The Preachers of Brooklyn: No. 2, The Rev. Richard S. Storrs, Jr., D.D.

Congregationalism, regarded as a form of Church government, is unquestionably the most powerful opponent with which Episcopacy has to deal. For fifteen hundred years, but one order was known to the Christian world, namely. government by Bishops, each Bishop having his distinct diocese, the clergy of which were bound to him by vows of canonical obedience, and in which he was the centre of unity. Possessing, as was believed, a Divine commission transmitted in unbroken continuity from the Apostolic College, he alone possessed the power of conferring Holy Orders, of deposing unworthy pastors, of confirming baptized persons who were well grounded in the Christian faith, and of exercising in all their plenitude the functions of the Sacerdotal office. it is thus that we find some early Christian writers affirming that where there is no Bishop there can be no Church. But at the Reformation, the symmetry of the Church order, was rudely broken. Nevertheless, it may be with truth affirmed, that many of the ablest foreign reformers did not abandon Episcopacy from choice, but were compelled to do so by the necessities of their position. To their mind it was the alternative of preserving the right discipline, and giving up the true doctrine or holding to the true doctrine at the cost of losing the right discipline.

At all events, it was thus that this powerful system of Congregationalism had its origin, and its growth has, especially during the present century, been beyond calculation. Let it be understood that its distinctive feature is not a doctrine, but in discipline. As far as articles of faith are concerned, Congregationalists do not differ in essentials from other Protestant orthodox Christians, if we except the Unitarian branch, which of course rejects the Trinity and the Divinity of Christ. But in the matter of church discipline the Congregationalists hold that "the church" of the New Testament is no hierarchical and priestly system, but that it was, and is now, a society of Christian families, associated for the worship of God, and the celebration of Christian ordinances. They hold that each such society is rightfully independent of all others, as each family is of all other families and that it may administer its affairs in any way that seems right to it, so long as it does not violate the rule of Christ the law of love. At the same time they believe that each such separate society or church should cooperate with others in all good works, and give its advice and aid to them when applied to, and should in turn seek counsel from them when important matters like the ordination of a pastor, etc., are to be done.

The only officers of a Congregational church are the pastor and deacons. Such is the discipline, government, or order of the Congregational churches, while their faith, as we have seen, is, with the exception of the Unitarian offshoot, Trinitarian and evangelical, harmonious substantially with that of the other principal Protestant communions of Christendom.

Congregationalism in Brooklyn

Such churches were established at the outset in New England, and have always been the most numerous and influential in that part of the country. They were early established in Long Island, particularly in the eastern part of it, which was chiefly settled from New England. But the churches thus established became after a time Presbyterian in their constitution, committing their internal affairs to the control of a Session, or Board of Elders, and becoming associated with each other in Presbyteries and Synods. Many, however, have always retained their distinctively Congregational character. There are at the present time no fewer than eighteen churches in Brooklyn, most of which have sprung from or been materially aided by THE CHURCH OF THE PILGRIMS, which was the first Congregational Church organized in this city, in December, 1844. Its Church edifice is the one familiar to our citizens, on the corner of Henry and Remsen streets. The building was completed and dedicated in the summer of 1846. It was originally organized with but sixty or seventy members, and has now more than six hundred. All contributions to benevolent and Christian objects have been very large, $5,000 or $6,000 being not infrequently taken up at a single collection. The Church of the Pilgrims has been always full for many years; and it is now designed to enlarge it during the coming spring and to add materially to its pew accommodations, as well as to its Sunday School and other arrangements. Its first and only Pastor, The Rev. Richard S. Storrs, Jr., D.D., is too well known, both as to character and attainments to need any eulogy from us. He was installed in November, 1846; more than twenty-two years ago. The following is an outline of his biography.

The Rev. Richard S. Storrs, Jr., D.D.

Dr. Storrs was born at Braintree, Massachusetts, in 1821, and is now therefore forty-seven years of age. His father, grandfather, and great-grandfather, have all been Congregational Clergymen. He was educated at Amherst College, Amherst, Mass., and graduated there, in 1839, at the age of eighteen. Having studied Theology at the Andover Theological Seminary, he was ordained at Brookline, Mass., in 1845.

Dr. Storrs received the degree of D.D. from Union College in 1853, and also afterwards from Harvard University. He has been Chairman of the Executive Committee of the Long island Historical Society ever since that society was organized, and for a number of years he has been President of the "City Mission and Tract Society."

