Samuel M. (Samuel Melancthon) Worcester.

A discourse, delivered on the first centennial anniversary of the Tabernacle church, Salem, Mass., April 26, 1835 online

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Online LibrarySamuel M. (Samuel Melancthon) WorcesterA discourse, delivered on the first centennial anniversary of the Tabernacle church, Salem, Mass., April 26, 1835 → online text (page 1 of 6)
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SALEM, MASS. APRIL 26, 1835.





; £

Landmark Press, Salem.


Psalm Ixxvi, 2.

The leading purpose in the settlement of New
England, was religious. The colonists in general
were men, who taught by precept and example,
that the fear of the lord is the beginning
of wisdom. — Among the expedients adopted by
the fathers of this town, to secure an habitual rever-
ence for evangelical principles and institutions, was
a public service, called Lecture. In addition to
the exercises of worship on the Lord's day, a dis-
course was delivered, "as often as every other
week at least, to the good satisfaction and content
of the Church and town."*

Upon the death of the Rev. Messrs. Curwen and
Noyes, in 1717, the Lecture was suspended. But
soon after the ordination of their successor, the Rev.
Samuel Fisk, in October, 1718, the expediency of
reviving it was a topic of conversation. Just at the
close of a meeting of the Church on the 25th of
December, the Pastor reminded the brethren, that
they had neglected to act upon the Lecture. The
suggestion was made in consequence of a vote, on
the 15th, by which they were to consider at a sub-

* See Appendix A.

sequent meeting, " what may properly be done to-
wards the carrying on of a Lecture every other week
in this place." At their meeting, however, on the
25th, much time was consumed in disposing of the
request of the brethren and sisters in the east part
of the town, to be dismissed, with a view to the
organization of a new church.* So great interest
had been taken in the more important business of
the meeting, that the subject of the Lecture proba-
bly did not occur to any of them, until as they were
preparing to disperse, the Pastor remarked, "Breth-
ren, you forget part of our business" When some
asked what it was, he answered, " The considering
of some methods for the having a Lecture" There
were various remarks, no doubt, expressive of the
wishes of the members of the church ; some choos-
ing to act then upon the subject, and others to defer
it to a more favorable opportunity. In the minutes
which the Pastor made of the doings of the meeting,
we find the following vote : " That the brethren of
this Church will privately speedily consider of some
proper method to revive a Lecture in this place —
and when they are prepared, a number of them
shall repair to the Pastor, and pray him to call a
meeting further to prosecute the vote passed in the
last church meeting concerning a Lecture." Whe-
ther this vote was entered upon the records with
the other votes of the meeting, at the same time, or
some years afterwards ; and whether any such vote
was ever passed by the Church, ultimately became
questions of serious import, in their bearings and

* See Appendix B.

If the vote was passed by the Church, it is unac-
countable that there should have been no action
upon it. That the Church did not again consider
the point, is evident from the records and from pri-
vate testimony.

The Pastor, however, must have become satisfied
of the wishes of the people to have the Lecture re-
vived : for, about two months after the meeting of
December 25th, he revived it. By the aid of the
Rev. Messrs. Prescott and Stanton, he sustained it
to good acceptance, until February, 1726. He then
discontinued it, and publicly assigned as reasons,
that "it was more for the honor of religion to have
no Lecture, than one so poorly attended ; and that
it was discouraging to preach to bare walls." This
communication produced much uneasiness. Indi-
viduals and committees repeatedly waited upon the
Pastor, entreating him " to set up the Lecture again,
according to the practice and laudable custom of the
First Parish in Salem." He took different ground
at different times, in opposition to their votes and
wishes, and resolutely maintained his purpose of
non-compliance. His method of proceeding is a
striking illustration of the practicability of so adher-
ing to " letter" and " form," as to set the claims of
equity at defiance. Meanwhile those members of
the Church, who felt particularly aggrieved by the
Pastor's conduct, refrained from appearing in the
First Church at the table of the Lord, and took
other measures to evince their dissatisfaction and

At length, in the early part of 1728, an article
was inserted in the warrant for a Parish Meeting,


