John Hopkins Morison.

Two sermons preached in the First Congregational church in Milton, on the 15th and 22d of June, 1862 online

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Online LibraryJohn Hopkins MorisonTwo sermons preached in the First Congregational church in Milton, on the 15th and 22d of June, 1862 → online text (page 1 of 5)
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THE loTH AND 22d OF JUNE, 1862,





THE llTH OF JUNE, 1862.




18 6 2.







THE 15th and 22d OF JUNE, 1862,





THE 11th of JUNE, 1862,




18 6 2.




These are not historical discourses. The strictly historical
part of our Centennial Celebration was ably treated by Hon.
James Murray Robbins, who understands thoroughly every
thing that relates to the town, and whose father and grand-
father filled a most important place in its history. What
I have attempted is to awaken an interest in those who
have gone before us by exhibiting as I might, in two sermons,
some of the characteristics of the place, illustrating what I
had to say by very slight biographical sketches. I have thrown
into the form of notes a few other facts, of Uttle interest to
strangers, but which may have a meaning and a value here.
There are very subtle chains of association which bind togeth-
er the generations of those who live in the same neighborhood,
and make them from first to last, one living organization, so that
something of the same spirit flows >thit)A^ and animates them all.
We have as little of this personal identity as any com-
munity that I have known. And yet there is a sense in which
it does exist, and these discourses are given to the fiiends who
have kindly asked for them in the hope that in some small way,
they may help to connect us more closely with those who have
gone before us, and lead us to look forward with new interest
and increased efibrts for their improvement to those who shall
come after us to dwell amid these beautiful works of God
when we are dead.


One generation passeth away, and another generation
COMETH. — Ecclesiastes 1 : 4.

I PROPOSE to dwell this morning on a few considera-
tions suggested by the recent Celebration hi this town.
We, — those who are and those who have been resi-
dents m this place, — have met together during the
last week with appropriate services to commemorate
our history for the past two centuries. As I was lis-
tening to the instructive and excellent discourse that
was delivered here, the first thing that struck me was
the similarity of features that marked the history and
character of our people from the earliest settlement of
the place. One generation has passed away, another
has come. Those bom here have gone to distant
places, and strangers have entered into the homes
which they left. Very few homesteads are occupied
now by the direct descendants of those who first set-
tled here, and yet the marked characteristics of the
people are to-day very much what they were half a
century or a century and a half ago. The town is not
and never has been one commuiiit}^ It is made up,
and from the beginnmg it has been made up, from


nearly all the classes of society that are to be found in
the State. During the last sixteen years, at every
election, I think, the vote m this town has pretty
fau'ly represented the vote of the whole State, so that
when the vote of Milton is declared, we know very
well what is the vote of Massachusetts. Nearly all
interests, professions and pui'suits are represented here
in just about the same proportion to each other as in
the State. This gives us, and from the beghmiag has
given us, a various, and in some respects a heterogen-
eous population. We have fewer things m common
than is usual m a small to"\\Ti. We are less compactly
united. We have less a feeling of interest and pride
in what relates to the town. A single fact will illus-
trate what I mean : The second officer in command
of the great army now at Richmond — a man of dis-
tinguished military abilit)% who two weeks ago to-day,
in the battle at Fair Oaks, by what seemed almost an im-
possibility, did more perhaps than any other man to safe
the fortunes of the day, was a Milton boy, — the son of
Milton parents, and educated in our Milton schools.
But I doubt whether there is another town in the
United States, where such a fact would be so little re-
garded, and where on a public occasion like that of
the last week, so little notice would be taken of a son
so distinguished, and at this moment holding so im-
portant a post.

