Early Baptists of Philadelphia, 1877
by David Spencer
A NEW ERA.—REV. MORGAN EDWARDS ARRIVES.—DR. G. WEED’S SELF-ESTEEM.—EXCOMMUNICATED FOR DRUNKENNESS.—SUPERVISION OF THE MEMBERSHIP.—MORGAN EDWARDS PROMINENT.—ASSOCIATION’S LETTER TO ENGLAND.—NEED OF BOOKS.—FIRST-TABLE OF STATISTICS.—BROWN UNIVERSITY PROJECTED.—MORGAN EDWARDS THE PROJECTOR.—EDUCATIONAL GROWTH.—NEW MEETING-HOUSE IN PHILADELPHIA.—ST. MICHAEL’S LUTHERAN CHURCH.—SOUND OF THE ORGAN.—RESIGNATION OF REV. P. P. VANHORN.—THE CITY’S SEAL TO ORDINATION CERTIFICATES.—GEORGE EATON.—SAMUEL JONES BAPTIZED.—LICENSED TO PREACH.—COPY OF THE LICENSE.—ORDAINED.—PLACE OF WORSHIP OCCUPIED.—MR. WHITEFIELD’S CHURCH.—UNIVERSITY OF PENNSYLVANIA.—UNION METHODIST EPISCOPAL CHURCH.—SAMUEL JONES PASTOR AT PENNYPACK.—A PREROGATIVE OF THE MINISTRY.—WEARING A MASTER’S GOWN.—REV. STEPHEN WATTS.—ORDINATION OF DEACONS.
THIS decade ushered in a marked advance in all that pertains to real progress. New men appeared on the stage, and new measures were inaugurated. May 23, 1761, Rev. Morgan Edwards arrived in this city. He was born in Wales, May 9th, 1722, and commenced preaching when sixteen years of age. After completing his labors he served a church in Boston, England, for seven years, then one in Cork, Ireland, for nine years. From Cork, he returned to England, and preached for a year at Rye, in Sussex. During his residence there, Rev. Dr. Gill, of London, received a letter from the church in Philadelphia, requesting him to assist them in obtaining a pastor. He applied to Mr. Edwards as the person most likely to suit and satisfy the people. The application was favorably received and he took passage for America. Upon his arrival he at once entered upon the pastorate of the church, and was received into their fellowship June 1st, by letter from Penyam, in Monmouthshire, South Wales. The church paid the expenses of his voyage and gave to him a very cordial reception. There are men who are very ready to preach simply because of a high estimation of themselves. The First Church had one of these men in its early history. The minutes for September 4th, 1762, state
“Dr. G. Weed proposed to preach to us occasionally. The thing was considered and this answer returned, ‘The church return our Bro. Weed thanks for his desire to serve the church; but would defer the proposal till they see necessary to invite Mr. Weed thereto.’ The Doctor was not pleased, and said it was like a trick which Dr. Faustus played with the devil.”
This did not quiet him. Having charge of the Hospital, he seemed there to assume ministerial functions, preaching there as a minister, without the authority of the church, and inviting persons from without to come and hear him. The church wrote him a kindly but decided letter remonstrating with him, declaring that they “knew Bro. Weed very well, yet are not willing to know Minister Weed.” This course displeased the Doctor, and the church, July 1, 1765, was compelled to erase his name from the records for nonattendance on and non-support of the church.
At the church meeting following the above, October 2d, 1762, there was an excommunication, the record of which is not without interest at this date:—
Whereas, John Taylor has now, a third time, contradicted his baptismal vows of repentance and holiness by relapsing to the sin of drunkenness; and has, moreover, absconded from his master, whereby he has defrauded his master out of a year’s servitude; we hold ourselves bound to cut him off from the church, erase his name out of the church’s book, and deliver him up to Satan for the destruction of the flesh, that the spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord Jesus; and accordingly he is hereby excommunicated. And God have mercy on his soul. Amen.
That a thorough supervision of the members of the church might be maintained, it was agreed, November 6th, 1762, “that Mr. Edwards do give each regular member of this church twelve written tickets every year, and that each communicant put one in the box at every communion, that it may be known who are absent, that an enquiry may be made after them.”
