[The following biographical sketches of that excellent man who is the object of them, have been selected from two funeral sermons, which were preached soon after his decease; the one by Dr. Richard Furman, his successor in the pastoral care of the Baptist church, in Charleston (S.C.) and the other by Dr. William Rogers, of Philadelphia. Some assistance in the compilation has been derived from the History of the Charleston Association by Mr. Wood Furman.]
Oliver Hart was born of reputable parents, in Warminster township, Bucks county, Pennsylvania, July 5, 1723. His attention to religion, and conversion to God, were at an early period of his life; for he made a public profession of religion at Southampton, Pennsylvania, and was received a member of the church in that place in 1741, in the 18th year of his age; having been previously baptized by the Reverend Mr. Jenkin Jones. At that time, the power of religion was greatly displayed in various parts of this continent, under the ministry of those eminent servants of Christ, Reverend George Whitefield, of the Episcopal church, the Tennants, Edwards, and their associates of the Presbyterian and Congregational churches; and of the Reverend Abel Morgan, and others of the Baptist church. Several of these, Mr. Hart, at this time, used to hear; and has since professed to have received much benefit from their preaching, particularly from Mr. Whitefield's.
Five years after making his public profession of religion, on the 20th of December, 1746, he was licensed to preach, by the church with which he first united; and on the 18th of October, 1749, was ordained to the great work of the gospel ministry.
The call for ministers in the southern States being great at that time, and the church at Charleston (S. C.) being destitute, he was induced, immediately after his ordination, to set out for that city, where he arrived early in December, on the very day the famous Mr. Chanler, pastor of the church at Ashley River, then the only ordained minister of the Baptist denomination in that part of the country, and who had preached part of his time for the church in Charleston, as a supply, was buried. The Charleston church, in her destitute situation, had made applications, both to Europe and the northern States, for a suitable minister; and one who had been described as such was actually expected: but the unexpected coming of Mr. Hart was considered as directed by a special providence; and so great was the satisfaction of the church, on hearing him, that he was immediately invited to take the pastoral charge of them; with which he was accordingly invested on the 16th of February following.
For thirty years from this period, he executed the office of pastor of that church, as a faithful, evangelic minister of Christ, passing through a variety of scenes both of joy and depression; but exhibiting, at all times, an uprightness and dignity, both of temper and conduct, becoming his religious and sacred character. His life was exemplary, and his usefulness conspicuous. But on the approach of the British fleet and army, to which Charleston was surrendered in 1780, being justly apprehensive of the consequences which resulted from the siege, and desiring to preserve his political liberty, with which he found his religious intimately connected, he retired to the northern States. There the attention of the Baptist church at Hopewell, in the State of New-Jersey, was soon attracted towards him, and in consequence of a pressing invitation from them, he became their pastor on the 16th of December the same year, and served them in that capacity, the last fifteen years of his valuable life.
For some years towards the latter part of his life, the infirmities of age, and several severe attacks of different diseases, had greatly reduced his bodily strength, and disqualified him for the constant performance of public duties; and on the 31st of December, 1795, in the 73d year of his age, he surrendered his soul into the hands of his God and Redeemer."To those of you, my dear hearers, (says Dr. Furman in his funeral sermon) who enjoyed the honor and happiness of an acquaintance with the venerable deceased, an account of his character is unnecessary; it shone conspicuously in your view. But to the younger part of my audience, and to those friends who have come lately among us, it may afford useful information.The following account of Mr. Hart's last illness and death is found in a note in Dr. Rogers's funeral sermon,
"In his person he was somewhat tall, well proportioned, and of a graceful appearance; of an active, vigorous constitution, before it had been impaired by close application to his studies, and by his abundant labors; his countenance was open and manly; his voice clear, harmonious and commanding; the powers of his mind were strong and capacious, and enriched by a fund of useful knowledge; his taste was elegant and refined. Though he had not enjoyed the advantages of a collegiate education, nor indeed much assistance from any personal instruction, such was his application, that by private study he obtained a considerable acquaintance with classical learning, and explored the fields of science; so that in the year 1769, the college of Rhode-Island, in honor to his literary merit, conferred on him the degree of master in the liberal arts.
