Carlton Albert Staples.

An address by Rev. Carlton A. Staples online

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IN connenoRATioN of the ordination








November 2, 1898.



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H isTORiCAL Address.

This evening; we are to turn back tlie pai^es of history
two huiuhed years. What are the conditions under which
the peo|)le of tlie parish of ("anibridge Farms, now Lex-
ington, are living? After a long struggle to retain it, Massa-
chusetts has been deprived of iier colonial charter and made
a Province of (ireat liritain. Her governtjr is no longer
elected l)y the people, but ap]K)inted by royal authority.
William III., of blessed memory to the Protestant heart, is
king and legal meetings here are warned in his ma)est\"s name.
The parish, then considerably larger than the present town
of Lexington in territory, contains, as su|)posed, hardly more
than three hundred inhabitants, or from thirty to fortv fami-
lies. In 169S, Boston had a population of seven thousand,
as stated by Cotton Mather — not twice as large as Lexing-
ton to-day. This village possibly contains half a dozen dwell-
ings. Originally its site was nearly all comprised in one large
grant of 600 acres held by the Pelham family, and onJv re-
cently divided and sold in three equal tracts. Not fifty per-
sons probably are living within the bounds of what is now
called •' Lexington Centre."' Of these are the families of
Benj. Muzzey, on the Stetson place; John Munroe, near
Belfry Hill; Joseph Lstabrook, on the Plumer place, and
Jonathan Poulter, in the \icinity of the Baptist Church.
These are all we can positively identifv as living within the
limits of this village when John Hancock, then a \oung man


of twenty-six, came, in 1697. to preach as a candidate to suc-
ceed Rev. lienj. Kstabrook, recently deceased. The people
to whom he was to minister are an humble, feeble folk, widely
scattered, living for the most part on lonely farms, reached
by roads that are mere cart ]:)aths cut through the woods.
Large pine swamps extend on the west and on the north of
what is now the village, and where crossed by the Concord
road, the road is called "the Causey," or causeway — Iniilt
u[)nn logs, ]irobably, over a sunken marsh, where to-day are
fertile gardens and tields.

Such, in brief, are some of the natural features of the place
to which the young jireacher came, as the picture is made
out from the public records. The meeting house stood at
the south end of the coiumon, where the watering trough now
is, erected a few years before — probably a frame building,
but of what dimensions, or style of architecture, there is no
knowledge. We are told that upper galleries were put in as
the congregation increased. What is called a " Turriott " (tur-
ret) stood near it where the bell was hung. Hard l)y were the
stocks, a terror to Sabl)ath l^reakers and other evil doers, Init
fortunately no record was ke]H of those put therein, nuich
to the satisfaction of their descendants, 'bhe bell was a
present from the mother church of Cambridge to this
parisi), the youngest of her four daughters- -the churches
in Chelmsford, Billerica and Newton being elder members
of her family. Within the house were long benches, ar-
ranged on o])]:)osite sides of the principal aisle, separating
the men from the women, the boys sitting in the rear,
where, as the record sa)s, " they might be inspected " l)y
the tithing luen. set to watch over the ci^ngregation and
l)revent an\- sleeping, laughing, oi- other improper conduct.


Tlie ])e()ple were seated accoiiliiii^" to their a<;e, property,
or importance in the connnunitv, niaijislrates and old peo-
ple havinfj seats nearest the j^ulpit. I'he seating of the
meeting- house was a matter of great tlifticulty and deli-
cacy, causing often much hard and Ijitler feeling, since
the estimate of a jUMSon's importance made \n the Com-
mittee often diflered materially from his own. Here it was
voted that in seating they should have respect only to Real
Kstate, and to one head of the famih-, and that all the
people should bring in their ages before a gi\en date to
the Selectmen, that the seating may be correctly done.
Nothing is said of i)ews in the meeting-house, before the
second house was erected in 17 13. wiien space was sold
for them on the Hoor, each man Ijuilt iiis own pew and
families were allowed to sit together. In reseating the
meeting house, from time to time, it was voted that no man
should be degraded, that is, be assigned to a lower place
than he was occupying. ISul how strange and trivial lliis
contention apj^ears over the jiosition of one's seat in the
meeting where the people came to worship God. The} want-
ed it to indicate their standing in wealth, authority and social
importance ; back-woods farmers and their wives, living in
a hard, jxior wav, strenuous to be so placed that all might
know their relatixe position to their neighl)ors in age. in
real estate and in social standing. There was uncjue.Nticn-
ablv a great respect among the .\ew Kngland Puritans for
these distinctions and they recognized them, even in the
house of God. This respect for rank in society was car-
ried into the college. In the early catalogues of Ilar\ard.
students are arranged on that principle. Names were not
printed alphal)etically, nor according to scholarshiji. l)ut to


