If Christ were really coming, as many believed, the moment of earthly paradise was at hand.
The balance of power in Brooklyn and New York during my lifetime had always been with the pulpit. I was in my fifty-fourth year, and had shared honours with the most devout and fearless ministers of the Gospel so long that when two monster receptions were proposed, in celebration of the services of Rev. Henry Ward Beecher and Rev. R.S. Storrs, D.D., I became almost wickedly proud of the privileges of my associations. These two eminent men were in the seventies. Dr. Storrs had been installed pastor of the Church of Pilgrims in 1846; Mr. Beecher pastor of Plymouth Church in 1847. They were both stalwart in body then, both New Englanders, both Congregationalists, mighty men, genial as a morning in June. Both world-renowned, but different. Different in stature, in temperament, in theology. They had reached the fortieth year of pastoral service. No movement for the welfare of Brooklyn in all these years was without the benediction of their names.
The pulpit had accomplished wonders. In Brooklyn alone look at the pulpit-builders. There were Rev. George W. Bethune of the Dutch Reformed Church, Rev. Dr. Samuel H. Cox, Rev. W. Ichabod Spencer, Rev. Dr. Samuel Thayer Speer of the Presbyterian Church, Dr. John Summerfield and Dr. Kennedy of the Methodist Church, Rev. Dr. Stone and Rev. Dr. Vinton of the Episcopal Church—all denominations pouring their elements of divine splendour upon the community. Who can estimate the power which emanated from the pulpits of Dr. McElroy, or Dr. DeWitt, or Dr. Spring, or Dr. Krebs? Their work will go on in New York though their churches be demolished. Large-hearted men were these pulpit apostles, apart from the clerical obligations of their denominations. No proverb in the world is so abused as the one which declares that the children of ministers never turn out well. They hold the highest places in the nation. Grover Cleveland was the son of a Presbyterian clergyman, Governor Pattison of Pennsylvania, Governor Taylor of Tennessee, were sons of Methodist preachers. In congressional and legislative halls they are scattered everywhere.
Of all the metaphysical discourses that Mr. Beecher delivered, none are so well remembered as those giving his illustrations of life, his anecdotes. Much of his pulpit utterance was devoted to telling what things were like. So the Sermon on the Mount was written, full of similitudes. Like a man who built his house on a rock, like a candle in a candle-stick, like a hen gathering her chickens under her wing, like a net, like salt, like a city on a hill. And you hear the song birds, and you smell the flowers. Mr. Beecher’s grandest effects were wrought by his illustrations, and he ransacked the universe for them. We need in our pulpits just such irresistible illustrations, just such holy vivacity. His was a victory of similitudes.