Wheaton College Norton, Massachusetts
Wheaton College
College History

Academics

1872

Reverend George Harris, Commencement speaker

The Reverend George Harris of Providence, Rhode Island spoke at Commencement.

The Rev. Dr. George Harris, D.D., LL.D. (1844 – 1922) was born in East Machias, Maine, graduated from Amherst College in 1866 and from Andover Theological Seminary in 1869, and was ordained the same year.  On 24 December 1873 he married Jane Anthony Viall of Providence, RI.

Harris was installed at the Central Congregational Church is located on Benefit, near College Street, in Providence on 20 Feb. 1872, being only the second pastor of that church. The membership at the time was five hundred. From May to September 1879, Harris and his family traveled in Europe. In August of that year, he served as an honorary member of American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions for RI. When his successor asked Doctor Harris about attendance at the prayer meetings of the Central Church, he “replied pithily and suggestively that those meetings were an end rather than a means.”

He was dismissed from the Central Congregational Church when the Trustees of Andover Theological Seminary elected him Abbot Professor of Systematic Divinity in1882. During the 1882-83 academic year, Harris lectured to the Advanced Class at Andover on “The Relation of the Church to Some Existing Social and Political Dangers.” [The Churchman, Vol. 46] From 1883 to 1899, Harris was professor of Christian theology at Andover. He was one of the editors of the Andover Review from 1884 to 1893. In 1899, Harris was elected President of Amherst College, remaining until 1912, when he was named President Emeritus. He retained his connections with Rhode Island, however, speaking at such events as the dedication of the Pawtucket RI Public Library, 15 Oct. 1902. At that event he noted that, “this temple is dedicated to learning, to education, to the purest enjoyment of the people of Pawtucket, to promote the welfare of the city, to advance the interests of citizenship in an intelligent democracy, and as a memorial….”

Harris received the degree of D.D. from Harvard, Yale (1901) and Amherst, and LL.D. from Dartmouth and Williams Colleges. He was the author of Moral Evolution (1896), Inequality and Progress (1897), and A Century’s Change in Religion.

The Rev. Dr. Harris moved to New York City upon his retirement, residing at 35 W. 81st St. He was memorialized with two funeral services after died on 1 March 1922, one at the Union Theological Seminary Chapel in New York City, and the second at the Central Congregational Church in Providence.

Harris published “To Live More Nearly as We Pray” in the Feb. 1879 issue of The Missionary Herald at Home and Abroad [vol. 75, pp. 48-51]. In the article he chastised those who did not donate funds to foreign missions:

“Every one who prays at all prays, “Thy kingdom come,” but facts abundantly prove that the habits of giving which many adopt are not in keeping with their prayers…. It seems to be taken for granted that the good work of Foreign Missions will go on at its present magnitude indefinitely,… that the whole amount needed will be secured in some way, that if I do not take the trouble to give, it will make no difference…. But it is by no means among the certainties that the American Board will always do as much as it has been doing…. If the force of the three following considerations could be felt by those disciples who pray but who do not give for the coming of the kingdom, there would be a wider personal response to the call for increased means.

“1. The intrinsic importance of the Foreign Missionary work…. If it could be generally understood that within fifty years almost incredible religious changes have taken place in India and Turkey in consequence of missions to those countries, that ten years have witnessed astonishing progress toward the Christian civilization and religion in Japan; that from almost every land the cry is…a cry for more men and more means, a cry of amazement at the hunger of the nations for the bread of life, if the people could realize the triumphs of the gospel everywhere, they would by saving and self-sacrifice contrive to give something for the extension of Foreign Missions.

“2. The relative importance of the Foreign Missionary work…. The work which is done at home by four or five distinct organizations, is done abroad by a single organization…. We have at home one society for the support of preachers, another to educate young men for the ministry, another for church building, another for the publication of Bibles, another for printing tracts, another for work among the freedmen and Chinese, each with its officers and secretaries. But the American Board sends out preachers, trains theological students, prints Bibles and tracts in several languages, assists in the erection of churches, and educates thousands of children and youth under its one effective and economical management….

“3. The value of Foreign Missions to Christian doctrine and Christian life at home. The zeal of the church in sending the gospel all around the globe, has been a preservation of doctrine by the signal triumphs of the simple truths of the gospel, and a preservative of Christian life by the demands it has made for heroic service, for patient self-sacrifice, and for abundant liberality. If it becomes more and more difficult to sustain foreign missions, we may well be alarmed for the future of Christianity at home — we may fear for our religion when missionaries no longer sail from our shores and money is no longer given to send the gospel abroad….

“No one should withhold his offering because it is small.  Three cents a week from each member of our churches would put more than half a million dollars into the annual revenue of the American Board…. All reforms begin with individuals. Let no one wait, then,… but let every one who recognizes the measure of his own duty, begin at once to give according to his ability.”

[Biographical information derived from obituary in The New York Times, 2 Mar. 1922]

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