the wealtli and social position of their parents. Sons of maa;-
istrates and lariij^e landed proprietors, merchants and ministers
came first on tlie hst, antl after tiiem the sons of farmers,
mechanics and laborers. John Hancock could not have
stood very high on such a catalogue, since he was the son
of a Caml:)ridge shoe maker, Dea. Nathaniel Hancock, liv-
ing in that part of Cambridge now known as Newton.
When he came to preach here and looked down upon the
congregation from the high pulpit, he could tell at a glance
where the people stood iinancially and .socially in respect
to each other, whether the l>owmans were richer than the
Bridges, or the Munroes than the Reeds, or the Cutlers
than the Wellingtons, or the Muzzeys than the t'iskes.
Hut let us en(|uiie, — what is known of the preacher him-
self? Nine years before coming here he had graduated
from Harvard. The intervening time was spent in teach-
ing school, preparing for the ministry and in preaching
to the churches in {^roton and in .Metlford. He seems
to have ministered here for nearly a year before his ordi-
nation and settlement. At first there was some opposition
to giving him a call between the church and the
parish (voting as they did .separatel)), but finally they
united in a nearly unanimous vote in his favor, and the
service of ordination was appointed for Nov. 2nd, 1698.
Allowing eleven days for the change from old st\ le dating
to new, it makes it the 13th (jf No\'., just two hundred
years ago this day. Five churches were represented by
their pastors and delegates in the service, viz: the Old
South of Hoston, the chiuch in ('aml)ridge, in Newtcm,
in Concord and in Woburn. Mr. Hancock preached his
own ordinaticjn sermon. Dr. Sanuicl Willard, of Boston,


<jave him the charoe, wliicli it is to be hoped was not
drawn out to the extent of his lectures on tiie Assembly's
Shorter Catechism as ])ublished in his " body of Divinity,"
whicii contains two hundred and fifty lectures upon that
lucid statemement of Christian doctrine. Rev. Joseph Ks-
tabrook, of ('oncord, gave the Ri<^ht Hand of Fellowship,
and "the elders assisted by the laying on of hands."
Mr. Hancock's salary was fixed at £40. with an additional
^^40. as a settlement, or ^ift, to l)e \):m\ during- that ant!
the following year. A sum paid as a settlement was a
custom of the New Kngland churches which unfortunately
has long since been abandonetl. Doubtless it had the
effect of prolon<xing the pastorates. Since the people there-
by escaped paying frequent settlements, they bore more
patiently with the minister's failings and let him remain un-
til the Lord called him home. 'I'luis by retaining Mr.
Hancock fifty-five years, the people saved the payment of
another settlement for more than half a century.

Scarcelv had Mr. Hancock been ordained before he
began planning to make hinisell a permanent home among
his people, lie was settled for lile v\ hen but 27, and
had a reasonable ex])cc(alion of mam \ears of iiselulness
and happiness to come. Accordingb; he bias a llit\' acre
tract (if land of Mu/./ev, a part <A' IVIham Manor,
eNttnding from the Common on both sides oi what is now
Hancock street for a considerable ditsaiue. and here he
soon began the erection of a linmbli' dwelling, haiclly
larger than a single room in some of the spa( ions houses
of the town to-da\ . I'robabh' befoie the cage was lin-
islied tin- b'ld to sing in it had been alieadv captured,
and soon alter was brought from the parent nest to


