EMMONS, NATHANAEL: New England Congregationalist; b. at Millington, East Haddam township, Conn., Apr. 20, 1745; d. at Franklin, Mass., Sept. 23, 1840. He was graduated at Yale in 1767, and studied for the ministry under Rev. Nathan Strong of Coventry, Conn., and Dr. John Smalley of Berlin, Conn. In 1769 he was "approbated " as a preacher and on Apr. 21, 1773, was ordained pastor at Franklin, Mass. This position he filled for fifty-four years, resigning May 28, 1827, and replying to the remonstrances of his parishioners that he wished to retire while he still "knew enough to do so." It may be remarked that he retained his faculties to a surprising degree till his death.
Dr. Emmons was a typical New England clergyman of the old school and probably no one exerted a wider influence. His house was a theological seminary. The number of young men whom he trained for the ministry can not be exactly ascertained, but was probably not less than a hundred. Among his pupils nine became presidents or professors of colleges or theological seminaries, fourteen had an important agency in establishing literary and charitable institutions, forty-six are noticed in the biographical dictionaries of eminent men.
Dr. Emmons was an original thinker, and formed his theological system with rare independence of mind. He was one of the fathers of the Massachusetts Missionary Society, and for the first twelve years of its existence was its president. He was one of the original editors of The Massachusetts Missionary Magazine. When the masonic fraternity was most popular, he was a pronounced antimason. When antislavery was most generally condemned, he was an active abolitionist. In politics he was an outspoken Federalist.
The theological system of Dr. Emmons is often confounded with that of Dr. Samuel Hopkins (q.v.). The following statement of the two systems was given by Emmons himself, and will explain the difference, as well as the agreement, between the two:
The distinctive tenets of Hopkinsianism are: (1) All real holiness consists in disinterested benevolence; (2) All sin consists in selfishness; (3) There are no promises of regenerating grace made to the doings of the unregenerate; (4) The impotency of sinners with respect to believing in Christ is not natural, but moral; (5) A sinner is required to approve in his heart of the divine conduct, even though it should cast him off forever; (6) God has exerted his power in such a manner as he purposed would be followed by the existence of sin; (7) The introduction of moral evil into the universe is so overruled by God as to promote the general good; (8) Repentance is before faith in Christ; (9) Though men became sinners by Adam, according to a divine constitution, yet they have and are accountable for no sins but personal; (10) Though believers are justified through Christ's righteousness, yet his righteousness is not transferred to them.
The distinctive tenets of Emmons' system are: (1) Holiness and sin consist in free, voluntary exercises; (2) Men act freely under the divine agency; (3) The least transgression of the divine law deserves eternal punishment; (4) Right and wrong are founded in the nature of things; (5) God exercises mere grace in pardoning or justifying penitent believers through the atonement of Christ, and mere goodness in rewarding them for their good works; (6) Notwithstanding the total depravity of sinners, God has a right to require them to turn from sin to holiness; (7) Preachers of the Gospel ought to exhort sinners to love God, repent of sin, and believe in Christ immediately; (8) Men are active, not passive, in regeneration. Dr. Emmons believed that these eight statements are involved in the system of Dr. Hopkins; that they are evolved from that system, rather than added to it. Still they characterize Emmonism as it is grafted upon Hopkinsianism.
Dr. Emmons published more than two hundred articles in various periodicals. In 1842 many of his sermons were published in a uniform edition, with memoir by his son-in-law, Rev. Jacob Ide (6 vols., Boston). In 1860-61 a new collected edition of his works appeared (6 vols., Boston), with memoir by E. A. Park.
F. H. FOSTER.
Bibliography: Consult, besides the Memoir by Mr. Ide, W. B. Sprague, Annals of the American Pulpit, i. 693-706, New York, 1859; A. E. Dunning, Congregationalists in America, ib. 1894; W. Walker, Hist. of Congregational Churches, pp. 280-303 et passim, ib. 1894; L. W. Bacon, The Congregationalists, ib. 1904.