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MEMOIR OF JOSEPH LATHROP, D. D.
JOSEPH LATHROP was a descendant, in the fourth generation, from the Rev. John Lathrop, a minister of Barnstable, in England, who migrated to this country in 1634, and settled in the ministry, in a town which received the same name in Massachusetts. He was a son of Solomon and Martha (Perkins) Lathrop, and was born in Norwich, Conn., October 20, 1731, (O.S.) His parents were both exemplary professors of religion, and were highly respected in the community in which they lived. The death of the father, before the son had reached
of two years, devolved upon his mother the entire conduct of his early education; and by her he was instructed in the elementary branches, and especially in the principles of religion. In 1739, when he was in his eighth year, his mother was married to a Mr. Loomis, of Bolton, Conn., whom Joseph, when he was fourteen, chose as his guardian. About this time, the great Whitefieldian revival was going forward with mighty power in different parts of the country, and it reached the neighbourhood in which this family lived. Joseph's mind was deeply affected by what he saw and heard, though, to his deep regret, he did not attain to that high measure of joy that was manifested by many around him. It seems, however, not improbable that this may have been the commencement of his Christian life.
When he was about sixteen years of age, he began to entertain a strong desire for a collegiate education, but there was a difficulty in the way, owing to the fact that his patrimony lay chiefly in lands, and no one had the power to dispose of them for the purpose which he contemplated. Through the kindness of his step-father and another near relative, however, this matter was satisfactorily adjusted, so that he was able at once to commence his course of study. He was fitted for college under the Rev. Thomas White, minister of the Congregational Church in Bolton, who was a very competent teacher. He entered Yale College in 1750, and graduated in 1754, maintaining, through his whole course, a very high standing for talents, scholarship, and deportment. During his last year in college, he was deeply affected by several deaths among his fellow-students, the result of which was that his own personal salvation became with him a matter of renewed interest; but he was now discouraged by the apprehension that he was not one of the elect. In one of his solitary walks, he fell into a train of thought like the following, by means of which his mind was effectually relieved :-"A Saviour has come to open a way of salvation for sinners. Salvation is offered, and the terms are stated. The offer is to all, and the terms are the same for all. In God there is no insincerity. To him belong secret things. Things only which are revealed belong to me. There can be no desire which frustrates the Divine promises. If I comply with the terms, the benefits promised are mine. God has chosen men to salvation, through sanctification of the Spirit and belief of the truth. It concerns me to make my election sure by adding to my faith, virtue, &c. By faith and patience I may inherit the promises." Soon after this, he made a public profession of religion, by becoming a member of the church in Bolton.
Shortly after his graduation at college, he went to Springfield, First Parish, and took charge of a grammar school, at the same time placing himself, as a student of Theology, under the care of the Rev. Robert Breck, in whose family he boarded. Here he was associated with Mr. Josiah Whitney,* then a licensed candidate, with whom he had been for two years a contemporary in college, and with whom he continued in intimate relations to the close of his life. In January, 1756, he was licensed to preach by an Association of ministers convened at Suffield, Conn.
In March following, he was invited to preach as a candidate to the parish in West Springfield, then vacant by the death of the Rev. Samuel Hopkins. In July, he received a unanimous call to become
* Afterwards the Rev. Dr. Whitney, of Brooklyn, Conn., who died in 1824, at the age of ninety-three.
+ Mr. Hopkins was an uncle to the Rev. Dr. Samuel Hopkins, of Newport, and was the minister of West Springfield from 1720 to 1755.
their pastor, and on the 25th of August, he was ordained and installed, the Rev. Mr. Breck, his theological instructor, preaching on the occasion. Soon after his ordination, he set apart a day for private devo-, tion, with special reference to the solemnity and importance of the work on which he was entering. After making a fresh dedication of himself to God, he formed certain resolutions, designed to cover his whole conduct, of which he left the following record :
“With regard to my devotions, I resolved,
"That I would direct my morning thoughts to God, and spend some of my earliest moments in conversing with him—that at evening I would recollect the sins and errors of the day, seeking God's mercy for pardon, and his grace for future security, and would review occur. rences in Providence with suitable reflections upon them—that I would anticipate the seasons of devotion when I foresaw probable diversionsthat I would transact ordinary business in the fear of God, set him before me, and act under a sense of his presence—that I would seek a more intimate acquaintance with religion in its doctrines and duties, and make it the rule of my conduct and the source of my comfort.
“With regard to the government of myself, I resolved
To use God's creatures with sobriety—to exclude vain and sinful thoughts, to suppress rising corruptions, to avoid foreseen temptations, and resist such as might suddenly assail me, to set a watch before me in places of known danger, to guard against rash and unadvised speech, to keep my passions in subjection, and acquire, so far as possible, an habitual command of them.
