Leonard Withington.

A sermon for the two hundreth anniversary of the standing of the First Church in Newbury on its present site, October 20, 1846 online

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At ft meeting of the members of the Fu"st Parish in Newburj', held this day, Voted, that
the thanks of this Society be presented to the Rev. Mr. Witiiington, for his interesting and
instructive Sermon delivered this day. Voted, that Messrs, D. Colraan, R. Coffin, and R.
Tenney, be a Committee to request a copy for the press.

Newhury, Oct. 20, ISIG.

Rev. Lkokaed Witiungton:

Dear Sir, — Agreeable to a vote of the members of your Society, the undersigned do
present you their thaiiks for yonr Sermon (delivered on the 20th of October, 1S46) and do
respectfully request a copy for the press.

Daniel Colman, "^
liiCHAKD CoFKiN, S- Coramittee.
Ricii.vi;i> ToiNjijCY, )
Newlniry, Oct. 27, 1S40.

To th» Gentlemen of the Committee oj' the First Parish in Newbury:

I regret that some of the subjects touched on in this discourse demand a volRme
rather than a few lines; particularly the history of toleration and its rise in Holland. No
justice can be done the subject, or me, without remembering, I have merely hinted a fact
TV'hich long research might prove. But I commit the discourse to your disposal, merely
reminding the candid reader that, in such sermons, brevity is hardly ever regarded as an
imperfection. With great respect

I subscribe myself

Your Friend and Pastor,

To Messrs. —

Daniel Colman, ^
EicHAKD Coffin, > Committee.
Richard Tennky,}
Oet. mh, 1846.


Thoc answeredst them Lord, ouk God : Thou wast a God that fokoav-


Lord our God, and Wobshif at hi8 holy hill; for the Lord our God is Holt.

The veneration with which we look back on our an-
cestors, as well as the affection which attaches us to a par-
ticular region of country, is a strong feeling, implanted in
our hearts by Providence, and there are occasions when it
needs to be regulated rather than increased. Pride, if it be
ever lawful, becomes honest when we look back on an-
cestors to whom, under God, we owe half our virtue and
nearly all our happiness. We hear of Solon ; we give him
the purest praise. And our fathers were men, who laid
thefoundationof an empire; they combined rehgion with
government ; piety with learning; and opened the foun-
tain, whose ever flowing waters are to become a river)
nourishing the trees, whose fruit and branches are to give
pleasure and aliment to all who behold their beauty, or sit
under their shade.

The praises, however, bestowed on the Puritans have
not always been discriminating. They are our fathers ;
and we have been sometimes led into the amiable error
of over-rating their virtues and turning our eyes away
from their faults. Kour partiahty terminated in specula-
tive admiration, it might be forgotten and pardoned. But


we are strongly tempted to imitate what we admire ; wc
are temptated also to compensate the neglect of some vir-
tues, by the cheaper duty of praising them in our ances-
tors ; just as the scribes and pharisees, built the tombs of

OUS. Men are sometimes led bhndly to adore in the past
those very virtues which they are most lacking in, in their
own example. At any rate, the best praise is that which
is found the more just, the more it is examined, and will
last as long as truth itself Our text is applicable to our
fathers, No doubt God led them to this wilderness ; he
employed them in a very important work — he took them
away from the feudahsm of the old world; he sent thenij
out, as he sent Abram to Canaan, to this distant continent ;
he employed them in building up a new system of gov-
ernment and religion ; he laid his ordaining hands on them
for that work ; he gave them all the virtues which he saw
necessary, and he allowed some of the errors which his
own deep wisdom sometimes condescends to use in bring-
ing about its mighty purposes. In a word, our text was
true of them as it was of a remarkable people of old. Thou
WAST A God that forgavest them ; though thou tookest
Vengeance op their Inventions ; that is, they had not faults
which merciful justice did not forgive, and they had in-
ventions which time and experience must sweep away.

