Samuel Dunham.

An historical discourse delivered at West Brookfield, Mass. (Volume 2) online

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none but church members should be admitted to the freedom
of the body politic."*

The early framers of the Government, in their laudable zeal
to establish a Commonwealth upon a solid Christian basis,
were led Into the error of so mingling the affairs of Church
and State as, in the event, to secure, with the blessing of a
religious state, a more than counterbalancing evil — apolitical
and secular church. From the first, the government of Mas-
sachusetts adopted a religious test of citizenship. Hence, as
a natural consequence, so strong and universal was the desire
to share the privilege of suffrage, and such was the eagerness
of men then as now to enjoy the honors of civil office, that a
mighty pressure was brought to bear upon the churches to
induce them to receive as members such as had not the proper
qualifications for church membership, that Is, persons who
were wholly ignorant of experimental religion, and who laid
no claim to a Christian character. Thus powerfully appealed
to, this church, among others, was betrayed into the folly of
resorting to the expedient of a form of covenant, by " owning "
or assenting to which any person, not of an immoral character,
who had been baptized In infancy, might be recognized as a

* Barber's Historical Collections of Massachusetts, p. 19.


member, with the privilege of availing himself of the ordinance
of Baptism for his children, though not required to partake of
the Lord's Supper. This pernicious practice, which prevailed
in this church nearly sixty years, during which time about
one hundred persons " Owned the Covenant," and were ad-
mitted to membership, wrought no little mischief, as we shall
have occasion to see at a point farther on in our history.

In 1768 the health of Mr. Parsons had so far declined that
he was obliged to suspend preaching : and ere long he was
compelled by reason of bodily weakness to abandon his minis-
terial labors altogether. lie lived in feebleness some three
years, until January 17, 1771, when he died in the fourteenth
year of his ministry, and the thirty-eighth year of his age. His
dust sleeps beneath the sod of the Old Burying Ground, over
which, since the day of his burial, there have swept the rude
blasts of a hundred winters. The spot is marked by a suita-
ble stone, erected, in accordance with a vote of the parish, soon
after his decease. Also in the new Cemetery we find another
stone sacred to his memory, erected, likewise, by vote of the
parish. Upon it we read, " He was an example of patience
and resignation, and died strong in faith and full of hope,
' The memory of the just is blessed.'"

Mr. Parsons is said to have been " distinguished for the
vivacity of his descriptions, the accuracy of his reasoning, and
the persuasiveness of his exhortations." His ministry was
eminently a peaceful one. The Records assure us that " the
greatest harmony prevailed between him and the people dur-
ing his life."

The fourth pastor was Eev. Ephraim Ward. He was born
at Newton, (Massachusetts,) in 1741, and was graduated at
Harvard University in 1763, in a class that produced several


men of distinction, among whom was Joshua Upham, a na-
tive of Brookfield, who afterwards became Judge of the Su-
preme Court in the Province of New Brunswick.*

Mr. Ward was ordained here October 23, 1771. f The
churches assisting in his ordination were the Second and
Third in Brookfield, the churches in Western (Warren),
Ware, Spencer, Sturbridge, Newton, Weston, Waltham,
and the First Church in Dedham. The sermon on the
occasion was preached by liev. Jason Haven, A. M., pastor
of the First Church in Dedham, from I. Thessalonians 5 :
12, 13, and was " Printed by Richard Draper in Newbury
street," Boston.

The early part of Mr. Ward's pastorate fell upon a dark
and stormy period in the history of the country. But, not-
withstanding the civil commotions which, during the Revo-
lutionary struggle, disturbed the peace, and threatened the
existence, of so many churches, the most uniform and perfect
harmony prevailed between him and his people throughout
his long and useful ministry. This happy circumstance was
probably due, in no small degree, to Mr. AVard himself. For
he was a man of an exceeding mild and amiable disposition,
and, by his great kindness and affability, he wOn the high es-
teem and cordial affection of his people, and, indeed, of all
who knew him. "He possessed," says his biographer, "a
peculiar talent for cultivating peace. Though he was ready
to extend the hand of discipline, when the honor of his Mas-
ter's cause required it ; yet he never resorted to coercive meas-

*He died in Loudon in 1808, while on an official mission to the British Gov-

t For the proposed terms of Mr. Ward's settlement, and his rei)ly accepting
the same, see Appendix, Note II.


ures till all other expedients to reclaim the delinquent had
failed."* Dr. Phelps, who was associated with him in the
ministry for a time previous to Mr. Ward's death, makes this
comprehensive and significant remark : " He had no enemies^
and all the congregation respected and loved him.''''

As might be expected, Mr. Ward's labors here were not
without visible fruits. Although, until near the close of his
active labors, there was no year that was specially marked by
revival, yet the catalogue shows a steady growth of the church,
from year to year, throughout his ministry. Scarcely a year
passed, whether in time of war or of peace, but that there were
some accessions to the church, and on several different years
the number received was such as to indicate a hiwh decree of
religious interest in the community. In the year 1775, for
instance, tioenty-four were admitted on profession of faith ; in
1776, nineteen; in 1780, thirteen; in 1S06, nineteen; in 1807,
fifteen; in 1808, eighteen. In 1814 there occurred a revival
of considerable extent and power, though " it was confined
principally to that part of the parish called Eagged Hill."
During that year fiftg-six were added to the church upon profes-
sion. In the gathering of this precious harvest, however, Mr.
Ward was not permitted actively to engage. He had been
forced by a partial loss of sight to relinquish his labors for the
most part, particularly his public ministrations, in the Fall of
1813 ; after which "the pulpit was supplied for a considerable
time by the aid of the neighboring clergy," until the Summer
of 1814, after which several candidates were employed.

