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Full text of "Biographical sketch and obituary of Rev. Sylvester Larned"

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BIOGRAPHICAL SKETCH 



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REV. SY1.VESTER LARl^ED. 



^The brightest star in evening's train 
Sets earliest in the nvestern main — 
Tlie brightest star in moniings^ host 
Scarce ris''n, in brighter beams is lost." 

James Montgomery. 



A a 2 



BIOGRAPHY OF 

SYLVESTER LARNED. 



The Rev. Sylvester Larned, the subject of this me- 
moir, was born in Pittsfield, (Mass.) August 31st, 1796, 
and was the son of Col. Simon Larned, an officer of high 
standing in the American army. It is said that the 
germ of that commanding eloquence, for which he was 
so much distinguished in life, began to be seen and felt 
at the tenderest age. When quite a boy, while sporting 
with his brother on one occasion, he laid a wager with 
him that he could make him weep by talking to him. 
There was at that time nothing solemn in their situation 
or employment. But he commenced his appeal; and 
such was the mighty power of the young orator's pathos, 
that in a very short time he actually melted down his 
brother into unwilling tears; and then, with a wagish 
taunt, claimed his prize. At the early age of thirteen, 
he was chosen by his fellow-students of the Academy of 
Pittsfield, to deliver an oration on the Anniversary of 
our country's independence. This he did with a self- 
possession and a power, which surprised even those who 
admired him most. In his class he led without an ef- 
fort; always idle, yet always eminent, it became a sub- 



290 BIOGRAPHY OF 

j€ct of great surprise, how this peculiar boy could, by a 
glance of thought, range his whole department of study, 
and without ever seeming to fix his attention upon his 
book, become familiar with its contents. 

In his fourteenth year, he became a member of Wil- 
liams College, (Mass.) but his instability of character in 
so extreme youth, soon subjected him to the censure of 
the ruling authorities. He therefore left this Institu- 
tion ; but he afterwards attached himself to Middlebury 
■College, (Vt.) In the early part of his course here, also, 
he was wild and unsettled. The elements of his cha- 
racter were, by nature, tempestuously strong. His early 
life was marked by a constant tendency to excess, and 
his great activity of mind made him impatient of con- 
trol. It was not until he had reached his senior year, 
that the hand of God arrested him. Of the particulars 
of this most important event of his life, and of the steps 
by which he was led on to this result of mercy, we are 
almost wholly ignorant. This cannot be too much 
lamented. In a case so striking, every circumstance 
would, probably, be eminently interesting and instruc- 
tive. It is said, however, that his convictions of sin 
were deep and awful ; the work rapid, conclusive, and 
thorough ; and the change truly transforming. 

Soon after this, he declared it to be the great purpose 
of his life to serve God in the holy Ministry. And in 
pursuance of this determination, after taking his first 
^iegree, at the early age of seventeen, he formed a con- 
nexion with the Tlieological Seminary at Andover, in 



REV. SYLVESTER LARNED. 291 

the autumn of 1813. He left that Institution, however, 
after the lapse of a single term, and returned home. 
During the period of his continuance there, which did 
not exceed a single year, he conducted a Grammar 
School, carrying on, at the same time, his preparations 
for the Ministry. 

In the autumn of 1815, he was led to form a con- 
nexion with this Seminary.* Here every step assumes 
new interest, and an increasing importance accom- 
panies every development of his unusual character. 
At this most solemn point, we would gladly surrender 
the subject to those who were members of the same little 
band, and who felt, and thought, and acted with him. 
They, who in the process of preparation knew him here 
most familiarly, and marked, in the successive stages, 
the formation of his character, possessed materials, the 
lack of which renders our best attempts at faithful history 
extremely imperfect. Yet even to those who were ha- 
bitually with him, the unbroken uniformity, and noise- 
less progress of a course of study here, give nothing pro- 
minent in which character may be read, but the drift and 
general effect. Judging in this way, the result upon 
the whole bore a pleasing testimony to our departed 
brother's advancement in knowledge and in grace. He 
was a man of strong feeling, and of much action. Pa- 
tient assiduity, and uniform habits of mind, were not so 
conspicuous during his connexion with this Institution. 
He thought more than he read, he acted and said more 

* At Princeton, N, J. 