Morgan Edwards at once took a prominent position, because of his talents, energy and piety. Accordingly, at the meeting of the Association, succeeding his arrival, he was placed in a position of prominence, trust and work. He was “appointed to take charge of the book of records, and insert therein the minutes,” of that body, in connection with Rev. P. P. Vanhorn. This is the work that had been begun by Benjamin Griffith. He was also appointed one of the librarians of the Association, and of the correspondents with the Baptists in “London and elsewhere.”
The letter to England is of value as a historical document, and is as follows:—
The Association of Particular Baptist Churches, annually held at Philadelphia, to the Board of Particular Baptist Ministers in London;
Reverend Brethren, We greet you well; and, as a part of that community, in the British Dominions, (whereof you have in some sort the superintendence,) we offer you our acquaintance, and solicit a share of your public care and friendship. Our numbers in these parts multiply, for when we had the pleasure of writing to you, in 1734, there were but nine churches in our Association, yet now there are twenty-eight, all owning the Confession of Faith put forth in London, in 1689. Some of the churches are now destitute; but we have a prospect of supplies, partly by means of a Baptist academy lately set up. This infant seminary of learning is yet weak, having no mole than twenty-four pounds a year towards its support. Should it be in your power to favor this school any way, we presume you will be pleased to know how. A few books proper for such a school, or a small apparatus, or some pieces of apparatus, are more immediately wanted, and not to be had easily in these parts. We have also of late endeavoured to form a library at Philadelphia, for the use of our brethren in the ministry who are not able to purchase books. This design also wants the assistance of our brethren in England. However, our design in writing to you in this public manner is to renew a correspondence which hath been dropped for some years past; and if you think well of it, we shall be glad to hear from you against our next Association, in October. You may direct to our brother, Morgan Edwards, at Philadelphia. We commend you to the grace of God, and desire your prayers for us, and remain your brethren in the faith. Signed, by order of the Association,
PETER PETERSON VANHORN,
Philadelphia, May 16, 1762.
The effect of the presence of Morgan Edwards is seen in the improved value of the minutes of the Association for that year. For the first time is given, in 1761, a table of statistics of the churches, collected and arranged by him. The Pennypack, Philadelphia and Montgomery churches, all the Baptist churches in the entire country then, reported that year an aggregate membership of 202; total number of baptisms, 30; and entire number of “hearers,” 1150.
In “a sketch of the history and the present organization of Brown University, published by the Executive Board,” in 1861, is this statement:—
This Institution, which was founded in 1794, owes its origin to the desire of the Baptists in the American Colonies to secure for members of their denomination a liberal education, without subjection to any sectarian tests. At the suggestion of Rev. Morgan Edwards, the pastor of the First Baptist Church, in Philadelphia, the Philadelphia Baptist Association, in the year 1762, resolved to establish a college in the colony of Rhode Island and Providence plantations. The Rev. James Manning, a graduate of the College of New Jersey, was commissioned by them to travel through the northern colonies, for the purpose of fostering this project.
In 1764, a charter was obtained for the College from the legislature of the colony. Rev. Morgan Edwards was elected a member of its first Board of Fellows, a position which he held until 1789.
With the inauguration of this enterprise, the Philadelphia Association thus earnestly expressed itself in 1764:—
Agreed, to inform the churches to which we respectively belong, that, inasmuch as a charter is obtained in Rhode Island government toward erecting a Baptist college, the churches should be liberal in contributing towards carrying the same into execution.
In 1766, this body again
Agreed, to recommend warmly to our churches the interest of the college, for which a subscription is opened all over the continent. This college hath been set on foot upward of a year, and has now in it three promising youths under the tuition of President Manning.
The year in which Brown University was first projected in Philadelphia was signalized by tearing down the Baptist Meeting-house, erected in 1731, in Lagrange Place, and the construction of a more spacious edifice. 61 by 42 feet. Like its predecessor, it was built of brick, and cost £2,200. This rebuilding will, doubtless, account for the fact that the Association, in 1762, “met at the Lutheran church in Fifth street, between Arch and Race streets, where the sound of the organ was heard in the Baptist worship.” This was St. Michael’s Church, at the corner of Fifth and Cherry streets.