" to consider what further may be proper in order
to reviving the Lecture." Hearing of this, the Pas-
tor soon preached a sermon from Eccles. 5 : 4 — 6.
In enforcing the obligation of vows, he adverted to
the sin of the church in neglecting the vote of Dec.
25, 1718, to revive the Lecture ! This was a most
unexpected and astounding accusation. It was a
perilous effort to fasten upon the Church the very
responsibility and blame, which for two years had
been charged upon him. A warm controversy im-
mediately ensued. The "aggrieved brethren" de-
nied that the Church ever passed any such vote, as
that to which the Pastor referred ; and, therefore,
they intimated or affirmed, that what purported to
be such a vote, was a forgery and an interpolation.
And it may be added here, that in the Result of a
large council convened in July, 1733, it is stated:
" That we are much affected to find such grounds
for a strong presumption of the interpolation charged
upon the Pastor, and that the aggrieved have so
much reason to fear that the vote is not genuine."

In a communication bearing date March 16, 1731,
the aggrieved brethren laid before the Pastor, " the
principal matters of their offence." This expression
the Pastor considered " as necessarily implying that
there were other matters, though less principal, at
which they were offended." He demanded of them,
that they should either state the whole, or should
give him assurance, that the grievances already al-
leged, "should be the alone subject of consideration."
The brethren disclaimed all intention of reserving
any "matters" for future disputes, and expressed
their readiness " to bury in oblivion those less prin-

cipal matters (which he thought necessarily implied)
when he had given them the satisfaction due to them
as men and Christians, upon the articles already ex-
hibited." With this reply the Pastor was not satis-

Having tried in vain to induce the Pastor to call
a Church meeting for an investigation and settle-
ment of the difficulties, the aggrieved brethren soli-
cited advice from some of the neighboring clergy.
The Rev. Mr. Fisk and his friends, consisting of a
majority of the Church and Society, utterly refused
to listen to any advice or admonition from sister
churches. An ex-parte council was convened in
July, 1 733, and justified the aggrieved brethren ;
but advised them to return to the communion of the
Church and seek earnestly for a healing of their

The divisions were not healed, and no hope of
reconciliation remained. In accordance, therefore,
with the provisions of the Cambridge Platform, twen-
ty-one aggrieved brethren, on the 20th of December
following, invited the Second Church in Boston to
deal with the First Church in Salem, agreeable to
the third way of communion, because, as they would
not settle their difficulties, they were guilty of walk-
ing disorderly.* The Rev. Messrs. Mather and Gee
of the Second Church in Boston, attended to the
subject, in a regular and christian manner. Finding
Mr. Fisk immovable, steadfastly denying the author-
ity of other churches to interfere in the concerns of
the First Church in Salem, they addressed a letter
of admonition to this Church, as the first leading

* See Appendix C.


step of discipline. Pursuant to the second step with
an offending church, a council of four churches was
convened in April, 1734. The First Church treated
their proceedings with absolute contempt. They
left an admonitory epistle and closed the session.
The four churches, whose representatives had at-
tempted in vain " to heal the scandalous divisions,"
now made arrangements for the convention of a
very large and formidable council. Twenty-seven
churches, having thirty ministers, were invited to
meet at Salem, July 16. Nineteen of these church-
es sent their delegates. In consequence of some
difference of opinion upon the course to be pursued,
a few of the council withdrew. In their Result the
council confirmed the proceedings of the four
churches. A letter of advice to the First Church
was adopted, and the council adjourned to meet
October 15. Mr. Fisk and his friends were advised
to close the controversy with the aggrieved breth-
ren, during the adjournment, and, in failure of the
same, were threatened with the highest censure
which the churches composing the council were
able to inflict. The advice was still in vain. Ac-
cordingly the council, at their adjourned meeting,
voted, that the First Church in Salem had forfeited
the privilege of communion with the churches rep-
resented in their body. The sentence of non-com-
munion, however, was delayed for three months.
It then went into effect ; and the churches of New
England were called to witness the singular spec-
tacle of a sister church excluded from the pale of

