Thomas Baldwin, D. D. *
Colonial New England Baptist Pastor
By Rev. Daniel Chessman
Thomas Baldwin, the only son of Thomas and Mary Baldwin, was born in Bozrah, Conn., December 23, 1753. His father was attached to the military service, and rose to sonic distinction in the then Colonial army. His mother's family was distinguished for talent; and she herself possessed not only a vigorous intellect, but an elevated piety. He was remarkable in childhood for serenity of temper, love of justice, and a taste for reading. His leisure was all sacredly devoted to the cultivation of his mind; and while he was yet quite a youth, he had acquired a considerable stock of valuable, though miscellaneous, information. When he was about sixteen years of age, his father having died some time before, his mother was married, a second time, to a Mr. Eames, and removed to Canaan, N. H. He removed with the family, and lived there several years.
* Memoir by Rev. Daniel Chessman. — Mass. Baptist Missionary Magazine, V.
On the 22d of September, 1775, at the age of twenty-two, he was married to Ruth Huntington, of Norwich, Conn., with whom he lived most happily till her death, — February 11, 1812. They had six children, only one of whom survived the father. He was subsequently married to Margaret Duncan, of Haverhill, Mass., who survived him many years.
Before he was thirty years of age, he was chosen to represent the town of Canaan in the State Legislature; and, as he was repeatedly re-elected to this office, it is presumed that he discharged its duties in a manner to satisfy his constituents.
Though never chargeable with open vice, he was, during his youth, fond of amusement and gaiety, and little disposed to admit any serious thoughts concerning the future. In the autumn of 1777, he lost his first-born child under circumstances peculiarly afflictive; and the effect of this was to induce the resolution that he would make religion his grand concern. It was not, however, till the year 1780 that he was brought, as he believed, to understand and acquiesce in the gracious constitution of the Gospel; and the change which he then experienced he referred, immediately, to the instrumentality of two Baptist preachers, who came to labour temporarily in the neighbourhood in which he lived.
He had been educated among Pedobaptists; but his mind became, about this time, not a little agitated on the subject of Baptism, and he finally reached a result very different from what he had expected, and even hoped, — namely, a conviction that the views in which he had been trained were nnscriptural, and that, if he would follow his Lord fully, he must follow Him into the water. He knew that this would be most unwelcome intelligence to many of his friends, as indeed it proved to be; but he determined that no earthly consideration should prevent him from carrying out his conscientious convictions; and, accordingly, in the latter part of the year 1781, he was baptized by immersion, by the Rev. Elisha Ransom,* then of Woodstock, Vt.
Previous to the change in his feelings on the subject of religion, he had determined to devote himself to the legal profession, and had actually commenced his studies with reference to it; but his mind now took a different direction, and he came soon to abandon the purpose altogether. He began first to exhort in public meetings; and in August, 1782, he became, in the technical sense, a preacher. In the spring of 1783, the church (for a Baptist church was now established in Canaan) proposed to him to receive ordination: he consented to the proposal, but declined being installed over that particular church, though it was understood that he would perform the duties of a Pastor as long as he might find it convenient to remain with them. A Council was accordingly convened in Canaan, on the 11th of June, 1783, when he was ordained to the work of an Evangelist, the Sermon on the occasion being preached by the Rev. Samuel Shepard, of Brentwood, N. H.
Here he continued to labour seven years. He had no stipulated salary, and all that he received did not average more than forty dollars a year.
* Rev. Elisha Ransom planted the Church in Woodstock, in 1780, having removed thither a little before from Sutton, Mass. He remained there about twenty years, and the church increased greatly under his ministry.
Though he was generally at home on the Sabbath, he spent a considerable part of almost every week in travelling and preaching in destitute places. Sometimes he made journeys of more than a hundred miles, and that, too, through a wilderness, and in midwinter, and depending almost entirely on the charity of those among whom he might happen to fall; but so great was his zeal to preach the Gospel to the poor, that he accounted no sacrifice great by means of which he might accomplish his end.
