JOHN ASPLUND (c. 1755-1807)
This singular man is, on account of his extensive travels, very generally known throughout the United States. According to information received from Mr. John Leland, he was born in the interior of Sweden. He was bred to the mercantile business, went to England about the beginning of the American war, where he acted some time as clerk in a store. He was either pressed or entered voluntarily into the British naval service, which he deserted on the American coast, and made his way into North-Carolina. There, about 1782, he embraced religion, and was baptized by David Walsh. Soon after, he joined the South-Hampton church in Virginia, then under the care of David Barrow. About 1782, he went back to his native country, visited England, Denmark, Finland, Lapland, Germany, and returned to Virginia. Not long after his return, he began to make preparations for his Register of the Baptist churches in America, which he published in a small quarto pamphlet in 1791. This work cost him about seven thousand miles travel, chiefly on foot, which mode of traveling he seems to have preferred. After this, Mr. Asplund traveled ten thousand miles more, and published a second Register in 1794. By this time he had become personally acquainted with seven hundred ministers of the Baptist denomination. Mr. Asplund was a preacher of no great gifts, but was generally respected for a number of years. But at length he got entangled with land speculation, for which he was altogether unqualified. Some other things of an unfavorable nature exposed him to the censures of his brethren. The latter part of his life was spent on the eastern shore of Maryland, and there he was drowned from a canoe, in Fishing Creek, in 1807. He left a wife and one child. The Baptist churches in America have reason to respect the memory of this diligent inquirer into their number, origin, character, etc. His Register has been of peculiar service in the preparation of this work.
ISAAC BACKUS (1724-1806)
It is much to be lamented, that he who took such unwearied pains to record the lives of others, has found no one among all his friends to write his own. Mr. Backus was one of the most useful ministers, that has ever appeared among the American Baptists. For about fifty years he was a laborious servant of their churches, and a considerable part of about thirty of the last of them, was devoted to historical pursuits. This excellent man still lives in the memory of thousands of his brethren; but scarcely any biographical sketches of his life are preserved, except what are found in his own writings. The author of this work never saw him but once, of course he knows but little about him, except from report. He has solicited those, who were well acquainted with this renowned father for many years, to draw a characteristic portrait, which should set in a proper light his distinguished merit. But as no one has been found to pay this tribute of respect, all that can be now done is to collect a few incidents of his life from his public writings and his voluminous journals and diaries.
Mr. Backus was born at Norwich, Connecticut, Jan. 9, 1724. His parents were pious and respectable members of the Pedobaptist church in that town, by whom he was brought up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord. His mother was a descendant of the family of Winslows, who came over to Plymouth in 1620; his father sprung from one of the first Planters in Norwich. In the New-Light Stir, in Whitefields time, some of Mr. Backuss connections united with the Separates, for which they were harassed and persecuted by the ruling party. His mother, when a widow, and some more of his relatives, were cast into prison for adopting religious principles contrary to law. It was in the midst of the New. Light Stir, that the subject of this memoir was brought to the knowledge of the truth, in the 18th year of his age. He united with a Pedobaptist church in his native town, and began in the ministry in 1746. About two years after, he was ordained pastor of a church in Middleborough of the same persuasion. In this town, he spent sixty years of his useful life. In 1749, he was married to Susanna Mason of Rehoboth, with whom he lived in the greatest harmony about fifty-one years. She, according to his own words, "was the greatest earthly blessing which God ever gave him." As yet Mr. Backus was a Pedobaptist of the Separate order, and the church, of which he was pastor, was of the same character. They experienced blessings from the Lord, but persecutions from men. The publicans of the parish soon began to distress them for the support of their worship. Mr. Backus, among the rest, was taxed, seized, and imprisoned a short time, and then released without paying the tax, or coming to any compromise.
Disputes respecting baptism were agitated in this church about this time, which were continued a number of years, and some of the members were constrained from time to time to go into the water. In 1751, Mr. B. was himself baptized, with six of his members, by Elder Pierce, of Warwick, Rhode-Island. From this period until 1756, this church practiced open communion, but in that year those who had become Baptists came out and formed a church upon the gospel plan, and Mr. Backus became its pastor. This was the nineteenth Baptist church in the three States of Massachusetts, New-Hampshire, and Vermont. From this date to the death of this venerable man was a period of about fifty years, Nothing remarkable appears to have occurred in the discharge of his pastoral duties; but the part which he took in the general welfare of the Baptist churches, furnishes a number of incidents which ought to be recorded.
Mr. Backus early imbibed a settled aversion to civil coercion in religious concerns; he was taught its iniquity both by experience and observation; and few men have exerted themselves more than he in the support of the equal rights of Christians. In 1772, he was chosen an agent for the Baptist churches in Massachusetts, in the room of Mr. Davis, formerly pastor of the second church in Boston, then lately deceased. This agency was merely in civil affairs, and was executed by him, who was entrusted it, with much ability, and to some effect. Our brethren in this government were then so continually harassed for the support of the established clergy, that they found it necessary to have some one upon the watch, to advise on sudden emergencies, and to afford assistance to those who were in trouble. Their great object was to obtain the establishment of equal religious liberty in the land, which the predominant party were determined to prevent. About a year before Mr. Backus accepted the agency of the churches, he was requested to write their history, which he accordingly set about, and published his first volume in 1777.
When the disputes came on, which terminated in the Revolutionary War and the Independence of the United States, the Baptists united with the rest of the American people in resisting the arbitrary claims of Great-Britain; but it seemed to them unreasonable that they should be called upon to contend for civil liberty, if after it was gained, they should still be exposed to oppression in religious concerns. When, therefore, the first Continental Congress met in Philadelphia, the Warren Association, viewing it as the highest civil resort, agreed to send Mr. Backus as their agent to that convention, "there to follow the best advice he could obtain, to procure some influence from thence in their favor." When he arrived in Philadelphia, the Association there appointed a large committee, of whom Dr. Samuel Jones was one, to assist their New-England brethren. "But our endeavors," says Dr. Jones, "availed us nothing. One of them told us, that if we meant to effect a change in their measures respecting religion, we might as well attempt to change the course of the sun in the heavens" [Century Sermon, etc. p. 14. Whether this strong expression was made seriously by a Massachusetts member, or ironically by one from some other State, I am not sure. But it is certain from Mr. Backuss account, that the Massachusetts Delegates were peculiarly insensible to the complaints of the oppressed Baptists.] Mr. Backus, failing of success at Philadelphia, on his return met the Baptist committee at Boston, by whose advice a memorial of their grievances was drawn up, and laid before the next Congress at Cambridge, near Boston, to which the following answer was returned:
"In Provincial Congress, Cambridge, Dec. 9, 1774.
"On reading the memorial of the Reverend Isaac Backus, agent to the Baptist churches in this government:
"Resolved, That the establishment of civil and religious liberty, to each denomination in the province, is the sincere wish of this Congress; but being by no means vested with powers of civil government, whereby they can redress the grievances of any person whatever; they therefore recommend to the Baptist churches, that when a General Assembly shall be convened in this colony, they lay the real grievances of said churches before the same, when and where their petition will most certainly meet with all that attention due to the memorial of a denomination of Christians, so well disposed to the public weal of their country.
"By order of the Congress, JOHN HANCOCK, President. A true extract from the Minutes, John Lincoln, Secretary."
Such an Assembly as is here mentioned, convened at Watertown, July 1775, to which our brethren presented another memorial, in which they said,
"Our real grievances are, that we, as well as our fathers, have from time to time been taxed on religious accounts where we were not represented; and when we have sued for our rights, our causes have been tried by interested judges. That the Representatives in former Assemblies, as well as the present, were elected by virtue only of civil and worldly qualifications, is a truth so evident, that we presume it need not be proved to this Assembly; and for a civil Legislature to impose religious taxes, is, we conceive, a power which their constituents never had to give, and is, therefore, going entirely out of their jurisdiction. Under the legal dispensation, where God himself prescribed the exact proportion of what the people were to give, yet none but persons of the worst characters ever attempted to take it by force. How daring then must it be for any to do it for Christs ministers, who says, My kingdom is not of this world! We beseech this honorable Assembly to take these matters into their wise and serious consideration before Him, who has said, With what measure ye mete it shall be measured to you again. Is not all America now appealing to Heaven, against the injustice of being taxed where we are not represented, and against being judged by men, who are interested in getting away our money? And will Heaven approve of your doing the same thing to your fellow servants! No, surely. We have no desire of representing this government as the worst of any who have imposed religious taxes; we fully believe the contrary. Yet, as we are persuaded that an entire freedom from being taxed by civil rulers to religious worship, is not a mere favor, from any man or men in the world, but a right and property granted us by God, who commands us to stand fast in it, we have not only the same reason to refuse an acknowledgment of such a taxing power here, as America has the abovesaid power, but also, according to our present light, we should wrong our consciences in allowing that power to men, which we believe belongs only to God."
This memorial was read in the Assembly, and after laying a week on the table, was read again, debated upon, and referred to a committee, who reported favourably. A bill was finally brought in, in favor of the petitions, read once, and a time set for its second reading; but their other business crowded in, and nothing more was done about it. In this manner have the Baptists always been shuffled out of their rights. After this, they made a number of attempts to get some security for their freedom from religious oppression, but none was ever formally given them. They had many fair promises, which were never fulfilled; and when the State Constitution was formed, the Bill of Rights was made to look one way, but priests and constables have gone another. The first article of the Bill of Rights declares "All men are born free and equal, and have certain natural, essential, and unalienable rights," etc. The second declares, "No subject shall be hurt, molested, or restrained, in his person, liberty or estate, for worshipping God in the manner and season most agreeable to the dictates of his own conscience," etc.
But notwithstanding all these declarations, many have been molested and restrained in their persons, liberties, and estates, on religious accounts. These things we have thought proper to insert in Mr. Backuss biography. He was undoubtedly the draftsman of some of the memorials of his brethren, and he was certainly the able and undaunted expositor of them all. His whole soul was engaged in the prosecution of his agency; insomuch that he became the champion of non-conformity in England, and was, on that account, much vilified and abused by the established party. When he waited on the Congress at Philadelphia, he was accused of going there on purpose to attempt to break the union of the colonies. The newspapers abounded with pieces against him, some of which he answered, and others he treated as beneath his notice. In one, he was threatened with a halter and the gallows; but he had been too long inured to the war, to be terrified by such impotent threats.
In 1789, Mr. Backus took a journey into Virginia and North-Carolina, in which he was gone about six months, preached a hundred and twenty-six sermons, and traveled by land and water going and coming over three thousand miles. This journey was undertaken in consequence of a request from the southern brethren, for some one of the ministers of the Warren Association to come and assist them, in the great field of labor which was then opened before them.
These sketches give us some view of Mr. Backuss labors abroad; the following list of his writings will inform the reader how he employed his time at home. This list was made out by himself, and was found among his papers.
His first publication was a Discourse on the Internal Call to preach the Gospel, in 1754.
2d. A Sermon on Galatians,
4:31. So then, brethren, we are not children of the bond-woman,
but of the free. 1756.
3d. A Sermon on Acts 18:27. 1763.
4th. A Letter to Mr. Lord. 1764.
5th. A Sermon on Prayer. 1766.
6th. A Discourse on Faith. 1767.
7th. An Answer to Mr. Fish. 1768.
8th. A Sermon on his Mothers Death. 1769.
9th. A second edition of his Sermon on Galatians 4:31, with an Answer to Mr. Frothingham. 1770.
10th. A Plea for Liberty of Conscience. 1770.
11th. Sovereign Grace vindicated. 1771.
12th. A Letter concerning Taxes to support Religious Worship. 1771.
13th. A Sermon at the ordination of Mr. Hunt. 1772.
14th. A Reply to Mr. Holly. 1772.
15th. A Reply to Mr. Fish. 1773.
16th. An Appeal to the Public in Defence of Religious Liberty. 1773.
17th. A Letter on the Decrees. 1773.
18th. A History of the Baptists, Vol. 1. 1777.
19th. Government and Liberty described. 1778. 251
20th. A Piece upon Baptism. 1779.
21st. True Policy requires Equal Religious Liberty. 1779.
22d. An Appeal to the People of Massachusetts against Arbitrary Power. 1780.
23d. Truth is great and will prevail. 1781.
24th. The Doctrine of Universal Salvation examined and refuted. 1782.
25th. A Door opened for Christian Liberty. 1783.
26th. A History of the Baptists, vol. II 1784.
27th. Godliness excludes slavery, in Answer to John Cleaveland. 1785.
28th. The Testimony of the Two Witnesses. 1786.
29th. An Address to New-England. 1787.
30th. An Answer to Remmele on the Atonement. 1787.
31st. A Piece on Discipline. 1787.
32d. An Answer to Wesley on Election and Perseverance. 1789.
33d. On the Support of Gospel Ministers, 1790.
34th. An Essay on the Kingdom of God. 1792.
35th. A history of the Baptists, Vol. III. 1796.
36th. A second edition of his Sermon on the Death of his Mother; to which was added a Short Account of his Wife, who died in 1800. Published 1803.
Most of the pieces in the foregoing list were small but a number of them, besides his History, were considerably large.
In 1800, our historian published in a small octavo volume, An Abridgment of his History of the Baptists; and in 1805, the year before his death, he published a discourse under the title of A Great Faith described. After this he wrote a Sermon on the Kingdom of Christ, which has not yet been published. Besides these publications, Mr. Backus wrote a number of Circular Letters, and inserted a large number of pieces in different public prints. These newspaper communications were not upon the common political topics but were designed to expose ecclesiastical oppressions, and to defend his noble maxims of religious freedom.
This distinguished man finished his earthly course with great composure, November 20, 1806, in the 83d year of his age, and 60th of his ministry. He had been laid by from his public labors a few months previous to his death, by a paralytic stroke, which deprived him of his speech and the use of his limbs. But his reason was continued to the last, and in his expiring moments, he manifested an entire resignation to the will of Heaven. He left behind him a number of children, all of whom are respectable members of society. He never received much from his people; but by the blessing of Providence, he had accumulated an estate of considerable value. It is presumed that but a few Baptists of the present day are sufficiently sensible how much they are indebted to the labors of this departed champion of their cause.
"As a preacher, he was evangelical and plain. His discourses, though not ornamented with the rhetoric of language, were richly stored with Scripture truth." His historical works contain a vast fund of materials of the utmost importance towards a history of our denomination, which must have sunk into oblivion, had it not been for his unwearied care.
[The following description, etc. was furnished by Reverend Dr. Baldwin.]
Mr. Backuss personal appearance was very grave and venerable. He was not far from six feet in stature, and in the latter part of life considerably corpulent. He was naturally modest and diffident; which probably led him into a habit, which he continued to the day of his death, of shutting his eyes, when conversing or preaching on important subjects. His voice was clear and distinct, but rather sharp than pleasant. In both praying and preaching, he often appeared to be favored with such a degree of divine unction, as to render it manifest to all that God was with him. Few men have more uniformly lived and acted up to their profession than Mr. Backus. It may be truly said of him, that he was a burning and shining light; and, though dead, he left behind him the good name which is better than precious ointment.
[This biography is taken almost verbatim from Semples History of the Virginia Baptists, as are most of those which follow of the Virginia brethren.]
ELIJAH BAKER (1742-1798)
Elijah Baker was born in 1742, in the county of Lunenburg, of honest and reputable, but not opulent parents. When grown to the years of maturity, he was much addicted to frolics and sports of all sorts. Going to hear Mr. Jeremiah Walker preach, he became thoroughly convinced of the necessity of vital religion. His volatile disposition, nevertheless, kept him from seeking for it. However resolved when under preaching, all his resolutions would fail at the sound of a fiddle, or the cordial invitation of his pleasant, but carnal companions. He at last came to a determination to give his old companions one more frolic, and then forsake them forever. This resolution he kept, and was no more to be found among the sons of carnal pleasure. He listened now, not to the music of the violin, but to sublimer music, the faithful preaching of the gospel. Thus, giving up the world, after many previous ineffectual efforts, his convictions soon became exceedingly sharp and pungent. Sometimes he was so convulsed as not to be able to stand. Heaven ultimately smiled; and Mr. Baker was constrained by the love of God, now shed abroad in his heart, to make profession of grace, and was baptized, anno 1769, by Mr. Samuel Harris. Illiterate as he was, he immediately commenced public speaking. When he first made a profession, he was remarked for being often cast down with doubts respecting the reality of his conversion. This, however, did not hinder him from making great exertions, first as an exhorter and singer, and then as a preacher. Having exhorted about twelve months, his first labors were laid out chiefly in the county of his nativity, and the adjacent ones, where he was happily instrumental in planting and watering several churches. After about three years, he gave up all worldly cares, and devoted his whole time to preaching and other ministerial duties. About 1775, he began to stretch his lines, and to travel more extensively. Coming down into the lower end of Henrico, he, in conjunction with one or two others, planted Boar Swamp church, then, as his way would be opened, he extended his labors gradually downwards, and was the chief instrument in planting all the churches in the counties of James City, Charles City, York, etc. Then crossing over York river into Gloucester, preached in the lower end of that county with considerable success. There he formed acquaintance with Mr. Thomas Elliot, then a resident of Gloucester, but who had not long before moved from the eastern shore. Mr. Elliot, discovering a beauty in religion, felt his hearts desire that his brethren in the flesh might be saved. Accordingly in the spring of 1776, they set sail, and arrived on the eastern shore of Virginia, on Easter Sunday, and went immediately to church, where an established clergy-man was that day to preach and administer the sacrament. After waiting for some time, and finding the minister did not come, Mr. Baker told the people that he would preach for them, if they would go down to the road. The novelty of the scene excited their attention, and the people went. Mr. B. had no other pulpit than the end of a large tree; which having mounted, he began one of the most successful ministerial labors that has fallen to the lot of any man in Virginia. Many wondered; some mocked; and a few were seriously wrought upon. He continued his ministrations from house to house, for several days; and when he left them he appointed to return again at Whitsuntide. At his second visit, he was accompanied by his brother Leonard, who was at that time only an exhorter. When they arrived, they were informed that the minister of the parish had appointed to preach against the Baptists, and to prove them to be in an error. Mr. Baker and his company went to hear him; but his arguments proved ineffectual, and the people followed Baker. His brother continued with him about a week. They had meetings both day and night. The effects were not remarkable at first, but at every meeting there were good appearances. This encouraged Mr. Baker so much, that he resolved to remain there for some time: his brother left him laboring in the vineyard. His labors were greatly blessed. He became at once almost a resident; for, indeed, filled as he was with increasing solicitude for the prosperity of the gospel, he could not be found elsewhere than at the places where he had evidences that God called him. After he married, he settled in Northampton county.
In doing so much good, it fell to Mr. Bakers portion, as it generally happens, to give offense to the enemy of souls and his subordinate agents. They put him into Accomack prison, and kept him there many days. The most atrocious attempt upon this harmless man, was that of seizing him by a lawless power and carrying him on board of a vessel in the adjacent waters, where they left him, having contracted with the Captain to make him work his passage over the seas, and then leave him in some of the countries in Europe; alleging that he was a disturber of the peace. This took place on Saturday night. He was immediately put to work, and kept at it until late at night. The next day being the Lords day, he asked and obtained leave of the Captain to sing and pray among the crew. The Captain attended, and was convinced that he was a good man. Without delay, he set him on shore. In the meantime, his friends had dispatched a messenger to the Governor, to obtain authority to prevent his being carried forcibly away. This they obtained; but Mr. B. was discharged before his return. [This story respecting Mr. Baker, I find differently related. Some parts of the narrative, as some have given it, partake considerably of the marvellous; but the above relation is the most simple, and probably the most correct.] He met with various kinds of persecution, which only served to confirm his faith, and inflame his zeal in his Redeemers cause.
Mr. B. was a man of low parentage, small learning, and confined abilities. But with one talent he did more than many do with five. He is said to have planted ten churches on the eastern shore of the Chesapeake bay. At the last Salisbury Association, which he attended when nearly worn out with disease, at the close of the meeting, he addressed the audience in a most melting and powerful manner; then returning to Doctor Lemons, soon died.
He had declined in health a considerable time before his death; and having a wish to see his brother Leonard, of Halifax, Virginia, to whom he was fondly attached, he wrote him a letter dated September 21, 1798, of which the following is an extract:
"And now, brother, are you struggling through the trials of this life, leaning upon your Beloved? laboring, and waiting for the coming of the Lord Jesus, who shall change our vile bodies and fashion them according to his glorious body? Or have you got into a lukewarm state, which I fear has been too prevailing amongst some!
"Dear brother, some of my complaints are such, that I do not expect to continue long in this world. However, I leave that to my dear Redeemer, who has the power of life and death in his own hands. But in all probability I shall never be able to come out as far as your house again: dear brother, I should be very glad to see you, if you could make it convenient to come over once more, while I live. I will pay all your expenses. And if our dear mother is yet alive, I can send out some relief to her. As to religion, thanks be to God, there is some stir amongst us. I have baptized eight lately."
It seems his brother could not go immediately; but started in a few weeks, and arrived just time enough to see him die: which took place, November 6th, 1798.
As he died at Doctor Lemons, it will be most suitable to quote the Doctors own words respecting him.
"In Mr. Baker, I found the Israelite indeed; the humble Christian; the preacher of the gospel in the simplicity of it; and the triumphant saint in his last moments. In his preaching he was generally plain and experimental, always very express on the doctrine of regeneration; never entering upon the doctrines by which he conceived he should give offense to one or another. In his last illness, I attended his bed-side day and night, for three weeks, and had many most agreeable conversations with him, on the glorious things of the kingdom of Christ. He retained his senses to the last minute, and seemed rather translated, than to suffer pain in his dissolution. Death was to him as familiar in his conversation, as if he talked of an absent friend from whom he expected a visit."
He was twice married. His first wife was Sarah Copeland, a lady of respectable connections, by whom he had one son, now living. She died, and he then married a widow lady on the eastern shore, who had no child by him.
Robert Carter, Esq. once a member of the Virginia Executive Council, and on that account, commonly called Counsellor Carter, was baptized by Mr. Lunsford, shortly after he began to preach in these parts. He was one of the richest men in the State of Virginia, having, as some say, seven or eight hundred negroes, besides immense bodies of land, etc. After being baptized some years, he became conscientious about the lawfulness of hereditary slavery. In a letter to Mr. Rippon of London, he says, "the toleration of slavery indicates very great depravity of mind." In conformity to this sentiment, he gradually emancipated the whole that he possessed.
["It is said that Mr. Robert Carter of Nominy, Virginia has emancipated slaves. This is a sacrifice on the altar of humanity of perhaps an hundred thousand dollars. If this be true, vote him a triumph, crown him with laurels, and let the million listen while he sings
I would not have a
slave to till my ground,
To carry me, to fan me while I sleep,
And tremble when I wake, for all the wealth
That sinews bought and sold have ever earnd.
No, dear as freedom is, and in my hearts
Just estimation prized above all price,
I had much rather be MYSELF the slave,
And wear the bonds, than fasten them on him." Rippons Register]
This was a noble and disinterested sacrifice. For fourteen or fifteen years he continued an orderly Baptist. But being a man naturally of an unstable disposition, and falling in with certain Arminian writings, he fully embraced their doctrines. Had he stopped here, he might still have continued in the Baptist society, though not so happily as before. But, alas! there are so many wrong roads in religious pursuits, that when a man once gets wrong, it is impossible to foresee where he will stop. From the Arminian errors, Mr. Carter fell into the chimerical whims of Swedenborg. When he first heard of the books of that singular author, he made very light of them; but upon reading them, having a mind naturally fond of specious novelty, he fully embraced the whole of that absurd system, and was, of course, excluded from the Baptists. He was now as zealous for the New-Jerusalem church, as he had been formerly for the Baptists. He moved to Baltimore, in order to find a preacher and a society of his own sentiments, and expended large sums of money to have Swedenborgs writings republished. He continued orderly in his moral conduct, and died a few years since, after having lived to a considerable age.
James Chiles appears to have been a Virginian. Before he embraced religion, having a sturdy set of limbs and a resolute spirit, he often employed them in bruising his countrymens faces. Gambling was also with him a favorite employment. But God, who is rich in mercy, plucked him as a brand from the burning. He gave evidence to his friends that his heart was changed, but from his oddities he was never converted. He was a member of the first Separate Baptist church north of James River. He was always wrapped up in visions, and pretended to be taught of God how any matter was to eventuate. It happened, however, with him, as with the Trojan prophetess, that if he had the gift of prophecy, his contemporaries had not the gift of faith. But notwithstanding all his imperfections, his success as a preacher was great. He was the first instrument of planting the gospel upon Blue Run. He also broke the way into Albemarle, where many were converted by his means. In various other places, God set seals to his ministry. After a few years, he moved to South-Carolina, where he planted a large church. He retained his notions about visions to his last. Report says, that after meeting with misfortunes, and being reduced in his property and health, he went to the house of a woman, and told her that his God said, he must die there that day. She said, "I hope not, Mr. Chiles." "Yes," said he, "my God says so: but, however, I will return a while, and consult my God again!" He retired for the consultation, and returning said, "Yes, madam, my God says, I must die today." The woman again expressed doubts. She said, "You look too well, Mr. Chiles, to die so soon." He said, "I will try my God once more." After retiring for some time in prayer, he came back and said, "It is fixed; the decree is irrevocable; today I must die in your house." Having so said, he stretched himself upon the bed, and yielded up the ghost.
Mr. Cook was born of pious parents in the city of Bath, Somersetshire, England, and called by divine grace in the early part of life, under the ministry of the late celebrated and much-esteemed Reverend George Whitefield, at the chapel of the late Countess Dowager of Huntingdon, at Bath. Mr. Whitefield was exceedingly kind to him, and often took him out with him in his carriage, to converse with him about divine things. As he very soon gave clear evidence, not only of a sound conversion, but also that he had ministerial gifts, Lady Huntingdon, who had a great regard for him, which continued to her dying day, sent him, in the 19th year of his age, to her college at Trevecka, in Brecknockshire, South Wales. Here he applied himself closely to his studies, and made considerable improvement. He was much esteemed by his tutors and fellow-students, being of a good, obliging temper; but what most endeared him was his lively, spiritual turn of mind, and his readiness to help and comfort any who were in trouble of soul. His very first excursions in the villages, to exercise his gifts, the Lord owned, so that he preached with acceptance and success.
In September 1771, Lady Huntingdon received a sensible anonymous letter, requesting her to send a minister to Margate, in the Isle of Thanet, describing it as a licentious place, particularly at the watering season. She made known the contents of it to one of her senior students, Mr. William Aldridge, and gave him the liberty of choosing any student he pleased in the college to accompany and assist him in this important work. He fixed upon Mr. Cook, who cordially approved of the design. Preparations, therefore, were made for the journey, and after taking an affectionate leave of all at college, attended with many hearty prayers for their safety and prosperity, they proceeded to the place of action. Being utterly unknown to any person at Margate, they began to preach out of doors. Many attended, and not in vain. Several were savingly wrought upon, and turned from the error of their ways, while old professors were stirred up, who seemed to have been settled upon their lees; and now these itinerants preached not only at Margate, but at many other places in the Isle of Thanet.
About this time, many persons in Dover, not satisfied with Mr. Wesleys ministers and doctrine, having left his meeting, and assembled in a private room for exhortation and prayer, sent a very pressing invitation to Messrs. Aldridge and Cook, which they accepted. The former preached at Dover for the first time, in the market-place, on a Sabbath day, but met with great opposition. A Presbyterian meeting-house, which had been shut up for a considerable time, was therefore procured by the persons who had given them the invitation, in which Mr. Aldridge and his colleague ever afterwards preached, while they continued at Dover. It was now agreed on by all parties, that Messrs. Aldridge and Cook should supply Margate and Dover constantly, and change every week; accordingly, Mr. Cook came to Dover, and preached on the next Tuesday evening. His first text was Hebrews 2:3, "How shall we escape, if we neglect so great salvation."
Many attended, and were much struck at the sight of such a youth, who delivered his discourse extempore, which was a new thing to most of them. This sermon was, he believes, peculiarly blessed to Mr. Atwood, now one of the Baptist ministers, at Falkstone, in Kent, so that he was obliged to say, "Here is a man that has told me all things that ever I did: surely he is a servant of Christ." Mr. Cook continued to supply Dover, in his turn, for some time, and was remarkably useful in winning souls to Christ. Mr. Cook and Mr. Aldridge occasionally preached also at Deal; and at Falkstone their word was signally blessed: to many, several of whom afterwards joined the Baptist interest, and one of them became a Deacon in Mr. Atwoods church.
