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 2 of 6)
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June of the next year. The length of time which
must elapse before the Church could have a hearing,
the distance of the place of meeting, and the conse-
quent inconvenience and expense of appearing there
with the requisite committee and witnesses, and the
improbability of obtaining an impartial and righteous
adjudication, filled the minds of all who were spe-
cially interested, with impatient dissatisfaction and
painful solicitude. Besides, the number of worship-
pers in the Tabernacle diminished with such appall-
ing rapidity, that the building soon became a fright-
ful picture of moral desolation. According to the
testimony of a venerable member of the Church,*
still living among us, and to whom I am much in-
debted in the compilation of this narrative, " the
whole congregation, except the families of three in-
dividuals, had scattered themselves among other re-
ligious assemblies."

The attention of the Church was now directed in
solemn earnest, to the nature and tendency of that
form of government, by which they were so embar-

* See Appendix M.


rassed and afflicted. The result of their delibera-
tions was a full persuasion of the expediency of
returning to the privileges of Congregationalism.
Wishing to have a regular action upon the subject,
they requested the Pastor to warn a Church meet-
ing. This was refused. A meeting was then, called
by the elders. Votes were passed, abjuring all al-
legiance to any Presbyterian authority, adopting the
mode of administration prescribed by the Cambridge
Platform, and inviting a Council to inquire whether
the Pastor had not forfeited his office, by his disor-
derly life.

When the Council assembled, they made some
investigation of the subjects referred to them, and
then proposed to Dr. Whitaker to unite with the
Church in a mutual Council, consisting equally of
Presbyterians and Congregationalists. He would
listen to no such proposal, and utterly refused to
acknowledge their title to sit in judgment upon the
case. They met on the 10th of February, 1784,
and adjourned to meet on the 24th. Their Result
vindicates the right of the Church to appeal to a
Congregational Council, confirms the doings of the
Church in renouncing Presbyterian government, and
declares Dr. Whitaker's connexion with the Taber-
nacle to be dissolved.*

This Result was hailed with great satisfaction
throughout the community. Dr. Whitaker's labors
were brought to a close on the 25th of March. The
doors of the Tabernacle were barred against him.
Such was now the situation of the man who, in 1769,
was settled by acclamation. It is true, that the

* See Appendix N.


Presbytery at Groton, in June following, honored
him as their head, and listened to him as their father.
They excommunicated the Tabernacle Church, and
gave Dr. Whitaker a certificate of their approbation
and confidence.* He also obtained from the Pro-
prietors of the Tabernacle a considerable sum of
money, as an award for alleged losses and arrearages
during his ministry here.

My heart has bled within me, while I have been
contemplating this disastrous period of our history.
In the lapse of fifteen years, the Church had been
dismembered, and but few had been admitted to
supply the places of those, who, for various reasons,
sought the privilege of communion and fellowship
elsewhere. No special season of revival was enjoy-
ed, while Dr. Whitaker was connected with the
Church, unless we may so consider the interest
awakened by the faithful preaching of an earnest
young clergyman, who supplied the pulpit for a few
weeks, in the absence of the Pastor. His labors
were evidently blessed of the Lord, and one among
us still lives to remember him with special gratitude.

The immediate predecessors of Dr. Whitaker,
were men of devoted piety. They spake boldly in
the name of Jesus. And their daily example gave
a delightful witness of the sincerity and fervor of
their faith. Such was the divine seal of blessing
upon their ministry, that in 1 770 this congregation
embraced 380 families and 1900 souls, — a greater
number than can now be enrolled as connected with
the Tabernacle. When, however, Dr. Whitaker
was ejected from his office in 1784, the great and

* See Appendix O.


flourishing Society had dwindled to the merest
handful. It may be questioned whether the eccle-
siastical records of New England furnish a parallel
to the scenes of disaster, which I have but faintly

The personal character of Dr. Whitaker was made
the occasion of much reproach upon evangelical
Christianity. Its professors were sometimes hooted
in the streets. Many there were, who like the foes
of Zion in the days of the Psalmist, cried, " Aha,
Aha." To add to all these grievances and agonies,
the Proprietors of the Tabernacle were burdened
with a debt, which had well nigh crushed them. If
it had not been for the resources and generous spirit
of a single individual, whose pecuniary circumstances
have since felt the blight of misfortune, it is doubtful
whether the Tabernacle Society would not have lost
forever its organized existence.*

The little remnant of the Church did not utterly
despair, that the day of small things would eventu-
ally usher in a period of spiritual enlargement and
rejoicing. They often met in a private room to take
counsel together, and make supplication to the Most
High. Even here they were frequently disturbed
and insulted. But they laid hold on the promises,
and the Lord heard their prayers.

