Saurin, Jacques the most eloquent preacher of French Protestantism, was born at Nimes Jan. 6, 1677. In his eighth year his family, fleeing from the persecutions of Louis XIV, settled in Geneva. Quitting school at the age of sixteen, he joined a regiment of Savoyards in the general war against the French tyrant, and served nearly four years, till the Peace of Ryswick, in 1697. On his return, he took tip the study of theology under Tronchin, Pictet, and Turretin. It was only after many inner struggles that he conquered his frivolity and skepticism, and passed through the throes of the new birth. Once clearly converted, his life and influence were radically changed. His subsequent renown for eloquence began to take form even before his graduation. His mere schoolboy exercises in sermonizing attracted great attention. Entering the ministry in 1700, he took charge of a society of French Walloons in London, and preached with great success for four years. In 1705, while on a journey of recreation in Holland, he preached a few sermons and made such an impression as to occasion a call to labor at the Hague. This call he accepted; and here, for the remainder of his life twenty-five years — he labored with equal fame and usefulness. He soon became known as "the great Saurin," the "Chrysostom of Protestantism." The large church in which he preached was constantly overcrowded. It was not merely his eloquence, his fine manner, his melodious voice, which thus held and charmed for a quarter of a century all classes of society, but it was chiefly the weighty substance of what he said and the holy earnestness with which he said it. Learned men (Clericus) and cold critics often went to hear him with deep prejudice, but uniformly they came away glad and captivated. The celebrated Abbadie exclaimed, after first hearing him," Is it a man, or is it an angel!" Saurin was not a mere preacher, but also an organizer. He founded schools and asylums, and planned a grand scheme of missionary work throughout the Dutch colonies. He was also a systematic writer. In 1722 he issued an educational work, Abrege de la Theologie et de la Morale Chretienne. In 1724 he issued his Catechisme, which enjoyed a long popularity in Holland and at Geneva. In 1725 appeared at the Hague L'Etat du Christianisme en France, a collection of letters in favor of his fellow Protestants of France. A work which appeared between 1720 and 1728, Discours Historiques, Critiques, Theologiques et Morceaux sur les Evenements les plus Memorables du Vieux et du Nouveau Testament, though an able work in itself, had the unfortunate result of calling upon Saurin such a series of envious criticisms from his brother pastors as to embitter his last years and even to hasten his death. It is a memorable instance of the well known odium theologicum. It had no other basis or pretext than a few unguarded expressions in regard to the so-called falsehood of necessity.
But the posthumous fame of Saurin rests upon his Sermons. Of these he himself published (1707-25) five volumes. After his death, his son edited, from his papers, seven additional volumes. The whole twelve volumes have been several times reissued. The best edition is that of the Hague, in 1749; the most recent is that of Paris, in 1835. A good selection was published by Weiss, at Paris, in 1854, Sermons Choisis de Saurin, avec une Notice sur sa Vie. Most of these sermons have enjoyed great popularity in other languages. Five volumes of the Sermons were published in English by R. Robinson, in 1775. As to the form of Saurin's sermons, they are too systematic and scholastic for the taste of the present; they are encumbered with too much of learned citation. Much that they contain would be more appropriate in the professor's chair than in the pulpit. As compared with the great Catholic sermonizers, Saurin lacks the exquisite polish of Bossuet; nor does he search the secret recesses of the heart with as sharp an eye as Bourdaloue; nor are his appeals as pathetic as those of Massillon; but he surpasses them all in this, that he preaches the whole Gospel of Christ, and that he is unconscious of dependence on any other external authority than the simple Word of God. In manner, Saurin was impetuous in the extreme; greater self control would have given him greater power.
He sometimes spent so much force of voice in his opening prayer and exordium as to be very much exhausted before the close. Sometimes his voice would almost fail. The chief defect in his manner was a certain lack of unction. The understanding was convinced, the conscience was awakened, the will was aroused, but the heart was not fully subdued. After Saurin's death, his great work, Disccurs (2 vols. fol.), was continued by Roques and Beausobre, so that the whole consisted of six volumes. See Van Oosterzee, Jacques Saurin (Brus. 1856); Sayous, Hist. de la Litter. Franc. a l'Etr.; Weiss, Hist. des Ref. Prot. de France; Herzog, Real- Encykl. 13, 437-444. (J.P.L.)