“My Own Life: The Earlier Years” By John Williamson Nevin



Four Years of College Life

My Charleston grand-uncle, after whom I was named, assumed the charge of my college education; and by the advice of his brother, Dr. Hugh Williamson, of New York, who had himself offered the same generous service in my favor, I was sent for this purpose in the fall of 1817 to Union College, in Schenectady, N.Y., which was then in the zenith of its popularity under the presidency of the lat Dr. Eliphalet Nott. The place seemed far off at that time, and although the first steamboats were running on the North River, it took in fact about as much time to reach it, as is now required for an overland trip to California, On my way I met, for the first and last time, my patriarchal kinsman, Dr. Williamson, and was sufficiently overawed by his venerable and commanding presence. His one only word of counsel to me was: “Take car my boy, that you do not learn to smoke; for smoking will lead you to drinking, and that is the end of all good.” I remembered his advice, and have kept clear of smoking, and all use of tobacco, to the present day.

Union College had at this time a better reputation than it deserved. Dr. Nott himself took only a very small part in its actual work of instruction, and this itself never amounted to much more than empty form. The institution lived largely on the outside credit of his name. It was a mistake in my own case, at the same time, that I was sent to college at too early an age. I was the youngest and smallest student in my class, and a mere un-fledged boy, I may say, on to the end of my college course. I maintained a very respectable standing however, in my studies, and graduated with honor in the year 1821. But my health was broken; and I returned home, to be the next three years a burden myself, and all around me, through a long course of dyspeptic sufferings, on which I still look back as a sort of horrible nightmare, covering with gloom the best season of my youth.

My college years exercised, of course, an important influence on my religious life. Favorable, it might be considered in some respects; but in other respects, as I have since come to see, it was decidedly unfavorable. Union College was organized on the principle of representing the collective Christianity of the so-called evangelical denominations; and in this view proceeded throughout, practically, on the idea, that the relation of religion to secular education is abstract and outward only- -the two spheres having nothing to do with each other in fact, except as mutually complemental sides in the end of what should be considered a right general human culture. The common delusion by which it is imagined so widely, that the school should be divorced from the Church, and that faith is of no account for learning and science. We had religion in college, so far at least as morning and evening prayers went; and we were required, on Sundays, to attend the different churches in town, But there was no real church life, as such, in the institution itself. It seemed to be set only for apprenticing its pupils in the different departments of common academical knowledge, and not at all for bringing them forward in the discipline of a true Christian life. That was left to outside, more or less sporadic and irregular appliances altogether, and entered in no way into the educational economy of the college itself as its all-pervading spirit and soul.

All this involved, of course–although, alas, I knew it not then–a very serious falling away from the educational and churchly scheme of religion, in which I had been previously born and bred, It was my very first contact with the genius of New-England Puritanism, in its character of contradiction to the old Reformed faith, as I had been baptized into it, in its Presbyterian form, at Middle Spring. It is hardly necessary to say, that circumstanced as I then was, I had no power to withstand the shock, It brought to pass, what amounted for me, to a complete breaking up of all my previous Christian life, For I had come to college, a boy of strongly pious dispositions and exemplary religious habits, never doubting but that I was in some way a Christian, though it had not come with me yet (unfortunately) to what is called a public profession of religion. But now one of the first lessons inculcated on me indirectly by this unchurchly system, was that all this must pass for nothing, and that I must learn to look upon myself as an outcast from the family and kingdom of God, before I could come to be in either in the right way. Such, especially, was the instruction I came under, when a “revival of religion,” as it was called, made its appearance among us, and brought all to a practical point0 This took place in connection with an extended system of revivals, which the celebrated Mr, Nettleton (to my mind, in those days, the impersonation of the Apostle Paul) was then carrying forward with great success in all that region. The system appeared under its best character, it is well known, in his hands, and was altogether different from what it became afterwards in the hands of such men as Finney and Gallagher; when Mr. Nettleton himself withdrew from it his countenance0 Our college awakening was no part of the proper college order as such; Dr. Nott had nothing to do with it; it formed a sort of temporary outside episode, conducted by our Professor of Mathematics, the Rev. Dr. Macauley (on whose name a sad cloud fell afterwards), and certain “pious students,” previously Christianized, secundum artem, who now all at once, were found competent to assist him in bringing souls to the new birth. Miserable obstetricians the whole of them, as I now only too well remember’. For I, along with others, came into their hands in anxious meetings, and underwent the torture of their mechanical counsel and talk, One after another, however, the anxious obtained “hope;” each new case, as it were, stimulating another; and finally, among the last, I struggled into something of the sort myself, a feeble trembling sense of comfort–which my spiritual advisers, then, had no difficulty in accepting as all that the case required. In this way I was converted, and brought into the Church–as if I had been altogether out of it before–about the close of the seventeenth year of my age. My conversion was not fully up to my own idea, at the time, of what such a change should be; but it was as earnest and thorough, no doubt, as that of any of my fellow-converts.

