen by me. The attachment to them which you so strongly feel, is unfounded, vain, full of danger, and fraught with ruin. You will one day view
[ 35 ]
them from a dying bed. There, should you retain your reason, they will appear as they really are. They will then be seen to have two totally opposite faces. Of these you have hitherto seen but one: that, gay, beautiful, and alluring, as it now appears, will then be hidden from your sight; and another, which you have not seen, deformed, odious, and dreadful, will stare you in the face, and fill you with amazement and bitterness. No longer pretended friends, and real flatterers: they will unmask themselves, and appear only as tempters, deceivers, and enemies, who stood between you and heaven; persuaded you to forsake your God, and cheated you out of eternal life"
But no acts of obedience will then appear to you to have merited, in any sense, acceptance with God. in this view, those acts of my life concerning which I entertained the best hopes, which I was permitted to entertain; those, which to me appeared the least exceptionable, were nothing, and less than nothing. The mercy of God, as exercised towards our lost race through the all-sufficient and glorious righteousness of the Redeemer, yielded me the only foundation of hope for good beyond the grave. During the long continuation of my disease, as I was always, except when in paroxysms of suffering, in circumstances entirely fitted for solemn contemplation, I had ample opportunity to survey this most interesting of all subjects on every side. As the result of all my investigations, let me assure you, and that from the neighbourhood of the Eternal World, Confidence in the Righteousness of CHRIST, is the only foundation furnished by earth, or heaven, upon which, when you are about to leave this world, you can safely, or willingly, rest the everlasting life of your souls. To trust upon any thing else, will be to feed upon the wind, and sup up the east wind. You will then be at the door of eternity; will be hastening to the presence of your Judge; will be just ready to give up your account of the deeds done in thc body; will be preparing to hear the final sentence of acquittal or condemnation; and xviii stand at the gate of heaven or of hell. In these amazing circumstances you will infinitely need—let me persuade you to believe, and to feel, that you will infinitely need—a firm foundation, on which you may stand, and from which you will never be removed. There is no other such foundation, but the Rock of Ages. Then you will believe, then you will feel, that there is no other. The world, stable as it now seems, will then be sliding away from under your feet. All earthly things on which you have so confidently reposed, will recede and vanish. To what will you then betake yourselves for safety?"
On the 17th of June, the same year, the General Association of Connecticut met at New-Haven. It was a meeting of unusual interest, and he was able to be present during most of their deliberations. He rejoiced to see the actual establishment of the Domestic Missionary Society of that state for building up its waste churches;
[ 36 ]
in forming the plan of which, he cheerfully lent his assistance. The year preceding was eminently distinguished for revivals of religion; and he listened, with a heart overflowing with joy and gratitude, to the account of this glorious work of God. After the recital, the Eucharist was celebrated; and upwards of one thousand communicants, including al)out seventy clergymen, received the elements. He was invited by the Association to break the bread. Though pale and enfeebled by disease, and obviously exhausted by strong emotion, be consented. His prayer on that occasion was eminently humble, spiritual, and heavenly. It annihilated the distance between the Church in heaven and the Church around him; and, for the moment, they were together. The address, which blended the affecting considerations customarily growing out of the sacrament, with others derived from the triumph of the cross to which they had just been listening, left an impression on the audience which probably will not disappear but with life.
Although the disease with which President Dwight was afflicted, and by which his life had been so seriously threatened, was not removed; yet the severity of it was so far relaxed, that he was able, through the summer, to preach steadily in the chapel, to hear the recitations of the senior class, and to attend to a class of theological students who were pursuing their studies under his direction.
Still, he was not in a situation to pass a day, without resorting repeatedly to the surgical operation, by the aid of which he had in the first instance gained relief from his excruciating distress. But his mind was not idle during the intervals of his professional and official labours. In addition to the sermon which has been mentioned, he wrote, during this season, several essays on the Evidences of Divine Revelation, derived from the writings of St. Paul, and on other subjects—the whole forming matter for a considerable volume. The last of these essays was finished three days before his death. He also wrote the latter half of a poem of about fifteen hundred lines—a work of the imagination, the subject of which is, a contest between Genius and Common Sense, on their comparative merits—the question referred to and decided by Truth. He had projected a series of essays on moral and literary subjects, under the title of "The Friend," to be published in the manner of the Spectator, once a week, in a half sheet. Several numbers were written, as an exercise, for the purpose of satisfying himself, by the experiment, how many he could compose in a given space of time, without interfering with his other duties. He had also projected a periodical publication, to combine the common characteristics of a Review and Magazine, but upon a much more extensive plan than any single work of the kind that has appeared in this country, or even in Europe. A prospectus of this publication he had drawn up; and it was his determination, had his life been spared, and his health such as would admit of it, to have
[ 37 ]
commenced it without delay; engaging himself to furnish one quarter of the original matter in every number. It was, however, apparent to his friends, and probably to himself, that unless he should succeed in gaining relief from the disease which hung about him, his constitution, strong and vigorous as it was, must in the end give way to such uninterrupted pain and suffering. His patience and fortitude, and even his cheerfulness, did not forsake him; hut fearful inroads were daily making upon his strength. His mind did not lose its activity or its vigour; but his flesh and strength daily wasted so rapidly away, that it was not to be expected that he could survive many renewed attacks of the distress which his disease occasioned. He presided at the Commencement, in September, and performed the ordinary duties on that occasion.
In the six weeks vacation, his health appeared to amend: and he was able usually to attend church, and to walk out occasionally during the week. On the sixth of October, he preached all day, and administered the sacrament in one of the churches in the town; and in the other, in the afternoon of the 13th, before the executive and the great part of the legislature of the state, he bore his public solemn testimony, in the delivery of the CXXI. sermon of the following series, against the unhallowed law authorizing divorces.
On the third of November, the second Sabbath in the term, he preached in the morning and administered the sacrament. Those who heard him will long recollect that his text was, Matt. v. 16 Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father who is in heaven. It was his last sermon; and the administration of the Lord’s supper, which followed it, his last public act as a minister of Christ.
"Although the paleness of his countenance filled every one with anxiety, it was observed," says Professor Silliman, " that he uttered himself with his usual force and animation; and in performing the communion-service, he appeared much softened and affected; nor was he sensible of uncommon fatigue in consequence of so long a service.
"He began, as usual, to hear the senior class; and persevered, although often with extreme inconvenience, in hearing them at intervals, for three or four weeks. He often came into the recitation-room languid, and scarcely able to support himself, expressing his intention to ask only a few questions, and then retire; but, insensibly kindling with his subject, his physical system seemed temporarily excited by the action of his mind, and he would discourse with his usual eloquence and interest, and even throw, a charm of sprightliness and brilliancy over his communications. He met the senior class, for the last time, on Wednesday, Nov. 27th. He caught cold, was worse from the exertion, and did not go out again.
"He still continued to hear the theological class at his house. Their last recitation was only a week before his death: his sufferings
[ 38 ]
were extreme; his debility scarcely permitted him to utter himself at all; but again his mind abstracted itself from its sympathy with an agonized frame; and in a discourse of one hour and a half on the doctrine of the Trinity, he reasoned and illustrated in the most cogent and interesting manner, and left an indelible impression on the minds of his pupils. It was his last effort in his delightful employment of instruction."
During his confinement, however, he was not idle; his mind was as active as when he was in sound health. Probably there are very few periods of his life, of the same length, in which he wrote more than from June to December.