292 BIOGRAPHY or 

than he thought. His mind was uncommonly inde- 
pendent, original, rapid, and rich ; so that he made much 
of little, and required much loss preparation and thought 
than ordinary men to act his part with effect. 

But there was an evident and most promising increase 
of strength of mind, of knowledge, and of personal 
piety, during his course of study here. It is pleasing to 
know, that he was often very actively engaged in doing 
good around him, while a member of this Institution. 
To the college he seems especially to have been ten- 
derly drawn. He exerted a great influence over the 
minds of the youth generally; and it is believed that in 
more cases than one, he was the honoured instrument of 
converting to God those who have since preached the 
Gospel themselves. His religious feelings are said to 
have been greatly revived within him during the last 
year of his stay here. He had spent a short period of 
time in Elizabethtown and Newark, during the work of 
God in those places in the early months of the year 
1817. From these sacred scenes he returned to Prince- 
ton deeply revived; and ever afler while here, threw 
much more of the true spirit into all his duties, intellec- 
tual and spiritual. It was at this time, especially, that 
he laboured most faithfully and successfully in the 
College. 

In the summer of 1817 he was licensed to preach the 
Gospel by the Presbytery of New York. The impres- 
sion which he made upon the public mind was instanta- 
neous, and very deep. Crowds began immediately to 
gather around him wherever he preached ; overflowing 



REV. SYLVESTER LARNED. 293 

congregations hung in rapture on his lips, and were 
melted down under the power of his eloquence. Some 
have thought that so much popular impression has been 
made by no man so young, in this country, since tlie 
days of Whitefield. 

About this time the claims of Louisiana, upon the 
Christian Church, began to be strongly felt. The 
standard of Christ Jesus had scarcely ever been erected 
in the city of New Orleans, though the centre alike of 
a large population and an immense influence. The Rev. 
Mr. E. Cornelius,* it is true, had, for a short season, 
been labouring there with faithfulness, and great effect. 
His connexion with the city was transient. But he was 
a preparer of the way to the efforts which ensued. 

For the work of giving the Gospel a permanent and 
triumphant location here, a character of eminent enter- 
prise was required. Most persons were as unfit as they 
were unwilling to attempt it. Lamed was selected for 
it. He acquiesced, and was soon after ordained as an 
evangelist, for missionary labour in this important field. 
He very soon set out on his journey thither. Penetrating, 
in the first place, under the authority of a general mis- 
sion, as far west as Detroit ; he then went directly south, 
preaching the Gospel as he proceeded through Ohio and 

* There was, in many points a peculiar, and very striking re- 
semblance between these lamented servants of God, who have 
been removed so soon from the field below to their reward on 
high. It was this resemblance in fervour, boldness, commanding 
eloquence, and even in the nobility of their personal appearance, 
which enabled the one so harmoniously to succeed the other in the 
enterprize at New Orleans.— TAc Editor. 



294 BIOGRAPHY OF 

part of Kentucky, until he reached Louisville, of the 
latter State. Then, along with his fellow-labourer and 
friend, the Rev. Jeremiah Chamberlain, he left the land, 
embarked on the Ohio river, and descended it and the 
Mississippi to New Orleans, touching as he went at the 
most important points of the country. He reached Or- 
leans in good season, before the departure of the Rev. 
Mr. Cornelius, so as to derive all possible benefit from 
the influence which he had already acquired. 

The arrival of such a man, under such circumstances,, 
was well calculated to produce an extraordinary im- 
pression. A writer in the Christian Spectator, who was 
his friend and fellow-student here, speaking of this im 
portant event, says: "On his first arrival in that city, a 
general and unprecedented interest was awakened by 
his preaching ; and every thing seemed to indicate that 
Providence had sent him there to produce a great revo- 
lution in the character of New Orleans. The uncom- 
mon majesty with which he exhibited the truths of the 
Gospel, the almost magic power by which he entranced 
and rivetted his hearers, drew after him a multitude 
composed of all classes, from the highest to the lowest in 
society. It soon became an object with some of the 
most respectable and influential gentlemen in the city, 
to secure his permanent settlement among them ; and 
measures were accordingly adopted to accomplish this 
design. Mr. Lamed listened to their proposals ; and, as 
soon as v/as convenient, formed a Presbyterian Church, 
of which he consented to become the pastor." 

