Peter Thacher.

A sermon preached June 12, 1799, before His Honor Moses Gill, Esq., lieutenant governor and commander in chief : the honorable Council, Senate and House of Representatives of the commonwealth of Massachusetts at the interment of His Excellency Increase Sumner, esq., who died June 7, 1799, aet. 53 online

. (page 18 of 51)
Online LibraryPeter ThacherA sermon preached June 12, 1799, before His Honor Moses Gill, Esq., lieutenant governor and commander in chief : the honorable Council, Senate and House of Representatives of the commonwealth of Massachusetts at the interment of His Excellency Increase Sumner, esq., who died June 7, 1799, aet. 53 → online text (page 18 of 51)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

to be in His hands and to wait His time. They tell you how
good and gracious the Lord is, and call on you to join them
in praising Him. The teachers of irreligion and infidelity, as
death approaches, very often betray their want of confidence in
the doctrines, they have taught ; but not so the men, who have
spoken the word of God, and have lived under its influence.
They may not be wholly free from doubt respecting their own
piety. But you do not find them doubting the truth of the
Gospel ; nor calling in question the efficacy of the blood of
Jesus, or disbelieving his power to save. Of the strength of
the foundation they are fully assured ; though they may not
be equally sure, that they have builded upon it. In the cause
of Christ, in the prosperity of Zion, they manifest to the last

the deepest interest. In the chamber of sickness, on the bed
of death, their prayer is, that religion may prevail, that souls
may be converted, that the church may be edified ; and with
their dying breath they beseech the impenitent to be recon-
ciled to God, and the friends of Christ to be more devoted and
faithful. If the ruling passion of the man of avarice and
ambition is strong in death, so is that of the christian minister ;
and while in him the love of Christ shows forth its ascendency
over every earthly attachment, who does not acknowledge its
superior excellence — its heavenly origin and tendency — and
who does not unite in the wish, let me die the death of the
righteous, and let my last end be like his.

III. We are now to notice the injunction, to remember
those who have spoken to us the word of God, and consider-
ing the end of their conversation, to follow their faith. As we
are directed, while they live, to esteem them very highly in
love for their works' sake, so, when they are gone, to remem-
ber them with affection, and with lively interest to call to mind
their instructions and example. From such a remembrance
have often resulted the happiest effects ; and the seed, that was
sown in a barren soil, has then taken root, and brought forth fruit
unto eternal life, when the hand, that sowed it, was motionless
in the grave. The holy useful life, the peaceful happy death,
of one that has spoken the word of God, may well be regard-
ed as strong incentives, not only to cherish his memory, but to
follow his faith, in the firm belief of those great principles, which
constituted the ground work of all his virtues, of all his happi-
ness, in the open, manly profession of them, and the steadfast,
practical adherence to them. The tree is known by its fruit.
A system of delusion, or imposture, would not be productive
of such effects, as do result from the Gospel of Christ. Chris-
tianity is from God ; for it transforms the soul of man into the
image of God, and prepares it to glorify and enjoy God here
and hereafter. Most impressively are we admonished, in view
of those holy men, who have spoken to us the word of God,
and having finished their course with joy, are gone to receive
their reward, to hold fast their faith, and never to shrink when
duty calls, from an open confession of it, but always to glory
in the Gospel of Christ. Especially are we admonished to

follow their faith, by entrusting our own souls, with all their
immortal interests to the glorious Redeemer, and making it the
great object and employment of life to honor and serve Him.
A faith, merely intellectual, not attaching the heart to Christ,
nor bowing the will to His authority, nor controlling the life in
accordance with His commands, was not the faith of those,
who have died in the Lord. Theirs was the faith, which
worketh by love ; a love, that constrained them to live, not to
themselves, but to Him. This is the faith which we need ;
the faith which justifies and saves ; the faith which will deprive
death of its sting, and the grave of its terrors ; the faith which
will open to us the gate of Heaven, and secure to us, through
grace, a joyful admission into God's everlasting kingdom.
Well then may we be exhorted, when those who have spoken
to us, in love and faithfulness, the word of God, are removed
from their earthly labors, affectionately to remember them, and
to follow their faith, considering the end of their conversation.
In many hearts will be cherished the remembrance of him,
who, after having served God in the Gospel of his Son for more
than half a century, has recently been called away to the ser-
vices and joys of a higher, holier region. At his request I
address you on this occasion ; and while I would not be un-
mindful of his desire, that I should not say much respecting
him, I cannot meet your expectations, nor satisfy my own con-
victions of duty, without an attempt to delineate, however im-
perfectly, his life and character.