adoin ;iihI ;^l()rit\ tlir xoim^' niiiiislcr"s home. A niin-

iNtns (laii^htrr, ;i iniiiistci s '^landau^liti'i' and a iniiiistei's
<^rfat-t4iand(laii!4liUT. how could it he othorwisc than that
Kh/.ahcth Clark slmuhl he a minister's wite. fit to lie tlie
mother ol" niinislers, of statesman and of merchant pimces,
tlie grandmother and ;^reat <^ran(hnother of men and
women (hstin'^uiNhed in theolo^x . m Hterature, in science,
in philanthropv ; as teachers, as ph\sicians, and in all the
indnstiic-s of life. The Town Clerk of Chelmsford sends
this rccoid. " John Hancock, of North Camhrid;^^, and
I'^Iizaheth Clark, ol' Clielmsf)id, were marrieil Dec. iith,
i^ocj, 1)\ Kc\ . ddiomas Clark." lln- hiide's mother, Mar\',
was the (lan'^hter ot" Re\ . lulward Ilnlklex. ol' Concord,
who was till' son of Re\ . Peter l)ulkle\ . the fonnder
and fitlu-i- of that town. Who will sa\ that l)lood does
not tell, when we tiace from that hnmhle home of John
and I];ii/al)eth Hancock a lon<4 line of men and women of
hi^h moral, intellectual and religious charactei' who in so
man\ wa\s rendei'ed t;rand sei\ ice to the stale, the church
and the ualion? Ni-arU thirt\- nnnisters, leachei's, colle^^e
pi'olessoi'^, doctors and la\\\ers ma\ he tiaced hack to
that \'eneral)le house, or were in some way connected
v\ith it, showing- that spacious and s|)lendid dwelling's
are not retpiired to hrin^' foith nohle manhood and
womanhooil and leave an iiiHuence tor ^ood that tells on
ai^'es to come: hut a liie ot industrN, ot inte^ritx , of in-
telliL;ence and of piet\ maintained in the hoin.-. ( )ut of
siicli homes as thai lounded 1)\' |ohn and h^lizaheth
Ilancock. in houses not hall as comftrlahle as iiian\-
sta!iles and hai'us of lo-dax. out of conditions thus ci'amped
and pool', came the men and women who, for the most
])art, ha\i' heen loieumst in all dei)aitinents of human


activity Am] ]M()<;"icss ; not l)t'c;iusL' tlie lmu iioiiniciils wcie
coarse and mean, hnt hccausc llic life there was conse-
crated to (lutv, to truth, and to (jod; while all that
wealth and learning, art and taste may do to reline and
adorn the home counts lor little and otten miserahU tails
to create and exeit anv elevatitiL^ iiiHuence upon society.
The forming', ^uidint;- torce of moial and leli^ious lite is
not in them.

But what ot John Hancock's mini.str\- during- the fiit\-
tive years ot its contimiance in the parish and town?
What was he doin<i^ here lor this periotl ol more than
lialf a centm\ ? Two services \yere held on Sunday
throughout the \ear, with no vacation lor minister or pecj-
ple, which means the preaching ot [more than 2ooo ser-
mons. 'ldie\' weie <4eneiall\ written, as I judge
from an entiy in his Common Place hook where he saws,
" preaching \\ ithout MSS. and good sense seldom go to-
gethei.*' \or are we to think of these sermons as petty fif-
teen minute productions " pronounced trippingU on the
tongue," hut solid, thoughtful discourses of" an hour's
length, upon the ])r()toundest themes of Puritan theology,
with copious applications to the stale of the h.earers. In
those (la\s the\ liked what the\ called " a painful [)reacher,"
and the\ onl\- complained when s sermons were too

short, easii\- understood and left no ground for disputa-
tion during the week. Parson Hancock was a diligent
student, a man of" wide ant! \aried inforniation, a care-
ful reader of Harvard College lihrarv. as his notes and
comments alunulantU prove, ]ireser\ cd in his Connnon
Place Hook. 'I'his is a huge mass of' extracts antl re-
flections in his hand-writing, iieginning when a college
student and extending to near the close of" his lit"e. They


fonii ;m ocIjind xdIiiidl' of S^JO closcK written pa^cs,
lilK'tl to tlir last line witli tew cxceplioiis. It tontains
inroniiation upon a inultitiidc ot'MihJLVcs j^leaned tVoni the
iTaili 1^- and c-xperience of a lon^- \]\'v. It is a rcniaikahle
|)i (Kliiction, opening' the mind ot" the man and reveahn;^' his
habits and character more tuMN than anxthin*;' besides,
lleie are Science. Philosoph\ . Tlieolonx , Medicine, the
phenomena ot" nature, and ol animal lite, a thonsanil
piacticai n)atteis relating' to the I'arm, the household, the
church and the state, inteispersed v\ ilh scraps ot lnstor\',
hi(;>ia])h\ . the sayin^■s ot" L;reat men, stories and puui^ent
epi^taurs. all carelulU and s\ stematicalh arranged untler
jiioper headinjgs. ProhahU liom these readinj^s and re-
flections, he drew the subjects and illustrations ol his
sermons. It" so, he must ha\e been a rare preacher tor
thosi' da\s. \()t one of the "^ di\ as dust" sort, as so
maii\ weie, but a pieacher who had somethin^i.- interest-
ing- to sa\ that had relation to human life aroimd him, —
knowledge wholesome and good, — thought that quickened
and enlaiged thought, — that made a man more ot a man
tor knowing him.