In the summer of 1818, he made a visit to the North 



REV. SYLVESTER LARNED. 295 

and East, not only with a view to escape the sickly sea- 
son of New Orleans, but to procure materials for build- 
ing a house of worship. During this, the last visit he 
ever made to his native region, he preached in most of 
our northern cities, and left an impression of his solemn 
and overwhelming eloquence, which, it is believed, will 
not soon be forgotten. 

In the autumn of this year, he again set out for New 
Orleans. Taking his route through the middle and 
western States, and preaching the Gospel as he went, he 
again embarked at Louisville, and reached his charge 
early in the winter. By his persevering efforts he was 
enabled to prepare for the reception of his congregation a 
spacious edifice, at the commencement of the next summer. 
During this season (1819,) he retired from the city to the 
German coasts, (in its vicinity,) until the prevalence of 
the epidemic had ceased. Shortly after his return to his 
flock, he was married to Miss Wier, formerly of New- 
buryport, Mass. 

During the winter of 1 819-20 he was invited by the 
First Presbyterian church, Baltimore, to succeed the 
Rev. Dr. Inglis ; and he was at different times called to 
Alexandria, Savannah, &c. But he resisted every call, 
however seducing, and resolved to devote himself to the 
cause of Christ in Louisiana. 

It is highly interesting here to know that he projected 
for himself a plan of a missionary exploring enterprize 
into South America, as soon as he could in safety leave 
his people for so long a time. But the God of Heavdn 
liad differently ordered. When the sickly season, at 
B b 



296 BIOGRAPHY OP 

which he had been accustomed to retire from the 
ravages of death, came on, he resolved to remain behind, 
and (if the God of Providence should please,) to perish 
with the poor of his people, who could not flee the city. 
Doubtless his soul was melted at the thought, that while 
death was making havoc of this devoted population, none 
remained behind when he was absent to point the dying 
sinner to the Saviour. The reflection must have moved 
him, that in affliction this hardened people might be 
tender ; and the suspicion of having been driven by fear 
to fly from danger, he knew, with a people who measure 
every thing by courage, might have injured the cause 
of his Master more than even his life would benefit it. 
Whatever the motive, he resolved to meet the issue at 
his post, and if called to die, to die upon the field. 

Until August, he was exceedingly well, and high 
hopes were cherished that the city w^ould be spared the 
usual visitation of malignant fever. But they soon were 
awakened from these illusive hopes by its sudden ap- 
pearance in the most awful form. Larned was_ indefati- 
gable in his attentions to the sick and dying. It was 
surprising, and was made a subject of remark, how soon 
he found out even the afflicted strangers in the city who 
had been overtaken by this destructive malady. 

The last Sabbath of August had been appointed by 
him as a day of public humiliation among his people, 
and prayer to God that he would deliver the devoted 
city from the awful visitation under which it groaned. 
He met his people in the morning, and also in the after- 
noon, of that solemn day. It was for the last time! Be- 



REV. SYLVESTER LARNED. 297 

fore its close, he was laid prostrate by a most violent at- 
tack of the fever. It soon broke his strength 5 it, for a 
season, shook the powers of his mind ; and on August 
31st he breathed his last I Such was the wild distrac- 
tion of grief and wo around him, that scarce a fact in 
regard to his last hours has been treasured for the world. 
When the delirium of death was not on him, he was 
firm and collected. When most aware of his danger, 
he was most assured of his Saviour's presence and power; 
and in the language of the writer quoted above, " He 
was enabled to bear his dying testimony to the excel- 
lence of that religion which it had been his delightful 
employment to preach to others." As he approached 
the final conflict, he was calm and composed, and he left 
the world with the prospect of entering on an exceeding 
great reward. 

His death cast the deepest gloom over the widowed 
city, and produced a strong sensation in almost eveiy 
part of the nation. In his native region, the public 
grief was strikingly exhibited : and a sacred enthu- 
siasm still kindles there, at the mention of his name ! 

