Robert Baylor Semple was of Scotch descent. His father, John Semple, who emigrated to this country in early life, was one of thirteen children, and the son of very wealthy parents. According to the custom of the Old Country, his eldest son inherited the whole estate, while the others received as their only patrimony a liberal education. Two of the younger sons, John and James, came to America, and settled in Virginia. James became a clergyman of the Episcopal church, and was the father of the late lamented Judge Semple, of Williamsburg. John Semple engaged in the practice of law, and, after the acquisition
of a large property from his profession, married Elizabeth Walker, in 1761.
R. B. Semple, their youngest son, was born at Rose Mount, King and Queen County, January 20th, 1769. His father died when Robert was only twelve months old. By this event, Mrs. Semple was left, with four children, nearly penniless. Having become security on behalf of several friends for a large amount, the ample estate which had been accumulated was nearly all required to meet the claims of creditors. The wreck which was left after the payment of debts was bequeathed to the eldest son, while Robert inherited nothing but the affectionate regard and guidance of his surviving parent, "with," as he used afterwards to say, "the wide world to seek his fortune in." This depression in the external circumstances of his family may have been one of the necessary links in that chain of events by which God intended to magnify the riches of his providence and grace in calling him from darkness to light, and in making him the instrument of spiritual good to hundreds of his race. Mrs. Semple was a rigid adherent of the established church, and left no means untried in endeavoring to instill into the minds of her children the principles she had imbibed. They were regularly taken to public worship, and accustomed to all the forms of the church. Such was Robert's attention to the externals of religion, when still a youth, that both his friends and he had formed a high estimate of his attainments in piety. After he became a converted man, and a minister, he was heard frequently to allude to the influence which these early instructions: produced on his mind. Though pharisaical pride was indulged, and his heart remained for a time unchanged, yet he always considered that the religious habits he formed in the beginning of life resulted in keeping his conscience tender, and prevented him from running into the vortex of skepticism.
When quite young he was placed at school with a Mr. Taylor, as his mother cherished a peculiar anxiety to give him a good education. The late Rev. Peter Nelson, known throughout Lower Virginia as one of the most distinguished teachers of the State, was afterwards his preceptor. When Mr. Nelson removed to the Forks of Hanover and established an academy, Robert's
mother, unable to sustain the expense of boarding and tuition, began to apprehend that she must decline the purpose of educating her son, excepting so far as an opportunity might be allowed by the common schools of the neighborhood. But Mr. Nelson, discovering in his young pupil much sprightliness and a considerable aptitude for the acquisition of knowledge, magnanimously tendered to him his board and tuition free of expense. With Mr. Nelson he studied the Latin and Greek languages, and at the age of sixteen he had made such proficiency as to become a most valuable assistant teacher in the academy.
Having finished the course of studies prescribed at the academy, he was recommended by his tutor and friend as well qualified to conduct the education of youth, and obtained a situation in a private family. Here he commenced the study of law. No one, acquainted with his natural vigor of mind and his powers of discrimination, could doubt that in this profession he might have risen to distinguished eminence. But He who has the hearts of all men in His hands had determined to elevate him to a distinction still higher, by calling him to the work of preaching the everlasting gospel. His was to be the noble work of vindicating the ways of God to man, and to plead with guilty rebels to be reconciled to their sovereign. While prosecuting his studies, preparatory to the practice of law, notwithstanding the influence of maternal instruction, he became strongly tinctured with the sentiments of infidelity. In these he sought refuge from the occasional convictions of guilt which he experienced. Frequently was he lured from the path of morality, in which, in his earlier years, he had been accustomed to walk. Being necessarily thrown into the society of the gay and wicked, he was tempted to indulge in their practices. To paralyze the strokes of conscience, an endeavor was made to disbelieve the truths of the Bible; but still he was restless and unhappy. According to his own confession he was often compelled, amid the frivolities of the ball-room, to seek relief by retiring to pray.
During this period of painful contest between conscience and inclination he sought opportunities to converse on religious subjects. So far as he was inclined to believe in the reality of inspired truth, he urgently defended the forms of the established
church. About this time the Baptists were much prospered in their attempts to save men from the delusions of sin. Although, for the most part, their ministers were men of limited attainments, yet they possessed strong native sense, and ardent, humble piety, while the Lord was with them, bringing many, through their means, to a knowledge of the truth. Mr. Semple seems to have indulged quite a contemptible opinion of them and their system. Among others whom he encountered in argument was a pious and aged member of the Baptist church, by the name of William Skelton, who resided near him. This man, being an industrious and respectable citizen, though unskilled in science, became the subject of Mr. Semple's sympathy. He was regarded as a deluded enthusiast, and was visited by his youthful friend with the avowed purpose of convincing him of the error of his way and restoring him to the bosom of the church from which he had departed. In the execution of this purpose, Mr. Semple plied his arguments with warmth and skill; but he failed to change the mind of the aged disciple. His arrows were pointless. To his utter astonishment, he found this man's mind well stored with scriptural knowledge. He could not gainsay or resist the truth, which, in simplicity and godly sincerity, was brought to bear on his understanding and his heart. He determined to make himself more familiar with the Bible, and doubted not that he should be able still to triumph over his opponent. The controversy was renewed, but with the same result. Mr. Skelton extorted from him a promise, at the close of the second interview, that he would carefully read the New Testament, and note all the passages which related to the points in dispute. This examination was productive of lasting good. "The law of the Lord is perfect - converting the soul." The whole character of the young disputant was now changed. He was no longer the petulant cavalier or the self-approving Pharisee, but the humble, broken-hearted inquirer. His proud heart was subdued; for he saw, what to him was before unknown, that he was a ruined sinner and deserved to perish. Now, the sentiments which had been advanced and vindicated by his aged neighbor were seen to be truths of lasting importance. The further his investigations were pursued, the more wretched he became, until the plan of salvation, in all its simplicity and
fullness, was beheld and trusted in by him. A new world was opened to his vision; Christ was made unto him wisdom, righteousness, sanctification, and redemption, and became, in his estimation, the chief among ten thousand, and altogether lovely. In adverting to the means by which the spirit of God effected a change in the heart of this young formalist, a number of important suggestions occur to the mind. The first is, the sovereignty of Divine grace. Here is an individual presenting himself in the attitude of an opposer; he wages war against God and his Christ, and God subdues, not by confining him in chains of darkness, but by taking away his stony heart and giving him a heart of flesh. God's purpose is accomplished, too, not by human wisdom or human eloquence, but in the manifestation of truth by a plain, uneducated farmer. Another thought deserves to be remembered: the Christian knows not what grand results may grow out of his endeavors to do good, however feeble. An old man, with no capacity to encounter the learning and wit by which he was assailed, might have satisfied his conscience with the utter hopelessness of making an impression. He might have apprehended only an exposure of the cause he wished to defend, or the fear of exposing his own ignorance might have prompted him to keep silence. But no; he determined to open his mouth boldly, and speak on behalf of Him in whom he trusted and whom he loved. And what was the result? A soul is converted. An individual is brought over from the enemy who is to become a leader in the army of the Lord, and througrh whom many are to be won to the standard of the Prince of peace. The most obscure follower of Christ may, by a well-timed conversation, or a single word uttered in a right spirit, be the occasion of events intimately or remotely connected with the eternal well-being of thousands of his race. But to return to the narrative. The subject of this biography was not simply delivered from the wrath to come and adopted into the heavenly family; his grateful spirit submitted with joy to the Redeemer's sway, and his prayer was, "Lord, what wilt thou have me to do?" He sought his duty from the pages of inspiration, and, contrary to early prepossessions, determined to attach himself to that sect which pre-eminently, in his day, was everywhere spoken against. In taking this step he had nothing
to gain but the answer of a good conscience and the approbation of God; while, in respect to temporal things, there was every prospect of sustaining loss. But for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus his Lord, he was willing to count all things loss. He was baptized in December, 1789, by Elder Theodorick Noel, and joined the Upper King and Queen Church.
The same month he began publicly to testify to the faithfulness of the saying, "That Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners." It has been before stated, that at the time of his conversion he was qualifying himself for the practice of law. When the excellence and love of Christ were revealed to his soul, he immediately conferred not with flesh and blood, but relinquished the hope of worldly elevation, that he might preach among his fellow-men the unsearchable riches of Christ. His first attempt was made at the house of Mr. Loury, Caroline County, December 24th; and it is said this effort was far from giving promise of eminence as a preacher. A late distinguished statesman and lawyer being present at this time, expressed himself very freely,concerning the sermon, and predicted that young Semple would never, in the character of a minister, gain the attention of the community. On the same occasion a ministering brother, still living, whose praise is in all the churches, preached his first discourse. Although Elder Semple commenced the solemn work in much weakness and with trembling, he was not discouraged. He was willing to sacrifice his pride while he could entertain the hope of doing something to promote the cause and glory of his Master. The characteristic decision which he exhibited through life was evinced in his earliest efforts. His second discourse was delivered at a private house, from Hebrews, ii. 1. One who had an opportunity of ascertaining something of his juvenile attempts, remarks that "his manner was extremely awkward, and his ideas, though obvious to his audience to be clear and well conceived, were expressed with a labored and unpleasant gesticulation." Encouragement may be furnished, in his example, to young licentiates to persevere in determined endeavors to improve in style and manner. For several months this young disciple labored in the neighborhoods adjacent to his own home with great zeal. In 1790, Bruington Church was constituted in King and Queen, under the
instrumentality of that excellent man, Elder James Greenwood.
After their constitution they unanimously called the subject of this memoir to take the oversight of them. On the 26th of September, 1790, a Presbytery, consisting of Elders Robert Ware, Theodorick Noel, and Iverson Lewis, proceeded to examine and ordain him to the work of the gospel ministry. He continued to sustain the pastoral relation to Bruington Church as long as he lived, a period of forty years.
On the 1st of March, 1793, he was united in marriage to Miss Ann Loury, daughter of Col. Thomas Loury, of Caroline County. A few months previous this estimable young lady had attached herself to the Baptist Church, and had given the most indubitable evidence of devotion to the cause of Christ. Her husband was often heard to express gratitude for the direction of his Heavenly Father in this event. She was a help-meet indeed. They commenced the married life without property, but being vigorous in health, and independent in their feelings, they determined, by industry and rigid economy, to avoid embarrassment, that he might more fully prosecute the duties of the ministry. This was rendered the more difficult as they had both been accustomed to move in affluent society. After two or three temporary removals, they ultimately settled in King and Queen County, on a farm called Mordington. Here they spent the greater part of their lives. At this place, for a number of years, he conducted a school. As an instructor of youth he was much approved, and highly useful. In this employment, in connection with the cultivation of a farm, he was soon placed in very comfortable circumstances, and before the close of life had acquired considerable property.