Within a few months after Dr. Whitaker's dismis-
sion, the Tabernacle was again open for worship.
Each of the members of the Council of February
10th and 24th, gave his services for a Sabbath.
Occasional preaching was then hired, until March,
1785. The congregation, which at first hardly

* See Appendix P.


equalled the pews in number, now began to exhibit
indications of returning strength. Still, it is said,
that of all who had rejoined the Tabernacle, not
more than seventeen owned any part of a pew. And
beside the influence of local causes to create a pecu-
niary embarrassment in the Society, it should be
remembered, that the whole community was suffer-
ing under that dreadful scarcity of money and credit
which was one of the immediate consequences of
the war of Independence.

It will not surprise you, therefore, that when the
Rev. Joshua Spaulding was ordained in October of
this year, the salary amounted only to $416.66.*
Even this sum was not raised. Distressed by the
failure to secure the salary of the Pastor, some of
the Proprietors waited upon him, and fully apprized
him of their inability to fulfil their contract. With
great readiness he offered to receive whatever might
be collected for his support ; and pledged himself to
pass to the credit of the Society any excess beyond
the terms of settlement. His liberality had such a
grateful and animating influence upon the people,
that in a few years they canceled all arrearages.

To the new Pastor's noble spirit of enterprise and
pecuniary self-denial, the Proprietors of the house
were also indebted for an example, which stimulated
them to plaister the walls, and erect galleries and a
pulpit. And to the warm piety and liberal contri-
butions of the same excellent man, must be ascribed
the purchase and preparation of that venerable old
building, the first Vestry of the Tabernacle.

While the external aspect of the Society was as-

* See Appendix Q.


suming a more dignified character, under the ad-
ministration of Rev. Mr. Spaulding, the interests of
personal religion greatly revived and flourished.
Immediately after his settlement, the half-way cove-
nant,* which had come down from the days of Mr.
Fisk, was abolished ; the Church was organized with
suitable officers ; the present course of weekly meet-
ings was introduced ; and various other judicious
methods were devised, to secure regular discipline
and efficacious order, harmony, and love. A Code
of Articles, embodying the principles and rules of
Church Government, agreeable to the Cambridge
Platform, was prepared, and, after thorough exam-
ination, adopted by the Church. It still exists, a
simple and beautiful compend of ecclesiastical law,
adapted to all our circumstances.

The efforts of the Pastor and the Church to pu-
rify their body, were eminently successful. The
discipline of the Tabernacle Church became a terror
to evil-doers, and a praise to them who love to do
well. I cannot speak too strongly in admiration of
the energy and the Scriptural propriety, with which
the discipline of the Church was administered under
the guidance of Mr. Spaulding. A most excellent
preparation was made for a continuance of the same
system under the administration of his successors.
It may be said in truth of this Church, for several
years after his ordination, that it had rest, and walk-
ing in the fear of the Lord and the comfort of the
Holy Ghost, was multiplied. The Spirit descended
in large measure, and a rich harvest was gathered.

There were some peculiarities of person and man-

* See Appendix R.


ners in Mr. Spaulding, which rendered him less pop-
ular and influential than he would otherwise have
been. The vehemence and pungency with which
he preached the distinguishing doctrines of grace,
often inflamed the enmity of the carnal mind. But
his integrity as a man, a Christian, and a minister of
the Lord Jesus, no one had the hardihood or the
malice to defame. And those, who abhorred his
doctrines, were constrained to admit, that he had
been instrumental of much good, in reclaiming the
vicious from the error of their ways.

