Edmund Foster.

The works of God declared by one generation to another. A sermon, preached at Littleton, Dec. 4, 1815 online

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On the completion of a Century from the Incorporation of that


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Pastor of the Church in said Town.




Littleton, Dec. 18, 1815.

THE town of Littleton return their most cordial thanks,
for the very able and instructive Sermon, by you delivered, the
4th inst. on the Conclusion of a Century since the Incorporation
of this Town ; and, by the undersigned, their Committee, request
a copy of the same for the Press.

Rev. Edmund Foster.

Littleton, Dec. 28, 1815.

THE undersigned receives with lively emotions of
friendship, the attention of the town of Littleton to the Sermon,
delivered before them on the 4th inst. and at their request pre.
sents them with a copy of the same for the Press.

Samuel Hoar, ^

John Wood, > Committee.

David Lawrence


Psalm cxlv — 4ih verse.

Vne generation shall praise thy works unto another,
and shall declare thy mighty acts.

The great creator did not endow his creatures, in
their first existence, with the highest perfections of
which they are capable, and for which they were de-

To man he has given the capacity and the means of
acquiring knowledge, and of communicating it to oth-
ers. It is only by improving his talents, that he can
increase them.

Both his knowledge and his happiness were design-
ed to be progressive ; nor do we know that the period
will ever be, either in this world or in the world to
come, in which this progression will come to an end*

The state of things around us, and the prospect be-
fore us, give constant activity and employment to the
noble powers of the human mind.

From one original stock, the innunierable multitude
of the human family have proceeded ; and in every
generation children have been dependent on their pa-
rents, reared to manhood by their labour and nurs-
ing attention ; improved by their instruction and dis-
cipline : and after being removed from their immedi-


ate cure, they have usually been continued under tu-
tors and governors of an higher grade.

When God had created man, and assigned him his
state and probation in this world, he did not dismiss
him from his care. The same power, that gave us
being, befriends, assists and strengthens us through
the whole journey of human life. Our Father vv'ork-
eth hitherto, and we work. Human exertions are so
united and blended with a divine agency and provi-
dence, that the one cannot exist and progress without
the other ; and whenever we speak of the doings of
men, we also declare the works of God. Under such
views should we trace the history of the world from
the beginning, through all generations of men, and.
pursue it to the consummation of all things.

In the infant age of the world, the minds of men
were rude and uncultivated, and darkness for a long-
time was upon the family of the earth. The world
was large, and the inhabitants few. They were herds-
men rather than cultivators or mechanics ; and when-
ever convenience invited, they could remove from
one place to another without encroaching on the rights
of any. To commerce they were strangers, and they
subsisted upon their own simple means. Their wants
were soon and easily satisfied ; and their motives to
enterprise and discoveries few and feeble. Science
unfolded gradually, and progressed slowly ; yet it
was never wholly at a stand, but advanced as men
multiplied, and has continually increased with time.
In some periods it has progressed with greater, at oth-
ers with less rapidity. Its present improved state was
reserved for one of the glories of the christian era.

That the world therefore is not eternal, as some
have vainly pretended, is evident from the length of

time in which mankind, upon that supposition, must
hhve remained is:norant of what are now known and
considered to be some of the most necessary and use-
ful arts of life. And is it credible, that the eternal
succession of generations should produce no men of
genius, who would either be awakened by necessity,
stimulated by the desire of personal gain, or the thirst
of glory and renown, to press their inquiries into na-
ture, and to make discoveries which would at once
improve the happiness of mankind and immortalize
their own names ?