In a few years after the entrance of Elder Semple into the work of the ministry, it was the will of God that he should attain a very high reputation among all classes of men. Notwithstanding his necessary confinement in school, he made extensive and frequent tours throughout all parts of Lower Virginia, preaching the gospel and confirming the disciples. His visits to the churches were eminently blessed. Itinerant labors like these he continued until the close of life. His regular ministrations, however, were confined to King and Queen, and King William Counties. Within this region a number of infant churches had been originated when
he began his ministerial career. These churches, chiefly under his instrumentality, were greatly enlarged, embracing many of the most intelligent classes of society. It is to be regretted that the minutes of the Dover Association do not, for a number of years, give the statistics of the churches, by which might be ascertained something of the increase in those regions occupied by Elder Semple.
The following extract of a letter addressed to a Christian friend, alludes to the state of things in his congregations in 1822:"Tomorrow I am to attend at Upper King and Queen, (one of the churches of my pastoral care,) for the purpose of baptizing fifteen or twenty persons recently converted, and at the same place, in July, I baptized twenty-three in one day. This, I am sure you will say, is good news; I can also say of them that few revivals in my acquaintance furnish characters of whom stronger hopes may be entertained of their wearing well. Although many of them are the poor of this world, I feel persuaded they are rich in grace. In another church of my care a, revival has gone on for some months, chiefly among the people of color. About one hundred and seventeen have been baptized, of whom more than one hundred are colored; I wish my hopes of these were as Sanguine as they are in respect to the subjects of the other revival. So closely are ignorance and superstition united, that I find it hard to keep these poor creatures from building upon visions and dreams. In many of them, however, the clearest evidences are furnished of a work of grace. In Bruington Church, the other church of my care, we have had rather a warm season for about twelve months past, and during that time have baptized about thirty; of whom many were persons of high standing in civil society. When in York, last May, I baptized two ladies, from whom I entertain great hopes of usefulness. They are Mrs. B., and Eliza P_, my niece. I correspond with them, and Eliza writes to my daughter: from their letters, as well as their conversation, I entertain these hopes. They seem to be very pious."An interesting fact may be inferred from the above letter, which deserves the attention of the biographer Not only were the intelligent, refined, and wealthy brought under the influence of his ministry, but the ignorant and the indigent. They shared largely
in his sympathies and ministrations. It is said some of his happiest moments were spent in the cabins of the poor, while recommending to them the Divine Saviour, who humbled himself that they might be rich. Hundreds of those who occupied the humbler walks of life were accustomed to hail him as their spiritual father, their counsellor and friend
Until 1783 there was but one Association in Virginia, called the General Association. This body was then divided into four districts, and the General Committee organized. While the four District Associations met regularly, to consult the welfare of the individual churches, they each appointed four delegates to the General Committee, to deliberate on the interests of the denomination at large. This was dissolved in 1794, but in 1800 representatives were appointed by several Associations, and the General Meeting of Correspondence was formed. Elder Semple was usually a delegate from the Dover Association, and in 1808 he was appointed their Moderator. In this office he continued until its dissolution. From his entrance into the ministry he was one of the most regular attendants at the Dover Association. It is doubtful whether he was absent from any one meeting for the space of forty years. This Association, the largest in America, and perhaps in the world, owes much of its efficiency to his exertions. At an early period he was chosen Moderator, and continued to receive this appointment from year to year, until his death.
In the early efforts of the Baptist denomination to send abroad the gospel among the heathen, Elder Semple became deeply interested. His benevolence was enlarged, like that of Christ, embracing the whole world. He thus refers to the subject of missions:" The whole glory of the salvation of sinners is due to God; but the means must be used by his people. Go ye and preach, said Christ, and I will be with you. Do you use the outward means, and I will make them effectual. To preach is the duty of the preacher; but are there not duties incumbent upon others as well as preachers? Doubtless there are: nothing is plainer in the Scriptures than that ministers must not go on this warfare at their own charges. But missionaries differ from stated pastors.
They have to go out into the world to preach. Pastors preach to churches who will feel themselves bound in justice to support them. The question then is, are any bound to aid in the support of missionaries whom they are never to hear? We answer, not by the principles of justice; yet, they are bound by the principles of charity; that charity which seeketh not his own and loveth his neighbor as himself. Who that feels (as a Christian ought to feel) for the wretched state of mankind, starving for the bread of life, but will be willing to throw into common stock his money, or his services, or both, for the purpose of supplying their wants, by sending them the gospel? This is Divine generosity. It is alms of the highest grade, on which a rich reward awaits.
"In order to concentrate the energies of the friends of the gospel, missionary societies have been formed in various parts of the earth. The individuals of these societies combine their efforts to send the gospel into destitute places, whether heathen or nominally Christian. Preachers are sent out under their direction, and are supported or compensated from their funds. These funds are raised by the contributions of the members of these societies, by private donations, and by public collections, etc. These measures, like all others requiring money, have met with opposition. Where is the Scripture proof? say some. We answer, abundant proof is to be found in the New Testament.
"The Lord Jesus himself, while preaching the gospel, received support by the contributions of his followers. See Luke, viii. 23. After his ascension, his disciples, impelled by a holy desire for the spread of the gospel, and by Divine charity, cast all they had into one common stock. This might very properly be called a missionary fund, by the aid of which the gospel was propagated in Jewish and heathen countries. And hence the Apostle says to the Gentile churches, their debtors they are. See Romans, viii. 27. The Gentile converts, on their part, repaid the debt, by sending aid to the Jewish, impoverished by their extraordinary liberality. The church at Philippi is applauded by Paul as having been the first among the Macedonian churches who contributed to his necessities; and still more commends them because they had done this once and again. Right reason speaks the same sentiment. Can anything be more reasonable than to contribute,
for godly purposes, a part of the abundance which God gives us? Can we receive from him so much as to be able to fare sumptuously every day at home; show finely abroad; expend hundreds in the education and dress of our sons and daughters; build fine houses, etc.; and, even after such expenditures, have wherewithal to make purchases of lands, etc., shall we be thus kindly treated by him, and refuse or neglect to make any return, by contributing out of this abundance for the advancement of his cause? Nothing would be more unreasonable. Objections have been raised upon the ground of practicability. Is it not a hopeless undertaking? say they No! by no means. Great success has already attended the efforts of missionary societies."
Elder Semple was among the first in Virginia to engage in the delightful work of promoting the mission cause. To his influence, in a great measure, is to be ascribed the regard which was manifested by many individuals and churches toward this object. He was a member of the first meeting of the Baptist General Convention, and afterwards uniformly attended, to the period of his death. Whoever else might be absent from the anniversaries of Virginia missionary societies, Elder Semple was always in his place. From the origin of the Richmond Foreign and Domestic Society (afterwards the Virginia Baptist Missionary Society) he was its most active and devoted friend. For a series of years he presided at their annual meetings. The General Association of Virginia, for supplying the destitute parts of the State, had also a large share of his affections. He was usually Moderator of this body and President of its Board of Managers. Nor was he less interested in the cause of education. Indeed, every object which promised to be advantageous to his fellowmen met his most cordial approbation. He acted upon the general principle that it was right to do good unto all men, as far as he had opportunity.
To do good was his delight. It may not be inappropriate here to insert a few sentences written by him, expressive of the interest he took in the subject of colonization: - "If the colonization plan should fully succeed, a radical change for the better will be effected in three distinct nations: our own nation will be rid of a most deadly evil; the African race among
us will take their stand as an independent, civilized people, cultivating the soil, and breathing the air which Heaven seems to have destined for them; the savage tribes on the African continent will, through them, rise to refinement and civilization; and, what is infinitely better, will acquire a knowledge of that gospel which brings life and immortality to light. Why should not our free colored population go back to the land of their forefathers? It is believed that the Jews are again to possess the country given them of God. If the sons of Abraham are to return to the sepulchres of their fathers, why not the sons of Ham? Both these people have for centuries suffered the chastisement of offended Providence; both have been preserved a separate people in the bosom of other nations. Will the Father of mercies, whose loving-kindness is to be seen even in his chastisementswill he be angry forever with the one people, and ultimately show forgiveness to the other? But I am reminded that it is a delicate subject, and must be treated cautiously. Very true! No people can be more aware of that than Virginians; and, I think, no Virginian more than myself. When I say or do anything on this delicate subject, I strive to call up my soundest discretion, to think again and again; and lest, after all, I may be misled by some vain imagination, I endeavor to ask wisdom of the Father of lights. Such should be the course of all. It is, however, one thing to act with caution, great caution, and another, and a very different thing, not to act at all. We must not abstain from doing good lest our good should be evil spoken of. The way is, indeed, narrow and perilous; and fiery spirits may pull down evils upon themselves and others; yet the wise and prudent may walk the same way and effect much good without any evil. The late disaster in Liberia is indeed discouraging; but a kind Providence can easily remedy the evil. The Israelites had to go through many purgations before they could settle in peace in the promised land. So had the American Colonies."
Among other objects that engaged the attention of Elder Semple was the Columbian College, in the District of Columbia. This institution became deeply involved in debt, and its existence as a Baptist College seriously periled. To save it from ruin, and restore public confidence and patronage, it was found necessary
that some individual of known integrity, judgment, and industry should be selected to take charge of its financial concerns. The eyes of the board were directed to Semple, and he was pressingly invited to assume this responsibility. In considering the propriety of accepting the appointment, he saw that ties most powerful must be sundered, and many painful sacrifices made. But he yielded to the convictions of duty, and determined, at least for a time, to remove to the City of Washington. This removal took place in July, 1827. In this station, as President of the Board, he remained until the period of his death. With his characteristic diligence and energy he prosecuted the important work committed to his hands, and the whole denomination were inspired with hope that the College would soon be relieved from its embarrassments. In a letter from Elder Abner W. Clopton, dated College Hill, October 29th, 1828, reference to this subject is made in the following language: "Dr. Semple, the main-spring, the very soul of the institution, is still here; and with the vigilant concern and unwearied activity of an honest, faithful, and tender parent, is endeavoring to arrange, and pay off as rapidly as the means can be obtained, the enormous and chaotic mass of debts. Scarcely any other man in our denomination, though many others possess excellency of character, could have entered upon this herculean task with any hope of success. Perhaps no other, while scarcely sun or moon or star shed a beam of light through the threatening clouds, would have remained firm at his post." The cheering anticipations expressed in this extract, and indulged by all the friends of the institution, were not realized. He who overrules all events saw it best to remove his servant from the sphere he occupied on earth to the rest of heaven.
