Early Baptists of Philadelphia, 1877
by David Spencer
THE SEVENTH-DAY BAPTISTS.—AN EMIGRANT CHURCH.—LAYING ON OF HANDS AND SINGING.—DEATH OF REV. JOHN WATTS.—FIRST BAPTIST CHURCH AND THE KEITHIANS.—A CONSTANT SUPPLY OF MINISTERS.—THE PHILADELPHIA BAPTIST ASSOCIATION.—MORE MINISTERS.
IN a previous article reference was made to the Seventh-Day Baptists. Morgan Edwards says,
“They originated from the Keithian Baptists in 1700. Before that time, I can find but one Seventh-Day Baptist in Pennsylvania, viz., Mr. Abel Noble. He arrived, it is said, in 1684. His name is among the forty-eight who signed the reasons for the Keithian separation in 1691. By him was the first Keithian baptized in 1697, and by him were the rest gained over to the observance of the seventh day. I suppose, therefore, he may be called the father of them in this part of America.”
In the above, Mr. Edwards speaks of this sect, simply in these parts. It had existed in New England anterior to this time.
In 1701 the Pennypack Keithians, under the leadership of William Davis, having divided on the Sabbath question, “built a place of worship in Oxford Township.” Their preacher subsequently left them and joined the Seventh-Day Baptists, their meeting-house was taken from them, and they were as sheep without a shepherd. Those who adhered to the first day Sabbath joined the Pennypack Baptist Church.
A society of Seventh-Day Baptists originated in the neighborhood, in 1701, by means of the efforts of Abel Noble.
“In the year 1702,” says Morgan Edwards, “they built a meeting-house on a lot given them by Thomas Graves; but, having neglected to take a conveyance in due time, the Episcopalians have got both the lot and the house. On the lot they have built Oxford Church, and turned the Baptist meeting-house into a stable, while it stood, but now it is no more.”
Notwithstanding the above statement, of the gift of the Oxford Church property, the ownership of it by the Episcopalians is legitimate, and cannot be disputed.
In 1701, an entire church, consisting of sixteen members, constituted in Pembrokeshire, South Wales, arrived in this country. Rev. Thomas Griffith came with them as their minister. They landed in Philadelphia September 8th. The brethren here treated them courteously, and advised them to settle in the vicinity of Pennypack, which they did, and continued there for two years.
During that time they kept together as a distinct church, held meetings at each other’s residences, and observed the ordinances of Christ. In the two years, twenty-one persons were added to their number. The ceremony of laying on of hands upon newly baptized converts prevailed among the Welsh churches at this period, and was observed by this emigrant church, but the Pennypack brethren disagreed, and for the sake of peace, the newly-settled body from Wales removed to Delaware, purchased a tract of land, and named the place “Welsh Tract.” The church assumed the name, and to this day is known as “The Welsh Tract Baptist Church.” Organized in Wales, and emigrating to this country as a church; it was called, for a long time, “The Emigrant Church.”
Concerning the rite of laying on of hands, the Lower Dublin Church practiced it at the first, but, says Hon. H. G. Jones,
“It afterwards grew indifferent on the subject. It was, however, continued in many churches, and at first the practice was insisted on as a term of Communion. Gradually, and after a free conference, the churches of Pennsylvania and Delaware agreed that the practice or disuse of the ordinance should not be a bar to Communion.”
In speaking of the Welsh Tract Church, Morgan Edwards says:—
It was the principal, if not sole, means of introducing singing, imposition of hands, church covenants, etc., among the Baptists in the Middle States. Singing psalms met with opposition, especially at Cohansey, but laying on of hands on baptized believers as such, gained acceptance with more : difficulty, as appears from the following history translated from the Welsh Tract book, viz., “But we could not be in fellowship (at the Lord’s table) with our brethren in Pennypack and Philadelphia, because they did not hold to the laying on of hands, and some other particulars relating to a church; true, some of them believed in the ordinance, but neither preached it nor practiced it; and when we moved to Welsh Tract, and left twenty-two of our members at Pennypack, and took some of their members down with us, the difficulty increased. We had many meetings to compromise matters, but to no purpose, till June 22d, 1706; then the following deputies (naming twenty-five persons) met at the house of Bro. Richard Miles, in Radnor, Delaware County, Pa., and agreed
1. That a member of either church might transiently Commune with the other.
2. That a member who desired to come under the laying on of hands might have his liberty without offence.
3. That the votaries of the rite might preach or debate upon the subject with all freedom, consistent with charity and brotherly love.