Is it credible, that mankind should remain through
countless ages, down to a late period, ignorant of the
art of printing, by which they might communicate
knowledge to others, and transmit their discoveries
and improvements to posterity in the records of histo-
ry ? Can we believe that men, for such a length of
time, would have known so litde of navigation, and
nothing of the needle and the mariner's compass ?
That they would have remained so ignorant of geo-
graphy and the earth they inhabited, as to know nothing
of this western hemisphere, this vast continent, which
is nearly one half of this habitable world ? That they
should have known so little either of the means of their
internal improvements, and of defence and annoyance
of their enemies, and other valuable branches of sci-
ence as they did, so late as the days of the prophets,
and the conclusion of the Jewish age ? If we reject,
as we ought, the idea of the past eternity of this world,
and believe it of novel existence ; if we limit it to the
true period at which the history of Moses has placed it,
a period of less than six thousand years, we shall the
less wonder at the slow progress of civilization and
improvement in the arts ; and that the world continued
^s it did, in comparative darkness and ignorance.

That we might have a correct knowledge of tlie
world and of events in exact order of succession, time
has been divided to us in portions both small and
great. It has been measured to us by days and weeks,
and months and years, and from thence by hundreds
and by thousands of years. The ancients computed
their time by genealogies, or generations. By this
method the Jewish tribes were kept distinct. In this
line of succession the priesthood, under the law, waa
traced to its origin, the claims to that holy office
proved and settled, and many valuable inheritances
among the Jews preserved and secured.

By this method it was clearly ascertained and proved
that Christ sprang out of Judah, and from the family
of David, according to the ancient prophecies.

When Saint Matthew, to prove this point, had enu-
merated the genealogies, or succession of families, from
Abraham to Joseph, the reputed father of our Lord,
he gives us a compendious history of the Jewish nation,
from its establishment to its overthrow, in the follow-
ing words : So all the generations, from Abraham to
David, are fourteen generations; and from David,
until the carrying away into Babylon, are fourteen
generations ; and from the carrying away into Babylon,
unto the coming of Christ, are fourteen generations.

" The Jews," says a learned writer, "in every one
of these several intervals, were under a several and
distinct manner of government, and the end of each
interval produced some alteration in the state. In the
first, they were under judges and prophets, in the sec-
ond, under kings, and in the third, under Hasmonsean
priests. The first fourteen generations brought their
state to glory, in the kingdom of David ; the second
to misery, in the captivity of Babylon ; and the third
to glory again, in the kingdom of Christ.

" The first begins with Abraham, who received the
promise, and ends in David, who received it again
more clearly ; the second begins with the building of
the temple, and ends in the destruction of it ; the third
begins with their peeping out of misery in Babel, and
ends in their accomplished delivery by Christ."

In the history of that long favoured, but finally de-
voted nation, one generation fully declared the works
of God unto another.

We have briefly traced the history and condition of
mankind through many generations, to a new era,
which commenced at the birth, and under the reign of
Messiah, the ancient of days, in which a new order of
things appeared.

Though the knowledge and study of genealogies
was of great use before the coming of the Messiah,
that it might be known distinctly of what tribe and
family he was born ; yet, after his appearing, it be-
came useless and vain. And those who afterwards
gave heed to endless genealogies are reproved by the
Apostle Paul, as being ostentatious, and betraying the
marks of family pride and destruction.

Christians do not compute time by generations, but
by centuries, or periods of an hundred years. And in
looking to past events and things, we usually refer to
the particular century in which they were known and
transacted. The history of the world has been divi-
ded to us by these periods, ever since the days of
Christ ; and we take our dates of time from his birth.

We have already observed that the ages previous to
this period were comparatively dark. The high im-
provements in knowledge and the useful arts seem to
have been reserved for the honour and happiness of
later times.

The greater portion of new and useful discoveries
have been made long since the christian era commen-
ced ; and some of the most important of them within
the space of five or six hundred years. The twelfth,
thirteenth, and fourteenth centuries were honoured by
geniuses, who brought many hidden things to light,
and blessed the world with new discoveries. New
inventions and improvements in the sciences were
quickl}^ followed by a spirit of enterprise. Men soar-
ed above their narrow prejudices, and gave a wide
range to their thoughts and enquiries. They began
to traverse the ocean and to circumnavigate this globe.

A new world was brought to view when Columbus
discovered this western continent, in 1492. The dis-
covery was soon followed by emigrations from the old
to the new world.

