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 7 of 8)
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two years. From this pulpit I have heen instructed, edified and comforted.
Within these walls I have witnessed scenes of momentous interest — God and
souls covenanting for time and eternity.

I must tell you how all this came to pass. The revival of religion which ex-
tensively blessed the churches of this State, and most abundantly this church in
1820 and 1821, commenced in the New Haven churches. Brethren from those
were invited to visit other churches and relate the origin and progress of that
revival. I was one of three who accepted the invitation to visit the First Church
in Hartford in the iifternoon, and this church in the evening of the same dav.
When we left Hartford a violent snow-storm had commenced. With difficulty
we reached here in time. Notice of the meeting was given on the previous Sab-
bath, and the people earnestly invited to hear us. The bell was to give notice of
our arrival.

The Holy Spirit was already preparing the way of the Lord. The notice of
the meeting and the earnest appeal of the pastor, had set many to thinking on
their spiritual state. What, said they, can those men tell us that we have not
often heard ? They must believe that they can say something important for us
to hvar and we will hear them." Let me give one illustration of this. General
George Cowles, a prominent citizen, was an early subject of the revival. Relat-
ing his experience, he said, " The notice of the meeting led me to think of my
religious state and prospects for eternity. This subject so engrossed my mind
that when the storm began I feared the brethren would not come and the meeting
fail. When the bell struck I was shaving. It so startled me that I dropped my
razor and sat down to collect my thoughts ; for it seemed like a summons to the
final judgment." As was said in the discourse this morning, the Holy Spirit
came like a mighty rushing wind sweeping over the community.

Our meeting filled the hall, and closed with an urgent appeal from the pastor
to give immediate attention to the subject. On the next morning, two of the
deacons wiih the pastor, invited me to come here and pursue my studies, saying
there were no young men in the church to assist in religious meetings. Mr. Ed-
ward Hooker offered me a home in his family, and aid in study. Early in the
next week, February, 1821, I returned. The first enquiry meeting had been held
and filled a private i)arlor. The following week Mr. Nettleton came to the aid
of the pastor. No private room could now accommodate the numerous enquirers.
For successive weeks they filled the public hall. His preaching was searching,
stirring the conscience and quickening self-consciousness, revealing the sinner to


himself. Let me give one instance of this. The morning after he had preached
in his most pungent manner, an excited hearer called on the pastor and intimated
that he had given Mr. N. his private history. He was assured to the contrary,
and that not even his name had been mentioned to him. To confirm this Mr. N.
was culled into the room and said to the man, "you must be mistaken, for no one
his said a word to me respecting you." Hi at once discerned the cause of his
trouble and closed the interview with prayer. That man was in the next enquiry
meeting and there found peace. He is not here to-day, for he was then past mid-
dle life.

That beautiful June Sahbath referred to this morning, I well remember ; when
115 persons, hushand and wife, parents and children, the aged, and the young
thronged all these aisles with, morally speaking, the eHte of the congregation, to
covenant with God and this church for this world and the next.

Those who witnessed that scene never can forget it. Oil, that you could have
witnessed tiie joy and gratitude of their faithful pastor, who, for si.xteen years,
had earnestly preached and prayed for such triumphs of divine truth and grace,
and heard his jubilant sermon on that day, from Ps. 126 ; 1, 2, 3. He regarded
that revival as an ever memorable era in the history of this ancient church, in not
only adding largely to its members, but lifting it to a higher plane and a more
vigorous life. Few of those who then stood in these aisles, and professed their
love for the Lord Jesus Christ, and of those who filled these seats, are here to.
day, and fewer still, probably, that recollect the speaker as a witness of that scene.
They are gone — gone with their beloved pastor to adorn the crown of their Re-

Let me in this coimection speak of the eloquent Griffin referred to this morning,
and whose voice has been heard from this pulpit, and recite an instance of his
eloquence related to me by Dr. Porter.

