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Dr. Porter was a zealous promoter of revivals of religion. His Letters on Revivals show how deeply he was impressed with the importance of the subject, and what he considered the characteristics of a true revival, and the proper means of promoting it. On this momentous subject he was weil qualified to speak, having been associated with the most able and successful ministers in promoting the revivals which took place during the first part of the present century. In the above-mentioned Letters, he collects and arranges facts so skilfully, reasons from them so judiciously and conclusively, and exhibits a mind so alive to the interests of the church, that all Christians of a sober mind must be satisfied.
It was one of his most remarkable characteristics, that he so demeaned himself, as to give no offence. In all his conduct, whether in public or private, he was so free from self-importance and dogmatism,—he showed so delicate a regard to the opinions and feelings of others, and when he differed from them, made known the difference with so much respect and kindness, and was always so cool, and deliberate, and self-possessed, that I know not that he ever wounded the feelings of any good man. In this attribute of character, how widely different was be from some, who are possessed of great activity, and are capable of accomplishing much good, who yet have such faults in their temper and manners, that they are sure to hurt the feelings and excite the prejudices of others, and sooner or later to destroy their own influence and usefulness. Is not this a matter of more consequence, than is generally supposed at the present day? The Apostle Paul, for the sake of doing good, took special care to give no offence to any class of men, especially good men. In things not affecting the great interests of religion, he was always pliable and conciliatory. As far as he could without unfaithfulness to his Lord, he became "all things to all men,” for the very purpose of removing stumbling blocks and winning souls to Christ. In this he exhibited the lovely spirit of Christ, whose words, and actions, and whole character, were perfectly kind, and gentle, and attractive, and in whom no one was ever offended, except as the consequence of deep depravity and obstinacy of heart. Why is it that so many at the present day forget the example of Christ and his apostles, and seem to think that they are under no obligation to guard against giving offence? With such examples before their eyes, how can they allow themselves to do what will needlessly wound and grieve the disciples of Christ? There are indeed some, who are so unlike the Apostle, that instead of doing all in their power, as he did, to avoid giving offence, and to conciliate those of an opposite party, seem rather to take pleasure in vexing them, and even to make it an object, by uncandid and sarcastic language, to provoke their resent. ment, and drive then to the bitterest hostility. When we'witness such things, we are sometimes ready to exclaim, Where is that love which Jesus enjoined upon his followers, and which the Apostle describes as the most excellent of all graces; that love which suffereth long and is kind; which seeketh not her own; which doth not behave itself unseemly; which thinketh no evil; which hopeth all things, and endureth all things? Where is that wisdom which is from above, which is pure, and peaceable, and gentle, and easy to be entreated ? Where is the dove which rested upon the head of Jesus, a beautiful and striking emblem of the sweet, gentle spirit of his religion? Why has the dove flown away, and birds of prey come in its place? This was a subject which lay near the heart of our departed brother. He ardently loved the truths of Christianity, and equally loved its spirit. He regarded a bitter, violent temper, though exercised professedly in defence of the gospel, as real hostility to the gospel. Both his judg. meut and heart adopted the maxim of the Apostle, that “the wrath of man worketh not the righteousness of God.” He had that meekness and gentleness, which showed that he had been with Jesus. Influenced by such feelings, he gave no offence to any of the contending parties of the day. A decided and unreserved declaration of his opinion, even on the most controverted subjects, was received with candor by those who differed most widely from him. Thus, instead of
promoting alienation and strife among brethren, he used his endeavors to promote feelings of forbearance and kindness, and in this way to remove one of the chief causes of collision, and to bring about a more general harmony among the friends of Christ. His influence all tended to heal division, and to effect a cordial union. In this
he conscientiously fulfilled the duty to which he was bound by his inauguration promise, and which he was heartily disposed to fulfil without any such special obligation," on all occasions to consult the peace of the churches." Happy would it be for the Christian cause, if the ministers of the gospel might be brought universally to copy such an example.
Dr. Porter was far removed from the spirit of a partizan in religion. He belonged to no sect; unless by some strange abuse of language, the great body of devout Protestants should be called a sect. Properly speaking, a sect in religion is a number of persons who separate themselves from the general body of Christians, and maintain some opinion different from the prevailing opinion. We know what are
and what have been the doctrines of evangelical Christians generally in this country. We know still more specifically what system of belief has provailed for the last 50 years, among the ministers and churches of New England. These ministers and Christians surely are not to be regarded as a party. When, therefore, I say that Dr. Porter was no partizan, my meaning will not be misunderstood. He adhered to the views of Christian doctrine generally held in New England; the views exhibited in the writings of Edwards, Bellamy, Brainerd, Smalley, and Dwight. These authors are not sectarian and are not regarded as such. And Dr. Porter, who honestly embraced and ably defended these views, and whose religious and ministerial character was formed under their influence, was as free as any man living from the spirit of sectarianism. This institution, in which he was more than twenty years an instructor, is in no sense a sectarian institution. It was founded on the most liberal catholic principles"; and in conformity with those principles, has actually received and gratuitously educated pious young men of six or seven different denominations. The creed appointed for the Professors is not a secta. rian creed. It was in fact formed as a matter of compromise be. tween men who agreed in the great doctrines of Christianity, but differed in the modes of thinking on minor points. Two sets of founders, previously unknown to each other, had devoted a part of their substance to the establishment of two Theological Seminaries; but, on becoming acquainted with each others designs, were desirous of uniting their funds in one great Institution; and, for the sake of such a union, were willing, on each side, to do all they could, consistently with a good conscience, to meet the views of those on the other side. Infinenced by these kind, Christian feelings, they found that the diffi. culties in the way of union gradually subsided. After a free interchange of thought, and many sincere efforts, and many fervent prayers to the Father of lights, those concerned on both sides became entirely satisfied, and unanimously adopted the creed as it stands in the Constitution of the Seminary, with a special provision, that the Theological opinions of the Professors should correspond with this Confession of Faith, and that if any one of them should cease to believe and teach according to this symbol, he should cease to be a Professor. Dr. Porter was a hearty believer in the doctrines contained in this creed, and all his instructions, both public and private, were in conformity with it. His theological opinions entirely corresponded with the intentions and the express requisitions of the founders. I say this advisedly, having had the most intimate acquaintance with all the
facts in the case. And this my humble testimony I solemnly record; that, as far as Dr. Porter's views of religion are known, there may never, in future times, be a doubt respecting what the founders meant by the creed, or respecting the theological character, which they intended the Professors should sustain.