As A Man of Letters

Dr. Storrs has attracted, as we have seen, the attention of learned universities as well as of the general public. He is more the literary student than any other clergyman, and we may fairly venture to say, than any other man, lay or clerical, in Brooklyn. His powers of metaphysical and historical digestion are as Dominie Sampson would say, "pro-digious." Next to the duties of his sacred calling, which he discharges with unflagging zeal and enthusiasm, the business of his life seems to be to "feed the lamp within" and to enlarge and cultivate his intellectual powers. We heartily wish that some of his clerical brethren would imitate his example, we should then have fewer clerical gas-bags, fewer fanatics brimming over with odium theologium, fewer Reverend political ranters and more of the almost extinct species of learned and liberal minded clergymen. Such men if we may descend for a moment without giving offense, are moreover a real blessing to society in this respect that they are generally at home. If we wished to find Dr.Storrs in order to consult him on a literary or business matter (should the Doctor see this let him not be alarmed, we are only supposing a case, and escape is therefore unnecessary), we should know that the chances were at least ten to one in our favor, we should set out with a comfortable assurance of finding Dr. Storrs in his study with "Omnia Opera Ciceronis," or the Master of the Sentences before him, and should be able to enter at once on a Tusculan Disputation. But we know some popular clergymen, whom it is as difficult to find as, to use an expressive vulgarism, a needle in a haystack. One would suppose a priori that they were debtors hiding from the sheriff instead of lights apostolic under the bushel of privacy. Such inaccessible divines shall never be immortalized by us. To return ad seria. Dr. Storrs has by years of patient study acquired a large fund of learning as well in classic and historic literature as in the more abstract subject of philosophy and science.

As A Theologian

He is a Calvinist but not a fatalist, and a Puritan withal to the backbone. On the 21st of December, 1857, he delivered an oration of remarkable eloquence and acumen before the New England Society, in the City of New York, entitled " The Puritan Scheme of National Growth." In it he thus eulogizes his darling Puritans:

"It was one of the cardinal principles of our Father's concerning National Growth, that this should proceed from, and he animated by A DEFINITE AND POSITIVE SPIRITUAL LIFE, diffused through the State, interpenetrating all parts of it; and manifesting its influence more or less distinctly in all public and private activities. Whether consciously or not, t his idea always wrought in them. It is seen not only in sermons and in journals, but in parts of their statutes. It molded and quickened their whole frame of government.

With all their scrupulous deference to the forms which they had established, and to which they required strict submission in others, such forms were only important to them as incorporating and manifesting this spirit of life which they sought to make paramount, and as tending to distribute and to quicken this in others. The undeniable fact, too, of their judicial intolerance, which was often combined, in singular vividness, with their personal kindness towards those who dissented from the religion of the State and its dominant ideas, toward Romanists, Prelatists, Baptists, and Friends this intolerance sprang directly from the fact that they conceived the SPIRIT of the State to be more important than numbers or wealth, or the friendship of neighbors; and they would not allow this, if legislation could prevent it, to be impaired by hostile influence.

Undoubtedly, they committed an error and a grave one, in applying their principle. They exercised an authority which in others they had denounced; and as a mere matter of prudence they erred. For a doctrine, whether correct or erroneous, is always too elastic, and too self-diffusive, to be trodden down by power. It springs back, with only a mightier re-bound, from beneath every blow, and appeals to wider sympathies the more it is oppressed. So all the doctrines which the Puritans opposed only gained wider prevalence through the force which they used in resisting their spread; while, by their public using of this, they brought a dark shadow over their fame.

But while we recognize without flinching the fact that they erred, let us recognize also as clearly the fact that it was not from pride, from passion, or from malice. It was in the excess of a high and pure impulse. It was through pushing to a doubtful, and at last an injurious conclusion, a principle that was right, philosophical, noble, and when held in due limits, most fruitful of good. A State compacted from its infancy onward, by a pure and permeating spiritual life, into which should enter a deep love of freedom, combining with reverence and conscientious regard for the public order, with both these impregnated by religious convictions, and culminating naturally in the fervors of piety; a State which should be coextensive with the Church, and should carry that out, in its natural expansion, whithersoever it went this was the State at which the Puritans aimed."