After declitiing the call of this church, he settled in New Hartford. A pow-
erful revival soon blessed the neighboring church of Torringford. The pastor.
Father Mills, as we are accustomed to call him, invited the youthful Grifiin to
labor a week with him. On returning to his own charge he found himself so
prostrated as to forbid his usual preparation for the Sabbath. Entering his pul-
pit he told the congregation that he was so exhausted by his labors in Torring-
ford, he had no sermon for them, and that the best he could do was to relate some
of the scenes he had witnessed there. At the close of his thrilling narrative he
contia^^ted their low religious state with that of the Torringford church. He
was himself so moved by the contrast, that his emotions choked his utterance
and he sat down in tears. The people too were as deeply moved A wave of
divine influence swept over the congregation. Tears flowed in the pews. The
pulpit broke down, and then the pews broke down, and the people retired weep-
ing and praying for help.

That was the beginning of the most powerful revival New Hartford had ever

Those who have heard the matchless voice of that distinguished man and felt
his great emotional power will readily account for such effects.

Hlre let this house stand externally unchanged in its Puritan simplicity and
strength, to the honor of God and its wise builders. Here three generations
have worshiped the Triune God. From this piUpit the blessed gospel of his
Son has been faithfully proclaimed. Here souls have been born of Heaven.
Here the weary and heavy laden sinner has found rest. Here the children of


God liave been edified, strengthened, and comforted in their sorrows. Here
thousands liave commemorated the great sacrifice of Infinite Love. Li:t it staxd,
and transmit all these sacred associations to three coming generations more, who
may successively worsliip within these walls, occupy these seats, learn the true
way to happiness and heaven ; that the sixth generation may celebrate its second
centennial in renewing the sacred reminiscences of two centuries. As the years
pass, one after another will rise from this temple to the eternal temple above,
and there unite with the redeemed of all ages, and with the thousands born to
a heavenly life here, in crowning Him Lord of all whom they having not seen
on earth yet loved. " As it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be,''
while earthly temj)les endure.


Mr. Chairman, and Ladies and Gentlemen of Farmington:

I am happy to be here on this memorial occasion, to participate with you in its
pleasant memories. My heart beats in glad unison with your hearts to the voices
of tlic past, and the joys of the present. Altliough I cannot claim the honor of
being a son of Farmington — only a son-in-law, which, I have reason to think, in
my own case, at least, the better kind of sonship — I am deeply interested in what-
ever concerns her lineal sons; in all their bright memories of the past; their
hijih aims of the present, and their sanguine iiopcs of the future. How could it
be otherwise ! With you sleep many dear ones — half of my own household, and
others allied to me by many tender ties; and, though it was not my lot to begin
the race of life with you, I anticipate ending it here, erelong, and resting sweetly
from all its vicissitudes of good and ill, its hopes and fears, its joys and sorrows,
in your own green and peaceful vale, lulled by the music of its gently flowing

When invited to say something on this occasion I promised to do so provided
I could think of anything to say ; for of all men, and women even, those who
talk when they have nothing to say, are the most tedious and intolerable. To be
of their number I should deem a great misfortune to myself, and a greater one to
my audience.

Another source of apprehension which gave me some disqiiietude, after I had
made the rash promise, was, that if any bright thoughts should come to bless me,
other preceding speakers would anticipate me in giving them expression- as
might be the case where many speak on the same theme — and thus leave me
somewhat in the predicament of that Dutch author, who parried the charge of
plagiarism by accusing the thievish ancients of having stolen all his best thoughts.

But to come to the subject of my story ; I have an additional word to say con-
cerning this noble old meeting-house, whose first Centennial we celebrate to-day.
I well remember the impression it gave me when, for the first time, I crossed its
northern threshold, as a grateful worshiper on the Thanksgiving-day morning
of 1834. Its quaint, tub-like, old pulpit, high above the pews, beneath which sat
in awful gravity two most venerable deacons, and over which hung a jiear-shaped
canopy by a stem hardly visible, just ready to fall upon the head of the good