The Rev. Eliphalet Gillett, was born at Colchester,
Conn, on the 19th of November, 1768 — was graduated from
Dartmouth College, N. H. in 1791 — after this was employed
some time as a teacher in Wethersfield, Conn. — studied the-
ology with Dr. Spring in Newburyport, and was ordained as
the first pastor of the church in Hallowell (the first and only
place, where he had preached as a candidate for settlement)
in August, 1795. Here he labored to very good acceptance,
and during some years of his ministry with very encouraging
success, until, at his request, his connexion with this people
was dissolved, in May, 1827.

Dr. Gillett's mind was one of high order, and must have


received in the earlier part of life diligent cultivation. He
had a fine classical taste, and in the productions of his pen
was often exceedingly felicitous, both in sentiment and lan-
guage. Many of his discourses, rich in thought and expression,
by the request of those who heard them, were given to the
press. His annual missionary reports were much and justly
admired ; and who has not felt the charm of his communica-
tions to the Christian Mirror ?

He possessed an uncommon degree of sensibility and deli-
cacy of feeling — of gentleness and kindness of spirit — very
readily rejoiced with those who rejoiced, and mourned with
those who mourned — was a lover of hospitality — and enjoyed
very highly the society of his friends. Nor was he in the
social circle a mere recipient of pleasure. He largely contrib-
uted to the enjoyment of others. Where was he not a wel-
come guest ? And who found not an hour in his company pass
pleasantly away ? Few men are so extensively known ; few
so universally esteemed and beloved. Those who did not
agree with him in religious belief, and might at times be annoy-
ed by the peculiarities of his creed, could not but love him as
a man, and respect him for his conscientiousness and consist-
ency, as a disciple and minister of Christ.

In the earlier part of his ministry he was addicted to meta-
physical discussions, and was no mean proficient in that school
of theology, at the head of which were Hopkins, Emmons and
Spring. lie loved an argument and was a ready, logical, and
keen debater. Seldom, however, did he introduce into the
pulpit any other, than those great doctrines, in which Trinitarian
and Calvinistic divines are very generally agreed. These he
taught with great plainness ; and maintained, even in circum-
stances peculiarly trying to a man of his nice and delicate re-
gard for the feelings of others, with unyielding constancy.
Never was he ashamed of the doctrines of the cross ; being
fully persuaded, that they are the wisdom of God, and the
power of God.

When he became the pastor of this church, Hallowell was
yet in its infancy. The church was a feeble band, consisting
of but 12 members. No other congregational churches existed
at that time within what are now the counties of Kennebec,


Franklin, and Somerset, except those of Bloomfield, Winthrop
and Augusta ; and these were destitute of pastors. All the
ministers, who took part in his ordination, except Dr. Rob-
bins of Plymouth, Mass. who preached the sermon, were from
Lincoln, Cumberland and York. The prayers were offer-
ed by Mr. Emerson of Georgetown, and Messrs. Gilman and
Anderson of North Yarmouth. The charge was given by
Dr. Hemmenway of Wells ; and Mr. Bradford of Wiscasset,
being the nearest and youngest of the number, gave the right
hand of fellowship. In this new and rising community it
devolved on him to lay the foundations ; andto give, not only
to the church and people under his pastoral care, but (to some
extent) to the region around him, an impress and character,
for many generations. From the beginning his influence was
exerted in favor of education and good learning, of social
order and refinement, sound morals, evangelical truth, and
vital, practical godliness. How extensive and powerful this influ-
ence has been, it would not be easy to estimate. To the church
of which he was pastor, upwards of 220 persons were added,
during the 32 years of his ministry ; and the number of members,
at the time of his dismission had risen from 12 to about 150.