Two years after, the students were called in from all parts of the country to the college in Wales, to form a mission for North-America, as very pleasing and encouraging letters had been received by Lady Huntingdon, desiring her to send faithful and zealous ministers thither. She therefore willingly entered into the plan, laying the whole of it before the students, with her earnest request that they would take the same into mature consideration, and especially make it matter of prayer; and that then, those who saw their way clear to go, would declare it. At length, Mr. Cook, with others, freely offered themselves for this service, came up to London, and related their views of this work before many thousands in the Tabernacle, Moorfields, and elsewhere; an account of which was printed. After taking a very affecting farewell, they embarked for America, with the Reverend Mr. Percy, who afterwards returned, and had a meeting-house, at Woolwich, in Kent. However, the ship was detained in the Downs by a contrary wind. Mr. Cook, being so near, wished to see his friends at Dover once more. He went therefore unexpectedly, and preached a lecture, which was remarkably owned. Several of his fellow-students also went the next Sabbath to Dover to preach. A fair and brisk gale sprung up in the night; the ship sailed, and they were all left behind. Two of them remained in England, Mr. Henry Mead, a minister now belonging to the establishment, in London, and Mr. William White, since deceased. Mr. Cook, with the rest, were yet determined on the voyage, and prosecuted the plan. On their arrival in America, as they had all preached in England, and considered themselves authorized to do so on their general plan, they traveled about the country, and preached with much acceptance among serious Christians of different denominations, but particularly among the Baptists, whom they found in a lively state of religion at that time. Though these students, were commonly considered as belonging to the Episcopal church, then the established religion of the Southern colonies, and seemed fond to keep up this idea among the populace, yet they generally appeared pleased with the company and conversation of the Baptists; and the most of them gave it to be understood, that they had received convictions respecting the justice and propriety of the Baptists distinguishing sentiments, which, by one or two of the students, was represented to have arisen from the introduction of a young man of Baptist principles into the Countesss Seminary at Wales, whose arguments had made so great an impression on the minds of the students, that her Ladyship thought proper to discard him. Mr. Cook, however, kept himself considerably reserved, and more at a distance from the Baptist churches than the rest. Messrs. Hill and Cosson, after fully professing Baptist sentiments, in their conversation among the Baptists, joined the Presbyterians. Mr. Roberts, who had professed the same in a letter to one of the Baptist ministers, united himself with a respectable congregation of Independents in Georgia, and, on some misunderstanding arising, left off preaching, took a commission in the army, rose to the rank of Lieutenant-Colonel, and died. Mr. Lewis Richards for a while suppressed his convictions, and engaged in a parish, as candidate for the rectorship, but some time after united himself to the Baptist church at the High Hills of Santee, was baptized by the Reverend Mr. Furman, and is now pastor of the Baptist church in Baltimore, Maryland.
Mr. Cook had obtained the office of a parish, but on his marriage with a young lady, Miss Elizabeth Bulline, of Baptist parents, then dead, at the village of Dorchester, about eighteen miles from Charleston, he determined to settle there, and preach to a mixed people: in respect of religious profession, a great part of them were, and are Episcopalians; a number, the posterity of a Baptist church, which has become extinct, that once flourished under the ministry of the Reverend Isaac Chanler, a pious and eminent divine; and the remains of an Independent congregation, removed to Georgia, the same mentioned above, to which Mr. Roberts had united. With the latter, Mr. Cook formed his closest connection, preaching ordinarily in the place of worship belonging to them.
The dispute between Britain and the Colonies was now become very serious; the sword was drawn; blood had begun to deluge the field of battle, and a general concern for religious as well as civil liberty, possessed the breasts of the Americans. A temporary form of government, agreed on by South-Carolina, while a reconciliation to Britain on equitable principles was hoped for, had continued the partial establishment, and legal support of the Church of England. This convinced the Dissenters of the necessity of uniting and making vigorous exertions for obtaining the equal enjoyment of all the privileges proper to a free people. For they now saw, that the Episcopalians, who generally possessed the most conspicuous stations, with their usual appendages of wealth and influence, while they declaimed against the unconstitutional claims of Britain, and were very fond of receiving the assistance of their dissenting brethren in the national struggle, were determined to secure to themselves every exclusive and partial advantage in their power. An invitation was now given to ministers and churches of various denominations, but principally to the Baptists, among whom the business originated, to meet at the High Hills of Santee, at the seat of the Baptist church there, which is nearly the center of the State, to consult their general interests. To this meeting, which was held early in 1776, came Mr. Cook, with two other of the young gentlemen mentioned above, and continued there to the next Sabbath, after the business was concluded, which being the season for the administration of the Lords supper in that church, divine worship was publicly attended on the two preceding days. On Saturday, Mr. Cook had all invitation to preach; and a little before service began, he took aside Mr. Hart, the minister of the Baptist church in Charleston, who had staid to assist at the solemnity, and Mr. Furman, the pastor of the church at Santee, who was then very young in the ministry, and has since succeeded Mr. Hart in Charleston, requesting their advice on a matter under which his mind labored. They were informed by him, that he had, for a considerable time, felt strong convictions respecting the propriety of believers baptism, and its necessity in order to a universal obedience of Christ, in a becoming manner. That he had endeavored to silence his conscience, and avoid the means of conviction, during a great part of the time; but that of late he had felt such guilt and shame in reflecting on his past conduct, as compelled him to a serious consideration of the subject, with a full determination of heart to do whatever appeared to be the will of God; and that the result of this investigation was the most satisfactory evidence in favor of what he had so long thought his duty. This, with the forcible application to his mind, of Ananiass address to Paul, "And now, why tarriest thou? Arise, and be baptized, and wash away thy sins, calling upon the name of the Lord," made him anxious to comply with his duty without delay, especially as a favorable opportunity then offered. "I have only to add, gentlemen," concluded he, "that I should be glad of your advice, whether to embrace the ordinance immediately, or defer it to be administered among the people where I live; and if I submit to it immediately, seeing my sentiments and intention have been hitherto unknown to the public, whether it would be proper to make Ananiass address to St. Paul, just now mentioned, and from which I have felt so much conviction, the subject of the discourse I am about to deliver, and just in the light I now behold it, as it applies to myself? This, I confess, is the dictate of my own mind, and I would not wish to act unadvisedly."
The ministers were both of opinion, that it would be best not to delay the administration, and that it was proper he should follow the dictate of his mind respecting the subject, and method of preaching proposed. He preached accordingly to the surprise and conviction of many, and was the next day baptized by the pastor of that church, the Reverend Mr. Furman, after satisfying the church respecting his acquaintance with experimental religion; and on farther consideration, having enjoyed his visits before, and being fully satisfied with his ministerial qualifications, they began to contemplate his ordination. He was accordingly ordained a few days after by Mr. Hart and Mr. Furman. A vacancy having taken place in the church of Euhaw, by the death of an excellent divine, the Reverend Francis Pelot, Mr. Cook soon received a call to take the pastoral care of it, which he accepted, and preached there without interruption for some time; but the invasion of the State taking place, and his exposed situation, near the sea-coast, having already subjected him to losses and distress, he removed to an interior part of the country, where he continued to the conclusion of the war, but suffered anew in the ravages of the State by the troops under Lord Cornwallis and other commanders; so that when he returned to the Euhaw, on the commencement of the peace, he was reduced to a state of poverty. Previous to his leaving Euhaw, he had lost his first wife, and married a second; some circumstances attending this marriage, gave displeasure to a number of his friends, and himself acknowledged he was chargeable with imprudence in the transaction, for which he was sorry. Hitherto nothing very considerable had appeared in Mr. Cooks ministry in America, towards promoting the kingdom of Christ; but on his return to his church, having passed through some humbling scenes, and entering more fully into the gospel spirit, he labored with much success. The church had been greatly reduced before he took charge of it, and at his return was almost become extinct; yet it pleased God, by his ministry to add a pleasing number to it in a few years. The account of additions, by baptism, presented to the Association, for the five last years of his life, was 78; many of these are persons of real worth and respectability. In the September of 1790, he wrote a letter to Mr. Rippon, of London, in which he gave a pleasing account of the believing Negro church at Savannah, and then added, "My sphere of action is great, having two congregations to regard, at a considerable distance from each other, exclusive of this where I reside; as, also, friendly visits to pay to sister churches, and societies of other denominations, who are destitute of ministers, frequently riding under a scorching sun, with a fever, twenty miles in a morning, and then preach afterwards. Our brethren in England, have scarcely an idea of what hardship we struggle with, who travel to propagate the gospel. I have been in a very poor state of health for two months, but it has not prevented an attention to the duties of my station. O, what a blessing is health! We cannot be too thankful for it."
This good man had now almost finished his course. The circumstances of his dissolution may be collected from a letter, written by one of his dear friends, of which the following is an extract:
"Visible tokens of dissolution inducing a friend to ask if he should pray with him, he gave assent, and, at the conclusion, audibly said, AMEN; after which, he spoke no more intelligibly, but continued struggling with the last enemy till half past three, Lords day morning, Sept. 26, 1790; when he was released from all his labors, leaving a disconsolate widow under great affliction; an only child, a son by his first wife, about 15 years of age, in whom all his earthly hopes seemed to center, as he possesses a love of religion, with a thirst for learning [this son, Joseph B. Cook, was afterwards educated at Providence College, R.I. and is now a respectable minister in South-Carolina], and a church, almost every member of which looked to him as a common brother in Christ. His remains were interred the same evening, immediately after the administration of the sacrament, when a very tender and animated exhortation, to an audience dissolved in tears, was delivered at the grave by Dr. Holcombe, who succeeded him in the charge of the church. The funeral sermon, by Dr. Furman, was not delivered for a considerable time after, owing partly to the distance of 80 miles, and partly to several unavoidable hindrances. Mrs. Cook survived her husband but a few weeks, being taken off by a short and severe illness. Mr. Cook was of a middle stature, and slender make, but had acquired a degree of corpulency a few years before his death. His mental powers were good, and had received improvement by an acquaintance with the liberal arts and sciences, though his education had not been completed. His conversation was free and engaging. As a preacher he was zealous, orthodox, and experimental. He spoke with animation and much fervor; though his talent lay so much in the persuasive, that at the end of his sermon he frequently left the audience in tears. He was taken from his labors at a time when his character had arisen to considerable eminence, and a spacious field of usefulness was opening all around him, and at a time when he was greatly endeared to his people. He was a little in advance of 40 years, at the time of his death. "
This account of Mr. Cook is found in Rippons Register, from which it has been copied, with little variation. Some expressions which regard affairs in America have been altered, to make the narrative conform to the present time. What changes have taken place in the persons and events described in England, Im not able to state, only that Mr. Percy, who went back to England, is I conclude the same person who is now an Episcopal minister in Charleston, South-Carolina.
Lemuel Covel was, it is believed, a native of the State of New-York; he was sent out into the ministry by the church in Providence, Saratoga county, thirty or forty miles above Albany. He commenced his ministerial labors under great disadvantages, being both poor and illiterate; and most of his life was spent under the pressure of poverty and worldly embarrassments. But notwithstanding he was obliged to labor almost constantly for his support, such were the astonishing powers of his mind, that he became one of the most distinguished preachers in the Baptist connection. His talents were far above mediocrity, his voice was clear and majestic, and his address was manly and engaging. The doctrine of salvation by the cross, was the grand theme on which he dwelt with peculiar pleasure; and his preaching was of the most solid, perspicuous, and interesting kind. He lived the religion he professed, and exemplified by his conduct the rules he laid down for others. As an itinerant preacher, his zeal and success were equalled by few; and perhaps exceeded by none among the American preachers. Missionary concerns lay near his heart; and in every thing pertaining to them, he seems to have been a kindred spirit to the famous Pearce of Birmingham. He traveled much among the churches in New-York and New-England, and had often explored new and destitute regions. A little while before his death, the church in Cheshire, with which John Leland is connected, had settled him as their pastor, had assumed the debts in which misfortunes had involved him, and his prospects for comfort and usefulness were never greater. As he was much inclined to travel, the church had settled him under the expectation, that he would be with them but a part of the time, and the Missionary Society of Boston most gladly afforded him their patronage what time he wished to itinerate. Dark and mysterious indeed was that providence, which cut off, in the meridian of life, and in the midst of usefulness, this worthy man. His constitution, naturally slender, had been much impaired by frequent attacks of disease, and by his too extensive labors of various kinds; and while traveling as a missionary in upper Canada, in October, 1806, he, after a short illness, finished his earthly course. Elders Elkanah Hohnes and David Irish were, at that time, engaged in the same field of missionary labors; the last of whom thus describes the mournful event of Mr. Covels death.
Mr. Covel left a widow and five children to mourn his loss. ELIJAH CRAIG was one of the first converts to the Baptist preaching in Virginia. When Mr. Samuel Harris came and preached an experience of grace in Pittsylvania, he found his heart could testify to the truth of it, having some time previously experienced a change, which he had not viewed as conversion, but only the encouragement of Heaven to go on to seek. He was now so strengthened, that, in conjunction with certain young converts in his neighborhood, who were of the Regular Baptists, he undertook to exhort, etc. and to hold little meetings in the neighborhood. His tobacco-house was their chapel. Being most of them laboring men, they used to labor all day, and hold meetings almost every night, at each others houses, and on Sundays at the above-mentioned tobacco-house. By these little prayer and exhortation meetings, great numbers were awakened and several converted.
Mr. Craig was one of the constituents of the Upper Spottsylvania church; he was also one of those who were afterwards dismissed from it, to form the church on Blue Run, over which he was soon afterwards ordained pastor. He was certainly a great blessing to Blue Run church, for under his care they flourished. He was accounted a preacher of considerable talents for that day; which, united to his zeal, honored him with the attention of his persecutors. They sent the sheriff and posse after him, when at his plough. He was taken and carried before three magistrates of Culpepper. They, without hearing arguments, pro or con, ordered him to jail. At court, he, with others, was arraigned. One of the lawyers told the Court, they had better discharge them; for that oppressing them, would rather advance than retard them, He said, they were like a bed of camomile; the more they were trod, the more they would spread. The Court thought otherwise, and were determined to imprison them. Some of the Court were of opinion, that they ought to be confined in a close dungeon; but the majority were for giving them the bounds. After staying there one month, preaching to all who came, he gave bond for good behavior, and came out. He was also confined in Orange jail, at another time. He was a preacher of usefulness for many years after he commenced; but finally falling too much into land speculations, his ministry was greatly hindered. In 1786, he moved to Kentucky, where, continuing his land speculations, that bewildering pursuit, which has ruined the reputation and usefullness of so many in Kentucky and elsewhere, he became obnoxious to the church, and was excommunicated 1791. How long he stayed out, is not known. He was, however, restored; and continued in the church until the year 1808, when he died.
He was naturally of a censorious temper; and always seemed better pleased to find out the faults than the virtues of mankind. This, however, so long as he was warm in religion, was checked by a superior principle; but after he declined in his religious exercises, and became a land speculator, he could seldom be pleased. As good a proof as any that can be named, of this peevish temper, may be gathered from two pamphlets, his only writings that have ever been published. In the one, he undertakes to prove that stationed preachers or pastors of churches, are precluded, by the Scriptures, from receiving any compensation for their services. In this pamphlet, he takes so many opportunities to condemn preachers for being money-seekers, that it would seem the main design of the publication was, to indulge a fault-finding temper. The maintaining of such a sentiment was censurable, because it is contrary to Scripture and reason and it was certainly ridiculous to advance it in Kentucky, where preachers are so much and so generally neglected by the churches. A person, acquainted with the negligent spirit and parsimonious maxims of the Kentucky Baptists, in viewing the title-page of this pamphlet, would be led to think that the author intended ironically to reprove the churches, rather than to censure the avarice of their ministers. His other pamphlet was a personal philippic against Jacob Creath, on account of some private dispute between Creath and a Mr. Lewis; the former the pastor, and the latter one of the principal members of the Town-Fork church, in the neighborhood of Lexington. Without saying any thing about the merits of the case, or the provocation given by Mr. Creath, candor compels us to say, that no provocation can justify the style of this pamphlet. It is written with a pen dipt in poison. The Baptists are a free people; and every one in these matters, says and does that which seemeth right in his own eyes: but it is to be hoped, that the present, nor any other generation, will ever witness another publication, written in the style or temper of the above pamphlet; and that, too, by one Baptist preacher against another.
Samuel Eccles was a native of Roscoramon, in Ireland, and began professional life in the capacity of a merchant in his own country; but proving unfortunate in trade, soon after his engaging in it, he went to France, and as a friend to liberty, took an active part in the revolutionary war, in which that country was then engaged. But the enormities practiced there, under the name of liberty, both by the government and army, induced him, in a little time, to resign his commission, and come to America. He landed in South-Carolina; and here it pleased God, shortly after his arrival, to impress his mind with the importance and excellence of religion; and, from being a man of the world and a soldier, he became eminent for piety and devotion. Having made a serious profession of religion, his attention was turned to the ministry; and that he might be qualified to perform the duties of this important station to advantage, he availed himself of the opportunity afforded by the establishment of the Baptist Education Fund, belonging to the Charleston Association, and engaged in the course of classical and theological studies, which he pursued about four years, with close application, under the Reverend Mr. Roberts, near Stateburg. He had been for some time pastor of a church in the upper part of this State; and though living at a distance, preached at stated times in Orangeburg, where he was solicited to settle; but having, about two months before his death, married a daughter of the late Reverend Timothy Durgan, of Jeffers Creek, he had just changed his residence to that place, and was entered on an apparently extensive field of usefulness, when it pleased God, who is infinitely wise and sovereign in his counsels and dispensations, by a short but sharp illness, to remove him to the world of spirits, August 12, 1808. Mr. Eccles age is not mentioned, but he was, probably, about 40 years old.
His natural and acquired abilities were respectable; his character fair; his disposition amiable, and his usefulness conspicuous. As a preacher he was zealous and active, and manifested an extensive acquaintance with the heart and conscience, which he addressed with great seriousness. In his preaching, he insisted much on the great peculiarities of the gospel, considered as a dispensation of free, sovereign, and glorious grace, extended through a Redeemer to guilty, dying men, and strongly enforced the necessity of experimental, practical godliness. One who knew him well and felt as a friend, in giving information of his death, writes, "He bore his last affliction with placid resignation and unrepining patience."
MORGAN EDWARDS (1722-1795)
The following biographical sketch of this truly eminent man, and distinguished promoter of the Baptist cause in America, was drawn by Dr. William Rogers of Philadelphia, in a sermon preached at his funeral, and by him communicated to Dr. Rippon, of London, who published it in the 12th No. of his Annual Register, from which it is now extracted. The sermon, which for some cause was not printed, was preached in the 1st Baptist Church in Philadelphia, Feb. 22, 1795, on 2 Corinthians 6:8, "By honor and dishonor; by evil report and good report; as deceivers and yet true." The Doctor, after a general and pertinent illustration of his text, thus proceeds:
"My highly esteemed friend and father, the Reverend Mr. Morgan Edwards, requested, as you have already been informed, that these words should be preached from, as soon as convenient after his decease. I presume he found them descriptive of what he met with in the course of his ministry.
"Honour, Mr. Edwards certainly had, both in Europe and America. The College and Academy of Philadelphia, at a very early period, honored him as a man of learning, and a popular preacher, with a diploma, constituting him Master of Arts; this was followed by a degree ad eudem in the year 1769, from the College of Rhode-Island, being the first commencement in that institution. In this seminary he held a Fellowship, and filled it with reputation, till he voluntarily resigned it in 1789; age and distance having rendered him incapable of attending the meetings of the Corporation any longer.
"He also met with dishonor; but he complained not much of this, as it was occasioned by his strong attachment to the Royal Family of Great Britain, in the beginning of the American war, which fixed on him the name of a Tory: this I should have omitted mentioning, had not the deceased expressly enjoined it upon me. For any person to have been so marked out in those days, was enough to bring on political opposition and destruction of property; all of which took place with respect to Mr. Edwards, though he never harbored the thought of doing the least injury to the United States, by abetting the cause of our enemies.
"A good report our departed brother also had. The numerous letters brought with him across the Atlantic, from the Reverend Dr. John Gill and others, reported handsome things of him; and so did, in return, the letters that went from America to the then parent country.
"Evil reports also fell to his share; but most of these were false reports, and therefore he gave credit for them as a species of persecution. And even the title of deceiver did not escape him. Often has he been told that he was an Arminian, though he professed to be a Calvinist; that he was a Universalist in disguise, etc. Yet he was true to his principles. These may be seen in our confession of faith, agreeing with that republished by the Baptist churches assembled at London, in the year 1689. He seldom meddled with the five polemical points; but when he did, he always avoided abusive language. The charge of Universalism brought against him was not altogether groundless; for though he was not a Universalist himself, he professed a great regard for many who were, and he would sometimes take their part against violent opposers, in order to inculcate moderation.
"Mr. Edwards was born in Trevethin parish, Monmouthshire, in the principality of Wales, on May 9th, 1722, old style; and had his grammar learning in the same parish, at a village called Trosnat; afterwards he was placed in the Baptist seminary at Bristol, in Old-England, at the time the presidents chair was filled by the Reverend Mr. Foskett. He entered on the ministry in the sixteenth year of his age. After he had finished his academical studies, he went to Boston in Lincolnshire, where he continued seven years, preaching the gospel to a small congregation in that town. From Boston, he removed to Cork, in Ireland, where he was ordained, June 1, 1757, and resided nine years. From Cork he returned to Great-Britain, and preached about twelve months at Rye, in Sussex. While at Rye, the Reverend Dr. Gill,* and other London ministers, in pursuance of letters which they received from this church (Philadelphia) urged him to pay you a visit. He complied, took his passage for America, arrived here May 23, 1761, and shortly afterwards became your pastor. He had the oversight of this church for many years; voluntarily resigned his office, when he found the cause, which was so near and dear to his heart, sinking under his hands; but continued preaching to the people, till they obtained another minister, the person who now addresses you, in the procuring of whom he was not inactive. [* It is said, that the church in Philadelphia sent to Dr. Gill of London to assist them in obtaining a pastor; but that they required so many accomplishments to be united in him, that the Dr. wrote them back, that he did not know as he could find a man in England who would answer their description; informing them, at the same time, that Mr. Morgan Edwards, who was then preaching in Rye, in the county of Sussex, came the nearest of any one who could be obtained.]
"After this, Mr. Edwards purchased a plantation in Newark, New-Castle county, State of Delaware, and moved thither with his family in the year 1772; he continued preaching the word of life and salvation in a number of vacant churches, till the commencement of the American war. He then desisted, and remained silent, till after the termination of our revolutionary troubles, and a consequent reconciliation with this church. He then occasionally read lectures in divinity in this city, and other parts of Pennsylvania; also in New Jersey, Delaware, and New-England; but for very particular and affecting reasons could never be prevailed upon to resume the sacred character of a minister. [The delicate circumstances in which Dr. Rogers was placed, at the time he delivered this discourse, was probably the reason why he was not more explicit on the subject here referred to. It is said that Mr. Edwards, in the midst of his troubles, was guilty, in a few instances at least, of using intemperately an antidote, too often resorted to in the time of trouble [apparently referring to liquor]. And as he had always maintained the sentiment, that it was improper for a minister of the gospel, after what may be called a capital fall, ever again to resume his minsterial office, he, for the remainder of his days, carried his belief into practical operation. It is painful to have occasion to relate an affair, so much against the reputation of a man so good and great as Mr. Edwards, his slips and mistakes notwithstanding: but it is hoped the Baptists generally will profit by the unpleasant story; and that those ministers, (and some it must be acknowledged there are) who are so unhappy as to be left to similar falls, would imitate his example, instead of crowding themselves forward, with their bespattered garments, to the grief of their brethren, and to the injury of the cause which they endeavor to promote. A preacher, whose reputation is sullied, either by women or wine, (his greatest foes) is like a broken looking-glass. which may be mended, it is true, so as to do its former service; but it will always be a broken thing.]
"Our worthy friend departed this life, at Pencader, New-Castle county, Delaware State, on Wednesday the 28th of January, 1795, in the 73d year of his age; and was buried, agreeable to his own desire, in the aisle of this meeting-house, with his first wife and their children; her maiden name was Mary Nunn, originally of Cork, in Ireland, by whom he had several children, all of whom are dead, excepting two sons, William and Joshua; the first, if alive, is a military officer in the British service; the other is now present with us, paying this last public tribute of filial affection to the memory of a fond and pious parent. Mr. Edwardss second wife was a Mrs. Singleton, of the State of Delaware, who is also dead, by whom he had no issue.
"Several of Mr. Edwardss pieces have appeared in print, viz. 1. A Farewell Discourse, delivered at the Baptist meeting-house in Rye, Feb. 8, 1761, on Acts 20:25,26. And now, behold, I know that ye all, among whom I have gone preaching the kingdom of God, shall see my face no more: wherefore, I take you to record this day, that I am pure from the blood of all men. This passed through two editions, 8vo. 2d. A Sermon preached in the College of Philadelphia, at the ordination of the Reverend Samuel Jones, (now D.D.) with a narrative of the manner in which the ordination was conducted, 8vo. 3d. The Customs of Primitive Churches, or a set of Propositions relative to the Name, Materials, Constitution, Powers, Officers, Ordinances, etc. of a Church; to which are added, their proofs from Scripture, and historical narratives of the manner in which most of them have been reduced to practice, 4th. This book was intended for the Philadelphia Association, in hopes they would have improved on the plan, so that their joint productions might have introduced a full and unexceptionable treatise of church discipline. 4th. A New-Years Gift; a Sermon preached in this house, Jan. 1, 1770, from these words, This year thou shalt die; which passed through four editions. What gave rise to this discourse will probably be recollected for many years to come.* 5th. Materials towards a History of the Baptists in Pennsylvania, both British and German, distinguished into First-day, Keithian, Seventh-day, Tunker, and Rogerene Baptists, 12mo. 1792. The motto of both volumes is, Lo! a people that dwell alone, and shall not be reckoned among the nations. 7th. A Treatise on the Millennium. 8th. A Treatise on the New Heaven and New Earth: this was reprinted in London. 9th. Res Sacra, a Translation from the Latin. The subject of this piece is an enumeration of all the acts of public worship, which the New-Testament styles offerings and sacrifices; among which, giving money for religious uses is one; and therefore, according to Mr. Edwardss opinion, is to be done in the places of public worship, and with equal devotion.
[* "It has often been said, that when great men err, they err egregiously. So did Mr. Edwards in the instance to which his biographer here refers. Led by a mere foolish impulse, and not by Scripture, the good man persuaded himself, that he should die on a certain day, and accordingly preached his own funeral sermon; but the event did not answer to the prediction: he could not die for his life. Wisdom was learnt from folly, and many said, we have the Scripture to walk by; a more sure word than voices, new revelations and impulses, to which we do well to take heed, as to a light that shineth in a dark place. This was a teaching lesson. The late excellent Mr. George Whitefield was, in his earlier days, under a similar delusion. His wife was with child; he conjectured she would bring forth a son; she did -- they called his name John; in all this there was no harm; but Mr. Whitefield believed that the child was not only to be continued to him, but to be a preacher of the everlasting gospel. Satan was permitted, says he, to give me some wrong impressions, whereby, as I now find, I misapplied several texts of Scripture. About a week after the birth of the child, his father baptized him in the Tabernacle. Thousands went away big with hopes, that the child would hereafter be employed in the work of the ministry, and Mr. Whitefield as much so as any of them; but little John died when he was about four months old, without being great in the sight of the Lord, as his father had promised himself. This mistake was over-ruled in mercy, and the great and good man himself thus concludes the narrative of this affair, (Letter 547th, vol. 2d of his works:) I hope what happened before his birth, and since at his death, has taught me such lessons, as, if duly improved, may render his mistaken parent more sober minded, more experienced in Satans devices, and consequently more useful, in his future labors, to the church of God. How proper, that ministers and Christians should learn from these instances, to avoid all enthusiastic impulses, and be concerned to put Gods meaning on Gods word!" Rippons Register. I find that some of Mr. Edwardss friends are unwilling to admit that he intended the discourse above mentioned for his funeral sermon. But I have been assured by one of his most confidential friends, that the story is literally true, and that he did actually request one of the senior ministers in the Philadelphia Association to preach a sermon at his interment. Although Mr. Edwards lived twenty-five years after this event, yet he did actually die, at the time, in a figurative sense. And it is reported of him, that he said to a friend, some time after this unpleasant affair happened, that he was mistaken in his impulses; for he thought it was the man, and not the minister, that should die.]
"Besides what he gave to his intimate friends as tokens of personal regard, he has left behind him 42 volumes of sermons, 12 sermons to a volume, all written in a large print hand; also about a dozen volumes in quarto, on special subjects, in some of which he was respondent, and therefore they may not contain his own real sentiments. These, with many other things, unite to show that he was no idler.
"He used to recommend it to ministers to write their sermons at large, but not to read them in the pulpit; if he did, he advised the preacher to write a large, fair hand, and make himself so much master of his subject, that a glance might take in a whole page. Being a good classic, and a man of refinement, he was vexed with such discourses from the pulpit as deserved no attention, and much more to hear barbarisms; because, as he used to say, They were arguments either of vanity or indolence, or both; for an American, with an English grammar in his hand, a learned friend at his elbow, and close application for six months, might make himself master of his mother tongue.
"The Baptist churches are much indebted to Mr. Edwards. They will long remember the time and talents he devoted to their best interests both in Europe and America. Very far was he from a selfish person. When the arrears of his salary, as pastor of this church, amounted to upwards of 372 pounds, and he was put in possession of a house, by the church, till the principal and interest should be paid, he resigned the house, and relinquished a great part of the debt, lest the church should be distressed.
"The College of Rhode-Island is also greatly beholden to him for his vigorous exertions at home and abroad, in raising money for that institution, and for his particular activity in procuring its charter. This he deemed the greatest service he ever did for the honor of the Baptist name. As one of its first sons, I cheerfully make this public testimony of his laudable and well-timed zeal.