He continued in this state of labour and suffering, until Tuesday the 7th of January. He had been recently afflicted by the death of his friends: the Rev. Nathan Strong, D. D. of Hartford, who was also his class-mate; and the Rev. .Azel Backus, D. D. President of Hamilton College, in the state of New-York. Upon hearing of the death of Dr. Strong, he remarked, that the lights of his class were nearly extinguished; alluding to the death of that gentleman and those of the Rev. Charles Backus, of Somers, and the Rev. David Ely, D. D. of Huntington. With the latter gentleman, in addition to the friendship that had subsisted between them from their youth, he had been associated, with the utmost harmony, throughout the whole period of his presidency, as a member of the corporation of the College. On Tuesday the symptoms of his disease appeared more favourable than they had done at any time previous; and his family and physicians were led to entertain very strong hopes that it had passed its crisis, and was experiencing a happy change. On the following morning however, as he got out of bed, he was seized with a strong nervous affection, which shook his whole frame, and gave rise, in a short time, to the most alarming apprehensions. This paroxysm was succeeded by a high fever, and a constant propensity to drowsiness. When the physicians visited him at ten o’clock in the forenoon, they found it necessary to bleed him, he continued strongly affected by these various symptoms through the day. His pulse was quick, his face in some measure flushed, his brain in a considerable degree affected, and he felt a continued drowsiness, and, at times, severe turns of pain from his local disease. In the evening be became more wakeful, and time severity of his distress increased. In order to relieve him from the pain, a moderate quantity of laudanum was administered. He did not converse much on Wednesday; his excess of suffering, with the affection of the brain, put it out of his power.
He was restless a considerable part of the night, but gained an hour or two of sleep, owing, probably, to the opiate which he had taken. On Thursday morning he got out of his bed, was dressed, and sat in his chair through the day. He was not so much inclined to drowsiness as on the preceding day; but frequently groaned
[ 39 ]
from extreme pain and distress, and did not, enter much into conversation through the day. At the same time, he answered all questions put to him, with clearness and promptitude; inquired particularly of his friends and neighbours, as they called to see him, concerning their health and that of their families, and showed the same affectionate interest in their welfare, that he had uniformly manifested through life. At evening he attempted to make his usual family prayer, and proceeded for a few minutes with clearness and propriety; but a paroxysm of pain rendered him incapable of utterance, and he desisted. This was the last attempt he made to pray in the family.
Through Thursday night, he became more disturbed and distressed, resting but little; and in the morning it was apparent, from his symptoms, generally, and the change of his countenance and voice, that his end was rapidly approaching. From the great strength of his constitution, and the peculiar excitement of his nervous system caused by his disease, and perhaps, from the effect which it had produced upon his mind, it was apprehended by his family, that he was not aware of his approaching dissolution. The fact was, therefore, announced to him, accompanied with a suggestion, that if he had any wishes to express, or directions to give, with regard to his worldly concerns, it was to be feared that it was necessary to attend to the subject without delay. He received the intelligence with great calmness; and, as soon as his situation would permit, proceeded to express his wishes on the subject. Under the paroxysms of pain, his mind was more prone to wander than it had been the two former days. It recurred, however, to a clear and unclouded state, when the paroxysm ceased. At short intervals through the day, when he was the most nearly free from pain, he conversed on various subjects in his usual manner. Subjects connected with the great object of his lahours, his desires, and his prayers through life—the out-pouring of the Spirit of God, revivals of religion, the propagation of Christianity, and the dissemination of the Scriptures—were not only near his heart, but, when mentioned, kindled his feelings and awakened his devotion. A day or two previous to his being taken so unwell, he had received from the Rev. Dr. Marshman, at Serampore, a very elegant printed specimen of a Chinese translation of the Scriptures. On this subject, he was peculiarly interested, and expressed himself feelingly and with force, on the progress of evangelical truth among the heathen.
In the course of Friday evening, at his request, the eighth chapter of the epistle to the Romans was read to him. He listened to it with great attention, remarked upon a mistranslation in one or two places; spoke with much fervour of pious emotion on the subject of the chapter; and, at the close of it, exclaimed, "0, what a glorious apostrophe!" He also made a number of remarks on the opinions and sentiments of some of the English divines, particularly Clark and Waterland, on the doctrine of the Trinity.
[ 40 ]
The subject of his approaching dissolution was again introduced in the afternoon of that day. He said he was not aware that it was very near; that he had yet a great deal of strength; but still it might be so, as strong constitutions did sometimes suddenly give way. Upon being reminded that his religious friends would be gratified to learn his views and feelings at the prospect of death, he began to make some remarks upon the great and precious promises of the gospel, when he was seized with a paroxysm of distress, which prevented him from proceeding. A few hours before his death, the subject was, for the last time, mentioned. He appeared to comprehend the object in view; and, though he spoke with difficulty, he answered, with entire clearness, that in the extreme sickness with which he was visited in the spring, during some weeks of which he had no expectation of recovering, he had experienced more support and comfort from religion, and the promises of the gospel, than he had ever realized at any former period of his life. "Had I died then, (said he) that fact would doubtless have been considered as affording strong evidence of the sincerity and reality of my faith; but, as I recovered, it probably made but little impression." It was a sentiment often inculcated by him, that it was more safe to rely upon the tenor of a person's life, as evidence of the true state of his religious character, than upon declarations made upon a death-bed. In the above-mentioned remark, there is little reason to doubt that he alluded to that subject, and intended that it should apply to his former sentiments.
After this, he requested his brother to read to him the 17th of John. While listening to the latter verses of the chapter, he exclaimed, " 0, what triumphant truths ~ Afterwards the 14th, 15th. and 16th chapters were read to him. He listened attentively, and spoke with lively interest on various passages. His mind evidently wandered while the last chapter was reading, and it was not completed.
A few hours before his death, one of his friends observed to him, that he hoped he was able, in his present situation, to adopt the language of the Psalmist "Though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for THOU art with me—Thy rod and thy staff they comfort me" He immediately replied, " I hope so."
For several of his last hours, his organs of speech were so much affected, that it was with difficulty he could articulate distinctly. Many of his words could not be understood. There is, however, no doubt, that, during that period, his mind was unclouded, and his thoughts were fixed on death and heaven. He was occupied a great part of the time in speaking, sometimes in an audible voice, and sometimes in a whisper. Repeated instances occurred, in which his expressions were clearly understood. In all of them, his language was that of prayer and adoration. The belief that he was engaged in that delightful Christian duty was confirmed, by the peculiarly solemn and devotional expression of
[ 41 ]
his countenance. His eyes appeared to be fixed on that celestial world, whose gates, it is humbly trusted, were just opening to receive his departing spirit into the mansions of everlasting rest, prepared for him in his Father’s house. That he enjoyed the use of his reason until a short time before his death, was satisfactorily manifested by his answer to one of his friends,, who was sitting by him, and who asked him if he knew him. Upon which, he immediately turned his eyes towards him, looked him full in the face, and said, " Yes," with so much distinctness, as to satisfy those who were present that he perfectly understood the question, and the answer.
He did not appear, for several hours previous to his death, to suffer much pain; but continued to breathe shorter and shorter, until a few minutes before three o’clock, on Saturday morning, the 11th of January, when he expired, without a struggle or a groan.
