Early Baptists of Philadelphia, 1877
by David Spencer
DEATH OR SAMUEL JONES AND ABEL MORGAN.—AN EDUCATED MINISTRY.—THOMAS HOLLIS.—HARVARD COLLEGE.—ORDER IN CHURCH SERVICES.—CAREFUL RECEPTION OF MINISTERS FROM ABROAD.—THE FOURTH COMMANDMENT.—MARRYING AN UNBELIEVER.—FORFEIT OF OFFICE AND MEMBERSHIP IN THE CHURCH.—LETTERS OF CHURCHES TO THE ASSOCIATION.—CLOSED DOORS.—TUNKER CHURCH ORGANIZED.—GEO. EAGLESFIELD.—BENJAMIN GRIFFITH ORDAINED.—RECEPTION OF MEMBERS FROM GREAT BRITAIN.—REV. JENKIN JONES AT PENNYPACK.—WILLIAM KINNERSLEY.—JOSEPH EATON ORDAINED.—CHURCH LETTERS NOT GRANTED.—LAYING ON OF HANDS IN ORDINATION.—FRATERNAL CORRESPONDENCE WITH LONDON.—THE FIRST CIRCULAR LETTER.
IN the year 1722 two of the pastors of the Pennypack Church died, Samuel Jones, on the 3d of February, and Abel Morgan, on the 16th of December. The first was interred at Pennypack and the latter in the graveyard adjoining the church in Philadelphia. In addition to the lot which Mr. Jones gave to the church, he also bequeathed to it for the use of the pastor several valuable books. Abel Morgan was a man of large influence, good judgment, and very firm in his adhesion to, and declaration of the doctrines of the Bible. He prepared a Concordance of the Holy Scriptures in the Welsh language, but did not live to see it published. It was, however, issued in 1730, with an Introduction by his brother, Enoch Morgan. He also prepared a Confession of Faith in Welsh, which was printed. In the fiftieth year of his age, after having faithfully preached Jesus for thirty years, the Lord called him home. His death was probably sudden, as in that year, at the meeting of the Association “it was proposed for the churches to make inquiry among themselves, if they have any young persons hopeful for the ministry and inclinable for learning; and if they have, to give notice of it to MR. ABEL. MORGAN before the 1st of November, that he may recommend such to the Academy on Mr. Hollis, his account.”
We know not but this is the first record among American Baptists looking to an educated Ministry. Mr. Thomas Hollis, here referred to, was a Baptist in London, England. He was a most liberal benefactor of Harvard College, in Cambridge, near Boston. In that institution he founded two professorships, one of Divinity and the other of Mathematics. He also presented a valuable apparatus for mathematical and philosophical experiments, and at different times augmented the library with many valuable books. In 1727, the net production of his donation, exclusive of gifts not vendible, amounted to four thousand nine hundred pounds, the interest of which he directed to be appropriated to the support of the two professors, to the Treasurer of the College, and to ten poor students in divinity of suitable qualifications. It might be an interesting question for American Baptists to ask the Corporation of Harvard College what has become of this money.
At the time of the death of Samuel Jones and Abel Morgan, both of whom participated in the services connected with the constitution of the Montgomery Church, that body had so increased in number and in gifts that they called John James, David Evans, Benjamin Griffith and Joseph Eaton to exercise their talents with a view to the ministry. All of these were born in Wales.
The churches of that day were very desirous that the services of the Lord’s house should be conducted with proper decorum, and very careful respecting the admission to their churches and their pulpits of men from abroad. This was illustrated at the Association convened Sept. 23, 1723, by an agreement then made, and by a query from the church at Brandywine, as to how “they might improve their vacant days of worship, when they have no minister among them to carry on the public work?”
Solution.—We conceive it expedient that the church do meet together as often as conveniency will admit; and when they have none to carry on the work of preaching, that they read a chapter, sing a psalm, and go to prayer and beg of God to increase their grace and comfort, and have due regard to order and decency in the exercise of those gifted at all times, and not to suffer any to exercise their gifts in a mixed multitude until tried and approved of first by the church.
