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Sermons, by the late Rev. EDWARD D. Griffin, D. D.; to which is prefired a Memoir of his Life. By WM. B. SPRAGUE, D. D. In 2 vols. pp. 597, 596. New York. J. S. Taylor. 1839.
In taking up these volumes, the first thing that strikes one is the price. They cost five dollars. The type is large, the margin wide, so that you have less reading in these two great volumes than in a recent volume of Hare's Sermons, published by Appleton for two dollars. Every minister who purchases these volumes feels, that he has paid for them more than he ought, at least two dollars, and perhaps more. This is gross injustice to the memory of one of the greatest and best of men. His family are not left in such destitute circumstances, as to require such a plan for raising money.
It may be said, no one is obliged to purchase; but such is the interest felt in the work, so strong a hold had Dr. G. upon his pupils and friends, that many choose rather to submit to the imposition, than to be without it. It seems to be ungenerous to speculate upon the strength of Christian affection.
The Life occupies nearly half of the first volume. It is exceedingly interesting, but it is not, in all respects, what was expected. It contains the diary of Dr. G., which lets us into a knowledge of his early Christian history, and subsequent trials and conflicts. No young man can read this part of the Memoir without profit. On every page of the diary we see the impress of a vigorous intellect, of a warm heart, of humble piety. But we look in vain in what is written by the the compiler, for the facts and the discipline which inform us how he became Dr. Griffin, one of the tallest men of the age. In a letter of his, which every young minister ought to read, he tells us how he became a direct and pungent preacher,
but we are not informed what gave a direction to his studies, how he became so great a metaphysician, what school left its impress upon his eloquence, or what minds more particularly stamped their image upon his. We have been disappointed in the Life, in these respects.
Surely, there are those living, who could have furnished incidents to illustrate the fine traits of his character, men who were young with him, who must have known much of his early habits of thought and study. It is said that Dr. Channing studied Bolingbroke; Dr. Emmons read deeply, in early life, Archbishop Tillotson; and Dr. Lathrop, Addison. It is interesting to trace the influence of one mind upon another. Generally speaking, when a man of thought and of power gives his days and nights to one able writer, he will become distinguished. We have now in our eye two of the most popular writers in the ministry, of whom this is true; and it has been true of the very men who, in past ages, by their writings, became standards of taste and eloquence. Dr. Griffin always spoke with profound respect of his theological instructer, the younger President Edwards. He was a warm admirer of Cowper, and left in manuscript a life of that excellent poet.
As a man, Dr. G. had upon him the stamp of greatness, both in the proportions of his body and the powers of his mind. Of him as a scholar, very little is said in the Life, by which we can form a conclusion. During the period of his youth, the standard of scholarship in New England was low. He was early placed in the midst of stirring scenes; with such a conscience as his, he could not retire from labor in the midst of revivals; he could not come down from the great work of laying the foundation of spiritual churches, to dwell in his study, to grope among Hebrew roots. His peculiar dispensation gave a direction to his studies. Like Luther, in the Reformation, he improved as a scholar and divine, while he was carrying forward the great work of raising up the church. He was an acute reasoner, a deep thinker, an eloquent preacher. In consequence of the prevalence of Arminianism when he first entered the ministry, he was led to study profoundly the great doctrines of the Bible. He often sounded the depths of depravity in the heart, and brought out the sovereignty of God in a strong light. Soon after
VOL. IV.—NO. xv.
his first settlement in Newark, he preached a sermon on the offensive doctrine of Election. Many of his hearers were offended. Some of his principal supporters expressed a determination to leave him. They went to Dr. Richards, who lived in the vicinity, with their complaints. A great excitement was got up. A heavy blow had been struck. Dr. R. told them to be calm-not to act rashly; if that doctrine was of God, it would stand; and he cautioned them not to be found fighting against God. Soon Dr. G. called to see him. He was greatly agitated; he said, “I have ruined myself—I have broken up my congregation.” “I hope not,” said Dr. R. When Dr. G. inquired what he should do, “I will tell you," said his excellent friend and sound adviser. “Go home, and write two sermons on the doctrine of Election, with as much care and consideration as though your life depended on every sentence. Pray over them, and next Sabbath preach them, under the consciousness that the eye of the Saviour is upon you." He sat with a fixed look, while his friend was speaking. No sooner had he ceased, than Dr. G. sprang on his feet and said, as he left the room, “I'll do it.” The Sabbath came. Dr. Richards obtained a supply for his pulpit and was present to hear his friend. In the interval, he had seen the disaffected persons, and others, and urged all to attend. He sat in a retired part of the house, and observed Dr. G., as he entered the church. His great soul was oppressed-his noble comtenance beamed with light. His eye was full of fire. He preached like a dying man. The house was still as death. The Spirit of God was there. In the afternoon, every seat, and aisle, and corner, was crowded. All Newark was moved. Dr. G. stood up and vindicated the law and government of God. He rose with the subject, till an awe was felt which subdued every heart. The effect was wonderful. Those very men came round him as he descended from the pulpit, and wept. The Spirit of God subdued them. That day the “great revival,” of which every one has heard, began, and before it ceased hundreds were converted to Jesus Christ.
