Church History, and One Who Taught It



In the earliest days of the church, there was one who, more than any other human teacher mentioned in sacred writ, had discovered the connection and meaning of the great events of Israelitish history. He had come to look upon the present as well as upon the past as having lasting significance only by virtue of its relations to the divine-human person and work of Jesus Christ, and to the new spiritual life transfused from him into the veins of an exhausted and degenerate humanity, at the cost of the shedding of his blood. Only after Christ had come, was there possible a philosophy of history, and the first philosopher of history was Stephen. Yet the life of Stephen ended before it had well begun. His magnificent historical survey of the ages before Christ kindled the anger of that hostile Jewish tribunal; by sudden and unexpected death, he was taken from the world while the work he seemed specially fitted to accomplish was just entered upon and only done as it were by fragment and sample; this mournful record closes with words so vivid and affecting that the grief of eighteen centuries ago seems still to live and throb and break before us into convulsive weeping: "And devout men carried Stephen to his burial, and made great lamentation over him."

In memory of a teacher of Church History, of a true man, and of a true Christian, we who were honored in being his colleagues and friends desire to utter a few simple words to-day, and so to testify and represent the common grief of this whole company of learned and devout men who carry him to his burial. Though it is forbidden me by the exigencies of the occasion, and the mention of his personal qualities has been assigned to another, I find it hard to forbear all reference to these, for he was the kindest and most gracious soul I ever knew. He was also a Christian man and a member of the Christian body, whose unsparing faithfulness and self-devotion left no heard call of duty unanswered. But this falls to his pastor to say. To me it is appointed simply to speak of him as regards the work to which he had deliberately chosen to devote his life,— the work of investigation and of instruction in church history. As preliminary and essential to a proper estimate of this, I shall speak with great brevity of his parentage, education and general preparation for his calling. I shall then describe his ideal of that calling, and the extent to which he realised it.

Rabbi Joseph Wales Buckland was born at Deerfield, Oneida county, N. T., on the 16th of December, 1829, so that his life covers a period of only forty-seven years. His father was a minister of the gospel of the Baptist

* An Address at the Funeral of Professor R. J. W. Buckland, D. D., at the Second Baptist Church, Rochester, February 1,1877.

denomination. His mother, like Hannah and Elizabeth of old, believed before his birth that God was to give her a son who should serve him in the sacred ministry. During his infancy and early childhood this impression became conviction in the minds of both of the parents, and, in token of their faith in God and of their consecration of the child to this service, they changed the name, which originally was Smith, and had been given in remembrance of a young man who had studied for the ministry with the father but had met an early death, to Rabbi. That name, so nearly unheard of, was to be significant, as Hebrew names of old times were, and as modern names are not. It was to remind the boy as he grew — it was to remind the parents in their training of him — that he was to be a teacher for God. Never did name serve its purpose better than this one. Within this last year he has mentioned it as one of the influences of childhood and youth, that shaped his career in life. Although both parents carefully avoided speaking to him of the ministry until God had led him to choose it of his own accord, he considered his possession of this name as one of the providential circumstances which determined him to preach the gospel.

Mr. Buckland's conversion was such as might have been expected in the case of one who was brought up under the peculiar religious influences which surrounded his early life. His mother was a woman superior in Christian devotion and attainments, so that I may say I have known but one other person at all comparable with her in this respect. The Bible was her constant theme, and Mr. Buckland has told me it was thought that more than one revival of religion in the churches where his father preached had been the result of her prayers and labors. So great was Mr. Buckland's devotion to his mother that I believe he never omitted making what I called his yearly pilgrimage to the old homestead, so long as her life and that of his father was spared. During these visits, his mother would gather passage after passage of the Scriptures, which she seemed to have hoarded up through the year, and ply him with questions as to the interpretation of them. Laughingly he would retort and call upon her for her own interpretation of these and other difficult passages, but so constant and so careful was her study of the Bible, that no minister of the gospel could have been more ready with an intelligent interpretation than she. His father's conversations were very similar to those of his mother. The subjects I have mentioned were the all-absorbing ones in the case of each. From these facts one may well judge that there would naturally be nothing sudden or striking in the conversion of one brought up under the influence of such parents, so that Mr. Buckland said he could not date the particular time when he passed from darkness to light, but that it was a gradual change. I think his parents had never urged him to study for the ministry, and I think he was not aware, unless from inference, that his mother had had the impressious concerning him of which I have just spoken.