In sketching a character so blended and peculiar, 
there is no small difficulty in adjusting its features so as 
to be just, without appearing sometimes extravagant, and 
sometimes severe. Of his intellect, it may be said, its 
most striking feature was active power. He was not 
remarkable for profound thought, or for very accurate 
acquirement. But every effort he made on every subject 
to which he chose intensely to direct his attention, bore 
witness that this was not owing to a want of mental 



298 BIOGRAPHY OF 

power, but of mental patience. The fervour of his feelings 
often made his mind discursive. His imagination was 
extremely bold, vivid, and impatient of control : and it 
is probable that his more solid qualities suffered from 
these propensities. It was in truth natural for him thus 
to be seduced by powers exerting such a controlling 
influence over the passions of men. The paths of cool 
inquiry would appear a circuitous route to the human 
mind, to him who, by a single effort of irresistible pathos, 
could transfuse his spirit through every auditor, and 
break the heart in pieces at a blow. His eloquence was 
chaste, ardent, and commanding. If it had a fault, 
there was too much sentiment in it, and too little 
thought; and the discerning hearer was sometimes 
called to regret that the dress of a manner almost un- 
rivalled was not always filled up by an equal power and 
richness of matter. When he first appeared as a Min- 
ister of the Gospel, (as he himself has owned) he was led 
to bestow too much attention on what he thought most 
likely to attract the mass of men ; we allude to his style of 
writing, and mode of illustrating divine truth. But when 
he became a settled pastor, he found that eloquence 
would not feed his people. A great revolution imme- 
diately took place in his style of instruction. He be- 
came more plain, more didactic, and evangelical; and 
the consequence was, that while they who had been at- 
tracted by human power, were displeased, the sheep of 
the fold found more of that food which came down from 
above. 

His piety, though sincere, was not of an order com- . 



REV. SYLVESTER LARNED. 299 

mensurate with the other features of his character. He 
was, perhaps, too much a man of frames, both in spi- 
ritual and intellectual things. He depended too much 
on feeling. When roused, he was remarkable for his 
power in prayer; and, whenever he spoke in public, much 
of the effect he produced, was by a strong tide of feel- 
ing, which, in its warm flow, melted down whatever it 
touched. 

Sometimes he sunk into great lethargy and inac- 
tion of Christian spirit ; but again he would rise to a 
height of glowing zeal, and long continued exertion, in 
his Master's cause. 

His natural constitution of character was impulsive, 
and somewhat unstable, and might be expected to mani- 
fest itself in his religious life. Probably, too, those fluc- 
tuations of feeling to which all Christians are subject, 
were more exposed upon the surface of a character 
which carried with it no power or purpose of conceal- 
ment, but lived out every emotion to the eye of man. 
And in an age of superficial piety, a part of the censure 
which these remarks may seem to involve, attaches it- 
self to the day in which he lived. 

Yet there are written on the hearts of all his Chris- 
tian friends, many sacred evidences of his Christian cha- 
racter and worth: and every day he lived, continued to 
strengthen their confidence and exalt their hopes. 

The strength of his nerves and personal courage was 

surprisingly great. It is related, that among his friends 

in New Orleans, he had one, a man of much personal 

prowess himself, who, in a fit of insanity, to which he 

Bb2 



300 BIOGRAPHY OF, dcCr 

was subject, formed the desig-n of taking Larned's life. 
This he kept a profound secret ; and Lamed, not aware 
of his friend's bewildered state of mind, was one day 
asked by him to take a walk into the country. He con- 
sented, set out, and had walked far out of view, when, 
to his amazement, the madman drew a dagger from his 
breast, and in a furious tone, ordered him to prepare to 
die! Larned was unarmed, but not intimidated, or for- 
saken by his presence of mind. Erecting himself be- 
fore the armed madman in all the majesty of his bold 
and striking appearance, he exclaimed, " In the name of 
the Almighty, I defy you." His power of voice and 
manner, and his undaunted boldness, disarmed the man 
at once : the dagger fell from his hand[: and he led him, 
like a harmless child, back to the city ! 

Such, in the freedom of truth, is the character of one 
of the most interesting and extraordinary young men 
who have ever appeared in our country. And now that 
he has been cut down, who will meet the foe in the field 
in which he fell ? who will gather the scattered flock, 
and come forth in that city, great and guilty, to the help 
of the Lord, to the help of the Lord against the mighty ? 



W) 



AN ADDRESS 



DELIVERED AT 



PRINCETON, NEW JERSEY, 



ANNUAL EXAMINATION OF THE STUDENTS 

OF THE 

THEOLOGICAL SEMINARY, 
May, 1832. 



BY THE REV. GARDINER SPRING, D.D. 
Pastor of the Brick Church, New York. 



; 



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