Dr. Porter's belief was firm and uniform. He was indeed far re. moved from pertinacity and bigotry, and was very accessible to the force of sound reasoning, and ready to adopt any opinion which was well supported by argument. But he had no fickleness, no fondness for what is vew, and no tendency to be weary of an opinion, or to think less favorably of it, because it had long been held. His opinions on the great subjects of revelation were the result of much serious examination, and were decided in proportion as the evidence on which they were founded was clear. And as he did not adopt his opinions in haste, he was not in haste to change them. But the circumstance which most of all fixed him in the belief of the doctrines of our creed. (which are the common doctrines of evangelical ministers and churches,) was, that the influence of these doctrines was mixed with his most serious and devout exercises, and so the truth of them was a matter of personal experience, as well as of divine revelation. It was this which so wedded him to the great principles of religion, that no changes in others could produce any change in him. No wind of doc. trine could turn him one way or another. He attained to such establishment in the faith, that, amid all the fluctuations of the present times, he remained steadfast and immovable. And while he was so firmly attached to the cause of truth, he was alive to the danger of error. We well know with what concern and grief he looked upon any speculations on the subject of religion which he considered un. scriptural or adventurous, especially upon any thing like “ removing the land-marks," as he often expressed it, and how painfully apprehensive he was of results which would be injurious to the great in. terests of the church.
It has often been alleged by those who are called liberal, that a steady, uniform belief of a particular set of doctrines is utterly incom. patible with free inquiry, and with progress in knowledge. But it is perfectly clear that if the doctrines believed are true, free inquiry and progress in knowledge are not only compatible with a steady, uniform belief, but directly conducire to it. And does not the opposite opin. ion generally arise from the fact, that those who entertain it have been vacillating in their own creed, and have fallen into a habit of mind which is more or less skeptical? What can be the fair result of free inquiry and intellectual improvement, but a growing acquaintance with the nature and evidence of the truth? If a man who believes divine truth acquires more knowledge; will he therefore renounce the truth? The use of increasing our knowledge is not to weaken and destroy our Christian faith, but to render it deeper and stronger and more steadfast. I appeal to sober judgment. Is not the truth supported by sufficient evidence? And can it be supposed that more knowledge of the evidence will lead us to reject or doubt the truth? Did Paul or Peter change his belief in the doctrines of Christianity in consequence of growing in knowledge? When we become Christians, we begin cordially to believe the doctrines of rev. elation. But our faith at first, though true and saving, is low and feeble in degree. It wants clearness and certainty, enlargement and strength. And these wants are to be supplied by increasing our knowledge. By this we clear away obscurity from our views of those Christian doctrines which we have embraced; we become more fully acquainted with their nature, with their mutual relations, with their length and breadth and depth and height. Thus our faith grows in strength and assurance, and in its power to sanctify and comfort the soul. It was so with our departed brother. I do not admit, that when he entered on his office in this Seminary, his belief as to the great principles of the gospel was erroneous, any more than that his belief was erroneous as to the existence of the earth and the sun. He had read and studied the Bible, and had done it, as we doubt not, with an honest and good heart, and under the guidance of the Holy Spirit. The doctrines of the gospel had taken effect. Their truth was a matter of inward, spiritual sensation. He knew it by experience. He knew God. He knew Jesus Christ. He knew the presence and power of the Holy Spirit. If he was mistaken here, then our preaching is vain, and our faith is vain, and all our efforts to promote experimental religion, and to train up evangelical ministers, are vain; and all the labors and prayers of the Christian world are folly and madness, and will issue in disappointment and shame. But there was no mistake in this matter. The great principles of theology in which our deceased brother believed, are, I have no doubt, the principles of eternal truth; and I must regard it as a matter of gratitude to God, that they are to be taught in this Seminary in all ages to come. These sacred principles, which were dearer than life to our beloved brother, have nothing to fear from the most thorough examination, or the most powerful opposition. Nay, the more they are examined by honest and candid men, and the more they are opposed by the wicked, the