February 7th, of this year, Rev. P. P. Vanhorn, after an acceptable pastorate of nearly fifteen years, resigned the care of the Pennypack church, and removed to New Mills, now Pemberton, New Jersey, where, June 23, 1764, he was instrumental in founding the Baptist church. April 2, 1768, he returned to and resided at Pennypack. December 9th, 1769, he was again received into the church and remained a member of it until September 18th, 1770, when he removed to Cape May, New Jersey, and became pastor there. At the Association in 1762, “Certificates of the ordination and good morals of Rev. David Thomas and Rev. David Sutton were drawn up by Rev. Samuel Jones and Isaac Jones, Esq., and the city seal affixed thereto by the Recorder, Benjamin Chew, Esq., for which he took no fee.” This seal attached to the aforenamed certificate is a curiosity in this day, when such a custom has fallen into disuse almost entirely. It also contains a high testimony to the Baptist pastor in this city. It is as follows:—
I, Benjamin Chew, Esq., Recorder of the city of Philadelphia, do hereby certify that the Rev. Morgan Edwards, A. M., who hash signed the above certificate, is pastor of the Baptist church in this city of Philadelphia, and Moderator of the above Association, and that he s a gentleman of most exemplary morals and piety.
In testimony of which, I have hereunto caused the seal of this said city to be affixed, this 17th day of October, A. D. 1762.
MEETING-HOUSE OF FIRST BAPTIST CHURCH, LAGRANGE PLACE.
After the departure of P. P. Vanhorn to Pemberton, the minutes of the Pennypack church, under date of March 11th,.1762, contain the following:—
Concluded to call Bro. George Eaton to supply us ye remainder of ye time, excepting ye 3rd Sabbath in every month, at which time he is under promise to preach at a place called the Ridge, near Germantown.
The place referred to as “the Ridge,” is Roxborough.
Mr. Eaton did not live to labor long after this, as the inscription on the plain, blue marble headstone, which marks his last resting place, in the graveyard at Pennypack, will inform us. It is as follows:—
In memory of
the REV. GEORGE EATON,
who departed this life July
1st, 1764, aged 77 years
Who did delight his talents to improve,
And speak ye glorys of Redeeming love.
Mr. Eaton was born in Wales, and was brought to this country in 1686 by his parents when but a little babe. He was the brother of Rev. Joseph Eaton, whose son, Isaac, founded the Latin School, at Hopewell, New Jersey.
Samuel Jones, who arrived in this city in 1737, was converted very early in life and became a member of the Tulpehocken Baptist Church in Berks County, Pa., of which his father Rev. Thomas Jones was pastor. Samuel entered upon a course of study in the College of Philadelphia, and December 5, 176o, was received into the Baptist Church of this city by letter from the one at Tulpehocken. He prosecuted his studies until May 18, 1762, when he was graduated and received the degree of Bachelor of Arts. He was shortly thereafter licensed by the church to preach the Gospel. The following is a copy of the license:—
To all whom it may concern. This certifies that Samuel Jones, A. B., has been regularly called to exercise his ministerial gifts by the Baptist Church of Philadelphia, whereof he is a member, and, after trial in private and public, the Church judge he will be useful in the Ministry. Wherefore he is hereby licensed and authorized to preach the Gospel wherever he may have a call so to do among the Baptists, until such time as circumstances will admit of his ordination. Done at a Church Meeting held in the College of Philadelphia July 10, 1762. Signed in behalf of the whole, by us.
MORGAN EDWARDS, Minister.
December 4, 1762, the Church “agreed unanimously that Samuel Jones be ordained on January 2, 1763, and that Messrs. Morgan Edwards, Isaac Eaton and Samuel Stillman be concerned therein, and that messengers be sent to invite the two last to give their attendance. Morgan Edwards to preach the sermon and to conduct the ordination, Isaac Eaton to give the Charge; and all to be concerned in imposition of hands and prayer.” The address of the church to these ministering brethren relative to this ordination is of interest:—
To Messrs. Morgan Edwards, Isaac Eaton and Samuel Stillman:—
Rev. Sirs: We, the Baptist Church of Philadelphia, greet you well, and beg leave to recommend to you for ordination cur beloved brother Samuel Jones, A. B., whom we, by our representative, Mr. Wescott, set before you for that purpose. He is a man of sound learning, good morals, and exemplary piety, your compliance with our request will be doing a pleasure to your brethren in the faith and fellowship of the Gospel. Signed by order, and in behalf of the church at our meeting of business in the College of Philadelphia, January 1, 1763.