God forbid that I should undervalue the significance of this momentous passage in my life; it was for me a true awakening and decision in the great concern of personal experimental religion, which went beyond all I had known before, and entered deeply into all my subsequent history. But God forbid also, on the other hand, that I should not, at the same time, speak freely of the vast error and fault there was in the whole movement. It was based throughout on the principle, that regeneration and conversion lay outside of the Church, had nothing to do with baptism and Christian education, required rather a looking away from all this as more a bar than a help to the process, and were to be sought only in the way of magical illapse or stroke from the Spirit of God (what Dr. Bushnell has named the ictic experience), as something precedent and preliminary to entering the true fold of the Shepherd and Bishop of souls To realize this, then, became the inward strain and effort of the anxious soul; and what was held to be saving faith in the end, consisted largely in believing that the realization was reached. And so afterwards also, all was made to turn, in the life of religion, on alternating frames and states, and introverted self-inspection, more or less–under the guidance of some such work as Edwards on the Affections. An intense subjectivity, in one word–which is something always impotent and poor- -took the place of a proper contemplation of the grand and glorious obiectivities of the Christian life, in which all the true power of the Gospel at last lies, My own “experience” in this way, at the time here under consideration was not wholesome, but very morbid rather and weak. Alas, where was my mother, the Church, at the very time I most needed her fostering arms? Where was she, I mean, with her true sacramental sympathy and care? How much better it had been for me, if I had only been properly drawn forth from myself by some right soul-communication with the mysteries of the old Christian Creed. As it was, I could not repeat the Creed, and as yet knew it only as one of the questionable relics of Popery. I had never heard it at Middle-Spring; and it was entirely foreign from the religious spirit of Union College.

So it went on with my spiritual life to the close of my college course in 1821, when, as I said before, I returned home a complete bankrupt for the time, in bodily health, My whole constitution, indeed, was, I may say, in an invalid state. I was dyspeptic both in body and mind.


Between Schenectady and Princeton

There is a fashion with diseases; according to which a complaint, not properly epidemic, is found at certain times putting on its worst character and prevailing more widely than common. This was the case with my dyspepsia at the time I came under its power, on my return home from college. It was something more serious a good deal, than what goes by that name commonly now, and in this form appeared then in the character of a new disease, which fell as a scourge on sedentary people, particularly of the younger class. Some knowledge of its symptoms and effects–physical, mental, and moral–may be got from the Ninth Lecture of Professor Hitchcock’s work, Dyspepsia Forestalled and Resisted, published in 1831, but the fruit, he tells us, of a personal conflict with the enemy reaching through twenty years before.

I had the complaint in its worst character; and it hung on to me with a sort of death-like grasp, which for a time seemed to mock all hope of recovery or relief. I experienced all sorts of painful and unpleasant symptoms; was continually miserable and weak; had an intense consciousness all the time of the morbid workings of my physical system; lived in a perpetual casuistry of dietetic rules and questions; and ran through all imaginable helps and cures, only to find, that in my case at least, they signified nothing. At the same time, of course, the disease lay as a cloud upon my mind, entered as a secret poison into all my feelings, and undermined the proper strength and energy of my will. Emphatically might it be called, in every view, a thorn in the flesh, and a very messenger of Satan sent to buffet me with sore and heavy blows.