On the 18th of April, 1735, the party dissatisfied


with Mr. Fisk, voted to dismiss him, and to hire
Samuel Mather, of Boston, to supply their pulpit.
And in the forenoon on the last Sabbath of the
month, Mr. Fisk was forcibly prevented from preach-
ing. In the afternoon, while attempting to conduct
the services as usual, he was so disturbed by the
uproar and confusion of the assembly, that he was
compelled to leave the house. The civil authorities
laid him under bonds to keep the peace until the
session of court. Never again did he make an effort
to occupy his pulpit. Accompanied by three fourths
at least, of the Church and Society, he abandoned
the house of worship to the aggrieved brethren and
their associates. That a minority should thus be
able to triumph, is easily explained, when we con-
sider how much moral power was wielded by an
Ecclesiastical Council, whose decision was just, and
whose sentence was ratified by the voice of public
opinion. The majority of the First Church were
under the ban of excommunication according to the
' Third way of Communion.' The churches gener-
ally, though not unanimously, approved the measure.
Not only so, but the Colonial Legislature sanctioned
the votes of the aggrieved party, and cut off Mr. F.
and his friends from all hope of relief. Such was
the energy and the efficiency of Congregationalism,
one hundred years since ! And such was the origin
of the Church and Society now worshipping in the
Tabernacle !

The Rev. Mr. Fisk and his friends proceeded to
establish themselves upon a separate foundation.
Neither the day nor the month can be ascertained
when they determined upon this measure, or when


they consummated their determination by any for-
mal process. They doubtless assembled under the
pastoral charge of Mr. Fisk, from the time that they
were expelled from their former sanctuary.

They soon commenced a house for their accom-
modation. The frame was at first located so near
to the house of the First Church, that they were
compelled by order of the Colonial Assembly to re-
move it.* The new house was completed early in
1736. There Mr. Fisk officiated. His adherents
claimed the title of First Church, and gave the name
of " Confederate Church" to that which was formed
by the aggrieved brethren.

Early in 1744, the Church were called to consid-
er a proposal of the Pastor to be furnished with a
colleague. His memorial upon the subject induced
them to take counsel of the ministers in the vicinity.
The result of their consultations was a decision in
favor of settling a new Pastor, but not as a colleague.
By vote of February 1, 1744, "the deacons were
authorised to procure occasional preaching for the
church and congregation."

When it appeared certain that Mr. Fisk's minis-
terial connexion would soon be dissolved, several
letters passed between his Church and the Confed-
erate Church, then under the care of the Rev. Mr..
Sparhawk, relative to an accommodation. But the
parties were unable to come to terms of agreement.
We find also, that sometime in the summer of this
year, " the Church set apart a day of fasting and
prayer with respect to their intended settlement of
a Pastor in Mr. Fisk's room."

* See Appendix D.


In April, 1745, Mr. Dudley Leavitt was invited
by the Church to become their Pastor. He was
unwilling to accept the invitation, while the pastoral
connexion of Mr. Fisk continued. The Church,
therefore, after suitable counsel, voted on the 30th
of July, that the Pastor be " discharged from his
ecclesiastical relation." And the congregation, at a
meeting on the 12th of August, passed a vote in
concurrence with the church. The " call " to Mr.
L. was then renewed by the church and the con-

They had now become fully sensible of their er-
ror in adhering to Mr. Fisk, in opposition to the
Christian advice and solemn admonition of the
churches, which had dealt with them previous to the
separation. Happy were they to avail themselves
of the aid of sister churches, to extricate them from
the embarrassments and disasters into which they
had been plunged, by their obstinate defiance of
what they had pronounced unscriptural and unau-
thorized interference. They made a humble con-
fession, and the sentence of non-communion was
rescinded. The way was then prepared for the
ordination of Mr. Leavitt.

A council was convened for this purpose, Oct. 2,
1745. After examining various papers submitted to
them, they adjourned to the 23d of the same month,
and then re-assembled, with an enlargement of their
number. Although Mr. Fisk and several of his
brethren objected, the council voted to proceed to
the services of ordination on the next day.

When, however, the services commenced, the
officiating clergyman was most rudely interrupted.


There was such an outrageous tumult, that the
council retired from the house, and Mr. Leavitt was
ordained under a tree in a field or garden.*

Mr. Fisk was a man of distinguished abilities. But
the principles of ecclesiastical government for which
he contended, were at war with the established
usages of Congregationalism ; and, as applied by
himself, would expose the churches to all the evils
of anarchy in general and despotism in particular.
Aggrieved minorities could have no possible redress
or relief.