minister — all arrested my attention and excited speculation. As nearly as I can
recollect the conclusion to which I came concerning the design or use of the
wooden avalanche, was, that it was an invention, not to help the preacher's voice,
which needed no help, but to hang over him in terrorein, after the manner of the
sword of Damocles, to fall and crush him, should he preach any false doctrine.
So it seemed a pulpit-extinguisher, or heresy-annihilator. It had a very Calvin-
istic look ; dark, grim, and terrible. It was suggestive of the doctrine of decrees,
or the Divine fore-ordination of whatsoever cometh to pass, which one of its
devotees, in the olden time, of this place probably, though the story does not say
so, illustrated in this wise : He used always to be saying to his wife and friends
that they " should not take any trouble or anxiety about their lives, since the
moment of their death was writ before the foundation of the world and they
could not alter it. It was decreed, fore-ordained, unchangeable. It is as fixed
as the throne of Heaven." This champion of the doctrine of decrees having
occasion, one day, to pass over the frontier of the settlement into the Indian
country, his good wife observed that he took the utmost pains in pre])aring his
gun. He put in a new flint and new priming, taking every precaution to be pre-
pared for the worst, should he meet a hostile Indian. As he was starting with
his gun on his shoulder, fully accoutred, with powder-horn and shot-pouch hang-
ing on either side, it seemed to his observant wife that his practice was not in
keeping with his precept, and she said to him very blandly, as wives know how to
do, " My dear, why do you take that gun? If it was writ before the foundation
of the world, that you are to be killed by an Indian, on your journey, that gun
won't prevent it ; and if you are not to l)e killed, of course that gun is entirely
unnecessary ; so why do you take it at all ? "

" Yes," he replied, " to be sure, my dear, of course you are right, perfectly
right, and that is a very sensible and proper view ; but see here, my dear, now —
really — but — then — you see, my dear; to be sure — ahem — but supposing — sup-
posing I should meet with a bloody Indian while I am gone, and his time had
come, according as it was writ before the foundation of the world, and I hadn't
my gun with me, what would he do ? You never thought of that — did you "? Re-
member, my dear, we must all do what we can to fulfil the decrees of Provi-

We infer the character of men from the works which they leave behind them.
By their fruits ye shall know them. This house reveals the character and taste
of its builders. In the first place, I notice the ample provision made in its archi-
tecture for the admission of light. If, as it is said, windows are the eyes of a
house, surely this house can see wondrously well. It may be said to be Argus-
eyed and more. Like the four beasts which St. John saw, it is full of eyes, be-
fore, behind, and on all sides. Obviously, its builders believed in the sun rather
than in beautifully painted windows and candle-light. " The dim, religious
light," spoken of by the jioet, had no charms for them, as it struggles in scantily
through discoloring windows and cuts up ridiculous shines on peoples' faces
within. On the contrary, they practically agreed with Milton in his grand apos-
trophe to light :

" Hail, holy light ! offspring of heaven, first-born ;
Or of the eternal, co-eternal beam;
Bright effluence of bright essence increate ! "
No, no, the fathers had no partiality for Gothic cathedrals, with their darkened



windows, uncouth images, ghostly pilhxrs, and sepulchral dimness. Puritanism
loved light rather than darkness, walked in the light, rejoiced in the light, and
echoed the Divine command, Let there be light! Diogenes with his flickering
torch at noon-day, searching through Athens for an honest man, was a type and
forerunner of those modern church architects, who shut out the cheerful, all-ani-
mating sunlight, and take to gas and spermaceti. The builders of this house did
not thus insult and dishanor the glorious king of day, and put darkness for light.
I honor their memories as children of the light, and light-diifasers to the sur-
rounding world.