It becomes proper to refer to the labors of Brother Semple as an author. Some time in 1809 he published a catechism for the use of children, which was highly approved. In 1810 his principal work, the History of Virginia Baptists, with several biographical notices appended, was issued from the press. This history must have cost its author much expense of time and labor in the collection of materials, as well as in its preparation for the public eye. There might be found by the critic some defects in the style of this work, and it is questionable whether
the references which were made to men then living were not calculated to have an unhappy tendency. In presenting it to the public, he employs the following language: "Unless the compiler is wholly deceived in himself, his attempt to write a history of the Virginia Baptists did not spring either from the love of money or the love of fame. To say that these things never entered his thoughts, would be saying what no one would believe. His motive was an ardent wish for the prosperity of truth, which he really thought could be greatly promoted by a plain and simple exhibition of God's dealings toward his people. The rise and rapid spread of the Baptists in Virginia were so remarkable, that there are but few who do not believe that some historical relation of them will be productive of real advantage to true religion. So much were our revolutionary reformers persuaded of this, that they made arrangements as early as 1778 to collect materials and publish a history; as may be seen by turning to our history of the Proceedings of the General Committee. If his book does not recommend itself by its deep erudition, polished style, or rhetorical flights, he thinks that it possesses qualities that are more valuable in such a work. Candor and simplicity in church history appear to the author properties of primary importance. He has faithfully recorded the foibles and failures, as well as the virtues and praises of his own people."
No doubt an important benefit was conferred on the denomination by the publication of this history. It enabled the churches to become more familiar with each other's rise and progress, and tended to bind them together in a closer and more endearing fellowship. It was important, too, that the peculiarly interesting circumstances which accompanied the origin and early history of the Baptists in Virginia should be made known to the world. In addition to these works, it devolved on Elder Semple to become the biographer of the lovely and lamented Straughan. This memoir was well executed, and reflected much credit on its author. He was also frequently appointed to write the circular letters of the Dover Association. All these are good, containing much valuable matter, and two or three of them may be called superior.
Elder Semple was never distinguished as a controversial writer.
Had he turned his attention particularly to polemics, he doubtless might have excelled. But he was always more disposed to engage in some work of faith and labor of love, than to spend his time in vexatious controversy. It has been thought by some, that his letters in reply to Mr. Campbell had rather an injurious influence. These letters were too hastily written, and, moreover, in his early correspondence with that wily errorist, there was too much of disposition to recognize him as a Christian brother; defective, indeed, in some of his views, but not in essential matters. This discussion inclined many in Lower Virginia to become readers of Mr. Campbell's periodical, some of whom were led away by his enticing words. It must not be understood that Elder Semple thought lightly of these errors. In one of his communications he speaks of Mr. Campbell's views as constituting "one of the most poisonous schemes that the present generation has witnessed." The following extract of a letter from him, addressed to the editor of the Herald, deserves a place here. Referring to a conference of churches which had previously met, and adopted resolutions against this system, he says: "Let it be distinctly remembered that there are certain great leading truths which constitute the essence of Christianity. Put off these, and adopt anything else in the place of them, (no matter what,) and you lose everything in the character of a Christian worth having. You may retain the name and the forms of godliness, but you deny the power thereof. A word with regard to the season; was it the proper time? had suitable forbearance been exercised? I would answer, years have elapsed since this religious leprosy made its appearance, and became dangerous to our religious body. Having watched its progress and perceived its malignant effects, the most experienced disciplinarians became satisfied that the time had fully arrived when measures should be adopted to put out from among us those who clearly and obstinately adhered to a system so unlike the real gospel. It is believed by the most dispassionate, that if there be any error, it has been in being too tardy in resorting to the proper measures. In Kentucky, where the erroneous system spread more alarmingly than in Virginia, strong measures have been adopted; and it is said to have produced
very desirable effects. Another question will be asked. Is this the proper course? I answer, under existing circumstances, it does appear to me to be the wisest course that could be pursued. The evil having become general, something like a general remedy was plainly called for. Associations are looked at with a jealous eye by many excellent men. These being periodical bodies, it was apprehended that if once such matters should be taken up by them, they would grow into something alarming. For single churches to act separately would be likely to produce discordance, and thereby weaken the remedy. A conference, therefore, -- made up of committees from aggrieved churches, seems to me to commend itself to every prudent man's judgment. Those churches having the disease prevalent among them would be most likely to fall upon'the remedies best adapted to the case. The committees, too, selected from these aggrieved churches, would be for the most part tried and experienced men, fathers in Israel; such would march directly to their object with a firm step, not biased by false delicacy on the one hand, nor by party heat on the other. All things fairly considered, I do most cordially recommend the course advised by the conference, and do hope, earnestly hope, that a course substantially like it may be adopted by all our churches; and that we may in this most distressing state of things all move together."
Some allusion has already been made to the exertions of this devoted man as a minister of Jesus Christ. Few men have possessed a wider or more commanding influence, or have been more useful in the vineyard of the Lord. There have been those who have risen rapidly in the world, and for awhile have excited attention, but whose relaxed zeal or improper conduct has thrown them back into the shade, from which they have never again emerged. Others have attracted, and continued to attract the admiration of those around them, while their real usefulness has been confined within a very limited compass. Semple's progress was gradual, but it was onward. His influence was practically felt. And what was the secret of his success? Did it consist in eccentricity of manner, extraordinary powers of mind, or overpowering pulpit eloquence? In neither. It was the result of other qualities which he possessed in an eminent degree, and to
which the attention of the reader should be directed, or this sketch would not be complete.
I. Among the most marked features of his ministerial character was prudence, united with great decision. These important attributes were exhibited in conferring with inquirers on the subject of salvation and Christian duty. He was always prepared to give discreet advice. Nor was he unfrequently called upon to afford instruction both within the sphere of his pastoral labor and to distant correspondents.
The following letters were written in reply to inquiries made by one who was settled in a neighborhood where the Baptist ministry seldom visited: -- "Your last came to'hand in a very short time after date: it brought me the first intelligence of your baptism, and of the Gloucester meetings. It was, indeed, in every respect a pleasing communication. You have witnessed a good profession in a part of our country where Baptist principles have been very little understood, or rather have been greatly misunderstood. Your situation in life will cause you to be much observed by all. The friends of truth will fix the eye of hope upon you, and look for a Divine blessing on your good conversation in Christ Jesus. The opposite party, made up of various descriptions, under more various motives, will watch for your halting. The personal enemies of the Baptists, from religious and other motives, will say, 'their principles are too rigid for any good person to be happy among them.' You know of whom it was said, in old times, 'as for this sect, it is everywhere spoken against.' It does indeed require a large stock of prudence, or rather of Divine grace, to make a consistent and useful Baptist. But looking to God with constant and humble reliance, there will be nothing too hard. Surely he can make rough ways smooth, and crooked paths straight; and, moreover, he says,'these things will I do, and not forsake you.' As it respects society, you will doubtless sometimes be at a loss: you cannot go all lengths with your old friends who are not changed, and of course must, to a certain extent, withdraw from them; and a refined mind cannot fully enjoy the company of the unrefined, even though pious. But this you will take as a part of your cross. In the mean time be at work, and you
will find your labor not in vain in the Lord. Talk, advise, write, pray, etc., and you will find your society improved upon your own terms. Some of your friends who pitied your weakness, perhaps persecuted you, will be among the number to seek your religious association. I have seen these things more, than once."
Again he writes: "Your letter, by taking a wrong direction, did not reach me until a few days past. Its contents were most satisfactory and consoling. Your experience of grace was surely from God, for no person can feel thus unless God be with him. You speak of being 'assailed with doubts and fears.' It is questionable whether a faithful experience is ever without them. They are not from God, but he overrules them for the Christian's confirmation. Satan will worry whom he cannot devour. In this, like all his other attacks upon the children of God, he causes only momentary pain, which is succeeded by lasting peace. The barking of the wolf drives the sheep nearer to the fold and the shepherd. I am more than commonly pleased with the calculations you seem to make, that the Christian is not to be carried to the skies on flowery beds of ease. Young Christians often overrate the duration of their comforts and underrate their trials, so that, when their conflicts come, they are not prepared for them, and 'count it strange' that they should be visited by such fiery trials. It is to their advantage to keep in mind that through much tribulation we must enter into the kingdom of heaven. I am also highly pleased at discovering, from your letter, that you have right views of prudence and waiting upon God. The enemy of souls has often done much mischief among zealous professors, by persuading them to neglect one set of duties to attend to others; that the immediate and direct duties to God are not paramount to domestic and social duties. It is not so: all duties should be done to God. Hence, Colossians, iii. 3, we are told, 'Whatsoever ye do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus,' etc., and immediately the duties of domestic life are enumerated and enjoined as to be done for God. See the same subject, Ephesians, v. and vi. This must be done by waiting upon God and seeking his direction as to the proper mode of attending to each duty, so as to be found rendering unto
God the things which are God's, and unto man the things that are his. This is the sure way of letting our light shine. "Baptism is so very distinctly revealed in the New Testament, that for more than thirty years I have been astonished how there could be more than one opinion upon it among the readers of the Testament, especially the pious; that repentance and faith should precede baptism, is as plainly laid down in the above book as words can speak. Philip, when asked to baptize a certain man, said, 'if thou believest with all thy heart, thou mayest.' You speak of obstacles: you cannot do wrong to wait on the Lord to remove them, and make your conversion and baptism a blessing to many others; and by a judicious use of your privileges, you will have much solid happiness here, and will meet your Saviour with more pleasure when you find yourself among those to whom he will say, 'These are they who have followed the Lamb whithersoever he went." In the social circle, he always demeaned himself in a manner becoming his exalted station. Many ministers who act well their part in the pulpit, are lamentably deficient in their daily intercourse with men. Their undignified demeanor and indiscreet remarks tend to neutralize the most instructive and eloquent discourses. But it was not thus with the subject of this memoir. He always seemed to carry about with him the recollection that he should watch for souls as one who must give account, and all his words and actions were judiciously adapted to leave, both among saints and sinners, a good impression.
