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Early Baptists of Philadelphia, 1877

by David Spencer

CHAPTER 14.—1783-1790.

IN the Minutes of the Philadelphia Association for 1783, we have the first recorded departure, in this vicinity from the ancient custom of laying on of hands on baptized believers.

In answer to the query from Newton Church: Whether laying on of hands be an ordinance of the Gospel to be administered to all baptized persons, or only in particular cases, we observe, that imposition of hands on baptized persons has been the general practice of the churches in union with this Association, and is still used by most of them; but it was never considered by the Association as a bar of communion.

Resolved, That any person scrupling to submit thereto, may be admitted to the fellowship of the church without it.

In view of events which have since occurred in other localties, the following procedure of the Association in 1784, may be of interest.

“In answer to a query from one of our churches: What measure ought to be taken with a sister church who holds and actually admits unbaptized persons to the Lord’s supper? We observe, that such a church may and ought in the first instance, to be written to by a sister church, exhorting them to desist from such a practice, and to keep the ordinances as they were delivered to them in the word of God.”

In 1784, Montgomery County was formed out of a part of Philadelphia, so that the history of the church of that name no longer legitimately belongs to this work.

The interest which President Manning, of Brown University, ever manifested in Philadelphia Baptists, and the respect they entertained for him is worthy of note. He was frequently here, and at the Philadelphia Association. During the five years, 1785-90, preceding his death, he attended every session. Three times he preached at the annual meetings of this body, twice he was elected Moderator, and once was its Clerk. In addition to these honors, the University of Pennsylvania at its annual commencement in 1785, conferred upon him the degree of Doctor of Divinity. He was the first, and for three years after, the only Baptist Minister in America who received this degree. The title is now more common, but never was it more worthily conferred than in this case.

In 1785, the church in Philadelphia numbered one hundred and eleven members. Some of these lived at considerable distances from the meeting-house, in the surrounding villages. The situation of these led this church to propound to the Association the following query: “Whether any of our ministering brethren can, consistently with New Testament order and our adopted discipline, administer the Lord’s Supper, among any of our brethren and sisters, however numerous they may be in any one place, during the period of their remaining unorganized, or unconstituted as a distinct regular church by themselves?” This was answered, the next year, as follows:—

First, that the Lord’s Supper ought not to be administered to persons who are not members of any church, though baptized. Second, that this ordinance should not be administered to members of churches in a scattered situation, without the consent of one of those churches; but permission being first obtained, they may proceed.

Soon after the conclusion of the war with Great Britain, the Pennypack Church took steps towards becoming a chartered body, and, on March 9th, 1786, they approved a bill of incorporation, and were regularly incorporated March 28th, 1787. Under this act the pastor of the church was always a Trustee and the President of the Board, by virtue of his office. This relationship did not work well, and was therefore repealed April 12th, 1845. The corporate title now reads, “Trustees of the Baptist Church and Congregation in Lower Dublin township, in the county of Philadelphia.”

The spirit of loyal adhesion to the interests of the colonies was unwaveringly maintained by the Baptist Churches of this vicinity. They were ever found on the side of Civil and Religious Liberty, and in defence of these inalienable rights, were ever ready to take a decided stand. Individuals might rebel against this position, but, without faltering, the churches even made the matter a subject for disciplinary action. Thus in the church at Lower Dublin, on the 15th of March, 1787, John Holmes reported that Joseph Inglish said he had not freedom to commune with a church that held with even defensive war, and asked the question whether he ought to be excluded? It was agreed to refer the matter to the Association, which was done at the next session in the following general yet practical query “Whether a person declining communion with the church, be it for what cause it may, ought to be excluded, while his moral and religious character in other respects is unexceptionable!” This was answered in the affirmative. The annual meeting of the Association to which this last query was presented was held in New York, and in view of modern facilities for travel between this and that city, the following resolution on the Minutes of the Church in Philadelphia, relative to that meeting, is not without interest. “Agreed that William Rogers be our Messenger to the Association, and that he set off in the land stage on Monday morning next.”

This church, though existing as a branch and an independent body for ninety years, and having received several legacies, yet remained unincorporated. May 12th, 1788, it was determined to consider at the next business meeting, “the good or bad effects of being incorporated,” but, on July 7th, it was decided not to get an act of incorporation. The Philadelphia Baptist Association was among the first religious bodies in America which took a decided stand on the temperance question. The following action was taken in 1788:—

The Association, taking into consideration the ruinous effects of the great abuse of distilled liquors throughout this country, take this opportunity of expressing our hearty concurrence with our brethren of several other religious denominations, in discountenancing in future, and earnestly entreat our brethren and friends to use all their influence to. that end, both in their own families and neighborhood, except when used as a medicine.

Shortly after the passage of the above, the church on Second Street “concurred with the Association in discouraging all abuse of distilled and other liquors, and every kind of excess in eating and drinking, and do desire the brethren to consider the importance and benefit of moderation in the use of all creature enjoyments, remembering the advice of the Apostle to Timothy, and to the churches on this subject.” At the same session of the Association a movement was inaugurated towards the preparation of a Baptist Hymn Book. The Minutes state:—

Our brethren Samuel Jones, David Jones, and Burgiss Allison, are appointed a committee to prepare a collection of Psalms and Hymns for the use of the Associated churches, and the churches of this and of our sister Associations are requested to conclude how many of said collection they will take, sending information to Brother Ustick, with all convenient despatch.

