Page images

universal, as the inlying has with the outlying sea. The great tides may flow into it, as they run through the Straits of Gibraltar; but it is, to some extent, what its tributaries make it. It has its divisions, as the Mediterranean has its Adriatic and its Egean; but each of these divisions contains some peculiarities, depending in part upon position, in part upon what is brought down into it. What even a tributary shall be depends upon the springs which run among the hills.

Our present purpose is to indicate some of the earthly sources from which what was recently known as the New School Presbyterian Church of the United States derived its life, while separated from that portion of the Church of which it once formed and now forms an in tegral part, by a ridge, which, thrown up in a period of convulsion, has gradually subsided in a period of calm. We cannot, however, specify all of even the most important of these sources. For obvious reasons, we must confine ourselves to notices of those whose earthly lives are already terminated, though conscious of the imperfection which such a restriction necessitates.

Some of those who have contributed most to the individual character of the New School Church, still remain with us, Seri in cælum redeant. We must be silent respecting some of whom we are not permitted to speak.

We have, indeed, less space than we could wish, for reference to those of whom we may speak. Some honored names will be missed by the reader from these scant pages. Let our excuse for silence respecting them be, that our purpose is not that of the biographer, so much as that of the analyzer; hence, a few of those who

have contributed to the individnal life of the Church, must stand as representatives of the rest.*

The first officers of this division of the Church after the separation, were: SAMUEL FISHER, D.D., Moderator; the Rev. E. W. GILBERT, and ERSKINE MASON, D.D. Clerks.

These officers were well chosen. All of them were strong and judicious men. Dr. Fisher had long been known in the Church as one of its most faithful workers and wisest counsellors. At the period of the division, he was in his sixty-first year. He was born in Sunderland, Mass., June, 1777. His father, an officer in the Army of the Revolution, had died a short time previous at Morristown, N.J. He resided during his boyhood with an uncle, Dr. Ware, at Conway, Mass. He was graduated at Williams College, at the age of twenty-three; and pursued his theological studies in part with Dr. Hyde, of Lee. His first pastorate was at Wilton, Conn., where he was ordained, in 1805. In 1809, he was sent by the General Association of Connecticut, to represent that body in the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church at Philadelphia. Here, he formed an acquaintance with Rev. Dr. Richards, of Morristown, and accompanied him to that place for a visit to the scene of his father's decease. This visit opened for him the door into the Presbyterian Church, as, soon after, Dr. Richards removed to Newark, and Mr. Fisher was invited to take charge of the Morristown congregation. The call was accepted. The congregation was one of the largest

* The materials for these sketches were collected from various sources; but we are specially indebted to Sprague's Annals of the American Pulpit, and Wilson's Presbyterian Historical Almanac.

in New Jersey, embracing, as it did, over five hundred families, and covering a wide territory. His ministry here was most acceptable and useful; but ended in the year 1814, when he took charge of the First Presbyte rian Church in Paterson, where he remained twenty years, pursuing his duties with signal success, and exerting a powerful influence within and far beyond the bounds of his parish.

In the summer of 1834, warned by failing health to seek less arduous duties than those which had multiplied around him in this long and important pastorate, he resigned his charge. His ministry, after this peiod, was comparatively broken, though he continued to labor for many years at Ramapo, at Greenbush, N.Y., and at other places. He died in 1856, with the departing year, in the family of one of his children in New Jersey.

The degree of Doctor of Divinity was conferred upon him by the College of New Jersey, in 1827; and he honored the title. As a theologian, he was clear and thorough. His abilities in this department of thought, were so highly respected, that he was one of the most prominent candidates for the professorship of theology in Auburn Seminary, at its founding. Agreeing very nearly in his views with Dr. Spring, of New York, who was always prominent in the Old School Church after the division, he believed in the substantial soundness of the New School, and so sought to prove in the sermon which he preached before the General Assembly, when resigning the Moderator's chair in 1839.

As a Preacher, he was direct, instructive, scriptural, and in the highest sense, popular. Of no vivid fancy,

he possessed the power of vivid statement. He understood "the art of putting things." By no long, involved and glittering sentences, did he at once please and be wilder. His utterances were crisp and unmistakable. The common people heard him gladly, and the most intelligent were interested and satisfied.

"There was in his preaching," says Dr. Magie, long his neighbor and intimate friend," a sort of naturalness of tone, of style, of delivery, which used to interest me exceedingly. It was the simplicity of a child, yet a simplicity consistent with robust thought. No one, probably, ever suspected that there was a spice of affectation in the free, open countenance, in the clear, impressive eye. It was impossible to doubt his deep sincerity of soul. As he became warmed with his subject, the tender accents and suffused eye told his hearers how much concerned he felt for their welfare."

Among those who heard him preach occasionally in the pulpit of Dr. Richards, at Newark, was a young student-at-law, who has since become one of the most brilliant lights of the American pulpit,-Dr. SAMUEL HANSON COX. This young man, not yet a Christian, listened to Mr. Fisher with no common attention; and when himself a preacher of wide popularity, he retained an unabating respect for one who had early inspired him "with a general awe of God, whose ways he vindicated with sincerity and mastery of manner." The devotion of Dr. Fisher to the interests of the Church, is well illustrated by a reminiscence which Dr. Cox thus recalls:

"When I was first elected Moderator of Presbytery, I remember we met in his parish at Paterson. He was

« PreviousContinue »