As a preacher, Dr. Griffin was remarkably successful. Great efforts usually so engross the minds of the hearers that the conscience does not perform its functions, but when Dr. G. preached, he aimed to reach the conscience, and seldom failed. For clearness of thought-directness and point-pathos and appeals, the sermons of Dr. Griffin are among the best specimens in the language. Some of them ought to be printed in the form of tracts and scattered on the wings of the wind. Those preached in a time of revival, and at seasons of communion have a peculiar unction and tenderness; they reach every chord and fibre of the heart. These sermons should be studied. They who barely read them as a mere work will be disappointed. Each one has an object,—that object was kept in view, and it was reached. After all, that is the only kind of preaching that will be effective. Having in our possession a brief outline of Dr. Grillin's plan of study in writing his sermons, we give the substance of it. 1. Write down the text on a loose piece of paper and look at it. 2. Inquire, what does this text teach? What is my object? Obtain clear and definite views of the point. 3. Then commence thinking. Put down thoughts as they occur, without regard to order, or language-get as much material as possible. 4. Then reduce these thoughts to order. This thought belongs under this head; that idea should come in there, &c. 5. Throw out all extraneous and foreign ideas.
It was his practice to write with care. So anxious was Dr. Griffin to expunge from his sermons everything irrelevant, that he, as he says in a letter, was “in the habit of striking out every clause and word that was not subservient” to the great end he had in view in his ordinary sermons, viz., "to reach the conscience and the heart at every stroke."*
* And here a little incident occurs to the recollection of the writer. Dr. G. was once at his house and spent the Sabbath. On Sabbath morning he went into the study and began to read over his sermon; he called for ink and sand. lle began to strike out and pour on the sand. The manuscript was already black with erasures and insertions, but the work went on, the paper growing darker every moment. One of the little chuldren coming up and looking on the blotted and blurred manuscript, corrected and recorrected, said, “How can you read your sermon? It is all scratched out." He was peculiar in covering with ink every word erased, so that it could not be read.
The remark of the child led him to speak of his custom, and, said he, " This I regard as one chief excellence of my preaching, if I have any." He continued, “I have a plain figure which I use in the study; it will not do for the public ear; it serves to illustrate my point. If you put swingling tow upon a hetchel, you can ride to Boston on it ; but if you pull out the tow," holding up his fingers to represent the process, "and let the points stick up, they will prick." “So," said he, “ you may cover up the truth with ornaments and words, till the conscience cannot be reached. You must pull out the toin,' the points are the truth-"pull out the tow, and let the points stick up." A better illustration was never given. If our sermons had less “ low," and more naked " ponts," they would do more execution.
Dr. Griffin was eminently an experimental preacher. There is much of what has been called “commercial preaching,”—a philosophizing upon the principles of human nature,—the business of common life;-a preaching that is sensible but cold-instructive but not stirring. Dr. G.'s heart was in his work. He saw that it was the design of God to build up the church in this day by repeated revivals of religion, and he aimed to promote the work of God. Many of his sermons were little more than the embodying of his own exercises of mind. Of course they would have a freshness and power, an unction and spirit, which would touch every tender chord in the Christian's heart. He tells us the sermon in the National Preacher, on "The Prayer of Faith,” was a transcript of his struggles and triumph at the memorable time when his children were converted to God. The same is doubtless true of the other sermon published in connection with it, on the “Heavenly Mind." There we learn the process of sanctification in his own heart. We there discover how he walked with God. The history of many of his sermons possesses peculiar interest. Reference is made in the Memoir to a change in his views and feelings with respect to the priesthood of Christ; this was during his first settlement in Newark. The liveliness of his views, the ardor of his zeal, were like a new conversion. For some considerable time the change was so great, he could not refer to it without tears, nor preach on the subject without melting his audience. The sermon he wrote on the passage of scripture which so wonderfully opened to his mind, is the sixth sermon of the second volume, denominated, “The High Priest.” When read in connection with these facts, it becomes doubly interesting.
He once preached in the pulpit of the writer the sermon called “The Tokens of Perdition.” The effect was great; every sentence was like a trip-hammer upon the conscience. The next morning, we called upon a man of great wealth, who had been bred a lawyer, but who was living far from God. We found he had not slept a wink during the night, and he had a novel in his hand, striving in this way to rid himself of his serious impressions. On one occasion, he preached in a distant place his remarkable sermon styled, “ Jesus of Nazareth passing by;" it was during a revival of religion; the whole assembly