His government of the churches over which he presided, and the course he took in the Dover Association and other large deliberative bodies, furnished also a test of his character for sound judgment and firmness of purpose.
II. Another invaluable trait in his character was unwearied diligence in the discharge of ministerial duties. For punctuality in attending his own appointments, and all the more important denominational meetings of the State, he was proverbial. And, while at these meetings, as well as in the fulfillment of pastoral duty, whatever his hands found to do, he did it with all his might. It will be appropriate, in this place, to furnish an extract from a communication, written by one who was doubtless prepared to
give the most accurate information. In this extract the writer alludes to the course Elder Semple pursued at an early stage of his ministry. Having referred to his industrious habits in teaching and farming, immediately after his marriage, the writer proceeds: "During this time he ministered to three congregations, two of them twenty miles distant from his residence. He labored incessantly, making it his religious duty to undertake nothing which he did not complete, and to have no appointment that he did not fulfill. So strictly did he observe this rule, that I have heard him say that he has rode through the most inclement weather to a distant church, and when getting there found the nearest neighbor absent, and preached on such occasions to a congregation of not more than four or five persons. His labors at this time were peculiarly arduous. The Baptist church in that region was in its infancy. There were few persons who belonged to it, and those the most illiterate and unpolished. The prejudices of the public were against it, and the young man of learning and talent was deemed irreclaimably infatuated who could devote his time to the service of a church which brought neither honor nor emolument. Panoplied, however, in the armor of conscious rectitude, he went forth to battle these prejudices and to disseminate truth. In a short time the fruits of his labor were awarded him. A church, equal in number and respectability to any in the State, grew up under his ministry, and old Bruington still stands a monument to the zeal and piety of its never-to-be-forgotten founder."
In a sermon delivered on the occasion of his death, by Elder Robert Ryland, the following allusion is made: "He was eminent for his PERSEVERANCE. I have known many men of equal, perhaps superior abilities, who fell far short of his usefulness, because they wanted his decision. He was deliberate in forming his conclusions, but when formed he acted on them. He felt that the ground on which he stood was solid, and he therefore stood erect and fearless. His course through life was, consequently, not an irregular one, vacillating from one extreme of doctrine to another, now manifesting an excessive zeal, and now settled down into a frigid insensibilty; but it was uniform, steady, dignified. You always found in him the same man. Human energy is often
wasted because it is applied to some point for a short time with great vehemence, and then diverted from that to another before the first is accomplished. Such was not the custom of Mr. S. He never abandoned a project because it proved to be difficult or unpopular, but went right on until a fair experiment had convinced him what was expedient. Hence it was that he acquired so much weight of character in the community. Every person confided in the soundness of his judgment, and in the energy with which he executed his purposes. If he had appointments to fulfill, he suffered no impediment which mortal enterprise could subdue to interrupt them. His congregations would go out to hear him in cold and rainy weather, because they were sure of his attendance. This trait in a public man is doubtless more valuable than it is usually regarded. In the course of a long life, its influence is capable of effecting a large amount of good, while the patriarchal sentiment is found to be true, 'Unstable as water, thou shalt not excel.'
"He was one of your practical men, that set themselves to work in good earnest, and 'from the same fixed and faithful point' never decline until their aim is accomplished. It ought to be set down also to his credit that he was constitutionally indolent. His physical nature seems to have been changed by the force of principle. Whatever of activity he displayed was the result not of natural temperament, but of grace Divine, urging him forward against the current of his feelings, -- the effect of holy, ardent love, prompting him to spend and be spent for the salvation of souls. Many men are endued with a restless temper that makes them energetic by starts. Their motions are rapid, but uncertain and eccentric. Their zeal is blazing, but misguided and injudicious. They rarely effect much good. But this man's energy was steady and efficient. His zeal was uniform and salutary because guided by a sound judgment and directed to a hallowed end.
"The only additional remark which I shall make on this part of the subject is this: That no man probably felt a deeper interest in the general welfare of Zion. While the disciples are classed into so many little families, there is danger lest they feel an undue solicitude, each for his own family, and disregard the common cause. Mir. S. felt a lively anxiety for his whole denomination,
and for the progress of the gospel in every part of the world. He could have said, with Paul, 'Besides those things that are without, that which cometh upon me daily, the care of all the churches.' Indeed, when his reputation had increased, he was so much importuned to preach in distant neighborhoods, that his own people felt his loss. Wherever he sojourned, there he went to work as if it had been his particular charge. And, on this account, he was looked up to by all the churches as a kind of apostle; was called upon to decide controversies, and to adjust more serious difficulties. One of his darling themes in the pulpit was the enforcement of brotherly love. His soul was oppressed by the schisms which have in some instances perplexed our churches. To the variant parties his private and public counsels were excellent. If, however, he ever displayed an authoritative spirit, it was while preaching on this subject. He had little patience for the senseless quarrels of those who profess to be disciples of the Prince of peace, and children of the God of love."
III. It may be observed, in addition to the qualities to which the attention of the reader has been called, that he was distinguished for the practical character of his preaching. By manifestation of the truth he commended himself to every man's conscience in the sight of God. His discourses were remarkable for their appropriateness, and were always delivered in simplicity and godly sincerity. To amuse men was never his design when he stood up to recommend the weighty truths of the Word of God. No one could sit under his ministry without being convinced that the great object at which he aimed was to do good. It was said by a pious lady that she never heard him preach when she did not retire resolving to be more holy and devoted to God. Possessing an intimate acquaintance with the heart, and feeling the superlative value of eternal realities, he was habitually prepared to speak with pungency and faithfulness. It must not be understood that he was deficient as a doctrinal preacher. It was the delight of his heart to dwell on the love of God to his people, the Divine nature and glory of the Redeemer, the necessity and happy influence of the Spirit's work in regeneration, and all the other truths of the Bible;, but he never theorized on any one of these doctrines without making some practical inference, and
pressing them upon the consciences of his hearers. This was evidently the apostolic plan. Paul, in his writings, manifests a peculiar concern that purity of sentiment should prevail in the churches; but, in recommending the precepts of the gospel, he descends to particulars, and with emphasis urges all the duties of social life, as well as those of a devotional character. Thus did Semple. His style was sometimes negligent, but his manner always impressive. An extract from the funeral discourse, delivered by Elder A. Broaddus, will be here introduced. It furnishes an accurate description of the ministerial talent and spirit of him with whom, from early youth, the speaker had been intimately associated in the work of the gospel ministry: "Among the gifts and endowments of my valued friend, we do not reckon an eloquent tongue and a fluent speech. The early part of his career was marked by frequent embarrassments, from the want of a ready and happy appropriation of words to the ideas which labored in his mind. But then, you still saw the idea of sterling worth, big with important meaning, and weighing powerfully in the scales of the sanctuary. You saw the object toward which, with resolute pace, he was marching up; and though he might sometimes be impeded on the way, still he marched on, (for perseverance was one of his distinguishing features,) still he marched on till the point was gained. And if, even in the maturity of his ministry, he never attained to excellence in ready utterance, the worth of his matter more than made amends for the want of this faculty -- a faculty which, though it has its worth, is often found to exist in connection with a slender stock of mind and meaning, a pompous parade of words, a body without a soul.
"Divine truth, from the lips now sealed in silence, came to knock at the door of our hearts, not with the tap of the glovedhand, but with the stroke of the brazen knocker. It entered not with the bows and compliments of a stranger, but unceremoniously, like the owner of the castle come to claim his mansion. Nor did he lack a holy warmth, a heavenly unction, in his ministrations; for God was with him. To have the best feelings of the heart engaged and kindled up in the cause of Christ, and under the influence of his redeeming love, was the delight of his soul. Often
has he said: 'I would give nothing for that religion which excludes these heavenly feelings.' And if he was not eminent for those appeals which produce a more powerful excitement, you are witnesses, my friends and brethren, how often a sacred pathos mingled itself with his addresses; how often, ere we were aware, a transition took place from the current of argument and instruction, to a feeling and even a melting sense of the excellence of Christ's'holy religion, its blessed enjoyments and immortal prospects.
"Various are the gifts with which God has favored the Christian. The distinguishing excellence of our brother, in his ministerial capacity, appeared to me to consist in a fund of knowledge of human nature, applied, as occasion called for it, to the various workings of the heart; and in what the Apostle calls 'instruction in righteousness;' or an exhibition of the duty and advantage of practical godliness. Having been instrumental, under the influence of God's gracious spirit, in turning many 'from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan to God,' he was earnestly engaged in his ministrations, in building them up in the faith of the gospel, and training them to active diligence in all good works." Says Mr. Ryland: "As a public teacher of religion, our lamented brother was deservedly eminent. He was always appropriate. The variety of his sentiments, the originality of his manner, the solid, earnest, and devout constitution of his mind, made him profitable to all classes of hearers. I think those familiar but beautiful lines of Cowper suit him as well as any man I have ever seen: 'Would I describe a preacher such as Paul, Were he on earth, would hear, approve, and own, Paul should himself direct me. I would trace His master-strokes, and draw from his design. I would express him simple, grave, sincere; In doctrine uncorrupt; in language plain, And plain in manner; decent, solemn, chaste, And natural in gesture; much impressed Himself, as conscious of his awful charge, And anxious mainly that the flock he feeds May feel it too; affectionate in look, And tender in address, as well becomes A messenger of grace to guilty men.'