"In the first volume of his Materials, he proposed a plan for uniting all the Baptists on the continent in one body politic, by having the Association of Philadelphia (the center) incorporated by charter, and by taking one delegate out of each Association into the corporation; but finding this impracticable at that time, he visited the churches from New-Hampshire to Georgia, gathering materials towards the history of the whole. Permit me to add, that this plan of union, as yet, has not succeeded.
"Mr. Edwards was the moving cause of having the minutes of the Philadelphia Association printed, which he could not bring to bear for some years; and therefore, at his own expense, he printed tables, exhibiting the original and annual state of the associating churches.
"There was nothing uncommon in Mr. Edwardss person; but he possessed an original genius. By his travels in England, Ireland and America, commixing with all sorts of people, and by close application to reading, he had attained a remarkable ease of behavior in company, and was furnished with something pleasant or informing to say on all occasions. His Greek Testament was his favourite companion, of which he was a complete master; his Hebrew Bible next, but he was not so well versed in the Hebrew as in the Greek language; however, he knew so much of both as authorized him to say, as he often did, that the Greek and Hebrew are the two eyes of a minister, and the translations are but commentaries; because they vary in sense as commentators do. He preferred the ancient British version above any other version that he had read; observing that the idioms of the Welsh fitted those of the Hebrew and Greek, like hand and glove.
"Our aged and respectable friend is gone the way of all the earth; but he lived to a good old age, and with the utmost composure closed his eyes on all the things of time. Though he is gone, this is not gone with him; it remains with us, that the Baptist interest was ever uppermost with him, and that he labored more to promote it, than to promote his own; and this he did, because he believed it to be the interest of Christ above any in Christendom. His becoming a Baptist was the effect of previous examination and conviction, having been brought up in the Episcopal church, for which church he retained a particular regard during his whole life."
BENJAMIN FOSTER (1750-1798)
Benjamin Foster, D. D. late pastor of the first Baptist church in the city of New-York, descended from respectable parents of the Congregational church, and was born at Danvers, in the county of Essex, Massachusetts, June 12, 1750.
Agreeably to the custom of his native State, he received the early part of his education at the town school; and as he evinced, from his tender years, a remarkably devout and pious disposition, his parents devoted his whole time to academical pursuits in that seminary, in order to fit him for the University, where they intended to fix him, as soon as his age would admit of his removal from under their immediate care. At the age of eighteen, he was placed at Yale College, in Connecticut, at that time under the direction of the learned and pious President Dagget, where he soon distinguished himself, no less by his religious and exemplary life, than by his assiduity and success in classical literature.
About this time, several tracts relative to the proper subjects of baptism, and also to the scriptural mode of administering that divine ordinance having made their appearance, the matter was considerably agitated in college, and fixed on as a proper subject for discussion. Mr. Foster was appointed to defend infant sprinkling. To prepare himself for the dispute, he used the utmost exertion: he endeavored to view the question in every light in which he could possibly place it: he carefully searched the Holy Scriptures, and examined the history of the church from the times of the Apostles. The result however was very different from what had been expected; for when the day appointed for discussion arrived, he was so far from being prepared to defend infant sprinkling, that, to the great astonishment of the officers of the college, he avowed himself a decided convert to the doctrine, that only those who profess faith in Christ are the subjects, and that immersion only is the mode of Christian baptism; and of which he continued, ever after, a steady, zealous and powerful advocate.
His mind was impressed with serious concern at an early period, but he had nearly arrived at manhood before he obtained a satisfactory evidence of his having passed from death unto life. While a youth, his temptations to blaspheme were often so strong, that, as he related to some pious friends, he has laid fast hold of his lips, to prevent himself from sinning against his Creator.
He graduated about the year 1772, soon after which he was baptized, and joined the church in Boston, of which Samuel Stillman, D. D. was pastor, under whose fostering care he applied himself to the study of divinity, and took upon himself the charge of the Baptist church in Leicester, Massachusetts, over which he was the same year regularly ordained as pastor. During his residence in that place, he published a tract, entitled, "The Washing of Regeneration, or the Divine Rite of Immersion," in answer to a treatise on the subject of baptism, written by the Reverend Mr. Fish. And soon after he published his "Primitive Baptism defended, in a letter to the Reverend Mr. John Cleaveland;" in both of which he discovered considerable erudition, great depth of argument, and much Christian charity. After having continued at Leicester for several years, his connection with that church was dissolved, and he preached a short time in his native town of Danvers; but as neither Danvers nor Leicester afforded him the use of such books as were necessary for a person of his studious turn, he accepted of an invitation to take upon him the pastoral care of a church in Newport, Rhode-Island, where he soon had the satisfaction to find, that his sphere of usefulness was considerably enlarged, and his means of study greatly improved.
On an invitation from the first Baptist church in New-York, he paid them a visit in 1788, and after having preached there for a short time, received an unanimous call to settle amongst them as their pastor. Upon his return to Newport, he consulted with his church, who, though highly pleased with the eminent services of their learned and faithful teacher, were unwilling to throw any obstacle in the way, which might impede his removal to a place, where his ministerial labors might still be more extensively useful. He therefore accepted the call to New-York; and having taken upon him the pastoral charge of that church in the autumn of the same year, continued in that station till the time of his death.
In September 1792, the degree of D. D. was conferred upon him by the college of Rhode-Island, in consequence of a learned publication of his, entitled, "A Dissertation on the seventy weeks of Daniel; the particular and exact fulfillment of which prophecy is considered and proved."
From the time Dr. Foster set out as a gospel minister, he was uniformly assiduous in the discharge of all the duties of his office; nor did his zeal in the service of his Master abate, as he advanced in life; for during his last twelve or fourteen years, it was his constant practice to preach from four to six sermons every week. But the yellow fever, which committed so great havoc in New-York, during the autumn of 1798, put a period to the usefulness of this worthy man. This dreadful malady had begun to prevail, and several of his friends had sunk under its malignity. In their last illness, Dr. Foster was frequent in his visits, when he prayed with them and administered the soothing consolations of religion. As he was one of those whom no appearance of danger could intimidate from persevering in what he considered to be the path of duty, he was not unwilling to visit those scenes of affliction, from which, at that time, many of the best of men shrunk back with terror. He was, however, seized with the disorder, and after an illness of a very few days, expired, August 26, 1798, to the great and almost irreparable loss of his church, aged 49 years.
Dr. Foster, as a scholar, particularly in the Greek, Hebrew and Chaldean languages, has left few superiors. As a divine, he was strictly Calvinistic, and full on the doctrine of salvation by free grace. As a preacher, he was indefatigable. In private life, he was innocent as a child and harmless as a dove, fulfilling all the duties of life with the greatest punctuality. The following inscription on a handsome marble over his grave, in the Baptist burying-ground in New-York, written by an eminent Presbyterian clergyman of that city, is an encomium justly due to his memory: "As a scholar and divine he excelled; as a preacher he was eminent; as a Christian he shone conspicuously; in his piety he was fervent; the church was comforted by his life, and it now laments his death."
Dr. Foster was twice married, and in both instances was blest with a pious and excellent companion. His first wife, who was Elizabeth Green, daughter of Reverend Thomas Green of Leicester, died August 19, 1793; and his second was Martha, daughter of Mr. James Bingham of New-York, whom he survived but a very short time. She died July 27, 1798.
DANIEL FRISTOE (1739-1774)
Daniel Fristoe was born at Chappawomsick, Stafford county, Virginia, December 7, 1739. He was bred an Episcopalian, but embraced the Baptist sentiments soon after they began to prevail in Virginia, and was baptized by his spiritual father, David Thomas. When young, he received a liberal English education, and though fond of fashionable amusements, was not addicted to the grosser vices of the times.
His conversion was brought about on this wise. When about 23 years of age, his curiosity led him to go a considerable distance to hear a Baptist preacher, whose name is not known. While at the meeting, his horse strayed away, which obliged him to tarry all night at the place. In the course of the evening, many came in, who had lately been converted, and who, by entering freely into religious conversation, brought strange things to his ears, and a wakened his attention to eternal things. He returned home with much seriousness and solicitude, and after laboring a while under great distress of mind, was brought into the liberty of the gospel. He now began exhorting, but was soon called by his brethren to the ministry. His course was short but rapid, and the success which attended his labors, appears to have been unusually great. About the year 1774, he was sent as a messenger from the Ketockton to the Philadelphia Association. There he caught the small-pox, and after a short tour of preaching in New-Jersey, returned to Philadelphia, and began his journey homeward, but was laid by at Marcus-Hook, a small town, a few miles below the city, where he died in the 35th year of his age. His remains were carried back to Philadelphia, and buried in the Baptist ground.
The following extract from Mr. Fristoes journal, which has been preserved by Mr. Edwards, contains the most interesting account of his ministry, which I have been able to obtain; for his biography has been almost altogether neglected.
JOHN GANO (1727-1804)
John Gano was one of the most eminent ministers in his day; in point of talents he was exceeded by few, and as an itinerant he was inferior to none, who ever traveled the United States, unless it were the renowned Whitefield. He was born at Hopewell, in New-Jersey, July 22, 1727, was converted soon after he arrived at manhood, and was ordained in the place of his nativity, in 1754. His progenitors, on his fathers side, were from France, on his mothers from England. His great-grandfather, Francis Gano, fled from Guernsey, in the time of a bloody persecution; one of his neighbours had been martyred in the day, and in the evening he was fixed on as the victim for the next day; information of which he received in the dead of night. In this perilous situation he made all haste to escape the sanguinary storm which hung over his head: he chartered a vessel, removed his family on board, and in the morning was out of sight of the harbour. On his arrival in America, he settled in New-Rochelle, a few miles above the city of New-York, where he lived to the age of a hundred and three. Of the number or names of the family of this religious refugee, we know no more, than that he had one son named Stephen, who married Ann Walton, by whom he had many children, some of whom died young; those who lived to marry, were Daniel, Francis, James, John, Lewis, Isaac, and three daughters, Sarah, Catharine, and Susannah; the last of whom lived to the age of eighty-seven. Daniel married Sarah Britton of Staten-Island, near the city of New-York, by whom he had Daniel, Jane, Stephen, Susannah, John, Nathaniel, David, and Sarah. The two first were born on Staten-Island, the others at Hopewell, in New Jersey. Some of these died young; but a number of them founded families, and their posterity is scattered in many parts of America; most of them, however, are in the middle and western States.
The subject of this memoir had the happiness of being born of parents eminent for piety, by whom he was early taught the necessity of religion, and a correct view of the gospel system. His maternal grandmother was about seventy-six years a pious member of a Baptist church; she lived to the age of ninety-six. His mother was of the same persuasion, but his father was a Presbyterian. But every thing attending his making a religious profession among the Baptists, was conducted with prudence on his part, and with tenderness on that of his friends. He was at first much inclined to join the Presbyterians, but having some scruples on the subject of infant baptism, he determined to give it a thorough investigation. He not only read books, but had frequent conversation with Presbyterian friends; but the more he studied the Pedobaptist arguments, the less he was inclined to believe them. The famous Mr. Tennant [it is not known by the writer whether William or Gilbert is the minister intended, but it is probable it was the latter], and some other Presbyterian ministers, were among the circle of his Pedobaptist friends. With Mr. Tennant he conversed often and freely; at the close of a lengthy discussion of the subject of baptism, that candid divine addressed him in the following manner: "Dear young man, if the devil cannot destroy your soul, he will endeavor to destroy your comfort and usefulness; and therefore do not be always doubting in this matter. If you cannot think as I do, think for yourself." After a suspense of some time, he became firmly established in those principles, which he through life maintained with so much ability and moderation. Having resolved to be buried in baptism on a profession of his faith, he made his father acquainted with his design, who treated him with much indulgence and tenderness. He stated that what he did for him in his infancy, he then thought was right, and the discharge of an incumbent duty, but if he felt conscientious in his present undertaking, he had his full and free consent. He moreover proposed that when he should offer himself to the Baptist church, he would go with him and give his consent there, and answer any inquiries they might wish to make respecting his life, etc. and also that he would go and see him baptized. All these promises his catholic father fulfilled.
Soon after Mr. Gano was joined to the Hopewell church, his mind was led to the ministry, but with many anxieties and fears. He was so much absorbed in his thoughts of the great work, that he was often lost to every other object. One morning after he began ploughing in his field, this passage, "Warn the people, or their blood will I require at your hands," came with such weight upon his mind, that he drove on until 11 oclock, utterly insensible of his employment. When he came to himself he found he was wet through with the rain, his horses were excessively fatigued, and the labor he had performed was astonishingly great.
After becoming satisfied that preaching would be his employment, he applied himself with much assiduity to studies preparatory for it, which he continued, with some interruptions however, for two or three years. Before he had been approbated to preach, he took a journey into Virginia, with Messrs. Miller and Thomas, two eminent ministers of that day, who had been appointed by the Philadelphia Association to go and assist in settling some difficulties in two infant churches there, which had applied to them for help. Some account of this journey has been given in the first part of the history of the Baptists in Virginia. Before Mr. Gano had returned home, a report had reached Hopewell, that he had got to preaching in Virginia; and some of his brethren were tried with him, for engaging in the ministry without the approbation of the church. A meeting was called on his arrival, and he was arraigned as being guilty of disorder. He wished them to exhibit their proofs. They informed him that they had none, only what travellers from Virginia had reported, but desired that he would give them a relation of the matter. He replied that it was the first time he had known the accused called on to give evidence against himself, but he was willing, notwithstanding, to give them an impartial relation of his conduct, which he did. The church then asked him what he thought of his proceedings, and whether he did not think he had been disorderly. He replied again, that he considered this question more extraordinary than the other. He had not only given evidence in his own case which would operate against him, but he was now called upon to adjudge himself guilty. This is a specimen of that ingenuity and presence of mind, which shone so conspicuously through all the transactions of this sagacious character. He at length informed the church that he did not mean to act disorderly, nor contrary to their wishes; that his conscience acquitted him for what he had done; that he had no disposition to repent his having sounded the gospel to perishing souls in Virginia, whose importunities to hear it he could not resist; that the case was extraordinary, and would not probably happen again; if it should, he should probably do again as he had already done. The church now appointed him a time to preach, which he did to their acceptance; and after a thorough examination of his gifts and call, he was regularly set apart for the ministry.
Soon after this, he went to reside at Morristown; and calls for preaching pressed upon him so much, that his studies, in which he had considerably advanced, were in a great measure relinquished.
At the next meeting of the Philadelphia Association, that body was again petitioned to appoint some one to travel to the south. Messengers had also come on from Virginia, for the purpose of procuring a preacher to labor and administer ordinances among them. As no ordained minister could conveniently go, Mr. Gano was urged to accept ordination, and undertake the journey. He pleaded against it his youth and inexperience; but the messengers from Virginia, and his brethren at home, united their importunities, and he engaged in the mission. He was ordained in May 1754, and set out in a short time after. In this journey he went as far as Charleston, South-Carolina, and traveled extensively throughout the southern States. Some extracts from his journal will give the reader some view of the turn of the man, and of the manner in which he prosecuted his mission. His journal, which was printed in his life, has but few dates, but it will be understood that the following scenes transpired in the summer and autumn of 1754.
In the back parts of Virginia, this zealous missionary, while conversing with some people where he lodged, in an affectionate manner, respecting their religious concerns, overheard one of the company say to another, "This man talks like one of the Joness!" On inquiring who the Joness were, he was informed that they were distracted people, who did nothing but pray and talk about Jesus Christ; and that they lived between twenty and thirty miles distant on his route. "I determined," said he," to make it my next days ride, and see my own likeness." When he arrived at the house, he found there a plain obscure family, which had formerly lived in a very careless manner, but a number of them had lately been changed by grace, and were much engaged in devotional exercises. As he entered the house, he saw the father of the family lying before the fire, groaning with rheumatic pains. He inquired how he did? "O," said he, "I am in great distress." "I am glad of it," replied the stranger. The old gentleman, astonished at this singular reply, raised himself up, and inquired what he meant? "Whom the Lord loveth he chasteneth, and scourgeth every son whom he receiveth," answered Mr. Gano. From this they proceeded to religious conversation, and he soon found this pious family, whom the world accounted mad, had been taught the words of truth and soberness. They asked him many questions, and were much pleased to find one, who was acquainted with the things they had experienced.
From this place he proceeded on towards North-Carolina, having a young man with him, who chose to bear him company on his way. "We arrived at a house just at dusk, the master of which gave us liberty to tarry. After we had conveyed our things into the house, he asked me if I was a trader; which I answered in the affirmative. He asked me if I found it to answer; to which I answered, "Not so well as I could wish." He replied, "Probably the goods did not suit." I told him, "No one had complained of that." He said I held them too high. I answered," Any one might have them below their own price." He said he would trade on these terms; which, I said, I would cheerfully comply with. I then asked him, "If gold tried in the fire, yea, that which was better than the fine gold, wine and milk, durable riches and righteousness, without money and without price, would not suit him?" "O," said he, "I believe you are a minister." I told him I was, and had a right to proclaim free grace wherever I went. This laid the foundation for the evenings conversation; and I must acknowledge his kindness, though he was not very desirous of trading, after he discovered who I was."
Our itinerant continued southward until he arrived at Charleston; and there, and in its vicinity, he preached to good acceptance. His account of his first sermon for Mr. Hart, in Charleston, is as follows: "When I arose to speak, the sight of so brilliant an audience, among whom were twelve ministers, and one of whom was Mr. Whitefield, for a moment, brought the fear of man upon me; but blessed be the Lord, I was soon relieved from this embarrassment; the thought passed my mind, I had none to fear and obey, but the Lord."
On his return from Charleston to the northward, he visited an island where he was informed there never had been but two sermons preached. The people soon collected together, and he preached to them from these words, Behold, the third time I am ready to come to you, and I will not be burdensome to you.
When he arrived at Tar River, in North-Carolina, he found a report had gone forth, that some of the principal men in the county had agreed, that if he came within their reach, they would apprehend him as a spy; for by his name he was judged to be a Frenchman, and this was in the time of the French war. Some of these people lived on the road he was to travel the next day. His friends urged him to take a different route; but he replied that God had so far conducted him on his way in safety, and he should trust him for the future. When he got near the place where the principal men, who had threatened him lived, he was advised to go through it as secretly as possible; but that by no means accorded with his views: he replied, he should stop and refresh himself in the place. He stopped at one of the most publick houses, and asked the landlord if he thought the people would come out to hear a sermon on a week day. He informed him he thought they would; but observed, that on the next Monday, there was to be a general muster for that county. He therefore concluded to defer the meeting till that time, and requested the landlord to inform the Colonel of the regiment, (who, he had learnt, was one of those who had threatened him) of his name, etc. and desire of him the favor of preaching a short sermon before military duty. The landlord promised to comply with his request. "On Monday I had twenty miles to ride to the muster, and by 10 oclock there was a numerous crowd of men and women; they had erected a stage in the woods for me, and I preached from Pauls Christian armor. They all paid the most profound attention, except one man who behaved amiss. I spoke and told him, I was ashamed to see a soldier so awkward in duty, and wondered his officer could bear with him. The Colonel, as I afterwards understood, brought him to order. After service, I desired a person to inform the commander that I wanted to speak with him. He immediately came, and I told him, that although I professed loyalty to King George, and did not wish to infringe upon the laudable design of the day, yet, I thought, the King of kings ought to be served first; and I presumed what I had said did not tend to make them worse soldiers, but better Christians. He complaisantly thanked me, and said, if I could wait, he would make the exercise as short as possible, and give an opportunity for another sermon, for which he should be much obliged to me. I told him I had an appointment some miles off to preach the next day. Thus ended my chastisement, and the fears of my friends."
"From hence I returned by the way of Ketockton, on Blu-Ridge, where the inhabitants are scattered. On my road, I observed a thunder-storm arising, and rode speedily for the first house. When I arrived, the man came running into the house, and seeing me, appeared much alarmed; there being at that time great demands for men and horses for Braddocks army. He said to me, "Sir, are you a press-master?" I told him I was. "But," said he, "you do not take married men?" I told him surely I did; and that the Master I wished him to serve, was good, his character unimpeachable, the wages great, and that it would be for the benefit of his wife and children, if he enlisted. He made many excuses, but I endeavored to answer them, and begged him to turn out a volunteer in the service of Christ. This calmed his fears, and I left him, and proceeded on my way to Ketockton, where I spent some time, and baptized Mr. Hail."
From Ketockton, Mr. Gano proceeded immediately homeward. Soon after his arrival, he was married to Sarah, daughter of John Stites, Esq. mayor of Elizabeth-Town, in New Jersey, by whom he had many children, most of whom are yet living. Two sons and two daughters are in Kentucky, one son is in Ohio, one daughter is at Hillsdale, New-York, and his second son Stephen is pastor of the church in Providence, Rhode-lsland. Mrs. Gano was sister to Mrs. Manning, the wife of the President, who is yet living at Providence.
It was not long after Mr. Gano had returned from this journey, before he was again induced, by repeated solicitations, to set out on another, to the southward, in which he was gone about eight months, and was happy to find, in many places, the fruits of his labors in his former visits. Soon after he returned from this excursion, he was invited by an infant church in North-Carolina, which he had raised up in a place called the Jersey Settlement, to remove and become its pastor. Messengers came to Morristown, a distance of about eight hundred miles, for the purpose of soliciting that church to give him up. They at first refused, but afterwards concluded to leave the matter to his own choice. He therefore concluded to go; but at the same time informed the Morristown church, it was not for want of attachment to them. The church in North-Carolina, he considered, was wholly destitute, and there was besides a wide field for gospel labor. At the Jersey Settlement he continued about two years; the church became large, and his labors were abundantly useful throughout a wide and destitute region. But a war breaking out with the Cherokee Indians, he was obliged to leave the country, and returned to New-Jersey. About this time the foundation for the first church in New-York was laid by Mr. Miller of Scotch Plains; the church in Philadelphia had also been lately deprived of its pastor, and continued in that office about twenty-five years, excepting the time he was obliged to be absent on account of the war. Some account of his ministry here, and of the progress of the church while under his care, may be found in its history under the head of New-York.
During most of the revolutionary war, Mr. Gano was a chaplain in the army; and by his counsels and prayers, encouraged the American hosts in their struggles for freedom from the dominion of a foreign, oppressive yoke.
On the return of peace, he returned to his pastoral station, and began to collect the church which had been scattered to many different places. Out of upwards of two hundred members, of which it consisted at the time of its dispersion, he collected at first but thirty-seven; but his congregation soon became large, others of the scattered flock came in, a revival commenced, which prevailed extensively, and at one communion season, near forty young persons were added to their number. In this prosperous manner this successful minister recommenced his labors in New-York, and every thing appeared promising even to the time he projected his removal to Kentucky. This removal was as unexpected to the church, as it was surprising to his friends. His reasons for it are thus stated by himself "One William Wood, a Baptist minister, came from Kentucky, and give a very exalted character of the state of it. He made several encouraging proposals to me to go there, said there was a prospect of usefulness in the ministry, the necessity of an old experienced minister to take care of a young church there, and flattering temporal prospects for the support of my family. For those reasons I concluded to remove. Besides, I was considerably in debt, and saw no way of being released, but by selling my house and lot. This I concluded would clear me, and enable me to purchase wagons and horses to carry me to Kentucky. I called a church-meeting, and informed them of my intention. They treated it as a chimera, and thought they could stop me by raising my salary. They, with all possible coolness, left me to determine for myself. I immediately determined to go, and desired them to look out for a supply. This aroused them, and they very affectionately urged me to tarry. I told them, if they had desired me to stay before I had put it out of my own power, I should have given it up." [This with the preceding extracts, is made from Ganos Life, a 12mo. vol. of 150 pages.]
Having resolved on removing, he sold his estate, commenced his journey, and on June 17, 1787, landed at Limestone, and immediately repaired to Washington, where he tarried a while; he then went to Lexington, and finally settled near Frankfort, where he died in 1804, in the 78th year of his age. The labors of this aged minister were owned of God for good in Kentucky; but there is reason to believe, that neither his usefulness nor worldly comforts were so great as he expected. His changes were frequent, and some of them peculiarly trying. The encouraging proposals made by Mr. Wood, appear not to have been released. His wife was first made a cripple by a fall from a horse, and soon after removed from him by death.
By most of the Kentucky brethren he was honored and esteemed, and by all of them his death was much lamented. In 1793, he made a visit to North-Carolina, where he married, for his second wife, the widow of Captain Thomas Bryant, and daughter of Colonel Jonathan Hunt, formerly of New-Jersey, one of his old neighbours, and unchanging friends. In her he found an amiable help-meet for his declining years. She had been baptized by his son Stephen, three years before, that is, in 1790, when they visited North-Carolina together. She still survives him, and resides at his late dwelling, near Frankfort, Kentucky. While he was waiting for this new companion to arrange her affairs for a removal, he visited Charleston, South-Carolina, and also as far northward as his son Stephens, in Providence.
Mr. Gano, though now somewhat impaired, by age, was still actively engaged in his Masters service; but in 1798, he had the misfortune to fall from a horse, and fractured his shoulder-blade, which deprived him of the use of one of his arms for some time. As he was recovering from this affliction, he was very suddenly seized in his bed, with a paralytic shock, which rendered him almost speechless for nearly a year. From this shock he never fully recovered; but his speech was restored, and he had the use of his limbs so far, that he was able to be carried out to meetings, and preached frequently, especially in the time of the great revival, in an astonishing manner. While the Arian affair, mentioned in the history of the Elkhorn Association, was agitating the minds of many of the Kentucky brethren, this able advocate for gospel truth was carried to Lexington, assisted into the pulpit, where he preached a masterly discourse in defense of the proper Deity of the Savior, which was thought to have had a considerable influence in checking the prevalence of that erroneous system, which many were previously inclined to embrace.
We shall now take a review of the history of this distinguished man, and exhibit some of those peculiar traits in his character, which qualified him for such abundant usefulness, and rendered him so famous amongst the American Baptists. Mr. Gano was peculiarly qualified for an itinerant preacher. He possessed, to a singular degree, the wisdom of the serpent, with the harmlessness of the dove. He had a sagacity and quickness of perception, which but few men possess; he had also a happy facility in improving every passing occurrence to some useful purpose. He could abash and confound the opposer, without exciting his resentment; and administer reproof and instruction where others would be embarrassed or silent. His memory was retentive; his judgement was good; his wit was sprightly, and always at command; his zeal was ardent, but well regulated; his courage undaunted; his knowledge of men was extensive: and to all these accomplishments were added a heart glowing with love to God and men, and a character fair and unimpeachable.
It is said that Herveys servant declared his master could make a sermon out of a pair of tongs; and probably not much inferior to his, were the inventive powers of Mr. Gano. He did not, however, descend to the absurd custom adopted by some, of choosing adverbs and prepositions for his texts; but he had a happy talent of selecting passages of Scripture descriptive of peculiar circumstances and passing events. We have a specimen of this in his preaching on the island in South-Carolina. His friends relate many instances of the same kind, a few only of which we shall notice. In one of his journies at the southward, he traveled in company with a young preacher, who has since become an eminent character in that region. They took different routes in the day, but were to meet in the evening, and Mr. Gano was to preach. The meeting was at a private house, and he did not arrive at the place until late. The young man with reluctance began the meeting, and was in prayer when he came in. He entered the assembly without being discovered, and took his place among the hearers; and just as it was time to commence the sermon, he arose and said with emphasis, I am come! Then with a common tone, "I am come, that they might have life, and that they might have it more abundantly," John 10:10, and immediately proceeded on in his discourse.
In going down the Ohio river, on his removal to Kentucky, he and his companions met with much trouble on their passage; one of his boats was overset, and some valuable things were lost. Soon after they landed in Kentucky, he preached from these words, "So they all got safe to land."
While in the army, he was informed by the General on Saturday that they should march the next Monday, but was requested not to mention the matter until after sermon the next day. This circumstance suggested to his mind these words, "Being ready to depart on the morrow," from which he preached, and as soon as he had done, the orders were given.
The funeral of General MDougal, a famous character in New-York, was appointed on a Lords-day at so early an hour, that there was but little time for the afternoon service. The people generally, out of respect to their illustrious citizen, were preparing to attend his funeral. Some congregations did not meet, but Mr. Ganos did; and he addressed them hastily from these words, "Brethren, the time is short." Having respect to the Generals death, he from this short passage, preached a short but well-adapted discourse, and dismissed the assembly soon enough to join the procession.
He had an art peculiar to himself of accommodating such passages to particular events. His inventive powers were adequate to forming profitable discourses from almost any passage of Scripture at the shortest notice, and through the whole of his ministry, he frequently indulged this inimitable faculty. The first sermon he preached after his son Stephen visited him in Kentucky, was from these words, "I am glad of the coming of Stephanas," etc.
Mr. Gano was personally known almost throughout the United States; and a multitude of anecdotes are told respecting him, a few only of which we shall be able to record.
In one of his journies at the southward, he called at a house and asked for some corn for his horse, which the landlord ordered his little son to carry. He then inquired if he was not a minister, and being answered in the affirmative, replied, "I have a child I want to get baptized; I have been waiting a long time for a priest to come along, and shall now wish to have it done." Mr. Gano gave him to understand that any service he could afford him, should be cheerfully granted. The boy stood staring at the priest, and neglected his errand. Mr. Gano mentioned about his horse again. "You son of a b -- h," said the father, "why dont you feed that horse, as I told you." The boy then did as he was bid, and his father began again to talk about his child. "What," said Mr. Gano, "do you mean to call it? That boy, I perceive, is named, Son of a b -- h." After this singular rebuke, nothing more was said about the christening of the child.