The tow II once \()ted that *•' no writing of a secular con-
cernment should be put up at the meeting house tor the
people to ri'ad on Suiula\ ." As we lead the old sermons
of a hundred and lil'tv \ears ago, or lr\ to read them,
we au' impressed with the idea that something like tliis
must ha\i- stared the minister in the lace as he stood in
the ])ulpil, — ■■Nothing that touches the pri'ssing, vital in-
teiesls of this xsoild to-da\ __uuist be spoken here." Evi-
(Uaitlv )olm Hancock stood in no feai' of such an
admonition. Nor was he that kind of a preacher. He
had the sap and \ igor of rial life. He was a think-


ing, i:;ro\viii<; man as long as lie lived, and so awakened
thought and life in the peojile. A deeply religious man,
an earnest, faithful C'hristian, a tireless worker for the up-
building of the churrli, a strict disciplinarian in guard,
ing its morals and bringing oilenders to the bar of
confession and repentence. \'et he was no bigot and held
no ecclesiastical domination over the ])eople. The subject
of his sermon at the ordination of his son I'lbenezer as
his colleague, is "Ministers are the People's Helpers,"
and the first point is, ministers have no dominion over
men's faith, but thev are heli)ers of their joy. •• Let us
all be thankful." he says, "that we are delivered from a
domineering and tyrannical clergy." And again, "the charity
of some is, 'to damn all the world but themselves.'"

" l)iblic;il criticism " did not originate in our day, as
the Common Place book of John Hancock plainly shows.
Some of the dithcult questions of interpretation he boldly
grappled two hundred years ago. Take this discussion oj
the Noachian Deluge. "How was it possible,'' he asks, "if
the flood was universal, for water enough to have fallen
in forty days to have covered the tops of the highest
mountains ? " He then makes a mathematical calculation
showing that it must have taken more than forty years,
and then he asks, " What became of all that additional
water? Ikit if it was local, confined to [udea, what use
was there in building the ark to save Noah and his
family?" However, like many other wise men, he leaves
the problem luisolved.

Some of the pithy sayings and proverbs recorded are
very liright. Thus, he says, "War is a tire struck in
the devil's tinder box." "Afflictions are the whetstone of


pra\er." " Some men will marry their ciiiidreii to swine
for a i^olden trough." He discusses questions of casuistry
with much ct)nimon sense. Tiuis, under the head of mar-
riai:;e, he asks, " Is it lawful for an educated Protestant
woman to marry a Roman ("athoiic. if he agrees not to
disturb her religion ? It would not be sinful for her to
marr\- a pagan, no more to marry a Catholic, esjjecially
where better is not to be hatl." How to deal with a
cross husband is illustrated by the example of a worthy
Christian woman who had such an affliction to bear.
When asked how it was that she managed to live peace-
alily with him. she replied that when he came home very
cross she was as pleasant and agreeable to him as pos-
sible, a recipe that would no doubt be equally efficacious
in similar cases to-day. These simple records gathered
from the Common Place P)Ook show that lohn Hancock
was not a theological or ecclesiastical fossil, but a man
of real ffesh and blood, with a warm, beating heart, a
man in close touch with humanity in its manifold expres-
sion and experience; a man who was abreast of the
knowledge and ]:)rogress of his time. Of his preaching, a
few printed sermons are preserved in the Harvard library,
notably one before Gov. Shute and the General Court, in
1722, entitled "Rulers Are Benefactors of the People."
The style is simple and direct, free from much ornament,
or attempt at rhetorical display. The truth is plainly
spoken. Magistrates and legislators are told how they
may be a blessing to the people by an example of integ-
rit)- and piety, by devotion to the public weal, by cherishing
the schools, the college and the church ; with admirable
(ounsel to the electors as well as to the elected, — much