Of the state of the Church and Society, during
the ministry of Mr. Fisk, we have no particular in-
formation. The records of eight years were in his
hands, and they have never yet been found.f

Mr. Leavitt's ministry was prosperous. He was a
man of sound orthodox sentiments, and the Church
became more and more Calvinistic under his preach-
ing. J His memory was very precious to those who
had enjoyed his ministrations. He died February 7,

During his life, repeated unsuccessful attempts
were made to settle the differences between this
Church and that from which they had separated.
Soon after his decease the object was accomplished. |j
The title of First Church was relinquished to the
Confederate Church, and the Confederate Church,
on their part, surrendered a portion of the plate and
other property. From August 2, 1 762, this Church
was called " the Church of which Rev. Dudley
Leavitt was late Pastor," until May 23, 1 763, when
by a formal vote, the Church assumed the name of

* See Appendix E. f .See Appendix F. J See Appendix G. || See Appendix H.


Third Church. Thus the controversy, which in di-
vers forms, had been protracted through more than
thirty years, was brought to a close. Such was the
harmony between the two churches, that when the
Rev. John Huntington was ordained as the Pastor
of the Third Church, he received the right hand of
fellowship from the Rev. Thomas Barnard of the
First Church.

Mr. Huntington's ministry commenced on the
28th of September, 1 763. It was of brief duration.
His health soon failed ; and in less than three years
from the time of his ordination, his people were
overwhelmed with the sorrows of pastoral bereave-
ment. Of all the ministers who have labored in this
town, no one was ever more distinguished for love-
liness of disposition and fervor of piety. His sun
went down at an early hour ; but its mild and be-
nignant radiance left an unfading impression of moral
beauty upon many hearts.

Dr. Nathaniel Whitaker succeeded Mr. Hunting-
ton. When he had received the invitation of the
Church and Society to take the oversight of them in
the Lord, he prescribed certain important conditions
of settlement. One of these was, that a new form
Of church government should be substituted for the
Congregational ; and another, that he should enter
upon his duties without the accustomed ceremonies
of installation. The conditions were accepted.

The 28th of July, 1769, was appointed for public
services at the commencement of his ministry here,
and several clergymen were invited by the Church
to be present, " as friends to the Society and the
common cause of religion." The Rev. Messrs. Di-


mond, Barnard, and Holt declined giving their coun-
tenance to such an irregular proceeding. In a very
friendly letter they remonstrated against the course.*
But the people were so charmed with the man of
their choice, that they went forward as if under the
reckless impulse of infatuation. After a sermon by
the Pastor elect, one of the members of the Church
read the invitation which had been given to him to
settle with them in the ministry, and the Pastor read
his answer to the invitation. In this manner was
the Rev. Dr. Whitaker inducted into his office as
Pastor of this Church ! Dazzled by the brilliancy of
his intellect and eloquence ; captivated " by fair
words and goodly speeches," they threw up their
ecclesiastical liberties, and took upon their necks a
yoke of bondage, which they soon found to be griev-
ous beyond endurance.

The Constitution of Church Government present-
ed by Dr. Whitaker in the Articles of Agreement
between him and the Church, was essentially Pres-
byterian. It went beyond Presbyterianism, by giv-
ing to the Pastor a right to negative the votes of the
elders and of the whole Church. On the contrary,
it fell short of Presbyterianism, by providing for a
reference of difficulties to congregational councils,
until a stated Judicature should be determined.
That this Judicature was intended by Dr. W. to be
a Presbytery, is evident from the measures which
he took in 1774, to bring the Church under the
Boston Presbytery.

Hardly had the Church begun to experience the
effects of the new mode of administration, when a

* See Appendix I.


very respectable number were aroused to make a
determined effort to return to the former state.
They endeavored, but ineffectually, to avail them-
selves of an article in the Constitution by which the
existing government might be modified or abolished.
Some proposals, however, were made by the Pastor
to prevent " the fourteen uneasy brethren" from
prosecuting their opposition. Those members of
the Church who preferred to be governed by the
Constitution, and those who chose the Cambridge
Platform, were to have their option. The Pastor
was to preside at the meetings of each party in the
Church. He was not to have the power to negative
any votes of such meetings ; neither was he to be
obliged to execute any judgment which they should
make, unless he should think best !