Until now, this large and fairest portion of the earth
had been without civilized inhabitants ; but wisdom
forbade that it should longer remain a den only for
beasts and savage men.

Providence usually ripens men for executing its
wise designs. In England the reformation from Po-
pery was followed by persecution and blood. Usur-
pation and tyranny characterized ecclesiastics. The
reformers themselves became divided into v/hat we
may call Protestants, Dissenters, and Puritans, who,
in some respects, differed from both the former. The
Puritans, so called, not only rejected Popery in com-
mon with their reformed brethren ; they not only con-
scientiously withdrew from the established forms of
religion in their country, but they attempted a still
further reformation in the dissenting churches, by con-
forming both their worship and manners more to the
simplicity of the gospel; and when oppressed and

persecuted, on account of their opinions and labours,

thev fled for refuge. r i

These were the men who first sought a peaceful
.-etreat for themselves and for their posterity, m this
then distant and barbarous land.

In their views and pursuits, they were governed
n,ore by religion, than by the motives of worldly gam
They preferred exile abroad, to tyranny at home.
Thev had .-ather submit to the privat.ons. hardships,
and dangers of life in a ^ilder.ess surrounded w.th
savage foes, in which they could be favoured b) the
unmolested enjoyment of liberty and the "S^t-fcon.
science in the worship of their God, than to endure the
spfrU of intolerance and persecution iu then- native

"7tle call of Providence, therefore, these pious
pilgrims, like Abraham the father of the faU^iful, went
ouf, not knowing whither they went. In November
1620 a companv of them reached the .\mencan coast,
anch;red in Cape Cod harbor, and, before landing,
formed themselves into a little republic, and then com-
meneed their first settlement in what is now called
Plymouth. A few years after, another company from
Enoland, bringing with them their religious teachers,
S-i'-ved ; Naumleag, no«- calledSalem Hk nun.
ber and strength of inhabitants -mmually mulup led
and increased. New societies were formec^ and new
towns were settled in quick succession. Population
:Xprovement spread far and wide, till they .ached
the pxLwenow inhabit ; an era, my hearers, we have
this day assembled to celebrate. . , , •,

On he third of December, 1715, the then inhabit-
ant?of this place, by an a.t of the leg-— . - ^^
to political existence, and were numbered among

corporations of New-England. During the century
past, amidst all those obstacles, occurrences, and chan-
ges incident to human affairs, and to life, this town has
risen from its infancy to its present population and rank
in civil and christian life.

Through nearly the whole hundred years that are
now elapsed and gone, the word and ordinances of the
gospel have been statedly and constantly enjoyed by
the people in this place. They have had three distinct
houses of public worship, and three ministers of the
sanctuary. The first who was invited and ordained to
the work of the gospel ministry, in this town, was the
Rev. Benjamin Shattuck. After continuing in the
ministry about thirteen years, he was, by agreement
with the people of his charge, dismissed from his pas-
toral office.

He was quickly succeeded by the Rev. and mem-
orable Daniel Rogers. As a minister he possessed
many valuable gifts and graces, which gave him emi-
nence and distinction among his brethren. In him
were united a penetrating mind and a sound judgmenty
by which he was able to investigate truth, and detect
and refute error.

He was eminently endowed with the gift of prayer,
which he assiduously cultivated and improved. In
addressing the throne of grace, he greatly excelled ;
and his prayers on particular occasions were remarka-
bly appropriate and impressive.

His deportment was always dignified ; in the house
of God it was commanding ; and as an apostle of
Christ, he might be truly said to magnify his office.
For his wisdom and prudence he was respected at
home and abroad. His praise was in all the churches.
In their difficulties they looked to him as a counsellor,

and he was useful in settling their debates, adjusting
their differences, and healing their divisions. Provi-
dence lengthened his life beyond threescore years and
ten, when he died in a good old age, and was gathered
to the sepulchres of his fathers.

