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triumphs of the cross, and partake of the blessings which they slighted.” O had he foreseen how soon the entire denomination of which he was a member, was to set up the banner of hostility against the very principle of union, and to make war against every institution based upon that principle, the Bible Society not excepted ;--had he foreseen how soon they would be digging deeper and wider than ever their sectarian entrenchments, and building high and strong their “walls of partition,” and manifesting but little solicitude how many benevolent enterprises are defeated, if their own party interests may thereby be promoted—would not the prospect have thrown darkness over the triumph of his departing spirit, and added new bitterness to the cold waters of the river of death?
His early departure was felt to be a public calamity. After the lapse of five years, the impression is still deep on our minds, that his early death was indeed a public calamity. Had he lived a few years longer, and had his popularity lived with him, we cannot but believe that he would have exerted on the progress of religion in this country, a most desirable influence. He has left behind him no man to carry forward the work to which he was peculiarly fitted, and which he seemed to have begun. We doubt not that there are in the methodist church, ministers of equal native genius with Summerfield, and of perhaps more intellectual strength and acuteness. Certainly there are among those whom he has left behind, men admirably fitted for their work, and of great skill in tactics. There may be some living methodist ministers better educated than Summerfield, and more learned ;--there may be some not less fervent and humble in their piety ;—there may be some whose sermons are better than his ;-we would hope there are some of a spirit equally kind, gentle, and catholic. But we know of none among their leaders now, of whom it can be recorded hereafter, how much they have done “towards destroying sectarian bigotry.” We know of no man in any denomination, who occupies a position in relation to the interests of the church of God, so peculiar as the position in which Summerfield stood at the time of his death ;-none who possesses an influence so peculiarly fitted as his was, to operate for the alleviation of party differences among christians, and the annihilation of party malignity. But these regrets are unavailing.
The inquiry presents itself, To what causes was the singular popularity of Suinmerfield to be ascribed? How great that popularity was, how many thousands were moved and delighted by his eloquence, with what sentiments of confidence and affection he was regarded by the entire christian public, the reader is aware. Where was the secret of his strength ?
It cannot be thought that all this popularity, and all this real success, was owing to the superiority of his intellectual powers.
There is nothing in the volume before us, which indicates any extraordinary strength or acuteness of intellect. What his discourses were in this respect, there are now no means of judging, aside from the testimony of his hearers; for though he left the manuscript outlines of several hundred sermons, the writer of his memoirs found nothing which he ventured to give as a specimen of his talents, or even of his style of considering and treating the subjects on which he preached. We cannot indeed approve of the course thus adopted; we cannot but feel that we should have been better pleased with the privilege of judging for ourselves in this matter, than with the united testimony of Mr. Holland and Mr. Montgomery, that these sketches contained nothing corresponding with his reputation. It is certain, however, that his discourses were rarely argumentative; that his eloquence was never the eloquence of strong deep original thought; that he never seized on the minds of his hearers, as some speakers do, wielding them at will, by the mere strength and energy of his intellect. His most enthusiastic admirers would feel that to compare him, in this respect, with such men as Chalmers and Foster, and many of our living preachers, would be the height of injustice. Indeed, that sort of eloquence is never precocious; it is as slow of growth, as it is strong in its texture. No man, dying at the premature age of twenty-seven, has ever left on earth the reputation of having possessed such a power.
To what then must the popularity and power of Summerfield as a preacher be ascribed ? It cannot be accounted for, as some may perhaps be ready to imagine, by attributing all the effects which have been described, to popular caprice. Preachers we have seen, indeed, with no power but the charm of “words, mere words,” and the attraction of a theatrical enunciation and an outlandish accent, whom yet the multitude would follow for a few days, merely for the sake of being crowded; whose audiences were full because they were expected to be full, and whose harangues were popular, because they were said to be popular. But such was not the fact in regard to Summerfield. Something may indeed be allowed for the influence of circumstances, and of the fashion of admiring him; but still his popularity was of another order, his preaching had a power which was not factitious.
His mind, if not endowed with the highest kind of genius, or furnished with extraordinary attainments, was distinguished by promptness and quickness in its operations, and was cultivated by early study, to a degree which, in this country certainly, is rare among preachers of his denomination. Though he began his ministry so soon after his conversion, it was not without a preparation in some respects admirable. His classical studies, though not extensive, yet having been commenced early in life, were not to him what such studies often are, when commenced at a later period, and only imperfectly attended to,-an incumbrance rather than an advantage, hanging awkwardly on the mind, instead of strengthening its powers ;—they had on his mind their legitimate effects. His intellect thus cultivated, had a reach and freedom of thought, which exempted him from the necessity of repeating in all his discourses, the standard common-places of any sect. His taste, naturally delicate in its perceptions, was refined and polished by early discipline, and by his acquaintance with literature. His language was rich and beautiful; he was never at a loss for a word, and his words were chaste and happy. His preaching was thus characterized by good sense and good taste; and by that easy flow of expression and of illustration, which always relieves both speaker and hearer of embarrassment, and places them on terms of mutual confidence and intercourse.
In this way he was enabled to breathe, as it were, all his own feelings into the spirits of his auditors. When he stood before immortal souls in the name of God, to call them to repentance, he seems to have felt always the inspiration of his theme, and the excitement of the occasion. His piety was fervent as it was unaffected ; his ideas of experimental religion consisted too much, for his own peace,—too much we might perhaps say, for his own religious improvement–in that passionate excitement which is so characteristic of methodist devotion. When the excitement was on him, he was happy; when it went down he was ready to despair. But even this made all his religious feelings more vivid; so that not only his habitual intercourse with God and eternity, but all the fluctuations of hope and fear by which he was so often agitated, gave a brighter reality in his mind to the truths which he preached; and prepared him, himself alive with emotion, to touch the feelings of others. “His eloquence,” in the language of one of his eulogists, " was pre-eminently that of the heart."
