Mason, John Mitchell

Mason, John Mitchell D.D., a distinguished Presbyterian divine and noted American pulpit orator, was born in the city of New York March 19, 1770. He was educated at Columbia College, class of 1789, and having decided to devote his life to the service of the Church, went abroad, and studied theology at the University of Edinburgh. While at the "Northern Athens" young Mason became noted for piety and an exemplary life. In 1792 he was unexpectedly recalled by the sudden decease of his father, and, after his return to New York, was established in the ministry over the same Church which his father had served so long. The Associate Reformed Church, to which he belonged at this time, had been wont to celebrate the Lord's Supper but once or twice annually. Mason believed in more frequent communion, and both by his pen and his tongue, went forward to advocate reform in this respect. A pamphlet, consisting of "Letters on Communion," which he published, brought him prominently before the religious world, and thereafter John Mitchell Mason was not an uncommon name in the assembly of American Christians. He also served his day and generation in many other ways. The Associate Reformed Church had always depended upon foreign institutions for the education of her ministry. Mason advocated the establishment of a school of the prophets on American soil. and thus became instrumental in founding the institution known as the "Union Theological Seminary." He was appointed its first professor at the opening in 1804. In 1806 he projected the "Christian's Magazine," the pages of which are filled with a controversy he had with bishop Hobart on the claims of the episcopacy. In 1810 he resigned his pastoral charge, for the purpose of forming a new congregation. The intimate relations he now established with the Presbyterians were objected to by many of his own denomination, and in 1811 a charge was brought against him, but the synod had sense enough to refuse all censure. Mason, however, improved the opportunity to push his favorite object, the Plea for Sacramental Communion on Catholic Principles (published in 1816). In this year (1811) he was also honored with the provostship of Columbia College, and, though already employed as preacher and professor, accepted the position, "and by his talents and energy raised that institution to a higher character than it had ever before possessed." In 1816 failing health admonished him of the magnitude of the work he had undertaken, and he resigned his connection with the college, and went to Europe. On his return in 1817 he again devoted himself to Gospel labors, but in 1821 exchanged the pulpit for the rostrum, as president of Dickinson College, Pa. In 1822 he transferred his ecclesiastical relation to the Presbyterian Church. In 1824 he resigned his position at college, and returned to New York to recuperate his health, but he was never again permitted to assume any official connection. He died Dec. 26, 1829. Besides the literary enterprises already mentioned, Dr. Mason wrote a number of essays, reviews, orations, and sermons, published at different times. They were collected by his son, the Rev. Ebenezer Mason, and published in 4 vols. 8vo, in 1832 (new ed., with many additions, 1849). A memoir, with some of his correspondence, was published by his son-in-law, J. Van Vechten, D.D., in 1856, 2 vols. 8vo. The mind of Dr. Mason was of the most robust order, his theology Calvinistic, and his style of eloquence powerful and irresistible as a torrent. When Robert Hall first heard him deliver before the London Missionary Society, in 1802, his celebrated discourse on" Messiah's Throne," he is said to have exclaimed, "I can never preach again!" (Fisk's Pulpit Eloquence, 1857, p. 486, q.v.). "Taken altogether, no American preacher has combined more impressive qualities. His aspect was on a scale of grandeur corresponding to the majesty of mind within. Tall, robust, straight, with a head modeled after neither Grecian nor Roman standard, yet symmetrical, combining the dignity of the one and the grace of the other; with an eye that shot fire, especially when under the excitement of earnest preaching, yet tender and tearful when the pathetic cord was touched; with a forehead broad and high, running up each side, and slightly parted in the middle by a graceful pendant of hair; a mouth and chin expressive of firmness and decision ... Dr. Mason stood before you the prince' of pulpit orators" (N. Y. Observer, Nov. 1860). See also Bost. Christ. Disciple, 3:475; Dr. Spring, Power of the Pulpit; Duyckinck, Cyclop. Amer. Lit. (see Index in vol. 1); Allibone, Dict. of Brit. and Amer. Auth. 2:1237; Princet. Review, 1856, p. 318. (J.H.W.)

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