The Life of a Christian Minister Can Never Be Written.
Erskine Mason was born in New York City on April 16, 1805. He was the youngest child of the Rev. John M. and Anna L. Mason, D.D. As a graduate of Princeton Theological Seminary in 1825, Erskine was ordained on October 20, 1826 and installed as pastor of the Scotch Presbyterian Church on Cedar Street in the City. Almost a year later he married, and this at roughly the same time that he was installed as pastor of the Presbyterian Church in Schenectady. Then, with but three years experience, he was called to serve the prestigious Bleeker Street Presbyterian Church in New York City. Another six years later, he accepted a position as professor of Church History at Union Theological Seminary, while retaining his post as pastor of the Bleeker Street Church. By 1846, his congregation could see that he needed a time of rest and relaxation, and so enabled him to spend several months in Europe. He returned refreshed and it appeared that he had many years of ministry ahead of him. Yet surprisingly, his life proved short. Returning from an annual outing in the country in August of 1850, he soon felt weak and his health began to decline. When his last moments came, he declared, “It is all bright and clear.” Seated in his chair, he breathed his last, and died on May 14, 1851.
That too brief survey of his life will have to suffice this day, if we are to leave room for the wonderful opening words spoken in memory of Rev. Mason. The following, though admittedly a bit flowery (in good nineteenth-century fashion), was composed by the Rev. William Adams. Given the focus of our blog, I thought it appropriate to reproduce his words here:—
“The life of a Christian minister never can be written. Its incidents may be easily mentioned, for they are few. His parentage, birth, education, conversion, ordination, preaching, illness and death, comprise the whole. The whole? His real life consists not in striking and startling events. When the streams are flushed with the spring-freshet, overflowing the banks and sweeping away the dams and the bridges, the marvel is heralded in every newspaper; but when the same streams flow quietly along their ordinary channels, making the meadows to smile with verdure, refreshing the roots of the trees and turning the wheels of the mill, they excite no remark, even though their tranquil flow awakens a grateful admiration. Sum up the professional labors of a minister, and give the product in so many sermons, written and delivered!
“As well to attempt to gather up the rain, measure and weigh it. A certain amount of water you may show, but what of the moisture which has been absorbed by the tender vegetable, and the leaves of the trees? The life of a preacher is spent in addressing the intellect and conscience of his fellow-men. Ten, twenty, thirty years has he preached. How many thoughts, in how many minds has he suggested during such a period! What manifold judgments and purposes, what great hopes and wise fears have had their origin in his own thoughts and words! What sayings of his have been lodged in men’s minds, which have worked in secret about the roots of character! Even while despondent himself, because so few visible results of his toil are revealed, his opinions by insensible degrees are growing into the convictions of others, and his own life is infused into the life of a whole generation.
“It is a peculiarity of his position that he touches the life of his people at those points which are the most memorable and important in their existence. He unites them in marriage, baptizes their children, and buries their dead. He dies, and is soon forgotten by the world. The sable drapery which was hung about his pulpit on his funeral day is taken down; his successor is chosen and installed, and the tide of life rolls on as before. But he is not forgotten by all. His life is not all lost and dissipated. As the manners of a father are acted over in his son, and the smile of a mother will brighten again, after she is dead, on the face of her daughter, so will the sentiments of a minister be transmitted after his ministry is closed, his words be repeated after he has ceased to speak, and all his hopes and wishes live again in other hearts, long after his own beats no more. His biography will not be finished nor disclosed till that day when the secrets of all hearts shall be revealed; and the seals of his ministry will be set, like stars in the firmament for ever and ever.
“To accommodate to a Christian minister, the language employed by Mr. Coleridge, in reference to Bell, the founder of schools:—“Would I frame to myself the most inspirating representation of future bliss, which my mind is capable of comprehending, it would be embodied to me in the idea of such an one receiving at some distant period, the appropriate reward of his earthly labors, when thousands of glorified spirits, whose reason and conscience had, through his efforts, been unfolded, shall sing the song of their own redemption, and pouring forth praise to God and to their Saviour, shall repeat his ‘new name’ in heave, give thanks for his earthly virtues, as the chosen instrument of divine mercy to themselves, and not seldom, perhaps, turning their eyes toward him, as from the sun to its image in the fountain, with secondary gratitude and the permitted utterance of a human love.”
Words to Live By:
Rev. Adams concluded his memoir for Rev. Mason:—
“No one who goes hence returns to finish the work of life. But there is intensity of motive enough in the sober truth that every man is actually engaged day by day in writing that autobiography, which neither time nor eternity will efface. It may be written in high places or in low, in public remembrance or in the honest heart of domestic affection, but we are writing fast, we are writing sure, we are writing for eternity. Happy is he who, through the grace of God assisting him, like the subject of this memoir, records such lessons of kindness, truth and wisdom, that when he is gone, he will be held in grateful remembrance; happier still to have one’s name written in the Lamb’s Book of Life, that when every memorial and monument of his earthly history has perished, he may ascend with the Son of God, to Honour, Glory and Immortality.”