And the strength of Christ, it must be sorrowfully confessed, was not made perfect in my weakness; for there was no proper room offered it to become so, in the reigning character of my religious life, as it stood at this time. As I have said before, this also was of a most sickly dyspeptic habit, and I was but poorly qualified, therefore, to show the power of grace over against the weakness of nature. No doubt my physical condition had itself much to do with the morbid character of my religion; since where the whole nervous System has come to be thus disordered and deranged, it is not possible that the higher life of the soul, in any case, should not also be involved, more or less seriously, in the general wreck. But apart from this, my piety in its own nature was not of the sort required for such an emergency, as that by which it was now tried as with fire. It was of the sort rather to aggravate and increase the trial; for, as I have already said, it was intensely subjective and introspective Instead of looking to the outward redeeming facts and powers of Christianity, it was too much a habit of looking into its own constitution, as if to be satisfied with the goodness of this first of all, were the only way to true religious satisfaction in any other form. And as all was sure to be found largely unsatisfactory here, what could the result of such painful autopsy be (this everlasting studying of symptoms, this perpetual feeling of the spiritual pulse), other than the weakening of faith, the darkening of hope, and the souring of that most excellent grace of charity itself, which is the very bond of perfectness and of all virtues–in one word, a hopelessly valetudinarian state of the soul, answering in all respects to the broken down condition of its outward tenement, the body.

This was the order of piety I brought home with me from college. It was not after the pattern which had been first set before me in Middle-Spring But Middle-Spring itself, and the Presbyterian churches of the Valley generally, were no longer true to their old position. The change, of which I have spoken before, had already begun to make itself felt. The catechetical system was passing away. What had once been the living power of the old style of religion was, in fact, dying out; and the notion of a new sort of religious life, heard of from other parts of the country, or exemplified irregularly among outside sects, was silently at work in the minds of many; causing it to be felt, more or less, that the modes of thought and worship, handed down from the fathers, had become a good deal prosy and formal, and needed at least to have infused into them a more modern spirit. There was a slow process of Puritanization going forward throughout the Presbytery of Carlisle; a movement in which Carlisle itself, under the vigorous auspices of Dr. George Duffield, took the lead; while this was still met in different quarters, with no small amount of both theoretical and practical resistance, which gave the case the character of a continuous drawing in opposite directions, such as all could feel, however hard it might be to make it plain in words.

All this only helped, of course, to promote the confusion which was already at work in my own religious experience. I was, in some measure, divided between the conservative and the would-be progressive tendencies; having a sort of constitutional, inborn regard for the true underlying sense of the first, but being drawn also, toward the second, by emotional sensibilities which were not to be repressed. I held on outwardly to the regularities of the old Presbyterian life, as they were still in good measure kept up in Middle-Spring; but in thought and feeling went far, at the same time, in justifying different Methodistical modes of piety, as being an the whole, perhaps of more account for the salvation of the world. I was of that awakened younger class in the congregation, who saw for the most part a state of dead formality only in its church services, and found it somewhat difficult to believe, that the older sort of people generally had any religion at all.

So much for my general religious state as far as I can call it to mind, in this darkly remembered, and by no means pleasant interval of my life. It was confused and dark; I might almost say, without form and void; a sort of tumultuating chaos, in which conflicting elements and forces vainly sought for reconciliation, and which it was plain only some new power from heaven could ever effectually bring to order and peace. As for theology, my great vademecum and thesaurus, in those days, was Scott’s heavy Commentary on the Old and New Testaments.

And how was it with my general intellectual life It will be easily understood, that in the circumstances already described it must have fared badly. What mind could prosper under the weight of such double dyspepsia? It did not seem to be much in the way of learning that I had brought away with me from college; but now even this was in danger, apparently, of gliding from my possession, so feeble was the grasp by which it was held. I had no power, much of the time, to study at all; and it was a weariness for me often to read; for there were with me whole weeks and months, during which the “grasshopper was a burden and desire failed,” by reason of physical prostration. And yet the case was not so bad, I see now, in looking back upon it, but that it might have been a great deal worse. It was not, after all, a three years’ hibernation of my intellectual powers; nor was it a retrogression even in their life. On the contrary, my mind, unquestionably, did make some progress in the way of strength and knowledge, however comparatively poor and small. There was discipline in the experience itself, through which I was called to pass; and my outward relations and employments became, in various ways, a profitable school. There were times, too, when I could read, and did read; and I was generally regarded in the community, indeed, as being still a sort of recluse (somewhat morose) scholar only, whose health had been destroyed by study, and whom study now also, would not allow to get well.

