Reverend John Hall, D.D., L.L.D was Pastor of the Fifth Avenue Presbyterian Church from 1867 until he died in Bangor, Northern Ireland in 1898. He was the visionary and pastor of the famed landmark New York church which was built during his tenure and stands today on Fifth Avenue at 55th Street.
Said of Dr. Hall in the Presbyterian Banner, on his resignation after thirty years at the pulpit of the church:
Rev John Hall, D.D., honored with the title "D.D." by Washington and Jefferson College, and with that of LL.D. by Princeton College, and Washington and Lee University, was born in County Armagh, Ireland, July 31, 1829; graduated from the Royal College, and the General Assembly's Theological College both in Belfast, and was licensed to preach the Gospel in 1849. For the next three years he labored as a "Students' Missionary" in the west of Ireland. He began his regular ministry in 1852 as pastor of the First Presbyterian church of Armagh. In 1856, he went to Dublin as collegiate pastor of St. Mary's Abbey, and on Nov. 3, 1867, he was installed pastor of the Fifth Avenue church, New York, which he has served ever since. (for thirty years.) In college he was repeatedly Hebrew prizeman; and in Dublin his interest in education was so marked that he was appointed by the Queen, in 1860, a member of the Board of National Education, upon which he served gratuitously until he came to the United States. In 1867, he was a delegate from the Presbyterian Church of Ireland to the Presbyterian Church in this country. He was elevated chancellor of the University of New York in 1883, having already held that office ad interim but he served without salary.
Dr Hall has preached and delivered college addresses in almost every part of the United States and he has taken great interest in the Scots-Irish congresses. He is president of the Presbyterian Board of Home Missions, and has often ably advocated its claims before General Assemblies and elsewhere. He is a tireless worker in his study, the pastoral care, in attendance upon ecclesiastical and other meetings, and in all general educational and religious movements. He does not neglect his own congregation, but visits the families, calls upon his people in the counting room, in the stores, in the hotels, and at their boarding-houses, and has a word for each one.
''In conducting the services in his own church, he adheres closely to the old forms of Presbyterian worship in this land. When he reads the Bible, it is expected that all present will follow him closely by making use of the Bibles with which each pew is abundantly supplied, which is much better than the innovation of responsive reading, which unfortunately finds a place in some of our churches. His preaching is doctrinal, Scriptural, plain, incisive and earnest. His themes are the great gospel subjects and their faithful application to the heart and the life.
Not only is Dr. Hall a preacher and a pastor, and one who takes an active part in all the great movements of the Church and the world, but he is also a well known and highly prized writer of newspaper articles and books. The readers of the Presbyterian Banner well know the terseness and vigor of his language, the appropriateness of his illustrations, and the force of his arguments. As a matter of course, we expect him to continue to write for us, as one of our assistant editors. He is author of "Family Prayers for Four Weeks;" "Papers for Home Reading;" "Familiar Talks to Boys;" "Questions of the Day;" "God's Word through Preaching:" "Lyman Beecher's Lectures at Yale Seminary:" "Foundation Stories for Young Builders, New Year's Book for Girls and Boys of America;" " A Christian Home, How to Make and How to Maintain It". His last book is entitled "A Light Unto My Path."
Few men in the Presbyterian church were more loved or more deserving of popularity than Dr. Hall. As pastor of the Fifth Avenue Presbyterian Church, he did a great work for religion and charity and was never selfish in any respect. His salary when he first came to New York was $6,000 and was soon raised to $10,000 and later to $15,000 at which it remained. But his income was much larger than these figures. He is said to have earned during his pastorate at the Fifth Avenue Church, not less than $30,000 in wedding fees alone. His literary work, too, paid him well, but he was a generous giver and most of the money he earned was spent in charities and kindnesses known only to the circle of his immediate friends.
Dr Hall was born in Armagh, Ireland. His ancestry was Scotch. He entered Belfast College for his secular education at an early age, and when he was 20 years old, he was licensed to preach in Armagh and St. Mary's Abbey in Dublin.
At that time, the church was situated in Nineteenth street, and when Dr. Hall took charge, it was in need of some strong guiding hand. Under his care, the congregation prospered exceedingly until the Fifth Avenue Church became the wealthiest Presbyterian church in the country. The old building in Nineteenth street would hold but 800 persons. It was abandoned and the congregation moved into the superb structure it now owns at Fifty-fifth and Fifth Avenue.
Dr. Hall was a Calvinist of the old school, who stuck fast by the old iron creed and resented all attempts to modernize the Bible or to question its infallibility. He believed heartily in the orthodox doctrines of his church and preached them roundly from his pulpit to a congregation of which the majority did not at all agree with him. He had a marvelous memory and knew every member of his flock by face and name. If he chanced to miss any member from his or her seat, he would start out the very next morning to find why the person was absent.
The dead cleric was a warm friend of Robert Bonner. Mr. Bonner gave $100,000 to the building of the present church in Fifth Avenue. For ten years the doctor conducted the "Questions and Answers" column in Mr. Bonner's weekly paper. Through this work, he acquired a fund of information on an extraordinary wide range of subjects, which is marvelous memory enabled him to retain.
About a year ago, Dr. Hall desired to retire from his work as pastor of the Fifth Avenue, but his congregation would not allow him to do so. His health had been gradually going from him for a number of years and he sturdily refused to take stimulants or to use tobacco, although advised by his physicians to do so.
Dr Hall's son, Rev. Dr. Thomas Hall, was for a time pastor of the Fourth Presbyterian Church of Chicago. He was compelled to give up his charge on account of his failing health.
The triumph of Dr. Hall's life was the gorgeous Fifth Avenue Church building, which so long as it stands will be the most appropriate monument to his labors. That edifice is probably the largest church of the Presbyterian denomination in the world, and cost not less than a million dollars. The congregation spends about $125,000 a year in charity and the mission work in which the church is directly concerned ramifies in all directions. The church is one of the sights of New York, and both spiritually and temporally, it is one of the most active centers of religious life in America.
Dr. Hall was very tall and built heavily in proportion. He had a smooth-shaven, kindly, intellectual face, and his figure in its Geneva gown held the attention of his hearers close kept when he spoke from his pulpit. He was an eloquent preacher, whose sermons had the spontaneity of the extemporaneous, but which were all carefully prepared. He never carried notes on manuscripts into his pulpit, and he spoke his sermons exactly as they were written. He worked with system, and his life was ordered and even and productive of great good to his fellow men.