Noah Porter.

An historical discourse delivered at the celebration of the one hundredth anniversary of the erection of the Congregational Church in Farmington, Conn., October 16, 1872 online

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Online LibraryNoah PorterAn historical discourse delivered at the celebration of the one hundredth anniversary of the erection of the Congregational Church in Farmington, Conn., October 16, 1872 → online text (page 6 of 8)
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council acquitted the candidate of the charges, but advised
that he should withdraw his letter of acceptance, wliich he
did, and the storm was allayed. In a few months after, in the
same year, Eev. Joseph Washburn came among this people a
messenger of peace and of blessing — a man of quiet dignity
and winning ways — who united all hearts, exorcised the spirit
of bitterness and dissension, and brought peace to the parish.
Soon after the present century opened, while unity and strength
reigned within there were many fears from without. The old
standing order which was supposed to be the necessary sup-
port of the original parishes of the state was actively assailed.
Many fears were cherished that if the new party should pre-
vail the churches would be invaded or torn down. One of
the leading Hartford newspapers in the interest of the Federal
party frightened its confiding readers with a picture of the
Toleration party just come to power and proceeding to tear
down the churches and burn the bibles. The people of this
parish were mostly Federalists ; but in case they should be
released from the obligation to support some church by taxa-
tion, none could foresee how many would refuse to be taxed.
This release was secured in 1818 by the constitution of the
state which was adopted that year. Previous to this event,
while the storm was preparing from afar, Mr. Solomon Lang-
don had given the society property to the value of $2,500, of
which the income alone was to be used. In 1820, after the
new constitution had been adopted, he offered JfiSOO more on
condition that a fund amounting to $10,000 should be raised
and properly invested. The conditions were complied with.


Subscriptions were made by all classes and almost every indi-
vidual. Subsequently the fund was increased by $2,000 more.
It was supposed when this was accomplished that the gospel
was provided for forever in this parish, and the joy that was
felt and expressed showed how earnestly the hearts of this
great parish were interested for the future of this community.
The necessity of increased expenditures has prevented this
fund from being so great an evil as it might have been. The
zeal with which it was raised in what was supposed to be a
critical period is worthy of all honor. The agitations and
fears and divisions which have occasionally sprung up have
been chiefly uncomfortable because of the good which they
hindered than because they have seriously threatened the per-
manence or the unity of the parisli.

But the religious life of the community is that which the
meeting-house is designed to promote. The spiritual worship
offered from one Lord's Day to another, the renewal of better
aspirations, the renunciation of besetting sins and inveterate
habits of evil, the strengthening of the faith, the brightening
of the hopes, the maturing of the patience, the re-kindling of
zeal, the training of the believer for a better life on earth and
a more precious inheritance in heaven — these constitute the
true glory of the house of prayer. We ask then with special
interest what has the old meeting-house achieved and what
has it seen, of results of this kind during the century in which
it has resounded with public prayer and praise. Tlie answers
to these questions have been given so fully in the published
discourse* of the pastor who served you sixty years, that I
need only refer to wliat you know so well. Some fifteen or
sixteen hundred liave been added to the communion of the
church. The largest number at any one time was 114 in 1821
on a bright Sabbath in June. Of these there were represen-
tatives from almost every house of those who had been
moved to the before untried exercises of prayer and praise in

* See Memorial of a Revival — A Sermon by Noah Porter, pastor of the Church
in Farmington. Hartford, 1822: also Half Century Discourse ; on occasion of
the fiftieth anniversary of his ordination as Pastor of the First Church in Farm-
ington, Conn. Delivered November 12th, 1856, by Noah Porter, D. D. Hart-
ford, 1857.