Unfortunately for the peace and happiness of the
people, the Pastor was drawn into the political con-
troversy, which commenced near the close of the
last century. He preached his political as well as
religious sentiments. He also contributed to the
public papers. Hence he exposed himself to the
lash of anonymous invective ; and of those in his
congregation who differed from him in politics, some
of the most intelligent and active withdrew from his

No alarming disaffection, however, occurred, until
about the year 1800, when the Pastor, by some un-
accountable reasoning or feeling, was led to assert a
right to negative the votes of the Church. It is the
more remarkable that this prerogative should be
claimed, because he well knew the merits of the
conflict between his Church and his immediate pre-
decessor. The claim was no sooner distinctly avow-
ed, than it was met with a resolute and energetic

It was not until 1802, that a Council was conven-
ed in order to settle the difficulties, which were


occasioned by this claim of Mr. Spaulding. Various
measures had been previously taken by the Church,
to induce him to renounce his favorite doctrine.
The spirit which he ever manifested, was in striking
contrast to that of Dr. Whitaker. He was doubtless
sincere in the belief, " that a power belongs to the
administrators over the seals and censures ol Jesus
Christ's kingdom, which might operate not only
against the majority, but every individual brother."
" The Church of Christ," he maintained, " is estab-
lished upon the simple family principle, and the au-
thority of the Elders is that of parents in a family."
The Council sustained the Church in the course
which they had pursued ; and, in terms of marked
Christian courtesy and affection, pronounced the
views of the Pastor upon the points in dispute, to
be inconsistent with the Articles of the Church and
the established usages of Congregationalism. Mr.
Spaulding asked and received a dismission.

A minority adhered to him. They were subse-
quently organized as the Branch, now Howard St.
Church. It was a very painful separation between
brethren, who had lived together in entire harmony,
until the period of disagreement upon the Pastor's
claim to negative the votes of the Church. Thus
in the short period of twenty-five years, a second
dismemberment gave existence to a new Church
and Society.

Most cordially do I rejoice to be able to say, that
the narrative of strife is over. We have now reach-
ed a period, which has no such scenes of conflict,
but abounds in the blessings and trophies of peace.


Of the successor of Mr. Spaulding, another might
speak with a freedom and force, which the delicacy
of an endeared filial relation will not allow to me.
Aware, however, that I am expected, so far as I
may be able, to do that justice to this portion of the
history of the Tabernacle, which you would have
required from any other person, who should have
been called to officiate on this occasion, I shall
endeavor, though a son, yet not as a son, to sketch
the leading incidents and characteristics of my fa-
ther's ministry.

It was on the 20th of April, 1803, that the Rev.
Samuel Worcester was installed as Pastor of this
Church. He had recently been dismissed, at his
own urgent request, from a pastoral charge at Fitch-
burg. His ministry there had been an admirable
school of discipline. He entered upon professional
life with habits of laborious and intense application,
and from the very first, his standard of pulpit per-
formance was of high order. His sermons at Fitch-
burg were written with great care, as to their mat-
ter, their method, and their style. The mould was
here cast, which was not broken, until the silver
cord was loosed and the spirit had gone to its home
in the heavens.

His preaching was so evangelical and impressive,
that its effect upon the Church at Fitchburg was
somewhat like the operation of " a new sharp
threshing instrument." The discipline which be-
came necessary in removing from the Church, such
members as brought great reproach upon the name
of Christ, created a stormy and malignant opposition
to the Pastor. Several councils were convened;


sometimes with and sometimes without the appro-
bation of the Church. A majority of the Church
were fast friends of the Pastor ; and some of them,
it may be added, looked to him as their father in
Christ, although they had made profession of faith
previous to his connexion with them.

A little volume of " Facts and Documents," con-
tains evidence, that the Pastor had studied the rights
of the churches and the principles of Congregation-
alism, with uncommon perspicacity and patience.
It was in the difficulties which he experienced in
the management of the discipline of the Church in
Fitchburg, that he laid the deep foundations of that
ecclesiastical wisdom, which so pre-eminently dis-
tinguished him in his subsequent career.