This book was published and went through several editions. It contained nearly four hundred hymns, and was in general use among the churches. We may here remark, relative to Samuel Jones, chairman of the above committee, and pastor of the church at Pennypack, that, at the annual commencement of the University of Pennsylvania, held the same year, 1788, the degree of Doctor of Divinity was conferred upon him.

Owing to the fearful persecutions to which Baptists had been exposed in the old world, they had become accustomed to meet as quietly as possible, so their meeting place should not be detected. Hence they came to avoid singing altogether as a part of their worship. In coming to this country, therefore, many continued to adhere to this avoidance of singing. With the progress of years a change was gradually introduced, and in the multiplicity of tunes in the latter part of the nineteenth century, it is interesting to know what “Psalm tunes” the church in Philadelphia authorized “to be sung in public worship,” March 2nd, 1789. There were thirty-one in all, and are as follows:—

Common Metre. Isle of Wight, Brunswick, Coleshill, Mear, Bangor, Rochester or St. Michael, St. Humphrey, St. Martin’s, Ninety-eighth, Fifth, Thirty-fourth, Suffield, Virginia.

Long Metre. One hundred-thirty-sixth, Old Hundred, Wells, New-hundred, Green’s-hundred, Brookfield, Wellington, Morning Hymn, Angel Hymn, Bath, Savannah.

Short Metre. Little Marlboro, New Eagle Street, St. Thomas, Worksworth or Ailsborough, Orange.

Peculiar Metre. Lennox, Amherst.

The same month that the church decided to use the above tunes, Rev. William Rogers, their former highly esteemed pastor, was appointed Professor of English and Oratory, in the College and Academy of Philadelphia. By this institution, in July, 1790, he was honored with the degree of Doctor of Divinity. He continued to fill the position to which he was elected, with marked ability for twenty-three years; during which time he frequently preached the gospel in different places, and took a prominent part in the proceedings of the denomination, as well as of the church he had served in the ministry. The furniture, as well as the meeting-house, of this church, was exceedingly plain, and a record like the following, in the minutes of October 5th, 1789, would seem very strange in its application now:—

Brother McLeod presents the church with a settee to be placed under the pulpit, and Brother Ustick is requested to return the church’s thanks to Brother McLeod for so handsome an accommodation.

Some of the earliest settlers and largest landholders in the township of Roxborough and county of Philadelphia were Baptists, and the first attempt to maintain religious worship in the neighborhood was by them. Their numbers so increased and the distance at which they resided from the church on Second street was so great that measures were taken, in the summer of 1789, towards constituting a separate church; accordingly, in the minutes of the parent body, for August 3d, we find the following:—

A request from our brethren and sisters at Roxborough for a dismission, in order that they may be constituted a church, being delivered to this church the 12th of July last, and the church agreed that they be dismissed. Bro. Ustick was requested to prepare the letter.

On Sunday, August 23, 1789, in a log school house, situated on the Ridge, below Monastery avenue, thirty-two persons were constituted as “the church of Jesus Christ, on the Ridge Road, Roxborough township.” Rev. Samuel Jones, D. D., of Lower Dublin, Rev. Thomas Ustick, of Philadelphia, Rev. Thomas Ainger, of Wilmington, Rev. James McLaughlin of Hilltown, were present and participated in the public services. The names of the constituent members, all of whom had been connected with the First Church, were as follows:—


Abraham Levering, Anna Levering, John Levering, Hannah Levering, Anthony Levering, Mary Levering, Nathan Levering, Sarah Levering, Samuel Levering, Rebecca Levering, Sarah Levering, Catherine Standland, John Righter, Cornelius Holgate, Mary Holgate, Hannah Coulston, Sarah Mathias, John Howell, Elizabeth Howell, George Sinn, Margaret Sinn, Doritha Sinn, William Holgate, Mary Holgate, Wigard Jacoby, Michael Conrad, Jane Conrad, Charles Nice, Elizabeth Yerkes, Sarah Gorgas, Sarah Lobb, Mary Stout.

The month following, September 27th, the first baptism after. the organization of the church occurred, when Rev. Thomas Ainger immersed five persons in the Schuylkill river. Mr. Ainger was the first person baptized by immersion in Wilmington, Del., and during the first year of the existence of the Roxborough Church he was the stated supply of its pulpit. At the ensuing session of the Philadelphia Association this church was received and has remained connected with said body ever since. At that session the following resolution, in view of more recent events, is of importance:—

Agreeably to a recommendation in the letter from the church at Baltimore, this Association declare their high approbation of the several societies formed in the United States and Europe, for the gradual abolition of the slavery of the Africans, and for guarding against their being detained or sent off as slaves, after having obtained liberty; and do hereby recommend to the churches we represent to form similar societies, to become members thereof, and exert themselves to obtain this important object.

Shortly after its constitution, the Roxborough Church prepared for a meeting-house. A suitable lot was given by Nathan Levering, on which an edifice, thirty by forty feet, costing nearly £600, was erected. It was dedicated free of debt, October 24, 1790.

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