New England owes its existence to the faults of the re-
formation. When we read the history of that remarkable
event our sympathy is enlisted with the reformers ; we
admire their fortitude; their zeal; then sincerity; their
scorn of tyrants and their reverence for God. Our feel-
ings inform us where they ought to have stopped; and we
regret deeply when we see the beauty and the progress
of the work marred by the dissentions of good men. O, if
Queen Ehzabeth had had a little more earnest piety ; if
her bishops had been a Httle more concihating and their
measures more mild; if the puritans themselves had been

less zealous about the surplice, and a little more men of
the world, — what a beautiful edifice of unity and wisdom
might have sprung up. How would the mouths of gain-
sayers have been stopped ; and how powerful would have
been the action of protestantism on the heart of all its foes!
A corrupt church might have been overthrown; and the
stream of pious influence, united in one channel and flow-
ing in one direction, might have sweetened the whole
ocean and pervaded the whole earth. What a divine
unity ; what a blessed effect ! Such are our theoretic
dreams. But God's ways are not our ways. It is his
will that the Church should be torn by dissension and his
people thrive by persecution. He loves a little flock ;
and the splendid chandeliers that man's invention devis-
es to light his temple, are shivered by the tempest which
his justice raises, whenever we open the doors. It was
these contests of the protestants that planted New Eng-
and. They came to settle on these shores under angry
skies ; they crossed an angry ocean ; they brought with
them the seeds of an angry religion; and, though they
were favored Avith the mercy, yet they sometimes met
the frowns of an angry God.

Thus was New England cradled in religious dessension ;
she was born in a vortex, or to speak more fully she owed
her origin to that deep religious feehng which is far more
favorable to energy than to peace. We must take our
blessings in that exact combination which Providence pre-
sents them to us. We hook up the fish from the stormy
ocean ; the nuts, which gTow upon the tall trees, are shak-
en down to us by the violent wind ; and even the rose it-
self blooms on the thorn. It was not to be expected that
the soft civilities which spring up in still hfe were to be
found among ardent spirits, whose only recreation was
prayer and meditation ; and whose self-denial was willing
to cross an ocean to found an empire. At any rate, New
England from her very commencement was shaken by

religious disunion. The everlasting question of uniting, the
rights of conscience with the unity and welfare of the
Church ; the antinomian tendencies of a high orthodoxy ;
the over-action of individual zeal, the excesses of that theo-
PATHY wliich is separated from the principle of obedience;
the individuality which will burst out when men are free ;
the deUcate hne between the departments of muncipal law
and private moraUty ; all these questions — perhaps some
of them not even yet solved, agitated the public mind to
its very centre. They came to this shore to enjoy peace ;
but reformation is a series of questions which seem to ex-
ist in an everlasting chain. How can you have peace
when every impetuous Jehu, yokes his chariot and whips
his horses, and says to every wise man that meets him ;


This ancient parish may be considered as the very con-
centration of the character of New England. Here was
found, as in a miniature, with lines not the less strong for
their littleness, all its virtues and all its faults. The first
parish of Newbury gives abundant proofs, in its written
records, that it preferred strenuous liberty to peaceful
bondage ; that it could attend on the ordinances and
hearken to the counsels of a minister, and yet resist him ;
pay him his salary very punctually; take olTthe hat when-
ever it met him, with the most conventional reverence,
and yet draw the line where they supposed justice and
encroachment met ; and defend their purposes with the
most pious obstinacy. It is a remarkable fact, even in the
days of Parker, that a contention was carried on for twen-
ty-five years with both the clergymen, for the rights of
the Church, which many of the people thought invaded.
Various decisions of the court were had on the subject ;
several against the popular side of the question ;
until finally the people carried their point; all the while
maintaining order and attending on the preaching. * Such

=* See u very curious account of this controversy, in Mr. Coffin's very ample, very
impartial and very interesting history of Newbury, page 72 and onwwJ.

is New Englandism ; such is liberty as developed in this
part of the world ; a sober principle ; revering God, but
scorning the aggressions of man ; definite in its aim ;
rather obstinate in its purposes ; willing to be led but im-
possible to be DRIVEN, and even in its most violent resistance
of authority preserving the love of order and the reverence
for religion.