Well qualified as he was in native strength of
mind, in personal dignity and urbanity, in literary,
theological, and pastoral attainments, to enter upon
the work of the ministry in Salem, his answer to the
invitation from the Tabernacle speaks the sentiments
of great diffidence and apprehension. He was cor-
dially welcomed by the people of his new charge.
They had high expectations of enjoying a season of
spiritual edification and advancement, and these
were not disappointed.

It may be well to remark, that the influence of his
predecessor over the new Church and Society, was
very great ; and the difference of opinion and feel-
ing between the Tabernacle and Branch Churches,
was not inconsiderable in its practical influence.
The situation of the Pastor here was therefore criti-
cal. Great discretion was required on his part, in
order that the way might be prepared for that re-
conciliation which was afterwards so happily secured.


It is also true, that the strength of the Society had
been so weakened, that accessions to it were ex-
ceedingly desirable. Among the measures of the
Pastor for the benefit of his own people and of oth-
ers, was the establishment of a course of Sabbath
Evening Lectures. He expounded the Book of
Genesis, in a style so popular, as to bring together
very crowded audiences. In the words of our
venerable brother, to whom I have already referred,
" it was not uncommon for the aisles to be filled
with attentive listeners, standing till the Lecture was
closed." "These exercises," it is added, "were the
means of increasing the Society in numbers and re-
spectability, and of doing much good. The Holy
Spirit was poured upon the Society and others, and
the Church enjoyed a season of refreshing from the
presence of the Lord, and additions were daily made
to it."

The Pastor was also assiduous in parochial duties.
He gave himself with great ardor and delight to the
work of the Lord, — in season and out of season.
So much had he a mind to work, that he actually
committed to the flames a large portion of all the
memorials of five years pulpit labor at Fitchburg,
lest he should injure his mental habits by drawing
too frequently upon the results of former industry
and exertion. Such an example as this, I believe,
is without precedent.

From the time of his Installation until about the
year 1815, he devoted his best hours to the compo-
sition of sermons. Of their edifying and elevated
character I need not particularly speak. Suffice it
to say, that if he had any idol, which was the work


of mens' hands, it was the pulpit of the Tabernacle.
Here he loved to be.

His evening Course of Lectures upon Genesis,
was not the only important series of Sermons which
he prepared. He delivered a regular and elaborate
series upon the Gospel according to Matthew, and
upon the Acts of the Apostles. In the Church
meetings and in the Thursday evening conference,
he also gave systematic expositions of different parts
of the sacred volume. Other methods were em-
ployed occasionally or regularly, to persuade the
people of his charge to make the Bible the man of
their counsel and the guide of their lives. He wish-
ed them, as well as himsell, to be " nourished by
the words of faith and of good doctrine."

His instructions in every variety and upon every
occasion, were thoroughly biblical. And the doc-
trine, to which his thoughts most constantly and
feelingly referred, as the grand foundation of faith
and holiness, was the atonement. There are those
who hear me, who will remember with what melting
interest he ever listened, in the social circle and the
sanctuary, to the song and the music of " Redeem-
ing Love."

His labors for the edification of the Church and
conversion of sinners, were not without manifest
tokens of the divine favor. Seldom did many months
or weeks pass away, without bringing some of his
hearers to be taught more fully the way of salvation.
Those who visited him for this purpose, seldom if
ever forgot his affectionate fidelity. And repeatedly
did the Spirit come down, like rain upon the mown
grass, and showers that water the earth.


It was not long after such a season of refreshing,
that in 1805, he felt obliged to preach two Dis-
courses upon the " Perpetuity of the Abrahamic
Covenant." The publication of them drew him into
a controversy with the Rev. Dr. Baldwin, of Boston.
Here he displayed that ability as a reasoner and a
divine, which he had long been cultivating, and
which afterwards gained him a high distinction in
Ecclesiastical Councils, and in public efforts to vin-
dicate the faith once delivered to the saints, — as that
faith was interpreted by the fathers of New England
and the Reformers of the 16th century.