After preaching once in Virginia, in a place notoriously wicked, two young fellows, supposing he had levelled his censures against them, came up and dared him to fight. "That is not the way," said he, that I defend my sentiments; but if you choose it, I will fight you, either both at once, or one after the other; but as I have to preach again very soon, I shall wish to put it off till after the meeting;" to which they agreed. As soon as the meeting was closed, he called the presumptuous youths forward, and told them he was now ready to fight them. The eyes of all were fastened upon them; yet notwithstanding, they had the hardihood to present themselves for the combat. "If," said he, "I must fight you, I shall choose to do it in some more retired place, and not before all these people." With that he walked off, and bid the young men follow him. He then commenced the attack in the following manner: "Young gentlemen, you ought to be ashamed of your conduct. What reason have you to suppose that I had a particular reference to you? I am an entire stranger here, and know not the names nor characters of any. You have proved by your conduct, that you are guilty of the vices I have censured; and if you feel so much disturbed at my reproofs, how will you stand before the bar of God?" "I beg your pardon," said one; "I beg your pardon," said the other; "I am sorry." "If you are beat, gentlemen, we will go back;" and thus ended the battle.
While in the army, Mr. Gano had frequent opportunities of administering reproof in his skilful and forcible manner. One morning, as he was going to pray with the regiment, he passed by a group of officers, one of whom, (who had his back towards him) was uttering his profane expressions in a most rapid manner. The officers, one after another, gave him the usual salutation, "Good morning, Doctor," [the officers generally complimented Mr. Gano with this title] said the swearing Lieutenant. "Good morning, Sir," replied the chaplain;" you pray early this morning." "I beg your pardon, Sir." "O, I cannot pardon you; carry your case to your God."
One day he was standing near some soldiers who were disputing whose turn it was to cut some wood for the fire. One profanely said he would be d -- d if he would cut it. But he was soon after convinced that the task belonged to him, and took up the axe to perform it. Before he commenced, Mr. Gano stepped up to him, and said, "Give me the axe." "O no," replied the soldier, "the chaplain shant cut wood." "Yes," said he, "I must." "But why? " said the soldier. "The reason is, I just heard you say that you would be d -- d if you would cut it; and I had rather take the labor off your hands, than that you should be made miserable forever."
While this singular man resided in New-York, he was introduced to a young lady, as the only daughter of Esquire W -- . "Ah," replied he, "and I can tell a good match for her, and he is an only Son." The young lady understood his meaning: she was, not long after, united to this Son, and has, for about forty years, been all ornament to his cause.
In one of his journies, he was informed that there had been a revival of religion in a certain place, which lay on his route. He arrived there in the night, and called at a house, of which he had no previous knowledge. A woman came to the door, whom he addressed as follows: "I have understood, madam, that my Father has some children in this place; I wish to inquire where they live, that I may find lodgings tonight." "I hope," replied the woman, "I am one of your Fathers children; come in, dear Sir, and lodge here."
The following summary view of the character of our venerable Sire, was drawn in consequence of a particular request, by Dr. Richard Furman, of Charleston, South-Carolina, who was personally acquainted with him in different stages of his life.
"He was, in person, below the middle stature; and when young, of a slender form; but of a firm, vigorous constitution, well fitted for performing active services with ease, and for suffering labors and privations with constancy. In the more advanced stages of life his body tended to corpulency; but not to such a degree as to burden or render him inactive. His presence was manly, open, and engaging. His voice strong and commanding, yet agreeable, and capable of all those inflections, which are suited to express either the strong or tender emotions of an intelligent, feeling mind. In mental endowments and acquired abilities he appeared highly respectable, with clear conception and penetrating discernment, he formed, readily, a correct judgment of men and things. His acquaintance with the learned languages and science, did not commence till he arrived at manhood, and was obtained chiefly by private instruction, but under the direction of a clerical gentleman, well qualified for the office. To the refinements of learning he did not aspire; His chief object was such a competent acquaintance with its principles, as would enable him to apply them with advantage to purposes of general usefulness in religion, and to the most important interests of society; and to this he attained.
"His mind was formed for social intercourse, and for friendship. Such was his unaffected humility, candor, and good will to men, that few, if any, have enjoyed more satisfaction in the company of his friends, or have, in return, afforded them, by their conversation, a higher degree of pleasure and moral improvement.
"His passions were strong, and his sensibility could be easily excited; but so chastened and regulated were they by the meekness of wisdom, that he preserved great composure of spirit, and command of his words and actions, even in times of trial and provocation, when many, who yet might justly rank with the wise and good, would be thrown into a state of perturbation, and hurried into extravagance.
"As a minister of Christ, he shone like a star of the first magnitude in the American churches, and moved in a widely extended field of action. For this office God had endowed him with a large portion of grace, and with excellent gifts. He believed, and therefore spake. Having discerned the excellence of gospel truths, and the importance of eternal realities, he felt their power on his own soul, and accordingly he inculcated and urged them on the minds of his hearers with persuasive eloquence and force. He was not deficient in doctrinal discussion, or what rhetoricians style the demonstrative character of a discourse; but he excelled in the pathetic, in pungent, forcible addresses to the heart and conscience. The careless and irreverent were suddenly arrested, and stood awed before him; and the insensible were made to feel, while he asserted and maintained the honor of his God, explained the meaning of the divine law, showing its purity and justice; exposed the sinners guilt; proved him to be miserable, ruined, and inexcusable, and called him to unfeigned, immediate repentance. But he was not less a son of consolation to the mourning sinner, who lamented his offenses committed against God, who felt the plague of a corrupt heart, and longed for salvation; nor did he fail to speak a word of direction, support and comfort, in due season, to the tried, tempted believer. He knew how to publish the glad tidings of salvation in the Redeemers name, for the consolation of all who believed in him, or had discovered their need of his mediation and grace; and to him this was a delightful employment. Success attended his ministrations, and many owned him for their father in the gospel.
"The doctrines he embraced were those which are contained in the Baptist Confession of Faith, and are commonly styled Calvinistic. But he was of a liberal mind, and esteemed pious men of every denomination. While he maintained with consistent firmness, the doctrines which he believed to be the truths of God, he was modest in the judgment which he formed of his own opinion, and careful to avoid giving offense, or grieving any good man, who differed from him in sentiment. Hence, he was cordially esteemed and honored by the wise and good of all denominations. [All honorable testimony was borne to his ministerial abilities and service, by a respectable clergyman of the Episcopal church, who had made extensive observations on public characters. After going to hear him, perhaps at different times, while he was employed in the regular course of service in his own church, in the city of New-York, this clergyman noted in his journal, "That he thought Mr. Gano possessed the best pulpit talents of any man he had ever heard." This anecdote was received from the Reverend Dr. Bowen, of New-York, whose father was the clergyman referred to. Dr. Furmans Letter.]
"His attachment to his country as a citizen, was unshaken, in the times which tried mens souls; and as a chaplain in the army, for a term of years, while excluded from his church and home, he rendered it essential service. Preserving his moral dignity with the purity which becomes a gospel minister, he commanded respect from the officers; and by his condescension and kindness, won the affections of the soldiers, inspiring them by his example, with his own courage and firmness, while toiling with them through military scenes of hardship and danger.
"He lived to a good old age; served his generation according to the will of God; saw his posterity multiplying around him; his country independent, free and happy; the church of Christ, for which he felt and labored, advancing; and thus he closed his eyes in peace; his heart expanding with the sublime hope of immortality and heavenly bliss.
"Like John, the harbinger of our Redeemer, he was a burning and a shining light, and many rejoiced in his light. Resembling the sun, he arose in the church with morning brightness, advanced regularly to his station of meridian splendor, and then gently declined with mild effulgence, till he disappeared, without a cloud to intercept his rays, or obscure his glory."
OLIVER HART (1723-1795)
[The following biographical sketches of that excellent man who is the object of them, have been selected from two funeral sermons, which were preached soon after his decease; the one by Dr. Richard Furman, his successor in the pastoral care of the Baptist church, in Charleston (S.C.) and the other by Dr. William Rogers, of Philadelphia. Some assistance in the compilation has been derived from the History of the Charleston Association by Mr. Wood Furman.]
Oliver Hart was born of reputable parents, in Warminster township, Bucks county, Pennsylvania, July 5, 1723. His attention to religion, and conversion to God, were at an early period of his life; for he made a public profession of religion at Southampton, Pennsylvania, and was received a member of the church in that place in 1741, in the 18th year of his age; having been previously baptized by the Reverend Mr. Jenkin Jones. At that time, the power of religion was greatly displayed in various parts of this continent, under the ministry of those eminent servants of Christ, Reverend George Whitefield, of the Episcopal church, the Tennants, Edwards, and their associates of the Presbyterian and Congregational churches; and of the Reverend Abel Morgan, and others of the Baptist church. Several of these, Mr. Hart, at this time, used to hear; and has since professed to have received much benefit from their preaching, particularly from Mr. Whitefields.
Five years after making his public profession of religion, on the 20th of December, 1746, he was licensed to preach, by the church with which he first united; and on the 18th of October, 1749, was ordained to the great work of the gospel ministry.
The call for ministers in the southern States being great at that time, and the church at Charleston (S.C.) being destitute, he was induced, immediately after his ordination, to set out for that city, where he arrived early in December, on the very day the famous Mr. Chanler, pastor of the church at Ashley River, then the only ordained minister of the Baptist denomination in that part of the country, and who had preached part of his time for the church in Charleston, as a supply, was buried. The Charleston church, in her destitute situation, had made applications, both to Europe and the northern States, for a suitable minister; and one who had been described as such was actually expected: but the unexpected coming of Mr. Hart was considered as directed by a special providence; and so great was the satisfaction of the church, on hearing him, that he was immediately invited to take the pastoral charge of them; with which he was accordingly invested on the 16th of February following.
For thirty years from this period, he executed the office of pastor of that church, as a faithful, evangelic minister of Christ, passing through a variety of scenes both of joy and depression; but exhibiting, at all times, an uprightness and dignity, both of temper and conduct, becoming his religious and sacred character. His life was exemplary, and his usefulness conspicuous. But on the approach of the British fleet and army, to which Charleston was surrendered in 1780, being justly apprehensive of the consequences which resulted from the siege, and desiring to preserve his political liberty, with which he found his religious intimately connected, he retired to the northern States. There the attention of the Baptist church at Hopewell, in the State of New-Jersey, was soon attracted towards him, and in consequence of a pressing invitation from them, he became their pastor on the 16th of December the same year, and served them in that capacity, the last fifteen years of his valuable life.
For some years towards the latter part of his life, the infirmities of age, and several severe attacks of different diseases, had greatly reduced his bodily strength, and disqualified him for the constant performance of public duties; and on the 31st of December, 1795, in the 73d year of his age, he surrendered his soul into the hands of his God and Redeemer.
"In his person he was somewhat tall, well proportioned, and of a graceful appearance; of an active, vigorous constitution, before it had been impaired by close application to his studies, and by his abundant labors; his countenance was open and manly; his voice clear, harmonious and commanding; the powers of his mind were strong and capacious, and enriched by a fund of useful knowledge; his taste was elegant and refined. Though he had not enjoyed the advantages of a collegiate education, nor indeed much assistance from any personal instruction, such was his application, that by private study he obtained a considerable acquaintance with classical learning, and explored the fields of science; so that in the year 1769, the college of Rhode-Island, in honor to his literary merit, conferred on him the degree of master in the liberal arts.
"But as a Christian and Divine, his character was most conspicuous; no person who heard his pious, experimental discourses, or his affectionate, fervent addresses to God in prayer; who beheld the zeal and constancy he manifested in the public exercises of religion, or the disinterestedness, humility, benevolence, charity, devotion, and equanimity of temper he discovered on all occasions in the private walks of life, could for a moment doubt of his being not only truly, but eminently religious. He possessed in a large measure the moral and social virtues, and had a mind formed for friendship. In all his relative connections, as husband, father, brother, master, he acted with the greatest propriety, and was endeared to those who were connected with him in the tender ties.
"From a part of his diary now in my possession, it appears that he took more than ordinary pains to walk humbly and faithfully with God; to live under impressions of the love of Christ; to walk in the light of the divine presence; and to improve all his time and opportunities to the noblest purposes of religion and virtue.
"In his religious principles, he was a fixed Calvinist, and a consistent, liberal Baptist. The doctrines of free, efficacious grace, were precious to him; Christ Jesus, and him crucified, in the perfection of his righteousness, the merit of his death, the prevalence of his intercession, and efficacy of his grace, was the foundation of his hope, the source of his joy, and the delightful theme of his preaching.
"His sermons were peculiarly serious, containing a happy assemblage of doctrinal and practical truths, set in an engaging light, and enforced with convincing arguments. For the discussion of doctrinal truths, he was more especially eminent, to which also he was prepared, by an intimate acquaintance with the sacred Scriptures, and an extensive reading of the most valuable, both of ancient and modern authors. His eloquence, at least in the middle stages of life, was not of the most popular kind, but perspicuous, manly, and flowing; such as afforded pleasure to persons of true taste, and edification to the serious hearer.
"With these various qualifications for usefulness, he possessed an ardent desire to be as useful as possible; which cannot be better represented than in his own words, as recorded in the diary before referred to, and which comprehends a part of his life, when the power of divine grace was eminently displayed in this church. The article here selected was written just before that work of grace began, and exemplifies in him the pious Christian, as well as the faithful Divine.
"Monday, Aug. 5, 1754. I do this morning feel myself oppressed under a sense of my barrenness. Alas! what do I for God? I am, indeed, employed in his vineyard; but I fear to little purpose. I feel the want of the life and power of religion in my own heart: this causes such a languor in all my duties to God -- this makes me so poor an improver of time. Alas! I am frequently on my bed, to my shame, when I ought to be on my knees. Sometimes the sun appears in the horizon, and begins his daily course, before I have paid my tribute of praise to God; and, perhaps, while I am indulging myself in inactive slumbers. Oh, wretched stupidity! Oh, that, for time to come, I may become more active for God! I would this morning resolve, before thee, O God, and in thy name and strength, to devote myself more unreservedly to thy service than I have hitherto done: I would resolve to be a better improver of my time, than I have heretofore been; to rise earlier in the morning; to be sooner with thee in secret devotion; and oh, that I may be more devout therein! I would be more engaged in my studies. Grant, O Lord, that I may improve more by them! And when I go abroad, enable me better to improve my visits, that I may always leave a savor of divine things behind me. When I go to thy house to speak for thee, may I always go full fraught with things divine, and be enabled faithfully and feelingly to dispense the word of life. I would begin and end every day with thee. Teach me to study thy glory in all I do. And wilt thou be with me also in the night watches. Teach me to meditate of thee on my bed. May my sleep be sanctified to me, that I may thereby be fitted to thy service, nor ever desire more than answers to this important end. Thus teach me to number my days, that I may apply my heart unto wisdom.
"These virtuous resolutions and pious breathings of soul, were seconded by becoming exertions, both of a public and private nature, in his own congregation; and by correspondent labors in churches abroad; nor were they without success. Many owned him as their father in the gospel; among these are two distinguished and useful ministers, who survive him, and shine as diffusive lights in the church. [Rev. Dr. Stillman, of Boston, whose praise is in all the churches; and Rev. Mr. Botsford, among ourselves. To these may be added a third, Mr. Ewin, who succeeds Mr. Hart, as pastor of the church at Hopewell, April 8th, 1796.] These were not only awakened under his preaching, but introduced also by him into a course of study, for the ministry.
"The formation of a society in this city, to assist pious young men in obtaining education for the pubic services of the church, and which has been of use to several, originated with him; and he was a prime mover in that plan for the association of churches, by which so many of our churches are very happily united at the present day. To him also, in conjunction with his beloved and amiable friends, now I trust with God, Reverend Francis Pelot, and Mr. David Williams, is that valuable work of public utility, the System of Church Discipline, to be ascribed. His printed sermons have contributed to the general interest of religion, and his extensive regular correspondence, has been the means of conveying rational pleasure and religious improvement to many.
"To all which may be added, his usefulness as a citizen of America. Prompt in his judgment, ardent in his love of liberty, and rationally jealous for the rights of his country; he took an early and decided part in those measures, which led our patriots to successful opposition against the encroachments of arbitrary power; and brought us to possess all the blessings of our happy independence. Yet he did not mix politics with the gospel, nor desert the duties of his station to pursue them; but attending to each in its proper place, he gave weight to his political sentiments, by the propriety and uprightness of his conduct; and the influence of it was felt by many.
"But this amiable and excellent man has now finished his course, and is gone to render an account of his stewardship to his Lord and Master, to whom he knew he was accountable for his various gifts and graces, and whom to serve and honor was his delightful employ. On such an occasion we are ready to exclaim with Elisha, when he beheld the ascending prophet, My father! my father! the chariot of Israel and the horsemen thereof! Our beloved friend is removed from the world and all those among whom he once went preaching the gospel of Christ, shall, in the flesh, see his face no more. May Heaven support his pious, weeping widow, so greatly bereaved; and may indulgent Providence and grace provide for the youth who is left as the son of his old age!"
The following account of Mr. Harts last illness and death is found in a note in Dr. Rogerss funeral sermon,
"A person, who at one time was sitting by, and observing his great bodily distress, said, How happy for Mr. Hart, that he has but one work to do! Dying was meant. He immediately replied, Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to every one that believeth!
"Dec. 29. He called for all around him, to help him praise the Lord for what he had done for his soul. Being told he would soon join the company of saints and angels, he replied, Enough, enough!
"Dec. 30. His cough and spitting of blood increased, and every breath was accompanied with a groan. When he died, he just put his head a little back, closed his eyes, as if he were going into a sleep, and expired!"
Mr. Hart was twice married; his first wife was Miss Sarah Brees, by whom he had eight children, all of whom were dead, except two, in 1796, and these members of the church in Charleston (S.C.) His second wife was Mrs. Anne Grimball, relict of Mr. Charles Grimball of South-Carolina, by whom he had two sons; the first died young, the other, whose name is William Rogers [named after Dr. Rogers, of Philadelphia], is living in South-Carolina.
Several sermons and other compositions of Mr. Harts have appeared in print, viz. Dancing Exploded; A Funeral Discourse, occasioned by the death of the Reverend William Tennant; The Christian Temple; A Circular Letter on Christs Mediatorial Character; Americas Remembrancer; and A Gospel Church portrayed. Besides these, he has left in manuscript many valuable discourses on public and common occasions, exclusive of other writings.
For a time during his ministry in Charleston, Mr. Hart suffered a distressing trial, in consequence of an attempt to supplant him in the pastoral office, and place in his room Mr. Bedgegood, who was then his assistant, and possessed of popular talents, though not free from blemishes of character. His conscientious opposition was by some attributed to envy; and on the failure of the plan, several of the wealthier members withdrew.
Mr. Hart was zealous and active in the cause of American independence. In 1775 he was appointed by the Council of Safety, which then exercised the Executive authority in South-Carolina, to travel in conjunction with Hon. William H. Drayton and Reverend William Tennant, into the interior of the State, and conciliate the inhabitants to the measures of Congress, by removing their prejudices, and giving them a just view of their political interests. It was believed that the influence of Mr. Hart, exerted on this occasion, was the means of preventing bloodshed, when the tories first embodied.
SAMUEL HARRIS (1724-1796)
By reverting to the biography of Mr. Marshall, the reader will find that in one of his evangelical journeys, he had the singular happiness to baptize Mr. Samuel, commonly called Colonel Harris. Mr. Harris was born in Hanover county, Virginia, Jan. 12, 1724. Few men could boast of more respectable parentage. His education, though not the most liberal, was very considerable for the customs of that day. When young, he moved to the county of Pittsylvania, and as he advanced in age, became a favourite with the people as well as with the rulers. He was appointed Church Warden, Sheriff, a Justice of the Peace, Burgess for the county, Colonel of the Militia, Captain of Mayo Fort and Commissary for the fort and army. All these things, however, he counted by dross, that he might win Christ Jesus, and become a minister of his word among the Baptists; a sect at that time every where spoken against.
His conversion was effected in the following way: He first became serious and melancholy without knowing why. By reading and conversation he discovered that he was a hopeless sinner, and that a sense of his guilt was the true cause of his gloom of mind. Pressed with this conviction, he ventured to attend Baptist preaching. On one of his routes to visit the forts in his official character, he called at a small house, where, he understood, there was to be Baptist preaching. The preachers were Joseph and William Murphy, at that time commonly called Murphys boys. Being equipped in his military dress, he was not willing to appear in a conspicuous place. God, nevertheless, found him out by his Spirit. His convictions now sunk so deep, that he was no longer able to conceal them. He left his sword and other parts of his equipments, some in one place and some in another. The arrows of the almighty stuck fast in him, nor could he shake them off until some time after. At a meeting, when the congregation rose from prayer, Col. Harris was observed still on his knees, with his head and hands hanging over the bench. Some of the people went to his relief, and found him senseless. When he came to himself, he smiled; and in an ecstasy of joy, exclaimed, Glory! glory! glory! etc. Soon after this he was baptized by Rev. Daniel Marshall, as mentioned above. This probably took place some time in the year 1758. He did not confer with flesh and blood, but immediately began his ministerial labors; which afterwards proved so effectual as to acquire him the name of the Virginia Apostle.
In 1759 he was ordained a ruling elder, his labors were chiefly confined, for the first six or seven years, to the adjacent counties of Virginia and North-Carolina; never having passed to the north of James River until the year 1765. During the first years of his ministry, he often traveled with Mr. Marshall; and must have caught much of his spirit, for there is obviously a considerable resemblance in their manners. January, 1768, Allen Wyley traveled out to Pittsylvania, to seek for a preacher. He had been previously baptized by some regular Baptist minister in Fauquier; but not being able to procure preachers to attend in his own neighborhood, and hearing of New-lights, (as they were called in North-Carolina) he set out by himself, scarcely knowing whither he was going. God directed his way, and brought him into the neighborhood of Mr. Harris, on a meeting day. He went to the meeting, and was immediately noticed by Mr. Harris, and asked whence he came? He replied that he was seeking a gospel minister; and God having directed his course to him, that he was the man, and that he wished him to go with him to Culpepper. Mr. Harris agreed to go, like Peter, nothing doubting but it was a call from God. This visit was abundantly blessed for the enlargement of the Redeemers cause. Soon after he had returned, three messengers came from Spottsylvania to obtain Mr. Harriss services. He departed into North-Carolina to seek James Read, who was ordained to the ministry. Their labors were so highly favored, that from that time Mr. Harris became almost a constant traveler. Not confining himself to narrow limits, but led on from place to place, wherever he could see an opening to do good, there he would hoist the flag of peace. There was scarcely any place in Virginia, in which he did not sow the gospel seed. It was not until 1769, that this eminently useful man was ordained to the administration of ordinances. Why he was not ordained at an earlier period, is not certainly known; some say, that he did not wish it; others, that his opinions respecting the support of ministers were objected to by the leading elders. After his ordination, he baptized as well as preached.
In every point of view, Mr. Harris might be considered as one of the most excellent of men. Being in easy circumstances when he became religious, he devoted not only himself but almost all his property to religious objects. He had begun a large new dwelling-house, suitable to his former dignity, which, as soon as it was enclosed, he appropriated to the use of public worship, continuing to live in the old one.
After maintaining his family in a very frugal manner, he distributed his surplus income to charitable purposes. During the war, when it was extremely difficult to procure salt, he kept two wagons running to Petersburg, to bring up salt for his neighbours. His manners were of the most winning sort, having a singular talent at touching the feelings, he scarcely ever went into a house, without exhorting and praying for those he met there.
As a doctrinal preacher, his talents were rather below mediocrity, unless at those times when he was highly favored from above; then he would sometimes display considerable ingenuity. His excellency lay chiefly in addressing the heart, and perhaps even Whitefield did not surpass him in this. When animated himself, he seldom failed to animate his auditory. Some have described him, when exhorting at great meetings, as pouring forth streams of celestial lightning from his eyes, which, whithersoever he turned his face, would strike down hundreds at once. Hence he is often called Boanerges. So much was Mr. Harris governed by his feelings, that if he began to preach and did not feel some liberty of utterance, he would tell his audience he could not preach without the Lord, and then sit down. Not long before the commencement of the great revival in Virginia, Mr. H. had a paralytic shock, from which he never entirely recovered. Yet this did not deter him from his diligent usefulness. If he could not go as far, he was still not idle within that sphere allowed him by his infirmities. At all Associations and general committees, where he was delegated, he was almost invariably made moderator. This office, like every thing else, he discharged with some degree of singularity, yet to general satisfaction. For some short time previous to his death, his senses were considerably palsied; so that we are deprived of such pious remarks, as would probably have fallen from this extraordinary servant of God in his last hours. He was somewhat over seventy years of age when he died.
The remarkable anecdotes told of Mr. H. are so numerous, that they would fill a volume of themselves, if they were collected. A part of them only we shall record.
Mr. H. like Mr. Marshall, possessed a soul incapable of being dismayed by any difficulties. To obtain his own consent to undertake a laudable enterprise, it was sufficient for him to know that it was possible. His faith was sufficient to throw mountains into the sea, if they stood in the way. He seems also never to have been appalled by the fear or shame of man, but could confront the stoutest sons of pride, and boldly urge the humble doctrines of the cross. Like the brave soldier, if beaten back at the first onset, he was still ready for a further assault; so that he often conquered opposers, that to others appeared completely hopeless. With this spirit he commenced his career.
Early after he embraced religion, his mind was impressed with a desire to preach to the officers and soldiers of the fort. An opportunity offered in Fort Mayo, and Mr. Harris began his harangue, urging most vehemently the necessity of the new birth. In the course of his harangue, an officer interrupted him, saying, "Colonel, you have sucked much eloquence from the rum-cask today; pray give us a little, that we may declaim as well, when it comes to our turn." Harris replied, "I am not drunk;" and resumed his discourse. He had not gone far, before he was accosted by another, in a serious manner, who, looking in his face, said, "Sam, you say you are not drunk; pray are you not mad then? What the d -- l ails you?" Colonel Harris replied in the words of Paul, "I am not mad, most noble gentleman." He continued speaking publicly and privately, until one of the gentlemen received such impressions as were never afterwards shaken off; but he afterwards became a pious Christian.
Soon after this, Mr. Harris found a sad alteration as to his religious enjoyment. He prayed God to restore the light of his countenance, and renew communion with him; but his petition was deferred. He then went into the woods, and sought for the happiness he had lost; thinking that, peradventure, God would answer his prayer there, though not in the fort, where so much wickedness abounded; but no answer came. Then he began to inquire into the cause why God dealt so with him. The first that offered was his lucrative offices; upon which he determined to lay them down immediately, and settle his accounts with the public. Having now removed the Achan out of the camp, as he thought, he renewed his suit for a restoration of the joy which he had lost; but still "the vision tarried, and the prophecy brought not forth." He began to examine himself a second time. Then he suspected his money was the cause, and that he had made gold his trust. Accordingly he took all his money and threw it away into the bushes, where it remains to this day, for aught any one knows to the contrary. After this, he prayed again, and found that mans impatience will not shorten the time which infinite wisdom hath measured out for delays or beneficence. However, in due time the wished-for good came. "I am aware (says Mr. Morgan Edwards, from whose MS. history this anecdote is selected) that this story will render the wisdom of the Colonel suspected. Be it so. It nevertheless establishes the truth of his piety, and shows that he preferred communion with God before riches and honors."
Rough was the treatment which Mr. Harris met with amongst his rude countrymen. In one of his journeys in the county of Culpepper, a Captain Ball and his gang came to a place where he was preaching, and said, "You shall not preach here." A by-stander, whose name was Jeremiah Minor, replied, "But he shall." From this sharp contention of words, they proceeded to a sharper contest of blows and scuffles. Friends on both sides interested themselves; some to make peace, and others to back their foremen. The supporters of Mr. Harris were probably most of them worldly people, who acted from no other principle, than to defend a minister thus insulted and abused. But if they were Christians, they were certainly too impatient and resentful, and manifested too much of the spirit Peter had when he drew his sword on the high-priests servant. Colonel Harriss friends took him into a house, and set Lewis Craig to guard the door, while he was preaching; but presently Balls gang came up, drove the sentinel from his stand, and battered open the door; but they were driven back by the people within. This involved them in another contest, and thus the day ended in confusion.
On another occasion he was arrested and carried into Court, as a disturber of the peace. In Court, a Captain Williams vehemently accused him as a vagabond, a heretic, and a mover of sedition every where. Mr. Harris made his defense. But the Court ordered that he should not preach in the county again for the space of twelve months, or be committed to prison. The Colonel told them that he lived two hundred miles from thence, and that it was not likely he should disturb them again in the course of one year. Upon this he was dismissed. From Culpepper he went to Fauquier, and preached at Carters Run. From thence he crossed the Blue Ridge, and preached at Shenandoah. On his return from thence, he turned in at Captain Thomas Clanathans, in the county of Culpepper, where there was a meeting. While certain young ministers were preaching, the word of God began to burn in Colonel Harriss heart. When they finished, he arose and addressed the congregation, "I partly promised the devil, a few days past, at the court-house, that I would not preach in this county again for the term of a year: but the devil is a perfidious wretch, and covenants with him are not to be kept, and therefore I will preach." He preached a lively, animating sermon. The Court never meddled with him more.