It seems from the very first that this parish and its cler-
gy, had a little tincture of a more hberal doctrine, than was
prevalent in the country. This appears from several con.
siderations,— 1st that Parker was the scholar of the mild
Archbishop Usher ; 2d that he was dealt with and visited by
his brethern in what was called the third way of communi-
on^ for his suspected heresy ; 3d, the Catechism published
by Mr Noyes, his colleague and kinsman, was a remarka-
bly cautious one, stating none of the doctrines of Calvin-
ism in their most offensive terms. At any rate, the seeds of
Arminianism were early sown in this country. This par-
ish in a later day, led the way. It may be proper on this
occasion and standing on this grouifd, fo cast a transient
glance to that system ; to show its rise and influence ; the
causes that produced it ; to remark its strength and Weak-
ness, and yield a passing tribute to those mild but mistak-
en men, who defended it by their learning and adorned it
by their example. Whatever may have been the defects
of that system, it was permitted to exist by God; perhaps
he used it as a moral purchase to take some other more
plausible errors out of the way of his people.

In the ancient Church it cannot be doubted that the Pal-
agian tendencies long preceded the system of Augustine. —
This was perfectly natural. Men must complete their ideas
of free-^agency; responsibihty; individuahsm as opposed to
the confused physical depravity of paganism, before they

* For an account of what was called the third way of communion, see the Cam-
bridge, Platform, chap. xv. See the anecdote of Mr. Parker's learning and Uberality in
CoflSn's History, page 375. See also Dr. Popkin's two Sermons on leaving the Old Housa
and entering the New.

will be led to speculate on free grace, and justification
wholly by faith. They must read the elementary page be-
fore they proceed to those more correct and more re-
fined ideas, taught in the Epistles of Paul and confirm-
ed by the whole Bible. But in modern times the process
was different. The reformation was an outbreak from
the grossly developed Pelagianism which preceded it. All
was works, works ; merit, human merit, in the days of
Luther. The vast fabric of the Romish Church was built
on this predominating idea. The reformers, startle d at
such doctrines and disgusted at the effects they saw pro-
duced, set up the noble doctrine of Justification by faith,
as an antagonist power — to sweep away all these fatal de-
lusions. But Luther, while he opposed a scriptural truth
to a traditional error, narrowed the definition of faith ; he
made it too miuch resemble a blind persuasion of a per-
sonal interest in Christ.^ Hence the antinomian tenden-
ces which soon manifested themselves, and which have al-
ways been the bane of an incautious orthodoxy. He did not
make his system meet the wants of our whole moral na-
ture; though he set up the pillars of truth, then leanings were
often wrong ; his language was often imprudent and ex-
cessive, and even when he meant well, conveyed a wrong
impression ; hence the reaction was visible in the mind of

* Melclier Adam in his Lives of the Eeformers tells a story of Luther, which perhaps may
show how he became partial to that view of faith afterwards deemed so dangerous. When
lie was young he was very sick ; his views were then indistinct, he was very anxious about
his spiriual state, and was visited by an old man whose conversation he very much en-
joyed; and this man told him, in repeating the creed, I believe in the remission of sins-
he must believe for himself 2iTidL not in general, that his sins were forgiven him:

Sffipe etiam senis cujusdam sermonibus se confirmatum esse narravit : cui cum consterna-
tiones suas exposuisset, audivit cum do fide niulta differontem, sequo deductum ajebat ad
Bvmbolum,in quo legitur : Credo remissionem ycccatorum. Hunc articulum sic ille inter-
pretatus erat : non solum in gene.re credendum esse, aliquibus remitti, ; ut cV Dccmoiies cre-
duiit, Davidi aiU Petro remitti ; sed mandatum Dei esse ; itt singuli homines nobis remttipec-
cata eredwmus. Et banc interpretatiouem confinuatum dixit Bernhardi dicto ; monstratura-
que locum in concione de annunciatione, ubiha;csunt verba: sed adde,v,t credas cV hoc,
qiiod per ipsum peccata tibi donantur. Hoc est testimonium, quod perhibit Spiritus sajictus,
in oorde tiw, dicens : dimissa sunt tibi peccata tua. Sic cnim arbitratur Apostolus ; gratis
justijicari Iwmiwum per fidem.