One branch of study fell in particularly well with the demand of my health for out-door exercise, the easy and cheerful so-called science of botany; and this, accordingly, I prosecuted, during summers, with great diligence and zeal; scouring the country for miles around, in all directions, on foot or horseback, in search of plants and flowers. Another light exercise I found in improving my knowledge of French. Would that I had put myself, at the same time, to the study of the German But this was to me, then, nothing more than common, useless Dutch and one of the last things for me to have dreamed of, was hat it was to become for me in after life. I gave some occasional attention also, in the way of review, to a few of my college studies, brushing up, especially, my knowledge of the Greek, which I was afraid of losing altogether.* But all this did not amount to much.

[* My physical ailments, I may add, led me to dabble also, considerably, at this time, in medical reading. Then I had, besides, some talent for the composition of poetry (a talent which left me years ago); and in the latter part especially, of the period here under review, I took a considerable amount of more or less profitable literary exercise in this way. My favorite subjects, I remember, were taken from the Psalms of David, or the Odes of Horace; and the composition was not so much in the house as out in the open air, it might be on horseback, or possibly between the handles of the plough. A number of my productions, in this line, appeared in a religious periodical newly started in Carlisle; in whose columns the late Dr. Bethune, a student at the time in Dickinson College, was then exercising his maiden muse also, in the same way.–Akin with this spirit of poetry may have been again the military spirit, which led me into a crack volunteer company, and filled my imagination with all manner of romantic dreams in the high and mighty office of Orderly Sergeant, with which I had the honor of being unanimously invested at its hands.]

One other important educational advantage deserves to be here mentioned; namely, that which I derived from a debating club, in the ancient borough of Shippensburg, near to which my father, at that time, resided. This it was my privilege to attend regularly through the winter months. It was in its time and way a most honorable literary senate. I know not that any of its members, besides myself, are now living, except my old respected friends, James H. Devor, Esq., (then self-learned blacksmith only, but afterwards successful practitioner of law at the Carlisle bar), now living retired in Perry county, and the Hon. George Sanderson, late Mayor for many years of the city of Lancaster.

My regular business now, however, so far as I could be said to have any business at all, was working on my father’s farm. I was at first, indeed, not able to do much in this way, on account of my general physical weakness. But as time went on, I gained gradually a certain amount of strength, and in the end could put myself to all kinds of agricultural labor. This seemed to be the only chance I had for regaining anything like tolerable health; but I came more and more to look upon it also, as my only proper avocation for life. For the idea of going on to prepare myself for a learned profession was now pretty effectually crushed out of my mind. I had no heart or spirit for anything of the sort, and was disposed to look upon my existence as a kind of general failure.

But I was not allowed, after all, to rest quietly in this morbid conclusion. With some improvement in my health, while nearing the age of twenty-one, I found myself urged toward a resumption of study, through inward as well as outward pressure, in a way which it became more and more difficult to Withstand. There was, indeed, but one direction in which the force of this constraint made itself felt. If I was to study for any profession, it seemed to be understood all round, that it must be for the sacred ministry. I was considered to have a born determination to that from the beginning. That was looked to in my being sent to college; and neighbors and friends held it to be my proper destination afterwards, pretty much as a matter of course. And then I was shut up to it also, quite as decidedly in my own mind; so far at least, that I had no power to think seriously of entering any other profession. I could not devote myself to either medicine or law. But just here came my great difficulty. Could I then devote myself with free conscience to divinity? The negative side of the call was clear enough– this profession, or else no profession; but how about the positive side? Was that also clear? Not by any means to my own mind; for my whole religious life, as already shown, was in a fog. This it was especially that caused me to hesitate and pause, when all around me appeared to think I should be going to the Theological Seminary.