In Orange county, one Benjamin Healy pulled Mr. Harris down from the place where he was preaching, and hauled him about, sometimes by the hand, sometimes by the leg, and sometimes by the hair of the head, but the persecuted preacher had friends here also, who espoused his part, and rescued him from the rage of his enemies. This, as in a former case, brought on a contention between his advocates and opposers; during which, a Captain Jameson sent Mr. Harris to a house where was a loft with a step-ladder to ascend it; into that loft he hurried him, took away the step-ladder, and left the good man secure from his enemies.
Near Haw-river, a rude fellow came up to Mr. Harris, and knocked him down while he was preaching.
He went to preach to the prisoners once, in the town of Hillsborough, where he was locked up in the gaol, and kept for some time.
Notwithstanding these things, Colonel Harris did not suffer as many persecutions as some other Baptist preachers. Tempered in some degree peculiar to himself, perhaps his bold, noble, yet humble manner, dismayed the ferocious spirits of the opposers of religion.
A criminal, who had been just pardoned at the gallows, once met him on the road, and showed him his reprieve. "Well," said he, "and have you shown it to Jesus?" "No, Mr. Harris, I want you to do that for me." The old man immediately descended from his horse, in the road, and making the man also alight, they both kneeled down; Mr. H. put one hand on the mans head, and with the other held open the pardon, and thus, in behalf of the criminal, returned thanks for his reprieve, and prayed for him to obtain Gods pardon, also.
The following very interesting narrative was published by Mr. Semple, in his History of the Virginia Baptists; it has also been published by Mr. John Leland, in his Budget of Scraps, under the title of "Prayer better than Law-suits." As there is some little variation, not as to matters of fact, but in the mode of expression, in these two relaters, I have selected from them both this singular and instructive story. When Mr. Harris began to preach, his soul was so absorbed in the work, that it was difficult for him to attend to the duties of this life. Finding at length the absolute need of providing more grain for his family than his plantation had produced, he went to a man who owed him a sum of money, and told him, he would be very glad if he would discharge the debt he owed him. The man replied, "I have no money by me, and therefore cannot oblige you." Harris said, "I want the money to purchase wheat for my family; and as you have raised a good crop of wheat, I will take that article of you, instead of money, at a current price." The man answered, "I have other uses for my wheat, and cannot let you have it." "How then," said Harris, "do you intend to pay me?" "I never intend to pay you, until you sue me," replied the debtor, "and therefore you may begin your suit as soon as you please." Mr. Harris left him, meditating: "Good God," said he to himself, "what shall I do? Must I leave preaching to attend to a vexatious law-suit! Perhaps a thousand souls will perish in the mean time for the want of hearing of Jesus! No, I will not. Well, what will you do for yourself? Why, this I will do; I will sue him at the Court of Heaven." Having resolved what to do, he turned aside into a wood, and fell upon his knees, and thus began his suit: "O blessed Jesus! thou eternal God! Thou knowest that I need the money which the man owes me, to supply the wants of my family; but he will not pay me without a law-suit. Dear Jesus, shall I quit thy cause, and leave the souls of men to perish? Or wilt thou, in mercy, open some other way of relief?" In this address, the Colonel had such nearness to God, that (to use his own words) Jesus said unto him, "Harris, I will enter bonds-man for the man -- you keep on preaching, and omit the law-suit. I will take care of you, and see that you have your pay." Mr. Harris felt well satisfied with his security, but thought it would be unjust to hold the man a debtor, when Jesus had assumed payment. He, therefore, wrote a receipt in full of all accounts which he had against the man, and dating it in the woods, where Jesus entered bail, he signed it with his own name. Going, the next day, by the mans house to attend a meeting, he gave the receipt to a servant, and bid him deliver it to his master. On returning from the meeting, the man hailed him at his gate and said, "Mr. Harris what did you mean by the receipt you sent me this morning?" Mr. Harris replied, "I meant just as I wrote." "But you know, Sir," answered the debtor, "I have never paid you." "True," said Mr. Harris, "and I know, also, that you said you never would, except I sued you. But, Sir, I sued you at the Court of Heaven, and Jesus entered bail for you, and has agreed to pay me; I have, therefore, given you a discharge!" "But I insist upon it," said the man, "matters shall not be left so." "I am well satisfied," answered Harris, "Jesus will not fail me; I leave you to settle the account with him another day. Farewell." This operated so effectually on the mans conscience, that in a few days he loaded his wagon, and sent wheat enough to discharge the debt.
A complete history of the life of this venerable man, would furnish still a lengthy catalogue of anecdotes of the most interesting kind. But we shall close his biography, by relating one, which, though of a different nature, is not less curious than any of the former.
The General Association of Separate Baptists in Virginia, in the year 1774, in the ardor of their zeal for reformation, and the revival of primitive order, resolved that the office of Apostles, together with all the other offices mentioned in Ephesians 4:11, were still to be maintained in the church. Pursuant to this resolution, the Association proceeded, in the first place, to choose by ballot one from amongst them, to officiate in the dignified character of an Apostle. Mr. Harris was elected, and consented to be ordained to his Apostolic function, by the laying on of the hands of every ordained minister in the Association. [See a full account of this singular experiment, in the History of the Virginia Baptists.] So that he was for a time, in fact, as he was generally called by way of eminence, the Apostle of Virginia.
DUTTON LANE (1752-?)
Dutton Lane was born November 7, 1752, near Baltimore, in Maryland. At what time he became a resident of Virginia, is not known; but he was baptized by Shubael Stearns, in 1758. He was ordained to the ministry, and, probably, to the care of Dan River church, October 22, 1764, having commenced public speaking immediately after he was baptized. Mr. Lane was not a man of much learning; but having a strong constitution, a commanding voice, and fervent spirit, he did great things in his Masters service.
Unenlightened as the Virginians were, at that time, it was not to be expected that he would be allowed to go in peace. His own father was among the first to set his face against the Baptists generally, and against his son Dutton in particular. He once pursued him with an instrument of death to kill him. It fell out, however, that instead of killing his son, he was himself slain by the sword of the Spirit, from which he soon after revived with a hope of eternal life, and was baptized by that very son, whom he would have slain.
Mr. Lane was once preaching at a place called Meherrin, in Lunenburgh county, where a Mr. Joseph Williams, a magistrate, charged him before the whole congregation, not to come there to preach again. Mr. Lane mildly replied, that as there were many other places where he could preach without interruption, he did not know that he should come there again shortly. After wishing peace to the rest of the company, he gravely addressed Mr. Williams, and said, "Little, Sir, as you now think it, my impressions tell me, that you will become a Baptist, a warm espouser of that cause, which you now persecute." This prediction came to pass; for in about twelve years, Williams embraced religion, was baptized, and became a zealous member, and useful deacon in the church that was afterwards formed at that place.
Once he was preaching against drunkenness, and exposing the vileness and danger of the practice, when one John Giles stood up, saying angrily, "I know who you mean," and with a blasphemous oath, declared, "Ill demolish you." But this self-condemned sot was prevented from doing any harm.
One William Cocker had conceived such malignity against the Baptists, that he was accustomed to say, that he would rather go to hell than heaven, if going to heaven required him to be a Baptist. But falling in accidentally where Mr. Lane preached, he was struck down with deep conviction; from which, being delivered by converting grace, he became a pious Baptist.
Mr. Lane continued preaching till his death; but the latter part of his life was somewhat obscured by his adopting and maintaining certain strange opinions. By diving into subjects not revealed, and rather neglecting those which were obvious and plain, he was much less thought of. He lived and died a pious man, however, in the estimation of those who knew him well.
LEWIS LUNSFORD (c. 1753-1793)
We now come to the man, (says Mr. Semple, in his biography) who, in point of talents as a preacher, was never excelled in Virginia; and by many it is doubted whether he ever had a superior any where else.
Mr. Lunsford was born in Stafford county, Virginia, of indigent parents. He received a very slender education indeed; nor had the means to enlarge it. The God of nature furnished him with powers to surmount all obstacles. To obviate the want of education, he used, after working all day, to read till late at night, by firelight. At an early stage of his life, while attending the ministry of William Fristoe, he was happily arrested by divine mercy. Mr. Fristoe baptized him when a boy, and he immediately, both in private and in public, began to stand up as an advocate for the gospel. His talents, at this tender age, commanded attention, and procured for him the flattering appellation of The Wonderful Boy. After moving in a more confined circle for some few years, he began to enlarge his borders.
About 1774, Divine Providence directed his attention to the lower counties in the Northern Neck. Wherever he placed his foot as a preacher, there attended a blessing. Believers were added to the church, through his instrumentality, in most of the neighborhoods of these lower counties. His preaching made a great noise, not only for its ingenuity, but for its novelty. Here, as in most other places where the Baptists preached, the people cried out that some new doctrine was started; that the church was in danger. Mr. Lunsford was accounted worthy to share a part of this opposition. A clergyman appointed a set day to preach against the Anabaptists. Crowds attended to hear him. He told stories about John of Leyden, and Cromwells round-heads; but he could not by such tales stop the gospel current, now swelling to a torrent. When Mr. Lunsford preached again in the same parts, they attacked him by more weighty arguments. A constable was sent with a warrant to arrest him. The constable, with more politeness than was usual then on such occasions, waited until Mr. Lunsford had preached. His fascinating powers palsied the constables hand. He would not, he said, serve a warrant on so good a man. Another man took it, and went, tremblingly, and served it. Mr. Lunsford attended the summons, and appeared before a magistrate. He was held in recognizance to appear at Court. The Court determined that he had been guilty of a breach of good behaviour; and that he must give security, or go to prison. He was advised to give security, under the expectation of obtaining license to preach. He tried, but could not. He often regretted that he had taken this step; and was sorry he had not gone to prison. This took place in Richmond county.
After the repeal of the law for establishing one sect to the exclusion of the rest, a banditti attended Mr. Lunsfords meeting, with sticks and staves, to attack him. Just as he was about to begin to preach, they approached him for the attack. His irreligious friends, contrary to his wish, drew stakes out of a fence to defend him. This produced great uproar and some skirmishes. Mr. Lunsford retired to a neighboring house, and shut himself up. His persecutors, however, pursued him, but were not hardy enough to break in upon him. One of them desired to have the privilege of conversing with him, with a view of convincing him. He was let in, and did converse; but when he came out, he wore a new face. His party asked him the result. "You had better converse with him yourselves," said he.
It was not until January, 1778, that Mr. Lunsford became a settled preacher, and took care of Moratico church, which was constituted at that time. He held it as an opinion, that imposition of hands by a presbytery was not necessary to ordination; but that the call of a church was sufficient. It was in this way he took the care of Moratico church. He never would submit to be ordained by the imposition of hands; although the refusal produced no small discontent among the Baptists in Virginia.
In 1779, he married his first wife; and became a resident of Northumberland. From the time he settled in the Northern Neck, and indeed from the time he began to preach there, he gradually increased in favor with the people. It is hardly probable that any man ever was more beloved by a people when living, or more lamented when dead. He had two remarkable revivals of religion in the bounds of his church. The one, about the time of the constitution of his church, and the other commenced in the year 1758, and had scarcely subsided at his death in 1793. During these revivals, he was uncommonly lively and engaged. He preached almost incessantly; and by his acquaintances, after the last revival, it was thought he made a rapid advance in the improvement of his talents, both in wisdom and warmth; especially the latter, from which he never receded during his residence on earth. Certain it is, that during several of the last years of his life, he was more caressed, and his preaching more valued, than any other mans that ever resided in Virginia. Lunsford was a sure preacher, and seldom failed to rise pretty high. In his best strains, he was more like an angel than a man. His countenance, lighted up by an inward flame, seemed to shed beams of light wherever he turned. His voice, always harmonious, now seemed to be tuned by descending seraphs. His style and his manner was so sublime and so energetic, that he seemed indeed like an ambassador of the skies, sent down to command all men every where to repent. He was truly a messenger of peace; and by him the tidings of peace were communicated to multitudes. So highly was he estimated among his own people, that there were but few preachers that visited them, to whom they would willingly listen, even for once, in preference to their beloved pastor. In argument, Mr. Lunsford was somewhat satyrical; and by this means, sometimes gave offense to those who did not know him well. It was, however, perfectly clear, that he did not design to sport with the feelings of any. For it is not likely that any man of his popularity ever had fewer permanent enemies. He was very fond of reading, and retained what he read so correctly, that few men could make more extensive quotations than Mr. Lunsford. For his own advantage, he had procured and read some distinguished treatises on medicine. And so capacious were his faculties, that with his small opportunities in this professional study, he actually became so skillful in the administration of physic, that he was often called on to attend patients at a considerable distance. To all such applicants, he not only rendered his services gratis, but often furnished them with medicine. He had the care of a large and opulent church, of whom some were very liberal in their contributions; but by a great part of them he was too much neglected. For the want of their support and of his own attention to secular affairs (through his ministry) he was in but narrow circumstances. Yet, he lived well, and rendered to every man his just dues. But now, painful as the task is, we must add, that this great, this good, this almost inimitable man, died, when only about forty years of age. He lived in a sickly climate, and had frequent bilious attacks. These were sometimes very severe. For two or three years before his death, he labored under repeated indispositions, even when traveling about. His manly soul would never permit him to shrink from the work, so long as he had strength to lift up his voice. Sometimes, after going to bed as being too ill to preach, prompted by his seraphic spirit, he would rise again, after some other person had preached, and deal out the bread of life to the hungry sons and daughters of Zion. He was a shepherd indeed. The Dover Association, for the year 1793, was holden at Glebe-Landing meeting-house in Middlesex county, not more than fifteen or eighteen miles from his house. Although just rising from a bilious attack, he would not stay from a place where his heart delighted to be, and where he had the best ground to believe he could do good. He went, and appeared so much better, that he made extensive appointments to preach in the lower parts of Virginia. He was chosen to preach on Sunday, and he did preach indeed. On Tuesday he came up to King and Queen county, and preached at Bruington meeting-house, from these words: "Therefore, let us not sleep as do others, but let us watch and be sober." It was an awakening discourse, worthy of this masterly workman.
On that day he took cold and grew worse. He, however, preached his last sermon the next day evening; observing when he began, "It may be improper for me to attempt to preach at this time; but as long as I have any strength remaining, I wish to preach the gospel of Christ; and I will very gladly spend and be spent for you. He then preached his last sermon, from, "Therefore, being justified by faith, we have peace with God, through our Lord Jesus Christ." He continued to grow worse, until, having arrived at Mr. Gregorys, in Essex, he took his bed, from whence he was carried to his grave. In his sickness he was remarkably silent, having very little to say, which he could avoid. He was fond of joining in prayer, and sometimes exerted his now relaxed mind, in making remarks worthy of such a man. He expressed some anxiety at the thought of leaving his helpless family; but appeared quite resigned for the will of Heaven to take place. On the 26th of October, 1793, he fell asleep in the arms of Jesus, aged about forty years. Reverend Henry Toler preached two funeral sermons for him. One at the place of his death, another at Mr. Lunsfords meeting-house, in Lancaster county, called Kilmarnock. These two sermons were printed in a pamphlet; and annexed to them, were two handsome elegies, written by ladies of his church. Another was written by Reverend A. Broaddus, which was much admired. It seemed to be a mystery to many, why God should have called home so great, so useful a man, in the bloom of life. Those who thought proper to offer reasons or conjectures for explaining the ways of Providence, seemed generally to agree that Mr. Lunsfords popularity as a preacher had risen too high. The people wherever he was, or where he was expected, seemed to have lost all relish for any other mans preaching: that, God, knowing the capacity of most of his servants, was unwilling that the lesser lights should be so much swallowed up by the greater. Perhaps the better way is to form no conjecture about it; but rest persuaded, that the ways of God are always wise, however unaccountable to man.
He was twice married. He had by his first wife one surviving child. By his second wife, he left three children.
JAMES MANNING (1738-1791)
James Manning, D.D. was, in his day, one of the brightest ornaments of the Baptist denomination in America. His biography has never been recorded to any considerable extent, and indeed his stationary employment furnished not many incidents for a diffusive narrative. For what few things have been written respecting the character of this illustrious man, we are indebted mostly to the pen of Judge Howel, of Providence, and the following sketches, drawn by this eminent statesman, are found in Rippons Register.
"After making tours to each extreme of the United States, (then colonies,) and preaching to different destitute churches in sundry places, he removed with his family to Warren in Rhode-Island, preached to the church there, and opened a Latin school. In the year 1765, he obtained a charter of incorporation for Rhode-Island College, of which he was chosen president. And when the College was removed to Providence, in 1770, he of course removed with it; and besides the duties of his presidency, he preached statedly to the Baptist church in this town until a few years before his death.
"In his youth, he was remarkable for his dexterity in athletic exercises, for the symmetry of his body, and gracefulness of his person. His countenance was stately and majestic, full of dignity, goodness, and gravity; and the temper of his mind was a counterpart of it. He was formed for enterprise, his address was pleasing, his manners enchanting, his voice harmonious, and his eloquence irresistible.
"Having deeply imbibed the spirit of truth himself, as a preacher of the gospel, he was faithful in declaring the whole counsel of God. He studied plainness of speech, and to be useful more than to be celebrated. The good order, learning, and respectability of the Baptist churches in the eastern States, are much owing to his assiduous attention to their welfare. The credit of his name, and his personal influence among them, perhaps. have never been exceeded by any other character.
"Of the College he must be considered as the founder. He presided with the singular advantage of a superior personal appearance, added to all his shining talents for governing and instructing youth. From the first beginning of his Latin school at Warren, through many discouragements, he, by constant care and labor, raised this seat of learning to notice, to credit, and to respectability in the United States. Perhaps the history of no other College will disclose a more rapid progress, or greater maturity, than this, during the twenty-five years of his presidency. Although he seemed to be consigned to a sedentary life, yet he was capable of more active scenes. He paid much attention to the government of his country, and was honored by Rhode-Island with a seat in the old Congress. In State affairs, he discovered an uncommon sagacity, and might have made a figure as a politician.
"In classical learning he was fully competent to the business of his station. He devoted less time than some others to the more abstruse sciences; but nature seemed to have furnished him so completely, that little remained for art to accomplish. The resources of his genius were great. In conversation he was at all times pleasant and entertaining. He had as many friends as acquaintance, and took no less pains to serve his friends than acquire them."
The following additional observations on Dr. Mannings character, are found in the sermon Dr. Maxey, his successor in the presidential office, delivered in the Baptist meeting-house the Lords day after his interment.
The following inscription, drawn also by Judge Howel, has been transcribed from the monument which covers the dust of this departed worthy:
IN MEMORY OF THE REV. JAMES MANNING, D.D. PRESIDENT OF RHODE-ISLAND COLLEGE.
He was born in New-Jersey, A.D. 1738. Became a Member of a Baptist Church, A.D. 1758. Graduated at Nassau-Hall, A.D. 1762. Was ordained a Minister of the Gospel, A.D. 1763. Obtained a Charter for the College, A.D. 1765. Was elected President of it the same Year. And was a Member of Congress, A.D. 1786. His Person was graceful, and his Countenance remarkably expressive of sensibility, cheerfulness, and dignity. The variety and excellence of his Natural Abilities, improved by education, and enriched by science, raised him to a rank of eminence among literary characters. His manners were engaging, and his voice harmonious. His eloquence, natural and powerful. His social virtues, classic learning, eminent patriotism, shining talents for instructing and governing youth, and zeal in the cause of Christianity, are recorded on the tables of many hearts. He died of an apoplexy, July 29, A.D. 1791. AEtat. 53.
The Trustees and Fellows of the College, have erected this MONUMENT
Dr. Manning married in his youth Margaret Stites, the daughter of John Stites, Esq. of Elizabeth-Town, New-Jersey, and sister of the wife of Mr. John Gano. He had no children. His venerable widow is still living in Providence, though far advanced in years, and labouring under many infirmities.
RICHARD MAJOR (c. 1722-1802)
Richard Major was born near Pennsbury, in Pennsylvania, in the year 1722. He was bred a Presbyterian, but embraced the sentiments of the Baptists in 1764 and had the ordinance administered to him by Reverend Isaac Stelle. He removed to Virginia in 1766, and two years after was ordained as the pastor of the church called Little River, in Louden county, which was constituted at the same time.
He was not a man of much learning, but his vigorous mind rose above all obstructions. Being well taught in the school of Christ, and devoting himself to the study of the Scripture, he became a workman that needeth not to be ashamed. He was remarked by all who knew him, for his indefatigable labors in the ministry, and he succeeded beyond many of much greater talents. He is said to have planted, from first to last, six or eight churches. For several years after he commenced preaching he met with great opposition, mostly from individuals.
In Fauquier county, the officer, with a warrant from Captain Scott, attempted to take him, but providentially failed. At Bullrun there were warrants against him; and a mob, with clubs, rose to assist the execution of them; but here again they failed of their design, chiefly by means of the Davises, usually called the giants; those stout brothers had been prevailed on to oppose him; but after they had heard him preach, they became well affected towards him, and threatened to chastise any that should disturb him. In Fauquier the mob were very outrageous, but did no mischief, though his friends feared they would have pulled him to pieces.
A certain man, whose wife had been baptized by Mr. Major, determined to kill him on sight, and went to meeting for that purpose. He sat down in hearing, intending to catch at some obnoxious expression, which might fall from the preacher, and under that pretense to attack him. But God produced a different result; for the man, instead of executing his design, became so convicted that he could not keep on his feet; and was afterwards baptized by the man he intended to murder. Another actually attacked him with a club in a violent manner. Mr. Major being remarkable for great presence of mind, turned to him, and in a solemn manner said, "Satan, I command thee to come out of the man." His club immediately began to fall, and the lion became as quiet as the lamb.
These are a few of the many occurrences of this kind, that took place in the long life of this valuable man.
The way that Mr. Majors gifts were noticed was, in his reading printed sermons at private meetings. The people were so affected, that they procured the sermons for their own reading, but were soon convinced that he had read what was not in the book.
So much was he esteemed in the latter part of his life, that he had serious apprehensions, that he must be too much at ease for a gospel minister; or in other words, it seemed as if the expression, "Wo be unto you when all men speak well of you," applied to his case. In the midst of these thoughts, he accidentally heard a man lay to his charge one of the most abominable crimes. At first he felt irritated; but recollecting his previous reflections, he was soon reconciled. Towards the close of his long and useful life, he was much afflicted with the gravel, of which disease he died when he was about eighty years old.
DANIEL MARSHALL (1706-1784)
The following account of this eminent servant of God, was drawn by his worthy son, Reverend Abraham Marshall, who succeeded his father in the pastoral station at Kioka. It was first published in the Georgia Analytical Repository, and afterwards in the History of the Virginia Baptists. It is now transcribed and presented to the reader in its original epistolary form.
"Here he became acquainted with a Baptist church, belonging to the Philadelphia Association; and as the result of a close, impartial examination of their faith and order, he and my dear mother were baptized by immersion, in the forty-eighth year of his life. He was now called, as a licensed preacher, to the unrestrained exercise of his gifts; and though they were by no means above mediocrity, he was instrumental in awakening attention, in many of his hearers, to the interests of their souls:
"Under the influence of an anxious desire to be extensively useful, he proceeded from Virginia to Hughwarry, in North-Carolina, where his faithful and incessant labors proved the happy means of arousing and converting numbers. Being so evidently and eminently useful as an itinerant preacher, he continued his peregrination to Abbots Creek, in the same State, where he was the instrument of planting a church, of which he was ordained pastor, in the fifty-second year of his age, by his brothers in law, the Reverend Messrs. Henry Leadbetter, and Shubael Stearns. Soon after receiving this honor, my reverend father, in one of his evangelical journeys into Virginia, had the singular happiness to baptize Colonel Samuel Harris, with whom he immediately afterwards made several tours, and preached, and planted the gospel in several places, as far as James-river. It was but a few years after his ordination, before, induced by appearances of increasing usefulness, he took an affectionate leave of his beloved charge, and settled on Beaver Creek, in South-Carolina.
"In this place, likewise, a large church was raised under his ministry, and, till brought to a good degree of maturity in divine things, was an object of his tender and unremitted care and solicitude. At the direction of Divine Providence, as he conceived, and as subsequent events have proved, his next removal was to Horse Creek, about fifteen miles north of Augusta.
"The fruits of his labors in this place remain in a respectable church, some of whose sons, raised up under his care, have successfully diffused the light of divine truth through various benighted regions. From Horse Creek my aged father made his first visits to this State. On the second or third of these, while in prayer, he was seized, in the presence of his audience, for preaching in the parish of St. Paul, and made to give security for his appearance in Augusta, the Monday following, to answer to this charge. Accordingly he stood a trial, and, after his meekness and patience were sufficiently exercised, was ordered to come no more as a preacher into Georgia. In the words of an Apostle, similarly circumstanced, he replied, Whether it be right to obey God or man, judge ye. Consistently with this just and spirited reply, he pursued his successful course, and on the first of January, 1771, came with his family, and took up his final earthly residence at the Kioka. The following Spring the church here was formed, and is famous for having furnished materials for several other churches. For this purpose many common members have been dismissed, and several ministers have been ordained. Among these are the Reverend Messrs. Sanders Walker, Samuel Newton, Loveless Savage, Alexander Scott, and the writer of this article.
"Through Gods blessing on the ministry of her indefatigable founder and pastor, this church continued to lengthen her cords and strengthen her stakes, breaking forth on the right hand and on the left, till our beloved country was unhappily involved in the horrors of war. No scenes, however, from the commencement to the termination of hostilities, were so gloomy and alarming as to deter my father from discharging the duties of his station. Neither reproaches nor threatenings could excite in him the least appearance of timidity, or any thing inconsistent with Christian and ministerial heroism.
"As a friend to the American cause, he was once made a prisoner and put under a strong guard; but obtaining leave of the officers, he commenced and supported so heavy a charge of exhortation and prayer, that, like Daniel of old, while his enemies stood amazed and confounded, he was safely and honourably delivered from this den of lions.
"Even the infirmities of old age, and the evident approach of the king of terrors, were not sufficient to shake his faith or hope, nor, in the least perceivable degree, to abate his zeal.
"A few months previous to his decease, rising in his pulpit, which he had frequently besprinkled with his tears, and from which he had often descended to weep over a careless auditory, he said, I address you, my dear hearers, with a diffidence which arises from a failure of memory, and a general weakness of body and mind, common to my years; but I recollect, he that holds out to the end shall be saved, and am resolved to finish my course in the cause of God. Accordingly he attended public worship regularly, even through his lingering mortal illness, till the last Sabbath but one before his dissolution. In his family he invariably performed his usual round of holy duties, till the morning immediately preceding his happy change. Fully apprized of this as at hand, and perfectly in his senses, he expressed distinctly and emphatically, his steady and increasing confidence of future bliss.
"The following, taken by me, in the presence of a few deeply-affected friends and relations, are his last words:
"Dear brethren and sisters, I am just gone. This night I shall probably expire; but I have nothing to fear. I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith; and henceforth there is laid up for me a crown of righteousness. God has shown me that he is my God, that I am his son, and that an eternal weight of glory is mine!
"The venerable partner of his cares, (and I may add, faithful assistant in all his labors) sitting bedewed with tears, by his side, he proceeded, Go on, my dear wife, to serve the Lord. Hold out to the end. Eternal glory is before us!
"After a silence of some minutes, he called me and said, My breath is almost gone. I have been praying that I may go home tonight. I had great happiness in our worship this morning, particularly in singing, which will make a part of my exercise in a blessed eternity.
"Now gently closing his eyes, he cheerfully gave up his soul to God, with whom, I doubt not, he walks, high in salvation, and the climes of bliss. This solemn event took place at the dawn of the 2d day of November, 1784, in the 78th year of his age. A suitable discourse to his memory was delivered by the late Reverend Charles Bussey."
The name of Mr. Marshalls first wife does not appear from the papers respecting him. His second was Martha Stearns, sister of the famous Shubael Stearns. By his first wife he had Daniel, by his second, Abraham, John, Zaccheus, Levi, Moses, Solomon, and Joseph; and daughters Eunice and Mary. These children are all yet living in Georgia, at no great distance from the place in which their venerable father finished his earthly course. They all possess a competency of worldly things, and a number of them are members of the Kioka and other churches.
Mr. Marshall, after all his sacrifices for the cause of Christ, was always blessed by a bountiful Providence with a sufficiency of the meat that perisheth, and left behind him an estate of considerable value. His son Abraham inhabits the mansion, from which he was removed to the house not made with hands.