"But as a Christian and Divine, his character was most conspicuous; no person who heard his pious, experimental discourses, or his affectionate, fervent addresses to God in prayer; who beheld the zeal and constancy he manifested in the public exercises of religion, or the disinterestedness, humility, benevolence, charity, devotion, and equanimity of temper he discovered on all occasions in the private walks of life, could for a moment doubt of his being not only truly, but eminently religious. He possessed in a large measure the moral and social virtues, and had a mind formed for friendship. In all his relative connections, as husband, father, brother, master, he acted with the greatest propriety, and was endeared to those who were connected with him in the tender ties.
"From a part of his diary now in my possession, it appears that he took more than ordinary pains to walk humbly and faithfully with God; to live under impressions of the love of Christ; to walk in the light of the divine presence; and to improve all his time and opportunities to the noblest purposes of religion and virtue.
"In his religious principles, he was a fixed Calvinist, and a consistent, liberal Baptist. The doctrines of free, efficacious grace, were precious to him; Christ Jesus, and him crucified, in the perfection of his righteousness, the merit of his death, the prevalence of his intercession, and efficacy of his grace, was the foundation of his hope, the source of his joy, and the delightful theme of his preaching.
"His sermons were peculiarly serious, containing a happy assemblage of doctrinal and practical truths, set in an engaging light, and enforced with convincing arguments. For the discussion of doctrinal truths, he was more especially eminent, to which also he was prepared, by an intimate acquaintance with the sacred Scriptures, and an extensive reading of the most valuable, both of ancient and modern authors. His eloquence, at least in the middle stages of life, was not of the most popular kind, but perspicuous, manly, and flowing; such as afforded pleasure to persons of true taste, and edification to the serious hearer.
"With these various qualifications for usefulness, he possessed an ardent desire to be as useful as possible; which cannot be better represented than in his own words, as recorded in the diary before referred to, and which comprehends a part of his life, when the power of divine grace was eminently displayed in this church. The article here selected was written just before that work of grace began, and exemplifies in him the pious Christian, as well as the faithful Divine.
"'Monday, Aug. 5, 1754. I do this morning feel myself oppressed under a sense of my barrenness. Alas! what do I for God? I am, indeed, employed in his vineyard; but I fear to little purpose. I feel the want of the life and power of religion in my own heart: this causes such a languor in all my duties to God -- this makes me so poor an improver of time. Alas! I am frequently on my bed, to my shame, when I ought to be on my knees. Sometimes the sun appears in the horizon, and begins his daily course, before I have paid my tribute of praise to God; and, perhaps, while I am indulging myself in inactive slumbers. Oh, wretched stupidity! Oh, that, for time to come, I may become more active for God! I would this morning resolve, before thee, O God, and in thy name and strength, to devote myself more unreservedly to thy service than I have hitherto done: I would resolve to be a better improver of my time, than I have heretofore been; to rise earlier in the morning; to be sooner with thee in secret devotion; and oh, that I may be more devout therein! I would be more engaged in my studies. Grant, O Lord, that I may improve more by them! And when I go abroad, enable me better to improve my visits, that I may always leave a savor of divine things behind me. When I go to thy house to speak for thee, may I always go full fraught with things divine, and be enabled faithfully and feelingly to dispense the word of life. I would begin and end every day with thee. Teach me to study thy glory in all I do. And wilt thou be with me also in the night watches. Teach me to meditate of thee on my bed. May my sleep be sanctified to me, that I may thereby be fitted to thy service, nor ever desire more than answers to this important end. Thus teach me to number my days, that I may apply my heart unto wisdom.'
"These virtuous resolutions and pious breathings of soul, were seconded by becoming exertions, both of a public and private nature, in his own congregation; and by correspondent labors in churches abroad; nor were they without success. Many owned him as their father in the gospel; among these are two distinguished and useful ministers, who survive him, and shine as diffusive lights in the church. [Rev. Dr. Stillman, of Boston, whose praise is in all the churches; and Rev. Mr. Botsford, among ourselves. To these may be added a third, Mr. Ewin, who succeeds Mr. Hart, as pastor of the church at Hopewell, April 8th, 1796.] These were not only awakened under his preaching, but introduced also by him into a course of study, for the ministry.
"The formation of a society in this city, to assist pious young men in obtaining education for the pubic services of the church, and which has been of use to several, originated with him; and he was a prime mover in that plan for the association of churches, by which so many of our churches are very happily united at the present day. To him also, in conjunction with his beloved and amiable friends, now I trust with God, Reverend Francis Pelot, and Mr. David Williams, is that valuable work of public utility, the System of Church Discipline, to be ascribed. His printed sermons have contributed to the general interest of religion, and his extensive regular correspondence, has been the means of conveying rational pleasure and religious improvement to many.