As a son with the Father in the gospel, the speaker
was ordained to the ministry, as colleague with your
former deceased pastor, and has now almost completed
the 35th year of his ministry. Though we have this
treasure in earthen vessels, and the ministers of the
gospel are not suffered to continue, by reason of death;
yet some are spared in the vineyard longer than others.
So far as the continuance of a minister is a blessing,
you, my hearers, have been singularly favoured.
While other towns, younger than this, from various
causes, have been often affiicted and disappointed in
their hopes, and had a number ojf laborers in quick
succession ; for almost a century you have had but
three ministers ordained among you ; and the lives
and labors of two of them have been continued for
more than fourscore and four years. We will record
these acts in memory of God's great goodness.

A brief history of this church- and town, since they
were committed to my care, must be interesting and

In a period short of thirty-five years, 445 persons
have died. Of this number, 126 were members of
bur church. There have been admitted to baptism,
722, including infants and adult persons. 249 have
been received to full communion ; and the number of
communicants at the present time is 136.

Our subject rises in solemn review before us. It
evinces this scripture truth, that one generation gocth
away and another cometh.



In the short period of my ministry here, the amount
of the funerals I have attended, and of the persons we
have committed to the tomb, is nearly equal to half
the number of the living in this place; and exceeds
that of the whole congregation, both great and small,
w^ho assemble for worship in this temple at any one
time. Among the deceased, are our fothers, our chil-
dren, our wives, and our most intimate and valuable
friends, who once partook of our domestic comforts,
of the pleasures of social intercourse, and who ate and
drank with us at the table of Christ. Among them
also is our former pastor, and the greatest part of his
charge. There is scarce a person among us, of con-
siderable age, but has been a mourner, and is still a
sufferer under these privations. Some families have
been greatly diminished, and the breaches remain un-
repaired ; others are totally extinct, and nothing of
them remains but the monuments of their former lives.

If the number of the dead has been swelled to the
above amount in thirt} -five years, what would it be if
we were to add to it the whole bill of mortality for a
century past ? Yea, if we take into the account all
that death has conquered shice the discovery and set-
tlement of this country, how vastly would the num-
ber of the dead exceed the whole family of the living ?

A brief view of the multiplied labors, hardships,
sufferings, and worthy deeds of our ancestors, must be
instructive and improving to us their children. Theif
drove out the savages ; they subdued the wilderness
before them ; they instituted religion ; they founded
schools and seminaries of learning ; they purchased
and defended liberty at the expense of their richest
blood and treasures ; they established civil institutions ;
they bequeathed them to their heirs ; and we, their


children, enter into their labors and enjoy the blessings
of the inheritance. By such splendid deeds does one
generation declare God's works unto another. Can
we ever forget these things ? Shall we neglect to
profit by them ? And will we not improve upon their
labours in our day and generation, and hand down
the same blessings with much increase to our children ?
Indeed, our country is already wakeful and attentive
to their duty on these subjects, and is mindful of the
interests of posterity. Colleges and academies are
multiplied among us. They are liberally endowed,
and provided with able instructors, which promise
improvement in the liberal and useful arts and sci-

In this portion of our country we have schools in
every town for the education of children in the com-
mon and most necessary branches of knowledge.

For many years past, no improvements have been
greater than those in our common and school educa-
tion. These institutions do great honour to our coun-
try. They have a friendly aspect on the public senti-
ment and morals, and a direct tendency to preserve a
free government among us.

We have agricultural societies, for improving our.
knowledge in the first employment of man.

Husbandry is absolutely necessary to our subsist-
ence. It is both useful and ornamental ; and in pro-
portion to our improvement in it, our tables will be
plentifully furnished, and our country around us be-
come more and more like die garden of God, for its
beauty and fertility.