The death of President Dwight spread a deep and general sorrow, not only through the state, but through New-England, and extensively through the Union. Beloved by relatives, esteemed by his friends, revered by his pupils, and highly honoured by his countrymen, his loss was universally considered as a great public, as well as private calamity. In the city where he had so long resided, and where his worth was universally acknowledged, he was sincerely and feelingly lamented. His funeral was attended on Tuesday, the 14th of January, by a large concourse of people from New-Haven and the neighbouring towns, and a respectable number of the clergy from different parts of the state. As a mark of respect, the stores and shops in the city were shut, and business suspended. The scene was solemn and impressive. A deep gloom pervaded the whole assembly, and every one present felt himself a mourner. The various religious services exhibited the fullest evidence of the affection and respect which the reverend gentlemen who officiated, entertained for his private virtues, as well as their deep sense of the loss which the Church, the College, and the community, had sustained in his death. In many places, in different parts of the country, sermons were delivered on the occasion. In New-York and Albany, meetings were held by the alumni of the College, resident in those cities, where various public manifestations of their sense of his virtues, their regret for his death, and respect for his character, were exhibited. Indeed, we know of but one instance that has occurred in this country, in which such extensive public expressions of sorrow for the death of any individual, or respect for his memory, have appeared.
It cannot be expected, that the character of so great and good a man, can be fully exhibited in a sketch like the present. A mere outline is all that its limits will admit.
The life of President Dwight, approaching within a few years to the duration allotted by Infinite Wisdom as the ordinary term of
[ 42 ]
the life of man, passed during one of the most important periods which has occurred since the era of Christianity. The truth of this remark will be admitted, in whatever light the subject may be considered, whether literary or scientific, political or religious. In each particular he was called to act, and in most of them a very industrious and distinguished part. In order to ascertain his true character, it may be well to view him as a man of genius and a scholar; as an instructor; as a preacher; and as a man.
For native powers of mind, he will doubtless be ranked among the first men in the history of our country. The proofs in support of this remark need not be sought from any individual source, or from his attainments in any single walk of literature or science. They may be found in every pursuit in which he was engaged, and be gathered in every stage of his progress, from the cradle to the grave. In the acquisition of knowledge, we have seen that the earliest efforts of his mind, even in infancy, were singular and extraordinary; and that his talents were as strongly marked at this early stage of his existence, as perhaps at any subsequent period of his life. At every school in which he was placed, though commonly the youngest member, he was at the head of his class. in College, notwithstanding his extreme youth and the many other embarrassments through which he had to struggle, he was surpassed by none of his companions. His acquisitions, during the eight succeeding years after he left College, although he was constantly occupied in the business of instruction, and a considerable part of the time was afflicted with disease and debility, and in a great measure deprived of the use of his eyes, were extensive and profound; not confined to a single science, or to one branch of literature, but comprehending the mathematics and logic, the languages and philology, as well as rhetoric and poetry.
The loss of the use of his eyes, at the early age of twenty-three, is not to be regarded merely as a calamity by which he was deprived of the capacity for reading and study; but in connexion with the fact that it constantly subjected him to severe and almost uninterrupted suffering. With this insurmountable embarrassment he was obliged to struggle through life. During the great part of forty years he was not able to read fifteen minutes in the twenty-four hours; and often for days and weeks together, the pain which he endured in that part of the head immediately behind the eyes, .amounted to anguish. His life, it will be remembered, was devoted to a learned and laborious profession, and to literary and scientific pursuits. The knowledge which he gained from books after the period above mentioned, was almost exclusively at second hand, by the aid of others: a process slow, tedious, and discouraging. Yet he has ever been esteemed one of the best informed men this country has produced. Industry was indeed one of his most striking characteristics; but it was the industry of a mind conscious of its powers, and delighting in their exercise. All his exertions were
[ 43 ]
the effort of easy action. They cost no labour, and occasioned no fatigue. His perception was clear and rapid, his discernment acute, his invention rich, his taste correct and delicate, his imagination brilliant, his wit genuine, his judgment solid, his views comprehensive, and his reasoning faculties powerful and commanding. Never was a mind under better discipline. All his stores of thought were arranged in exact method, and every faculty was ready at the moment. This was true, in conversation, in his lectures to his class, and in his public addresses. No emergency, however sudden or pressing, appeared to surprise him or to find him unprepared. In repeated instances, on the Sabbath, when his notes were by accident left at home, and he did not discover it until a few moments before he was to use them; he has, in the instant, taken a new subject of discourse, and formed his plan so happily, and executed it so well, that none of the audience conjectured the fact, or suspected the want of preparation. His mind always rose with the occasion, and was always equal to it. It appeared to view every demand upon it as an obvious call of God. Trusting in Him, it marched directly to its purpose, without even observing those difficulties which might have proved insurmountable to others.
In one particular, he excelled most men of any age :—in the entire command of his thoughts. Having been driven by necessity to pursue his many avocations without the use of his eyes, his memory, naturally strong, acquired a power of retention unusual and surprising. It was not the power of recollecting words, or dates, or numbers of any kind. It was the power of remembering facts and thoughts; especially his own thoughts. When an event in history or biography, or a fact or principle in science, was once known, he appeared never to forget it. When a subject became once familiar to his mind, he rarely, if ever, lost its impression. In this respect his mind resembled a well arranged volume; in which every subject forms a separate section, and each view of that subject a separate page. He perfectly knew the order of the subjects; could turn to any page at will; and always found each impression as distinct and perfect as when first formed.
When engaged in the composition of sermons, or any other literary performance, not only did the conversation of those around him not interrupt his course of thinking, but while waiting for his amanuensis to finish the sentence which he had last dictated, he would spend the interval in conversing with his family or his friends, without the least embarrassment, delay, or confusion of thought. His mind took such firm hold of the subject which principally occupied it, that no ordinary force could separate it from its grasp. He was always conscious of the exact progress which he had made in every subject. When company, or any other occurrence, compelled him to break off suddenly, it would sometimes happen that he did not return to his employment until after the expiration of several days. On resuming his labours, all he required of his amanuensis was, to
[ 44 ]
read the last word, or clause, that had been written ; and he instantly would proceed to dictate as if no interruption had occurred. In several instances he was compelled to dictate a letter at the same time that he was dictating a sermon. In one, a pressing necessity obliged him to dictate three letters at the same time. He did so. Each amanuensis was fully occupied; and the letters needed no correction but pointing.
A single fact will exhibit, in a striking light, the comprehension of his mind, and the admirable method of its operations. The reader is requested to examine the "Analysis" at the close of this Memoir; and to observe how extensive, and yet how logical, is the plan of his lectures. This Analysis was formed from the lectures themselves, since his decease. He wrote no plan of them himself; but in completing them, relied exclusively on the scheme of thought which existed in his own mind. We have rarely seen any work, even of much less extent, unless some treatise on mathematical or physical science, in which the perfection of mathematical arrangement is so nearly attained. It ought to he added, that the following volumes are published as they were dictated to the amanuensis with almost no corrections except those which were owing to the mistakes of the penman, or the illegibility of his hand.
To conceive, to invent, to reason, was in such a sense instinctive, that neither employment appeared to fatigue or exhaust him. After severe and steady labour, his mind was as prepared for any species of exertion, as if it had done nothing for the activity and sprightliness of conversation; for the closer confinement of investigation or for the excursive range of poetry. Almost all his poetry, written subsequently to the age of twenty-three, was dictated to amanuensis, after the un-intermitted application of the day. Not un-frequently, in an autumnal or winter evening, would he compose from fifty to sixty lines in this manner. The first part of his "Genius and Common Sense" is in the stanza of "The Faery Queene," the most difficult stanza in English poetry. Repeatedly has he been known to dictate four of these stanzas, or forty—four lines, in the course of such an evening; and chiefly without any subsequent corrections.