that wonderful revival of religion which came into this com-
munity as a rushing mighty wind and caused its popula-
tion to speak with new tongues of the wonderful works of
God. Then was eminently fulfilled, " the Lord whom ye seek
shall suddenly come to his temple, even the messenger of the
covenant whom ye delight in/' Before and since, this house
has often been hallowed with the presence of the Holy Spirit.
Many men in their sturdy strength have learned to sit at the
feet of Christ with docile spirits. Many old men have waked
to new views of life. Many, very many children and youth
have been gently led into the ways of blessed Christian aspira-
tion. Here truth has been patiently explained and earnestly
commended to hundreds who have found it confirmed in their
own experience and much of it has sprung up and borne
abundant fruit. There are many thousands scattered here
and there over this broad land, and some in other lands who
have been made better men and women and whose households
are better and happier for the impressions received or con-
firmed in this house. There are multitudes of perfected
spirits now gathered to their rest above, who can remember
seasons spent in this house which were the anticipated earnest
of that which they now enjoy in the great assembly of the Re-
deemer. Surely God has been in the place though we have
not known it. Christ has often been here and the Holy Spirit
has brooded over and within this house by his life-giving power.
During all this century the Christian church has been
learning new lessons of Christian truth and of the Christian
life. It is no dishonor to the worthies of the past to believe
this. It would be a fatal defect in the gospel and would argue
that it was not from God were it not progressive. The tradi-
tions of our fathers and the spirit of our Congregational
polity enjoin upon us the duty of opening our minds and
shaping our actions to every new revelation which is made
concerning the word of God and the life of truth and obedi-
ence. This meeting-house has seen great changes in the
speculative and practical views of Christendom, and it has
not only accepted many of these changes for the better, but
it has rejoiced in them as relieving Christian truth from many


objections, and the Christian Hfe and character from unfortu-
nate misconceptions and reasonable reproach. Your old pas-
tor ill his Half Century Discourse confessed to have made
important changes in his theoretical and practical views dur-
ing his long ministerial life, and recorded his unfeigned
regret at many of the imperfect and one-sided exhibitions
which he had given of the gospel in the earlier part of his
ministry,* Ho rejoiced that he had entered into more satisfy-
ing and rational views of Christ and his salvation. But no man
doubted that with each advance which he made, he made
progress in spiritual knowledge and in Christian simplicity ;
that he became more humble, more Christ-like, and more self-
sacrificing the longer he lived ; that he was stronger and more
clear in his faith and love, even though he was more playful,
more humane, and more catholic till the last day when he
ministered from this pulpit. The old meeting-house has been
true to the duty of forgetting many things that are behind
and reaching after those that are before. It has witnessed
and has contributed to a progress of opinion in respect to
Ciiristian theology and Christian living which would deserve
thanks and congratulation this day did we but walk in the
brighter and better light which has been gradually breaking
upon the Christian church since the foundations of this edifice
were laid.

It has been a distinguished honor to this old meeting-house
that it has so long l)een the sole place of Christian worship
for an undivided parish. It has been a peculiar privilege of its
ministers to be regarded as the pastors of all the souls within
this community. While so many of the old New England par-
ishes were divided and sub-divided into diverse denominations;
when so often out of every local or neighborhood quarrel

* Very instructive impressions of the practical views entertained of the nature
and process of conversion and of the cardinal doctrines of the Gospel when this
meeting-house was first erected m:iy be obtained by reading the account of the
revival of religion in Farmington, in the year 1799, prepared by Rev. Joseph
Washburn, and published in the Connecticut Evangelical Magazine, Vol. 1,
pp. 378, 420. A very careful and sagacious estimate of the doctrinal and prac-
tical views which were generally accepted in the New England churches before
this period, covering the first twenty-five years after 1772, is presented in a paper
by Rev. Luther Hart. Quarterly Christian Spectator, 1833, Vol. 5, No. 2, Art. 3.