"One quality, which distinguished our venerable brother, was his intimate acquaintance with the human heart. This was one of the chief sources of his greatness and usefulness. Pope says: -- 'The proper study of mankind is man.' This study is important to all professions; but to the preacher it is indispensable. He has to deal emphatically with the heart of man. He should know how to touch alternately the chords of hope and fear, of love, joy, sympathy, gratitude, and devotion. Mr. S. applied his mind more to this subject than to books. If he addressed the unconverted, they were often astonished at his perfect insight into their feelings. Like the woman of Samaria, they were constrained to say: 'He told me all the things that ever I did.' He described them so faithfully that they found no way of escape, and had to confess they were the very sinners whom he had designated. If he spoke to Christians he seemed to know their trials, their secret exercises, their besetting infirmities. He expatiated on them more correctly than they could have done themselves. And he was well skilled to apply a remedy suited to their spiritual diseases; to administer comfort to the depressed, caution to the unguarded, and reproof to the disobedient. Perhaps this is of all others the most delicate task assigned to the messengers of truth; to adapt their instructions to the character and circumstances of men. It is not sufficient that they understand what is truth; but they should know what particular ideas to advance for the various stages of experience; when to apply the promises, when the admonitions, and when the threatenings of the gospel. In a word, they should rightly divide the Word of truth, giving to each one his portion in due season.
This can be done only by knowing, in some measure, what is in man. Possessing a large share of this quality, Mr. S. succeeded remarkably well in performing the duty above alluded to. He aimed his darts not over the heads of men, but at their consciences, and they felt their point. He abhorred the disposition which prompts some to attempt great things merely to attract the stare of the ignorant. The useful was preferred by him to the ornamental, and the homely phrase that conveyed his thoughts was
selected rather than the classic one, which would be understood only by the learned."
It will not be unsuitable or uninteresting to the reader, here to introduce a few extracts from the pen of Elder Semple. They will give a just idea of the sterling excellence of those sentiments which were at all times advanced by him, both in the pulpit and by the pen. It ought to be remarked that he very seldom wrote sentimental letters, although his correspondence was extensive. As he was frequently consulted in reference to the interests of individual churches, or the cause at large, he was accustomed in each case to confine himself to the subject, and to give plain, practical advice.
The first extract furnished will exhibit his views of the gospel ministry. It is from a letter addressed to a young brother, who was agitating the question, whether it was his duty to enter upon this solemn work: "Yours of the ninth instant is now before me, and I sit down to answer it. It contains one general proposition by way of asking my advice, viz., Shall I preach the gospel? To which I might answer shortly, 'Yes. But you would have it more in detail.' You seem to be satisfied that God has impressed it upon your mind, or at least you ought to be satisfied, if your exercises are as you describe them. Such exercises prove the call of God. If God has committed a dispensation of the gospel to you, a woe betides you if you do not preach. On the contrary, if you preach willingly and faithfully, you will have a reward. Such are the terms of God's house. But the part in which I hope to be of some use to you, is respecting the difficulties of this holy occupation. Of these you should be forewarned. When God called Saul of Tarsus, he said to Annanias, 'I have showed him what great things he must suffer for my name's sake.' A faithful and true minister must make up his account, that he is to endure hardness as a soldier of the cross. He is appointed thereunto. It would seem that God will accept no services unless they can stand the fiery ordeal. His way is full of fire; and wood, hay, or stubble will soon burn up, while gold shines so much the brighter for having passed through the fire. The Apostle found it as God had told him; hence he gives us a long catalogue of sufferings which he had endured. And when he compares himself with
others, he asks, Are they ministers of Christ? and his answer is worthy of note, 'I am more: in labors more abundant, in stripes above measure;' and he goes on to enumerate his sufferings, as if they made him more than a minister of Christ. This you will say is a dark picture. True, but you will find it a true one, if you are a laborious and faithful minister of the gospel. But there is also a bright side to this picture. Ay, one that if rightly viewed, will dazzle not only the above prospects, but all the bright hopes and schemes of worldly aggrandizement. The man who has right feelings toward God's work, and faith as to its reward here and hereafter, would not hesitate in making choice of a holy minister's office, in preference to the office of prime minister of the most potent kingdom upon earth; nay, of the crown itself of such kingdom.. But it requires peculiar feelings, such as God only can give. Your course is plain: wait upon God, wait upon him without weariness. Follow his leadings. Be still until God says, Move; and then move with zeal, judgment, and humility. Do not forget Jeremiah's question and advice to Baruch, 'Seekest thou great things for thyself? Seek them not.' I am desperately mortified at seeing some of our young preachers. They seem to have accepted the call of God only upon condition that they may be great preachers, and may get great salaries. It requires a stretch of charity beyond my measure to even hope, that pride and selfishness have not a large share in their ministerial exercises. These seldom succeed in doing good. All things considered, I hope you will engage in the holy work, and that you will do it from the purest motives, and with extensive success. Yours in gospel fellowship."
The brief selections which follow, will, without doubt, be read with pleasure by many who have heard from his lips the words of eternal life; and to those who have no personal acquaintance it will be gratifying to see specimens of the style in which he was accustomed to illustrate and enforce truth.
"Holiness, a rare principle. -- So refined a principle is true holiness, and so contrary to the natural propensities, that few, either in the Old or New Testament, are represented as having attained to high degrees in it.. Blt few spotless characters are exhibited among the sons of God, that presented themselves in
worship in the days of Job; it is said of none that he was a perfect and an upright man, except Job himself. Of the thousands in Israel, Moses seems, at some seasons, almost to stand alone faithful to his God. Many thousands assembled in the Plain of Dura, and doubtless many Jews, yet three only continued immovable, and would not bow to the king's golden image. When the Lord Jesus was betrayed, a few women, and perhaps one male disciple, adhered to him.
"The true church. -- The fairest and only proper mode of ascertaining the visible church in the present day, is to search for the visible church in the days of inspiration, and then inquire among what people her characteristics, as laid down in the Bible, may be discovered.
"Charity. -- A charitable spirit is not a mere disposition to give alms to the poor. This is only one of its many excellent effects. It is rather that mind that was in Christ Jesus, which prompted him to love mankind in their sins, and to determine him to save them at the expense of his own life. By one writer it is defined to be 'a principle of love to God, and good-will to men, wishing well to all.' A charitable spirit, in a Christian, is the fountain whence most of the other graces spring; and, we may add, it is the source whence all the real good practiced among men takes its origin. Forbearance, forgiveness, long-suffering under injuries, gentleness, mildness, etc. are some of its many fruits. Feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, visiting the sick, acting the part of a father to the fatherless, of a friend to the friendless; to make another's suffering its own; to rejoice with those that rejoice, and weep with those that weep, are a part of its holy works. A charitable spirit views the faults of its possessor with abhorrence, those of its neighbor with grief, and those of its enemies with forbearance and forgiveness. This spirit never aggravates, never propagates the follies of others. It spreads its mantle over a multitude of faults, and would fain blot them out of existence. Envy, evil-speaking, whispering, backbiting, pride, selfishness, flee from her train. Faithfulness, candor, prudence, philanthropy, happiness, are its constant attendants. It sometimes wounds, yet never but with a view to healing. If it frowns, it is the frown of reform, and its chastisements are the chastisements of peace. In
prosperity it warns not to be too much elated, and in adversity it strengthens the feeble knees and lifts up the hands that hang down. It is heaven-born, and nurtured near the eternal throne. It is a visitant on earth, going about pointing out the road to glory and happiness, and leading all to the abodes of peace who will follow its advice or example. It is a plant of paradise, which never thrives in human soil, unless moistened with the dew of heaven, and cultivated according to the rules of Holy Writ. It seeks no rank on earth; but with equal readiness becomes a guest to the prince or the peasant, the sovereign or his subjects. Faith and hope are its principal ministers in this world, but in heaven, its native clime, it needs them not. There it forever lives and sings, when inferior spirits shall cease.
"Pride. -- Few things can be imagined more unreasonable in a follower of Jesus than pride. His first admittance into the kingdom of Christ being wholly through sovereign mercy; his preservation therein, by given strength; all his virtues, and all his gifts the offspring of grace; a beggar and a bankrupt as to himself, he may be well asked, What hast thou to glory in? Unreasonable, however, as it may be, there are few, very: few, if any of the church militant, who are exempt from its baneful influence. It is a noxious plant, that springs up spontaneously in the breast of man, and will destroy everything good, unless by close, diligent, and holy watchfulness it be dug up and kept under. It is a spirit marked with deep ingratitude. It often rises highest in those who are most favored of God. Beneficiaries of his distinguishing goodness, they are prompted by this spirit (like Satan) to put the crown upon their own heads. Hence we may account why the best men are often most afflicted. Lifted by their Master to the third heavens, a thorn in the flesh is given them, lest they should be exalted above measure. Well then may we account them happy who endure.
"False teachers. -- Satan transforms himself into an angel of light, and it is not uncharitable to believe that a large proportion of the religion that is in the world is the offspring of satanic inspiration. In this way we are to account for the various unscriptural doctrines of most of the sects of Christianity. Professing to be guided by the Word of God, they suffer themselves to be misled by the devices of Satan. They call meteors stars, and gew.
gaws jewels. But in the church, this side of heaven, however sound in doctrine and however regular and strict in discipline, individuals will be found who privily creep in and seem destined to disgrace the cause in which they embark; such was the case in the Apostolic Church, as sacred history records; and the best authenticated profane history leaves us without a doubt that no subsequent age of the church has been exempt from these calamities.
"Discipline. -- God seldom works but Satan imitates. God makes Christians, and Satan makes hypocrites. Time, however, will make manifest who are on the Lord's side, and true scriptural discipline will separate the precious from the vile. Discipline is like the refiner's fire; it makes the faithful shine like pure gold, while the false and faithless are consumed like chaff.
"Source of true greatness. -- Many excellent lessons may be learned by turning our reflections to our own day. Various characters have passed before our view. Some have risen to great usefulness and weight of character; and some, like the glow-worm, have glutted for a moment and sunk into oblivion. What are the causes? It will be found, upon impartial examination, that whatever might have been the effect of talents, connections, or popular sentiments, the far greater part of their high standing ought to be ascribed to the successful cultivation of a meek and Christian spirit, and that the insignificance or downfall of the opposite party oftener arose from that pride which precedes a fall than for the want of mental or personal endowments.
"Bigotry. -- Bigotry often claims the exclusive credit of being a defender of the faith, of candor, of faithfulness, of holy courage, and casts contempt on everything that opposes. With it, meekness is meanness, prudence is the fear of man, moderation is apathy, and the love of enemies is hypocrisy. A contentious spirit is always forming and fomenting parties. Its own party is flattered and caressed; the opposite is slighted and brow-beaten. When much heated, it is not uncommon to resort to still baser measures; to seize trifling foibles in its opposers, and magnify them into great faults, and occasionally to spread, if not fabricate, base falsehoods. It is against this spirit the Apostle labors in his First Epistle to the Corinthians: 'For,' says he, 'it has been declared to me that there are contentions among you. Whereas,
there is among you envying, and strife, and divisions, are ye not carnal? For while one saith, 'I am of Paul, and another, I am of Apollos, are ye not carnal?' In another part of the same epistle he says, 'If any man seem to be contentious, we have no such custom.' To Timothy he complains of some who doat about questions and strife of words.
