THEODORE SETH HARDING was a native of Barrington, Nova Scotia. He was born March 14, 1773. His parents had emigrated from New England. They were Congregationalists. While he was yet a child, his father died. His mother was a pious woman who endeavored to train up her child "in the nurture and admonition of the Lord," as well as to provide such secular instruction as the times and her circumstances allowed.
He was awakened under the preaching
of the celebrated Henry Alline, in the year 1781. The preacher laid his hands on the head of the orphan boy and said, "may God be a father to him." But the impressions then produced wore away. He ascribed his conversion to the blessing of God on the ministry of Freeborn Garrison, a Wesleyan Methodist from the United States, who visited Nova Scotia in 1787; afterwards, during a season of declension, he derived much benefit from the preaching of Harris Harding and Joseph Dimmock. Faithful laborers were few in those days. Now and then a Methodist or New-Light minister would pass through the district, preaching as he went. On such occasions Theodore was often so overpowered with joy that he was unable to sleep the night before the preaching.
He began to preach in 1793. When he was one day in the woods, engaged in his usual occupation, he felt an overwhelming desire to labor for Christ. But the greatness of the work appalled him. Hs shrank from the responsibility. It seemed to him that he was totally unfit for so solemn an undertaking. Yet ho could not shake off the impression; it became stronger and stronger. At length the words of the Apostle, "Necessity is laid upon me, yea, woe is me if I preach not the gospel," came to his mind with such power that he could no longer resist. He conferred with his mother; but she discouraged him, for he was the liveliest member of the family, and she could not think it possible that he could ever attain to the gravity and dignified deportment which she deemed essential to the ministerial office. Then he consulted his father-in-law, who advised him to get an education before he entered on the work. Meanwhile, "the fire burned." On a public fast-day on account of the war, the people assembled, but there was no minister. Theodore was there, and his heart was full. He stood up in the congregation, and told the people that the word of the Lord was in his heart, and that he must preach.
He did preach, and so acceptably, that next Lord's day he was invited to occupy the pulpit. His mother heard him, and all her objections vanished, for "she saw that the thing proceeded from the Lord." In the fall of the year he went to Shelburne, and received his credentials as a Methodist minister. While he labored there he had the happiness to witness a revival. In the spring of 1794 he was appointed to Horton, Cornwallis, and Windsor; his preaching attracted much attention, and he was fast rising in popularity.
His mother had objected to his joining the Methodist connexion, because she saw that he was inclined to what are called Calvinistic views, but he "had not looked deep enough into it." She was right, however. It was soon evident that he did not preach according to Wesleyan standards. He was interrogated, and avowed his dissent. Conferences with other ministers followed, and further examination on his own part; the result of which was that he felt constrained to leave the connexion. It occasioned him great pain, because he was strongly attached to many of the brethren, and his labors among them had been successful; but it was the call of God, and he was constrained to obey.
The church at Horton was at that time destitute. They had made several attempts to procure a minister, but had failed. A day of fasting and prayer in reference to the object had been recently observed. Mr. Harding's separation from the Methodists being made known, he was immediately invited by the Baptist church to preach at Horton for six months. The invitation was given at a church meeting held June 6th, 1795. The people could not but conclude that he was sent by the Lord. "Here," said they, "is an answer to prayer. We sent to the States, and could find no one willing to come. We tried some of our own number and did not succeed. We went to Heaven, and here is an answer to our prayer." Shortly afterwards
Mr. Harding was baptized at Halifax by John Burton. His ministry was blessed, and on the 13th February, 1796, the church gave him a unanimous call to the pastorate. On the 31st July in the same year he was ordained. John Burton, the only other Baptist minister at the time in the province, officiated on the occasion, assisted by deacons Benjamin Kinsman and Peter Bishop.
The Horton church occupied a large district, extending from near Newport to Nictaux, a distance of 50 miles. The meetings were held alternately at Horton and Cornwallis. It required no little labour to superintend such a church. The fruit of the labour soon appeared in numerous additions during the first three years of Air. Harding's ministry. Then there occurred a gracious revival. It commenced in March, 1799, when "a great number told their experiences," and continued till September. Eighty-seven persons were baptized. The whole region was in a state of religious excitement, and some extraordinary conversions took place. It was followed, however, by a time of declension, which occasioned the pastor no small sorrow.
In 1800, Mr. Harding was a member of a delegation from this province to attend the ordination of Joseph Crandall at Sackville. Brother William Chipman, still with us, who had not then entered into the ministry, was a member of the same delegation. Mr. Harding's journey was an eventful one. The other members crossed the bay, but he chose to travel round by land, ostensibly through dread of sickness, but, as it afterwards appeared, under guidance from above. As he journeyed on, he preached daily, and souls were converted' in eveTy place. At Onslow and at Amherst the Baptist interest was then established; the ordinance of believers' baptism had not been administered before in those parts. After the ordination, Mr. Crandall and Mr. Harding engaged in a missionary tour, and the Divine blessing rested on their labors. Forty-four persons were baptized in the Peticodiac. A baptism at Sackville the evening before Mr. Harding's departure, was peculiarly interesting. The converts were extremely desirous of being baptized by Mr. Harding. As he was about to leave next morning, their wishes could only be gratified by the administration of the ordinance at night. A large congregation assembled for the purpose, well provided with torches made of birch bark. They then proceeded to the water-side, where they sung and prayed, words of earnest exhortation were uttered, and the Saviour's command was obeyed. — It was an unusually solemn season. The stillness of the evening, the flickering light of the torches, by which the surrounding gloom was made to appear yet more dense; the animation of the preacher, whose voice, it was said, was heard at the distance of two miles, gave to the scene a character of unexampled sublimity. That torch-light baptism was long remembered.