Agreed that the proposal drawn by the several ministers, and signed by many others, in reference to the examination of all gifted brethren and ministers that come in here from other places, be duly put in practice, we having found the evil of neglecting a true and previous scrutiny in those affairs.
At the next meeting of this body, in 1724, it was queried “concerning the fourth commandment, whether changed, altered or diminished?” The Association answered by referring to the article on the Sabbath, in the Confession of Faith as set forth by the messengers met in London, in 1679. That article is very plain and decided relative to the strict observance of the Lord’s day in the worship of God. It was further asked at the same meeting, “Whether a believer may marry an unbeliever, without coming under church censure for it?” and was answered in the negative. A query was also presented, “Whether an officer in the church who forfeits his office, forfeits his membership?” Answered in the negative. But if he forfeits his membership, he forfeits his office. Whether he, if restored to his membership, must also be restored to office, is another case not here considered.
The propriety of this answer is apparent. If a minister or a deacon be excluded from a church, the exclusion necessarily carries with it deposition from the ministry and from the deaconship. There can be no recognized official standing in the ministry, when there is none in the church. It was further “concluded and agreed,” in connection with the above query and answer, “That a church ought to be unanimous in giving their voice in choosing and setting up, or deposing one set up, to act in any church office, or to act as an officer in the church. Any act of that nature, commenced without common consent, is void, and hath no power in it.”
At this session of the Association we have the first reference to letters from the churches, and the authority for the character of their contents, and, perhaps, for the length they have since attained in some quarters. It was then
Concluded that the letters from the churches to the Association, hereafter, may contain salutations, contemplations, congratulations, etc., in one page, and the complaints, queries or grievances, etc., be written apart; for it is agreed that the former shall be read publicly the first day of the Association’s meeting, and the latter, the church’s doubts, fears or disorders, etc., be opened and read to the Association only.
It is evident from the last part of the above that the Philadelphia Baptist Association transacted some of their business, in those days, with closed doors.
By Dec. 25, 1723, the Tunkers had so increased in Germantown that on that day they organized themselves into a church, which is still extant and vigorous.
As already stated, the church in Philadelphia had no settled minister among them; being regarded as a branch of Pennypack, the pastors of the latter supplied them with preaching. “They did, indeed,” says Mr. Edwards, “in 1723, choose George Eaglesfield to preach to them, contrary to the sense of the church at Pennypack; but in 1725 he left them and went to Middletown,” and preached to the church there until his death.
Benjamin Griffith was ordained to the gospel ministry, Oct. 23, 1725, and became the first pastor of the church at Montgomery, of which, for several years, he had been an exemplary and earnest member. Revs. Elisha Thomas and Jenkin Jones assisted in the services of ordination. In view of a recent claim in Wales, that the above is an ancestor of the Rev. Benjamin Griffith, D. D., at present the honored and successful Secretary of the American Baptist Publication Society, we deem it proper to state that the claim is without foundation.
This church was soon called to receive members who had been dismissed under peculiar circumstances, as the following query from them to the Association, in 1726, intimates:—
In case there might be a division, and on the division a rent and separation follow in any church in Great Britain, and each party combining together in church form, each being sound in the faith, and during the separation both parties recommend members unto us here, as in full communion with them, how may the churches here proceed in such a case?
Answer.—We do advise that the churches here may take no further notice of the letters by such persons brought here, than to satisfy themselves that such are baptized persons, and of a regular conversation, and to take such into church covenant as if they had not been members of any church before.
We come now to the settlement of Rev. Jenkin Jones in the pastorate of the Pennypack Church, which occurred June 17, 1726. He was born in Wales in 1696, and came to this country in 1710. He does not seem to have been a member of a church when he left Wales. He was called to the ministry in Welsh Tract in 1724, and removed to Philadelphia in 172.
William Kinnersley was an assistant to Mr. Jones, at Pennypack, in connection with Rev. Joseph Wood, already mentioned. Mr. Kinnersley was born in Leominster, England, in 1669. He came to America Sept. 12, 1714, and was never ordained. Oct. 24, 1727, Joseph Eaton was ordained to the gospel ministry at Montgomery, and became the assistant to the pastor, Benjamin Griffith, who, with Rev. Elisha Thomas, participated in the ordination services.