"Indolence. -- Indolence does much harm negatively, by not doing the good that it ought and might. The slothful man sees innumerable and insurmountable obstacles in the enterprises presented to his view. Tell him to arise and work for his God, he immediately saith, There is a lion in the way, I shall be slain in the streets. He will sometimes rouse up and commence a work, but seldom or never brings it to perfection. He may hunt and may take the prey, but his sloth lulls him to sleep, and he roasts not that which he took in hunting. He may undertake to cultivate a field or vineyard, but if you go by it, you will find it all grown over with thorns. A professor of religion who gives way to a slothful spirit, is a cipher on the left hand that counts for nothing; a barren fig-tree that cumbers the ground. In the useful, active labors of God's house, he does nothing to perfection. Appoint him to any active service, and you hear no more from him, or hearing, it is only an apology for not doing. Sluggards in religion are not always so in worldly matters. Some of them are eager enough in pursuit of their own things, but have no time, no temper, no talents for Christ's work. Some of them can stir themselves on a Sabbath day, and travel some miles to pay a social visit, but seven or eight miles to worship is too unreasonable for man or beast.
"Idle curiosity. -- Idle curiosity often leads its possessors into barrenness of soul, and others into miscalculations. The curious are always in pursuit of novelty. Those who are infected by the spirit of curiosity, and do not check it, are disgusted with everything of long standing. They find out new preachers, new books, new people, etc., and these, while new, are always the best; but as soon as the novelty wears off they quickly look out and find others more to their taste. A curious spirit sometimes manifests itself in searching into deep and mysterious subjects, or dark and difficult texts of Scripture. The common maxims or plain doctrines
of God's word are overlooked as insipid and useless; those full of dark metaphors and inscrutable mysteries are the food of this spirit. Doctrines involving inexplicable points are sought as pearls from the bottom of the ocean; more valuable, because more rare. Some of these discover-their error and reform. They then tell us that their former course afforded no permanent pleasure or profit, and that plain and common things are found, on fair trial, to be most valuable.
"Worldly religion. -- The religion of the world, like Nebuchadnezzar's golden image, is for the most part pompous, and crowded with ceremonies and sensual gratifications. God is always best pleased with his people when in simplicity and godly sincerity they have their conversation in the world. Paul was jealous of the Corinthians, lest their minds should be corrupted from the simplicity that is in Christ.
" Christian intercourse. -- Frequent and familiar associations of Christians, accompanied by prudence and watchfulness, often check a wrong, and enkindle a right spirit. The association of the pious upon right principles is of great efficacy towards producing and preserving a holy frame. In our best estate, we are often blind to our own faults.
"Depravity the source of error. -- Depraved as man is, it would be vain to hope that he would not abuse any treasure (however precious) to which he could have access. Sinful, fallen man can never touch and not pollute; can never wear and leave the garment unpolluted. Pure Religion is handed to us directly from heaven. But, alas! how much is there that bears the name of religion, that is nothing more than the production of man, and, indeed, of a power worse than man.
"Prayer. -- Humble prayer has a most happy tendency toward softening the ferocious passions of nature. The very approaching of God as our Father tends to produce in us a meek, mild, and childlike temper. A soul with a praying spirit loses (for a season at least) all malice, all arrogance. He either trembles at his Master's frowns, or melts at his smiles. But besides this, humble prayer receives an answer. He, therefore, who feels his proud and resentful temper too stubborn to be subdued by himself, has hut to wait upon that God who giveth more grace to the humble.
"Patience. -- Patience in this world of woe is not only right, but indispensable to vital piety. In the character of Christ it was notable indeed. Being, a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief, his whole life exhibited proof of the prevalence of this spirit; and to induce us to imitate him, he promises that if we suffer, we'shall reign with him. A calm and serene temper in the midst of trials and sufferings displays the genius of Christianity more favorably than any other attitude in which the follower of the Lamb can be placed. This seems to be the true secret why the pious but prosperous Job must pass through fiery trials. God, who searcheth hearts, knows that he is a perfect and upright man; but those who look on things after the outward appearance, think they see in his wealth and prosperity sufficient inducement to serve God; and, therefore, dispute the purity of his motives. The Lord would cut off all occasion for doubt or reproach, and accordingly brings Job down to the lowest state of adversity and affliction. His patient spirit under his sufferings is named and applauded in the New Testament. Most of the favorite servants of God have been like sufferers. It was while Daniel's soul was in bitterness and grief he is so often called a man greatly beloved. David's forbearing and forgiving spirit in the midst of unrelenting persecutors seems to have had no small share in procuring for him the honorable appellation of'a man after God's own heart.' Moses, though raised in a royal court, must also drink of the bitter cup; and the patient spirit displayed by him in Egypt and in the wilderness, under the severest conflicts, seems to be the brightest trait in his character.
"Hospitality. -- So valuable is a virtuous hospitality in the sight of God that he has sometimes crowned it with distinguished blessings. The widow of Zarephath, or Sarepta, by entertaining Elijah, was miraculously fed for many days, and the great woman of Shunem, by her hospitable kindness to Elisha, obtained a son, the first desire of her heart. And Isaac also, the promised seed, seems to have been promised by the angels when filled and cheered by Abraham and Sarah's cordial kindness at their house, though probably not known to them as angels at the time. Abigail, by feeding David and his men, averted a heavy curse from her family and procured for herself a royal husband. It was
in a house of hospitality that Jesus said, 'This day is salvation come to this house.' But, probably, the most important advantage which arises from hospitality is the advancement of the Redeemer's kingdom. It causes the gospel to be preached under private roofs at times and seasons when circumstances prevent it at public meeting-houses; sometimes also in neighborhoods where there are no houses of public worship, and where, but for such accommodation, the people would be left destitute of the Word of Life. It promotes intercourse among the pious, by which their faith is strengthened, their hearts are warmed, their principles confirmed, and all their powers animated in the heavenly warfare. It invites inquirers into the society of the godly, with whom they can have free conversation, and who can 'expound unto them the way of God more perfectly.' Hence, ministers of the gospel are specially required 'to be given to hospitality,' that their houses may supply the lack of service of the pulpit; that their conversation might do what was left undone by their ministry, and what, in many instances, the public ministry could not so well effect.
"Conversation. -- Frothy and vain conversation should be avoided as the bane of Christian society; worldly things, if introduced, should be talked of moderately and in the fear of God; but, above all, religious subjects should not be named with levity. Foolish talking and jesting on any subject is said not to be convenient, but religious conversation, conducted with levity, is shameful. Cheerful gravity and grave cheerfulness fit best the followers of Him who was never seen to laugh, but who, nevertheless, bade his disciples be of good cheer.
"A generous spirit. -- A generous spirit never enjoys his possessions more happily than when he shares it at the hospitable board with his friends or with the needy and distressed. The very reflection that his house is filled with God's people has often melted the pious man's heart into the sweetest delights. When he deals to them the food or drink, water or napkin, or lights them to bed, or takes care of their horses, etc., his heart is in all he does, and he actually realizes our Saviour's words: 'He that would be the greatest let him be the servant of all.' Such a host, while he renders h imself happy, is sure to impart pleasure and delight to his guests. If, from poverty, his fare should be coarse,
it nevertheless becomes delicious by his mode of administering it. He turns water into wine and wild gourds into palatable food by the delicious seasoning of affection. He proves, by actual experience, that a dinner of herbs, with love, is better than a stalled ox without it. He serves up one dish, without which the finest dainties are deceitful meat, viz., a hearty welcome. If his guests must lodge. on beds of straw, they will, if good men, repose more softly than on beds of down struck over with the thorns of malevolence. What view of human nature can be more celestial than to see a circle of religious friends sitting around the hospitable room, elucidating mysterious passages of Holy Writ, or mingling their voices in the songs of Zion, or reciting past experience, narrating the holy tidings of each neighborhood, giving and receiving sacred instruction and consolation? When they approach the family altar, with what earnest solicitude will they invoke blessings on their affectionate host and his family. How cordially do they desire that his bread, thus cast upon the waters, may be seen after many days! And will not God hear such prayers? We answer, that he will hear, and grant the blessings too.
"Connection of commands and promises. -- It is worthy of a believer's notice, that God's exhortations are so frequently accompanied by his promises. If he exhorts us to work out our own salvation with fear and trembling, he also promises to work in us to will and to do of his own good pleasure. Now the grace of God works in us through faith, and the support of faith is the promises of God. Hence we are said to live by faith.
"Perseverance. -- The true believer perseveres in proportion as he is sanctified; the pretended one as he is gratified. The one holds on his way, though surrounded with temptations and trials; the other faints when persecutions and distresses arise on account of the Word. The one, like the ship, heads up to the anchor when tempests blow and billows rise; the other is carried about with every wind of temptation. The one will finally arrive safely in the port of everlasting rest; while the other will be wrecked upon the rocks of sinful pursuits, never to rise again. It will always appear that apostates greatly disgrace the cause in which they engage, and great, no doubt, is their punishment. In this world they experience severe terrors of conscience, called in
Scripture a fearful looking for of judgment; in the world to come, like the servant that knew to do his Matster's will and did it not, they will be beaten with many stripes.
"Christian friendship. -- The food which is eaten among friends at the hospitable board, seems sweeter 'than to eat our morsel alone.' This, probably, is one reason why the primitive Christians 'did eat their meat with gladness and singleness of heart.' Having all things common, they were mutually hosts and guests to each other.
"Self-examination. -- He that does not keep his heart with all diligence will often find the issues of death instead of life. A Christian should not be too easily satisfied with himself. By close examination he will often find things not as well within as he had supposed. He will discover secret faults which would otherwise lie hid. Hence the prayer of the Psalmist, 'cleanse thou me from secret faults.'