of il as pertinent to rulers and voters of to-day as of
those of a hundred and seventy years i o. It is no
labored exposition of scripture texts and abstract doc-
trines, but a forcible urj^ing home upon the hearers of
their duties as rulers, citizens and Christians,- terse, pun-
gent, practical preaching that they would be better for
hearing and heeding. The sermon would come within the
limit once declared l)y a good judge to be the proper
one for a religious service. He said " Let it be an hour,
with a leaning to mercy." But the sermon that appears
most pleasing and impressive is that already alluded to
at the ordination of his son, a young man of remarkable
promise, cut off from his work with his father here in
1739, after five years of great usefulnes.s. It has a pecu-
liar interest and value, however, from the fact that there
is an introduction, or " preface," addressed to his people,
giving a glimpse of life in Lexington in 1735, a hundred
and sixty years ago. First he speaks of the kindness
shown to himself and the members of his family during
the thirty-two years of his ministry, a respect and kindness
which he has obser\'ed is sometimes wanting in other
places. The inhabitants of this town, he says, are an
industrious and thriving people. There are many serious,
savory and spiritual Christians among them. There are
no drinking clubs or companies that have their appointed
times and places to meet and drink and game and spend
their precious time, as I know of. If there be, I hope
that such of you as are under the oath of (iod will dis-
perse them. The rising generation have formed a society
and hold a religious meeting on the evening after the
Sabbath, and it is joyfully increasing. A pleasing picture


of the relations of pastor and people and of their i;;ener-
ous treatment of him in settling his son as his assistant,
with tlie additional salary assessed for his support. It is
iloubtfiil if a better report could be made to-day of the
moral conflition of Lexinii^ton, notwithstanding it has six
ministers instead of one. But that shows how much more
diflicult it is to instruct and influence the people of to-
day than those of a century and a half ago !

The title of Bishop, generally applied to Mr. Hancock,
indicates the position he held in the respect of the clergy
and the laity as the counsellor and friend of all. It was
no assumption of ecclesiastical or dogmatic authority on
his part, but an iionor awarded him as a wise adviser
and pacificator in all church difficulties, as the senior
minister of the county for more than thirty years, and
the moderator of church councils. So great was the con-
hderice in his wisdom tliat it is said his parishioners
seldom engagetl in any new enterprise without asking
his advice. Town quarrels and tlisi)utes over boundary
lines were settled peaceably by his decision as to what
justice and equity required, so that for many years there
were no appeals to the courts from the people of Lex-
ington. What ])arson Hancock said ought to be clone, was
done. His word was law as well as gospel. Members of
the church were held to a strict account for all violations
of chastity, of temperance, of honesty, of truthfulness, and
olfenders were obliged to stand up before the congregation
and make confession of their wrong doing and ask to be
forgiven. Many such cases are recorded in the church
book; some among the most wealthy and prominent of his
jxirishioners. He saitl to the transgressor, you ha\e done


nil unjust, an impure, or an unkind thing, and you must
repent of it, must coine before the people and say so, and
promise to do right in time to come. It was done by high
and low, rich and ])oor. Was it the power of fear, or the influ-
ence of love, that held strong men and women under this
stern rule ? 1 cannot say, but certain it is that he did it. But
such publicity given to open and secret sins now, 1 fear would
soon l)reak up the churches and disrupt society.

lUit there is another phase to John Hancock's character
which niust not be overlooked. He was a genial, compan-
ionable, loveable man, fond of pleasantry and wit, a good
story-teller, and not above enjoying or perpetrating a joke.
Dr. Appleton, in his funeral sern\ons on the Sunday following
Mr. Hancock's death, speaks of him as cheerful and face-
tious ; so much so as sometimes to startle and shock the
soberer l)rethren. fiut this endeared him all the more to his
parishioners and made him a welcome guest in their homes ;
a man in .sympathy with the humble people around him,
entertained by their homely wit and wisdom, who made
himself one with them in their sorrows and joys. He was
given to hospitality, says Dr. Appleton, and his house was
the resort of people of various characters. He adds that
ministers of every age were fond of his company, which
proves that in spite of their harsher theology and sterner
manners, ministers of that day were much like ministers of
this day, — fond of one who tells a good story and lightens
up the .somber hues of life with cheerfulness and laughter.
These facts make creditable some traditions of Mr. Han-
cock related by Theodore Parker, in a letter of his found
in Dr. Sprague's Annals of the American I'ulpit. He say.s
that in his old age some people wished to have elders


appointed in the church to assist him in his duties and
two of the deacons waited upon him to |3ropose the matter.
Hearini^ them through he said. I you would be
willini; to accept tlie office yourselves. We would l)e will-
ing, was the reply. Hut do you know what elders are
required to do? No, ]>ut we would be glad to learn.
Well, they are to groom, saddle and bridle the minister's
horse when he wishes to ride, bring it to the door and hold
the stirrup for him to mount, and when he goes to other
towns on ministerial duties to accompany him and pay the
expenses. This was enough ; they departed and nothing


Online LibraryCarlton Albert StaplesAn address by Rev. Carlton A. Staples → online text (page 1 of 2)