But three years after this meeting we had reason to review the transaction, because of some brethren who arrived from Wales, and one among ourselves, who questioned whether the first article was warrantable; but we are satisfied that all was right, by the good effects which followed: for from that time forth our brethren held sweet communion together at the Lord’s table, and our minister, Rev. Thomas Griffiths, was invited to preach and assist at an ordination at Pennypack, after the death of our Bro. Watts. He proceeded from thence to the jerseys, where he enlightened many in the good ways of the Lord, insomuch that, in three years after, all the ministers and about twenty- five private members had submitted to the ordinance.”
The above, from the Welsh Tract records, was translated by Morgan Edwards, and can be relied on. It affords proof that the practice of laying on of hands was nearly if not quite universal in all this section of the country.
On the 27th of August, 1702, Rev. John Watts, pastor of the Pennypack Church, died. He was buried in the graveyard adjoining the meeting-house. On his tombstone is the following acrostical inscription:—
Interred here I be,
Oh, that you could now see,
How unto Jesus for to flee,
Not in sin still to be.
Warning in time pray take,
And peace by Jesus make,
Then at the last when you awake,
Sure on his right hand you’ll partake.
Mr. Watts was the first Baptist minister interred in Philadelphia. The sixteen years of his life spent here had been fraught with blessed results, in laying broad and deep in Bible truth, the foundations on which our denominational superstructure has since been rising with such magnificent proportions, to the glory of God and the praise of his grace.
The year of this pioneer’s death was signalized by the disbanding of the church at Cold Spring, after an existence of eighteen years as the First Baptist Church in Pennsylvania. The members mostly united with the Pennypack organization, into the fellowship of which were baptized, during this year, thirteen persons, the largest number thus received, with one exception, during the first forty-four years of the church’s history. For many years after the disbanding of the organization, there were members of Pennypack living at Cold Spring.
Ever since the act of clear-headed and simple justice, on the part of John Holme, Esq., relative to the dispute between the Keithian and Penn Quakers, there had been a friendly feeling among the former towards the Baptists, so that when the Baptists were unrighteously expelled from their original place of worship, and refused to go to law with their Christian brethren of another denomination to be reinstated in said house, the Keithians kindly offered them the use of their edifice. This was in 1707, when the Keithian “Society in a manner broke up,” and together with the invited regular Baptists they became incorporated as one body.
The Keithian meeting-house, erected in 1692, was a small wooden building. It passed into the hands of the Baptists, and for nearly a quarter of a century was occupied by them. It stood on the identical spot in Lagrange Place, where for so many years the First Baptist Church maintained their edifice.
The meetings for conference sustained by the Lower Dublin Church developed the talents of their young men, and kept up a constant supply of preachers for their pulpit. These young men, too, were under the constant supervision and encouragement of the pastor, and acted as his assistants.
Upon the death of John Watts, the church called two of its members to ordination and the joint care of the congregation—Evan Morgan and Samuel Jones. The former was called to the ministry in 1702 and the latter in 1697. They were both ordained, October 23, 1706, by Rev. Thomas Killingsworth, of Cohansey, and Rev. Thomas Griffiths, of Welsh Tract. Rev. Evan Morgan’s life in the active ministry was very short. He was born in Wales, and came to this country when young. He was originally a Quaker, but went off with the Keithians. He was baptized in 1697, by Thomas Rutter, at Southampton, in Bucks county, but the same year he renounced his connection with the Quakers and became a member at Lower Dublin. He was a man of marked piety, prudence and intelligence. Rev. Samuel Jones was born in Radnorshire, Wales, July 6, 1657, and was baptized there, in 1683, by Rev. Henry Gregory. He was a constituent member of the Lower Dublin Church, and gave the lot on which the meeting-house stands. The original house, built of stone, twenty-five feet square, was erected in 1707. The deed for the lot is dated Jan. 14, 1710.
The reader will make a distinction between the above Samuel Jones and the Rev. Dr. Samuel Jones, hereafter to be mentioned. Both have the same name, but it is the latter who became so celebrated in our denomination’s work in this country.
The year 1707, made memorable by the erection, for the first time in Philadelphia, of a Baptist meeting-house, and, by the occupancy of another, which the First Church could call their own, was still further marked by the organization of the Philadelphia Baptist Association—the first, and, for over fifty years, the only Baptist Association in the country. This was on Saturday, July 27, 1707. As the Baptists commenced to worship in the Keithian meeting-house, March 15, 1707, it was in that unpretending frame structure this Association was organized. In the constituency of this Association it may be observed, the name of the Philadelphia Church does not appear. The reason was, that said body was regarded as a branch of the one at Lower Dublin, and the pastors of that church, for nearly fifty years, supplied the pulpit in Philadelphia. It is, nevertheless, a fact that in the meeting-house of the First Baptist Church, of this city, the Philadelphia Baptist Association started on its honored and successful career.