The earliest of his poetical productions that has been preserved, though written at the age of fifteen, bears the characteristic marks, both in style and thought, of his later and more mature compositions. While he was connected with the College, either as a student or a tutor, he wrote and published several small poems, on various subjects, which were very favourably received at the time, and are still admired, for sweetness of versification, as well as for delicacy and purity of sentiment.
The early age at which he wrote the Conquest of Canaan is to be remembered in forming our estimate of the poem. It is not believed that the history of English poetry contains the account of any equal effort, made at so early an age. The subject of the
[ 45 ]
poem has been objected to, as not sufficiently interesting to render such a performance popular with the great body of readers. At the time of its publication there was, undoubtedly, some ground for this remark. It was published a short time after the peace of 1783: a period unhappily characterized by an extensive prevalence of infidelity, as well as of loose sentiments with regard to morals. In this state of things, no poem founded on a scriptural story, however meritorious in itself; however happy its plan, or brilliant its imagery, or interesting its incidents, or distinct its characters, or noble its sentiments, fail to be in a degree unpopular; especially if breathing the purest morality, and the most exalted piety. Had its appearance been postponed to a period within the last fifteen years, during which time infidelity has given place to a reverence for the Bible, and a general regard for the doctrines which it contains, there is little reason to doubt that its reception would have been still more flattering to the author, and more just to its own merit as a work of genius. The Conquest of Canaan contains abundant evidence of rich invention, of harmonious versification, of a brilliant fancy, of strong powers of description, of a sublime imagination, of vigorous thought, and of the most pure and virtuous sentiment.
In addition to his attainments in classical learning, and the sciences in general, President Dwight had acquired a vast fund of information on almost all the concerns of human life. His acquaintance with books was extensive: comprising not only those appropriate to his profession as a minister, and his office as president of the College, but on all important and interesting subjects. He was thoroughly read in ancient and modern history, geography, biography, and travels. Few works of this description, especially those of the two last classes, escaped his attention. With the pursuits of agriculture, he was practically as well as theoretically conversant. In the cultivation of his garden he took peculiar pleasure, and displayed an uncommon degree of skill and science. Of his extensive knowledge on these subjects, his poem, called "Greenfield Hill," affords satisfactory evidence. One part of that work, entitled "The Farmer’s advice to the Villagers," contains a body of information, and of sound advice, addressed to that valuable class of men, of the utmost practical utility. In truth, it is difficult to name a subject, of any considerable importance, connected with the common pursuits of men in the business of life, which he had not made the subject of accurate observation and close thought; on which he had not collected many valuable facts; or about which he was not able to communicate much that was interesting and useful.
It has been seen, that a large proportion of President Dwight's life was devoted to the instruction of youth. From the age of seventeen to sixty-four, he was scarcely ever entirely disengaged from that employment; and there were not more than two years of that period, in which he did not pursue it as his constant business.
[ 46 ]
His first effort afforded a sure promise of that high degree of excellence, in this interesting employment, to which he afterwards attained. In the course of his life, he assisted in educating between two and three thousand persons.
In the great change produced in the College, during his tutorship, by his efforts and those of his associates, his own exertions were of primary importance. He continued much longer in the office of tutor than they did, and, of course, had a greater opportunity to execute the plans for improvement which they had jointly devised, and put in operation.
It was unquestionably a fortunate circumstance for him, when he entered upon the presidency, that the public had full confidence in his capacity to fulfil its duties. It is, however, to be remembered, that this confidence was not, in any measure, founded upon mere expectation, or calculation. It rested upon a thorough acquaintance with his experience and success in the arduous and difficult business of instruction. The possession of this confidence, enabled him to commence his labours in the institution according to his own ideas of usefulness and practicability; and to adopt such a course of measures as the exigency of the case required. And to his independence and energy, his industry and devotion to his duty, is the College eminently indebted for the high character to which it was elevated, amidst all its difficulties, and embarrassments, at the time of his accession, and during his continuance in the office.
One of his most important qualifications as the head of such an institution, was an intimate knowledge of the character and feelings of young men, which, by long observation, he had acquired. The possession of this knowledge, so indispensably necessary, and yet so rarely to be met with, enabled him to direct his efforts in the administration of the government, and the application of discipline in the most judicious and efficacious manner to accomplish the objects in view. Those objects were, the peace and reputation of the College, and the character and highest interests of the students. Having adopted a system which was, in its nature and tendency, parental, he watched over the conduct and welfare of his academical children with affection and solicitude. So successful was he in the application of this system, that the youths who were placed under his care, loved and revered him as an affectionate father. When admonition or censure, or even more severe measures, at any time became necessary; his course of proceeding was in a high degree efficacious and salutary. These admonitions and censures were delivered in a manner, affectionate, indeed, but plain and searching; and rarely failed of producing their intended effect. Many a youth, whose conduct had subjected him to the discipline of the College, has found his stubborn temper subdued, his heart melted into contrition, and himself compelled to submission and obedience, by the private, solemn, but pathetic and eloquent remonstrances of his kind and affectionate teacher.
[ 47 ]
President Dwight's talents as an instructor, were no where more conspicuous than in the recitation-room of the senior class.
The year commenced with the study of rhetoric, in which the lectures of Blair were the text-book. The questions naturally arising from the lesson were first answered, and the principles of the author freely examined. This usually occupied not more than half an hour; and was succeeded by a familiar extemporaneous lecture on the subject, which filled up the residue of the two hours commonly devoted to his recitations. This lecture was often enlivened by anecdote and humour, and interspersed with striking illustrations. It frequently exhibited lively sallies of the imagination, and occasionally high specimens of eloquence. Yet it was in fact, though not in form, a regular dissertation, a connected chain of powerful reasoning, calculated to leave a distinct and permanent impression on the mind. When the course of rhetoric was completed, that of logic and metaphysics succeeded; in which the regular text-books were Duncan and Locke’s Essay on the Human Understanding. After this followed ethics; when Paley’s Moral Philosophy was studied. In these recitations, also, a similar method was adopted. These three courses occupied three days in the week through the year. On each of these days the class exhibited written compositions. Two more were devoted to forensic disputation. The discussions of the students were commonly written, but at times extemporaneous. When these discussions were finished, the President closed the debate in an argument giving a comprehensive view of the question; and occupying, according to its importance, sometimes the space of half an hour, and sometimes that of several recitations. The series of questions thus discussed usually involved the more important disputable points in science, politics, morals, and theology. Many of his decisions, as specimens of reasoning and eloquence, were not surpassed by his happiest public efforts. On Saturday, Vincent’s "Exposition of the Shorter Catechism" was recited. The lesson terminated in a few minutes, and was followed by a theological lecture on the subject. At the close, he heard declamations. The students regularly looked forward to the senior year as peculiarly interesting and important; in which their minds were to be disciplined and furnished for action. No compulsion was necessary to secure their presence in the recitation-room. Even those who had previously been indolent, attended of choice. In each of the four courses of rhetoric, logic and metaphysics, ethics and theology, as taught in Vincent; he spent more time in instructing his class, than is customarily spent in the regular lectures of professors in those sciences. In addition to this, he was the stated preacher twice on the Sabbath; addressed the students at length in the theological chamber on Saturday evening; superintended the general administration of the College government; wrote, by the assistance of his pupils or of a regular amanuensis, almost all the works which he ever wrote;
[ 48 ]
and attended, with marked punctuality, to all the calls of civility and friendship. It ought here to be remembered, that for the first twenty years of his Presidency he was rarely able to read so much as a single chapter in the Bible in twenty-four hours.