"To all which may be added, his usefulness as a citizen of America. Prompt in his judgment, ardent in his love of liberty, and rationally jealous for the rights of his country; he took an early and decided part in those measures, which led our patriots to successful opposition against the encroachments of arbitrary power; and brought us to possess all the blessings of our happy independence. Yet he did not mix politics with the gospel, nor desert the duties of his station to pursue them; but attending to each in its proper place, he gave weight to his political sentiments, by the propriety and uprightness of his conduct; and the influence of it was felt by many.
"But this amiable and excellent man has now finished his course, and is gone to render an account of his stewardship to his Lord and Master, to whom he knew he was accountable for his various gifts and graces, and whom to serve and honor was his delightful employ. On such an occasion we are ready to exclaim with Elisha, when he beheld the ascending prophet, 'My father! my father! the chariot of Israel and the horsemen thereof!' Our beloved friend is removed from the world and all those among whom he once went preaching the gospel of Christ, shall, in the flesh, see his face no more. May Heaven support his pious, weeping widow, so greatly bereaved; and may indulgent Providence and grace provide for the youth who is left as the son of his old age!""For many months previous to his death, he repeatedly said, that he viewed himself as a dying man. A few days after he was taken with his last illness, and while he was able to walk about the room, he called for his Will, gave it to a friend, and desired him to get his remains conveyed to Southampton, the family burying-place. It was with such difficulty at this time that he drew his breath, and the agony he was in, was so great, that he said, he should not think it strange if he should go into convulsions. The struggle for breath broke a vessel, and he spat a quantity of blood; yet not a murmur or undue complaint! He would frequently lift up his hands and say, 'Poor mortal man!' A friend once replied, 'This mortal shall put on immortality' -- he answered, 'Yes! yes!' He would often say, 'I want, I want!' Being asked what he wanted? 'I want the will of the Lord to be done!' The Reverend Mr. Van Horne called to see him; he asked him if he felt comfortable; he replied, 'God is an all-sufficient Savior!'Mr. Hart was twice married; his first wife was Miss Sarah Brees, by whom he had eight children, all of whom were dead, except two, in 1796, and these members of the church in Charleston (S.C.) His second wife was Mrs. Anne Grimball, relict of Mr. Charles Grimball of South-Carolina, by whom he had two sons; the first died young, the other, whose name is William Rogers [named after Dr. Rogers, of Philadelphia], is living in South-Carolina.
"A person, who at one time was sitting by, and observing his great bodily distress, said, 'How happy for Mr. Hart, that he has but one work to do!' Dying was meant. He immediately replied, 'Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to every one that believeth!'
"Dec. 29. He called for all around him, to help him praise the Lord for what he had done for his soul. Being told he would soon join the company of saints and angels, he replied, 'Enough, enough!'
"Dec. 30. His cough and spitting of blood increased, and every breath was accompanied with a groan. When he died, he just put his head a little back, closed his eyes, as if he were going into a sleep, and expired!"
Several sermons and other compositions of Mr. Hart's have appeared in print, viz. Dancing Exploded; A Funeral Discourse, occasioned by the death of the Reverend William Tennant; The Christian Temple; A Circular Letter on Christ's Mediatorial Character; America's Remembrancer; and A Gospel Church portrayed. Besides these, he has left in manuscript many valuable discourses on public and common occasions, exclusive of other writings.
For a time during his ministry in Charleston, Mr. Hart suffered a distressing trial, in consequence of an attempt to supplant him in the pastoral office, and place in his room Mr. Bedgegood, who was then his assistant, and possessed of popular talents, though not free from blemishes of character. His conscientious opposition was by some attributed to envy; and on the failure of the plan, several of the wealthier members withdrew.
Mr. Hart was zealous and active in the cause of American independence. In 1775 he was appointed by the Council of Safety, which then exercised the Executive authority in South-Carolina, to travel in conjunction with Hon. William H. Drayton and Reverend William Tennant, into the interior of the State, and conciliate the inhabitants to the measures of Congress, by removing their prejudices, and giving them a just view of their political interests. It was believed that the influence of Mr. Hart, exerted on this occasion, was the means of preventing bloodshed, when the tories first embodied.
===========[From David Benedict, A General History of the Baptist Denomination in America, 1813.]
Here is the Philadelphia Baptist Association Circular Letter written by Oliver Hart, on "Christ the Mediator," 1782.
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