ELIAKIM MARSHALL (?-1791)
Eliakim Marshall was a nephew of Daniel, and a native of Connecticut; but the time or place of his birth I have not learnt. He was converted under the ministry of Mr. Whitefield in the New-light Stir, and remained a Pedobaptist minister about thirty years. He became a Baptist in 1786, and died at Windsor, near Hartford, 1791. He was through life esteemed a preacher of piety and talents. He was also often a member of the Connecticut Legislature. As he became a Baptist but about five years before his death, he was not much known among the denomination; but on account of some circumstances which attended his conviction of Baptist sentiments, his biography appears worthy of being recorded. While Abraham Marshall, of Georgia, was on his way to visit New-England in 1786, at Philadelphia he fell in with Mr. Winchester, of whom he inquired respecting his relatives in Connecticut. He informed him what he knew; and among other things observed, that Eliakim Marshall, of Windsor, was a man of a sound judgment, a retentive memory, and a tender conscience. "Well," replied Abraham," if this be his character, I shall expect to baptize him before I return; for if he has a sound judgment, he will understand my arguments in favor of believers baptism, and against that of infants; if he has a strong memory he will retain them; and if he has a tender conscience, they will have an influence on his mind. With a firm persuasion, that he should lead his relative into the water, he prosecuted his journey to Connecticut. We have seen, in the history of the Kioka church, that this Abraham Marshall was only three years old when his father went from Connecticut, among the Mohawk Indians. He was of course unknown to any of his relatives here; but he was received among them cordially, and treated with respect, and he made Eliakims house his home. He kept in mind what Mr. Winchester had told him of this cousin; but he resolved that he would not be forward to introduce the subject of baptism, nor press him too hard at first. Eliakim frequently expressed a desire to hear what his new relation, as he called him, had to say in defense of the opinions in which they differed; but Abraham waved the matter for a time. At length, from slight skirmishes, they, by mutual consent, entered with all their strength into the baptismal controversy, in which Eliakim had been a man of war from his youth, and now manifested a strong assurance of victory. He began with Abrahams Covenant, and mustered all the arguments usually brought in defense of Pedobaptism. Abraham, on the other hand, opposed his whole system, as destitute of Scripture proof, and adduced his reasons for his different belief. At the first onset, this old Pedobaptist divine, as he afterwards acknowledged to a friend, had but two arguments left for the support of his system; and continuing to lose ground, while striving with himself to regain it, in the next attack he was completely defeated, and in a short time after confessed his conscience could not be easy till he was baptized. But a trouble arose on account of his wife, who was much opposed to this change in his sentiments, he mentioned this circumstance to Abraham, and requested his advice. He replied that his youth did not qualify him to prescribe duty to a man of his years; "but," said he, "I will mention two passages of Scripture, which my father frequently made use of in difficult cases, which are these. "I conferred not with flesh and blood." "What thy hand findeth to do, do it with thy might." The tender conscience of this aged convert urged him on to duty; and, according to Abrahams expectation, he was baptized by him the day before he left the place. A large concourse of people, supposed to be two or three thousand, collected to witness the administration of the solemn rite. The venerable candidate addressed them in a most melting manner: "I was awakened," said he, "under the preaching of Whitefield, about forty years ago, at which time my mind was solemnly impressed with this sentiment, God is wisdom; he, therefore, knows all my thoughts, and all I do. I was in the next place impressed with this sentence, God is holiness, and must, therefore, hate all in me, which his wisdom sees is wrong. I was in the third place impressed with this solemn thought, God is power; this struck me like thunder, and brought me to the ground." So saying, he burst into tears, and in a moment the tears were flowing from a thousand eyes. "After laboring a few days," continued he, "under these weighty impressions, the soothing declaration, God is love, relieved my distress, removed my fears, and filled me with unspeakable joy." He expatiated largely on the interesting event of his conversion, and the most solemn attention pervaded the great assembly.
SILAS MERCER (1745-1796)
Silas Mercer was born near Currituck Bay, North-Carolina, February, 1745. His mother died while he was an infant; his father was a zealous member of the Church of England, and carefully instructed him in the catechism, rites, and traditions of that communion. From early years, young Silas was religiously inclined; but it was not till after he arrived at manhood, that he was brought to the knowledge of salvation through a divine Redeemer. He was for a long time embarrassed and bewildered with that legal system, which he had been taught in his mother Church, and so deeply rooted were the prejudices of his education, that it took him long to learn that salvation is not of works. But he at length gained clear and consistent views of the gospel plan, and was, through his long ministry, a distinguished and powerful defender of the doctrine of free, unmerited grace.
Until after his conversion, Mr. Mercer was most violently opposed to Dissenters in general, and to the Baptists in particular. He would on no account hear one preach, and endeavored to dissuade all others from attending their meetings. He most firmly believed what his father and parson had taught him, that they were all a set of deceivers, that their heresies were dangerous if not damnable, and that to hear one preach would be a crime of peculiar enormity. He knew, however, but little about them, only that they had separated from the Church, and ought therefore to be opposed and avoided. For these reasons he continued a violent opposer to them, and zealously to defend the Church; But his ingenuous mind could not long be restrained by the shackles of tradition, without examining things for himself; he therefore began a course of inquiries, which gradually, undermined his traditionary creed, and led on to the Baptist ground. He first resolved to follow strictly the Rubric of the Church, both in doctrine and discipline; and finding it enjoined immersion, unless the weakness of the child required a milder mode, he had two of his children dipped. The first a son, in a barrel of water at the priests house; and the other a daughter, in a tub, which had been prepared for the purpose at the Church. The son was named Jesse, who is now a worthy minister in Georgia; he was baptized again, on a profession of his faith, and is of course an ana-Baptist. Mr. Mercer was also struck with the neglect of discipline in the Church; he saw with pain that persons grossly immoral in many respects were admitted to their communion, and became convinced that things ought not so to be. Herveys Theron and Aspasio started him from the Arminian system, and set him on a train of reflections, which issued in a thorough conviction of the doctrine of the gospel. He labored for a time to reform the church; but finding the building was too far gone to be repaired, he receded from it with reluctant steps, and became a Baptist when he was about thirty years of age, and continued from that time to the end of his life an ornament to their cause, and a skilful defender of their distinguishing tenets.
Few men, perhaps, have had more severe conflicts in renouncing the prejudices of education, than Mr. Mercer. This kind but bigoted father threw in his way obstacles, which he could not at first surmount; the church priest, and the whole Episcopal fraternity around him, used the most assiduous endeavors to prevent him from going amongst the heretical Baptists. The first minister of the denomination he ever heard preach, was a Mr. Thomas, at that time a successful preacher in North-Carolina. It was with much reluctance, and with many fearful apprehensions of the dangerous consequences, that he was induced to attend the meeting. But in spite of all his prejudices, the preacher drew his attention, and led him to think he was not such a dangerous deceiver as he had always before supposed. This was on Monday. The next Lords day, the priest being absent, and his father being clerk, performed as usual the duties of his office. As yet none of the family knew that Silas had been to the Baptist meeting. After the service of the day was over, a person asked him, in the hearing of his father, how he liked the Baptist preacher? He was much confused, and knew not what to answer; but his conscience obliged him to express some degree of approbation. At which the old gentleman burst into tears, and exclaimed, "Silas, you are ruined!" and out he went, hastily home. Silas, alarmed, took hastily after him, to soothe his grief and appease his resentment. The offended father and offending son were so deeply affected with the trifling affair, that they forgot their wives, and left them to go home alone. The charm was now broken; and from this period Mr. M. began to entertain more favorable views of the people he had hitherto so much censured and despised. Not long after this, he removed to Georgia, and settled in what is now Wilks county, where, about 1775, he was baptized by Mr. Alexander Scott, united with the church at Kioka, by which he was almost immediately approbated to preach. At the commencement of the American war, he fled for shelter to Halifax county, in his native State, where he continued about six years, all of which time he was incessantly engaged in preaching as an itinerant in different places around; and it is found by his journal, that, take the whole six years together, he preached oftener than once a day; that is, more than two thousand sermons in the time. At the close of the war, he returned to his former residence in Georgia, where he continued to the end of his days. In this State, he labored abundantly with good effect, and was the means of planting a number of churches in different parts of the country. He was justly esteemed one of the most exemplary and useful ministers in the southern States. His learning was not great, but having a desire that his young brethren might obtain greater advantages than he had enjoyed, he had set up a school at his house, procured an able teacher, and was in a promising way to promote the interests of learning in the churches around him; but in the midst of his benevolent plans and distinguished usefulness, he was, after a short illness, removed from the scene of his employments, in 1796, in the 52d year of his age.
The following portrait of Mr. Mercers character, is found in Mr. Semples History of the Virginia Baptists, page 82. "Mr. Mercer, both in countenance and manners, had considerably the appearance of sternness; and to feel quite free in his company, it was necessary to be well acquainted with him. He seldom talked on any other subject except religion; and when in company with young preachers, or those who might question his doctrine or his opinions, his remarks chiefly turned on polemical points. He was indefatigable in striving to maintain his opinions; and for this purpose would hear any and all objections that could be raised, and would then labor assiduously to remove them. His arguments, however, neither in private nor public, were ever dressed with oratorical ornaments. He spoke and acted like one who felt himself surrounded by the impregnable bulwarks of truth, and therefore did not wish to parley."[Mr. Mercer is here described as he appeared in Virginia, in 1791, in company with Jeremiah Walker, in the time of a great controversy respecting doctrinal points.]
He was more distinguished as a preacher than writer; but he devoted considerable time to study, and the following pieces were the productions of his leisure hours:
1st. Tyranny Exposed, and True Liberty Discovered, in a 12mo. pamphlet of 68 pages, the design of which was to show the rise, reign, and downfall of Antichrist.
2d. The Supposition of the Divine Right of Infants to Baptism, from their formerly having a Right to Circumcision, Confuted, being a Letter to a Friend. This piece was not printed.
3d. The History of Baptism, carried to some extent, but left unfinished.
4th. Two Letters on Election, left unpublished.
JOSHUA MORSE (1726-1795)
Joshua Morse was, in his day, a very eminent preacher among the Baptists in New-England. He was born in South-Kingston, Rhode-Island, April 10, 1726. His grandfather came from the west of England to Rhode-Island, in the early part of the settlement of the colony, and served as a chaplain in the first war in which this country was engaged against the French. The son, from whom the subject of this memoir descended, whose name does not appear, was not a professor of religion, but was by education a Baptist, as his father was of that persuasion. Young Joshua, at the age of sixteen, in the time of the New-light Stir, was awakened to religious concern. When the zealous New-lights began to make a noise in the neighborhood, he, with others, was ready to reproach and despise them; but the very first meeting he attended, his mind was arrested. When he first entered it, he saw them so zealously affected, that he hesitated not to say that they were all deluded; but he came away under fearful apprehensions of being made miserable forever. Soon after he was brought to rejoice in the truth, he became a zealous exhorter, and at the age of eighteen commenced his ministerial labors, which he continued with much reputation and success for upwards of fifty years. The early, and indeed the greatest part of his ministry, was spent in Connecticut. He first began preaching in Stonington, where he was much opposed, abused and persecuted, by a set of bigoted gentry, who declared that his preaching was not according to law. At that time, every man who opened his doors for a dissenter to preach, was liable to be fined five pounds, the preacher was subjected to a fine of ten shillings, and every hearer to five. The very first time Mr. Morse preached in Stonington, he was apprehended, carried before a magistrate, sentenced to pay the ten shillings, or be whipped ten lashes, at the public whipping-post. The fine he could not pay, and of course the lashes he was preparing to receive. He was taken to the post by the order of the magistrate, but the constable, instead of inflicting the lashes, plead the cause of the innocent sufferer, remonstrated against the wickedness of the law, the cruelty of the court, and utterly refused performing the barbarous duty which had been assigned him. After spending some time in this awkward position, the constable tendered the magistrate from his own pocket the fine which had been exacted. The magistrate, probably ashamed of his conduct, offered it to Mr. Morse, and bid him receive it, and go peaceably away. But as he would pay no money, so he would receive none, and his persecutors finding him rather unmanageable, went off and left him to take his own course. For a number of years after this, he was often opposed, sometimes by law, but more frequently by mobs. His preaching was attended with much success, and that encouraged him and enraged his opposers, In one of his meetings, one of the reverend gentlemen of the town came in just as he was beginning his sermon, put his hand on his mouth, and then bid a brother, whom he had brought with him, to strike him. At another time a man came in while he was preaching, and struck him with such violence on his temple, that it brought him to the floor; when he arose, he looked on his persecutor, and with emotions of pity, said, "If you die a natural death, the Lord hath not spoken by me." This man, not long after, went to sea, fell from the vessel, and was drowned. At another meeting he was knocked down while in prayer; he was then seized by the hair, dragged out of the house down high steps to the ground, and so deeply bruised in his head and face, that he carried some of the scars to his grave. These are a few of the sufferings of this eminent man of God in the early part of his ministry. He was also frequently threatened by mobs, who did not carry their persecuting designs into execution. After preaching once in Stonington, he was informed that a gang was out of doors, who, like Pauls persecutors, had sworn that they would kill him when he came out. His wife, who, it appears, was with him, and his friends entreated him not to go out; but having another appointment some distance off, he resolved to fulfill it, and said to his friends, "What mean ye to weep and break my heart?" etc. As soon as he was out of the door, he lifted up his hands and began to pray for his persecutors; they, confounded by this new mode of warfare, immediately dropped their clubs; some begged his pardon, and the rest fled away.
But in the midst of all these persecutions, his labors were attended with great success; many were awakened by his means, and some churches in Rhode-Island and Connecticut arose under his ministry. About 1750, he was ordained to the care of a church in the north parish of New-London, now called Montville. Two or three years after he moved to Fishkill in the State of New-York, were he remained about two years, when, by the earnest entreaties of the church which he had left, he came back to live among them. Here he preached principally until 1779, when he removed to Sandisfield, Massachusetts, where a church arose under his labors, which he continued to serve as pastor, until within about a month of his death, which happened July, 1795, in the 70th year of his age, and 53d of his ministry. He had been some time laboring under a disease, which he expected would end in his dissolution. About four weeks before he died, he called his church together, and gave them his last advice and benediction. He had composed a hymn to be sung at his funeral, and he now made choice of a passage to be preached from on the solemn occasion, which was, This is a faithful saying, and worthy of all acceptation, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am chief. The sermon was preached by Elder Rufus Babcock, of Colebrook.
Mr. Morse was early acquainted with Mr. Whitefield, and caught much of the zeal of that famous itinerant. His preaching was solemn and instructive, and the rules, which he laid down for others, he practiced himself. He was singularly grave and devout, insomuch that it is said by those who were long acquainted with him, that he was never known to laugh. He often entered so feelingly into his discourses, as to weep almost from beginning to end. He was well instructed in the doctrine of the cross; and his knowledge of the Scriptures was exceeded by few. His memory was retentive, his voice peculiarly commanding and impressive, and his preaching, if not eloquent, was pathetic and persuasive.
He was honored in every relation he sustained, and his usefulness as a minister of the word was exceeded by few in his day. He was above the middle stature, of a robust constitution, and well fitted for the labors and hardships which itinerant preachers of his time were obliged to endure.
Being honored of his God as the instrument of turning many to righteousness, and always bearing about with him the marks of the Lord Jesus, be was much beloved throughout an extensive circle when living, and his name is still mentioned with peculiar marks of respect, by many of the ancient saints, who enjoyed his acquaintance.
Mr. Morse married, when about 24 years of age, Susannah, the eldest daughter of Mr. Joseph Babcock, of Westerly, Rhode-Island, by whom he had many children. Seven of them are yet living, and his youngest son Asahel is pastor of the church in Suffield, Connecticut. From his narrative of the life of his venerable father, the substance of this sketch has been extracted. His widow survived him about fifteen years, and died lately in the 80th year of her age.
JOSEPH REESE (1746-1795)
Joseph Reese was born at Duck-Creek, in Kent county, then in the Province of Pennsylvania, but now in the State of Delaware. He was removed to South-Carolina in 1745, when but 9 years of age, and during his youthful days was very gay and fond of pleasure. His conversion, therefore, which took place in 1760, under the ministry of Reverend Philip Mulky, was remarkable, and drew much attention. Mr. Reese was baptized soon after his conversion by Mr. Mulky, and commenced preaching soon after his baptism. His ordination, however, for some reason, was deferred until 1768, when it was performed by Messrs. Oliver Hart and Evan Pugh. He was at the same time installed pastor of the church at the Congaree, with which he stood in that relation, except a few years during the revolutionary war, till his death, which took place March 5, 1795, when he was aged 63 years.
The Church at the High Hills of Santee was gathered under his ministry, in 1770; at which time and place a great attention to religion was excited by his preaching among a numerous people, who had been till then very careless, and unacquainted with vital religion.
He was very infirm about ten years before his death; and during the last two of them, one of the most afflicted of men. But during the whole, he exhibited a sublime example of faith, patience, and resignation to the will of God; of concern for the divine glory, for the interests of the church at large, of that with which he was connected in particular, and for the salvation of individuals with whom he was connected or conversant. When public worship was supported at the place of worship nearest to him, about three miles distant, he was several times carried there on his bed, lying down during the service; and if he found himself able, which he sometimes did, would sit up at the conclusion of worship, and address a few words to the congregation in the style of conversation and advice, by which they were generally melted into tears. His last attendance at the church was about twelve months before his death; at which time, in great pain and weakness, he administered the Lords Supper. God was pleased, in the midst of all his affliction, to afford him the consolations of his grace, and he died in much assurance of his interest in the Redeemer, whom he loved.
Mr. Reese was a man of good understanding and warm affections. His piety, it is believed, was never called in question. He had but little education, though he made improvements after he began to preach; but he had a large fund of evangelical and experimental knowledge. His natural eloquence, and command of the passions of his hearers, were extraordinary. He was both a Boanerges, and a son of consolation. His voice and his countenance are said to have affected his hearers like an enchantment.
In the early part of his ministry he met with much opposition, but with surprising success.
One William Reese was exceedingly mad against him, as he was preaching at the High Hills of Santee, swearing and threatening what he would do to him; but before the service of the day was over, this same opposer was observed to tremble, and look about him as if he was meditating to run away, but did not do so; presently he swooned; when he came to himself and appearing in a shivering condition, a companion of his said, "Will, you are cold, will you go to the fire?" He replied, "I am going to the fire! The fire of hell! O Lord, save me!" His distress was great for a considerable time, during which he made a public acknowledgment of his wicked conduct and persecuting intentions.
At another time, when he was preaching at Congaree, one Robert Liass made towards him with a hickory club, saying, "that he would wear it out on the bawling dogs back." But he was hindered from his purpose, and persuaded to be quiet. Soon after he was observed to be affected, but said nothing. It was not long, however, before he sent for Mr. Reese in the night, and said, "I am damned! I am going to hell!" Mr. Reese said, "Perhaps not, perhaps not." Liass replied hastily, "Is there a peradventure? thank God for that! Had I certainty of it I would endure a thousand deaths! I would rot piece by piece, and be a thousand years rotting, if it would secure me from going to hell!"
Whether these men, who were so remarkably convicted, were ever converted, we are not informed.
Mr. Reese was a warm friend to his country in the revolutionary war, and represented the district in which he lived, in the State Legislature, when the first constitution was formed for South-Carolina.
SHUBAEL STEARNS (1735-1771)
The outlines of Mr. Stearnss biography have been given in the history of the Separate Baptists; and as much has already been said of this eminent man of God, it will be unnecessary to say much more respecting him.
Mr. Stearns was a man of small stature, but of good natural parts, and sound judgment. Of learning he had but a little share, yet was pretty well acquainted with books. His voice was musical and strong, which he managed in such a manner, as one while, to make soft impressions on the heart, and fetch tears from the eyes in a mechanical way; and anon, to shake the very nerves, and throw the animal system into tumults and perturbations. All the Separate Baptists copied after him in tones of voice and actions of body; and some few exceeded him. His character was indisputably good, both as a man, a Christian, and a preacher. In his eyes was something very penetrating, which seemed to have a meaning in every glance. Many stories have been told respecting the enchantments of his eyes and voice, but the two following examples we give, with the more confidence, because the subjects of them, viz. Tidence Lane and Elnathan Davis, were men of sense and reputation, and afterwards became distinguished ministers of the Baptist society.
Mr. Lane afterwards became a very useful Baptist minister, and was one of the first of the denomination, who removed to Tennessee, where he administered, until his death, with reputation and success.
"Elnathan Davis had heard that one John Steward was to be baptized such a day, by Mr. Stearns. Now this Steward being a very large man, and Stearns of small stature, he concluded there would be some diversion if not drowning; therefore he gathered about eight or ten of his companions in wickedness, and went to the spot. Mr. Stearns came, and began to preach. Elnathan went to hear him, while his companions stood at a distance. He was no sooner among the crowd, than he perceived some of the people tremble, as if in a fit of the ague; he felt and examined them, in order to find if it were not a dissimulation; meanwhile one man leaned on his shoulder, weeping bitterly; Elnathan, perceiving he had wet his new white coat, pushed him off, and ran to his companions, who were sitting on a log at a distance. When he came, one said, "Well, Elnathan, what do you think now of these -- people?" affixing to them a profane and reproachful epithet. He replied, "There is a trembling and crying spirit among them; but whether it be the Spirit of God or the devil, I dont know; if it be the devil, the devil go with them, for I will never more venture myself among them." He stood a while in that resolution; but the enchantment of Stearnss voice drew him to the crowd once more. He had not been long there before the trembling seized him also; he attempted to withdraw; but his strength failing, and his understanding being confounded, he, with many others, sunk to the ground. When he came to himself, he found nothing in him but dread and anxiety, bordering on horror. He continued in this situation some days, and then found relief by faith in Christ. Immediately he began to preach conversion work, raw as he was, and scanty as his knowledge must have been."
Mr. Davis was born in Baltimore county, Maryland, 1735; was bred a Seventh-day Baptist; went to Slow River, in North-Carolina, in 1757; was baptized by Shubael Stearns at Sandy-Creek, and ordained by Samuel Harris, in 1764; continued in North-Carolina until 1798, when he removed to South-Carolina, and settled in the bounds of the Saluda Association.
Mr. Stearns died November 20, 1771, at Sandy-Creek, and was buried near his meeting-house.
[The following account of that eminent servant of God, Dr. Stillman, is prefixed to a volume of his sermons, published after his death. The substance of it was written by his son in law, Reverend Mr. Gray, of Roxbury, adjoining Boston, and a part by Dr. Baldwin. The description of his doctrinal sentiment was drawn by one of his church.]
SAMUEL STILLMAN (c. 1737-1807)
Samuel Stillman, D.D. was born in the city of Philadelphia, of parents respectable for their virtues, and of the religious persuasion of Particular Baptists. At the age of eleven years he was removed with them to Charleston, South-Carolina, and there received the rudiments of his education at an academy under a Mr. Rind. His improvements there were such as presaged his future worth and he gave early indications of a mind seriously impressed with a sense of religious truth. In one of his manuscripts we find some account of very early religious impressions being made upon his mind. These, however, he observes, were generally of short continuance, until more effectually awakened by a sermon delivered by the late excellent Mr. Hart, when, to borrow his own language, he says, "My mind was again solemnly impressed with a sense of my awful condition as a sinner. This conviction grew stronger and stronger. My condition alarmed me. I saw myself without Christ and without hope. I found that I deserved the wrath to come, and that God would be just to send me to hell. I was now frequently on my knees, pleading for mercy. As a beggar I went, having nothing but guilt, and no plea but mercy." How long he continued in this distressed condition is not particularly stated, but it appears from several passages of Scripture, he obtained a degree of hope and comfort, though not entirely satisfied. Not long after, he heard Mr. Hart discourse from Matthew 1:21. "And she shall bring forth a son, and thou shalt call his name Jesus; for he shall save his people from their sins."
From this sermon he received consolation, and adds, "Christ then became precious to me, yea, all in all. Then I could say of wisdom, "Her ways are ways of pleasantness, and all her paths are peace." That I still think was the day of my espousal. Glory be to God, for the riches of his grace to me. Why me, Lord? etc." He was soon after baptized, and received into the church under the pastoral care of Mr. Hart.
After finishing his classical education, he spent one year in the study of divinity with that gentleman. Being called by the church, he preached his first sermon on the 17th of February, 1758; and on the 26th of February, 1759, was ordained in the city of Charleston, South-Carolina, to the work of an evangelist.
Immediately afterwards, however, he settled at James Island, a most pleasant situation opposite the city. Soon after he visited the place of his nativity, and on the twenty-third of May, the same year, married Hannah, the daughter of Evin Morgan, Esq. merchant of that place, by whom he afterwards had fourteen children. He also took his degree at the university there, and returned to his society on James Island. But he had not continued above eighteen months with his affectionate and united people, before a violent attack of a pulmonary complaint, forced his removal to another climate. He accordingly fixed himself with his family at Bordentown, New-Jersey, where he supplied two different congregations for the space of two years. His ill health somewhat improved, but by no means restored, determined him at length to visit New-England, hoping that the exercise, together with the change of air, might yet further mend his impaired constitution.
On his arrival here, 1763, at the request of the Second Baptist Church, he removed his family to Boston, and after preaching one year as an assistant to the late Reverend Mr. Bound, accepted an invitation to settle with the First Baptist Church, and was installed over it January 9, 1765.
By nature he was endowed with a sprightly genius, a good capacity, and an uncommon vivacity and quickness of apprehension. His feelings were peculiarly strong and lively, which imparted energy to whatever he did, and under the influence and control of religious principles, served to increase and diffuse his eminent piety. To this constitutional ardor both of sentiment and action, which led him to enter with his whole soul into every subject which engaged his attention, he united a remarkable delicacy of feeling and sense of propriety, and such sprightliness and affability in conversation, such ease and politeness of manners, and at the same time such a glow of pious zeal and affection, as enabled him to mingle with all ranks and classes of people, and to discharge all his duties as a Christian minister and a citizen, with dignity, acceptance, and usefulness. The lively interest he appeared to take, in whatever affected the happiness or increased the pleasures of his friends, the gentleness of his reproofs and the gratification he seemed to feel in commending others, united to his social qualities, endeared him to all who knew him.
The popularity of a preacher commonly declines with his years. Dr. Stillman, however, was a singular exception to this general remark. He retained it for upwards of forty-two years; and his congregation, which, upon his first connection with it, was the smallest in the town, at the age of seventy, the period of his death, he left amongst the most numerous. As a minister of Christ, his praise was in all the churches; and wherever his name has been heard, an uncommon degree of sanctity has been connected with it. His principles were highly Calvinistic, and all his sermons bore strong marks of his warm attachment to that system. The natural strength and ardor of his feelings, indeed, imparted zeal to whatever opinion he espoused, and activity to whatever duty he performed. Yet with all his quickness of perception, and acuteness of feeling, his temper was under admirable control, and he was always the thorough master both of his words and actions. Thus embracing what have been denominated the distinguishing doctrines of the gospel, he explained and enforced them with clearness, and with an apostolic zeal and intrepidity.
On the leading principles of the gospel, he always preached and conversed as a Christian minister, who took a deep and hearty interest in their diffusion and establishment. But he did not depend for success on his zeal and fidelity. He knew that what he was, and what he was enabled to do in the cause of God, were wholly by his gracious influence. Whilst he realized his own entire dependence, and that of others, he was animated in duty, believing that the Lord meeteth all who rejoice and work righteousness, those who remember him in his ways.
A subject on which he often spoke with grateful adoration was, the true and proper Godhead of the Lord Jesus Christ. His views of sin as an infinite evil necessarily impressed upon his mind this truth. He considered the Savior as an infinitely worthy object of divine worship, and in consequence of this dignity of character qualified to make atonement for sin. On this foundation rested his hope of salvation; and if this were not a reality, he despaired of entering into glory, and believed the salvation of every sinner an impossible event. But having no doubt on this cardinal point, he was enabled to preach the gospel with clearness.
On the subject of the trinity and unity of God, he literally believed the declaration of John, "There are three that bear record in heaven, the Father, the Word, and the Holy Ghost, and these three are one;" but as to an explanation of the manner or mode of subsistence of the divine nature, he would say he had nothing to do; for Revelation did not explain it. He only declared it as a truth to be believed on the divine testimony.
The total moral depravity of man was a principle on which he much insisted on all proper occasions. He had no idea that there was any latent spark of holiness in the heart of a natural man, which, as some suppose, can be kindled by the exertions of the sinner, and kept alive by the same means. This opinion he reprobated with all his heart, viewing it as a denial of that grace which is revealed in the gospel, and as having a natural tendency to take the crown of glory from the head of IMMANUEL. In contradiction of this error, he would often remark on this text as a motto congenial to the feelings of a believer, "Upon himself (Jesus) shall, his crown flourish." So far was he removed from this mistake, that he believed the real Christian, though renewed by the Holy Spirit, was constantly dependent on Gods immediate agency for the origin and continuance of every gracious exercise. Although he believed the entire sinfulness of the natural heart, he did not erroneously connect with it a license to sin, nor suppose that men are released from moral duties because they are indisposed to them. From the fact that man is endowed with reason, will and affections, he argued his moral obligation to believe what God has revealed, and obey what he has commanded.
As his views of mans depravity were clear and distinct, he of consequence saw the necessity of regeneration by the free and sovereign agency of the Holy Ghost. That operation of God by which this change is effected, he did not consider as a mere circumstantial alteration or new modification of the sinful affections, but that a new disposition was given to the soul, well described by Paul as a new creation. In this change he supposed the person was brought to have entirely new views of moral subjects.