One important feature of his administration was the selection of his assistant officers of the faculty. The professorship of Theology, it has been mentioned, was occupied by himself. The others were filled with much younger gentlemen than had been usual, the education of nearly all of whom he had superintended; and with whose talents and qualifications he was thoroughly acquainted. The advantages of this course were numerous, and the wisdom of it has been fully proved and acknowledged. The College faculty entertained perfect confidence in one another, and entire harmony of opinion as to the system of government. The welfare of the College was a common interest; to promote which, they lent their whole united influence. In its administration, they always moved as one man. The experience, judgment, and energy of the President, and the active and vigorous co-operation of his younger associates, had the happiest effects on its good order and regularity, even in times the most turbulent and threatening. The consequence was, that Yale College was tranquil, at a period well remembered, when almost every other public seminary in the Union was shaken to its centre.
As a minister and preacher of the gospel, it is not easy to convey an adequate idea of his characteristic excellence. Having been compelled, from the weakness of his eyes, to adopt the plan of preaching without notes; his sermons, except those designed for extraordinary occasions, were for, the first twenty years chiefly unwritten. Usually, he barely noted the general divisions, and some of the most important and leading ideas. There is no doubt, that this mode had its peculiar advantages; nor that his style and manner, as an extemporaneous preacher, were more popular and captivating, than at a later period, when his discourses were written at length. When unconfined by notes, the whole field of thought was before him. Into that field he entered; conscious where his subject lay, and by what metes and bounds it was limited; and enjoying also that calm self-possession and confidence of success, which trial alone can give, and which every successive effort had only served to increase. Within these limits, his powers had full scope, his imagination was left to range at will, his feelings were kindled, and his mind became in the highest degree creative. Its conceptions were instantaneous; its thoughts were new and striking; its deductions clear and irresistible; and its images, exact representations of what his eye saw, living, speaking, and acting. When we add, that these were accompanied by the utmost fluency and force of language, a piercing eye, a countenance deeply marked with intellect, a strong emphasis, a voice singular for its compass and melody, an enunciation remarkably clear and distinct,
[ 49 ]
a person dignified and commanding, and gestures graceful and happy; we need not inform the reader, that his pulpit efforts, at this period, possessed every characteristic of animated and powerful eloquence. Many instances of its effects upon large audiences are remembered, and might easily be mentioned, which were most striking proofs of its power over the feelings and the conscience.
In the formation of his sermons, he pursued a course, in a great degree, original. Texts familiar by common use among preachers, to the minds of his audience, would form the subject of discourses, new, solemn, and impressive. The truth to be illustrated was often new; the arrangement and arguments were new, the images were always new, and the thoughts peculiarly his own. The very weakness of his eyes, which occasioned him so much pain and self-denial, was, in some respects, advantageous, he could not himself read the sermons of others. Religious books of a different class were read aloud in his family on the Sabbath. And most rarely indeed was he permitted to listen to the sermons of his brethren. Thus, deriving no assistance from the efforts of others, he was compelled to depend exclusively on the resources of his own intellect. Happily these were rich and inexhaustible. It is probably owing to this, fact, that his sermons bear the characteristic stamp of his own mind; and are, throughout, in the highest sense, his own. In this respect, in a fair claim to originality of thought, of method, and of illustration, it is confidently believed, that the sermons of President Dwight need not shrink from a comparison with those of any other writer.
In his extemporaneous efforts, though his fancy was ever visibly active, still it was controlled by judgment and taste. They were indeed more richly ornamented with imagery than most of his written sermons; yet figures were introduced, not merely because they were beautiful, but for the purpose of illustration or impression. His own views of the duty of a minister of Christ, in this respect, are happily conveyed in several of the discourses in these volumes; and still more fully in some of his occasional sermons. He considered him bound to forget himself, and remember nothing but the purpose for which he is sent: the salvation of his hearers. Every attempt at display, every attempt to exhibit his own talents, or taste, or fancy, or learning, in a preacher, was, in his view, an obvious prostitution of his office to private and unhallowed purposes. His rules and his conduct were in this respect harmonious.
After his appointment to the office of professor of theology, in 1805, when he began steadily to employ an amanuensis, he turned his attention more to writing his sermons at length. The frequent calls upon him to preach at different places, on extraordinary occasions, and a disposition to render his systematic discourses to the students as nearly correct and perfect as possible, probably had influence with him in the adoption of this course. His Systematic Sermons had cost him much labour and research. They were favourite
[ 50 ]
discourses with the public at large, and with his pupils; many of whom took notes of them every Sabbath. He thought, if they possessed the merit ascribed to them, that they ought to be written out. Other considerations also had their weight. He observed an increasing attachment, in some parts of the country, to a florid and highly embellished style of composition in his own view, owing to a vitiated taste; involving a substitution of ornament for thought, and of sound for sense and wholly subversive of the very end of preaching. This mode of writing was gaining popularity among his own pupils; and he felt desirous, as far as possible, to counteract it. Knowing the efficacy of a teacher’s example on the conduct of those under his care, he determined carefully to avoid every thing of this nature in his own discourses; and to subject his mind, naturally fond of imagery, to a severer discipline than it would submit to in the moment of extemporaneous effort.
The discourses in these volumes obviously required, in this respect, as well as in others, peculiar care. Their primary object is to explain and prove the great truths of theology; and their second, to enforce them on the conscience, and show their practical influence on the heart and life. They are not merely theological lectures; but are, in the strictest sense, sermons. Yet, as the purpose in the body of each discourse is the discovery of truth, the use of figurative language, except illustration, would there have been improper. In the application, it might be admitted to enforce and enhance it. The reader will, we think, admire the good sense displayed in this particular. In the division of the subject he will never find figurative language introduced. The body of the discourse, if, as is most commonly the case, the subject be merely argumentative, is almost equally destitute of it. It however, it be a subject rather requiring description and enhancement than proof; as in the discourses on heaven, on the holy angels, on the creation of the earth and of man, on the resurrection, the last judgment, and the future happiness of the righteous; it will he seen that the mind rises with his subject. Having heard those discourses to which we have just now referred, we have ever viewed them as distinguished models of sacred eloquence.
The series of Theological Sermons was written out at the close of 1809. After completing it, he wrote out many of his miscellaneous sermons, both doctrinal and practical. These were intentionally less pruned than the former, but more so than his earlier efforts. There is little reason to doubt, that these, should they ever be published, will prove more entertaining, to the mass of readers, than the discourses in these volumes. They discover equal talent, present a greater variety of subject and of manner, and usually require less mental exertion in the perusal. Among them are the sermons preached on the Sabbath preceding the Commencement, to the candidates for the Baccalaureate. They were
[ 51 ]
addressed to his immediate pupils, when just about to leave the institution; to bid an adieu to him as their instructor, and to each other as companions, and to engage in the busy scenes of life. Over their conduct he had long watched with unremitting care; and for their present and future welfare, he felt the highest degree of solicitude. They contain an accurate development of the human character, and of the temptations, follies, and vices of the world; as well as the purest moral and religious sentiments, enforced with the feeling and fervency of parental affection, and accompanied by the parting counsels of a wise and experienced preceptor and friend.
Of the miscellaneous sermons at large, our limits forbid us to attempt a delineation. We will mention one of them, which appears to have been conceived in a peculiarly auspicious moment; and has been eminently followed with the blessing of God. His students will realize that we intend the discourse on Jeremiah viii. 20: The harvest is past, the summer has ended, and we are not saved. In two instances, the delivery of it was obviously the commencement of a revival of religion among his pupils; in the first of which nearly half of them were united to the College Church. Similar consequences have been ascribed on its delivery on two other occasions, in different places. Never have we witnessed effects on mixed audiences equally solemn and powerful, from any sermon, as in several instances from this. Many beside his pupils ascribed to it their first impressions on religious subjects.
