Early Baptists of Philadelphia, 1877
by David Spencer
PHILADELPHIA CONFESSION OF FAITH.—SUBSEQUENT EDITIONS.—SUBJECTS OF ARTICLES.—EBENEZER KINNERSLEY ORDAINED.—DOUBTS ON WHITEFIELD’S PREACHING.—ELECTRICITY.—JOSEPH EATON’S DEFECTION.—FIRST BAPTIST CHURCH RECONSTITUTED.—GROUNDLESS QUESTION.—CONSTITUENT MEMBERS.—THE SOUTHAMPTON BAPTIST CHURCH.—GEORGE EATON AND PETER P. VANHORN.—ABRAHAM LEVERING.—FIRST RECORDS OF THE ASSOCIATION.—BENJAMIN GRIFFITH.—POWER AND DUTY OF AN ASSOCIATION.—DEATH OF REV. JOSEPH WOOD—TROUBLE WITH THE PENNYPACK PROPERTY.—DEATH OF REV. JOSEPH EATON.—REV. ISAAC EATON AND HOPEWELL ACADEMY.—MODERATOR’S NAME FIRST GIVEN.—NATHANIEL JENKINS.
IN 1742 the Philadelphia Baptist Association adopted the Confession of Faith, set forth by the messengers of baptized congregations, met in London in 1689; a short treatise on Church Discipline; an article concerning the singing of psalms in the worship of God, and one relative to the laying on of hands upon baptized believers. These were printed in one volume by Benjamin Franklin, in 1743. A few copies of this issue are still extant, but they are in the hands of private parties. Subsequent editions were issued in 1773, 1798 and 1831.
The subjects of the various articles in the Confession of Faith, as published in 1742, are in the following order:—Holy Scriptures; God and the Holy Trinity; God’s Decrees; Divine Providence; Fall of Man; Sin and Punishment Thereof; God’s Covenant; Christ the Mediator; Free Will; Effectual Calling; Justification; Adoption; Sanctification; Saving Faith; Repentance Unto Life and Salvation; Good Works; Perseverance of the Saints; Assurance of Grace and Salvation; the Law of God; the Gospel and the Extent of the Grace Thereof; Christian Liberty and Liberty of Conscience; Religious Worship and the Sabbath-day; Singing of Psalms in Public Worship; Lawful Oaths and Vows; the Civil Magistrate; Marriage; the Church; the Communion of Saints; Baptism and the Lord’s Supper; Baptism; Laying on of Hands; State of Man After Death, and the Resurrection of the Dead; the Last Judgment. In all thirty-four articles.
The treatise on Church Discipline has articles on—a True and Orderly Church; Ministers, &c.; Ruling Elders; Deacons; Admission of Church Members; Duties of Church Members; the Manifold Duties of Christians, especially to the Household of Faith; Church Censures—Admonition—Suspension—Excommunication.
In 1743, Ebenezer Kinnersley was ordained to the work of the gospel ministry. He was born in Gloucester, England, November 30, 1711. In 1714 his father removed to America and settled near the Pennypack Church. On the 6th of September, 1735, young Kinnersley was baptized and became a member of that church. Hon. Horatio Gates Jones, in his History of Lower Dublin Baptist Church, says of him:—
Owing to delicate health and other objects of interest that engaged his attention, he never became a pastor. He was one of the few, in Philadelphia, who had doubts in regard to the character of the preaching which was introduced by Whitefield; nor did he hesitate to enter a solemn protest against it from the pulpit of the Baptist church. This happened on the 6th of July, 1740, and the excitement produced by the sermon was so great that he was absolutely forbidden the privilege of the Communion. For some time he attended the Episcopal church, but ere long the difficulty was settled, and when the Philadelphia Church was organized as a distinct society from that at Pennypack, he was one of the constituent members, and remained connected with it to his death. The year 1746 marked an epoch in his life; for his attention was then first directed to the wonderful and unknown properties of the Electric Fire; as it was then termed.
He became an intimate companion of Benjamin Franklin, and one of the most remarkable scientists of his day.
In the year 1744 a difficulty occurred at Montgomery. Rev. Joseph Eaton rejected the literal sense of the eternal generation and sonship of Jesus Christ. The brethren of the ministry labored with him in a Christian spirit, and at the meeting of the Association he dismissed his skepticism on the subject, so that what threatened to be a serious matter was speedily healed, and this great and all-important doctrine not only firmly believed in but also faithfully promulgated.
The year which witnessed Kinnersley’s attention first directed to the properties of electricity was signalized by the distinct organization of the First Baptist Church. Having been regarded as a branch of Pennypack, a question arose whether said church was not entitled to a part of the legacies bestowed on the branch in Philadelphia. This was a groundless question, but for fear the design of their benefactors should be perverted, the church, then consisting of fifty-six members, was formally constituted May 15, 1746. Letters of dismission for this purpose had been granted by Pennypack on the 3d of May. Having had, and exercised in reality, all the functions of a church from the first establishment in 1698, that year is certainly the proper one to date the commencement of their history. Rev. Jenkin Jones now severed his connection as pastor of the mother church and became the first pastor of the one in Philadelphia.
The account of the above transaction is given in the records of the parent church, as follows:—
April 5, 1746; the members of the church at Pennypack, residing at the city of Philadelphia, petitioned to the monthly meeting at Pennypack for a separation for themselves and for Mr. Jenkin Jones, the pastor of the church, also (his residence being among them), to answer which the church at Pennypack took a month to consider.