Respecting the atonement of Christ, his sentiments were honorary to truth. He considered it as an illustration of the divine perfections not recoverable by any other medium; exhibiting to all intelligent beings the odious nature of sin, Gods love to holiness, and his unspeakable mercy to the guilty. He viewed the merits of Christ in his obedience and death, as having an infinite value, and as possessing a sufficiency for the salvation of every individual of the human race, had it been the will of God to make its application to the conscience so extensive; but from divine Reverend he learned that its design was particular, respecting, in its application to the heart, the elect only. He did not, however, connect with this the erroneous idea of some, that all men were not under obligation to repent of their sins and believe the gospel; but whilst he believed the condemnation of sinners was by the moral law, he supposed that this condemnation would be greatly aggravated by a rejection of the gospel, and that they would be treated as those who despised Gods grace.
His ideas of the faith which accompanies salvation were, that it was a belief of the gospel; a hearty reception of that plan of grace which is revealed in Christ Jesus, accompanied with holy love and every gracious exercise. He rejected the error, that the essence of faith consists in a persons believing that Christ died for him in particular; no such proposition being contained in the word of God, and no one being warranted to believe this till he has good evidence of his regeneration. From his ideas of faith he naturally inferred that good works would uniformly follow. These he zealously enforced as an evidence of faith, but not as designed to originate it. Practical godliness was a subject on which he often preached, and which he urged on believers from the noblest gospel motives.
The purpose of God in his eternal election of a certain number of the human race to salvation, was a principle dear to Dr. Stillman, as a truth clearly revealed. Believing the carnal mind, or natural heart, to be enmity against God, he very justly concluded, that if any sinners were saved, their salvation must be effected by an influence extraneous from themselves. To imagine with some, that God had left it with depraved men to meet him in any conditions which they were to perform, he would represent as dishonorary to the Divine Majesty, who will not give his glory to another. Neither could he believe that any of Gods designs originated in time; but that all his purposes were, like himself, eternal. This was his ground of encouragement to preach, knowing that God had determined by the foolishness of preaching to save them that believe, and that he had promised to make a willing people in the day of his power.
From his clear apprehension of eternal personal election, he was firmly established in the final perseverance to eternal glory of all those who are regenerated by the Spirit of God; and that the grace given is an incorruptible seed.
The opinion that religious establishments are contrary to the New Testament, was defended by him. His ideas on this subject are plainly expressed in his sermon before the General Court of Massachusetts, in 1779. The interference of rulers, as such, in matters of conscience, he ever considered as an infringement of natural right. In this sermon he showed that his own ideas on this subject were similar to those of the immortal Locke. He was a cordial friend to religious liberty; and all his conduct in life towards Christians from whom he differed, manifested that he was heartily willing that every conscientious citizen should worship in the manner which agreed with the dictates of his conscience, after a candid examination of the word of God.
He preached much to the feelings, and to the heart; and numbers on whose minds naked reason and simple truth could produce no serious effects, his powerful eloquence was a happy means both of touching and reclaiming. Nor was he only a preacher of righteousness. Few men ever exemplified more than he did, the virtues he recommended to others. Whilst he exhibited to his flock the various trials and comforts of Christians, whilst he guided them in the way to eternal life, he led them also by his own example.
His sermons were always studied, and it was his judicious practice principally to write them. Yet from his manner of delivery, (a manner peculiar to himself) he always appeared as easy as if speaking extempore. Indeed it was his constant method to add at the moment such thoughts as occurred to his mind whilst speaking. These thoughts were as naturally connected with the subject as though they had been a studied part of it; and as they were usually delivered with much pathos, they had the happiest effect upon the audience.
As a public speaker, as a pulpit orator, he was second perhaps to none. Nature had furnished him with a pleasant and most commanding voice, the very tones of which were admirably adapted to awaken the feelings of an audience, and he always managed it with great success. His manner, though grave and serious, was peculiarly graceful, popular, and engaging. His remarkable animation gave additional interest to every subject he handled. Those who heard him might with propriety have said of him what was said of another eminent preacher -- "This man is in earnest; he believes what he says, and says what he believes. Verily this is a man of God. Ten such men, and Sodom would have stood."
His eloquence was of the powerful and impressive, rather than of the insinuating and persuasive kind, and so strikingly interesting, that he never preached to an inattentive audience. And even those who dissented from him in some minor theological opinions, were still pleased with hearing him, for they knew his sincerity, they knew him to be a good man.
Few persons are alike eminent in all the different duties of the ministerial office; but it would perhaps be difficult to say in which of these Dr. Stillman most excelled.
In prayer he always seemed to his audience as if engaged with a present Deity. His addresses to Heaven were generally short, but very comprehensive; they were solemn and edifying, and usually very feeling and impressive; and thus coming from the heart, they seldom failed to reach the hearts of others.
In the chamber of sickness and affliction he was always a welcome visitor. So well could he adapt his conversation, as to comfort or to caution, to soothe or to awaken, just as the case seemed to require. And if he administered reproof, it was done in so delicate and mild a manner, that it oftener conciliated esteem, than created offense. In his prayers with the sick and afflicted, however intricate the occasion, he was always both appropriate and highly devotional. So eminent was his character for piety, and so universally was he beloved, that he was often called to the sick and afflicted of other denominations. And his sympathetic feelings, and his fervent supplications seldom failed to pour the balm of consolation into the wounded bosom. The sick would almost forget their pains, and the mourner cease to sigh. How many wounded hearts he has bound up, and from how many weeping eyes he has wiped the tears away -- how many thoughtless sinners he was the means of awakening, and how many saints he has edified and built up unto eternal life -- how many wavering minds he has settled, and to how many repenting sinners his words have administered peace, can be fully known only at the great day!
It having pleased the Author of Wisdom to visit Dr. Stillman with peculiar trials, and having largely experienced the supporting influence of religion under them, he was eminently qualified to administer consolation to others. Few persons could describe with such accuracy, or enter with such facility into the feelings and exercise of the tempted, tried believer. Like a skillful surgeon, he knew when the wound was sufficiently probed, and when to apply the healing balm of promise.
In the course of a few years he was called to bury seven of his children, all adults, and some of them with rising families, having previously buried five children in infancy. But notwithstanding his domestic trials were so great, his Christian patience and submission were equal to them all. Such was his perfect confidence in the wisdom of Gods government, that with all his extreme sensibilities, his mind lost nothing of its lively confidence, or of its cheerful hope.
Dr. Stillman was possessed of great benevolence of heart, and was a sincere lover of persons of every Christian denomination, whom he esteemed pious and good. Though from education and from principle a Baptist himself, he never believed that the peculiarities of any sect ought to form a separating line, or hinder the union of good men, for the advancement of the common cause of the Redeemer. With many such he long lived in habits of undissembled friendship, and by them his death will not very soon cease to be regretted.
With a view more especially to assist young men in attaining a suitable education for the ministry, he successfully employed his talents and zeal in aiding the interests of Brown University, Rhode-Island, which owes much to his exertions.
It might be mentioned as a proof of the high estimation in which his talents were held as a preacher, that there is scarcely any public occasion on which he has not at one time or another officiated. The university of Cambridge conferred on him the honorary degree of Master of Arts, in 1761. The college in Rhode-Island, of which he was both a Trustee and a Fellow, in 1788 gave him a diploma of Doctor in Divinity. He was elected a member of the Federal Convention for the town of Boston the same year, and distinguished himself there by a most eloquent speech in its defense. In 1789 he was appointed to deliver the anniversary oration on independence to the town of Boston, which he accomplished in a manner both handsome and acceptable.
The social feelings of the Doctor were strong, and his powers of conversation such as always pleased. In his manners there was an unaffected elegance and ease, which rendered him uncommonly agreeable to every circle. The affability and kindness with which he treated persons of every description, were not less the effect of a natural delicacy than of a general knowledge of mankind. Hence to the great he never could appear servile, nor imperious to those in humbler stations. To both he was the gentleman, and in private company as much esteemed as he was popular in his public performances. His benevolent heart was feelingly alive to distress of every kind, and in contributing to its alleviation in every shape he was actively useful. We find his name amongst the first members of the Humane Society of this Commonwealth. Of the Massachusetts Charitable Fire Society he was a useful officer, and of the Boston Dispensary a member from its beginning, and President at his death. The Boston Female Asylum is likewise much indebted to his exertions. He was also an almoner of the private charity of many individuals, who confided in his knowledge and judgment of suitable objects.
Such was the faithfulness with which he discharged the various duties incumbent on him as a minister of the gospel; such was his zeal for the glory of God and the good of souls, that it may be truly said of him, he was the happy man. Holy, spiritual religion was not with him a transient, visionary thing, but the element in which he breathed. His soul was often so enlarged in declaring the glorious gospel, and in expatiating on the riches of Gods grace as manifested in his word, that he not only seemed himself to enjoy a prelibation of heaven, but to have been enabled by divine influence to communicate this blessedness to others; so that his friends have often said, after having heard his private conversation or public preaching, Truly our fellowship was with the Father, with his Son Christ Jesus, and with one another through the Spirits influence.
To his church and people he was strongly attached, and particularly attentive. [For a long time previous to his death, he was particularly anxious that a colleague pastor should be settled with him. Knowing that time with him was short, he ardently wished to see his church and congregation happily united in a person, whose sentiments and character he should entirely approve, and to whose care he could cheerfully confide his charge, when he should be called to put off the earthly house of his tabernacle. To effect this object, in his view so important, his labors were incessant; and Providence seemed to smile on his endeavors. The Reverend JOSEPH CLAY from Georgia, having visited the town of Boston, appeared, both to the pastor and the flock, to be the very object of their united wishes. Proposals having been accordingly made to him for settlement, which he accepted, necessary arrangements were making for it. The Doctor was delighting himself with the prospect; but it pleased Heaven that he should not be permitted to realize its accomplishment. Mr. Clay had returned to the southward, to settle his affairs there. Two or more months before his return, the period he had fixed for it, the melancholy circumstance of Dr. Stillmans death occurred. The following August Mr. Clays installation took place.] Nor did he ever suffer any calls of relaxation or amusement to interfere with the conscientious discharge of the smallest professional duty. His duty was indeed always his delight, and nothing in his mind ever stood in any sort of competition with it.
His congregation always reciprocated his warm attachment to them. They ever sat delighted under his preaching, and felt a pride in him as an accomplished pulpit orator, no less than a love for him as an excellent preacher; and neither of them were any ways diminished by the attention of strangers who visited the metropolis, and were commonly desirous of hearing this celebrated minister before they left it.
In the different walks of social and private life, Dr. Stillman was peculiarly amiable. Those most intimately connected with him, ever found him a pleasant companion, a judicious counsellor, and a faithful friend. The various offices of domestic life were discharged with the same fidelity and tenderness which marked his public conduct. Of husbands, he was one of the most kind and affectionate; of parents the most tender and endearing. Indeed, all who resided under his roof experienced his paternal care and goodness.
Through life his habit of body had been weakly, and he was not unused to occasional interruptions of his ministerial labors; yet he survived all his clerical contemporaries, both in Boston and its vicinity. It was his constant prayer that his life and usefulness might run parallel: in this his desires were gratified. He had now attained the age of seventy, when the time of his departure had arrived. A slight indisposition detained him at home the two last Lords days of his life. On the Wednesday following the second of them, without any previous symptoms, he was suddenly attacked at eleven oclock, A.M. by a paralytic shock. At ten at night he grew insensible, and at twelve his useful life and labors were terminated together. Could he have selected the manner of his death, it had probably been such an one as this, which spared him the pain of separation from a flock he was most ardently attached to, and a family he most tenderly loved; a scene which, to a person of his feeling mind, notwithstanding all his religion, must have occasioned a shock.
In one of his sermons, preached after the death of the late Dr. Peter Thacher, of this town, he says, "Though we would not wish to choose, or offer to dictate to Infinite Wisdom, as to the manner of our exit, yet may we be permitted to say, that when good men are suddenly cut down, they avoid the pains and extreme distresses that always accompany a lingering sickness. And though we would not pray, From sudden death, good Lord, deliver us, we would devoutly pray, For sudden death, good Lord, prepare us."
On the Monday following his death, his remains were attended to his meeting-house, where a pathetic and appropriate discourse was delivered on the occasion, by the Reverend Dr. Baldwin, pastor of the Second Baptist Church in Boston, to an immensely thronged and deeply affected assembly, from 2 Timothy 4:7,8; after which his remains were conveyed to the tomb, amidst the regrets of a numerous concourse of people, who crowded around his bier, anxious to take a last look of the urn which contained the relics of him, who once to them was so dear, but whose face they should now behold no more.
Dr. Stillman was of the middling stature, of slender habit of body, yet remarkably upright. He was dark complexioned, and rather pale. His countenance, though naturally open and cheerful, yet either from principle or habit more frequently presented the appearance of thoughtfulness and solemnity. The vivacity of his mind was strongly marked in the features of his face, which enabled him with uncommon ease to give language to the passions whenever his subject required it.
The gracefulness of his person, the elegance of his manners, and above all, the dignity of his whole deportment were such, as could not fail of interesting the feelings of all who had the happiness of an acquaintance with him. In a word, there was something peculiarly prepossessing in that angelic solemnity, which he always manifested, when engaged in religious duties.
Dr. Stillmans works, except one Oration, consist altogether of Sermons, and are as follow:
1st. A Sermon on the repeal of the Stamp Act, 1766.
2d. A Sermon on the character of a good soldier: delivered before the Ancient and Honourable Artillery Company in Boston, June 4, 1770.
3d. Substance of a Sermon, delivered at the ordination of Reverend Samuel Shepard, in Stratham, (N. H.) Sept. 25, 1771.
4th. A Sermon on the death of Hon. Samuel Ward, Esq. member of the Continental Congress, from Rhode-Island, and delivered before that body in Philadelphia, March 26, 1776.
5th. A Sermon on the General Election in Massachusetts, May 26,1779.
6th. A Sermon on Charity, preached before the Most Ancient and Honourable Society of Free and Accepted Masons, in Charlestown, June 24, 1785.
7th. An Oration delivered to the inhabitants of the town of Boston, July 4, 1789.
8th. A Sermon on the death of Nicholas Brown, Esq. of Providence, (R.I.) May 31, 1791.
9th. A Sermon on the French Revolution, preached on the Annual Thanksgiving Day, Nov. 20, 1794.
10th. A Sermon on the ordination of Rev, Stephen Smith Nelson, preached in Boston, Sept. 15, 1797.
11th. A Sermon on the National Fast Day, April, 1799.
12th. A Sermon on the death of George Washington, late President of the United States of America, 1800.
13th. A Sermon on the opening of the New Baptist Meeting-House in Charlestown, May 12, 1801.
14th. A Sermon on the ordination of Reverend Thomas Waterman, Charlestown, October 7, 1801.
15th. A Sermon on the first anniversary of the Boston Female Asylum, September 5, 1802.
16th. A Sermon on the first anniversary of the Massachusetts Baptist Missionary Society, May 25, 1803.
17th. A Sermon on the death, and preached at the funeral of Hezekiah Smith, D. D. of Haverhill, January 31, 1805.
Besides these, soon after Dr. Stillmans death, his friends collected and published in a volume twenty sermons of his composing, eight of which were never before published. The titles of these sermons, in the order in which they stand in the volume, are as follow:
1st. Mankind universally apt to trust in their own righteousness. Published by desire of the hearers, 1769. 2d. The Sinners best Righteousness proved to be essentially deficient. 3d. Imputed Righteousness one of the Glories of the Gospel. 4th. Believers exhorted to continue in their obedience. 5th. Young People called upon to consider, that for their conduct here they must be accountable hereafter, at the Judgment-Seat of Christ. Delivered at an Evening Lecture, May 8, 1771, at the desire of a number of young men, and published by request. Sermons 6, 7, and 8 are on Apostolick Preaching. Delivered Nov. 1790. 9. Gods Compassion to the Miserable. Preached at the desire of Levi Ames, who attended on the occasion, and who was executed for burglary Oct. 21, 1773, aged 22. 10. The character of a foolish Son. Preached the Lords Day after the execution of Levi Ames. 11. Hope the Anchor of the Soul. Delivered Nov. 13, 1791. 12. Gods Designs vainly opposed by sinners. Delivered at the quarterly day of prayer, June 4, 1803. 13. The Blessedness of those who die in the Lord. Delivered April 17, 1768, occasioned by the death of the Authors Mother, Mrs. Mary Stillman, who died March 17. 1768, in Charleston, (S.C.) aged 57. 14. The Resurrection and Change of the vile Body. Delivered Nov. 30, 1806. 15. The Nature and Uses of Prayer. Delivered April 7, 1801, being the quarterly day of prayer. 16. The Gospel Ministry. Delivered in Salem, at the ordination of the Reverend Lucius Bolles, Jan. 9, 1805. 17. The Sinking Soul saved by Grace. Preached March 18, 1804. 18. The Nature and Design of the Atonement. Preached Feb. 1, 1807. 19. The Water of Life. Preached March 9, 1806. 20. The last words of Christ to his disciples. Delivered Feb. 22, 1807, being the last sermon which Dr. Stillman preached.
GARDNER THURSTON (1721-1802)
Gardner Thurston was the son of Edward and Elizabeth Thurston, and was born in Newport, Rhode-Island, Nov. 14, 1721. When he was but a small lad, some of his relatives in the country obtained him to tarry with them for a season, where the aged and religious were highly pleased to learn, that their little visitant had such a taste for devotion, that he was known to exhort his young associates to remember their Creator, and implore his aid whenever they formed any plan for enjoyment, and wished to be successful. To press his exhortation powerfully upon their hearts, and satisfy his own conscience, he was seen in their little circles praying to God. The pious kept these things in their minds, believing it highly probable, that Infinite Wisdom had designed him to be an instrument of great good among mankind.
After he returned to Newport, and had been some time under the ministry of the Reverend Mr. Whitman, and his colleague, Reverend Nicholas Eyers, he wrote them the following letter:
"Through the wonderful mercy of God, I am brought to see myself in a lost condition, and his word and my conscience testify, that in such a state of nature, I am a child of wrath.
"Sirs, I consider that the gospel requires a positive change in all who will be admitted into the kingdom of God; and that this change is new forming the heart, and subjecting the whole man to the service of Christ; that he may be translated out of the kingdom of darkness into the kingdom of Gods dear son. Knowing my own weakness and inability to deliver myself, I find that I cannot do any thing pleasing to God of myself; I cannot come to that true and saving faith in Jesus Christ, with which remission of sins is connected; neither can I make satisfaction for the least of my transgressions; therefore, O Sirs, I desire to depend wholly and alone upon the free grace of God in Jesus Christ, for wisdom, righteousness, sanctification, and redemption," etc.
Soon after he wrote to these ministers, who were over him in the Lord, he obtained peace in believing, and joy in the Holy Ghost; but did not make a public profession of his faith in God, till April 4, 1741. When this day came, his mind was covered with darkness, and filled with distressing fears, that he rested short of the Rock of Ages as the foundation of his hope; and that he should inevitably be a hypocrite if he joined the church. In this trying period of his life, he endeavored to make God his refuge, and prayed for the light of his countenance, that he might be led understandingly to know and to do his will. The time arrived in which he was to be examined as a candidate for baptism. But his fears concerning himself still continued, and multiplied to such an host against him, that when he came to the meeting-house door, he dared not enter, but turned and walked into a small burying-ground, and sat down upon a rock. The place, by the kind hand of God upon him, was made like the resting-place which Jacob found, as he journeyed from Beersheba to Padanaram. About sixty years afterward, walking in the same burying-ground, Mr. Thurston stopped, and putting his staff upon the rock, said, There I sat down, overwhelmed with distress, while the church were waiting for me to come in, to give them an account of the dealings of God with my soul. Soon after I sat down, I was enabled, through rich grace, to give up myself, and all I had, into the hands of my blessed Jesus, who immediately dispelled the darkness which covered me, removed my distress, filled me with peace and consolation, and gave me strength to declare what he had done for my soul."
He was received by the church, and baptized by their pastor, the Reverend Nicholas Eyers, and enjoyed great peace of mind, and establishment in the doctrine of Christ.
He was highly esteemed in the church as a pious and promising youth, and took an active part in their conference meetings, till God was pleased to call him to declare more publicly the glad tidings of salvation.
The church were so well satisfied with his account of the operations of the divine Spirit upon his mind, and his leading views of the great truths of the Christian system, that after hearing him a number of times, they gave him approbation to preach in 1748, and requested him to be an assistant to their pastor, Reverend Nicholas Eyers.
He from this time preached generally once on the Lords-day and one lecture every week. His desire for information, especially in divinity, was great, which he had an opportunity to gratify above many; for Mr. Eyers, with whom he was most intimately connected, was a man of talents and learning.
Mr. Eyers died suddenly, February 15, 1759, having preached part of the Lords day before; and Mr. Thurston was, by the church, invited to succeed him, and was accordingly ordained to the pastoral office on the 29th of April following.
As he was born and educated with the people whom he had now engaged to serve, he was not ignorant of their expectations from him as their pastor. He therefore determined to give himself wholly to the all-important work of preaching the glorious gospel of Christ, and to finish his course with joy. Consequently he left his former business, which was lucrative, closed his accounts, and entered into the vineyard of the Lord with all his heart; pleading the sweet promise which flowed from the Saviors lips; "Lo, I am with you alway, even to the end of the world." Mr. Thurston was endowed with an excellent disposition, and possessed a good natural constitution, with a quick and brilliant imagination. He was mild, studious, and amiable in his family; lively and engaging in the society of his friends; tender, solemn, and devotional among the sons and daughters of affliction; easy and graceful in all his public movements; his voice was strong and melodious, and his heart all alive in the great and arduous work of the ministry of reconciliation.
He generally wrote the heads of his sermons, the quotations from Scripture, and some of the most interesting ideas which he thought necessary for the clear illustration of his subject. These he commonly committed to memory, and but seldom had his notes before him in public.
Mr. Thurston being possessed of pleasing pulpit talents, and giving himself wholly to the work of the ministry, his hearers became so numerous that his meeting-house was enlarged twice, till it was 75 by 50 feet, and was well filled as long as he was able to preach. He was favored with repeated revivals of religion among his people. Though these revivals were small by comparison with what many experience in the present day, yet his success was not measured by the duration of his ministry; for many who joined the church a number of years after he was dead, dated their awakenings, and some the beginning of their hope in the Saviors merits, under his preaching. A number of ministers own him as an instrument in the Lords hands of their awakening, comfort, and establishment in the faith of Gods elect.
Mr. Thurston was well acquainted with afflictions and bereavements; for he lived to see all his near relations buried, except one daughter; and having passed through many temptations as a Christian and minister, he was well qualified for both sympathy and advice.
In 1792, he wrote as follows:
"I have heard that you have not enjoyed so good health of late as usual, on account of the loss of one of your eyes; and that you desire me to write you on this subject. The loss of the sight of one eye is very great, and it is a mercy you have one left. These bodily eyes must soon fail, be closed, and we be in the land of darkness, where we shall not need them. But, dear madam, there is another eye which the Lord can give to all who love him supremely; which is vastly preferable to us, even in this world; I mean the eye of faith. By this Abraham saw Christs duty and was glad; by this Job saw his Redeemer, and Moses saw him who was invisible. By this, we now behold the once suffering, bleeding Lamb of God, who died for our sins, and rose again for our justification; yes, by this eye we can look within the vail, and see Christ seated on the right hand of God, and ever living to make intercession for all who come unto God by him. By this eye, we can look through the pearly gates of the New-Jerusalem, and view the spirits of the just made perfect, joined with the blessed angels in celebrating the praises of their God and King.
"O transporting sight! Methinks, madam, you are now ready to cry, Lord, evermore give me this sight! He will give it to every one who comes unto him and asks for it. Yes, dear friend, I have something more to say: that we shall see the dear Lord with these bodily eves, though useless in the grave. He will change these vile bodies, with all their members, and fashion them like his own glorious body. Then he will cease in fruition, and faith in vision. Then those eyes which have been so long closed and useless, shall be opened again, and made useful. With mine eyes shall I behold him, and not another for me. Then shall we see the Savior, and converse with him, as one friend converseth with another. We shall see him, and be entirely conformed to his image, and be ever with the Lord. Think, dear friend, what a glorious sight this will be, which can never wax old or dim. The inhabitants of the New-Jerusalem shall no more say they are sick. There will be no more pain; sorrow and sighing shall entirely flee away.
"The dear Lord grant you, and every branch of your family, this portion.
"I remain your sincere friend, GARDNER THURSTON."
To a young Minister under some trials,
"I believe that God, who walks in the midst of the seven golden candlesticks, will support and defend you. Be upon your guard to cut off occasion from those who seek occasion, to speak disrespectfully of you. Endeavor always to exhibit a gospel temper. If they curse, do you bless; for the servant of the Lord must not strive, but in meekness instruct those who oppose themselves. You must not think your afflictions strange; they are what your Master and many of his servants met with before. You are only filling up your measure of that which was behind of the affliction of Christ in your flesh, for the bodys sake, which is the church. O blessed privilege, to partake with Christ in his afflictions! Be not discouraged, for the power of the enemy is limited like the great deep; hitherto it may come, and no further. For the wrath of man shall praise him, and the remainder shall he restrain.
"Concerning polemic performances, I will just observe, that I have formerly read many, and after all, I find the Bible to be the best book to discover what truth is, and to establish us in the truth. In this book we find a glorious display of Gods justice in the righteous condemnation of the wicked; and a glorious display of divine grace in the salvation of his people. Even from the foundation to the top-stone, it is all grace, grace, free grace."
In 1784, a little after the death of his wife, he thus addressed one of his correspondents:
"O, may I ever lean on my helper, God. I am indeed passing through the furnace of affliction, and drinking the bitter cup of the same; but it is the cup which my heavenly Father gives me, and it is mixed with mercy. It is all right; or I am sure that Infinite Goodness orders all things for the best for them who love him. O why should such an unprofitable servant as I am be spared? What are the designs of Providence? Surely the Lord has something worthy for me to do in his house, else I should have been cut down. I am firm in the opinion, that God will not take away his ministers before their work is done. If there be one more saint to be converted by their ministry, one more saint to be comforted, they will be continued. I hope I shall be willing to wait all the days of my appointed time, till my change come; then through rich grace, be like a shock of corn fully ripe coming in, in its season. And why should a minister or a Christian wish to stay one moment longer out of heaven than he can be useful?"
Mr. Thurston was not able to preach for about three years before his death; yet he was able to attend meetings for the most part of that time, and to visit his flock, and to speak comfortably unto Gods people. He appeared to be all the time on the wing for heaven; in fine, we can say with propriety, that his conversation was in heaven. A number of ministers and Christian friends visited him, in the course of about eighteen months before his death, and it was their uniform opinion, that they never saw any one so unconditionally given up to live on the promises of God, as he was; and who would talk so familiarly and constantly about death -- being with Jesus -- knowing the saints in heaven -- and the unutterable felicity which would overwhelm the whole ransomed family of God, in the resurrection morning.
Mr. Thurston was remarkably fond of meditating and conversing upon the triumphs of the Christian over death and the grave; and the perfection of our nature, and the extensiveness of our knowledge, when we come to dwell with Christ in heaven. "O," said he, "when I come into the glorious presence of my Lord, I shall see and know those servants and children of my heavenly Father, with whom I took sweet counsel while on earth. Yes, I shall know them as quick and with as much certainty as Peter knew Moses and Elias, when they descended from heaven to mount Tabor to converse with Christ. I am not afraid to die; for my Lord Jesus is with me, and I shall fear no evil. I know whom I have believed, and am sure that he will keep that, which I have committed unto him. What is that? It is my all, for I have been enabled to give myself into his hands; therefore I am not troubled about his property, for he knows how to keep it."
One morning, just after he had recovered from a fainting fit, he said to a friend, with a smile upon his countenance, "I did not think of seeing your face again in the flesh, one hour past; for I expected to have been with Jesus in heaven before this moment. Yet I do not wish you to think, that my Lord will tarry too long. His understanding is infinite: he is unchangeable. I have lived to a good old age, and have seen the salvation of the Lord. I long to see my Savior in glory. He will come quickly. For me to die is gain. The death of the righteous is called only a sleep. Them who sleep in Jesus will God bring with him; and the dead in Christ shall rise first. We shall then be like him, for we shall see him as he is. He will change our vile bodies, and make them like unto his most glorious body. Then shall I be satisfied," etc.
A little after this, he was more unwell, and his speech failed him so much, that he was never afterwards able to speak intelligibly. But a serene and smiling countenance and expressive gestures, showed that he retained his reason, and that he was calm and joyful in the approach of death; and after remaining in this situation a few days, he fell asleep in Jesus, on the 23d of May, 1802, in the eighty-first year of his age. A suitable discourse was delivered at his interment by Mr. Gano, of Providence.
These sketches have been extracted from a Memoir written by Mr. Joshua Bradley, who succeeded this venerable father in the pastoral office.