His sermons were uncommonly intelligible to all classes of people. His division of his subject was natural, neat, and easily remembered. His style, though at times highly ornamented and elevated, was still plain and perspicuous; and his delivery, though occasionally rapid, was clear and distinct. Owing to these qualities, the illiterate, and persons of ordinary capacity, were able to understand him without difficulty.
Another characteristic of his preaching was, a constant regard to practical effect. Even the sermons which compose these volumes, the object of which was, primarily, to exhibit to his pupils a complete system of Christian doctrines, will he found, in their application, to have this discriminating character. It was impossible for him to enter the desk but as the herald of reconciliation. He could not fail to discover his affecting sense of the greatness of the Being who sent him, or of the infinite importance of the message which. he brought. And his most obvious purpose was to accomplish the’~ salvation of those to whom it was delivered.
It is believed, on the best evidence, that this purpose was, to an unusual extent, accomplished by his preaching. Immediately before the commencement of his presidency, the College Church, among the students, was almost extinct; it came at last to consist of only two members, and, soon after his accession, it dwindled to a single person. During the greater part of his continuance in office
[ 52 ]
it embraced at least one fourth; in various instances one third; and in one, upwards of one half of the students. Perhaps no object of contemplation afforded him higher pleasure, towards the close of life, than the number of his pupils who had become, or were intending to become, preachers; especially when he remembered how frequently the labours of the former had been crowned with success.
In the performance of the other exercises of public worship, he greatly excelled. His manner of reading the Scriptures, and sacred poetry, was peculiarly happy and impressive. In the appropriateness, variety, fluency, copiousness, fervency, and elevation of prayer, as it regarded subjects, sentiment, and language, he was nearly without a rival. Entirely free from form, from tiresome repetition, and from lukewarmness, and under the influence of the deepest abasement and prostration of soul, his heart appeared to be melted, and " his lips to be touched as with a live coal from off the altar," when he was engaged in this sublime and delightful duty.
But his usefulness as a minister was not confined to his labours in the pulpit. He was emphatically the friend, the counsellor, and the guide of his younger brethren in the sacred profession. In the language of one of his pupils, "He was, indeed, a father to New England—her moral legislator. His life is an era in her history. To the churches of his persuasion in that country, he was a guardian, a friend, a counsellor. In the hour of trial, they found support in his firmness, assistance in his wisdom, and encouragement in his prayers. As a peacemaker, he was eminently blessed; for his advice was asked, and given in the spirit of Christian humility and justice." Great numbers of the clergy had, first or last, been his pupils: he had been their friend and adviser, as well as their instructor; and they felt the most implicit confidence in his disposition, and his capacity, to assist them in their embarrassments and difficulties. For this purpose they resorted to him with perfect freedom, and were received with the utmost kindness and respect. He entered at once into their interests and feelings; and the services which he rendered them were numerous and important. Having the advantage of long observation and experience, an extensive acquaintance with the state of the country, and the character, wants, and condition, of its inhabitants; and being the centre of application for the supply of instructors, both literary and religious, for a wide extent of country; he was able to adapt his opinions to the exigencies of the various cases in which he was consulted; and to furnish those who sought it with employment and support. Few imagine how many parishes in New-England, New-York, and elsewhere, have, through his agency, been furnished with clergymen.
In short, his character, as a preacher, may be summed up in the language of the writer last alluded to: " While he ‘ shunned not to declare the whole counsel of God,’ he strengthened his arguments by illustrations from the history of nations, and the biography
[ 53 ]
of individuals. His application of Scripture doctrines and texts to the ever-varying aspect of human life; his insight into the groundwork of character, and the motives to action; his admirable sketches, as it were, with the very pencil, and in the very colouring of the inspired writers, distinguished him from the mere commentator on texts, and the sentimental moralist. Of his eloquence, as with most other great orators, few can judge correctly, but those who have heard him. They will never forget him, either in this world or the next. To simplicity in manner and matter, he added dignity; to ease, he added energy; to fervour, he added humility. Preaching too often seems, with ministers, the work of a day or an hour; but with him it was the work of Eternity. He preached as a sinner and dying man himself; he preached as in the presence of God, and of the spirits of just men made perfect; he preached as though he saw his crown of glory ever before him; as though he heard the Saviour saying, " Well done, good and faithful servant, enter thou into the joy of thy Lord." "His sermons were not adorned with as many decorations of taste and ornaments of imagination as those of some other distinguished pulpit orators. But in the primary qualities of real eloquence, his sermons were eminently rich: in powerful appeals to the heart, in vivid pictures of vice and virtue, sketched from the life; in awful denunciation; in solemn remonstrance; in fervent intersession."
It remains only to view President Dwight, as a man, in the various walks of private life, exhibiting the virtues which peculiarly adorn that interesting station. And perhaps, no part of the task which has been undertaken in this account, has been more difficult of execution. "It is rare," says Professor Silliman, who had been long and intimately acquainted with him in private as well as in public life, " that a man so great and splendid in the public eye, is in private life so desirable: for to his particular friends, his society was delightful, and the only effect of long and intimate acquaintance with him was, to exact towards him every sentiment of respect, admiration, and affection." "In the domestic and. social circle," says another of his pupils, " Dr. Dwight will ever be remembered with the tenderest affection, and the most sincere regret." " In private society, says a third, " Dr. Dwight possessed uncommon powers to please and to instruct. With an inexhaustible stock of knowledge on almost every subject, and an ease of communication to which a parallel can hardly be found, he easily accommodated his remarks to the character and means of improvement of those with whom he conversed; and seldom failed to excite the highest respect and admiration. From the weakness of his eyes, and his consequent inability to employ himself much in reading, except by the assistance of others, he was led to devote more of his time to the society of his friends, than, perhaps, in other circumstances, he would have judged expedient. He ever considered the diversified conversation of a social circle, as affording the most rational,
[ 54 ]
and, at the same time, the most entertaining of all amusements." "A disappointment (says a fourth) is often felt, on our introduction to men who have attained eminence for talents and piety. By habits of seclusion and abstraction, they have, perhaps, lost the ability to mingle with interest in the concerns of the passing day. It was not so with President Dwight. In his manners he was, in the highest degree, dignified, affable, and polite. Like Johnson, he shone in no place with more distinguished splendour, than in the circle of the friends he loved; when the glow of animation lighted up his countenance, and a perpetual stream of knowledge and wisdom flowed from his lips. As his had been a life of observation and reflection, rather than of secluded study, his acquisitions were all practical; they were all at hand, ready to enrich and adorn his conversation. Th theology and ethics, in natural philosophy and geography, in history and statistics, in poetry and philology, in husbandry and domestic economy, his treasures were equally inexhaustible. Interesting narration, vivid description, and sallies of humour; anecdotes of the just, the good, the generous, the brave, the eccentric; these all were blended in fine proportions to form the bright and varied tissue of his discourse. Alive to all the sympathies of friendship, faithful to its claims, and sedulous in performing its duties, he was beloved by many from early life, with whom he entered on the stage, and whom, as Shakspeare says, he " grappled to his soul with hooks of steel." It is no small proof of his amiableness, that all who gained the most intimate access to him, whether associates, or pupils, or amanuenses, admired, revered, and loved him most."
These various testimonies, written by so many different persons, all having the best means of judging, while they evince his excellence in private life, also show how impossible it must be, in a sketch like the present, to give an adequate view of the character of a man so greatly distinguished in every public station which he was called to occupy; so justly admired in the circle of his friends; and so tenderly beloved in the bosom of his own family.