The pressure, however, could not be escaped; and so, finally, through no small tribulation of spirit, I was brought to a decision, I would at all events go to Princeton, and study theology; that much, at least, was settled. Whether I should enter the ministry afterwards, or not, was another question. A course of three years in the Seminary might solve the doubt in different ways. One way thought of was that of my own early death; for I was still in the merciless hold of what I felt to be an incurable chronic disease, and had a general imagination that my life, in any case, was to be short. When I went to college, it had been with great misgivings in regard to my boyish scholarship– such was my high ideal at the time of the reigning standard of college education. In proposing to enter the Theological Seminary, I had like imaginings now in regard to my piety; which I felt to be of a very poor sort again, over against my similar idealization of the reigning piety of this venerable institution. Princeton divinity students, so far as they had appeared among us yet in Shippensburg or Middle Spring, had a certain air of conscious sanctimony about them, which seemed to be rebuking all the time the common worldliness of these old congregations (especially on Sundays); and gave the notion of a Young Presbyterianism, which was in a fair way to turn into old-fogyism soon all their existing religious life. I was duly impressed with all this, in the case particularly of three or four excellent young men (now in heaven), whom I well remember; and it was not, tierefore, without a certain amount of fear and trembling, that I left home in the fall of 1823, and became myself matriculated, as a student, in the “school of the prophets” at Princeton.


Five Years at Princeton

I look back upon my days spent at Princeton as, in some respects, the most pleasant part of my life. My entrance into the Theological Seminary brought with it, of itself, a certain feeling of repose, by putting an end to much that had been painfully indeterminate before, in regard to my life, and by offering me the prospect of a quiet harbor for three years at least (should I live that long), from further outside cares and fears; while I was met here, at the same time, with all the opportunities and helps I needed for prosecuting with energy now the new work in which I had embarked. I was in no hurry, as many seemed to be, to get through the Seminary. Looking beyond it, was for me, only looking into the dark. I cared not how long I might rest in it as my home. So I gave myself up with steady, quiet industry to its engagements and pursuits; and I did so, by general acknowledgment, with the best success. The institution itself was at the time, I may say, in the height of its prosperity and reputation. Dr. Miller and Dr. Alexander were in the full vigor of their spiritual powers–the two men best qualified in the whole Presbyterian Church, unquestionably, for the high position in which they were here placed; while Professor Hodge, still young and only recently invested with the distinction of being their colleague, gave ample promise also, even then, of what he has since become, for the Christian world It was a privilege to sit at the feet of these excellent men. So I felt it to be at the time; and so I have never ceased to regard it as having been, through all years since. On the best terms with my revered instructors, in most pleasant relations throughout with my fellow students, in the midst of an old academical retreat, where the very air seemed redolent of literature and science, with no necessity and no wish to pass for the time beyond it–is it any wonder that I came to look on Princeton as a second home, or that memory should still turn back to what it then was for my spirit, as an abode only of pleasantness and peace?

The pleasantness and peace, however, were, of course, only relative, not absolute or full. Where is it otherwise with our pilgrimage through this valley of tears? The trials I brought with me to the Seminary, were not left behind on my entering its halls. My physical ailments showed promise of improvement, but I was still in poor health. This took, finally, the form of a settled affection of the liver; a heavy burden at first, which, in the course of years, however, grew gradually more tolerable; although there has not been a day of my life since, in which I have not felt more or less pain from it, down to the present time. But neither were my spiritual difficulties ended by any means. Embarrassments, fears and doubts, with regard to my personal religion, attended me, more or less, all the time; and the question of my call to the ministry hung with me always in painful suspense, making it very uncertain whether I should ever be able to enter it at all. There was much in the institution to promote earnest concern of this sort. Dr. Alexander’s searching and awakening casuistry, especially in our Sunday afternoon conferences, were of a character not easy to be forgotten. It was by no means uncommon for students to go away from these meetings, in a state of spiritual discouragement bordering on despair. And these, of course, were generally of the more serious and earnest class. Others were not so easily disturbed. Occasionally there might be a formal giving up of old “hopes” altogether, and a re-conversion to new ones.* I had my own share of experiences, which it is not necessary here to repeat; at times exceedingly solemn and deep; often with strong crying and tears; going in the way of soul-crisis, quite beyond the crisis of what was called my conversion in Union College; and yet, I must say, never coming up fully after all to my own anxious ideal of what the new birth ought to be.