At the age of seventeen, young Buckland entered the Sophomore class of Union College, and though among the youngest, if not the youngest of his class, he graduated at its head. After he had left college, he taught for more than a year in an institution for the blind in New York City. Even thus early he had formed a taste for natural science. Botany was one of the subjects he taught within the year or two that followed. He gave instruction in certain noted female seminaries in the metropolis, and with such marked success, that subsequent propositions looking toward his acceptance of the position of President of one of the great colleges for women, were probably based in part upon the tradition of it. Through all these years of teaching and through all the years of his subsequent preaching, his taste for natural science grew. The microscope was his recreation; natural history was his delight. He became an active member of several of the important scientific Societies of New York.

There is an intimate connection and analogy between natural history and history properly so-called. Both give accounts of organic and living things. Growth and development are the essential principles of both. How it was that our friend was led to connect historical studies with his studies in natural history, we do not know. It is certain that the latter greatly assisted the former; it may be that the one led to the other, as to a cognate field of inquiry. But there was another relationship of friendship and sympathy which must have had greater influence still. Young Buckland entered the congregation of Dr. William R. Williams, pastor of the Amity street church, — justly celebrated wherever the Baptist name is known as a princely preacher and as a man of wide historical erudition. The friendship of such a man, with the access he enjoyed to Dr. Williams's large private library, if it did not originate, did much to fix his taste for history and to guide his subsequent studies. Under the influence of Dr. Williams's preaching, he was converted. He was baptized, and was recommended to study for the ministry. He pursued a course of theology at Union Theological Seminary, graduating in 1855. He was ordained as pastor of the Olive Branch Baptist Church, on Madison Street, New York City. After a year of service in this first pastorate, he took charge of the church in Sing Sing. Here he spent seven years, from 1857 to 1864. He then returned to New York, and for five years was pastor of the Calvary Baptist Church on Twenty-third Street, one of the large and influential churches of the metropolis. Through all these thirteen years of ministerial labor, he showed himself the instructive preacher, the faithful pastor, the unfailing friend. Members of these churches have given me testimony within the few months past to the admiration and love with which they cherished the memory of his ministrations.

But his studies and natural tastes fitted him better for teaching than for the work of the pastorate. History and science had gone hand in hand and had led him onward. He had made original investigations into the history of our own denomination, or of bodies professing a similar faith to ours, for a considerable period before and after the time of the Reformation. He had been elected member of the Historical Society of New York. Certain lectures of his upon historical themes had attracted attention. The chair of History in this Seminary was vacant. None was thought so fit as he to fill it. He came to Rochester in 1869, and began his work. To that work he gave himself with all the abandon and delight of a boy let loose in fragrant fields, after the hard tasks of school. Laboring always till midnight— often long after midnight — in exhausting preparation for the lecture of the coming day, and that, not for one week but for every week of the thirty-five included in the annual term of study, and adding to this the almost constant supply of some important pulpit of the city, he yet had such joy and excitement