there would follow a sudden conversion of a score of families
to some new views of Christian doctrine or ordinances or
polity ; when the shepherd of the flock was so often worried
out of his life by the well-meant but ill-judged arts of prose-
lyting on the part of some three or four rival competitors
for the patronage or the caprice of unstable souls ; when three
or four houses of worship have so often drained the resources,
and divided the sympathies, and awakened the jealousies
of a scanty population ; when every visitation of the divine
spirit was certain to be followed by an unholy scrambling for
new accessions to this or that Christian communion; when
in almost every parish of New England was repeated the scan-
dal and the shame of Protestant Cbristendom in its petty
division into manifold sects ; it was for nearly three-fourths
of a century the glory of this meeting-house that witliin its
ample inclosure all the people were gathered for worship and
rejoiced in the same shepherd and pastor. Even when a few
families constituted another religious society, this sense of
unity was scarcely disturbed. The member^ of the old parish
contributed nearly as freely to the erection of the new meeting-
house as though it had been a chapel of their own and its
existence has never awakened any feelings of jealousy or
strife. The time is fast approaching when these unseemly
divisions among those who hold one faith and one Lord, must
o-ive way before the pressure of a common foe from without
or be consumed under the re-kindled and awakening zeal of
the new life from within; when the assumption by the several
sects to exclusive claims will be signally rebuked by the mas-
ter, or abandoned before the sliarp judgments of liis provi-
dence ; when the duty of mutual compromise and united
action and fellowship will bring together many of those half-
starved churches, and put an end to their warfare on one
another and indirectly upon the cause which tliey profess to

Much also might be said in view of the history of this old
meeting-house, of the workings of the self-governed church
which was the mother church of New England. Were we to
take the history of this parish and this church for two hund-


dred and thirty years and review it in the spirit of impartial
criticism, we might safely challenge Christendom to produce
any Iietter results under any other polity or from any other
organization. We would not forget the excesses which have
come from over-heated zeal, or party strife, or disturbing and
ambitious leaders, or covetous worldliness, or unchristian hos-
tility to the truth. We would make tlie largest concessions
to what might be urged against the austere spirit and narrow
systems of the fathers, and against the lax libertinism, and
the worldly compliance of their sons. We would concede
that there has been sometiiing of priestly denunciation and of
lay intermeddling, and that strife and division have occasion-
ally wrought their evil work. But we may still look with
pride upon the honor which the history of the church brings
upon the polity and principles which it has tested for a century
past. The men whom it has trained in its school of thought
and action — the women whose saintly piety and efficient be-
nevolence it has cherished and inspired — the families whom it
has blessed by its simple worship and its friendly care — the
poor at home whom it has fed and comforted — the feeble
churches at a distance which from the first it has fostered and
befriended — the unenlightened to whom it has sent its living
messengers and its never-failing contributions — the oppressed
whom it has remembered in their bonds — the country to which
it has been true in the years of its peril — the hundreds of men
and women who in every part of the country are ready to
rise up and bless it — these are witnesses to what one of these
New England has accomplished. We glory in our
"mother church" for similar works which she has done in
hundreds of communities. We are not blind to its defects,
nor would we propagate it as a sect to the destruction or weak-
enino- of a single Christian household. We care for it most
of all because it is so unsectarian in its spirit and large-hearted
in its charity, and because by its simple organization it so
readily adapts its views of Chrisian truth, its modes of worship
and its conceptions of Christian culture and of Christian duty
to whatever Christ is continually teacliing his church by his
providence and spirit. We believe that something like it will


be eminently tlie clmrcli of the future — when the living and
present Christ shall come nearer to his people and they shall
live more consciously in his presence and for his kingxlom.
Perhaps this old church which has so sturdily withstood all
physical decay for a' hundred years may not ueed to survive
another century to witness a united Christendom — when in
every village there shall be but one fold and one shepherd ;
when all shall be re-baptized with the spirit of the Master and
fulfil His prayer for his disciples " that they all may be one,
as Thou Father art in me and I in Thee, that they also may
be one in us, that the world may believe that Thou hast sent