Dr. Storrs is, although an enthusiast and a eulogist, more candid than the majority of Puritan apologists. It is a noticeable fact that the New England press has very generally "damned with faint praise" Mr. Longfellow's recent "New England Tragedies." The fact is, the subject is unpleasant, and they don't thank him for reviewing it. "In these latest poems of Mr. Longfellow," says one critic, "we are sensible of the burden he lays upon us in these we like least." Another charges that the pictures are so greatly overdrawn as to be untrue to history. And an ingenious reviewer in the Atlantic Monthly, actually tries to transfer the guilt of these horrible murders from the guilty to the innocent. "The Quakers," he says, "are, of course, shown with some limitations of the fact in their offences against the Puritan law, and their arrogant intolerance and indecencies." Again he says of these patron saints of his: "You have but to think of a score of innocent people put to death by the delusion of just and good men, and you have a tragedy more terrible than any possible to write." This is certainly a very pleasant way of whitewashing some of the blackest crimes in history, crimes all the blacker for being done beneath the cloak of Christianity and in "the Name of the Lord." The Puritans had undoubtedly bigotry, courage, self-denial, endurance to an unparalleled degree, and were as Emerson says of Mahomet "horsed on an idea." But the less said of them as sheep of Christ's Fold the better. We have some respect for the priests of Baal who "out themselves with knives," but none for these pious fire brands and elect murderers. Had the Christian Revelation they professed to hold so dear, sanctioned their cruelties, there would be some palliation, but their deeds are condemned in every precept of the Gospel. They may have had faith and hope but they certainly knew not the "more excellent way." We count them in the same category as Bonner, of the Marian days, who "Blithe as shepherd at a wake, Enjoyed the show and danced around the stake."

Dr. Storrs As An Orator and Preacher

In addition to the New England Oration from which we have quoted, Dr. Storrs has delivered deeply interesting addresses on several public occasions. Among the most remarkable we may mention his "Oration commemorative of President Abraham Lincoln," delivered in Brooklyn, June 1, 1865 at the request of the War Fund Committee and published by them. A brief extract must suffice as a specimen of Dr. Storrs great powers as a orator. "The monuments we may build and which it is our instinct and our privilege to build, in all our cities as well as at the capital, in this city by the sea, as well as in that where his dust sleeps are not needful to him, but only to the hearts from which they arise, and the future generations which they shall instruct. From the topmost achievement yet realized by man he has stepped to the skies. He leads henceforth the hosts whom he marshaled, and who at his word went forth to battle, on plains invisible to our short sight. He stands side by side once more with the orator so cultured and renowned, with whom he stood in the heights of Gettysburgh; but now on hills where rise no graves, and over which march, in shining ranks, with trumpet-swells and palms of triumph, immortal hosts. He is with the fathers and founders of the Republic; whose cherished plans be carried out, whose faith and hope had in his work their great fruition. He is with all builders of Christian states, who, working with prescient skill and will, and with true consecration, have laid the foundations of human progress, and made mankind their constant debtor."

As a preacher Dr. Storrs is no less effective than as an orator. There is power in all he says. Of his published sermons one now before us, "A Plea for the Preaching of Christ in Cities," is a masterpiece, but our space will not allow of further extracts. The idea which chiefly impresses us in listening to Dr. Storrs is that of thorough preparation. Sometimes indeed, he preaches written sermons, but the occasions we refer to are when the discourse is entirely exempore. The preparation we allude to is not as to style or language, but consists in having thoroughly considered his subject. Dr. Storrs enters the pulpit with his mind fully charged with the subject on which he is to speak. He has the general outline of his discourse so clearly and completely in his mind that no effort or recollection is ever needed to bring up the whole, or any part of it. The language, the particular illustration, and any collateral or incidental trains of thought, he leaves to be suggested at the moment. The occasion has in this way its full influence on his own mind. His language is vivid and earnest, as well as accurate and elegant, and this because it is suggested to the mind when in its highest state of force and activity. The recollective faculty of the mind being left to itself, and called upon for no effort, the higher inventive and creative powers have their full opportunity. But time warns us that we must bid adieu to the Church of the Pilgrims.


Website: The History
Article Name: The Preachers of Brooklyn: No. 2, The Rev. Richard S. Storrs, Jr., D.D.
Researcher/Transcriber Miriam Medina


Brooklyn Daily Eagle  January 13, 1869
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