In connexion with husbandry, are placed our manu-
ikcturing establishments. By our skill and industry
in them, our reputation is increasing, and the wants


and conveniences of life are supplied in rich abun-

We have many and divers charitable institutions,
for relieving the indigent of all descriptions. Pious
and charitable females, turning their attention particu-
larly to the forlorn of their o^vn sex, have established
and endowed asylums for such houseless children of
vrant. They annually take many from wretchedness,
and from almost every vice, and place them in these,
secure abodes. Here they are comfortably fed and
clothed, and nursed as with paternal affection ; by
which they are prevented becoming a public nuisance,^
and made reputable and useful members of society.
Many sons of America have done worthily, but her
daughters have excelled them all.

To these and many other valuable institutions, may
be added, bible and missionary societies, for the more
effectual and rapid diffusion of the knowledge of Chris-
tianity throughput the great family of, man. The
present is truly the age of light and irnprovement, by
which present and future generations will be blessed.

If the past century has swept away more than one
generation, and the earth is now peopled with a wholly
new race of men, and the same order of events must
continue, what is the prospect before us ? Where
shall we and our dear children, in a little time, be ?
We must rest in our graves, as do others. Probably,,
at the return of another century, not one of us will be
found alive, to declare to others the acts of God.

Brethren, the tinie is short. Let us work while it
is day, and by our labors, transmit something valuable
in our turn to the generations that shall follow us, who,
in reviewing the history and imperishable monuments


of our lives, may find occasion to say of us — though
they are dead, they yet speak to us.

In contemplating the condition in which this soci ■
ety is found, at the close of the past, and on the begin*
ning, of a new century, we shall find many things to
excite our gratitude, and quicken and increase our

We have already stated the number of communi-
cants among us, from which it appears, that by the
blessing of God this church has had increase and edi-
fication. To the honour of your profession and char-
acter, my brethren and sisters, I am constrained to
say, that during my ministry among you, you have
continually kept the unity of the spirit in the bonds of
peace. Our harmony has never been interrupted by a
diversity of religious opinions. If any one has had
faith differing from another in any point of scripture
doctrine, he has had it to himself before God, and has
not disturbed others with it.

Though we are many members, we are still but one
body, and one bread unbroken. The bitter waters of
strife have never broken in to trouble us. Dissen-
sions and divisions have not been known here.

Through the whole of my ministry, this church has
never, for once, been specially called together on any
matter or concern, except for the choosing of deacons^
who, in the proper duties of their office, might assist in
the services of the sanctuary, and in maintaining the
order and promoting the spiritual interests of the whole
body. This state of quietness and harmony I attribute
not to my own exemplary vigilance, prudence and
faithfulness as a pastor ; but to your candor and good-
ness towards me, and to your love for the peace and
prosperity of Zion. Let your light still shine before


men, and your example impart an influence to others.
For this shall the world take knowledge of you, that
ye :ire the disciples who have been with Jesus. The
head of the church shall also watch over and keep you ;
and you shall ever dwell in the secret places of the
Most High, and abide under the shadow of the Al-
mighty. The people of this town, also, have a just
claim to their full portion of honour and respect, on
account of the peace and harmony which subsists in it.
To your wisdom and prudence among others, it is ow-
ins: that we have been so little troubled with sectaries.
You have continued in the faith as it has been here de-
livered, and have not been blown about by every wind
of doctrine. You have heard the voice of your own
shepherd, and strangers ye have not followed. As a
society, you have a deep interest attached to you.
You should be as emulous of a good reputation and
name, as an individual. It will give you the like com-
fort and security in yourselves, and respect abroad ;
and when, in the course of events, you shall be called
to resettle the gospel among you, it will be eminently
useful in commanding a person of character and tal-
ents. That I may close my ministry with comfort
and honor to myself, and usefulness to you, I would
further address myself, both to the church and people
in this place.

As this is the last time I shall ever speak, or you
will ever hear me, on an occasion like this, let us avail
ourselves of this opportunity of renewing our mutual
pledges of fidelity and attachment to each other.
Hitherto ye have been my support and comfort, and I


Online LibraryEdmund FosterThe works of God declared by one generation to another. A sermon, preached at Littleton, Dec. 4, 1815 → online text (page 1 of 2)