During the existence of this meeting-house the parish has
more than once been peacefully divided. New churches have
been constituted which regard tliis church in a very special
sense as their mother. There are a few among the members
of each of these parishes who never pass this meeting-house
without a blessing, or think of the old gatherings on Sunday
without a leap of the heart, as they recall the times when the
long trains of wagons brought in their hundreds of worship-
ers and carried them home with pleasant remembrances of
social fellowship and of Christian incitement. There are
many from the parishes which still belonged to the old town of •
Farmington when this church was raised and whose fathers
gathered here to take the Oath of Fidelity to the state of Con-
necticut, headed by their ministers, and joined in the same
committees for the service of the country, and went to the
field at a moment's warning. Few of the descendants of
these families have forgotten the traditions and associations
which connect them with this church and this meeting-house.
The thrift and sagacity which have brought such large acces-
sions of wealth and of population to these neighboring com-
munities — the Christian zeal and liberality for which they are
distinguished — the love of order and education and the best
features of the old New England life which they have cher-
ished, are all in no small degree to be ascribed to the influ-
ences which have proceeded from this meeting-house green,
and very largely from this meeting-house. No inhabitant of


the old town who knows anything of its history or cares any-
thing for the New England traditions can fail to liail the old
church as it completes the past century of its life. There are
others still — emigrants from this once flourishing community,
and the children of emigrants, and their children's children,
who themselves or their ancestors have worshiped in this
house, but in the earlier days settled in Vermont, or a little
later spread themselves along the great avenue that was open-
ing westward through the Empire state, or have been scat-
tered through wliat were the forests of Ohio, Michigan, and
Indiana, or distributed along the prairies of the Great Val-
ley, or impelled to the Pacific shore, to whom this old meet-
ing-house is cherished with sacred associations, whether it is
a blessed memory or an image hallowed by the loyal affection
of honored kindred.

We may not conclude without a more distinct reference to
the deceased pastors of the church who have done so much
to make this meeting-house a blessing to the community.
When the house was dedicated, the courtly and fervent Mr.
Pitkin had been pastor of the church for twenty years. His
fluent and animated exhortations and his earnest piety were
esteemed and honored in it thirteen years afterwards.* W^hen
the Revolutionary war was over, he was dismissed at his own
request, but he continued to reside in the village ; sat in the
pulpit and rendered occasional acceptable services to the
church till be died in 1812, forty years after the church edi-
fice "was finished. Then followed ten years of party strife
and low morals and worldly prosperity! till the ordination of
Mr. Washburn, whose winning manners and saintly elevation
brought many accessions to the church, and a great and last-
ing blessing to the community. After ten years he died and
for a generation was mourned by many and is yet not alto-
gether forgotten by a few.| In 1806 Rev. Dr. Porter was
ordained the pastor. The vote by which he was invited to
accept the office was thus phrased : "Voted that this society,

* See the sketch of his life in Porter's Historical Discourse, p. 77.

t The same, p. 78.

t See Porter's Historical Discourse, p. 79.


from personal acquaintance with Mr. Noah Porter, Jr., heing
one of us, and from sufficient experience of his ministerial
gifts and qualifications, are satisfied that he is eminently
qualified for the work of the Gospel ministry, and do now call
and invite him to settle with and take the charge of the peo-
ple of this society in that important work." And in this
spirit lie was received and supported till his death. I need
not refer to any further particulars of the events of his ministry
for the first fifty years, for he has recorded them fully in the
sermon which was preached at the expiration of that period.
I need not describe his character ; he was known and read of
all men, and there were few who did not honor and love him.
That he loved this church and delighted in this meeting-house
you need not be told. It was providentially ordered that the
afternoon appointed for his burial was so inclement that his
remains, which had been brought to this house for the public
religious services, were detained till the following morning
before they were consigned to the earth. A few of the parish-
ioners and friends kept watch during the night. It was fitting
of itself that these remains should rest awhile in this place
where for more tlian eighty years he had been an habitual
worshiper, and for sixty had served as pastor. It is confi-
dently believed by some

" That millions of spiritual creatures walk the earth
Both when we wake and when we sleep ;

****** and oft in bands
While they keep watch, or nightly sounding walk,

With heavenly touch of instrumental sound
In full harmonic numbers join their songs,

Divide the night and lift our thoughts to heaven.

