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- THE LATE REV. THOMAS GRAY, D. D.*
The life of Dr. Gray extended beyond the allotted term, connected him with a generation that has gone, and enabled him to be a witness to the present of the things that have been. In his youth and early manhood he was contemporary with many, within and without the walks of his profession, who by their gifts and services have won for themselves an honored name, but whom we for the most part can know only in their history. Of such he loved to speak; and with the kindness of heart which was a part of his nature, he never failed to do justice to their virtues, Preëminent among them was that “ famous divine," Dr. Chauncy, — justly so designated in the discourse before us, - by whom he was baptized in his infancy, and whose characteristic plainness of speech, so different from his own, was to Dr. Gray a subject of wonder, while his rare theological attainments were the frequent theme of his praise. With bim, in those halcyon days of ministers in Boston, when diversities of opinion, expressed or fully understood, were held in the spirit of the most cordial fellowship, were united Colman and the Coopers, father and son, Mayhew and the Eliots, Belknap and Clarke, Everett and Howe (whose youth gave rich promise which early death disappointed), Howard and Lathrop, who had each, either by genius or learning, by professional distinction or the works they have left behind them, and all by personal virtues, a claim to the remembrance of posterity. It was the practice in those days, somewhat beyond the present, to commemorate departed ministers. The 'six of the brethren who bore the pall at the funeral - such being the invariable usage — were expected to utter the eulogy on as many successive Sundays. This was not without its evil, as it tempted to profuse, not to say indiscriminate, praise of the dead, and sometimes made a larger demand upon the assent or the sympathies of the bereaved congregation than was reasonable or profitable. But it was also the occasion of many just and eloquent
* “Gathered to his People.” A Sermon preached in the Congregational Church on Jamaica Plain, Rorbury, Saturday, June 5th, 1847, at the Funeral of Rev. Thomas Gray, D. D. By N. L. FROTHINGHAM, Minister of the First Church in Boston. Boston. 1847. 8vo. pp. 16.
249 tributes to the eminent or excellent of their day; and, as we write, we have before us a large selection of such discourses, gathered by a careful hand into many volumes, in which the characters of the individuals we have named are ably portrayed; and in the first of which we find, in the handwriting of the collector, than whom no one either in life or in death was more honored or cherished, the following words : “ Being once acquainted either with the subjects of these funeral discourses or the preachers of them, I have found a satisfaction in perusing, and now in gathering them, which I have sometimes failed to find in more finished productions. Some of them, however, have great merit as compositions ; and all of them have to me their peculiar interest, by recalling to my remembrance the respected images of those who have served their generation faithfully, and whose memories have been precious to their people and to their friends."
The sermon at the funeral of Dr. Gray claims a high place among discourses of this class, and more than justifies the choice which the lamented subject of it many years before his death made of his friend, Dr. Frothingham, to perform this service. Besides the peculiar attractions of style and the richness of sentiment which we have learned to expect from this source, it portrays with the most skilful and discriminating hand, with a rare union of truthfulness and kindness, the traits of the deceased, and presents a highly interesting view of his personal and professional history. It is seldom that a more just or faithful portraiture is delineated ; and were all eulogies of the dead uitered in like wisdom and fidelity, the pulpit in mourning and the funeral orator would be regarded with more confidence than the too customary exaggerations sometimes allow.
We quote the following paragraph, as exhibiting the leading features in the character of Dr. Gray; and if, with the fidelity we find so much reason to commend, the preacher adverts to an undeniable foible, it is impossible not to admire the skilful gentleness with which it is described as “the least unamiable of the weaknesses into which good men may fall”; or to forget how it was united with a benevolence of heart, which prompted continually to the kindest deeds, and in instances not a few, as we can testify, has left its grateful impression on the memories of his brethren and friends. *
* Dr. Gray's release from the constant duties of his ministry while asso
6. The chief merit of Dr. Gray as a public man lay in the faithful and affectionate oversight that he took of the charge that was here committed to him. As a preacher he was agreeable and often effective. His voice was full and clear, and he was not unstudious of those graces of expression that suitably adorn a discourse. He brought to his pulpit the best fruit of his medi. tations. His discourses were always of a practical character, He did not love to run upon points of controversy. He entered into few disquisitions upon speculative truth. Towards those who differed from him in doctrine he was always inclined to be candid and liberal, but his attention was not turned much upon differences. His great object was to impress the minds of his hearers, in the kind way that was the only one he knew, with the sense of their daily obligations. He wished to keep them Christian believers, and to infuse into their belief more and more of its tem. per of love and mutual consideration. But it was as a pastor that his influence was the most conspicuous. He loved this place and all who belonged to it. He made himself closely acquainted with the members of his congregation, the youngest and the old. est. He was always ready with his friendly word, with his counsel and his consolation. He exerted himself to restore harmony, if it had been anywhere interrupted, and, wherever he went, carried with him a cordial disposition and the wish to serve. He had the wisdom of counsel with him also, and his advice was always worth the considering. He was cautious of giving offence, both from prudence and charity. It was in this way, I think, that he succeeded in maintaining among his people a remarkable degree of unanimity. He held them together in a prosperous condition, with a good understanding towards each other, and a considerate attachment to him. He thus rendered a great blessing, my brothers and friends of this society, to your fathers and to you, and to the institution of the Gospel on this pleasant spot. It was the blessing of continued numbers and agreeing sentiments ;blessing quite as great, it appears to me, as is brought to pass by larger displays of talent, that sometimes make a religious society wholly dependent on the transient admiration that ihey inspire, and sometimes break it up into parties and ruins by the obstinacy of a heated opinion. He was affable and social and of a lively temper, and knew how to be sportive without violating the proprieties of his years and station. He loved so well to praise, that he might have been thought to shape his speech too much
ciated with his colleagues, and his subsequent entire resignation of his charge, afforded him opportunities, as long as health permitted, of efficient aid to his clerical brethren, which he was always ready to bestow; and in their sicknesses or their absence many and substantial have been the servi. ces which he has thus most kindly rendered.