"When the Maine Missionary Society was organized in 1807,
Dr. Gillett was chosen its secretary ; and this office he continu-
ed to hold, until his death. For the last 20 years of his life,
he has been constantly employed in watching over its interests,
conducting its affairs, and seeking its prosperity. In the
cause of Home Missions in the State of Maine, his heart was
bound up ; and he never ceased to pray and labor for its ad-
vancement. Some of the topics of conversation in my last
interviews with him related to its concerns ; and among the
subjects of his last thankful acknowledgement, was the ability
that God had given him, so long to attend to his official duties.
Upon him, as secretary of that beloved institution, came the
care of nearly all the churches ; and for the assiduity and
faithfulness with which he fulfilled the trust, his praise was in
all the churches. The feeble churches in the state, and the
missionaries sent forth to minister to their necessities, ever
found in him a sympathizing friend and counselor. In prose-
cuting the work committed to him, he did not shrink from any


labor and fatigue, which he thought himself able to bear.
After he had passed his three score years and ten, he trav-
ersed the wilderness, inquiring into the state of the new and
scattered settlements, and cheerfully partaking of such accom-
modations, as the log-cabin or camp might afford him. When
the business of the society and the wants of the destitute
required his attention, neither inclement skies, nor the winter's
cold could detain him. Forgetful of his own ease, he lived
and labored for the good of others.

It pleased God to lengthen out his life, (and for this we
would be truly and fervently thankful) until he had reached
the age, within one month, when human strength is but labor
and sorrow. For the most part he was blessed with comfort-
able health and with unimpaired vigor and vivacity of mind.
The Author of his being had endowed him with the excellent
gift of a fine flow of spirits, and this in subordination to the
sustaining influence of God's word and Spirit, had been a val-
uable support, and a cheering cordial, under the burdens and
trials of life. This excellent gift he retained ; and never had
he appeared more cheerful and happy, than during the last
summer. In the meetings of the General Conference in June,
and of the American Board in September, he took a lively
interest and returned from them with a mind refreshed by inter-
course with christian friends, and animated to new zeal and
effort by God's continued favor to the kindred enterprises —
both dear to him — of domestic and foreign missions.

From Boston he returned home on the 19th of Sept. with a
hoarse cold. For nearly a fortnight, however, this did not occa-
sion unusual distress, or alarm ; and he was expecting on the first
Sabbath of the present month, to administer the sacrament of
the Lord's supper to the church in Hallowell, and in the course
of the following week to assist in an ordination in the town of
Phillips. But on that Sabbath he was not able to go abroad ;
and his disease assuming a more serious character, on Wed-
nesday the 11th inst. a physician was called in, who pronounced
his case to be one of bronchitis. This affection of the throat
was followed by neuralgic pains, affecting at first the limbs
chiefly, but afterward other parts of the system. From these
he suffered most intensely for several days and nights, with


but little intermission, until he found, as we humbly trust, a
termination of all earthly sorrows in that rest, which remaineth
for the people of God.

At what period, in his own judgment and that of others, he
was made a subject of renewing grace, I am not able confi-
dently to state. It is supposed, that this event occurred during
his college life ; and that he became, while yet an undergrad-
uate, a member of the visible church. He was not accustomed
very freely to converse respecting his own religious exercises,
nor did he keep a record of them in writing. But no one, it
is believed, who knew him, called in question the sincerity of
his religious profession, or the genuineness of his christian
character. In his life there was such an exemplification of the
fruits of the spirit, of the meekness and gentleness, the
humility and disinterestedness of Christ, and such a consecra-
tion of himself to the interests of his kingdom, that no one
could fail to perceive, whose he was, and whom he served.
He did not, perhaps, at any time, experience that rapturous
enjoyment, nor fall into that deep religious melancholy, to
which some christians are subject. But he seems to have
cherished with a good degree of constancy the christian hope,
and to have partaken in seasons of perplexity and trouble of
christian consolation. He bore the extreme distress of his last
sickness, as he had borne other afflictions, with uncomplaining
submission. " All's well," he said ; and " no one can have
greater reason for thankfulness, than I have." His views of
his own sinfulness, he said, had been at times " overwhelming,"
and if he were saved, it must be " by a miracle of grace."
" Should we obtain places in heaven, it will be a blessed thing.
But if we should not, we shall have no reason to complain. I
at least shall have none." He expressed the firmest confi-
dence in that system of truth, which he had been accustomed
to teach, spoke of the fear of death as taken away, gave up
his family into the hands of God ; and after some hours of
comparative ease and quietness, at 8 o'clock A. M. on the 19th
inst. without a struggle or groan, he fell asleep in Jesus.