Towards the close of the winter of 1789-90, the Baptist Church in Sturbridge, Mass., understanding that Mr. Baldwin had never been formally settled as Pastor of the church in Canaan, applied to him to visit them as a candidate for settlement. About the same time, he received a similar request from the church in Hampton, Conn. He determined that it was his duty at least to visit these places; and, after he had set out on his journey, early in the next summer, he was met by a similar invitation from the Second Baptist Church in Boston. After stopping a little at Sturbridge and Hampton, and receiving from both churches a unanimous call to become their Pastor, he proceeded to Boston, and, by request of the church there, preached to them his first sermon, on the 4th of July, 1790. He continued to supply the pulpit a few Sabbaths; and, as the effect of his labours, there was very soon a greatly increased attention to religion, especially among the young. On the 22d of August, the Church and Society voted him a unanimous call to settle among them; and, on the 18th of September, he returned an affirmative answer.
He was installed on the 11th of November following, the services being performed in the meeting-house of the Rev. Dr. Eliot, (Congregational,) which was kindly offered for the purpose. The Sermon was preached by the Rev. Dr. Stillman, from II Corinthians iv. 7.
Mr. Baldwin proved himself fully adequate to the important field into which he was now introduced. The revival, which was in progress at the time of his settlement, continued about two years, and, in the year 1791, about seventy were added to the church. In 1797, the congregation had so much increased that it was found necessary to enlarge their place of worship; and though the additional accommodations thus secured, were very considerable, they were almost immediately taken up, so that the house was as full as before the enlargement was made. In the spring of 1803, another revival of great power commenced in the church, which continued nearly two years and a half, during which the number received to communion was two hundred and twelve.
In 1794, he received the degree of Master of Arts from Brown University; and, in 1803, the degree of Doctor of Divinity from Union College.
In September, 1803, Dr. Baldwin, by appointment of the Baptist Missionary Society of Massachusetts, became the editor of a periodical work, under the title of the Massachusetts Baptist Missionary Magazine. Until the year 1817, he continued its sole editor; from that time till his death, he was its senior editor. This work was, for many years, the only religious periodical in the Baptist denomination in this country; and it was undoubtedly a most efficient auxiliary to the prosperity of the denomination.
Dr. Baldwin acquired no small degree of reputation as a controversial writer on Baptism and Communion. His first work, in connection with this controversy, entitled "Open Communion examined," was published in 1789, at the request of the Woodstock Association, while he resided in New Hampshire. The second was published in 1794, and was an answer to a pamphlet, entitled "A Friendly Letter," addressed to the author. In 1806, these were republished in a volume, with an Appendix, containing a reply to Peter Edwards' "Candid Reasons," &c., together with additional remarks on some tracts and sermons which had then lately appeared on the subject. In 1810, he published what has been considered his most important work, entitled "A series of Letters, in which the distinguishing sentiments of the Baptists are explained and vindicated, in answer to a late publication by the Rev. Samuel Worcester, A. M., addressed to the author, entitled Serious and Candid Letters." This is a volume of about two hundred and fifty pages. The celebrated Andrew Fuller is said to have pronounced it the ablest discussion of the question he had ever met with. The last of his works on this subject was a short Essay on John's Baptism, published in 1820.
In 1802, he delivered the Annual Sermon on the day of the General Election. It was received with much more than common favour, as was indicated by the fact that it passed through three editions.
About seven years before his death, he had a slight attack of paralysis; from which, however, his physical system soon recovered, though he always believed that his mind had received an injury from it that was not to be repaired. As early as 1822, it became manifest to his friends that his intellectual vigour was rapidly declining, though the strength and fervour of his devout affections continued unabated. During the last year of his life, the change became still more marked, and he was himself deeply impressed with the conviction that his end was near. Towards the close of August, 1826, he left Boston to attend the Commencement at Waterville College, Me. On his way, he passed the Sabbath at Hallowell, and preached twice, apparently under the full impression that he was just finishing his earthly labours. The next day (29th of August) he proceeded to Waterville, and spent the afternoon in walking over the College grounds, and examining the condition of the institution. He retired to rest about nine o'clock, apparently slept well for an hour, then heaved a deep groan, and in the twinkling of an eye was dead. His remains were taken to Boston, and a Sermon at his interment was delivered by the Rev. Daniel Sharp, from Acts xi. 24. " He was a good man."