in his work that he seemed to gain strength rather than to lose. And this unremitting labor, never lightened by the declination of calls to work of other sorts that were constantly pressed upon him, he kept up almost to the end. His even temperament and his iron constitution seemed equal to any strain, few suspected that he could overdo. He was occasionally warned that no system could endure so constant taxing, but he confidently replied that he could work more hours in the day, and more days in the week, and more weeks in the year, than any man he ever knew. It was true,—but there is a limit to all human strength. Two years ago he broke, under the tension. Organic disease manifested itself, and though disease was never fought against with greater energy of will, disease has trinmphed, and his work on earth is done. This leads me to speak of his ideal of the work of the teacher of Church History, and of the measure of his attainment. I do it, as one might estimate the height of a hill which he had never climbed. It is evident that no man can achieve high success as a teacher in any department, who has not a lofty sense of the dignity of his work and of his own personal vocation thereto. In this respect, Dr. Bucklund did not fall below the highest standard. To him Church History was not only a science and the most comprehensive of sciences — it was also the most important of all the sciences. He felt called of God to teach it. He was to continue, though uninspired, the history of the kingdom of God which an inspired Moses and an inspired Luke began. He felt that knowledge of the progress of this kingdom and of the conflicts through which it had passed, was essential to to the equipment of every competent preaches of the gospel. And he was set to give this knowledge to a portion of the rising ministry. He declined, in 1871, without a moment's hesitation, a call to the Presidency of Shurtleff College, and declined it upon the ground that the teaching of history was the one work and duty of his life. In his sickness, he could not be convinced that his work was done. He felt, through all the twenty-four months of his weakness and pain, that he was bound by the terms of his original calling to daily and hourly struggle with the powers that would terminate or curtail the great work to which he had devoted himself.

It is indispensable that the true teacher have a lofty idea of the dignity and importance of his work. It is yet more essential that we have a correct idea of its nature. No man can teach history who conceives of it as a record of isolated facts. Unless he can see, in the epoch, in the nation, in the society, the product and expression of internal ideas and forces, which evolve themselves according to constituted law, he can understand neither society, nor nation, nor epoch. The life of states is a dynamic unfolding of a substantive, though spiritoal, principle inlaid in the character of their people. Until man is bound to his fellows by some such principle, so that together they can act as one body, he has no history, nor has he risen from savagery. Where there is any degree of civilization, there are no sudden movements, no changes without cause, no revolutions without age-long preparation. History is no rope of sand, but an organic whole; and that which furnishes the chief connecting bond and the most powerful motive-force of history is the religious idea. Let me not go further, without assuring you that this view of the nature of history, with all its grand implications, is not simply mine —it was the guiding principle of Dr. Buckland's studies and teaching. From notes of his own lectures, I have gained, since he died, a larger conception than otherwise would have been possible of the breadth of his intended treatment of history. As he held the religious idea to be the chief force, so he held the theanthropic life of Christ to be the centre and pivot around which all history groups itself. "The whole career of mankind"— these are his words—" the whole career of mankind, considered in its relation to that theanthropic life, is sacred history; the whole life of the world, treated without reference to that, is secular history." The history of the church is the history of the unfolding of this new divine life which, entering the world in Christ, is ever communicating itself, not without conflict and temporary hindrance through human perversity, to ever-widening circles of humanity. Every phase and step of this history is to be examined and tested and judged, according as the church therein is faithful to the laws laid down in the New Testament for its development. I know of no sublimer conception of Church History than this. • It is Neander's, with the test of subjective consciousness left out, and the test of Scripture alone retained.

Such was his idea of his work, as to its importance and its nature. But conception is one thing, execution quite another. To execute a task like that to which he set himself, there goes the power of original and exhaustive investigation. Generalizations must be based upon wide induction of facts, and the gathering of these facts from languages ancient and modern, and from sources as common as the daily newspaper, and as recondite as the stray minutes of ecclesiastical bodies that met in obscure towns of England two hundred years ago, involves a linguistic training, an untiring industry, a generous comprehensiveness of spirit, a critical acumen in selecting and in rejecting material, which are rarely combined. Dr. Buckland had these, all in some degree, some in large degree. I have spoken of his industry. The comprehensiveness of his inquiries was as remarkable as his industry. Nothing was too great, nothing too small, that bore upon his theme. The life of Christ seemed to him to be the beginning of church history, as indeed it was,—he embraced that in his treatment. The heathen religions seemed to him a preparation for Christ,— he made them the subject of preliminary lectures. He wished to extend his course by embracing the history of Israel from the beginning to the coming of Christ. He brought down the history of the church to the present time. It is my judgment that as a whole, his treatment of the history of modern denominations was more thorough and exhaustive than that of any teacher of our day; of certain of them he has given a fuller and better account than can be found in the works of their own writers. With his omnivorous avidity for facts, we used to say to him in pleasantry that he never would be satisfied till he had in his lectures carefully traced Church History back all the way from twelve o'clock to-day to the formation of the solar system according to the nebular hypothesis. And what he learned he remembered, whether it was matter of history, or of the natural science and civil law which he had looked into for purposes of recreation or illustration. An admiring friend, not giveu to random judgments, a member at once of the legal profession and of a club of gentlemen of scientific tastes to which Dr. Buckland belonged, said upon a certain occasion, that whatever subject might be treated by members of the club, whether it were politics, science, law, or religion, Dr. Buckland always seemed to know more about the subject than the man who had specially investigated it. There was perhaps something of designed hyperbole in the utterance, but it expresses in some degree the estimate formed by competent judges with regard to the extent and range of his learning.