Our lines have fallen to us in pleasant places. We
are attached to the natui-al featui-es of the town. We
love its hills and streams, its woods and meadows, and
carry them, wherever we go, in om* thoughts and our
affections. We are thankful that our children should

be born and trained up with these beautiful works of
God around them. As Gov. Hutchinson, after he had
removed to England, is said to have longed and pined
for his pleasant home on Milton Hill, and never could
find any other spot to take its place in his affections,
so, many a native of this town, forced to go abroad and
find employment elsewhere, has always turned with
lo^dng, longing heart towards this beautifid home
of his childhood. And yet it would, perhaps be hard
to find, living side by side, under the same local
institutions and laws, in a country town, the same
number of persons bound together by so slight a com-
munity of feelmg, or of social intercourse. And so
apparently it has been from the beguining. Peter
Thacher, in 1681, speaks of the " lamentable animosi-
ties and divisions" which prevailed even at that early
period. There is, and has been no want of kind feel-
ing. Individuals have had their personal friends. —
Families have had theh ties and theh gatherings.
But the mere relations of neighborhood have been al-
most ignored. In the interest which a community
usually takes in its OAvn sons, in the encouragement
with which it follows them in a career of honorable
exertion, in the sympathy which it feels for them in
their reverses, in the care with which it treasures up
the memory of their high quahties and praise-worthy
acts, this town has been unlike any other town that I
have known. And I cannot but hope that the cele-
bration of the last week, by reviving the memory of
the past, by remmding us how much we have in com-
mon and how greatly our social privileges are in-
creased by sharing them with others, may do some-


thing to create and perpetuate the feelmg which should
bind each one of us, not only to the soil on which he
was born, but to the commimit)' in which he lives, —
leadmg us to recognize and hold m honor the vu'tues
of its children, and to encourage them with the thought
that here at least then* good deeds and names will be
held in proud and grateful remembrance. Such a
community of feeling here, greeting the child when he
first enters oiu' schools, watching over him with a kmd
and almost parental interest, rejoicing in his successes,
following him wherever he goes, is among the most
gratefid and effective encouragements that can be ex-
tended to the yomig. There is something of this feel-
ing among us. There are those ui whose operdng vir-
tues and graces we have taken an honest pride and
satisfaction. There are faithfid ones among us here
whose promise of future usefidness is a joy to many
hearts. And there are young men of spotless lives —
modest and brave and true — now at thek posts of
honor and of danger afar off, whom we can hardly
thhik of without a glow of emotion, and a secret prayer
for theh safety and success.

Om- thoughts are natiu'ally carried back to the ele-
ments of oiu' New England society. Fhst, there was
the Church. The chiu'ch which came over to Ply-
mouth in the Mayflower was m itself a complete and
independent organization, and a type of all the rest.
Accordmg to his words who has said, " \Vherever two
or three are gathered together in my name there am I
in the midst of them," those devout men and women
had come together in their Master's name, and bound
themselves together by a religious compact which has


served as a type of oui' whole civil polity. After the
pattern of the church was the town, with its local in-
stitutions and laws, a separate and almost independent
organization, so that, if it shoidd be cut off, as the Ply-
mouth colony was for a time, from all other communi-
ties and sovereignties, it might have m itself the right
to execute all the functions of civil government. These
to^vnships, borrowmg then- life as they did, in our
early history, from the church, are the peculiar feature
of our New England civilization. More than three-
quarters of the money spent and of the most important
legislation of the country is decided upon in these pri-
mary meetings of the people, and they alone, self-sup-
porting and self-regulating as they are, make a repub-
lic like ours possible.

But the town organization is made possible only by
the more vital influences which are at work within it-
self. Of these, the Christian church has held the
most important place. It has been made in no small
measure the medium of religious instruction and reli-
gious life to each individual soid. Its divine sphit en-
ters the school, and makes knowledge a power, not for
evil, but for good. It enters the home, purifies its af-
fections, softens its asperities, consecrates the marriage
ties, welcomes the little child into its bosom, opens its
blessed promises to the dying, and hfts up the hearts of
the sorrowing by its words of immortal faith at the
very portals of the tomb.

