Emmons, Nathanael, Dd

Emmons, Nathanael, D.D

one of the founders of a new school in Calvinistic theology, was born April 20 (O.S.), 1745, at East Haddam, Connecticut, a town which was also the birthplace of the missionary brothers David and John Brainerd, of President Edward Dorr Griffin and his brother George D. Griffin, Esq., of the jurist Jeremiah Gates Brainard and the poet James Brainard Taylor. He was the sixth son, and the twelfth and youngest child of his parents. He entered Yale College in 1763, and was graduated with honor in 1767. Among his classmates were Governor John Treadwell, the poet John Trumbull, Professor Samuel Wales, and Dr. Joseph Lyman, who, as long as they lived, exhibited a high degree of reverence for Dr. Emmons. He studied theology first with Reverend Nathan Strong, of Coventry, Connecticut, and afterwards with Reverend Dr. John Smalley, of Berlin, Connecticut, a divine who had been a pupil of Dr. Joseph Bellamy, and who exerted more influence than perhaps any other man in shaping the theological opinions of young Emmons. — In 1769 Emmons was approbated as a preacher, and on the 20th of April, 1773, was ordained pastor of the Congregational Church in Franklin, Mass. He remained sole pastor of this church fifty-four years, and an active member of it sixty-seven years and five months. Among the members of the council which ordained him were his two special friends, Rev. Dr. Hopkins, of Newport, Rhode Island, and Reverend Dr. Hart, of Preston, Connecticut, a son-in-law of Dr. Bellamy. During his active pastorate at Franklin he was favored with three revivals of religion, one in 1784, one in 1794, and one in 1808-9. In the first of these revivals about seventy persons, in the second about thirty, and in the third about forty were thought to have consecrated themselves to Christ. One of his aphorisms was, "The seed which a faithful laborer sows is apt to come up when he retires from the field;" and as soon as Dr. Emmons was relieved of his sole pastorate at Franklin, he was gladdened by a fourth revival, in which thirty-six persons were added to his church, and after nine or ten years he rejoiced in a fifth ingathering of the fruits which he had planted. He lived to see nearly four hundred of his parishioners profess their faith in Christ. One of them, Reverend Dr. Blake, has recorded: "Hardly a case of defection from the truth has ever occurred among those who were turned unto God under Dr. Emmons's ministry." His examinations of candidates for church membership were very rigid. — A large part of his influence on the churches has been exerted through his theological pupils. Between eighty-six and a hundred young men were guided by him in their studies preparatory to the Christian ministry. Of these pupils several became useful as professors in our colleges and theological seminaries; many, as sound and strong preachers. Forty-six of them are noticed in the biographical dictionaries of eminent men. His impress upon them was decided and permanent. They were often called Emmonites. — Although he was an adept in metaphysical abstractions; yet he aimed to be a practical man, not only in his influence on his pupils, but also in the general affairs of the Church and the. State. He was the first president, and a father, if not the father of the Massachusetts Missionary Society; which was the parent of many philanthropic institutions. He was also one of the original editors of the Massachusetts Missionary Magazine, which was the germ of the present Missionary herald. He was among the foremost in starting various trains of influence which have now become parts of our history. When the masonic fraternity was most popular, he was a zealous and mason. When anti-slavery was most generally denounced, he was an active abolitionist. It was often his lot to be an advocate of the weaker party. He was a decided Federalist in politics, and produced a great excitement by some of his political writings. He seldom visited his parishioners, still he was remarkable for his knowledge of their secular as well as religious affairs. He was a man of authority in his parish, faithful, often stern, yet beloved. — It is as an author, however, that he has exerted his greatest influence on the churches. He published during his life more than seven thousand copies of nearly two hundred sermons, besides four elaborate dissertations and more than a hundred essays for the magazines of his day. He must have preached nearly or quite six thousand times, and at his death a part only of his discourses were collected and published in six octavo volumes; to these a seventh volume was afterwards added. At a still subsequent period a new and enlarged edition of his sermons was published in six volumes. The first edition of his works was introduced with a memoir by his son-in-law, Reverend Jacob Ide, D.D., of Medway, Massachusetts; the second edition with a memoir by E.A. Park, of Andover, Massachusetts. — He began to study in 1762; he ceased to preach in 1827: during these sixty-five years he was an earnest, patient, and singularly methodical applicant to books. During ten of the years which followed his resignation of his active pastorate he continued to be an assiduous reader, although he relaxed his habits of intense energetic study. It may be safely affirmed, then, that he devoted seventy-five years to the perusal of books, the meditation on their contents, and the writing on themes suggested by them. He was accustomed to spend ten, twelve, or fourteen hours daily in his room with his book or pen in hand. He had a place for everything, and kept everything in its place. He was temperate in his diet, regular in all his habits, and, although he took no physical exercise, he enjoyed uninterrupted health during his long and laborious life. He was distinguished for his punctuality, precision, definiteness, and sharpness of mind, keen analysis, self-consistency, wit, frankness, honesty, profound reverence for the truth. He was tenacious of old usages, and went so far as to continue to wear the antique dress, even the three-cornered hat, as long as he appeared in public. He was an original thinker, and formed his theological system with rare independence of mind. He coincided in opinion with Dr. Samuel Hopkins, of Newport, more nearly than with any preceding divine. A sketch of his theological system will be given in the subsequent notice of Dr. Hopkins. It may be here remarked, however, that he considered himself not a high, nor a low, but a consistent Calvinist; and, so far as his speculations were novel, they were mainly designed to make the Genevan scheme consistent with itself. On one Sabbath, for instance, he would use so bold language in advocating the doctrine of decrees as might induce some to call him a Fatalist; and on a following Sabbath he would use so bold language in advocating the doctrine of free-will as might induce some to call him a Pelagian; and on a third Sabbath he would employ his ingenuity in reconciling his statements on the agency of God with his statements on the free agency of man. This ingenuity in harmonizing such views as are often pronounced irreconcilable, was a main source of the interest excited in him. — Dr. Emmons died on the 23d of September, 1840 at the age of ninety-five years and five months. He retained his faculties to a surprising degree until his death, and few men have ever left the world with a more unfaltering and solid faith in Christ. — In 1775 he was married to his first wife, who, with her two children, died in 1778. In 1779 he was married to his second wife, by whom he had five children, two of whom survived him. She was the step-daughter of Reverend Dr. Samuel Hopkins, of Hadley, Mass., and thus he became the brother-in-law of Reverend Dr. Spring, of Newburyport, Mass., Reverend Dr. Austin, president of Burlington College, Reverend Leonard Worcester, and Reverend Mr. Riddel, four strong Hopkinsian divines. In 1831, when he was eighty-six years of age, he was married to his third wife, the widow of his former friend, Reverend Mr. Mills, of Sutton, Mass. (E.A.P.)

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