Though possessing rare qualifications for a con-
troversial writer, he had no love for such composi-
tion. Nothing but an imperative sense of duty could
have constrained him to take so conspicuous and
responsible a part in the first open struggle in this
country, between the defenders and opposers of the
doctrine of the Trinity. He was at this time in feeble
health, and his avocations were manifold and oppres-
sive. But he came forth as " a mighty man," and
made himself more than ever, " a man of renown."
He contended earnestly and triumphantly for the
doctrine of Jehovah, Father, Son, and Holy Ghost,
into the faith of which he was baptized. From far
and near, he received the most cheering testimonials
of approbation from the churches of " the Great God
and our Savior Jesus Christ."

He was often solicited to appear in Ecclesiastical
Councils ; and in the latter part of his life he seldom
failed of being present in such cases of special im-
portance as occurred within the limits of this Com-


His Occasional Sermons were quite frequent.
Many of them were published. Among the more
remarkable, was that delivered before the Massa-
chusetts Missionary Society in 1809, and that, at
the ordination of Missionaries at Newburyport, in

During the first twelve years of his ministry, his
public labors, although very great, did not materially
interfere with his pulpit preparations and his paro-
chial duties. The Church steadily advanced under
his guidance. Discipline was duly administered.
Several very important cases were determined, with
an exertion of mind like that of a profound Judge
upon the bench. Great effort was made for the in-
struction of all classes in the congregation, that each
might have a portion in due season. The young
were objects of peculiar attention and solicitude.
They revered the commanding presence of their
Pastor, and loved his affectionate words. Wherever
he went among his people, he found himself with
friends, who gave him a most cordial reception.
Those who saw him in the sick-chamber, and at the
fire-side of affliction, ever bore a grateful testimony
to his tenderness and his consolatory sympathies.

While pursuing his labors here, he was not undis-
turbed by applications for his entire services else-
where. Within one year after his settlement in
Salem, he was invited to the Professorship of Theo-
logy in Dartmouth College, with a distinct ultimate
reference to the presidency. A Council of brethren
decided against his acceptance of the office. It is
well known that he was afterwards repeatedly re-
quested to allow himself to be a candidate for the


highest station in our colleges. But he loved his
people, and had no desire to leave them. And dear
as was the missionary cause to his heart, he could
not readily consent to an entire dissolution of his
connexion with the Tabernacle. Hence when the
path of duty plainly led him into labors as Corres-
ponding Secretary of the American Board of Com-
missioners for Foreign Missions, which were more
than sufficient for his whole time, he was solicitous
to live and die as Pastor of this flock.

So it was. Borne down at last under an immense
weight of responsibilities, labors, and infirmities, he
fell asleep, far away from them and from his family,
on the morning of June 7, 1821.* The affliction
which his decease brought upon the Junior Pastor
and upon the whole Church and Society, I shall
not attempt to describe. Still less shall I attempt
to describe the effect, as the mournful intelligence
went out through the land, and to the ends of the
earth. Filial affection prefers to unbosom itself in
the solitude of retirement, rather than utter the faint-
est notes of public eulogy.

It was with extreme reluctance, that this Church
and Society consented to an arrangement with the
Board of Missions, by which their Pastor was allow-
ed to spend three fourths of his time in the duties
of Corresponding Secretary. It was evident, how-
ever, that unless such an arrangement could be
made, the Pastor would be obliged to ask for a dis-

The Rev. Elias Cornelius was inducted into the
office of Associate Pastor, in July, 1819. This much

* See Appendix S.


lamented servant of the Lord Jesus, entered upon
his work with a burning zeal in his Master's cause.
And now while I speak, how does his manly form
and his noble countenance, appear before the mind
of every one that knew him ! Wherever he was, it
was impossible to refrain from admiring the finished
courtesy of his manners and the hallowed purity of
his discourse.

In the first year of his ministry he recommended
to the Church the observance of a day of fasting,
humiliation, and prayer, for a revival of religion.
Such was the solemn impression of this season, that
it was made by vote of the Church the commence-
ment of the present series of Quarterly Fasts.

It was during this year also, that it became neces-
sary to erect a new Vestry. The former building,
as I have already mentioned, was procured at the
instance of Mr. Spaulding. It was the first of its
kind ever known in this place. Here from 1790 to
1820, the private religious meetings of the Church
and Society were held. " It was," to use the words

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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 2 of 6)