This afterwards became the favorite phraseology of Luther, and laid the foundation of
the subsequent excesses of Antinomianism. Even Jlclancthon says, N021 potest cor diligcre
Deiiiii, lusi ostendatur ■iilacains. See Dcoderlein's Theology, Vol. 11. page 4-jO.

his warmest friend, Melancthon ; and hence, in the next
age, a new system arose, — placing man on his own agen-
cy ; and thus attempting to justify the ways of God to man.
In this way, the polemic attraction was continued too long;
and very few even of the most pious and learned, in that
agitated age, found the independent path to scripture and
to truth. A similar course occurred in New England. —
The stern orthodoxy of our pious fathers uttered some
truths with great emphasis, and others, I suspect, with a fee-
ble voice. There are some subjects which even now, I
should not go to volumes of the Calvinists to find the best dis-
cussion of Tillotson's sermon on evil speaking ; Dr. Bar-
rows' discourses on industry ; Sherlock's views on resti-
tution and reparation as absolutely necessary to the sin-
cerity of repentance, are far better and more evangelical
than any thing similar found in the writings of men, who
over and over again insist on the depravity of man and a
salvation by a free pardon. It is often permitted by the
high wisdom of God, whose ways are not our ways, and
his thoughts not our thoughts, that when a sect has long;
prevailed, however firm their foundation, that will not, or
cannot utter his whole truth, that he raises up another
sect who will supply the delinquency ; and leave a wise
posterity to improve by the general result. Thus even
Arminianism had its causes and executed its mission. —
It operated like the ballast-chests, which I have seen in
some of our steam-boats, that when chance or curiosity
draws the passengers aU to one side, these machines are
rolled to the other, in order to restore the balance ; to trim
the vessel, and perchance to prevent a destructive explo-

But Arminianism also had its evils; it was too apt to over-
look those rousing truths which disturb the sinner's con-
science, and it was more remarkable for cherishing the el-
egant decencies of life than for awakening the stupid,
alarming the secure, or calling the prodigal from his husks


and swine to the i>enitent recesses of his father's house. — •
It was not a system of deep feenng;it hadhttle impulse
and no zeal. This system also in its turn produced its re-
action, and when after a long slumber, the intensest feel-
ing spread over the Churches— when that extensive revival
began, so auspicious in its commencement, so disastrous in
its close—when dazzled by those spiritual images, which
the poor soul of man in its boundless cravings is doomed
always to reach after and never to grasp, the public mind
staggered under the mighty vision, I cannot but think that
the Arminian Churches, stood as a barrier to check the
fanaticism which threatened to inundate the land. The
Rev. Mr. Parsons, of the Church that went out from this,
one of the warmest revivahsts of that day, tells us in
one of his manuscript letters — that "many in the land and
some among us who seemed for a time to run well, have
since fallen away, some into gross wickedness, and others
into wild enthusiasm, and have embraced several strange
doctrines ; some affirm they have undergone something
equivalent to death, and therefore are now immortal and
without any remains of sin ; yea, beyond the possibility
of sinning ; that in this state they are to have children; born^
not of their former wives, but of those women who have
entered the immortal state, as well as themselves ; that
their children are to be a holy seed, and so the latter day
glory of the Church is to commence and be carried on in
that way. Others, who renounce these pernicious princi-
ples, ramble about the country, and when they can get
admittance, creep into houses and teach the audience that
human learning is the cause of driving away the spirit of
God from the Churches ; one of this sort has lately been
among some of my people, inculcating these principles,
and teUing them that God had laid aside men of learning?
and taken farmers and tradesmen to carry on his work.
The principle seems to be taking with a few weak people,
but I trust God will not suffer Satan to go on in this way.'


How exactly is the present age a reproduction of the past!
And how true are the words of the preacher in Jerusalem
— There is no new thing under the sun !

