Beecher, Lyman, Dd
Beecher, Lyman, D.D.
an eminent Presbyterian minister, was born at New Haven, Conn., October 12th, 1775. His father, David Beecher, was a blacksmith, "whose strong, positive character, whose many eccentricities, and whose great dark eyes gave him a celebrity in all the country round. As a boy he was placed with his uncle, Lot Benton, to learn farming, but it was soon found that his bent did not lie that way, and he was sent to Yale College, where he graduated A.B. in 1797. During his college career he earned no distinction by scholarly acquirements, but was early noticed as a remarkably vigorous and original thinker and reasoner. In a debate on baptism, started among the students, he took the Baptist side, 'because,' as he said, 'no one else would take it.' He studied theology with Dr. Dwight for one year, and was licensed to preach by the New Haven West Association in 1798. In 1799 he was ordained, and installed as pastor at East Hampton, Long Island, where he remained eleven years, at a salary of $300 a year. In 1810 he removed to Litchfield, Conn., then the seat of a famous law-school, in which many of the statesmen of the last generation were trained. Here he spent sixteen years of indefatigable pastoral labor, and here, too, he wrote his famous 'Six Sermons on Intemperance,' which were suggested by the sudden downfall of two of his most intimate friends. In 1826 he accepted a call to the Hanover Street Church, Boston, where he spent six years of immense activity and popularity, distinguished also by the boldness and success with which he opposed Dr. Channing and grappled Unitarianism, which has never since been as dominant in Boston as before. In 1832 he accepted the presidency of Lane Theological Seminary, Cincinnati, in which service, and that of the Second Presbyterian Church, Cincinnati, he remained during twenty eventful years. In 1833 seventy students withdrew from the seminary on account of a stupid rule, adopted by the trustees in Dr. Beecher's absence, with regard to the discussion of slavery, and this secession laid the foundation of Oberlin College. Oddly enough, Dr. Beecher, himself an abolitionist, and the father of Abolitionists, was now the head of an institution stigmatized as 'pro-slavery.' The doctrinal views of Dr. Beecher had always been moderately Calvinistic, and he was charged by some of the stronger Calvinists with heresy. A trial ensued, ending in 1835, by the adoption of resolutions to which Dr. Beecher assented; but the controversy went on until at last the Presbyterian Church (q.v.) was rent in twain by it. In 1852 Dr. Beecher resigned the presidency of the seminary and returned to Boston. His declining years were spent in Brooklyn, where he died Jan. 10th, 1863. He was three times married, and was the father of thirteen children, of whom several have risen to eminence.: Edward, Henry Ward, Charles, and Thomas as preachers, and Catherine and Harriet (Mrs. Stowe, the author of "Uncle Tom's Cabin") as writers. He had a vigorous organization, both physical and mental, and was equally noted for boldness and kindness. As an orator, he was one of the most peculiar, brilliant, and effective of his day. By nature he was a strong reasoner, yet he reasoned rather in the style of an advocate, aiming at a point, than of a judge or a statesman, aiming to cover a whole field of discussion. He spoke and wrote always for some immediate purpose." Albert Barnes states that "no oratory he ever heard equalled Beecher's in his grand flights." Dr. Noah Porter (New Englander, 23, 354) characterizes Dr. Beecher as follows: "As a preacher, Dr. Beecher was deservedly eminent. But it would be a mistake to account him a ranter, or a fervid declaimer, or an energetic exhorter, or a devout rhapsodist. He was a thinker and a reasoner. His own sturdy and thoughtful intellect could be satisfied with no aliment less substantial than solid reasoning and sound common sense, and he could not bring himself to present to other minds any material different from that which he required for himself. But reasoning in a sermon for the sake of its ingenuity, or speculation for mere speculation's sake, his own soul abhorred. He must needs bring every argument to its practical conclusion, and then press it upon the conscience and the heart with all the power which fervor, and energy, and tact could furnish. Plain language, apt illustrations, and fervent appeals, were the investments with which his nice sense of adaptation and his apostolical love of souls led him to clothe his reasonings. He did not trust exclusively or chiefly to his extemporary power, rare and serviceable as this might be. On many single discourses he bestowed the labor of weeks, and the felicity and choiceness of the language, as well as the arrangement and power of the thoughts, testify to the value of the labor and time expended. Some of his ablest occasional discourses will never cease to be models of the noblest kind of pulpit eloquence. As a reformer he was enterprising, bold, and judicious. The secret of his power and success lay in his firm faith in the power of truth as adapted to change the moral convictions of men, and thus to reform the sentiments and practices of society, and, as designed in the purposes of God, to accomplish great revolutions by means of its faithful proclamation. His policy was bold, because he believed in God. He was enterprising, because he was assured that the cause was not his own. He was judicious, because his heart was set upon the work to be accomplished, and not upon any traditional ways of procedure on the one side, or any novel devices on the other. Hence he was inventive and docile; skillful by his quiet discernment to judge when the old methods were outworn, and fertile to devise those untried expedients which were best fitted to the ends which he believed could and should be accomplished. He was all things to all men, in the good sense of the phrase, because the apostolic feeling was eminent in him, that by any means he might save some. But in all his reforming movements his public spirit was conspicuous in a large-hearted sympathy with the public interests, and an intense personal concern for the Church, his country, and his race. This led him, when in an obscure parish on the farthest extremity of Long Island, to lay upon his own soul the responsibility for the practice of duelling, and to sound the trumpet note which rung throughout the land. This induced him to sympathize with the feebler churches in the thinly-peopled and decaying towns of Connecticut, and to lay the duty of sisterly sympathy and aid upon the wealthier parishes. This moved him to see and feel the wasting desolations of intemperance, not in this or that family or social circle in Litchfield alone, but to make this family and circle the image of thousands of families and communities throughout the country, till the word of the Lord was a fire in his bones, and he could not but lift his voice in the appalling energy of a commissioned prophet. The prevalence of dangerous error depressed and vexed his spirit till it found relief in plans, and protests, and movements which were felt through New England. As a theologian he was thoroughly practical, and his views of theology were moulded by a constant reference to its manifest adaptation to the great end for which a revelation was given to man." His autobiography and life, edited by the Rev. Charles Beecher, appeared in 1864-5 (N. Y. 2 vols. 12mo). His writings, chiefly sermons, temperance essays, lectures, and review articles, were collected substantially, and published under his own supervision, in the Works of Lyman Beecher, D.D. (Boston, 1852, 3 vols. 8vo; vol. 1, Lectures on Political Atheism; vol. 2, Sermons.; vol. 3, Views in Theology). — Wilson, Presbyterian Almanac, 1861; Amer. Phrenological Journal, Feb. 1863; Autobiography of Dr. Lyman Beecher (N. Y. 1864-5, 2 vols. 12mo); Bibliotheca Sacra, April, 1852; New Englander, April, 1864.