Say what we may of the stem creed of our ancest-
ors, and its hardening influence on harsh and ungainly
natures, it was not aU harshness. In the sentiment of
reverance which it fostered, in the habit which it en-


couraged of looking with profound and earnest thought
into the solemn and awful mysteries of our rehgion, in
the unshrinkmg courage with which it accepted
whatever it believed to be a divme truth, however
severe its exactions, it cultivated some of the sublimest
qualities which belong to the human character. Those
ancient men who fii'st trod these roads and looked up-
on these hills, or gazed off upon the distant waters,
carried with them a faith which made the earth the
footstool of God's throne, and themselves the chosen
servants of God to establish here in the wilderness a
divinely ordered commonwealth, rich m all the prom-
ises and fruits of holy livmg.

And the milder vhtues were not forgotten or des-
pised. The pastors of this church, from the begimiing,
were men of gentle, benignant characters. Peter
Thacher, who lived near the brook, perhaps a third of
a mile back from the spot where we now are, was a
man whose daily walk with God was shown more in
the graces and charities of a Christian life than in the
severe teachmgs of a harsh and ungracious theology.
He was the son of a Christian mmister and the father
almost of a race of muiisters, some of them distinguish-
ed for intelligence and wit, but upon the whole charac-
terized by a winning gentleness of speech and of life.
I love to think of this good man, forty-seven years the
minister of Christ in this toAvn, in simplicity and godly
sincerity having his conversation among his people,
preachhig and prayuig and living among them and for
them, buiying aU the fhst generation of settlers and
almost all of their childi-en — till at length, having
grown old in their service, he appeared for the last time


in the chiu-ch. " He preached," says Cotton Mather
m his funeral sermon, " both parts of the day, pie also
baptized two children,] felt more hearty than orduiary,
and performed the domestic ser^dces, with the repetition
of the sermons, hi the evening. Upon which finding
himself weary, he said, ' we read in a certaui place, the
prayers of David are ended, what if it shoidd now be
said, the prayers of Peter are ended.' It fell out accord-
ulgly. On the day foUowmg a fever seized him, and
the next Sabbath ended with liim in his eveiiastmgrest."

" In the time of his illness he expressed a most love-
ly acquiescence hi the will of his heavenly Father, and
a sold rejoicing m the hope of the glory of God."

I know not where to find a more beautifid pictiu-e
of Patriarchal dymg than is given of him in his last
hour. " Kecovering," says Cotton Mather, " out of a
short cloud, upon the clear use of his reason, he called
for his domestics and for a staff to lean upon. So sit-
ting up, he blessed each of them, and made a most
pathetic and audible prayer with them and for them.
And then lying down, his last words were the words
of a conqueror, and more than a conqueror, ' I am go-
ing to Christ hi glory.' Thus his purified sphit flew
away to the chambers of a Redeemer waiting to be
gracious. He died hi the calm with which he lived, and
exphed with no groans but those of one longing to be
with Him, with whom to be is by far the best of all."

His successor, John Taylor, was settled here at the
age of twenty -five, and died when only forty-six years
old. He was evidently a man of mild deportment,
and of engaging personal quahties, I have read his
letters written through a series of years, to his father in-


law, in Portsmouth, N. H. They give evidence of an
affectionate, devout and thoughtful man. They are
perhaps a little more formal than would be in keep-
ing now with the habits of the age, but give no mdica-
tion of the moroseness or severity which we are too
apt to attribute to the clergymen of that generation.
He was evidently a Cliristian gentleman and scholar.
His heart was in his work. He loved his people, and
rejoiced to labor for their good. The only work of
his which is now visible among us — the house which
he built and which is stdl occupied by his kmdi'ed —
bears -v^dtness to his taste. He was cut down in the
prime of his manhood, and m the midst of his labors,
and was mourned, over and lamented by his people as
one who had endeared himself to them by his fidelity,
and his thoughtful, affectionate care for them.