The purity of his sentiments and language was equally remarkable and exemplary. In conversation, he not only observed the strictest delicacy himself, in his remarks, and allusions, and anecdotes; but, by an influence at once silent and perceptible, induced every one else to do the same. The same is true of his writings. It is believed, that in the whole of his voluminous works there cannot be found a single sentence which is not consistent with the most refined purity. Nor, after an intimate acquaintance of more than forty years, is the instance recollected in which he has been heard to utter an expression, or thought, which would have excited the apprehensions of innocence, or wounded the ear of female sensibility.
He was, from infancy, distinguished for the most conscientious regard to truth. This was obvious in every day's conversation.
[ 55 ]
He never allowed himself to exaggerate, nor in any degree to misrepresent. In no situation, whether surprised by strong temptation, or urged by the most pressing necessity, would he sanction the slightest deviation from absolute verity. Equally sincere was he in his professions. The kindness and services which he rendered, always exceeded the expectations which he had intentionally raised. He had too much self-respect to keep any man in the dark as to his opinions or principles. He entertained none which he was not willing to communicate to the world, and his declarations concerning them were mathematically true.
No less was he remarkable for the most scrupulous regard to decorum. His manners were those of the polished gentleman—characterized by ease, grace, and dignity. There was no distance, no reserve, no visible consciousness of superior intellect. His politeness was not a mere exterior. It was the great law of kindness, "Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself," exemplified in his daily intercourse with those around him. It was, thus, universal—appearing in his countenance, his conversation, and his conduct, exhibited equally towards persons of every condition, and delicately regarding the characters, the circumstances, the feelings, and the prejudices of those who were present. All men were easy and happy in his company. Amidst all his avocations and labours, he was ever ready to attend to the calls of hospitality, of civility, and of friendship; calls which were multiplied upon him to an unprecedented degree, but which were never suffered to pass by unheeded. The courteousness of his manners was exemplified in his intercourse with the poor and the humble, as well as with those in more elevated stations, by his treating them at all times with kindness, listening to their wants, and, as far as lay in his power administering to their necessities.
His charities were unceasing, and, in proportion to his resources, rarely surpassed. The beggar at the door never went empty away. Those who suffered in silence, he continually sought out, and sent them unsolicited relief. Those whom the providence of God had suddenly impoverished, never applied to him for help in vain. To religious charities, to the education of young men of piety, to the distribution of Bibles, to the support of missions, to the assistance of destitute churches, he loved peculiarly to contribute. The only privilege of the affluent which he coveted, was the good which they might do with their wealth, and the pleasure which they might enjoy in doing it.
No man ever loved his friends with more sincerity or constancy, or with warmer affection. His house, his hand, and his heart, were always open to welcome them. He never deserted them in distress, or because they were the objects of reproach and calumny. Instead of this, he chose rather to withdraw from those who attacked them, however numerous, or wealthy, or powerful. To their failings he was kind—never, by even a remote allusion, giving
[ 56 ]
others reason to suppose that he observed them. Their excellencies he loved to acknowledge. The characteristics, in his view, which ought especially to govern in the choice, of intimate friends, were not talents, nor learning, nor wealth, nor influence, nor polish, nor fashion: they were sincere affection, tried personal worth, and refinement of the mind. In this respect few have been more happy. In his intercourse with his friends and with others, all his purposes were kind, and generous, and honourable. He would not condescend to wear disguise, nor to associate with those before whom it was necessary.
Personal independence, and decision of character, were in-wrought in the very texture of his mind. He was afraid of no man. The history of his life presented no vulnerable points, and, he knew that reproach and slander could not do him injury. While he received intelligence and advice from every quarter, and would change his purpose if a sufficient reason was given; yet, without such a reason, no influence nor entreaties, no flattery nor threats, could induce him to change it. His purpose was his duty. Motives of a higher nature than any which present objects can afford, led him to embrace it, and no other motives could prompt him to relinquish it. For this, he was ready at all times, if it became necessary, to sacrifice the objects which are usually most valued: the friendship of any friend; the civilities and courtesy of the rich, the fashionable, and the powerful; and the applause of the many. The formation of his opinions on religious subjects, he appeared ever to consider as a transaction exclusively between God and himself. Aiming to leave other things wholly out of view, he resorted to the Bible as the perfect standard of faith, and as absolutely obligatory on the conscience; believing that his own mind was darkened by many errors, and needed the illumination of the Spirit of light. Various opinions, ardently embraced when a youth, he afterwards relinquished, from a conviction that they were unfounded. His sentiments, on all important religious subjects, will be found in these volumes. What he believed to be true, he would preach, in all the extent in which he received it, leaving the consequences with God. His views of Christian catholicism, and of the importance of truth, will be found in several of the following sermons. His feelings, and conversation, and conduct, towards those who differed from him, were evangelically liberal. Virtue he described as "voluntary obedience to truth," and vice, as "voluntary obedience to error." He held the Scriptures to be a plain intelligible revelation of the will of God; and every man who has them, to be equally responsible for his faith as for his practice. No considerations would induce him to be civil to error, as such; or to narrow the distinction between error and truth. While he treated those whom he believed to embrace errors (even fundamental ones) with kindness; on all proper occasions, he exposed their errors without hesitation and without fear. The value of their applause and their
[ 57 ]
friendship was "less than nothing," in comparison with the value of truth, and of a clear conscience before God.
All who have attempted to draw his character have mentioned him as eminently disinterested. Few men have originated more numerous or more important institutions or measures. Yet it is believed, that in no instance whatever was he even suspected to connect a private selfish end, his own personal benefit, or the advancement of any member of his family, with that which was avowed and ostensible. The purposes which he professed were the only purposes he had in view. To accomplish them, he could not stoop to management and finesse. They were honourable purposes. He declared them with the sincerity of truth, and pursued them with the dignity of virtue. So perfectly known was his character in this respect, that the instance probably cannot be named, in which any man ventured to approach him for his assistance in a manner which was not direct and honourable.
The love of money appears to have had no influence over his mind. He viewed wealth not as a blessing in itself, but in the good which it enabled its possessor to do to himself, his family and others. He had a right "to eat ‘and to drink, and to enjoy the good of his labour under the sun," and to make adequate provision for his family; but the residue was vested in his hands to promote the wellbeing of his fellow-men. These were his principles. Were the amount of property that he relinquished for the benefit of the Institution over which he presided to be stated, those who know how limited were his resources, would view the degree in which they were reduced by his liberality as literally romantic.
His temper was ardent and natively impetuous, but under the discipline of kindness and of principle it had been chiefly subdued. If its impetuosity was ever manifested, it was against conduct which was base and dishonourable. If at any time, through misinformation, he had been led to form incorrect views of men or of conduct; when convinced of it, no man more cheerfully retracted his error. His ardour was daily conspicuous in his friendships, his love of rectitude, and his zeal in doing good. Though ardent, he was amiable and affectionate, and possessed an almost child-like simplicity and tenderness of heart. Never have we known the individual, whose feelings were more uniformly or more powerfully excited by the recital of a tale of distress, of a kind and honourable action, or of an account of the triumphs of the cross.
The interest which he took in the great and splendid Christian charities which characterize the present era, was extinguished only with the lamp of life. While able to converse, the establishment, labours, and success of Bible Societies and Missionary Societies, maintained their hold upon his heart. Such was the excitement which, from time to time, during the few last days of his life, the accounts of their success produced upon his mind, that it was sufficient for the moment to control the influence of his disease; to bring
[ 58 ]
back his thoughts, occasionally bewildered by the intenseness of his sufferings, to entire collectedness; and to enable him to give vent to his feelings in the lively and animated language of fervent and pious gratification.