"'Disinterestedness. -- Primitive Christians seem to have forgotten their own interest and to have been wholly absorbed in that of their Master. No man called aught of the things which he possessed his own. So much were they divested of self and self-interest that they accounted it an honor to be whipped and to endure ignominious persecutions for Christ's sake. Nothing recommends more forcibly the Redeemer's cause to unbelievers than an unselfish, disinterested spirit among professors. When a sinner's mind is staggered by the arguments of the gospel he looks around at the conduct and temper of the friends of the gospel. If he sees them acting a noble and disinterested part, and ready to make any sacrifice to promote its prosperity, he quickly makes up a favorable opinion. But if he sees a selfish, contracted, scheming spirit, pretty generally among them, he either gives up the pursuit or turns his attention to some other denomination. Much damage has been done to the cause of truth by a selfish spirit.
"Covetousness. -- Covetousness is a demon that haunts the church. This spirit is the more deceptions, because it assumes to itself the names of virtue and duty. Some of the best maxims of social life are plausibly quoted to justify its course. He that provideth not for his own has denied the faith and is worse than
an infidel; industry and frugality are the handmaids of Providence; exercise and temperance are the best means of health; competence and independence are necessary to happiness; something for my family and something for my friend enables me to be hospitable; a little to spare furnishes a fund for the poor and for religious expenses; such like maxims as these, though misapplied, afford ease to the conscience of the covetous; they often stint their family under the pretext of providing for them. He talks of preparing something for the poor, but when the opportunity offers he finds some excuse in the unworthiness of the object, in the hardness of the times or the inconvenience of the present season. He talks of being sociable with a friend, but seldom or never finds time or inclination to attend to friends. He longs for wealth, that he may be liberal to religion, but his sacrifices are rarely to be found upon the altar, or when found, consist of the blind or broken, the maimed, scurvy or scabbed. The love of money is the root of all evil, and in professors of piety it is the fountain of many sorrows, the source of many errors, and the wretched clog of every noble enterprise. This spirit has a most voracious appetite, always crying, Give, give! but, unlike any other being, its appetite increases with its gratification, and the more it receives the more it wants. It often infects the minds of both preachers and people, and sets them at variance. The one is often too eager to receive, the other too willing to withhold. Crimination and recrimination are frequently the result, while the sacred cause of the Redeemer bleeds from every pore. How strong are the words of our Lord against this propensity 'Ye cannot serve God and mammon. It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, than for those who trust in riches to enter the kingdom of heaven.'
"Public worship. -- A steady attendance upon a faithful gospel is a fountain from which we may often draw and drink the spirit of holiness; and this more especially, if we combine with it a diligent reading of the word of Christ, until it dwells in us richly in all wisdom.
"Mortification of sinful appetites. -- Mortification of the flesh is indispensably necessary. Hence, the Lord Jesus speaks emphatically about self-denial and taking up the cross, and hence Paul
declares that he was in 'fastings oft.' It seems pretty obvious, also, that it is with this view that God afflicts his people. He turns his hand upon us, that he may thoroughly purge away our dross. He sees that the flesh must be mortified, and what the saint does not do by voluntary self-denial, he effects by his chastening.
"The church subject to changes. -- The true church is sometimes compared to the moon, and like her she waxes and wanes. Revivals and declensions are symptoms of God's peculiar people. Hence it is said, 'when the Lord turned again the captivity of Zion, we were as men that dream. Then were our mouths filled with laughter, and our tongues with singing.' On the other hand, we read of the complaints of God's people in times of declension. 'How can we sing the songs of Zion in a strangeland. Our harps are hung upon the willows!' How much do these things look like the revivals and declensions among God's people of the present generation.
"Willingness to labor for God. -- A laborious spirit, or a willingness to labor for God, is of more value than many are aware of. Most men are inquiring for talents, and ascribe success or the want of it to the presence or absence of talents. Talents certainly have their weight; but what are talents unless they are occupied? It is labor which renders talents successful; and small talents well occupied are often seen accomplishing more for the cause of Christ than very conspicuous ones, used only when convenient. Our country affords strong proof of this position. We have seen a religious establishment entrenched around by human laws, supported by power and wealth, defended by preachers of learning and talents, pulled down to the base by illiterate and unpatronized ministers of Christ. To an experienced man it is easily explained. These illiterate men were steady, unwearied laborers. The others were idlers. The one set was as the ox in the yoke, pulling at his burden; the other was as the ox in the stall, too well fed and too fat to labor much. Every day's observation shows us the exceeding benefit of a laborious spirit. What great things have even private members effected by keeping their eyes steady to their Master's honor, and doing such work as may fall to their share. A laborious spirit should be never laid aside. It is applicable to all states of the
church. The labor may, and ought to be varied; but the spirit must remain. Like the industrious husbandman, who finds one sort of work for the spring, another for the fall, one sort for dry, and another for wet weather, the diligent servant of God adapts his work to the season. In revivals, in declensions, in lively or languid times, in discipline, in prayer or preaching meetings, the devoted Christian finds something still to do; and this is his support and consolation, that his labor is not in vain in the Lord. He knows that in whatever lawful way he labors his reward is certain. He is assured that both he that soweth and he that reapeth shall rojoice together. Let not these remarks be exclusively applied to ministers. They are applicable to private individuals as well as to preachers. All have their work to do, andall should be at it."
The biographer will proceed to state that not only were the piety and talents of Mr. Semple highly appreciated within his own State, but throughout the whole denomination he wielded a powerful influence. He was everywhere known as a man of unfeigned devotion to Zion's interests, and one on whom reliance could be placed in every great practical effort. In the year 1820 he was elected president of the Triennial Convention, which station he filled to the time of his death. "This election," he remarks in his journal, "although flattering in some respects, was mortifying in others." The idea of taking the place which might have been filled by other aged and venerable servants of God seemed to distress him. "I felt, however," he adds, "much of the spirit of prayer, and hoped that God would overrule it for good." In 1815 Brown University, Rhode Island, conferred on him the honorary degree of A.M. In 1814, from the same university, he received the degree of D.D., and in 1826 the College of William and Mary also conferred the degree of D.D. But the latter honor he declined, from an impression that he did not deserve it; as also on the ground that it was altogether inconsistent with the interests of religion, and in contravention to the express command of Christ. Unquestionably he deserved such a distinction far more than many upon whom it is bestowed; yet, aside from the mandate of his Lord, his unambitious spirit would not allow him to be called Rabbi, and thus in title and by
name to be elevated above his brethren in the ministry. As early as the year 1805 he was invited to the presidency of Transylvania University, which invitation he did not conceive it his duty to accept.
While our venerated brother was thus permitted to reach an honorable eminence in usefulness and influence, he was not without the experience of most painful trials. These were mostly of a domestic character. His place of residence in King and Queen County was exceedingly unhealthy, and his family were consequently often visited with sickness. Of twelve children, only four were living at the time of his death. Says one of his surviving sons, in alluding to his father's trials: "Besides these several afflictions caused by the death of his children, his family's health was in a most precarious state for several years, which was a source of constant unhappiness to him. From 1825 to 1827 his home was a perfect hospital, from which disease was scarcely ever absent. His wife, who was always his comforter in affliction, became herself deeply afflicted. Of a family of sixty, black and white, I have known forty to be ill at one time. There were not enough well, at some times, to attend to the sick, the dying, and the dead. Himself at the time in good health, his mind was deeply exercised at the scene around him; two of his six children just conveyed to the tomb, two more expected every moment to follow them, and his wife, the strongest tie that united him to earth, prostrate and senseless from insatiate disease. It was truly a situation that was calculated to call forth all the philosophy and religion he could command. He bore it as a Christian. No murmur escaped his lips. But relying upon the declaration which he often repeated, that'whom the Lord loveth, he chasteneth,' he awaited the issue with calm and Christian composure." Perhaps some of the most shining excellencies of this good man's character were the result of that severe discipline through which his Heavenly Father saw it necessary to lead him. Those who are deservedly esteemed as ministers of Christ are liable to be exalted above measure, amid the many kind attentions they receive from their Christian brethren. Pride is easily engendered in the exercise of gifts which God bestows, and which ought to
be wholly employed in his glory. Under these circumstances, a thorn in the flesh may be needful; and He who is all-wise to ascertain the necessity, will in paternal love cause it to be experienced. And not unfrequently does he carry through the furnace of affliction, for the purpose of calling into livelier exercise the graces of his Holy Spirit, and to prepare for more eminent usefulness in his kingdom. Some of the most distinguished of God's people for humility and active devotion to the honor of Christ, have known what it is often to drink the bitter cup of affliction. Thus it was with the venerated Semple, as stated in the letter of his son. The following communication, addressed to a beloved friend immediately after the death of one of his grown sons, will afford some idea of the state of his mind at that painful hour: --
"May 24, 1822.
"Yours of the twenty-first instant, directed to my dear John, reached me just as Mr. Broaddus was about to commence his funeral sermon. He left us on Wednesday, about twenty minutes after nine o'clock. His evidences of Divine acceptance seemed to brighten as he approached his dissolution. He said to several of his friends, that death had no terror to him; that he had no desire to live for his own sake; that except for the sake of his connections, especially his parents, he would rather die than live. He said to one of his young friends, who had paid him great attention, I have witnessed that 'Jesus can make a dying bed Feel soft as downy pillows are.'
He was manifestly dying all day on Tuesday, but on Tuesday night he began to sink rapidly, and I was sent for, having been called from home on ministerial duties. He said to his friend, Dr. Fleet, has my father been sent for? He told him yes. Well, said he, I hope my pulse will hold out until he comes. This was just the case; I found him, on my arrival a little after sunrise, in his senses, and dying fast. He gave me his hand affectionately, but said not much. His debility was so great that he could not speak but with great exertion. He died apparently very
easy. My reflections on his death are mixed with pleasure and pain. When I think of my loss and the loss of my remaining family, it is painful beyond description; but when I consider him as called by his gracious Redeemer to his precious embraces, I am filled with holy delight. The attention paid him by his and my friends, while here and on his travels, exceeded my most sanguine hopes. I owe them a debt of gratitude which I must forever owe. Your kindness was never named by him but with the most tender emotions. He seemed to think there never was anything like it before. Oh, how shall I do justice to such disinterested friendship! As I cannot make you suitable returns, I hope my Heavenly Father will abundantly bless you. His weakness toward the last was such as to render it necessary for him to see but few of his friends. This was very painful to him, when any came and could not see him. Indeed, we were obliged not to let him know when they came, lest it might excite him too much. How deep, how unfathomable are the ways of God I If we had the direction of the shafts of death, how differently should we have sent them I But He does all things well.