Dr. Baldwin received various testimonies of public respect and confidence. He was chosen a Trustee of Brown University in 1807, and at the time of his decease had been for several years the Senior Fellow. Of Waterville College he was a Trustee from its first organization. Of most of the benevolent institutions of Boston he was an active Manager, and of several of them a Presiding officer. At the time of his death, he was President of the Baptist Board of Managers for Foreign Missions, and one of the Trustees of the Columbian College, in the District of Columbia. He was a member of the Convention for amending the Constitution of
Massachusetts, in 1821, and took part in many of the discussions, acquitting himself with great credit.
Beside the several works already noticed, Dr. Baldwin published the following: — A Tract entitled "The Backslider." A Catechism. This had passed through six editions in 1826. A Sermon delivered at Bridgewater at the Ordination of the Rev. David A. Leonard, 1794. A Thanksgiving Sermon, 1795. A Sermon delivered at a Quarterly Meeting of several Churches for Special Prayer, 1799. A Sermon delivered at Boston at the Ordination of the Rev. William Collier, 1799. A Sermon on the Death of Washington, 1799. An Approved Workman in the Gospel Ministry: a Sermon delivered at Templeton at the Installation of the Rev. Elisha Andrews, 1800. A Sermon delivered at the Interment of Lieut. Governor Samuel Phillips, 1802. A Sermon delivered at Barnstable at the Installation of the Rev. John Peak,* 1802. A Sermon delivered at the Dedication of the new Meeting House in Bellingham, 1802. A Sermon delivered at the Installation of the Rev. Elisha Williams, Beverly, 1803. The Eternal Purpose of God the Foundation of Effectual Calling: A Sermon delivered before the First Baptist Society in Boston, 1804. A Sermon delivered in the Baptist Meeting House, Gold Street, New York, at the Ordination of the Rev. Jeremiah Chaplain, 1804. A Sermon delivered before the Baptist Missionary Society of Massachusetts, 1804. The Happiness of a People illustrated: A Sermon delivered before the Second Baptist Society in Boston, on the day of Annual Thanksgiving, 1804. A Sermon delivered at the Ordination of the Rev. Daniel Merrill, at Sedgwick, Me., 1805. A Discourse delivered before the Boston Female Asylum on their Sixth Anniversary, 1806. The Peaceful Reflections and Glorious Prospects of the Departing Saint: A Discourse delivered at the Interment of the Rev. Samuel Stillman, D. D., 1807. A Discourse delivered before the Ancient and Honourable Company in Boston, being the Anniversary of their Election of Officers, 1807. The Dangerous Influence of Vicious Example: A Sermon delivered in the Second Baptist Meeting House in Boston, 1809. A Discourse delivered at the Opening of the new Meeting House belonging to the Second Baptist Church and Society in Boston, 1811. The Supreme Deity of Christ illustrated: A Discourse delivered before the Second Baptist Church and Congregation in Boston, with an Appendix, containing Remarks on the terms "Only Begotten Sou of God," &c., 1812. The Knowledge of the Lord filling the Earth: A Sermon delivered in Boston, before the Massachusetts Bible Society, 1812. Heirs of Grace: A Sermon delivered at Charlestown, occasioned by the death of Mrs. Abigail Collier,
* John Peak was born in Walpole, N. H., September 26, 1761. When he was three years old, his parents removed to Claremont, where, as the country was new, there was no school, though the deficiency was well supplied in respect to himself by the watchful and faithful care of his mother. In consequence of repeated attacks of rheumatic fever that settled in one of his hips, he early became a cripple, and, being thus rendered unable to labour on the farm, he was, in 1778, apprenticed to a tailor. In the summer of 1785, he was hopefully converted under the preaching of Dr. Baldwin, by whom also he was baptized in September following. In 1787, he removed to Woodstock, and was shortly after licensed by the church in that place as a candidate for the ministry. On the 18th of June, 1788, he was ordained first Pastor of the Church in Windsor, Vt. He was subsequently the Pastor of various other churches, as Deerfield and New-town, in New Hampshire; Woburn, Barnstable, and Newburyport, in Massachusetts; and, during his ministry, he baptized more than a thousand persons. In the spring of 1828, he retired from the work of a Pastor, and soon after removed to Boston, where he resided until his death, which occurred on the 9th of April, 1842. He was distinguished for good sense, an amiable and cheerful disposition, and an unswerving Christian integrity.