JEREMIAH WALKER (c. 1747-1792)
Jeremiah Walker was born in Bute county, North-Carolina, about the year 1747. He possessed rare and singular talents. When but a small boy, although descended from rather obscure parentage, and having very little education, he was remarkably fond of reading and improving his mind. He was also noticed as a boy of very moral and virtuous habits. When quite young he embraced vital religion, and being baptized, soon began to preach. The few Baptist preachers that were then in the ministry were very illiterate. Mr. Walker of course had very little opportunity of improving his small stock of literature, from their conversation; but the invincible energies of his genius towered above every obstruction. He quickly shone forth with so much splendor as to make it questionable, whether the obscurity of his education, as well as the unlearnedness of his society, did not, by leaving his mind unshackled from scholastic dogmas and from critical strictures, rather advance than impede his real greatness. After preaching in his native neighborhood, and in Pittsylvania county, Virginia, for some few years, he was induced by the new church called Nottoway, formed in Amelia county, Virginia, (now Nottoway) to move down and take the pastoral charge of them. This took place, anno 1769. Here he became very conspicuous, and disseminated his evangelical principles far and near. He was almost incessantly employed in preaching the gospel. In a few years, aided by others, particularly certain young preachers of his own raising, he planted between twenty and thirty churches south of James-river. In these were also a considerable number of gifted characters, who afterwards became distinguished preachers. All of whom were either brought to the knowledge of the truth through his ministry, or were nurtured under his fostering hand after they were brought. All who knew him about this time, coincide in ascribing to him every thing that is desirable in a minister of the gospel. In talents, as a preacher, he was equalled by few of any denomination. His voice was melodious, his looks were affectionate, his manner was impressive and winning, his reasoning was clear and conclusive, his figures were elegant, well chosen, and strictly applicable; all of which advantages were heightened by the most unaffected simplicity. In private conversation, he was uncommonly entertaining and instructing to all, but especially to young preachers. Affable with all sorts of people, he was beloved and admired as far as he was known. Besides this, he was considered by all his acquaintances exemplarily pious, and, no doubt, was so at that time. No spot nor wrinkle was found in his character.
So distinguished a man among the despised Baptists, could not long escape the notice of their opponents. When persecution began to arise, the enemies of the cross soon cast their eyes on Jeremiah Walker. Him they viewed as the champion. "If we can but silence him," said they, "the whole host beside will hide themselves in dens and caverns." Accordingly he was arrested in Chesterfield county, by virtue of a warrant from a magistrate, and, after examination, was committed to jail. His patience, humility, and uniform prudence and piety, while in prison, acquired for him the esteem of all, whose prejudices would allow them to think favorably of a Baptist. He kept a journal or diary, when confined, in which are some of the most pious and sensible reflections.
When Mr. Walker came out of jail, he stood, if possible, in higher estimation than he had done before. Wherever he went to preach, he was attended by a large concourse; and from his preaching the most beneficial consequences were constantly produced.
Here, alas! we could willingly drop the pencil, and leave the picture with these bright colorings: but our wishes cannot be indulged; candor compels us to forego the desire. Like the inspired historians, we must not only exhibit the goodness and greatness of Gods people, but their foibles and their follies too. They told of Davids rise; they told of his downfall likewise. No maxim is more surely established by experience and observation, than this -- High delights are fraught with great dangers. God hath set adversity over against prosperity. And whenever a man in any character arises to distinguished eminence, he may look for some downfall, unless he watch his steps with a commensurate vigilance.
Mr. Walker had arrived to a degree of distinction far above his associates. In whatever direction he might travel, he was hailed by many as a father in the gospel. Caressed by his friends; admired by all, even by his enemies; invited to the society of the great; very influential, and indeed all-powerful in Associations and other places among the Baptists; still young and inexperienced; it will not appear strange to an experienced mind, that this man, thus standing on a pinnacle, should tilt over.
In every good there will be some evil. The plain, familiar, affectionate manners of the Baptists in those days, under suitable restrictions, were surely favorable to vital piety. This habit, however, among the unsuspicious and incautious, exposed them to snares, into which too many fall. It would have been happy for Mr. Walker, if he had observed somewhat more of etiquette, especially among females. Their fondness for his company, under the pretense of religious affection, was often nothing more than carnal love in disguise. He was ultimately entrapped. In the year 1774, he attempted a criminal intrigue with a young woman, for which he was excluded; but soon again restored, on account of his apparently deep contrition. His deportment after this was so correct for some years, that he had almost regained his former standing. But, lamentable to relate, about the year 1784 or 1785, he fell into a similar transgression, in which things were carried much farther than the first. He was immediately excluded from fellowship. He sunk down into the utmost contempt. His name sounded with infamy far and near. The friends of religion were abashed beyond expression; while their enemies triumphed, as if the Baptists had sunk never to rise again. In no great while after this wretched event, he moved to Georgia; from whence, in the year 1788, he visited Virginia; professed to be again restored to divine favor, and petitioned the church from which he had been excluded, to re-instate him into membership. After some impediments were removed, he was received as a member, and also permitted to resume his ministry.
The sequel of his life is almost a continual struggle against the prejudices of both church and world. The sword never departed from his house. After his restoration, his morals were correct; for in truth, except the above sin, no other seems to have been capable of producing a momentary temptation to his mind.
He became an Arminian after his downfall, and thereby excited among the Georgia Baptists no small degree of contention. Finally, however, they split. Mr. Walker, with a small party, formed a distinct society, called General Baptists.
In 1791, he traveled into Virginia, and attended the Association, holden by the Middle District, at Cedar Creek, in Lunenburg county. From thence he went to the General Committee, in Goochland; and then went through various parts of the State, leaving his pamphlets and his verbal argument in favor of Arminianism, whithersoever he went. In this journey of Mr. Walker, those who associated with him, found him still the same pleasant, sensible, instructing, genteel character, that he had formerly been. Alas, alas! that so splendid a garment should be so spotted!
In his last illness, he endured, with remarkable fortitude and Christian resignation, the most excruciating and acute sufferings. He died September 20th, 1792. Reverend Abraham Marshall preached his funeral sermon from Zechariah, 11:2 "Howl, fir-tree; for the cedar is fallen."
Mr. Walker married Miss Jane Graves, in North-Carolina, when very young. They lived together in great harmony for many years. After he went to Georgia, she died, and he married a widow lady, with whom he lived also in the strictest harmony; for, his slips notwithstanding, he was exceedingly affectionate and kind in his family.
Mr. Walker had a principal hand in drafting for the Baptists their petitions and remonstrances to the Virginia Assembly; he also took an active and successful part in supporting them in the House, where he gained the applause of the candid members, as a man of sense and address. He published a number of pamphlets, mostly on controversial subjects; the most distinguished of which was the one entitled, "The fourfold foundation of Calvinism, examined and shaken."
SAUNDERS WALKER (1740-1805)
Saunders Walker was for many years one of the most useful ministers in the upper regions of Georgia. He was born March 17, 1740, in Prince William county, Virginia, and was a brother of Jeremiah Walker, whose history has just been related, and although his abilities were not equal to his brothers, yet he, different from him, maintained through life a character fair and unimpeachable. He was a singular instance of the transforming influence of the grace of God. Before his conversion, he was of a turbulent, unmanageable temper, and much addicted to the vices naturally attendant on such a disposition. But the Divine Spirit not only changed his heart, but his nature too; so that he was ever after distinguished for the meekness and gravity of his deportment the meek Saunders Walker, was a proverbial expression among all who knew him. He began to preach in South-Carolina in 1767, in the 27th year of his age, and for thirty-eight years continued a faithful and successful minister of the cross of Christ. About four years after he began his ministerial course, he moved to Bute county, North-Carolina, to a place notorious for wickedness and ignorance of religion. But it pleased his Master to be with him here, and in a short time a considerable church arose under his ministry. In 1782, he removed to Georgia, where he spent the remainder of his days. Here he became a companion in gospel labors with Daniel Marshall, and they were for a time the only ordained ministers in the upper part of the State. The country was now new and in an uncultivated state, both in a natural and a religious point of view. At this time also disputes ran high between Whigs and Tories, from which many evils resulted. Mr. Walker not only became the laborious preacher of the gospel, but the successful mediator between contending parties, was the means of preventing many evils amongst them, and of procuring much good for those who were in trouble and want.
After spending a life of distinguished usefulness, he finished his course with joy, in 1805, in the 65th year of his age.
[This account of Mr. Walker was furnished by Mr. Jesse Mercer, of Georgia.]
JOHN WALLER (1741-1802)
John Waller, born Dec. 23d, 1741, in Spottsylvanla county, was a descendant of the honorable Wallers in England. At a very early period, he manifested a great talent for satyrical wit. This determined his uncle, who had the direction of his education, to bring him up for the law. He was put to a grammar-school, and made encouraging advancement in the dead languages. His uncles death, and his fathers narrow resources, added to his own unbridled inclinations to vice, prevented him from finishing even his classical education. He now began indeed to study, not the laws of the land, but those of the gaming-table. Letting himself loose to every species of wickedness and profanity, he quickly acquired for himself the infamous appellation of Swearing Jack Waller, by which he was distinguished from others of the same name. So far did he indulge his mischievous temper, that he once had three warrants served on him at the same time, on account of one uproar. It was frequently remarked by the common people, "that there could be no deviltry among the people, unless Swearing Jack was at the head of it." He was sometimes called the devils adjutant to muster his troops. To these may be added his fury against the Baptists. He was one of the grand jury who presented Louis Craig for preaching. This happily terminated in his good. Mr. Craig watched the dismission of the grand jury, and found means to secure their attention, while he addressed them in the following harangue: "I thank you, gentlemen of the grand jury, for the honor you have done me. While I was wicked and injurious, you took no notice of me; but since I have altered my course of life, and endeavored to reform my neighbors, you concern yourselves much about me. I forgive my persecuting enemies, and shall take joyfully the spoiling of my goods."
When Mr. Waller heard him speak in that manner, and observed the meekness of his spirit, he was convinced that Craig was possessed of something that he had never seen in the man before. He thought within himself, that he should be happy if he could be of the same religion with Mr. Craig. From this time he began to attend their meetings, and was found of the Holy Spirit. The commandment came, and he died. He saw and felt himself a sinner. He now, for the first time, except in blaspheming, began to call upon the name of the Lord. His convictions were deep and pungent. He ate no pleasant bread and drank no pleasant water, for seven or eight months, during which time he was almost in despair. He relates his exercises in the following words:
From this time he felt some increase of strength; yet at some times he felt the enemy break in upon him like a flood, and he would be almost ready to give up his hope. But the application of these words, gave him great comfort: "Who is among you that feareth the Lord; that walketh in darkness and hath no light; let him trust in the name of the Lord, and stay upon his God." Isaiah 1:10.
And again, "By this we know that we have passed from death unto life, because we love the brethren."
By the time Messrs. Harris and Read came on their second tour into this region, Mr. Waller felt sufficiently confident to become a candidate for baptism; and going up into Orange county, was there baptized by Mr. Read, some time in the year 1767. Baptism was to him, as it has been to thousands, a sanctified ordinance. His soul received a great accession of strength and comfort. Christ was revealed in him. Having contracted debts by dissipation, he sold property to pay them. He conferred not with flesh and blood; but began to preach, that men ought every where to repent. It was not long before his labors became effectual, at least, one way. That arch enemy of souls, whom he had served so faithfully before, now began to roar in hideous peals against him, and succeeded in raising up a powerful opposition.
At length it was thought proper to constitute a church in Mr. Wallers neighborhood; who making choice of him as pastor, he was ordained to the work of the ministry, June 20th, 1770. He now began to lengthen his cords. Befitting his course downwards, he baptized William Webber, who afterwards became a distinguished preacher among the Virginia Baptists, being the first he did baptize. October, 1770, accompanied by J. Burrus, he traveled down as far as Middlesex, where his ministry was attended with great success, and where he also met with violent opposition. From this time a train of prosperous events followed his evangelical exertions. Wherever he went, he was attended by a divine power, turning many to righteousness. His name sounded far and wide. By the ungodly, he was considered as a bold inexorable fanatic, that would do much mischief unless restrained. The Baptists and their adherents looked upon him as set for the defense of their cause, and with much confidence rallied round him as their leader. His persecutions and imprisonments, in Caroline, in Middlesex, in Essex, and other counties, have been already related.
In this bright and burning way, Waller continued until 1775 or 1776, when he formed an acquaintance with one Williams, a preacher of some talents, apparent piety, and in Mr. Wesleys connection, consequently an Arminian; this man, by his conversation and books, so wrought upon Mr. Wallers mind, as to bring him over to believe the Arminian system. Knowing this to be contrary to the opinions of his brethren, he resolved to make a bold effort to preach and argue his principles at the next Association, and thereby convince his brethren; or, failing in this, to submit to be cut off from them. Accordingly, he took his text, 1 Corinthians 13:1: "When I was a child, I spake as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child; but when I became a man, I put away childish things." In his exordium he stated, that when young and inexperienced in religion, he had fallen in with the Calvinistic plan; but that, becoming more expert in doctrine, or, in the language of his text, when he became a man, he put away these childish notions. He then went lengthily into the argument. For want of truth, or for want of talents, he made few if any converts to his opinions, and of course had to confront the whole host of preachers and members now assembled. Mr. Waller, foreseeing his fate, took the shorter course. Instead of awaiting a fair trial, he proclaimed himself an independent Baptist preacher. This step was probably resorted to by Waller, under an expectation that his popularity was so great, that he should be able to bring over many of the churches to his party. Be it as it may, he immediately commenced his operations on an extensive plan. On his return from the Association, he used his utmost endeavor to form a strong party. He preached from house to house; spread his wings over a large field of ministerial labor; ordained lay elders in every neighborhood, to prevent inroads; and also several helps in the ministry. He also established what he called camp-meetings, in which they continued together several days, under certain written regulations, which were in substance, as follow:
1st. No female, on any account whatever, shall be permitted to appear in the camp, until an hour after sun-rise in the morning, nor stay there later than an hour before sun-set at night.
2d. The persons in the camp shall depend for sustenance, during the camp-meeting, on the friendly hospitality of the neighborhood.
3d. Any person in camp, waking at any period of the night, may pray or sing, without disturbing the slumbers of others.
The novelty of these meetings, excited the attention of the people in such a manner, that great multitudes crowded after him.
By these means his party gained strength daily. Few men possessed greater talents for heading a party of this description, than Mr. Waller. The only thing in which he was deficient, was, that he could not be happy while separated from his brethren. He used to say that in the midst of apparent prosperity and the caresses of his friends, he still yearned after the people of God, from whom he had withdrawn. Some years after his restoration, he said to a young preacher who was dissatisfied, and talked of dissenting, "If you could have a distant view of my sufferings and leanness of soul, while a dissenter from my brethren, you would never again indulge such a thought." He was again fully reinstated in connection with his brethren, in 1787; when a full union between Separates, Regulars, and Independents, was accomplished. [See an Account of that General Committee, in Virginia.]
A very great revival commenced under Mr. Wallers ministry, in 1787. This continued for several years; and spread through all his places of preaching. In this revival he was greatly engaged; and baptized from first to last many hundreds, and his church in a short time increased to about 1500 members. Early in this revival, Mr. A. Waller, son of his brother Benjamin, was brought in; and in some few years began to preach. Mr. Waller immediately recognized him as his successor, and declared that he believed his work in that part of the earth was finished. Accordingly, November 8th, 1793, after taking the most affectionate farewell of the churches, he moved his family to Abbeville district, in the State of South-Carolina.
This removal was said to have arisen, partly from ecnomical considerations, and partly from a strong desire on his own, and on the part of his wife, to live near a beloved daughter, who had some time previously married Reverend Abraham Marshall, of Georgia. Perhaps there might be other causes. His labors in his new residence were also blessed, but not to a great extent. He remained however faithful in the cause, until his death, which took place, July 4th, 1802.
His death was, as might be hoped and expected, truly glorious. His eldest son describes it in the following words:
"The last sermon he preached, was on the death of a young man. The text from which he preached was, Zechariah 2:4. Run, speak to this young man. He addressed himself chiefly to youth, in feeble but animating strains, observing, that he counted upon its being the last sermon he should ever preach; and fervently prayed, that, Sampson like, he might slay more at his death, than he had done in his life. He continued speaking, until his strength failed him; and with reeling steps he advanced to a bed, where we thought he would have expired. From thence he was removed home in a carriage for the last time. He said, as to his soul, he was under no concern; as he had given it to Jesus long since; and he was under no doubt but what his Master would provide a mansion for it. Just before his departure, he summoned all his family around him, black and white, and told them, he was anxious to be gone and to be present with Christ; and then warned them to walk in the fear of God, cordially shook hands with all, and soon after, with a pleasant countenance, breathed his last, and fell asleep in Jesus. I looked on the corpse with these words fresh in my mind, O lovely appearance of death."
Thus this great man of God conquered the last enemy, and ascended to that rest, that remaineth for the people of God. He died in the sixty-second year of his age; having been a minister of Gods word for about thirty-five years; having, in that time, lain in four different jails, for the space of one hundred and thirteen days, in all, besides buffetings, stripes, reproaches, etc. Nor was his labor in vain in the Lord. While in Virginia, he baptized more than two thousand persons; assisted in the ordination of twenty-seven ministers; and helped to constitute eighteen churches. For many years, he had the ministerial care of five churches, to whom he preached statedly.
As a preacher, his talents in the pulpit were not above mediocrity; but he was certainly a man of very strong mind. His talents for art and intrigue were equalled by few. This he exercised sometimes, as it was thought, beyond the innocence of the dove. He was, perhaps, too emulous to carry his favorite points, especially in Associations; yet it must be owned, that such influence as he acquired in this way, he always endeavored to turn to the glory of God.
He had married to Miss E. Curtis, previous to his becoming religious. By her he had a number of children, some of whom the old man had the happiness to see profess the same faith with himself.
WILLIAM WEBBER (1747-1808)
William Webber was born August 15, 1747, of parents in the middle line of life. His education was but slender, having been sent to school only three years. At 16 years of age he was put an apprentice to a house-joiner. After the expiration of his apprenticeship, he continued to work at his trade, until God called him to be a workman for him. In October, 1769, was the first time he heard the Baptists preach, when he was awakened to know his danger; and his spirit took no rest from that time, until about six months after, when he obtained a hope of salvation; and was baptized, June 1770, by Elder John Waller, then just ordained. He had, as was usual about that time, commenced an exhorter, previous to his being baptized. Few men in Virginia suffered more persecutions than Mr. Webber. He was first seized in Chesterfield county, December 7, 1770, and imprisoned in that county jail until March 7, 1771, just three months. In August, the same year, he was taken off the stage, where he was preaching, in Middlesex county, and put into prison, where he was confined forty-five days, having the bounds a part of the time. In both these prisons, he and his fellow-sufferers used to preach through the grates regularly twice a week, to such as would come to hear. Besides these imprisonments, he was often very roughly treated, by the sons of Belial, at different places; all of which this man of God bore with Christian patience and meekness. Although he was in narrow circumstances, he used when young, to devote much of his time to preaching; and being much respected and beloved, he was an instrument of doing much good. As he grew older, and his family larger, he found it necessary to limit his labors chiefly to his own and the adjacent neighborhoods. He was still very successful in turning many to righteousness, and in confirming the souls of the disciples. Mr. Webber was a man of talents, though not in the pulpit; for there he was hardly up to mediocrity. He was a man of sound and correct judgment, well acquainted with mankind, well versed in the Scriptures, well instructed in the principles of the gospel, and ingenious in defending them against error. As a companion, he was remarkably agreeable; for he was pleasant and cheerful, yet without levity. His conversation was chiefly upon the subject of religion, to which he had a turn for directing the attention of his company, without permitting it to be irksome. In his church, he was greatly beloved by his members, and all who knew him. He was remarkably plain, both in his dress and manners. His chief excellency, however, was in Associations and public bodies. He was made moderator of the General Association, as early as the year 1778; and although there were many older ministers than himself, for several years after, yet he seldom attended an Association or General Committee, but he was placed in the chair. His address, either in the chair or out of it, was far from being accomplished. But still he was preferred before men of far more refined powers, on account of his soft, yet manly, affectionate, and unaffected method. It is likely, that less affectation was never in any man than in William Webber. You always saw him in his true colors. About the year 1799 he had a long and distressing sickness, which had well nigh brought him to his grave. He did, however, recover; but his constitution was so shaken, that he was never as healthy afterwards. He recovered so far as to go out some small distance from home; but relapsing, he lingered for some months; and on the 29th day of February, 1808, he yielded to the king of terrors, but who had lost his terror as to him. In his last illness, he enjoyed great religious consolation, and said to Elder Watkins of Powhatan, a little time before his death, "Brother Watkins, I never had so glorious a manifestation of the love of God in all my life, as I have had since my sickness. O, the love of God!" Semple.
PETER WERDEN (1728-1808)
Peter Werden was born June 6th, 1728, and ordained to the work of the ministry, at Warwick, Rhode-Island, May, 1751, in the 24th year of his age.
When he first began to preach, he was too much of a New-Light, and too strongly attached to the doctrine of salvation by sovereign grace, to be generally received among the old Baptist churches in Rhode-Island, which had been formed partly upon the Arminian plan, until the following event opened the door for him:
A criminal, by the name of Carter, was executed at Tower-Hill, and the scene of his execution collected abundance of people from all parts of the State. While the criminal stood under the gallows, young Werden felt such a concern for his soul, that he urged his way through the crowd; and being assisted by the sheriff, he gained access to him, and addressed him as follows: "Sir, is your soul prepared for that awful eternity, into which you will launch in a few minutes?" The criminal replied, "I dont know that it is, but I wish you would pray for me." In this prayer, Mr. Werden was so wonderfully assisted in spreading the poor mans cause before the throne of God, that the whole assembly were awfully solemnized, and most of them wet their cheeks with their tears. This opened a great door for his ministrations, both on the maine and on the island. He preached at Warwick, Coventry, and many other places, with good success, about 19 years, and then moved, in 1770, into the town of Cheshire, in Berkshire county, Massachusetts, where he lived and administered almost 38 years. In his first religious exercises, he was led to dig deep into his own heart, where he found such opposition and rebellion, that when he obtained pardon, he attributed it to sovereign grace alone; which sentiment, so interwoven in his soul, he ever proclaimed aloud to a dying world. Nothing appeared to be more disgustful to his mind, than to hear works and grace mixed together, as the foundation of a sinners hope. To hold forth the Lamb of God as a piece of a Savior; or to consider the self-exertions of a natural man to be the way into Christ, the true and only way, were extremely displeasing to that soul of his, which delighted so much in proclaiming eternal love, redeeming blood, and matchless grace. Sound judgment, correct principles, humble demeanor, with solemn sociability, marked all his public improvements, and mingled with all his conversation in smaller circles, or with individuals. In him young preachers found a father and a friend; distressed churches, a healer of breaches; and tempted souls, a sympathizing guide. From his first settling in Cheshire, until he was 70 years old, he was a father to the Baptist churches in Berkshire county and its environs, and in some sense an apostle to them all.
His many painful labors for the salvation of sinners, the peace of the churches, and the purity of the ministers, will never be fully appreciated, until the time when he shall stand before his Judge, and hear the words of his mouth, "Well done, good and faithful servant."
From the sternness of his eyes and blush of his face, a stranger would have been led to conclude, that he was sovereign and self-willed in his natural habit of mind; but on acquaintance, the physiognomist would have been agreeably disappointed. He had so much self-government, that he has been heard to say, that (except when he had the small-pox,) he never found it hard to keep from speaking at any time, if his reason told him it was best to forbear; and no man possessed finer feelings, or treated the characters of others with more delicacy than he did. He had an exalted idea of the inalienable rights of conscience; justly appreciated the civil rights of man, and was assiduous to keep his brethren from the chains of ecclesiastical power.
His preaching was both sentimental and devotional; and his life so far corresponded with the precepts which he taught, that none of his hearers could justly reply, "Physician, heal thyself."
He had the happiness of having a number of revivals in the town and congregation where he resided and preached, and a number of ministers were raised up in the church of which he was pastor.
For about ten years before his death his bodily and mental powers had been on the decline, and he was often heard to rejoice, that others increased though he decreased; but his superannuation was not so great, as to prevent the whole of his usefulness; and his hoary head was a crown of glory unto him.
A number of times he was heard to pray that he might not outlive his usefulness, which was remarkably answered in his case, for the Lords-day before he died he preached to the people of his charge.
The disease which closed his mortal life, denied his friends the pleasure of catching the balm of life from his lips, in his last moments. He had finished his work before, and nothing remained for him to do, but to die.
Let the inhabitants of Cheshire, (said Mr. John Leland, his biographer, and who exhibited the above at the close of the sermon which he preached at his funeral) reflect a moment on the dealings of God towards them. Within about three years, three ministers, belonging to the town, have departed this life. The pious Mason took the lead; the pleasing Covell followed after; and now (1808) the arduous Werden, who has been in the ministry a longer term than any Baptist preacher left behind, in New-England, has finished his course, in the 80th year of his age; while Leland remains alone, to raise this monument over their tomb.
JOHN WILLIAMS (1747-1795)
John Williams was born in the county of Hanover, Virginia, 1747. He was of a very respectable family, and received a tolerable education. In the month of June, 1769, when acting as a sheriff of Lunenburgh, he was awakened to know and to feel his sin and his danger. He became a convert, and shortly after lifted up his voice to exhort his fellow-men to flee from the wrath to come. He was not baptized until the first Sabbath in February, 1770. He continued to exhort, until some time in the following summer, when he ventured to take a text, and from that time commenced preacher. December, 1779, he was ordained to the ministry, and took the care of Meherrin church. His gifts, at first, were far from being auspicious. Many pronounced that he would never be a preacher; so delusory are the first efforts of the mind.
He not only succeeded in becoming a preacher, but in becoming a first-rate preacher, at least in the estimation of most of his acquaintances.
He was exceeding fond of reading and writing, and indeed was generally studious, by which means he greatly improved his mind.
When he first commenced preacher he was zealous, active, and laborious in the ministry; traveling and propagating the gospel in different parts. He may well be numbered among the fathers of Israel. His talent, however, was not employed so much in breaking down the bars of prejudice in new and unenlightened places, as in directing and regulating young converts when gathered by others. Pleasing, affable, and refined in his manners, his hand was employed to smooth off some of those protuberances left by rougher workmen. In Associations he was expert with his pen, as well as wise to offer counsel. He acted as clerk to the General Association; and when they divided the Association into districts, a unanimous vote of thanks was offered Mr. W. for his faithful and skillful services in that capacity. He also discharged the duties of clerk to the Roanoke Association until a little time previous to his death. He introduced several excellent regulations both into the General and Roanoke Associations, for the government of churches, etc. Few men understood church discipline better, or were more successful in building up large respectable churches, wherever he attended. For many years he acted as pastor to four churches, whom he attended monthly. He was in high estimation both as a man and a minister. Even the enemies of the Baptists would often except Mr. W. from their reproaches. In his temper towards those of other religious persuasions, he was remarkably liberal. Indeed, by some of his acquaintances it is said he was friendly to open communion; but that he was restrained from putting it in practice, by his tenderness for his brethren, most of whom differed with him on this head. This liberality of spirit did not prevent him from maintaining his own principles with great firmness, whenever an occasion offered. It was such an occasion as this, which drew forth his reply to Mr. Patilloes [a celebrated Presbyterian preacher] sermon on infant baptism. He committed his arguments to writing, with an intention of printing them in the form of a pamphlet; but as nothing came out on the other side, and as so much had been already published on that subject, it was not put to the press.
In his preface, he makes the following remark:
He was generally upon the best terms with the Presbyterians, who were pretty numerous in his neighborhood.
His talents, if not equal to any, were certainly very little inferior to those of the first grade.
His appearance in the pulpit was noble and majestic, yet humble and affectionate. In the beginning of his discourses, he was doctrinal and somewhat methodical; often very deep, even to the astonishment of his hearers. Towards the close, and indeed sometimes throughout his sermon, he was exceedingly animating. His exhortations were often incomparable. At an early period he became very corpulent. At an Association, in the year 1793, he accidentally fell, by the turning of a step, as he was passing out of a door, and became for a year or two a cripple; being under the necessity of going on crutches. Notwithstanding this, he would frequently go in a carriage to meeting, and preach, sitting in a chair in the pulpit. During several of the last years of his life, he was afflicted with a very painful disease. Under his severe suffering, he was not only patient, but when he could have any mitigation of his pain, he was also cheerful. About ten days before his death, he was attacked by a pleurisy; from which no medicine could give him relief. His work was finished, and his Master had called for him. On the 30th day of April, 1795, he fell asleep.
Nothing very remarkable transpired at his death. He was pensive and silent. He told his wife, that to live or die was to him indifferent: he had committed this to God, who, he knew, would do right. He said he felt some anxiety for his numerous family; but that these, also, he was willing to trust in the hands of a gracious Providence.
January, 1768, he was married to Miss Frances Hughes, of Powhatan county, by whom he had 14 children; of whom 11 were living at the time of his death; and of these, four professed religion, and were baptized. Semple.
[There have been many other eminent characters in the Baptist connection, who ought to have a place among the worthies of their host; but, for want of some one to record their history, their names are either sunk, or are fast sinking into forgetfulness. Our brethren, in many instances, have been strangely neglectful of their departed friends. They have conducted as though they supposed every body knew their worth, and that it was therefore unnecessary to write any thing respecting them. The Author of this work has for a number of years had it in view, at some future period, should his life be continued, to prepare one altogether biographical; which will contain not only the lives, but the likenesses of many Baptist characters of distinction, both European and American. Those who may feel interested in preserving the history and resemblances of their departed friends, are desired to keep this suggestion in mind.]