In his Century sermon,f5 Dr. Samuel Jones says:—
This association originated in what they called general, and sometimes yearly meetings. These meetings were instituted so early as 1688, and met alternately in May and September, at Lower Dublin, Philadelphia, Salem, Cohansie, Chester and Burlington; at which places there were members though no church or churches constituted, except Lower Dublin and Cohansie. At these meetings their labor was chiefly confined to the ministry of the word, and the administration of Gospel ordinances. But in the year 1707 they seem to have taken more properly the form of an Association; for then they had delegates from several churches, and attended to their general concerns. We, therefore, date our beginning as an association from that time; though we might, with but little impropriety, extend it back some years. They were at this time but a feeble band, though a band of faithful brothers, consisting of but five churches. The church at Lower Dublin, Piscataqua, Middletown, Cohansie and Welsh Tract.
In the Century Minutes of the Association is the following account of the first meeting in 1707:—
There is no track or footsteps of any regular association, agreement, or confederation, between the first churches in these colonies of Pennsylvania and the jerseys, that I can find, before the year 1707, when we have, in the records of the Church of Pennepeck, this account, viz.: Before our general meeting held at Philadelphia, in the seventh month, 1707, it was concluded by the several congregations of our judgment, to make choice of some particular brethren, such as they thought most capable in every congregation, and those to meet at the yearly meeting to consult about such things as were wanting in the churches, and to set them in order; and these brethren meeting at the said yearly meeting, which began the 27th of the seventh month, on the seventh day of the week, agreed to continue the meeting till the third day following in the work of the public ministry. It was then agreed that a person that is a stranger, that has neither a letter of recommendation, nor is known to be a person gifted, and of a good conversation, shall not be admitted to preach, nor be entertained as a member in any of the baptized congregations in communion with each other.
It was also concluded that if any difference shall happen between any member and the church he belongs unto, and they cannot agree, then the person grieved may, at the general meeting, appeal to the brethren of the several congregations, and with such as they shall nominate, to decide the difference; that the church and the person so grieved do fully acquiesce in their determination. It was also agreed That no man shall be allowed to preach among the Associated Churches, except he produce credentials of his being in communion with his church, and of his having been called and licensed to preach.
The object of this arrangement is thus stated by Morgan Edwards:—
Before this, vain and insufficient men who had set themselves up to be preachers, would stroll about the country under the name of Baptist Ministers; also, ministers degraded and ex-communicated, who, with their immorality too, brought disgrace on the very name of Baptist; which evil the above agreement of the Association, if attended to, would in a great measure remedy. Christ is the door to the ministry, and his church is the porter, for to it hath been given the keys; and whoever comes in at the door, to him the porter openeth, John 10:3; he that climbeth into the pulpit any other way, climbeth thither by an extraordinary call and mission, and must give an extraordinary proof thereof, as the Apostles did, or subject himself to a suspicion of intrusion and imposture. And it has been found, that they who pretend to extraordinary call and missions are such as could obtain no ordinary ones, because either their characters or gifts would not justify any church that should put them into the ministry. In truth they are self-made preachers; and it has been said that a “self-made preacher, a quack doctor, and a pettifogging lawyer, are three animals that the world would do better without than with.”
Relative to the motive and object prompting to the organization of this Association, Hon. Horatio Gates Jones says:—
As the churches increased in number, and also in membership, various questions arose, both as to matters of faith and discipline. It was, of course, desirable for all the churches to have the same rules and to act in unity; and yet each Baptist church being independent of all others, it was apparent to the pastors and brethren that some general meeting was necessary where such questions could be freely and amicably discussed, and where counsel and advice could be given. Hence, it was proposed to associate, once a year, for this purpose, by representatives from the several churches. This annual meeting was, therefore, designated by the name of an “Association;” but it had no power or authority to bind the churches composing it, and from the very first was regarded as an Advisory Council—and such is the character of all Baptist Associations in America, as well as in all other parts of the world.
The vast field occupied by the church at Lower Dublin required an additional minister; so, on September 25th, 1708, Joseph Wood, a member of the church, was set apart by public ordination. He was born near Hull, in Yorkshire, England, in 1659, and came to America about 1684. He was baptized by Elias Keach, at Burlington, N. J., June 24th, 1691. He aided Revs. Evan Morgan and Samuel Jones, as co-pastor in their ministerial work. The following year two ministers, who had been prominently identified with our churches in this city, died—Rev. Thomas Killingsworth, of Cohansey, N. J., and Rev. Evan Morgan, of Pennypack. The latter passed away February 16th, 1709, and was buried near the church. Their loss was severely felt, but the Master raised up others to take their place. In 1810, three young men arrived from Wales—Jenkin Jones, Benjamin Griffith and David Davis, all of whom became ministers, and rendered successful service in the cause of God and truth, the effect of which is still felt in our Baptist Zion.
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