In relation to him, then, we would apply the injunction,
R-emember them, who have spoken to you the word of God ;
whose faith follow, considering the end of their conversation.



Much, that is both consolatory and edifying, will the bereaved
family find, in the remembrance of that revered, beloved man,
who was permitted so long to sustain the interesting relations
of husband and father. Let them be grateful for the good-
ness and mercy, which followed him all his days ; for the virtues
of his life ; for the consolations of his death ; and for the joys
of that immortality, upon which he has now entered. Let
them be grateful, that he was useful and happy to the end of
his days, that he died in full possession of the esteem and
confidence of all who knew him ; that trusting in his Divine
Redeemer, and committing into his hands both himself and
them, he departed in peace, and like a shock of corn fully
ripe in its season, is gathered into the heavenly garner. And
now, while they consider and rejoice in the end of his conver-
sation, let them esteem, as unspeakably precious, that sure
word of God, which was the guide of his life, and on which
he rested in death. From that hallowed name may they de-
rive the sweetest consolation, the firmest support. Embracing
and following his faith, the faith of Jesus, may they find in
his God and Saviour their refuge and strength ; a friend
who will never leave, nor forsake them ; their guardian and
guide in life, their comforter in death, their portion forever.

Of the original members of this church not one is now among
the living. This indeed might have been said, when the aged
Deacon Sewall was taken to his rest. And now the first pas-
tor of the church is numbered with the dead. I speak in the
hearing of those, whom he gathered into the fold of Christ ;
who for many years looked on him as their spiritual guide ;
to whose prayers and instructions, in the sanctuary, and in
their own dwellings, more especially in times of sickness and
bereavement, they listened with lively interest ; and who gave
him, as long as he lived, a large place in their respectful and
affectionate regards. To them I say, remember him still, and
bless God, that he gave you such a minister and friend. Re-
member him still, as having spoken to you the word of God ;
and hold fast those precious truths, which you were accustom-
ed to hear from his lips. Consider the end of his conversa-
tion — his hope in death — his blissful, glorious home in
heaven — and give diligence, that you may follow his faith,


giving up your hearts to its transforming, sanctifying power,
and in your lives bringing forth its fruits in all righteousness,
goodness, and truth.

Some in this assembly, who have often heard from him,
whose lips are now sealed in the silence of death, and from
other ministers of Christ, the word of God, the word preached
did not profit ; not being received in faith, nor followed by
obedience. On them I call to remember those, who have
spoken to them the word of God, and not them only, but the
truths, precepts, admonitions, invitations and reproofs, which
the great God has sent to them by the ministry of His ser-
vants. The word, which they have spoken, the same shall
judge you in the last day. For the inquiries and decisions of
that day be entreated to prepare.

Beloved brethren in the ministry, let us bless God, that our
venerable friend and father was continued with us to a good
old age ; that we were permitted to enjoy so much of pleasant
fellowship with him in the decline of life ; and that we can
now rejoice in the persuasion, that for him to live was Christ,
to die was gain. Nearly thirty years ago, in a discourse com-
memorating the twenty-fifth anniversary of his ordination, he
expressed with much feeling the desire, so to spend the resi-
due of his days, that it might be inscribed upon his tombstone 3
he served God to the end. That petition was granted. Emu-
lous of his example, shall we not make his petition our own,
and apply ourselves in the strength of Christ, with increased
zeal and diligence to the service required. An important part
of that service consists in speaking the word of God ; and in
doing this, as workmen needing not to be ashamed, we must
imitate the apostles, in first setting forth the great doctrines of
the christian faith, and then, in close connexion with these, the
various duties of the christian life. A few months since, Dr.
Gillett expressed the belief, that " one reason of the long con-
tinued and wide spread dearth of divine influences, was the
want of plain, pointed and discriminating doctrinal preaching.
" I want to see some of those old-fashioned revivals of religion,
before I die ; where they are born into the kingdom by the
truth, and in love of the truth, rooted and grounded, like the
forest oak, unmoved and unmovable. In some places at times>