“In my treatment of men, I resolved
To preserve a sacred regard to truth in my words and to justice in my conduct, to be tender of characters, kind to the needy, meek under supposed injuries, thankful for favours, hospitable to strangers, condescending in cases of difference, courteous and peaceable to all men.
“In my ministerial character and work, I resolved
To cultivate in my heart, and exemplify in my life, that religion which I had undertaken to preach, to compose my sermons with perspicuity and accommodate them to the circumstances of my people, to attend on my ministry even though I might incur worldly loss—to select subjects of real importance and handle them faithfully, though I myself should fall under the censure of my own preaching—to improve providences in my preaching—to commend myself to the consciences of my hearers, in things indifferent to make not my own will and humour but the common peace and edification the rule of my conductto visit, advise and comfort my people as occasion might require; but not to spend in ceremonious and useless visits the time that ought to be employed in my study—to attend to the calls of rich and poor indifferently, without preferring one before another—to write my sermons with care, and seek divine direction when I entered on the composition of them—to approach God's house with collection of thought, and with a petition for the presence of his grace—to speak that only which might be profitable, and to keep back nothing that was so—to choose out acceptable but upright words—to pay particular attention to the youth in my preaching—to examine what effect my preaching has on myself, and pray that it may have a saving effect on my hearers—to commend my people often to the grace of God, and to remember at his throne their various particular cases-in all my religious inquiries to make the sacred oracles my guide, and never to receive for doctrine the commandments of men.
“Having formed and written these resolutions, I laid them before God, and concluded with this prayer :My gracious God, these resolutions I have formed in thy presence, and I hope in thy fear. My performance will depend on thy grace. This I now humbly implore. Let it be present with me, and be sufficient for me. I plead no worthi. ness of my own, for none have I to plead ; but other and better arguments abound. They are such as thou hast put into my mouth and into my heart. Let these prevail. I plead thine abundant mercy; the righteousness and intercession of thy Son; the power and goodness of thy Spirit; the free offers of thy help made in thy word ; thy command that I should seek thy Spirit, and the promise annexed to the command. May I not also plead my relation to thy people. Thou hast put me into the ministry. Let not my sins and my unworthi. ness hinder my receiving such a supply of thy grace as may be necessary to the success of my ministry. Let not my iniquities stand in the way of the salvation of any one of my fellow sinners. However, it may ultimately fare with me, my heart's desire and prayer for my people is that they may be saved."
On the 16th of May, 1759, he was married to Elizabeth, daughter of Seth Dwight, of Hatfield, Mass. In this connexion was laid the foundation for much domestic happiness. They had six children, all of them sons. One died in infancy-all the rest lived to mature years, and three of them to an advanced age. One of them, Seth, passed his whole active life as a physician in his native place, and another, Samuel, was graduated at Yale College in 1791, entered the profession of Law, was for many years a member of Congress, and held several honourable positions in his own State. Mrs. Lathrop survived her husband about four months and a half, and died on the 13th of May, 1821, in consequence of the fracture of a bone occasioned by a fall upon the ice.
In 1772, a controversy arose in his parish on the subject of Baptism, which occasioned considerable agitation, though it seems to have been conducted, on all sides, without marked asperity. In the progress of this controversy, he preached several sermons on the subject, which were published shortly after, and have since been widely circulated in many editions, on both sides of the Atlantic. These sermons contain one of the most luminous, candid and satisfactory expositions and defences of the doctrine of the Pædo Baptists, which the English language furnishes.
At the commencement of the Revolutionary war, in 1775, he, in common with many of his brethren, was not a little embarrassed by the emission of the paper currency; and, as his salary was reduced to a mere pittance, he was obliged to devote a small part of his time to the labours of the field. In addition to this, an epidemic disease, prevailing in his parish for three successive summiers, imposed upon him a greatly increased measure of pastoral duty. Under this pressure his own health began at length to decline. Early in 1778, the small-pox appeared in the neighbourhood, and as neither himself nor his family had ever had the disease, they were all inoculated for it, and went into a hospital. Owing to the great demand for his pastoral services, he resumed his labours before his strength had returned sufficiently to warrant it; and after two or three months, so feeble had he become that he was obliged to desist from his work altogether. After journeying, and using other means to invigorate his health, he ventured to return to his pulpit in December following; but, after about four months, the revival of his malady obliged him to quit it again, which he did with the full conviction that his ministry had now come to a close. However, after about eighteen months, he was able, in a sitting posture, to address his people for about fifteen minutes; and from that