[* There rises before my mind here the case, in particular, of a genial bright-minded classmate from Kentucky; who was carried in this way through an experience altogether beyond the common rule. Like Bunyan, he saw visions and heard voices, was in depths and on heights. Finally he went home, wrecked in body and soul, became an infidel; wrote a novel, and studied law. Some time after, however, he renounced his infidelity again, and entered the ministry; preached with fair character for a number of years; and at last perished tragically, by his own hands it seemed, in the waters of Lake Erie.]

There were in fact two different theories or schemes of piety at work in my mind, which refused to coalesce. One was the New England Puritanic theory, as it had taken possession particularly of the revival system, which was now assuming to be the only true sense of the Gospel all over the country; the other was the old proper Presbyterian theory of the seventeenth century, which was also, the general Non-conformist theory of that time, as we have it represented by Baxter, Owen, Howe, and other like religious teachers of the same age. There was, for me, a difference between the two systems, which I could feel without being able to explain. The old system was not, by any means, all that the true idea of the Church required; but it stood much nearer to this than the new one, whose great characteristic it is, as we know, to be on principle unchurchly and unsacramntal altogether. My own religious life, as already shown, started in the bosom of the old Reformed order. It belonged to the Presbyterianism of the Westminster Assembly. I had with this, moreover, a sort of constitutional affinity, which would never allow me to feel altogether at home in the other more modern system. I may add, too, that our teaching at Princeton had much in it, that went ‘against the new here, and in favor of the old. Dr. Miller was strong on certain ecclesiastical points especially, that would not square at all with the new way of thinking; while Dr. Alexander was always recommending the divinity and piety of the seventeenth century, as it was easy to see also, that they formed the element in which mainly his own piety lived, moved, and had its being. But with all this, the other unchurchly scheme also exercised over me a strong practical force, which I was not able to withstand. Our teaching was not steadily and consistently in one direction. I had, besides, already taken something of a wrong set in the wrong way. This was the case also, with the students generally. But few of them cared much for the divinity of the Reformed, Church in the seventeenth century, *iether in Helvetia, Holland, France, or Great Britain. The tide of actual living throughout around us lay all now another way; and all of us, whether we would have it so or not, fell inwardly and experimentally, more or less, under captivity to its power.

So it was that I found myself in a sort of strait between these two systems, and knew not how to adjust the one rightly with the other in my religious life. The difficulty was a seriously practical one, and it attended me through all my Princeton years; although my mind, toward the end, began to take in regard to it, more and more, the bent which came to prevail with me fully at a later time.

Among the different departments of study in the Seminary, that of Oriental and Biblical Literature, Which was then in the hands of Dr. Hocige, engaged at once a large share of my attention. The way in which this took place, rather against my own will than with it, was somewhat curious. I had provided myself, at some cost, with the necessary textbooks for the study of Hebrew, and had got just far enough in the Grammar to find it a wilderness of apparent difficulties, when the unwelcome discovery stared me in the face, that all the course came to, with the students commonly, was a smattering knowledge only of some few chapters of the Bible, pretty sure to be forgotten again through negligence in later life. My spirit sank within me at the thought of so dry a task ending in such a poor and barren result, and I came to the conclusion to give up the study. Happily, however, I had a wise and faithful adviser, in my friend, Matthew L. Fullerton, who was then in the Senior class of the Seminary, and who had taken me to room with him as his chum. He would not hear of my dropping the Hebrew. How could I know, he said, what use I might not have for it hereafter in the service of the Church. In vain I plead my distaste for it, my want of firm health, and my own full persuasion that if I ever entered the ministry at all, it would be in some out of the way country congregation, where Hebrew would be of no sort of use to me whatever. He only laughed at my talk, and put it the more earnestly on my conscience to do what he held to be plainly present duty in the case, leaving consequences and results with God. In this way he prevailed. I took up again my half-discarded Grammar, and determined, cost what it might, to make myself master of the new situation. This meant for me now, however, much more than gaining a mere introduction to the Hebrew language. I must make it my own, so as to have it in sure use, and to be in no danger of losing it again. So to work with it I went in good full earnest; and to my great comfort, in a short time, the lion which was in the way disappeared altogether. I soon pushed ahead of the class in the exercise of reading; and by the time they had got through three or four chapters, I was at the end of Genesis. Then I laid down my plan to tax myself with a new lesson privately every day. The task became soon a pleasure; and in this way, before the close of my course, I made out to finish the entire Bible. I had a right then to be considered, as I was considered in fact, the best Hebrew scholar in the Institution.