In 1805, Mr. Harding visited the United States. An adverse wind compelled him to seek shelter on Brier Island, and there also our friend introduced the gospel. Having travelled and labored extensively in the States of Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Vermont, and New York, he returned to Nova Scotia. On his way home he spent some time at Yarmouth, the church in which place was at that time enjoying a revival; he entered heartily into the work, and "so spake that a great multitude believed." It was supposed that forty persons were converted under one of his sermons. He turning to his own field of labor, he witnessed a glorious display of Divine power at Falmouth.
It was evident that a remarkable blessing rested on Mr. Harding's early ministry. During the first fourteen years of his public life he baptized seven hundred persons.
He then removed to Frederictown, N. B., where he spent the years 1820 and 1821. During that time he was employed
on a missionary tour in various parts of New Brunswick, and his efforts were extensively blessed.
In 1822 he returned to his charge at Horton, and the work was again revived. For the next twenty years he intermingled itinerancy with pastoral labors, being frequently employed on missionary journeys in the service of the denomination. Almost every year two or three months was spent in that manner. He labored chiefly in the eastern part of the province and in Prince Edward Island. He visited Prince Edward Island in 1826, 1828, 1833, and 1836. He was accompanied in 1833 by Father Manning. In 1838 he was engaged a considerable time in New Brunswick, and his preaching was "with power," especially in the city of St. John and its neighbourhood. These journeys were very useful. Thousands heard the gospel from his lips who would not otherwise have enjoyed that privilege, and great numbers were converted. Feeble churches were encouraged and strengthened, new stations were occupied, ministers were ordained, and various arrangements made issuing in salutary results.
In a word, all the benefits of episcopal visitation were realized without its evils, because there was no assumption of authority.
During the last ten years of Father Harding's life he left home but seldom. As the infirmities of age increased, his labors were mostly confined to his own church and the neighboring districts, save that at the annual gathering of the denomination his powerful voice was usually heard, publishing peace and speaking comfortably to Zion.
The final decline began to show itself early in 1854. He experienced a serious illness in the spring of that year. Though he recovered from that illness, his strength was manifestly failing. Another attack occurred in September. In that month also his beloved companion died. He was greatly supported under the loss, but he felt it more than was generally supposed. He was so far restored as to be able now and then to take some part in public exercises, and he preached two or three times; but as winter approached, he was confined to his house. All saw that he was gradually decending the valley, yet he himself cherished a hope of recovery almost to the last. Perhaps this prevented, in some degree, that conversation with him as with one who was about to depart, which would have elicited an expression of his views and feelings in prospect of the future. Nevertheless, he was always prepared to converse, as far as his strength would allow, on the truths of the gospel, and the glory of the Saviour's government; and he sometimes interposed an observation so shrewd and keen that it was like a gleam of the old brightness. The revival with which the Morton church was visited in the spring of the year greatly cheered him. He was evidently much engaged in reviewing his life and his ministry, the doctrines he had taught, and the effects of his preaching. "Tell the young preachers," said he one day — "Tell the young preachers what I say. Tell them that I have been preaching sixty years here, and that if I had all my time to live over again, I would preach the same truth, only I would try to do it better. I want nothing novel, nothing but the old, solid, firm foundation;" adding, in reply to a question, that thence he derived all his own comfort. About a week before his death he sent a similar message to the Western Association. He desired his name to be inserted in the list of delegates to this meeting: "I shall not be there," he said, "but I wish it to be known, whether I shall be then alive or dead, that I die in the faith."
At length the time of his departure came. On the afternoon of June 8th, I found him sinking into death. The eyes were dim, the tongue was silent. The words of the Psalmist were repeated — "Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for thou art with me, thy rod
and thy staff they comfort me," but there was no response. His hand was clasped, but there was no returning pressure. A few hours after, his spirit gently passed away. We buried him on the following Lord's day. A great multitude assembled on that mournful occasion. As they stood around the grave, Watts' beautiful hymn was sung, "Unveil thy bosom faithful tomb," &c. We left him there, "in sure and certain hope of the resurrection to eternal life and of his resurrection to that life.
A few observations may be made on his character and success.
It will be admitted by all who knew him, that Father Harding possessed intellectual endowments of a high order. His conceptions were clear; his judgment, sound; his taste, correct; his imagination lively. He loved to soar among the sublimities, both in nature and in grace. Gifted with a retentive memory and with great readiness of utterance, and subject to strong emotions, he sometimes poured forth strains of eloquence of the noblest kind — soul-stirring and overpowering.