'Peace, all our angry passions then;
Let each rebellious sigh
Be silent at his sovereign will,
And every murmur die."'
There is some reason to believe that his own health, and perhaps his life, became a sacrifice to the variety and pressure of those toils in which he felt it his duty to engage. When he left King and Queen County, in 1827, he remained awhile in Washington, but at length settled in Fredericksburg. The management of college concerns on the one hand devolving on him, and the care of the Bruington Church on the other, it was necessary to travel much, both to King and Queen, a distance of sixty miles, and then to the City of Washington. In addition, he engaged to preach twice in each month in Fredericksburg, and once in Washington. In reference to his declining strength, in writing to a brother, dated May, 1831, he remarks: "I have nearly determined against attempting the ride to Lynchburg. I think it too much for me. This is the first General Association I have missed, if I miss this, and I assure you I do it with great reluctance.
[p. 347] But the wheels of nature will run on in spite of us, and we must feel the wearings of time. I am now upon the list of the silver grays, and can only fight when there is not a great deal of marching."
Though his health had become impaired during the year 1831, it was little expected that he was soon to be removed from the sphere of labor in which he was so usefully engaged. But He, whose judgments are unsearchable, was preparing him for a dismissal from the toils of earth, and an introduction to the repose of another and a better world. It is a deeply interesting fact, that the last year of his life was crowned with the special indications of Divine favor. The church at Bruington, which had previously suffered in consequence of erroneous sentiments t imbibed by some of its members, experienced a season of refreshing from the presence of the Lord. The venerable pastor, in the month of September, baptized, at one time, thirty-two, and before his death had the unspeakable gratification of seeing more than one hundred obey their Lord in baptism, aid unite with the Bruington Church. Like Simeon, with the blessed Saviour in his arms, he was ready to. say, "Lord, now lettest thou thy servant depart in peace, for mine eyes have seen thy salvation." His last visit to Bruington was made about three weeks before his death. It is thought, although he was then enjoying his usual health, that he had some presentiment of his approaching end. His text on Saturday was selected from 2 Corinthians, xiii. 11: "Finally, brethren," etc. It was the sentiment of many who heard him that he would soon be taken from them. The last sermon he was allowed to preach was founded on Exodus, xv. 11. Returning home, he found himself affected by the extremely inclement weather through which he was compelled to ride.
When it was suggested by some of his family that it was probably necessary he should go to Washington to attend to some business connected with the college, he replied that he felt like a dead man, and could not venture from home again. Shortly after he was seized by a chill, and continued to grow more unwell, until his disease began to assume a dangerous form. During the early stage of his sickness he requested his daughter, whom a few weeks previous he had baptized, to read for him the first chapter
of Philippians, and frequently referred to it afterwards in his conversation with those around him. Until within a day of his death, nothing serious was apprehended by the family. But death had marked him as his victim. The following letter, written by his son to the editor of the Herald, will state more explicitly the circumstances of his sickness and death:
"WOODLAWN, December 25, 1831.
"The melancholy duty devolves on me to announce to you the death of my venerable father. He left us this morning at ten minutes before ten o'clock. He was seized, this day week, with a fever, which we all thought was nothing more than the influenza, which is now raging in our neighborhood. Monday morning a physician was called in, who pronounced it a pleurisy, but so mild in its features as not to create any alarm in his or our feelings. It gradually grew more serious in its character till Friday, when he dispatched a messenger for my brother, the only one of his children absent, and whom, to his last moments, he expressed a great desire to see. He declined rapidly from Friday until this morning, (Sunday,) when he expired without a struggle or a groan. From the first moment of his attack, he affirmed that it would be his last illness; and so impressed was he with that thought, that the remedies prescribed failed to effect the desired results, as his physician believes, from the great influence which his mind exercised over his body.
"He died as he lived, a bright and shining Christian. His frequent ejaculation was,'I am anxious to depart and be with Christ.' Tuesday afternoon he sunk into a comatose state, from which it was difficult to awaken himl. On one occasion he awoke with a placid smile on his countenance, and said to me,' Oh ask Brother Ball to come here again.' What Brother Ball? said I.'Mr. Eli Ball,' he replied;'is he not here?' No, said I. 'Well,' he observed, 'I thought he was conversing with me just now.' He again sunk into this state, and made no other remark till some time during the night he awoke up in the same way, and said, 'This night, forty-two years ago, I preached my first sermon;' and then inarticulately said, 'I have fought a good fight, I have
kept the faith.' I have never seen such perfect composure. He requested me, early yesterday afternoon, to look into a certain drawer in his secretary, and bring his will. I did so, and at his request I read it aloud to him. 'Well,' said he, 'I am satisfied; my spiritual condition is such as I wish it; I can depart in peace. The great divisions in the churches sometimes make me unhappy, but I hope they will be healed.' Such were some of his dying observations. I give them in great haste, and under feelings you can more readily conceive than I describe."
Thus fell one whom God and men delighted to honor. The intelligence of his death, as it passed from one circle to another, caused many a bosom to heave with emotion, and many a tear to fall from eyes unused to weep. By hundreds he was most tenderly loved as a father in the gospel, and by most of the churches in Virginia he was regarded as a judicious counselor and devoted friend. All felt that a chasm was created which could not be easily filled. In his removal the whole denomination sustained a loss. Throughout the United States the name of Semple was associated with all that is lovely and of good report; and his active, untiring co-operation in plans of benevolence, had placed him among the principal standard-bearers in the army of the Lord. A discourse, occasioned by this mournful event, was delivered by Elder Robert Ryland, then pastor of the Second Baptist Church, Lynchburg. A discourse was also delivered by the author, then pastor of the Second Baptist Church, in the City of Richmond, from I Samuel, ix. 1, 19. In this address the speaker took occasion to refer to the lively interest which the lamented Semple had taken in the welfare of the Second Church, particularly in its early history. Another funeral sermon was preached at Bruington, before the church of which he had been pastor for so many years. An individual who was present, thus refers to the solemnities of that day: "The funeral of thi eminent servant of God took place at Bruington, on the fifth instant. The occasion was the most solemn and imposing we ever witnessed. Though the day was inclement, the large meeting-house was crowded with a weeping congregation. Every eye, as it entered the house, was fixed upon the
vacant pulpit, which was hung around with crape, until the suffusing tear obscured the sight. A thousand sighs that burst from as many feeling hearts, and the tear that bedewed every dejected countenance, spoke in a language that all could understand, how much that venerable old man of God was esteemed. The funeral sermon was delivered by the Rev. Andrew Broaddus. The religious services were opened with the following hymn, from Dr. Rippon's Selection: --
'Lord, when we see a saint of thine
Lie gasping out his breath,
With longing eyes and looks divine,
Smiling and pleased with death.'
"The throne of grace was then addressed by the Rev. Philip Montague in an impressive manner. The text selected for the occasion was taken from 2 Tim. iv. 6, 7, 8: 'I am now ready to be offered,' etc."
The following are the closing remarks of this discourse "May I not say, brethren, that what he preached to others, he lived himself? It is not my intention, in what I am saying, to delineate a strictly perfect and faultless character. No I were I to attempt this, I should seem to myself to see the spirit of my departed friend looking down on me with a frown of disapprobation. No! as one of the fallen family of Adam restored by grace to a spiritual life, he still felt and mourned the lingerings of the mortal disease, and 'a sinner saved by grace,' was the motto which he wore.
"Still, however, I may justly say, that he lived himself what he preached to others. No self-denial was inculcated on others which he was not willing to undergo; no religious and moral duties enjoined which he did not practice. Nor did he appear to suffer himself to be engrossed by one class of duties, so as to disregard and neglect another. Standing in different relations in life, it appeared to be his aim (as it ought to be the aim of all) to estimate each of these relations according to its importance, and give his attendance to each accordingly. He knew, indeed, that there are no duties which really clash with each other; they only appear so when we do not pay a just regard to the various relations which we occupy.
"Thus, with a zeal that never grew cold, with a perseverance that never tired, did our much esteemed brother hold on his course, exposing himself, I suspect, even beyond the bounds of prudence, till the last fatal disease laid him on the bed of affliction and death, to call hint from his labors, to that eternal 'rest which remains for the people of God.'
"Indulge me a little further. I shall presently be done with this sketch, and bid you adieu. Some have remarked, from the traces of my friend's countenance, that he seemed to possess, by nature, a temper and disposition bordering on the austere. Allowing this to have been the case, we ought the more to admire the influence of that heavenly grace, which, from its throne within, shone so obviously through his features, softening the whole into a kindly expression, and giving a moral lustre to his countenance. Yes; we ought to admire that heavenly grace, which wrought in his soul Christian condescension and affability toward the lowly, and Christian benevolence toward all classes.
"My friends! have I said too much? Have I said enough? At least I have aimed to be faithful, in this imperfect sketch of our departed brother. And now I am done with the character: and here we are about to bid our lamented and beloved Brother Semple a solemn adieu! He is gone! No more shall we see him here among us! No more shall the eyes, now darkened with the shadow of death, rest on the sacred page of this pulpit Bible! No more shall the lips, now sealed up in silence, speak forth to you the message of life! But long and deep in the heart shall his memory be embalmed. And hark! -- there is a voice that tells me we shall see him again! Though death presses heavily on him, and waves over him his iron sceptre, it is but a short-lived reign which he holds; and the immortal Judge comes to release his servant-all his servants from the dominion of the tyrant. Yes; brother of my soul, I shall see thee again. Semple will arise. All the saints shall arise, dressed in immortal robes, for 'the marriage of the Lamb.' The chain of death shall be broken; the prison-doors of the grave shall burst asunder; and the redeemed shall come forth to sing the song of triumph, and gather around the throne in deathless felicity. O my friends, are we ready for that great meeting? Christians, are you watching? Are your
lamps trimmed, your lights burning, your spirits waiting for the coming of the bridegroom? My unconverted friends, are you lamenting that you have not hearkened to the voice you can hear no more? Will you now turn to God? will you now come to Christ, who ever lives? Oh turn! that you may meet the Judge in peace -- and your old preacher, and all the redeemed in glory. Farewell."
[From James Taylor, Virginia Baptist Ministers, Series One, 1859. Scanned and formatted by Jim Duvall.]
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