BARNABY BARNES, Clerk.
From the above documents, aside from their interest, we learn that during the rebuilding of the Meeting House on Second Street, the church worshipped in the hall of the College of Philadelphia. This edifice was on the west side of Fourth Street, below Arch. It was originally erected in 1741, for the Rev. George Whitefield, and was known as Whitefield’s Church. In 1749 an Academy and Charitable School was organized in the city, and occupied this building. In 1750 it was opened as a Latin School; in 1755 it was chartered under the title of “The College, Academy, and Charitable School of Philadelphia,” and in 1779 was opened as the University of Pennsylvania. The Union Methodist Episcopal Church now occupies the identical spot of Whitefield’s Church, or College Hall. Samuel Jones forthwith became pastor of the Pennypack and Southampton Churches, a position he filled until 1770, when he resigned the latter and gave himself exclusively to the pastorship of the former. At the time of his ordination it would seem that the Church in Philadelphia regarded it as the prerogative of the Ministry to determine upon the qualification of a candidate for Baptism. Accordingly the subject was brought up and decided at the Meeting of the Association as follows:—
A question was moved by the church of the Great Valley to this effect: Whether it be the prerogative of a church to receive applications for Baptism, examine the candidates, and to judge of their qualifications for Baptism, or whether these be the distinct and peculiar prerogatives of the Minister, exclusive of the laity?
The occasion of this question was the opinion and practice of the Church of Philadelphia, who by a general vote have allowed the said prerogatives to belong to the Minister, by the tenor of the commission relative to Baptism, and the universal practice of the commissioners; and that there is neither precept nor precedent for the contrary in Scripture. All allowed that this may be, and in some cases must be; but that. the other practice was more expedient. However, none pretended to say it was warranted by Scripture. The question was put,—Whether the point was a term of Communion, and whether it should be debated or dropped? None stood up for either. So that it was dropped.
In 1762 the degree of Master of Arts was conferred on Morgan Edwards by the College of Philadelphia, and in 1769 the same honor was bestowed by Brown University. Whether the reception of this degree prompted the action as recorded in the Church Minutes for April 30, 1763, we do not profess to say:—
Mr. Edwards desires to know the sense of the church relative to his wearing a master’s gown in the common services of the Church; for as to wearing it abroad and on special occasions, he said, he intended to use his right and own discretion. The Church desired him to use his liberty and that wearing or not wearing it would give no offence to the Church.
June 4, 1763, the church called Stephen Watts, a licentiate and a graduate of the College of Philadelphia, to be an Assistant to Rev. Morgan Edwards in the Ministry. He accepted the call and entered upon the work July 2nd. The ordination of deacons was strictly adhered to by the Churches at this time. An account of such ordination in Philadelphia is given in the Records for December 10, 1763:—
The Church met this day, by way of preparation for celebrating the Lord’s Supper on the morrow; and to ordain deacons. The Meeting began with prayer from the desk suitable to both designs of the Meeting. Then was delivered a dissertation on the office of a deacon, his qualifications and duty and the manner of his election and instalment in the office. Then the deacons elect, viz. Joseph Moulder, Joseph Watkins and Samuel Miles were brought to the administrator; who laid his hands on each, and prayed in the following words: In the name of the Lord Jesus, and according to the practice of His Apostles towards persons chosen to the deaconship, I lay hands on you, my brother, whereby you are constituted, or ordained a deacon of this church; installed in the office and appointed and empowered to collect and receive her revenues, and to dispose thereof in providing for and serving the Lord’s table; and in providing for the table of the Minister and the poor; and in transacting other temporal affairs of the church, that the Minister may not be deterred from the word and prayer, nor the concerns of the family of faith neglected. In the use of which rite of imposition of hands, I pray that God will confirm in heaven what we do on ‘earth, and receive you into the number of them who minister to him in the civil affairs of His sanctuary. That he will fill you more and more with the Holy Ghost, wisdom and honesty; that, by using the office of a deacon well, you may purchase to yourself a good degree, and great boldness in the faith, even so Lord Jesus. Amen. When each had been ordained, they stood up from kneeling and were addressed by the Minister in the following manner: We give you the right hand of fellowship in token that we acknowledge you for our deacon, and to express our congratulations and good wishes.
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