His education was very limited; but he sought continued improvement by reading, and he was a very attentive observer of men and events. Gathering information from various sources, and attentively noting the manner in which human nature is influenced, he attained to a large measure of discerning sagacity.
He loved the truth which he so well understood, and its effects were seen in his life. There is reason to believe he felt deeply, though he was not often disposed to talk about it. He was accustomed to look above rather than within. To speak theologically, or scholastically, the objective prevailed over the subjective. One thing was specially observable — his boundless charity. He would not speak evil of any man, and he could not bear that others should. When he could not avoid referring to the foibles, follies, or even the faults of others, he did it with much tenderness, and so softened and guarded his censures, that it was evident he would much rather praise than blame: hence he had no enemies, fur he made none.
What he was as a minister of Jesus Christ, these provinces well know. — He was emphatically evangelical. The riches of divine grace — the fulness of the atonement — the need and the might of the Holy Spirit's influence — the glory of the redemption, in its present fruits and final results, were commonly the subjects of his choice; and conjoined with his glowing descriptions and eloquent announcements, were most pungent, pathetic appeals to the unconverted.
Take an illustration: he preached one Lord's day morning, rather more than two years ago, from the apostle Peter's words, "Unto you therefore which believe, He is precious." Having expatiated with much feeling on the preciousness of Christ, he exclaimed, "What is preaching, unless Christ is the soul of it? What is prayer, unless Christ is the life of it? What would heaven be, if Christ were not there?" He then dwelt on the importance of preaching Christ. It was almost fifty-nine years, he said, since he had begun to preach in his poor way. He had begun with Christ, and so he had kept on; now he felt the finished work of Christ was all his hope. About the same time he preached a powerful sermon on Ephesians vi. 1-4. With what energy and fervor did he discourse on the ruin, the redemption, and the regeneration — his accustomed themes — and how solemnly at the close did he admonish the people! there was no place, he told them, under such obligations as Horton. The gospel was preached all over the township — "Why was there not a general waking up, with prayer meetings, and believing meetings?" So it was. He magnified God's grace. He charged man with his own nun — "O Israel, thou hast destroyed thyself, but in me is thine help."
In his intercourse with his brethren there were no pompous airs, no conceit and arrogant assumptions, but ever a meek and humble bearing. And he took a deep interest in the rising ministry. He was always pleased to hear them, always ready to encourage. The theological students at the college shared largely in his sympathy, and profited much by their interviews with him. — They will not forget his wise counsels and fatherly admonitions. He expressed much regret when they withdrew from the institution before the course of instruction was completed; for he earnestly desired that they should become "able ministers," and he deemed it important that they should avail themselves of all the advantages which Providence had placed within their reach.
If he did not excel as a pastor, it was only because a universality of qualifications belongs to no one. He was too kind and loving to be a rigid disciplinarian. But that greatly increased the guilt of those who took advantage of his gentleness and indulged in their sloth and disorderly conduct.
The general success of his ministry has been already noticed. In his own church it was his privilege to witness many powerful revivals. Eighty converts were baptized in 1830; thirty in 1832; one hundred and ninety-nine in 1839 and the following year; one hundred and forty-four in 1848; and sixty-nine in the year which has just closed. These revivals affected all classes, but their influence was chiefly felt among the young. Many who were on these occasions brought to God are now occupying important positions; some are engaged in the christian ministry, and one (Brother Arthur Crawley) is a missionary in Burmah.
"I have been preaching Christ crucified," Father Harding observed in a letter addressed to the Christian Messenger in 1846, "more than half a century. I have been present at the organization of many of our churches. I have taken part in the ordination of our ministers. I witnessed the organization of the Association in these Provinces and New Brunswick combined. I witnessed the organization of the Association of Now Brunswick. I have passed through many and wonderful revivals of religion. I have been intimately acquainted with many solemn trials and conflicts through which our churches have waded. I have also beheld and seen the salvation of God displayed in mighty deliverances.
"I have been on many missionary journeys, and know well the history of our missionary proceedings. I have also narrowly observed the educational movements of later years, in which also I feel the deepest interest. I have no thought of saying what I do in boasting. The God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ has graciously caused to pass before me truly astonishing displays of his glorious presence — 'mine eyes have seen thy salvation.' 'Not unto us, not unto us, but unto thy name give glory.'
"I have confidence that 'this God will be our God even unto death.' I rejoice to believe also that long after our frail bodies have mingled with the dust of the earth, it will continue to be true that
'Israel shall live through every age,
And be the Almighty's care.'
"I have only to add, that with regard to the displays of Divine grace on earth which mine eyes have seen and mine ears have heard, my best wishes shall be fulfilled when it can be declared,
'This shall be known when we are dead,
And left on long record;
That ages yet unborn may read,
And trust and praise the Lord.'"
[From American Baptist Memorial: a Statistical Biographical, and ..., Volume 15, 1856, pp. 327-332. Document from Google Books. — Formatted by Jim Duvall.]
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