The foundation of religious excess is laid in our nature.
While religious motives sweep with energy over the hearts
of men,there will always be some of such a temperament,
that the action will be excessive on the trembling chords of
their moral and physical composition. There will be young
men who will see visions, and old men who will dream
dreams ; and even a divine action on the soul will not expel
allerrors, or supersede all the imperfections of its peculiar
structure. Take Davenport, for example, the great agita-
tor of the days of Edwards and Whitefield. There cannot
be a moment's doubt that he was sincere — he Avas an
earnest man and no hypocrite. But what was he, and
where was the fountain of all his delusions? He was a
man of no delicacy of taste, no sense of propriety; a
man in whom the religious element was strongly devel-
oped ; who saw the world as we all do, through his own
Ideal ; who was for bringing every man's religious expe-
rience to his own standard ; and who in prostrating all
the forms of life only considered himself as manifesting
great zeal for the glory of God. Now in every age there
will be Davenports ; not only men to blow his trumpet,
but thousands of hearts that will respond to the sound. —
It is fixed in the permanent laws of our nature ; as the
blessed sun himself pouring down his light and produc-
tive warmth on different latitudes, produces the banana
and the incense tree of India, as well as the stunted pine
of the Norway coast ; so the spirit of God, acting on dif-
ferent hearts with different susceptibihties and under dif-
ferent degrees of cultivation, is likely to produce all the
diversities that we see repeated in every age. There must
be the river and its mounds, the law and its chcumscrip-
tion ; this man's impulse must be checked by that man's
caution; and God's purposes can only be executed by all


the varieties of action, which form the aggregate of human

Let us always remember, however, that God's wisdom
forms no excuse for our known defects.

Yet after all, it must be granted that the Arminian sys-
tem was very defective, and formed a very defective peo-
ple. To check enthusiasm, or to rectify high speculation
is not the sole duty of man. When I lay the writings of
these cool and cautious men alongside of the Epistles of
Paul, I cannot but think, I find a great discrepancy. In
laying open the character of man, in stating the terms of
our acceptance with God, I cannot but think they alike
eluded reason, opposed scripture, and shocked the deep-
est feelings of the soul. How can a poor sinner, whose
best righteousness is as filthy rags, think of appearing be-
fore the terrible throne, unless clad in the righteousness
of his Savior; unless accepted through the free justifica-
tion, which is the gracious fruit of God's electing love ?

This pulpit was (formerly at least) distinguished for its
occupants. Here were displayed the mental treasures of
the learned Parker; and the moderate Calvinism of the
judicious Noyes ; men who taught your fathers to unite
in their practical creed, the grace of God witJi the duties
of man ; men who said that we must be justified by
our faith, but that faith itself must be justified by works.
Here Woodbury,and Hichardson and Tappan,presented to
your memories the faith they inherited from their fathers.
Here the mild and prudent Tucker^ steered the bark of
the church through troubled waters in stormy times ; —
disarming his enemies by his meekness, and teaching

* Dr. Tucker, though managing his pen -with some polemic keenness was in private life
n man of great amenity and cheerfulness. He was surrounded by foes, and felt himself call-
ed on to exercise some vigor in his own defence. The following anecdote is told of him,
whioh may illustrate the moral of this sermon. Being one day overtaken by one of the new-
dig/Us, the good layman thought he must admonish the deficient priest. "Ah, Dr. Tucker,"
•said he, "all your good works will never carry you to Heaven." " Well, sir," was the reply,
■*'.you will never go there without them." So between them both, they got both sides of the


his people to conquer by love. Here the evangelical
Moore preached Christ crucified ; and to his faithful or-
thodoxy united that ardent charity which always gives it
ten-fold power. The last preacher (previous to him who
now addresses you) is still alive.^ Some of you remem-
ber him. You remember the purity of his mind ; the un-
partiality of his doctrines ; the independency of his senti-
ments ; the conscientiousness of his life.

Slave to no sect, he took no private road,

But looked through Scripture, up to Scripture's God.

Known for his profound learning, he was removed
from this parish to a distinguished place in a neighboring
Seminary. " Age and mfirmities," he tell us, have pre-
vented his being with us this day. May his sun go down
in serenity and peace, near those Academic shades which
he has illuminated by his learning and adorned by his
example. May we all be benefited by his humble eru-
dition ; his childlike simplicity ; his frankness of purpose;
the characteristic caution by which, in stating a senti-
ment, he was always careful never to overpass the

I can say of all my predecessors, what I hope wiU. be
said of me, when T shall have become the mouldering
tenant of yonder graveyard ; that they caught some of


Online LibraryLeonard WithingtonA sermon for the two hundreth anniversary of the standing of the First Church in Newbury on its present site, October 20, 1846 → online text (page 1 of 2)