I have been the more particular to notice, the unforeseen and seemingly casual turn which was given, in this way, to my theological studies at the beginning, because it exercised, in fact, a etermifling influence on my whole Seminary course, and through that, as we shall see, on all my subsequent life. It led to my devoting myself, more than I might otherwise have done, to biblical and exegetical learning generally. This opened the way for my temporary employment as teacher at Princeton; and that service again drew after it immediately my call to the Western Theological Seminary at Pittsburgh. So God leadeth the blind providentially in paths that they have not known, making darkness light before them and crooked things straight.

To myself, so far as the future of my life was concerned, all beyond my regular course in the Seminary was, while it lasted, painfully dark. I looked forward with fear to the close of this course. It seemed only to be coming too fast; and in the end I found myself so shut up with regard to entering the ministry, that I began to cast about seriously for at least a present outlet from the difficulty in some other employment. The idea was to take a classical school.
My communications to my friends on the subject, were gloomy and full of distress; and I do not know that I can in any other way represent the general condition, in which my mind was (a most material part, as all may easily see, of my inward biography), so well as by quoting a couple of passages from two different letters of my most worthy and excellent father, called forth by the occasion of these doleful self-bewailings.

“I should be sorry, my dear son,” he writes in 1825, “should I live to see you mount the sacred desk, induced by any other motive than the love of Christ and the salvation of souls. But I should be sorry, that you should be deterred from preaching the Gospel, by aiming at such an abstraction from worldly things as is seldom attainable, and by no means desirable; because were such an indifference to the things of this world universally to obtain, it would very soon come to an end. We find our great Guide and Master, in going about doing good, mixing and conversing with all kinds of mankind, present at a wedding, directing the fishermen, and supplying food and wine even by miracle. The accounts which we read of the lives and experience of pious men are to be received with caution. ‘De mortuis nil nisi bonum.’ Of those, with those originals I was acquainted, the writer, even when he comes nearest the truth, imitates the painter, who gives a prominent appearance to beauty and elegance, but throws defect and deformity into the shade. I believe that there are as pious men now living as Edwards, Doddridge, and those others you mention. But there is still remaining in the world a little of that ‘pious fraud, ‘ as it is usually termed, which, in those memoirs of good men, whether auto-biographical or otherwise, thinks it better for the interests of our religion to conceal those blemishes which are inseparable from our nature, and present a faultless character for the imitation of posterity. But they err in this. Their design may be good; but the effect is the reverse. They teach us to expect what never yet happened. So did not Paul. And why, my son, stagger at what is written of those men when the pupil of Gamaliel presents himself to you in far other guise? He wrote not as Baxter or Watts. He held the pen of inspiration. He conceals neither his faults nor his fears. His Letter to Timothy is by far more valuable than all that has been published on that subject since. But, blessed be God, still we may ascend in our inquiry after truth, and drink at the fountain head. Remember that our Lord and Master Himself catechized Peter, as to his fitness to take upon him the pastoral office. The examination was plain, short, and simple, easy to be understood, and at once reaches the heart. If I stood thus, it would be enough for me boldly to set out on my embassy–if otherwise qualified as to human learning and talents for a teacher—regardless of all the experience that has since been left on record—‘Simon, son of Jonas, lovest thou Me?’ On his answering in the affirmative, He immediately set him apart for the sacred office: ‘Feed My Lambs.’”