It is amazing that Dr. Whitaker should have sup-
posed it possible, that a Church would consent to
be thus virtually divided into two bodies, or that the
aggrieved brethren w r ould be ensnared by such a
frivolous artifice. They replied to him with great
force, and not a little of stinging severity. At the
close of their letter, bearing date Nov. 18, 1773,
they express " their earnest desire, that his plan of
Church Government be totally demolished ; and that
the Church be allowed to return and rest upon the
stable basis of pure and unmixed Congregational-

It was not long before these brethren proposed to
the Pastor to take a dismission from the Church.
He at first waived the subject, being as unwilling to
resign his office, as to demolish his favorite Consti-

* See Appendix J.


tution of Church Government. If at this time the
brethren had demanded a Congregational Council,
they would have acted in full accordance with the
terms upon which that Constitution was received
by the Church.

Having, by an adroit and clandestine process, plac-
ed the Church under the jurisdiction of the Boston
Presbytery, he purposed to bring the subject before
that body, in May, 1774.* His plan did not suc-
ceed. In September, the Presbytery held a meet-
ing in this place. They recommended a reference
of the difficulties to a mutual council, consisting
equally of Presbyterians and Congregationalists.
The recommendation was not accepted ; and in
consequence, the fourteen aggrieved brethren were
dismissed from the Church by an act of the Pres-
bytery. It may be added here, that these brethren
were in February of 1775, regularly constituted a
Congregational Church. Hence the origin of the
Church now under the care of the Rev. Mr. Em-

When the new Church was formed, a very res-
pectable Society soon surrounded and sustained the
brethren. Reports unfavorable to Dr. Whitaker's
moral character, were so current and so credible,
that his congregation constantly decreased.

It should also be mentioned, that it was only a
few months before the formation of the new church,
that the meeting house erected for Mr. Fisk in
1735-6, was entirely consumed. Nothing but the
pulpit bible and cushion were saved from the flames.

By very great efforts, the frame of the present

* See Appendix K. f See Appendix L.


house was erected in 1776. It was covered, and
pews were made in 1777. But it was without gal-
leries, without pulpit, and without even plaistering
upon the walls. In this condition, so emblematic of
the miserable circumstances of the people, it was
then dedicated as a house of God. It was fashioned
after the model of Whitefield's Tabernacle in Lon-
don, and received its name in honor of his memory.
He had preached for Dr. Whitaker but a short time
before his sudden decease at Newburyport. Dr.
Whitaker when in England a few years previous to
his settlement in Salem, had also received marked
attentions from some of the most intimate friends
and patrons of this eminent evangelist. Soon after
Whitefield's death, he rendered an appropriate tri-
bute to his character in two very able Sermons.
And when the present house was opened for the
worship of God, he gave it the name which has ever
since designated the edifice, the Church, and the

Dr. Whitaker's feelings were much enlisted in
the revolutionary contest. By his sermons he en-
deavored to animate the people to great exertion,
and in various other ways, some of which were very
unclerical, he labored to promote the cause of Ame-
rican Independence. While thus engaged in other
employments than those which pertained to the
warfare of a soldier of the cross, his christian char-
acter became more and more questionable.

In the autumn of 1783, the Church were com-
pelled to investigate the current reports, so unfavor-
able to their Pastor. They had long been accus-
tomed to frown upon them with indignant contempt.


They now applied to Dr. Whitaker to take some
proper measures to relieve himself and the Church
from the stigma of general reproach. They were
answered with severe rebuke, and were bidden to
continue their attendance upon his ministry ; mean-
while preparing their charges and proof, if they
pleased to present the case before the Presbytery.

Of the Presbytery Dr. Whitaker himself was the
moderator. It consisted of but a very few ministers ;
and not more than two or three of them had any
pastoral charge. They were to meet at Groton in

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Online LibrarySamuel M. (Samuel Melancthon) WorcesterA discourse, delivered on the first centennial anniversary of the Tabernacle church, Salem, Mass., April 26, 1835 → online text (page 1 of 6)