Stearns, William Augustus

Stearns, William Augustus, D.D., LL.D., an eminent Congregational minister and educator, was born at Bedford, Mass., March 17, 1805. In his father's house industry and economy, study and piety, culture and kindness, went hand in hand. At the age of six he recited the Assembly's Shorter Catechism entire at one standing in the Church. At fourteen he committed to memory the entire Gospel of Luke in one week, working in the hay field with the men during the day. In the necessary economy of the family, one Latin grammar had to suffice for all the older sons. One afternoon when his brother was not using the book, William learned his first Latin lesson, and astonished his father at the recitation; but so great were his excitement and the strain on his nerves in accomplishing it that as soon as it was ended he fainted away. His father hesitated about sending him to college for want of pecuniary means. At length he was sent to Phillips Academy, where he remained three years and distinguished himself as a scholar. During a revival in 1823, which occurred in his senior year, he was converted. This was the year in which the day of prayer for colleges was first observed. Instead of joining his father's Church, he united with that in the seminary chapel. One of the sons had graduated at Harvard, and, notwithstanding the change which had come over its theological status, and as the college was only twelve miles from home, it was determined he should go there; besides, his father and grandfather were graduated there. He entered Harvard in 1823 and was graduated in the class of 1827. He taught school every winter. So scanty were his means that at one time he was on the point of leaving the college, but the good president, Kirkland, relieved him from embarrassment. As to his standing in college, Edmund Quincy, one of his classmates, writes," His recitations were always perfect, and in Latin and Greek the most elegant as well as correct of any." After his graduation he occupied his time in teaching as principal of the Academy in Duxbury, Mass. He had no question about his profession. The ministry being hereditary in the family, it seemed to be a matter of course that it should be his profession, and he accordingly entered Andover Theological Seminary in 1827. He was ordained Dec. 14, 1831. His first discourse was preached at Cambridgeport. He accepted a unanimous call to the First Evangelical Congregational Church in Cambridgeport, and was installed Dec. 14, 1831. He entered upon his work with heartiness, and his labors were blessed, his Church was enlarged and its numbers increased, and in time one of the most beautiful of churches was erected. The number admitted to the Church during his ministry was little less than five hundred. He took a deep interest in Harvard as one of its trustees. He was elected president of Amherst College, and was inaugurated Nov. 22, 1854. As the results of his administration, the outward growth and prosperity of the college gave ample evidence in bequests and donations amounting to $800,000, a doubling of the number of college edifices, all of the most costly and elegant construction. When president Stearns was inaugurated there were eleven professors and two hundred and one students, and at his death there were twenty-one professors and three hundred and thirty-eight students. Of upwards of two thousand alumni, more than half of them had graduated under his presidency. He was appointed a member of the Massachusetts Board of Education, which office he held for eight years. He was president of the Massachusetts Missionary Society for seventeen years, and in a great measure guided the councils of the American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions. Dr. Stearns died suddenly, June 8, 1876. As a preacher he usually wrote his sermons, which were at once doctrinal and practical, instructive, eloquent, and impressive. He was so distinct and clear in his articulation that not a word was lost. His strength lay not in his written, but in his spoken discourse, and particularly in his executive capacity. He managed his business with rare discretion, and might have been rich had he not aimed at something higher. His great secret of success and usefulness did not lie in one faculty, but in the perfect balance of all his powers and faculties. His faith was unbounded in God, himself, and his fellow men. He was not a book maker, nor in the technical sense an author. The Life and Discourses of his eldest brother, Rev. S.H. Stearns, pastor of the Old South Church, Boston, was the largest volume he ever gave to the public. His writings consist of Essays on Infant Baptism and Infant Church Membership and Sermons on the death of president Taylor; on the position and mission of the Congregational Church; commemorative of Daniel Webster; on slavery; on educated manhood; on national fast; election sermon; a plea for the nation; with numerous others on different subjects. (W.P.S.)

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