May 3, 1746; the church at Pennypack having considered their brethren’s reasons for a separation, and finding them to be of weight, a dismission was granted, and they were soon after constituted and settled a regular gospel church, and their messengers were received at the next annual Association at Philadelphia.
The names of the constituent members were: JENKIN JONES, EBENEZER KINNERSLEY, William Branson, Andrew Edge, Thomas Pearse, Stephen Anthony, Augustus Stillman, Samuel Ashmead, Matthias Ingles, John Perkins, John Standeland, Robert Shewell, John Biddle, Joseph Crean, Henry Hartley, John Lewis, Joseph Ingles, Samuel Burkilo, John Catla, Thomas Byles, John Bazely, Samuel Morgan, Lewis Rees, Mary Standeland, Hannah Farmer, Mary Catla, Ann Yerkes, Mary Burkilo, Mary Prig, Hannah Crean, Ann Davis, Hannah Bazely, Jane Giffin, Edith Bazely, Uslaw Lewis, Jane Loxley, Esther Ashmead, Hannah Jones, Sarah Branson, Catherine Anthony, Jane Pearse, Mary Edge, Mary Valecot, Elizabeth Shewell, Mary Middleton, Frances Holwell, Elizabeth Sallows, Mary Morgan, Ann Hall, Phebe Hartley, Ann White.
SOUTHAMPTON BAPTIST CHURCH
As already intimated, the pastors of the Pennypack church were accustomed to preach in all the region round about, and one of their stations was at Southampton, in Bucks county. Here the favor of God had been so manifest that, in three days after the dismission to reconstitute the church in Philadelphia, forty-eight members, all from Pennypack, were organized, April 8, 1746, into the Southampton Baptist Church. Religious services had been held there for many years, for John Morris, a member of Pennypack, who died February 22, 1733, aged 83 years, gave the ground for the meeting-house at Southampton and a farm of one hundred and twenty-five acres for the minister’s use. This church was at once received into the Philadelphia Association and remained connected with that body for eighty-eight years. Those eminent ministers, Isaac Eaton and Oliver Hart, were originally members of this church. The removal of these one hundred and four members from Pennypack to constitute the two churches named, diminished the number who remained very considerably.
They at once took measures, however, to be supplied with preaching. George Eaton and Peter Peterson Vanhorn had already been called to exercise their gifts. A vote was taken by ballot, relative to their ordination, beginning with the former, as he was the elder, but he was not chosen, greatly to his mortification. The matter was then deferred, and Rev. Jenkin Jones continued to visit them once a month and administer the ordinances. At the request of Mr. Eaton another vote on his case was taken April 16, 1747. This time it was by rising and not by ballot. He was again rejected, but on the same day Mr. Vanhorn was elected, and he was ordained to the work of the ministry among them June 18, 1747. Revs. Jenkin Jones, Benjamin Griffith, John Davis and Joshua Potts participated in the services. Mr. Vanhorn was born at Middletown, in Bucks county, August 24th, 1719, and assumed the pastoral care of Pennypack October 31, 1747. It is possible that Mr. Vanhorn extended his labors, occasionally, over to Roxborough, twelve miles westward of his own church, as on May 16, 1751, he officiated at the marriage of William Levering of that place. Mr. Levering was a brother of Abraham Levering, who became a constituent member of the Roxborough Church, and its first deacon. In 1754 it is known that Mr. Vanhorn preached in Roxborough.
Thirty-nine years of the Association’s history had now passed away, yet there had been no attempt to keep regular records of its doings, nor had any history of the denomination in this vicinity been written. Awaking to the importance of such records, the Association, in 1746,
“Concluded, that Brother Benjamin Griffith should collect and set in order the accounts of the several Baptist churches in these provinces; and that the several churches should draw out and send him, as soon as possible, what accounts they have on record in church books of their respective constitutions, and by whose ministry they have been supplied.”
He performed this duty faithfully, and the work begun by him, when the Minutes of the Association were not printed, is preserved in a large folio volume, the greater part of which forms the first eighty pages of the Century Minutes of the Association. But for his valuable labors in this direction the early history of the Association might not now be obtained. In 1749 he prepared and read an essay on “The Power and Duty of an Association,” which the Association directed to be recorded in their folio volume.
September 15, 1747, Rev. Joseph Wood, the fifth pastor at Pennypack, passed away from earth, at the advanced age of eighty-eight years. He was buried at Cold Spring, Bucks county. No vestige of his grave now remains, but in the resurrection those who sleep in Jesus will God bring with him.
The year after his death this church had considerable trouble about its property. It had been deeded to certain trustees, all of whom were dead, except George Eaton, who did not feel very kindly to the church, because it had not called him to ordination as a gospel minister. He, therefore, secretly deeded the property to other trustees who were friendly to him. This was discovered, and after considerable trouble and careful management the matter was rectified. The year following, 1749, Rev. Joseph Eaton, formerly of Montgomery, died. He was a brother of the above named George Eaton, and was only a little boy of seven years when he arrived, in 1686, in this country with his father, John Eaton. God raised him up to do much good. He was the father of Rev. Isaac Eaton, A. M., who was the first pastor of the church in Hopewell, New Jersey, and the first man in this country among the Baptists who established an academy for the purpose of promoting ministerial education. In his church, it is supposed, partially originated the plan for the formation of Brown University, in Rhode Island. He was its early friend, and Manning, Smith and others of his pupils were among the first to move in its establishment.
In 1749 we learn for the first time the name of the Moderator of the Philadelphia Association. It was Nathaniel Jenkins, a name worthy to stand at the head of as noble a list of excellent Christian men as ever graced a similar position in any religious organization.
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