Let not what we have here said be mistaken. The piety of Summerfield was the sincere and humble piety of an intelligent and cultivated mind; and far be it from us to cast any imputation on the purity of its fervor. But who that reads the extracts from his journal contained in the volume before us, can help feeling that had he been taught to pay less regard to excitement, and more regard to principles in the estimation of his own characterhad he been taught to think less of frames and flights of delighted sensibility, and to think more of habitual desires and purposes, as indicating the temper and state of the soul; he would not only have been happier in the enjoyment of his faith and hope, but would have made more rapid progress towards the full attainment of the temper which belongs to the spirits of just men made perfect. Nor would such views, or such a tone of piety, have diminished YOL. II.
in any degree the thrilling fervor of his discourses. His own apprehensions would have been more clear, his own emotions more vivid ; and he would have reached the hearts of his hearers with an eloquence still more etherial. Nothing short of inspiration can exceed the melting and resistless earnestness, the kindling and burning emotion which glow in even the printed discourses of Payson.
In enumerating the causes to which Summerfield owed his success as a preacher, his peculiarly graceful and impressive elocution should by no means be omitted. The art of elocution is often slighted by preachers; and indeed the displays of elocution which, unhappily, are sometimes made in the pulpit by those who would be thought fine speakers, are fitted to bring the art into contempt, as if it were of course mere trick and grimace, good for nothing but to supply the want of devotion and of common sense. But that elocution which consists simply in presenting “ the sense and sentiment” of the speaker in the clearest and most striking manner to the mind of the hearer, is an art which no man can reasonably despise, and which no preacher of the gospel can neglect without incurring a fearful responsibility. He of whom we now speak, possessed by nature a voice of uncommon sweetness and expression, an ear nicely attuned to the perception of melody in all its delicate variations, and a countenance which, in the pulpit, changed with every change of thought or emotion. His passion for oratory, as has been already remarked, was developed in childhood, and his powers were assiduously cultivated. That passion he never ceased to indulge and cherish, through all the changes of his youth. He had enjoyed many opportunities of hearing the best speakers of his native country in every profession; and with him to hear was to learn. When he began to speak in public, his native genius found its appropriate field, and the strongest passion of his soul broke forth into action. To him the groans, and shouting amens of a methodist prayer-meeting, were what the “hear! hear!” of the House of Commons was to Canning, or the plaudits of the theatre to Garrick; he knew when his voice touched the springs of emotion, and the noise was like the noise of battle to the war horse. Constant practice, and especially the frequent repetition of the same discourses to different audiences, perfected his skill. His elocution was not the boisterous vehemence which “o'ersteps the modesty of nature," nor was it a theatrical affectation of pathos; it was perfectly chaste and simple, the most natural and most expressive enunciation of his thoughts and feelings in a voice of which every note was melody, aided by a countenance which enforced with its own power of expression every word and every intonation.
Another element of his popularity, and one which had much
connection with his power, was his extraordinary freedom from the spirit of sectarianism. We do not doubt that he was heartily a methodist. No doubt he sincerely believed that the doctrines and discipline of methodism, were to be preferred above those of any other religious community in christendom. But at the same time, his spirit seems to have had no tincture of sectarian zeal. He was obviously far more desirous to make men followers of Christ, than to make them followers of Wesley. His mind was too liberal in its style of thinking, and too generous in its temper, to wear the shackles of a party. He could preach the gospel without always bringing forward the technical phrases or the peculiar doctrines of Wesleyan theology. He could call sinners to repentance, without stopping to warn them against the errors of his “presbyterian brethren;" or to descant on the “ gorgons, hydras, and chimeras dire,” of the Saybrook Platform. He loved most, those simple, majestic, living truths, which all consciences acknowledge, and to which all christian hearts respond. He loved his fellow christians wherever he could find them; he loved to take sweet counsel with them, and to co-operate with them for the interests of christianity, which he always held paramount to all the interests of his own sect. He loved the Bible Society, and the Tract Society, and every institution in which christians of various names unite for the prosecution of a common christian enterprise ; for where parties and sects are forgotten, there he seemed to feel the most of heaven. This spirit
, manifesting itself in all his deportment, disarmed suspicion, and secured for him the confidence and love of all the churches. This spirit pervaded his discourses, and shed over his ministrations an air of gentleness and love. Every hearer listened without jealousy or fear. There was nothing of disputation in his preaching, nothing of narrow partizanship, nothing that broke forth to wound or to vex. Thus taking his position as a minister simply of christianity, and pleading with men simply for God and for their own souls, he triumphed over prejudice, and carried the hearts of his hearers whithersoever he would. If all would preach thus, if all would so preach that a christian stranger who might sit under their ministrations, seeing no party banner hung out on the outward wall, and hearing no sectarian watchword, would regard them simply as christians and would be at loss how else to distinguish them- if all would and all could preach thus; how much that now causes thousands to stumble and fall--how much that now divides and weakens the "host of God's elect"--would cease and be forgotten. If all were in spirit like Summerfield, how soon would " the watchmen see eye to eye ;" how soon would the waste places break forth into joy and sing together; how soon would the ends of the earth see the salvation of our God.