wife of the Rev. William Collier, Pastor of the Baptist Church in said town, 1813. The Christian Ministry: A Sermon delivered in the First Baptist Meeting House in Boston, at the Installation of the Rev. James M. Winchell, 1814. Missionary Exertions encouraged: A Sermon delivered in Sansom Street Meeting House, Philadelphia, before the General Convention of the Baptist denomination in the United States, 1817. A Sermon delivered at Cambridge, at the Opening of a new Meeting-house, and the Constitution of a Baptist Church in that place, 1817. The Danger of living without the Fear of God: A Discourse on Robbery, Piracy, and Murder, in which Duelling and Suicide are particularly considered: Delivered in Boston, the Lord's Day following the Execution of the Pirates, 1819. A Sermon delivered at the Funeral of the Rev. James M. Winchell, A. M., late Pastor of the First Baptist Church in Boston, 1820. The Duty of Parents to Children: A Sermon delivered in the Meeting-House of the Second Baptist Church and Society in Boston, 1822. A Discourse delivered in the Second Baptist Meeting-House in Boston; with an Appendix, containing Historical Sketches of the Church and Society, from their Commencement to the Present Time, 1824.
[A Letter Describing Thomas Baldwin]
FROM THE REV. FRANCIS WAYLAND, D. D.
President of Brown University
Providence, September 20, 1850.
My dear Sir: I cheerfully comply with your request for some notices of the character of my venerated friend, the late Dr. Baldwin, though, in doing so, I must avail myself of some sketches that I wrote shortly after his death, when my recollections of his peculiar traits were far more vivid than they are now. I had a good opportunity of knowing him, having lived in the same house with him eighteen months, and had him for a neighbour from the time of my settlement in Boston till his death; and it gives me pleasure to do any thing I can in aid of an effort to honour his memory.
The history of a man's life is the only sure evidence of his ability. What a man has done we hold to be proof positive of his power. Judged by this standard, Dr. Baldwin will be ranked among the eminent men of his profession in this country. To say nothing of his publications, some of which are certainly of a high order, it is evident that no man, not highly gifted of nature, could ever, under his circumstances, have acquired so extensive an influence, and retained it to the last, entire and undiminished. Men do not confide their interests into the hands of another, unless he be abler than themselves. And he who, for so long a time, united the suffrages of all, could only have retained them by giving repeated proofs of undoubted native pre-eminence. And this consideration will be more striking, if we recollect the circumstances under which Dr. Baldwin entered the ministry in Boston. His opportunities for improvement, either by reading or intellectual association, had been limited. He had read little; he had seen little; but God had given him the ability to think. He was of an age at which the intellectual habits of most men are formed. They are too wise to learn, and too much attached to the habits of their early education to mend them. Hence, too, frequently, to men of this age, a change of location is the end of usefulness. But not so with my venerable friend. The change was a great one, but he was equal to it. He looked upon the relations of society in the light of common sense and truth. He perceived what was required in the situation which he had entered. He saw what he wanted; and, in the strength of a mind competent to dictate
terms to itself, he resolved to supply it. He threw aside what was unsuitable to his present station. He performed with his full ability what that station required; and soon found what he who honestly does his duty will always find, that he was competent to the work which Providence had assigned him. The prominent trait in Dr. Baldwin's intellectual character was vigorous and manly discrimination. His imagination was not luxuriant, nor had his taste acquired that accuracy, which is only the result of an early acquaintance with the classics. Hence he succeeded best in a train of ratiocination, especially if it were one which led to an urgent appeal to the conscience. Hence his style is remarkable more for perspicuity than grace. It is clear and forcible, but not ornate; and it gains nothing when the author attempts to adorn it. When relying on his reasoning power, he is strong; but when attempting to indulge his imagination, the critic might sometimes say, in good nature, Bonus Homerua dormitat.