The proper execution of a historian's task requires a philosophical mind. I have said that Dr. Buckland set out at the very beginning of his work with a correct idea of the nature of history. He gathered an immense mass of material of the most valuable kind. He felt that the organizing of this material, with the insight into principles that seizes upon salient facts and avoids superabundance of detail, was a work, not of days or months, but of long and laborious years. He had given his life to this work,— with physical vigor such as few possess, he expected a lifetime to do it in. His full set of written lectures would fill two thousand printed octavo pages. He had already done much in the way of condensing and systematizing this material. The syllabus of his lectures which he printed for the use of students, shows a consistent plan, a grasp of materials, a grouping and unifying mind, which gave high promise of what our friend might have done had God lengthened out his life. As it is, he had one thread running through all his lectures. No student who sat under his instruction will ever forget his idea of the church and of its development. His friends, in no small number, had looked upon him as the future writer of that history of the Church of Christ from a Baptist point of view, which has so long been a desideratum in our denomination, and which we might reasonably hope would be of value to Christians of other names. But a Providence wiser than ours has ordered that the work shall be left incomplete. Much is fragmentary, which unquestionably would have been filled out and brought into vital relation to the rest, had time and strength served him. He thought he could not die until that work was done. Ah, how small is our best work, and how unessential our life, to the purposes of him whose life-time is eternity and whose resources are infinite! But God, we doubt not, took the will for the deed, and as for us — why, the torso is noble, though much is lacking to the perfect form. From what he has done, we may conjecture how much there would have been of true philosophy in his matured and finished work.

There is a true sense in which his work is not yet done. Through the many students whom he had helped to train for the ministry, his life perpetuates itself. And this is the last and crucial test of an instructor in Church History; does he impress himself upon his classes? does he make true ideas of history a part of them forever? I think we cannot doubt that this was so with regard to Dr. Buckland. He had a natural ardor of mind and a gentle dignity, an unfailing flow of speech and a readiness to further in every possible way the inquiries of his pupils, which together made him impressive and popular, in spite of that severest trial of patience and attention, the manual labor of long copying from dictation. The student loved the man and his work,—and it is the man, in large part, that makes the teacher. Subjects for public essays, where the student had his option, have been taken from Church History as frequently, if not more frequently, than from any other department of theological knowledge. He has left behind him no printed and published work, but he has written many "living epistles" that have gone forth, as we trust, to teach and to bless the church and the world. And now that he has gone from us to pursue the themes he loved with a clearer insight and a wider knowledge than that of earth, now that he watches the progress of the kingdom of God, not as one who is himself in the din and smoke of the battle, but from a point above the strife where the complicated movements of the combatants are seen in their true meaning and the chariots of God are discerned filling the mountains round about his people, shall we doubt in our loss and sorrow, that he who gave him to us will choose and point out one to take his mantle and complete his work? Let us pray God that out of the number of those he taught, there may be found one who shall accept the truth and be filled with a double portion of his spirit. When devout men carried Stephen to his burial, and made great lamentation over him, they little knew that Stephen's words had already gone to the heart of one named Saul, and that those words would never leave him, until Saul had become Paul, and the great teacher of the Gentiles had appeared to carry on the work which Stephen left so incomplete. But whatever may befall, this we know, that parting and death, disappointment and disaster, all changes and all times, all we do and all we leave undone, is made to further the historic progress and the .ultimate trinmph of the kingdom of our God.