On the day of the forty-fifth anniversary of his settlement,
October 23, 1816, he had the pleasure of welcoming a col-
league. Rev. Mr. Phelps, to whom he might entrust the sa-

* Sketch appended to Kev. Mr. Stone's Funeral Sermon.


cred interests of the church and parish, which had become so
greatly endeared to his heart. But he was not suffered long
to enjoy this ncAV relation. Little more than a year had
passed when he was seized with paralysis, and deprived of
the power of utterance. But he soon so far recovered his
speech as to be able to furnish abundant assurance of the
consolation and joy he felt at the prospect of Heaven; and
the following month, February 9, 1818, in the seventy-eighth
year of his age, having sustained the pastoral office for nearly
half a century, he fell asleep in Jesus. Thus, at the end of
one hundred years of our church's history, closed the labors
of only its fourth pastor. His funeral sermon was preached
by Rev. Micah Stone, pastor of the church in the South Par-
ish, from Hebrews 13 : 7 and was entitled, " A Christian Peo-
ple's Remembrance of their Deceased Pastor." It was pub-
lished. In this discourse Mr. Stone says of Mr. Ward, " As
a preacher he was evangelical, plain, and practical. He held
a very respectable standing among his brethren in the minis-
try, and in all the neighboring churches. His apparent sin-
cerity and piety, with the amiable spirit, the sound sentiments,
and practical tendency of his discourses, rendered him accept-
able and edifying." " A distinguishing excellence of our
departed friend was, that he was a minister out of the pulpit,
as well as in it. He was naturally kind and social in his feel-
ings, and maintained a familiar and friendly intercourse with
his people. He readily sympathized with them in their joys
and sorrows ; and was much disposed to benefit them by his
private instructions and prayers. His affability and polite-
ness endeared him to their hearts, and favorably disposed them
to religion and its services. Of him we may truly say he

'Allur'd to brighter worlds and led the way.' "


During his ministry the church was strengthened by a total
accession of three hundred and seventy-eight mem-

Among the publications of Mr. Ward is a sermon preached
at the funeral of Rev. Nathan Fiske, D. D., 1799 ; and a ser-
mon from II. Peter 1 : 13, delivered on the Thirty-Second
Anniversary of his own Ordination, October 23, 1803, and
" published at the general request of the hearers." It is note-
worthy, as indicating the growth of the population of the
parish since that time, and perhaps, also, as showing the
present increased rate of mortality, that, during those thirty-
two years of his ministry, there were, according to the last
named Discourse, but " three hundred and twenty-eight
deaths, reckoning several who died in the army in the late
Revolutionary War, and including several strangers who died
in this place," — an average of only about ten deaths per year,
while in these recent years, the average annual mortality has
risen to nearly forty. It is, moreover, a significant fact that,
within the same period of thirty-two years, five hundred and
five children were baptized, or an average of nearly sixteen
annually ; whereas, at the present time, not more than four
or five children each year receive this Scriptural Seal ; — be-
traying thus a strange laxity on the part of the church in
these days in reference to Infant Baptism, and revealing a
wide and unwarrantable departure, in this particular, from
the faith and practice of our fathers ; — a case which, it is to
be regretted, is not without its parallel, in numerous instances,
among the professedly pedobaptist churches of the land.

Rev. Eliakim Phelps, the fifth pastor, was born at Belcher-
town, Massachusetts, March 20, 1790. His parents were
Dea. Eliakim and Margaret (Combs) Phelps. He was grad-

uated at Union College, Schenectady, in 1814, where he also
pursued his theological studies ; and was licensed to preach
by the Consociation of Windham County, Connecticut, Sep-
tember, 1815. He was ordained, as we have already noticed,
associate pastor with Mr. Ward, October 23, 1816. The ser-
mon was preached from II. Corinthians 5 : 20, by Eev. Dr.
Morse * of Charlestown.

At the time that Mr. Phelps received the call to settle here,
the Half-way Covenant was still in force, although it seems to
have fallen into disuse two years previously, in 1814. But
Mr. Phelps made it a condition of his acceptance of the call
that that covenant should be abolished. Accordingly there
stands upon the church books this gratifying record, dated
August 23, 1816.

" At a meeting of the First Church of Christ in Brookfield, convened
by previous notice for the purpose, voted unanimously that the covenant
commonly called the Half-way Covenant, or the covenant allowing the
privilege of Baptism to those who entered into it, should be entirely done
away. No person in future should be admitted into it ; but, those who
have enjoyed it, should be permitted to enjoy it one month from the date

But, as Dr. Phelps says, " the evil did not end with the
voting it out." The pernicious effects of the custom became
particularly apparent during the great revival which soon at-
tended the labors of Mr. Phelps in 1818. This church, like
many others, at that time was composed largely of heads of
families, a considerable number of whom came in on the Half-
way Covenant plan, without any experience of the renewing


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Online LibrarySamuel DunhamAn historical discourse delivered at West Brookfield, Mass. (Volume 2) → online text (page 2 of 9)