Again in 1826: “The Presbytery will be organized in Carlisle next month. I do not understand by your last letter, whether you intend to place yourself under its care now or not. You are clearly enough understood to say, that you would not preach the Gospel now if admitted; and from your allusions to ‘disappointing expectations, ‘ and ‘being urged into the ministry,’ I must conclude that you are still doubtful whether ever you shall enter the sacred desk as a teacher. On one point let us distinctly understand one another. I thought that I never pointed out a profession to you–I had determined never to do so to any of my sons. ‘Tis true, I rejoiced when you yourself looked Zion- ward, and proposed to enlist under the banner and become a soldier of Jesus Christ. I gave you cheer fully to Him, with thanks, and with prayers, that even you might be accepted and made useful and wise to win souls. But far be it from me, even at this stage of preparation, to urge you into the ministry Unless you feel that you can take upon you that sacred office, with your whole heart and soul devoted to your Master’s cause, and resolved, through His grace, never to look back, having put your hand to the plough, you had better stop where you are. However I might have desired that you should preach the Gospel, believe me, my son, I would much rather you would never enter the pulpit, than that you Should do so with doubt or hesitancy–or I will add incapacity. You would do no good.” Then, discouraging my idea of taking a Grammar School, he says, among other things: “You have already been too long immured in schools and seminaries for the good of your bodily health; and it may be that the health of your mind would also receive benefit by your separating yourself from lectures and recitations. It is time for you to see the world as it is, and know your fellow creatures as they are. There is danger of your forming erroneous opinions of men and things; of your conceiving and brooding over ideas of duty and conduct altogether utopian and visionary–not to be realized.”

As may be seen from this correspondence, my way was strangely hid and hedged in, so as to be without light beyond that of all others in my class. And so it ran on quite to the end; when, in view of leaving the Seminary, I had already entered into communication with the late Dr. Dewitt, of Harrisburg, with regard to opening a Grammar School in that place; seeing in the profession of teaching, after all, what was for me, in my existing state of mind, the only allowable alternative to entering at once into the ministry. Then all at once the high, black wall before me gave way; and light fell upon my path, as unexpectedly as if it had opened before me from heaven itself. It had been arranged, that Dr. Hodge, for the benefit of the institution, should make a two years’ visit to Europe; and so now, within a few days only of the close of our term, and without the least hint of any such thing having reached me before, he tendered me in form the privilege and honor of filling his place, as assistant teacher in the Seminary, during the time of his absence. The salary was small; only two hundred dollars a year; not quite enough to live on, even in those cheap days.* But I made no account of that. The offer came to me as an enlargement when I was in distress. it seemed the Lord’s doing, and was marvellous in my eyes; leaving no room for any doubt with regard to my duty. And so I closed with it at once.

[* You do not say”–my father writes some time after, with a touch of humor in his kindness– “how you are getting along with your salary. When you need money tell me so, and I’ll send it to you. Make inquiry also, as to keeping a horse, both as to cost and convenience; and if you wish to take one on your return in the fall, I have an elegant young horse, which you may have. Tell me in your next whether you conclude to take the horse: because if he goes to the Seminary, some little things in regard to him must be attended to before he could appear decently on classic ground. Remember I don’t want you to support the horse out of your salary.”]

Thus my three years at Princeton, were lengthened into five; and my existence became, in this way, entwined with the place as a settled residence still more than before. My studies also, went on more effectually than ever, being aided now by the work of teaching others. For there is nothing like this, in the end, as a discipline of learning for ourselves. To learn and to teach are, in a certain sense, reciprocal needs and mutually complemental powers. They go hand in hand together.

In this period I wrote my Biblical Antiquities, in compliance with an urgent request, which I felt I had no right to refuse. in the hands of the American Sunday School Union, the book came afterwards into very wide circulation, and continues in general popular use to the present day. It cost me a heavy amount of work, for which I was very poorly paid.

My Princeton life ended with the return of Dr. Hodge from Europe in 1828. Before that, however, I had been fixed upon as the proper person for the chair of Biblical Literature in the new Theological Seminary, which the General Assembly was now taking steps to establish in the West. in the meantime, having previously placed myself under the care of the Carlisle Presbytery, I appeared before that body at a special meeting held October 2, 1828, in the city of Philadelphia, and after satisfactory trial, was there licensed to preach the Gospel; to which work then afterwards I devoted myself actively, in a more or less itinerant way, for more than a whole year.


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