In public life, Dr. Baldwin combined, in a rare degree, unbending rectitude with unsophisticated kindness of heart. In the discharge of his duty, he never knew fear. He was naturally above anything like timidity; and religious principle had still more effectually taught him to do right, "uncaring consequences." And yet no man could have more carefully avoided unnecessarily injuring the feelings of the most insignificant human being. He rigidly obeyed the command, — "Speak evil of no man." In company or at home, he either spoke kindly or was silent. Whilst true to a hair's breadth to the principles which he believed, he gave full credit to the honesty and the rectitude of those from whom he differed. Hence was it that he so often obtained the blessing of a peace-maker. Hence he retained to the last the entire confidence of men of the most conflicting opinions, and even came off from the arena of theological controversy, rich in the esteem of those whom his argument failed to convince.
But it was in the retirement of domestic life, as the husband, the father, and the friend, that you beheld him clothed in the most endearing attributes. It was here that he shed around him the bland and attractive lustre of finished moral excellence. His disposition was, in a pre-eminent degree, charitable, kind and benevolent. To know him at home was to venerate and love him. Always self-possessed and always dignified, yet always instructing and always cheerful, no one could long be unhappy beneath his hospitable roof. I can truly say that, during the four years in which I was in the habit of seeing him daily, I cannot remember a single instance in which he betrayed a temper inconsistent with the Christian profession.
The character of his piety corresponded, as might be expected, with the type of his mind. It was visible in the firm adherence to truth, and the conscientious practice of what he believed to be his duty. This was, at the same time, blended with fervent charity and ardent love for souls. He was a sincere believer in the doctrines of the Reformation, and his daily life was conformed to a high standard of Christian virtue. If any feature of his piety was more prominent than another, it was meek, child-like humility. This was seen in every walk of life, and everywhere did it add a new charm to his other excellent endowments.
As a preacher, he stood among the most eminent of his time, in the denomination of which he was so long the distinguished ornament. He published more than thirty sermons, preached on particular occasions, and all of them are worthy of attentive perusal. In all of them may be discovered the traces of strong and accurate reflection, or of fervent and deeply affecting piety. Sometimes they are remarkable for acute and original argument, and at others for tender and overflowing feeling. Whatever was his subject, he always left upon his audience the conviction of his own sincere and earnest solicitude for
their everlasting good. His expostulations with the young were, in a remarkable degree, affectionate, parental and pathetic. Very frequently, on such occasions, he was melted even to tears.
His manner in the pulpit was dignitied, simple and unaffected. He rarely wrote his sermons in full; and not generally, at least in the better part of his life, did he even furnish himself with a copious skeleton. His preparation most commonly consisted in studious reflection upon his subject, and writing merely the leading divisions. To this method he had been earliest accustomed, and in this he was probably more generally successful. Some of his ablest printed sermons were preached in this manner, and never written till after their delivery. Though far from being prejudiced against the use of notes, he was fully, and doubtless very truly, aware that, in New England at least, there is as much danger to be apprehended from too great a reliance on writing, as there is from not writing at all.
In person Dr. Baldwin was rather above the usual size, firmly and strongly built, and, towards the close of his life, slightly inclined to corpulency. His countenance was dignitied, mild and engaging, and his hair, in his latter years perfectly white, rendered his whole appearance in the highest degree venerable. His habits were temperate and regular, without being formal or ascetic. Hence it will be readily imagined that he uniformly left upon every one the impression of old age in its loveliest and most interesting aspect, and Christianity in its mildest and most attractive exhibition.
I am, Rev. and dear Sir, Yours very truly, FRANCIS WAYLAND =============
[From William B. Sprague, editor, Annals of the American Pulpit, Volume VI, 1860, pp. 208-215. Document from Google Books. — Jim Duvall]
Gospel Doctrine of a Church, by Thomas Baldwin, 1789
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