If this is true, surely on that night there were gathered in
this house the spirits of other generations to renew with their
pastor the worship in which he and they had united when
present here in the body. With him they reviewed all the
memories of the past, and recalled the scenes which had hal-
lowed these walls ; as with united ascriptions of praise and
thanksgiving they rendered homage to the Redeemer who had
brought them safely out of the joys and sorrows of earth to


the rest and joy of the heavenly temple ; they did not forget
to bless again and again this house of God to which as lovers
and friends, parents and children they had walked so often in

We would fain believe that on the present occasion a still
larger assembly is present of the spirits who have gone
before, some of whose faces and forms we have often seen in
this house and cannot forget whenever we come here to wor-
ship. What looks of love do they cast upon us, what unseen
glances of unspeakable tenderness and sympathy! What
words do they breathe of unspoken affection, what prayers and
praises do they present which we may not hear ! With what
homage do they regard this venerated sanctuary ! What an
estimate do they place upon the work which it has wrought!
With tender and reverent care they commit it to the hands of
the present generation, to alter and decorate it as they will, if
it may better serve the needs of the present and the future,
but charging us to retain if possible, even for another century,
the house which has survived the first with such steady per-
sistence, and served so many generations so well.



[For want of time a part of this was not spoken on the occasion.]

Ladies and Gentlemen :

I am not a native of this town. An Irishman replied to the question where
were you born? " I was horn five miles from any place." Although I was born
more than five miles from Farmington, I claim affinity with one of its pioneer

John Root emigrated from Gadby, England, and settled in this town in 1640.
He was one of its founders, and also of the Church. A man of distinction and
of good estate, he was one of the signers to the agreement for tlie settlement of
the town as one of the original proprietors. My claim dates back to this sturdy
Puritan ; for I married a Root of the seventh generation in the direct line of de-
scent from him. I am happy to recognize in your Committee a gentleman in the
same line of descent from John Root.* Doubtless there are others here sprung
from this vigorous Root. His oldest son, Stephen, was a noted man, and called
the giant of Farmington ; of strong build, standing six feet and six inches, of
herculean strength, fearless courage, great energy, and inflexible will.

Foot-racing was one of the pastimes of that day. But one Indian was found
who could outrun him. He beat every white man in town. So confident of his
flcetness and power of endurance that he challeged one to the race, with an ox-
chain around his own shoulders. No hostile Indian dared approach him, well
knowing that a blow from his long arm would prostrate him ; and if one saw
Stephen raising his long gun, unconditional surrender was the only hope of his
life. If he turned to run he knew the unerring ball would crush through his back.
He was engaged for two and a half years in wars with the Indians.

He was with Major Treat in the assault and capture of Fort Narragansett ;
and it is said, that with his huge musket and sword did terrible execution. He
belonged to the Cromweliian age, given to prayer, but careful to keep his powder
dry. He was a prodigy in marches and campaigns, of "great mind and sound
judgment." Himself and family united with this church. Had not this town
and church sprung from such vigorous Roots this durable building and this intel-
ligent community would not be hei-e to day. Let us on this occasion honor the
heroic and self-sacrificing men that knew on what foundation to build for God,

'•Hon. John S. Rice.


for the church, for the State and posterity. Their worivs do follow them, and
the next centennial will honor their memory. Is it not laudable to claim atfinity
with such men 1 Permit me to say that for almost fifty years I have found my-
self W/ss/ii/Zy "rooted and (jroundfd" with one descended from one of the fathers
of this town and this church. Were not this so, probably I should not he here
at four-score years to join with you in these reminiscences, and perhaps her with
whom I am rooted would not in vigor have survived her seventy-sixth year. If
you should say to me as Paul said to the Jews at Rome, " boast not thyself; for
thou bearest not the Root, but the Root thee," I cheerfully submit. The question
is riot del);\tcable. Although a stranger to this generation, will ybu admit my
claim to affinity with all the good in Farmington ?

I pass to another claim founded on ecclesiastical grounds.

Fifty years ago I resided here, and statedly worshiped in this temple for nearly

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Online LibraryNoah PorterAn historical discourse delivered at the celebration of the one hundredth anniversary of the erection of the Congregational Church in Farmington, Conn., October 16, 1872 → online text (page 6 of 8)