This church presented a practical query to the Association, in 1728, “Whether a church is bound to grant a letter of dismission to any member to go to another church, while his residence is not removed?” Answered in the negative, “we having neither precept nor precedent for such a practice in Scripture.”
How the subject of laying on of hands was regarded at this time may be learned from a query presented by the branch church at Philadelphia, to the Association, in 1729, “Suppose a gifted brother, who is esteemed an orderly minister by or among those that are against the laying on of hands in any respect, should happen to come amongst our church, whether we may allow such an one to administer the ordinance of baptism and the Lord’s Supper, or no?” Answered in the negative; “because it is contrary to the rule of God’s word; see Acts 13:2, 3, and 14:23, compared with Titus 1:5, and 1 Timothy 4:14, from which prescribed rules we dare not swerve.” This year arrangements were made for opening up a fraternal correspondence between the Association and prominent Baptists in London.
It was customary on the part of the Association to send back to the churches a short circular letter containing a general statement of the meeting that had been held, and urging to faithfulness to Christ, to the church, and in developing any special matter of great importance. The first of these we have given us was in 1729. It is as follows:—
The elders and messengers of the baptized congregations in Pennsylvania and the jerseys, met at Philadelphia, Sept. 27th and 28th, 1729, in a solemn Association, sendeth greeting:
Dearly beloved brethren in the Lord Jesus Christ: We heartily rejoice to see your care, diligence, requests and desires, on our own behalf, at the throne of grace; and also your care and diligence in maintaining our yearly correspondence and communion in the gospel. We, your representatives, met together in love, perused your letters and gladly received your messengers. We find cause to rejoice that God has crowned the labors of his ministers with such success. There have been considerable additions the past year, in several churches, and some in most. Praise be rendered to our gracious God, we find the churches generally to be at peace and unity among themselves. We think it expedient to give you an account of our proceedings. We conferred together, without any jars or contentions in our debates; our souls have been refreshed, hearing of the welfare of the churches in general; also in hearing the sweet and comfortable truths of the gospel declared among us by the faithful labors of our ministering brethren, which we hope is to the glory of God and the good of souls. We earnestly desire you to walk worthy of your holy vocation, standing fast and striving together for the faith of the gospel. It is the general complaint of many that there is much lukewarmness and deadness in matters of religion, which we hope is not a mere compliment, but rather the grief of the churches. In order to remedy this soul distemper, our advice and desire is that you be diligent to keep your places in’ the house of God; be frequent and instant in prayer, both in secret and in public; strive after the life and power of religion; make religion your earnest business; keep your garments undefiled from the world; walk as becomes saints before God and men; improve your opportunities in all religious duties, both among your families and in the church. Stand fast for the defending and maintaining of the ordinances of Christ. wait on God in them, that you may reap the benefits of Christ by them. Strive to keep together, maintaining the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace; always resisting the assaults of Satan, who waiteth opportunities to disturb the peace of God’s children. Be careful that you do nothing that may tend to breed disturbances in the church of God.
From this excellent epistle, the first of the kind extant in this country, has sprung the various styles of circular letters now furnished in our different Associational meetings. All those of the Philadelphia Association would, if gathered together, furnish a valuable, interesting and profitable book. In 1729, for the first time, the names of the messengers (twenty-two in all) to the Association appear. They are as follows:—
Jno. David, Ben Stelle, Owen Thomas, Geo. Hugh, Gershom Mott, Joseph Eaton, Jno. Devonald, John Welledge, Wm. Kinnersley, Samuel Osgood, John Clarkson, John Holmes, Jeremiah Kollet, John Bartholomew, John Heart, Robert Chalfant, Elisha Thomas, George Eaton, Dickison Shephard, Jenkin Jones, Ebenezer Smith, Simon Butler.
A century and a half has passed away since these names were registered. Most of them are now strange in our Baptist Zion, but others are yet quite familiar. Descendants of these honored men are still identified with God’s Israel, and worthily working for that cause so dear to the fathers.
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