In the nearest relations of private life, President Dwight was an example of almost all that is excellent and praiseworthy. As a son, he manifested towards his parents, on all occasions, the most dutiful and cheerful obedience and the most reverential affection. So true is this remark, that his mother declared, a short time before her death, that she did not know the instance in which he ever disobeyed a parental command, or failed in the performance of a filial duly. As a husband and a father, his life was eminently lovely. It was an uniform display of conjugal affection and paternal tenderness: a daily exemplification of the great principle of benevolence, "It is more blessed to give than to receive." His highest earthly enjoyment was found at the fireside, in the bosom of his family. Their happiness was his own; and to promote it, no exertions were too great. As a brother, it has been seen he was affectionate and generous; supplying to his numerous brothers and sisters, as far as the nature of things would admit, the severe loss they had sustained in the morning of their lives, in the death of an excellent father. As a friend and neighbour, let the united testimony of the various communities in which at different periods of his life he resided, give his character. Rarely indeed does an instance occur in which the influence of individual example has been more beneficially experienced. It was not merely that he was kind to his neighbours, polite and hospitable to strangers, and charitable to the poor; and that, as far as in him lay, he followed peace with all men: there was a moral charm that uniformly surrounded him, which was felt in every circle, and spread its benign influence through the regions in which he dwelt.
His sentiments with regard to personal religion, are every where unfolded in the following work; but especially in the sermon on the Nature of Faith; in those on Regeneration; and in those on the Two Great Commandments. We have met with no other account of these subjects, which has appeared to us equally definite and satisfactory. Religion he viewed as having its seat only in the heart; and himself, and all men, by nature, as entirely destitute of it; and remaining so voluntarily until renewed by God the Holy Ghost. Wherever it existed, he supposed it to be comprehended in love; and proved to exist only by the fruits of love visible in the life. His views of his own attainments as a Christian were unaffectedly humble. On this subject he was reluctant to converse; conceiving that real piety is unostentatious, and that mere professions are of little value. Rarely, if ever, has he been known to mention it when numbers were present; and not often before a single Christian friend, he never spoke of himself as a Christian. His humility in this respect was striking in his sermons and his
[ 59 ]
prayers: when speaking of the Christians present, never including himself among them. His declarations on this subject, in health and in sickness, always were, that he did not know that he had any personal interest in the mediation of Christ; that the promises of the Gospel were great and glorious; that he was usually free from distressing doubts and apprehensions; and that his hopes were often bright and supporting. He loved retirement for religious meditation, self-examination, and secret prayer; and spent, it is believed, a portion of every day in the discharge of these duties. His prayers in the family and in public exhibited, so far as the human mind can judge, unusual evidence of contrition, self-abasement, trust, resignation, gratitude, and love. We have not known the individual whose powers to instruct, or to interest, in conversation, were superior to his; yet it was his highest pleasure to converse on religious subjects, and where propriety permitted it, on experimental religion. Such was the state of his thoughts and feelings at all times in company, that his mind seemed willing to enter on the contemplation of religion at every opportunity. It was not, however, mere speculation. It was a living exhibition of the various affections of piety and benevolence as they came warm from the heart.
His life was a steady course of cheerfulness, as well as of submission; and this, under trials well calculated to determine the character. Probably no man, without actual experience, can realize how great a trial of patience it is to endure pain in the eyes every day for more than forty years, uninterrupted except by the hours of sleep, and often intense and agonizing; to be deprived by it, for weeks together, of a great part of his necessary sleep; to be cut off, absolutely, from the pleasure of reading and to be continually threatened by it with blindness, and, occasionally, with apoplexy. Not only, however, did he not murmur nor repine—he was resigned. He was more—he was universally cheerful and happy; and always ready to contribute to the happiness of those around him. He chose rather to remember his blessings than his afflictions; and felt that he had not deserved the least mercy. Nay, his very afflictions he viewed as among his greatest blessings.
Death often invaded his peace. He lost a father in the prime of life and usefulness, whom he ever mentioned with the highest reverence; three brothers, at the age of manhood, whom he tenderly lamented; a mother, endeared to him by every consideration which could affect the heart of filial piety; two sisters, for whom he felt no ordinary warmth of attachment; and a son, a youth of fine promise, at the age of nineteen, just after he had completed his education. The effect of these repeated strokes was obviously such as a Christian should desire. Their evident tendency was to soften the heart, to subdue the will, to loosen the attachment to terrestrial good, to enliven the conscience; and to assist the soul in its assumption of the heavenly character. This was peculiarly observable
[ 60 ]
of the death of his son. It occurred before the termination of a remarkable revival of religion among the students of the seminary; during which he was believed to have become possessed of personal piety. Had he lived, he intended to have been a clergyman. He died at a distance from home; and his father did not arrive in season to be present at his funeral. Rarely have we witnessed parental sorrow equally intense and permanent. Rarely could he mention his son without a faltering voice, and cheeks suffused with tears.
Those who witnessed his sufferings during the two last years of his life, were not more struck with. their severity, nor with the fortitude which he discovered under them, than with the marked effect of them upon his mind. Often, for months together, the pain which he endured was not only unintermitted, but, in its severest forms, spasmodical. During the continuance of these convulsions, which recurred frequently during the day, so intense was the anguish, that the sweat would roll down his forehead for many minutes together in continued streams. Yet such was his fortitude, that though compelled at times to groan from severity of distress, he never once forgot himself so far as to murmur or complain. But while these sufferings thus ravaged the body, and prepared it for dissolution, their effect upon the soul was obviously salutary. Accustomed, for many years, to the daily contemplation of death, he now witnessed its gradual approach with serenity and peace. In the midst of his sorrows he found consolations " that were neither few nor small." He grew continually more and more humble, gentle, meek, and resigned; more and more disposed to give up every trust but in his Saviour. Though his intellect retained all its vigour, yet his temper became, in an eminent degree, that of a lovely child., His affections were exquisitely tender. Their native character seemed entirely gone, and they resembled the affections of heaven. His views, his hopes, his purposes, and his joys, were heavenly; and nothing terrestrial seemed to remain, ,except his earthly tabernacle, which was just ready to be laid in the grave, there to rest in hope. When called to pass the dark valley, his Shepherd appeared to he with him. His rod and His staff, they comforted him. Though frequently bewildered through excess of pain, yet no distressing fear assailed him. He saw the presence of the grim Destroyer with tranquillity and hope; yielded up his soul without a struggle; and, as we trust with undoubting confidence, found a glorious welcome into the "house not made with hands; eternal in the heavens."
His life was eminently useful and lovely. His death was peaceful and happy to himself, but most widely and deeply lamented by his countrymen at large, as well as by his family, his many friends, and the Church of Christ. His eternity, we trust, will pass among angels and the spirits of the just, in their immortal progress in knowledge, happiness, and virtue.
Over the grave of President Dwight, the Corporation of the College have erected a neat marble monument, on which is the following inscription:
Hic Sepultus jacet
Vir ille admodum reverendus
Timotheus Dwight, S. T. D. LL. D.
Collegii Yalensis Praeses,
Sacrosanctae Theologiae Professor;
De Literis, de Religione, de Patria
Maximo suorum et bonorum omnium
Die Xl. Januar. Anno Domini
On the opposite side.
Ecclesim Greenfieldiensis Pastor
Collegii Yalensis Tutor
Hoc Saxum Ponendum