Samuel Davies (1724–1761) was a Congregational minister, and, in some respects, was a most remarkable man. As a pulpit orator, this country has furnished but few equals. For persevering industry and toil in his Master's service, he has left an example worthy the imitation of the pious in all ages. For great success in his labors, as a Christian minister, he was singularly successful. Few men, perhaps, in any age have been more highly honored, than was our author, in accomplishing the great objects contemplated in the Christian ministry.
The precise time of his conversion is unknown, though it is supposed to have taken place when about twelve years of age. Being early dedicated to God by his parents, he was now led to consecrate himself to God, through faith in the atoning merit. For a time he was exercised with perplexing doubts respecting his divine acceptance but by constant prayer, and impartial and repeated self-examination, he obtained a satisfactory assurance of his adoption into the divine family, which he happily retained to the end of his life.
He was not favored with a collegiate education, though being naturally endowed with an extraordinary intellect, and being ardently zealous to accomplish whatever he took in hand, he prosecuted his studies with astonishing success. All subjects within his investigations were mastered with apparent ease. By his indefatigable labors, his scholarship became quite extensive.
From what has been said, it appears that he early selected the Christian ministry as a calling for life. Whether the prayers and instructions of his parents had any influence on this early selection, is not necessary here to inquire At what age he entered upon his long-desired vocation is uncertain; though it is highly probable that he commenced his ministry when about twenty. At twenty-one, it is supposed that he was engaged as a minister, in a revival of religion in Virginia. He preached to several congregations, which formed a kind of circuit, and in the discharge of his duties he was frequently under the necessity of traveling sixty miles. Such were his patience, perseverance, and piety, together with his powerful ministrations, that his labors were attended with great success. The "wilderness and solitary places" bloomed and blossomed before him. Many sinners were converted through his instrumentality, and among them were many slaves, who, no doubt, will furnish additional jewels in his " crown of glory."
Davies seemed to have been peculiarly fitted for the exigences of the times in which he lived. It was an age characterized by profligacy and vice; corruption of manners and a deep-rooted opposition to spiritual things had become exceedingly prevalent. A large proportion of the people had become averse to experimental piety, and many who adhered to the "form," were destitute of the "power, of godliness." To meet the opposition, prejudice, and ignorance of such a period, required the first order of endowments. Such were pre-eminently possessed by our author. Like the Wesleys, he was evidently "fitted to his day."
Mr. Bostwick describes him as being "adorned with such an assemblage of amiable and useful qualities, and each shining with such distinguished luster, that it is hard to say in which he most excelled; and equally hard to mention one valuable or useful accomplishment in which he did not excel. A large and capacious understanding; a solid, unbiased, and well-regulated judgment; a quick apprehension; a genius truly penetrating; a fruitful invention; an elegant taste—were all happily united in him, and constituted a real greatness of mind which never failed to strike every observer with an agreeable surprise."
It was as a Christian minister, that our author particularly excelled. He loved the work, being satisfied that he had been called to it by the "Holy Spirit," and to it he unreservedly consecrated all the powers of body and mind. Feeling that the "love of Christ constrained" him, he went forth an itinerant minister, as did the apostles, "To seek the wandering souls of men."
In the exercise of the ministerial functions, "his fervent zeal and sincere piety, popular talents and engaging address, soon acquired for him a distinguished character, and general admiration. Scarcely was he known as a minister but he was sent, on the earnest application of the people, to some of the distant settlements of Virginia, where many of the inhabitants, in respect of religion, were but a small remove from the darkness and ignorance of uncultivated heathenism; and where the religion of Jesus, which he endeavored to propagate, had to encounter all the blindness, prejudice, and enmity, that are natural to the heart of the most depraved sinner. Yet, under all apparent disadvantages, his labors were attended with such remarkable success, that all opposition quitted the unequal combat, and gave way to the powerful energy of the divine Spirit, which was graciously pleased by his ministry to add many new subjects to the spiritual kingdom of our glorious Immanuel."