there is a reviving extensively, embracing numbers. But they
will not stay revived. It all flats away, sometimes suddenly
and disastrously. Is there not a lack of doctrinal truth ? a
marvellous paucity of barbed weapons ?" In these remarks he
did not wish to be considered, as speaking ex cathedra. With
characteristic modesty he said, " I view myself as one among a
multitude of brethren, at the feet of many of whom I would
gladly sit to receive instruction ; and with reason, as there is
left to me only the fragmentary part of a man, forescore years
having done much towards winding up the concern. I cannot
but believe, however, that there is some truth in the remarks,
and that they are not altogether untimely." He was of the
same mind with the excellent Cowper, that what " is injuriously
called Calvinism, but is in truth the divinity, which Paul
preached, and Paul's master, is the root of the goodly tree of
holy living." Is this our belief ? Then let us use our best
endeavors to plant that " root" in the minds of our hearers,
that from it may arise that " goodly tree," bearing fruit that
shall remain. Soon shall we be called to give account of our
stewardship. Let us take heed to ourselves and our doctrine,
that we may both save our own souls, and the souls of those
who hear us. Remembering our deceased father in Christ,
who has so faithfully spoken the word of God, and who being
dead yet speaketh, may we follow his faith, considering the end
of his conversation. In the earnest desire and joyful expect-
ation of an end like his, let us give diligence, that both as
disciples and ministers of the Lord Jesus, we may glorify his
name on the earth, and finish the ivork, which He hath given
us to do.

In conclusion, I would call your attention for a moment to the
words following my text : Jesus Christ, the same yesterday,
to-day, and forever. His ministers are not suffered to con-
tinue by reason of death. Our fathers, where are they ?
and the prophets, do they live forever 1 Fain would we keep
them with us, that we may be instructed by their counsels,
quickened by their examples, encouraged by their prayers ; but
they pass away, and we shall soon follow them. But the sacred,
precious cause, dearer to the friends of Christ than life itself,
will not die with them, nor with us. The King of Zion ever


lives, • - er the same, and He will take care of it. When the
godly man ceaseth and the faithful fail from among the
children of men, He does not fail, He is not discouraged.
The missionary enterprize He will not abandon. Maine has
been given to Christ for an inheritance, even the uttermost
parts of it for his possession. The Lord shall comfort Zion.
He will comfort all her waste places ; and he will make her
wilderness like Eden, and her desert like the garden of God.
Joy and gladness shall be heard therein ; thanksgiving and
the voice of melody. In the good work of enlarging, building
up and comforting Zion, the venerable secretary of the Maine
Missionary Society has labored for many years with commend-
able zeal and constancy, with continued increasing success.
Into his labors and those of his associates other men will enter,
and others into theirs; and so the work will go on, and with
it kindred enterprises, domestic and foreign, until the work
shall be done , and heaven and earth shall rejoice in the



Since the delivery of the foregoing discourse, a letter has
been received from the Rev. Bezaleel Pinneo of Milford,
Conn, containing some additional particulars, relative to the
life of Dr. Gillett. Some extracts from this letter will be read
with much interest.

" I could but be deeply afflicted and much distressed by the
death of my much loved and long tried friend, brother, relative
and classmate, Rev. Dr. Gillett, with whom for the long space
of 70 years, I had enjoyed a most intimate and endeared
friendship, that knew neither interruption, nor abatement. Our
friendship commenced almost in childhood. Our parents living
at no great distance from each other, we were often together
and engaging in the same studies and pursuits, our intimacy
and mutual affection were continued and increased during our


preparatory studies and college life, and since we were separa-
ted, an occasional visit and a brisk correspondence have kept
alive and nourished the affections of early life.

" Dr. G. was a descendant of a Huguenot ancestor. His
mother and my father were grand-children of a pious Protes-
tant of my name, who fled from France to this country
during the persecution of Louis 14th, at the revocation of
the edict of Nantes. * * * Dr. G's great excellence lay
not in any uncommon talents, or learning, but in those
amiable qualities and dispositions, which form the christian
character. Not that he was deficient in point of talents. As a
scholar, he took a high standing in his class, less brilliant, how-

Online LibraryPeter ThacherA sermon preached June 12, 1799, before His Honor Moses Gill, Esq., lieutenant governor and commander in chief : the honorable Council, Senate and House of Representatives of the commonwealth of Massachusetts at the interment of His Excellency Increase Sumner, esq., who died June 7, 1799, aet. 53 → online text (page 18 of 51)