Another characteristic of the architecture of this house, illustrative of the
character of its builders, is, the great thoroughness with which it was built.
There is nothing superficial or shammy about it. After a hundred years it is
looking as fresh and beautiful to-day, with its royal garniture of flowers, as a
bride adorned for her husband. Who would suppose that three generations have
passed through it on their pilgrimage to eternity ! Indeed, it promises well for
another century or two, and possibly, possibly, the King of glory, at his second
coming may find it here, and, as the good Shepherd, gather his lambs within its
fold. Who can tell ? It was built for the ages. No pains were spared to make
it a worthy gift to posterity. It was founded upon a rock. Its timbers are mas •
sive oak ; its covering is the selected mountain pine, and, though the winds and
rains and wintry storms of a century have beaten upon it, it still stands firm,
lifting its tall and graceful spire steadily toward the heaven whither so many of
its humble worshipers have gone, and pointing us to the same blessed hereafter.
May it stand forever. May floods of golden sunlight continue long to stream in
through its many windows, and the higher liglit of life shine, as hitherto,
brightly reflected from its pulpit. May generation after generation gather here
before their Maker, and be illumined and safely guided through all these earthly
labyrinths to their heavenly home. We welcome them to these seats and to this
altar. We send down to them from this Centennial our cordial greetings and
Christian salutations. We stretch out our eager hands to them with tender so-
licitude. We admonish them to be faithful to the God of their fathers, and true
to their country. We bid them be of good courage and press on to that great
victory which overcometh the world. We leave to them the st indard of the
Cross and the flag of Freedom, charging them, by the dear names of Immanuel
and of Washington, to guard them well, and never surrender them, never dis-
honor them, never let them go down.

Much more presses to be spoken in commemoration of the illustrious builders
of this house, and their contemporaries, but time would fiiil me to speak minutely
of their many virtues. They were stern men, noble men, kingly men, positive
men, who had convictions and courage to follow them. They were rocked in
the cradle of the old Ilevolution, and believed, with all their might, in George
Washingtoii, and the Westminster Assembly's Catechism. Adversity was their
nurse ; hardship their ally. Shams and softness, laziness and prodigality they
despised ; truth and sincerity, industry and frugality, courage and honesty they
loved. Like their owu forest-oaks they stood firm, and gained strength and ex-
pansion from every passing storm. They could not be moved, for God was at
their right hand. If their faith did not remove mountains, it surmounted them
by triumphing over great difiSculties and discouragements.


Rise, my soul ! survey the path

By ancient worthies trod ;
Aspirinjr, view tliose holy men

Who lived and walked with God.
Though dead they speak in reason's ear.

And in example live ;
Their faith and hope and mighty deeds

Still fresh instruction give.

CENTENARY, Oct. 16th.

There are no family gatherings that present such social aspects as those of a
mother church and its children, and grandchildren. A single, private family
often has but a transient life, or a temjiorary location. Its members scatter
themselves through the country, and death or dispersion leaves the old homestead
to fall into other hands. But a church is a family that never dies, never emi-
grates, never loses its local habitation or name. From century to centurj- it pre-
serves all the relations and characteristics of a single family. It always em-
braces in its social circle the old and young, men, women, and children. You
never sec a gray-haired church, nor one all in the summer locks of middle life, or
one all in the golden hair of youth. Every village church embraces all these ages
and aspects of life; and it is the only human family on earth that may be called

Then there is no building so social in its structure, object, and enjoyment as
one of the old fasliioned New England churches like this. The temples, palaces,
and pyramids of the heathen world were all erected by compulsor}- or unrequited
labor. The Christian religion is the only system of faith and sentiment that ever
erected a public building on the perfectly voluntary and social principle. One
hundred years ago, how this green and lovely valley, and these mountains that
hold it in their arms, resounded with all the axes and hammers of the forefathers
of the village at work upon this house of God ! It was a father's house to them;
it was to be the religious home of all their families blended into one happy and
lasting fellowship. It was the unpaid work of love and faith. It was an honest
work in every beam, and brace, and rafter. It was a home work from floor to
ceiling, roof and steeple. Doubtless every nail fastened in a sure place was
wrought on the village anvil. And what those early fathers built and gave to
their children was received and treasured as a precious heir-loom by them. And
many of us have come up from neighboring towns to thank them for preserving
this religious home of their fathers up to this day in all the integrity of its orig
inal form and structure; and, for one, I hope it may thus stand for a hundred
years to come. If it does not, it will not be its own fault ; for there were giants
in those days, and the mighty timbers they put into their church buildings were
designed and able to last for centuries.