He was succeeded by Nathaniel Robbins, who was
settled at the age of twenty-fom* in 1750, and who
continued the minister of the town for a period of
forty-five years, closing his ministerial labors with his life
in 1795. From all that I can learn of him, he was a
man of a most genial nature, more ready to perform a
kind act for a neighbor than to rebuke him for wrong
domg, working upon his farm as well as in his study,
more intent on the practical duties of oiu* religion than its
mysterious doctrines, a lover of peace and concord, and
doing what he could to remove all uncharitableness
and to promote harmony and good will among his peo-
ple. He did not dislike a harmless joke, and was
always, I beheve, a man of a cheerful, happy disposi-
tion, a pleasant companion, and a beloved pastor.
These three ministries reach thro' a period of a


hundred and fourteen years, and come do\^Ti almost to
to the close of the last century. They witnessed great
and momentous changes in the history of our coimtry.
Thacher was born in 1651, when we were in the fee-
ble and exposed days of our mfancy. Robbins was
here during the stormy period of our revolutionary
history, when his people knew what it was to make
sacrifices for their country. It is said that one woman
in his parish — a widow — used to sit knitting before
her door, by the brook, which still bears her name,
when the weather would permit, and asked of any
stranger who passed by, " What 's the news from the
war? I have four sons gone to the war — what's
the news from the war ? " One of her sons was Col.
another the Lieut. Col. of the 1st Mass. Regiment,
while the other two served perhaps as faithfully in
more humble capacities. So our fathers lived in this
beautifid. to\vn, workmg out the great problem of life
each in his own way, serving God according to their
light in then* day and generation. And it becomes us
who have entered into theu* labors to hold them in
grateful and affectionate remembrance.

There are some points of a more private and do-
mestic character which I wish to dwell upon. But
that must be deferred till the next Sunday. A word
more at this time. I have spoken of the fii'st three
ministers of this town. Hardly more than two or three
persons are now among us who remember the last of
these men. More than foiu* generations have passed
away since the samtly life of Thacher was closed by
his triumphant death. A large elm has grown from
the cellar of the house in which he died. All the men


and children whom his eyes looked upon have gone.
Their children's children are among the generations
that have passed away, and no tradition respectmg him,
except m books, is preserved here in what was the
field of his labors for almost half a century. But that
death bed scene which I have presented in the dymg
words of his friend — for his funeral sermon was the
last sermon that Cotton Mather ever ]3reached — that
victorious faith of his and of those who succeeded him —
the mspiration and the fruits of many labors and
prayers — lifting them above the world and leading
them triumphantly on from thmgs seen and temporal to
things unseen and eternal, they speak to us, not of the
generations that pass away, but of joys and souls which
endure forever. Like those good men we must die.
Our very names may be forgotten when the next cen-
tennial day shall be commemorated by those who come
after us. All that our eyes now look upon will be
nothing to us. Shall we not then by holy and faithful
livmg, seek, like them, to secm-e for ourselves ever-
lastuig habitations in the kmgdom of Christ. ■?


Mt son, hear the instruction of thy father, and for-
sake NOT the law of thy MOTHER : FoR THEY SHALL BE

THY NECK. Proverbs 1 : 8, 9.

Last Simday I spoke of the social condition of this
town in some of the more extended relations, and es-
pecially of the church and its doctrines, illustrating the
latter part of the subject by slight sketches of the three
ministers who came within the first ceutiuy of our his-

I wish this morning to speak of some of our private
and domestic relations. 'NMierever there are happy
and wtuous homes, there, more than any where else,
the great purposes of human society and of human life
are accomplished. In these homes woman must ne-
cessarily be the presidmg and tutelary genius. Not
only the softerdng graces and accomplishments which
adorn the character and lend theh charm to society
come from her, but the hardier vu'tues, which defend
the state and stay oif the streams of public corruption
that are perpetually makmg ini'oads on private morals,
find their insphation and support hi the trammg which
the young man has fii'st received ui the home of his


The ablest philosophical writer of the present centu-
ry on this class of subjects, Alexis de Tocqueville,
[Democracy in America. Part Second, New York,
1840,] after asserting [Chap, viii,] that " no free
communities ever existed without morals," that " mor-
als are the work of woman," and that all travellers
who have visited North America, however they differ
in other things, agree that morals are far more strict
here than elsewhere, the Americans being m this re-
spect very much superior to the English, concludes his
remarks on this subject [Chap, xii, p. 227,] with this
emphatic declaration : "I have nowhere seen women
occupymg a loftier position ; and if I were asked, now
that I am drawmg to the close of this work m which I
have spoken of so many important things done by the
Americans, to what the singular prosperity and grow-
ing strength of that people ought mainly to be attribut-
ed, I should reply — to the superiority of their wo-

This remark of the ablest philosophical thmker and
observer who has ever written on American society and
institutions is miquestionably correct, and its truth may
be verified in the history even of a little commiuiity
like this.