Incidents of his Life.
- pp. 12, 13.
towards the desire of pleasing. But I could never find that this disposition of his was demeaned by any insincerity. He could be as free in expressing his disapprobation as he was in his applause. He spoke as he felt. And if his tendency was to refrain when there was occasion for reproof, and to make himself amends for that silence where there was an opportunity to commend, that is certainly to be numbered among the least unamiable of the weaknesses into which good men may fall.”.
A life like Dr. Gray's could not have been eventful, and its leading passages are easily exhibited. He was born in Boston, on the 16th of March, 1772 ; and was prepared for college in part under the care of Rev. Dr. Shute of Hingham. Having been graduated with the honors of the University in 1790, he remained for a year at Cambridge as a resident graduate and student in divinity. He spent another year in preparing for the ministry “under the direction of the celebrated Baptist preacher, Dr. Stillman.” “ At the expiration of this term,” says bis eulogist, “he presented himself to the Boston Association of Congregational Ministers, that he might be furnished with their approval to preach as a candidate for the Christian ministry”; which approval, or license, was voted”; it being “ the first instance of any
such vote in that body, and it indicated an increased attention to the qualifications required for the office of a Christian pastor.” After preaching with marked success and approbation in other places, some of which were anxious to appropriate his labors, he received the unanimous call of the church at Jamaica Plain to become their pastor ; and here he was ordained on Wednesday, the 27th of March, 1793. Among the members of the Council who assisted on that occasion, “ I find,” says Dr. Frothingham, “the names of Eckley and Morse, of Porter and Bradford ; showing how far the churches were, at that time, from being divided by the controversies that afterwards shook them so violently.” A few months after his ordination, Mr. Gray was married to the youngest daughter of Rev. Dr. Stillman, a lady of great worth, distinguished especially by her firmness of character and soundness of judgment, and whose death seventeen years before his own was his first heavy affliction. Having sustained the labors of his ministry alone for more than forty years, and believing that the period had come “ when a preacher ceases to be interesting, at least to the younger portion of his audience,” he sought the aid of a
colleague, and his son-in-law, Rev. George Whitney, who had been ordained over the Second Parish of Roxbury, was installed in that relation, February 10, 1836. In this union he saw accomplished one of the fondest wishes of his heart. But “the bright prospect” with which it opened “was suddenly overcast. Six years of service” — and it was earnest and faithful service were all that Mr. Whitney was permitted to accomplish. In the best exercise of his maturest powers he was taken away, beloved and bewailed.” Dr. Gray resumed the whole pastoral charge for a season, but soon found that its cares exceeded his strength ; and when, in 1843, a new colleague, Rev. Joseph H. Allen, was appointed, he wholly resigned his ministry, and became a fellow-worshipper with the people to whom for more than fifty years he had been the teacher. From this time his voice was seldom heard in the pulpit, but his interest in his flock was unabated; he still walked among them as “the Shepherd of the Plain,” sharing with all his wonted sympathy in their joys and griefs, until infirmities pressed heavily upon him, and
after several days of extreme exhaustion, though with perfect serenity, and retaining still an interest in passing events, and enjoying the affectionate recognition of surrounding friends," he expired, June 1, 1847, in the seventy-sixth year of his age, and the fifty-fifth since his settlement in Roxbury.
Dr. Gray was one of the small remnant of that class of ministers, – once the prevailing class in New England, who dwelt all the long years of their professional life among the people who chose them in their youth, and were therefore to them the people of their choice. He was one who ne'er had changed, nor wished to change, his place.” It probably never entered into his thoughts to become the shepherd of any other flock. With the tendencies and practices of the present time, this class, we fear, is in danger of perpetual diminution, and the community likely to incur the loss of those healthful influences which the experience of our fathers and the history of our churches have connected with a long, if it be only a faithful, ministry. That there are advantages from change we do not deny. That a congregation may be benefited by new modes of exhibiting familiar truth, and by the fresh zeal that comes with youth and novelty, will not be questioned. But the brief ministries and frequent changes to which our churches have been