It is an honor to the people of this venerable mother town that they have pre
served such a historical monument as this, even detached from its relierious asso-


ciations and objects. I do not know how many churches in this State have
reached a hundred years on their original foundations. This is not only a histor-
ical monument, but a historical measure. If we put it against the past as such
a measure, what comparisons does it make or suggest' This building was
erected by the colonial subjects of the British crown. Its foundations were laid
by men who had not seen one stone brought to the edifice of the American Union.
These walls are ten years older than the structure of this great Continental Re-

I have called Farmington a mother-town. So she is ; so she has been, a kind
and generous mother, for nearly two hundred years, to the communities she has
begotten. She is the mother of full twelve tribes, who recognize that affectionate
and maternal relation here .to-day. And, to her honor and to their own be it
said, that though she numbers as many children as Jacob could boast, not one of
them has ever proved so indiscreet and unfortunate as his only daughter, Dinah.
Not one of them ever made a clandestine or improper alliance with the aborig-
inal tribes who once possessed this goodly land, or even with the Dutch settlers
on the Connecticut or Hudson, or with any other questionable Gentiles.

I feel it a great honor and privilege to say a few words on this happy occasion
on behalf of one, if not the oldest daughter of our common mother. Of all the
scattered members of her family that came up to worship at this common Jeru-
salem of their religious instruction and fellowship. New Britain, at least, had the
longest and hardest miles to travel. For none of the rest had such hills and
mountains to cross as the families of " Ye Great Swamp," as our ambitious town
was then called. To children this was an immense and laborious distance. Every
one must know that when there are only six inches between a boy's knee and
the sole of his foot, the miles are very long and the houses and hills very high. I
remember well this experience of heights, depths, and lengths on this very moun-
tain road. For when I made my first journey to Farmington, I stepped off the
whole distance with a pair of legs not much longer than those of a carpenter's
compass. New Britain at that time was smaller still, compared with its present
size, than I was compared with a full-grown man. On the whole site of our city
there were hardly a dozen dwelling-houses to be seen, and these were of very
ordinary structure and aspect. I never shall forget the feeling of awe and admir-
ation which the first sight of Farmington produced in my child's mind. After
the longest walk I had ever made on my small bare feet, we came suddenly upon
the view of this glorious valley and of the largest city I had ever conceived of.
I was smitten with wonder. I dared not go any fiirther, though urged by my
older brothers. I clambered up the Sunset Rock, and sitting down on the edge
with my feet over the side, looked off upon the scene with a feeling like that of a
man first coming in view of Rome and its St. Peters. I had never before seen a
church with a steeple, and measuring this above us with a child's eye it seemed
to reach into the very heavens. This steeple crowned all the wonders I saw. I
sat and gazed at it until my brothers returned to me. And this thought was up-
permost in all that_ filled my mind. I remember it as if it were the thought of
yesterday. If I could only stand where that brass rooster stood on the steeple,
could I not look right into heaven and see what was going on there 1 Or if that
were a live rooster, and should crow every morning, could not all the good Farm-
ington people who had gone to heaven, hear him, and know l>y his voice that he
was a Farmington rooster, and would they not all be glad to hear him crow, not


only that they were so happy, but because so many of their children were safely
on the way to the same happiness. In later years I learned that what to my
youthful imagination appeared to be a rooster was in fact a crown, placed there
in honor of the king under whose reign this house was erected, which was subse-
quently changed to a star, as it is at the present time.

This was the honest, reverent thought of a child, at his first sight of this
church. And now the same child having become a man, and having seen a good
many taller steeples even than this, it is a great pleasure to me to stand within
these walls as a member of one of the religious communities represented here to-
day, and to share with them the hallowed associations and memories which this
anniversary is so calculated to revive. It is one of the happy experiences of this
occasion, that we have had the distinguished privilege of listening to the history
of this church and community from the lips of a son whom Farmington holds

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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 7 of 8)