But if we attempt to go back more than a century,
it is impossible to get at the details which are necessa-
ry in order to an intelligent and satisfactory treatment
of the subject. Examples of domestic vhtue live and
reign withm their own limited sphere. In their ob-
scure retreats, as m so many private laboratories, they
mould the characters of the yomig, and thus prepare
the forces which are to act on public institutions and
laws. A young lad at school in Andover, eighty years


ago, saw a poor wretch, publicly whipped before the
house m which he boarded. Other boys very likely
regarded the suffering criminal with laughter and mock-
ery. The lady of the house, Mrs. Phillips, whose hus-
band was one of the founders of Phillips Academy,
told this boy that if he lived to be a man and had any
mfluence as a legislator, she hoped he woidd have that
shameful and degrading punishment abolished. Very
early m hfe the boy became a statesman, and one of
his early acts was to have that blot erased from the
statute book of his native State.

The author of this act happened to be mentioned ;
but in ninet}'-nine cases out of a hundred, she who has
furnished the motive, and is really the originator of the
beneficent step that is taken in the onward progress of
the race, goes to her grave unrecognized as such by
others, and without any suspicion m her own mind of
the good that she has done. And the fact that it is
woman's province thus to work in privacy, like a fah
taper, as has been said, shuiing to all the room, but
castmg a modest shadow around herself, — the fact that
she should thus be the inspiration of so much that is
good to others while she claims so little for herself, is
one of the causes which give her such a hold on the
affections and the admiration of men.

But those, whose lives are thus spent, leave little for
the historian to record. They are satisfied to live un-
known beyond their own quiet sphere. What is best in
them transfuses itself into those around them and lives
on m their lives. The homes which they have filled
and cheered with their presence feel that thek light
has gone out when they die. Theh childi-en arise up


and call them blessed. Grand children retain in their
hearts some pleasant memorials of what they were, and
perhaps always feel as if a mild and hallowed illumm-
ation had passed out of their sky when they departed.
But after that no record of what they were remams.
The places which knew them and w^hich were dearer
to them than to any one else, know them no more for-
ever, and transmit to us no glimpse of the lives they
lived, as distmguished from the lives of others.

Hence it is impossible to illustrate what I wish to
say by examples which do not come down pretty
nearly to the memory of persons now livmg. Peter
Thacher died a hundi-cd and thirty-five years ago ; and
we have quite a distmct view of his character and life.
Butof the wife of hisyouth, — "Mydear wife Theodora,"
as he calls her in the church records, — daughter of
Rev. John Oxenbridge, of Boston, and the mother of
nme children — we have scarcely any accomit beyond
this inscription on her tomb stone :


We visit the houses that were built dm'uig the first
centui'y after the settlement of the town. We see
enough there to confute the idea which some entertain
that those who built them were persons without taste or


culture. Almost without exception they occupy sites
as pleasant as the town affords, and in thek position
and architectural fuiish show a degree of skill and a del-
icacy of taste which have hardly been exceeded m our
day. Those who dwelt m them had many privations
which we know nothing of. The hardships of thek
lot bore, as they usually do in new settlements, mth
unequal severity on the women. But they had then*
delicacies and refhiements. On great occasions then-
garments, which often lasted more than a lifetime, and
w^ere handed dow^i as heir-looms from one generation
to another, were of more costly materials, and made
up with a more elaborate finish, than thek successors

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Online LibraryJohn Hopkins MorisonTwo sermons preached in the First Congregational church in Milton, on the 15th and 22d of June, 1862 → online text (page 1 of 5)