"The work of the ministry," says the author just quoted, "was Mr. Davies' great delight, and for which he was admirably furnished with every valuable qualification of nature and grace. Divinity was a favorite study, in which he made great proficiency for one of his years, and yet he generally preferred the most necessary and practical branches of it to the dark mazes of endless controversy and intricate disputes; aiming chiefly at the conversion of sinners, and to change the hearts of men by an affecting representation of the plain, but most important and interesting truths of the gospel.
His talent for composition, especially for the pulpit, was equaled by few, and perhaps exceeded by none. His taste was judicious, elegant, and polite, and yet his discourses were plain and pungent; peculiarly adapted to pierce the conscience and affect the heart. His diction was surpassingly beautiful and comprehensive, tending to make the most stupid hearer sensibly feel, as well as clearly understand. Sublimity and elegance, plainness and perspicuity, and all the force and energy of language, were seen, to some extent, in all his writings. His manner of delivery, as to pronunciation, gesture, and modulation of voice, seemed to be a perfect model of the most moving and striking oratory.
"Whenever he ascended the sacred desk, he seemed to have not only the attention, but all the various passions of his auditory entirely at command. And as his personal appearance was noble and venerable, yet benevolent and mild, so he could speak with the most commanding authority, or melting tenderness, according to the variation of his subject. With what majesty and grandeur, with what energy and striking solemnity, with what powerful and almost irresistible eloquence, would he illustrate the truths and inculcate the duties of Christianity! Mount Sinai seemed to thunder from his lips, when he denounced the curses of the law, and sounded the dreadful alarm to guilty sinners. The solemn scenes of the last judgment seemed to rise in view, when he arraigned, tried, and convicted, self-deceivers and hypocrites. And how did the balm of Gilead distill from his lips, when he exhibited a bleeding Savior to sinful man, as a remedy for the wounded heart and guilty conscience! In a word, whatever subject he undertook, persuasive eloquence dwelt upon his tongue; and his audience was all attention. He spoke as on the borders of eternity, and as viewing the glories and terrors of an unseen world, and conveyed the most grand and affecting ideas of these important realities; realities which he then firmly believed, and which he now sees in the clearest light."
But to the volumes before us. These contain a large number of sermons on "important subjects," which were published after the author's death. Such was their rapid sale, that they soon passed through nine editions. They passed through several editions in England, and were sought after there with great eagerness by the religious reading community. Indeed, it is believed that no sermons of modern times have passed through more editions than have these, except those of Mr. Wesley. And though, perhaps, occasionally lacking in elegance of diction, and excessive in verbiage, yet they will be sought for and read when many others of more recent date shall have been consigned to oblivion. Dr. Gibbons, in the sixth London edition, speaks of them as follows:
"A careful attention to the portions of sacred truth upon which he proposes to treat, so that his discourse as naturally rises from his theme as the branch grows from the root, or the stream issues from the fountain. In every page, and almost every line of our author's sermons, his readers may discover the subject he at first professed to handle; and he is ever illustrating, proving, or enforcing some truth evidently contained in it; observing a due regard to the divine Word, by comparing and confirming Scripture by Scripture, by taking the sacred text in its easy and natural sense, and by pertinent citations of passages, both in the proof and amplification; an observance of method and order, so as to proceed, like a wise builder, in laying a foundation and regularly erecting the superstructure, and yet diversifying his method by making it sometimes open and express, and at other times indirect and implicit; a rich vein of evangelical doctrine with a proper notice of practical duties, or awful denunciation of divine wrath against the impenitent and incorrigible; an impartial regard to the cases of all his hearers, like a good steward distributing to all their portion in due season; animated and pathetic application, in which our author collects and concentrates what he has proved in his discourses; and urges it with all the power of forcible address and melting persuasion to the heart."
That the enterprising publishers have presented the public with a new and cheap edition of these sermons is a matter of thankfulness; and it is ardently hoped that they will still prove a great blessing to the ministry and to the church, and that they will continue to be read with increasing interest, delight, and profit, until time shall be no more!
R. W. A. New London, Connecticut, September, 1845.