The service opened, and the time came to offer the prayer before sermon. I turned to Mr. Corbit and said, “I wish you would lead in prayer.” He replied, “No! sharpen your own knife!” The whole occasion was to me memorable for its agitations. But there began an acquaintanceship that became more and more endearing and ardent as the years went by. After he ceased, through the coming on of the infirmities of age, to occupy a pulpit of his own, he frequented my church on the Sabbaths, and our prayer-meetings during the week. He was the most powerful exhorter I ever heard. Whatever might be the intensity of interest in a revival service, he would in a ten minute address augment it. I never heard him deliver a sermon except on two occasions, and those during my boyhood; but they made lasting impressions upon me. I do not remember the texts or the ideas, but they demonstrated the tremendous reality of spiritual and eternal things, and showed possibilities in religious address that I had never known or imagined.
He was so unique in manners, in pulpit oratory, and in the entire type of his nature, that no one will ever be able to describe what he was. Those who saw and heard him the last ten or fifteen years of his decadence can have no idea of his former power as a preacher of the Gospel.
There he is, as I first saw him! Eye like a hawk’s. Hair long and straight as a Chippewa Indian’s. He was not straight as an arrow, for that suggests something too fragile and short, but more like a column—not only straight, but tall and majestic, and capable of holding any weight, and without fatigue or exertion. When he put his foot down, either literally of figuratively, it was down. Vacillation, or fear, or incertitude, or indecision, were strangers to whom he would never be introduced. When he entered a room you were, to use a New Testament phrase, “exceedingly filled with his company.”
He was as affectionate as a woman to those whom he liked, and cold as Greenland to those whose principles were an affront. He was not only a mighty speaker, but a mighty listener. I do not know how any man could speak upon any important theme, standing in his presence, without being set on fire by his alert sympathy.
But he has vanished from mortal sight. What the resurrection will do for him I cannot say. If those who have only ordinary stature and unimpressive physique in this world are at the last to have bodies resplendent and of supernal potency, what will the unusual corporiety of William P. Corbit become? In his case the resurrection will have unusual material to start with. If a sculptor can mould a handsome form out of clay, what can he not put out of Parian marble? If the blast of the trumpet which wakes the dead rouses life-long invalidism and emaciation into athletic celestialism, what will be the transfiguration when the sound of final reanimation touches the ear of those sleeping giants among the trees and fountains of Greenwood?