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History of the First Baptist Church
New York City, (1745-1845)

By S. H. Cone, 1846
Part 2

After the departure of brother Gano, the pulpit was supplied by different ministers. Among these was Benjamin Foster, D. D., of Newport, R. I., with whose preaching, deportment, and character, the church was so much pleased, that after due deliberation and prayer, they called him to take the oversight of the flock as Pastor. This call he accepted, and removed to the city with his family, September 26th, 1788; but having been inoculated [sic] with the small-pox, he was prevented from entering upon the duties of his office until the 2d of December following. His ministry was very soon interrupted by the complaints of several members, who charged him with preaching what was called New Divinity; the fundamental error of which was understood to be, an infinite atonement; and this led to an unscriptural "exhibition of the doctrine of imputation." The charge, however, was not sustained by the church, and from such of his writings as are extant, as well as from the high estimation in which he was held by the sound divines of his day, it appears not to have been well founded. But the fire of contention burned more and more fiercely, until January 27th, 1789, when eight males and five females were excluded, "for their self-sufficiency, their scandalous treatment of the character of their minister, and their turning their backs upon the church in a contemptuous manner." These excluded persons were received into the fellowship of the Second Church; and this being contrary to our discipline, all intercourse between the two churches was suspended. The Second Church sent no messenger to the Philadelphia Association that year, but in October, 1790, they attempted to justify their course, in their annual letter to that venerable Body then in session in this city, by "charging the First Church with having departed from the truth, both in Faith and Discipline." The Association appointed a Committee of eight, of which Dr. Samuel Jones, of Pennsylvania, was Chairman, and Dr, Manning, President of Brown University, R. I. was a member, for the purpose of reconciling the churches, "and preventing, if possible, all further disputes and animosities." The Committee promptly attended to the duty assigned them, and finally submitted the following propositions:

1. That the Second Church do cordially withdraw its charge against the First Church and its Pastor.
2. That the First Church will henceforward consider those members lately received by the Second Church from the First, as in good and regular standing.
3. That the members in each Church, in regular standing, shall enjoy occasional communion if required, in either Church; and shall have the privilege of reciprocal dismissions, if requested by any.
4. That both parties do freely, fully, and cordially promise not to use any expressions, or other unkind treatment towards each other; -- and that a failure herein shall be matter of discipline.
5. That each Church shall enter the above in their church records, and transmit authenticated copies of their doings reciprocally to each other.

At the regular church meeting, November 2d, 1790, these propositions were agreed to, and Dr. Foster and Deacon John Bedient were appointed a Committee to wait upon the Second Church with a copy of their doings. At this time, the First Church numbered 192 members; the Second Church, 32: but although they were now in fellowship with each other, and Christian intercourse between the Churches was restored, the individuals who had left the First Church were as much dissatisfied in the Second Church, without a Pastor, as they had previously been with the ministry of Dr. Foster. A division of the little flock soon followed, both parties claiming the title of The Second Baptist Church of New York. After much contention, they agreed finally to relinquish the name entirely; the Second Church taking the title of the Bethel Church, the other branch being called the Fayette Street Church; the former dating its Constitution 1770, the latter 1791.

On the 19th October, 1791, The New York Baptist Association was organized. They assembled in the meeting-house of the First Church; Dr. Foster preached the introductory sermon from Dan. 12:4, -- Many shall run to and fro and knowledge shall be increased. Elkanah Holmes was chosen Moderator, and Benjamin Foster, Clerk. The Articles of Faith adopted by the Body were in perfect accordance with those held by this Church from the beginning even until now. The Fayette Street, now Oliver Street Church, was received into the New York Association, May 23d, 1805, "the Committee appointed to examine their standing and order," having reported favorably. John Williams, Pastor, and Deacons John Withington, Jacob Smith, John Cauldwell, and Francis Wayland, were received as the messengers of the Church. It had been greatly prospered under the ministry of brother Williams, and that year numbered 164 members.

The First Church continued to grow, and, having dismissed, at different times, some thirty or forty restless and dissatisfied members, enjoyed a large share of peace and prosperity. Dr. Foster was much respected in the city, as a scholar, a preacher, and an exemplary Christian. In the mysterious providence of God, he was, however, suddenly cut off by yellow fever, on Lord's day morning, August 26th, l798, in the 48th year of his age; having been Pastor of the Church nearly ten years.

The pulpit was again occupied by such occasional supplies as could be procured, until the 14th of October, l800, when Rev. William Collier, of Boston, who had previously preached for the Church some months, commenced his pastoral labors in accordance with their call. Soon after his settlement, the Church and congregation resolved to pull down the old meeting-house and erect a more commodious and substantial one in its place. The old house was removed in March, 1801, and a stone edifice, 65 feet by 80, at a cost of about $25,000, was opened for public worship on Lord's day, May 2d, 1802. The sermon upon the occasion was preached by Dr. Stephen Gano, of, Providence, from Exodus 20:24 -- In all places where I record my name, I wil1 come unto thee, and I will bless thee. In two or three years brother Collier found his strength unequal to the duties of his station, and the Church called brother Jeremiah Chaplin, of Danvers, Massachusetts, as a co-pastor. He arrived in New York, January, 10th, 1804; but brother Collier had previously received and accepted a call from the Charlestown Baptist Church: he tarried, however, until Lord's day, April 8th, 1804, when he preached his farewell sermon from Acts 20: 32 -- And now, brethren I commend you to God, and to the word of his grace.

The New York Association met with the First Church, in Gold Street, May 23d, 1804, and, after the introductory sermon, the usual business was postponed, to give an opportunity for the Ordination, of brother Jeremiah Chaplin, in compliance with the request of that Church.

Dr. Thomas Baldwin, of Boston, preached the ordination sermon from Dan. 12:3 -- They that turn many to righteousness, shall be as the stars for ever and ever. Dr. Samuel Jones, of Pennsy1vania, delivered an address from l Tim. 5:22, Lay hands suddenly on no man,and offered the ordaining prayer. Dr. Stephen Gano, of Providence, gave the charge; brother John Williams, of New York, the right hand of fellowship and brother William Van Horne, of Scotch Plains, New Jersey, made the concluding prayer.

The Church pressed brother Chaplin to become their Pastor. He had naturally a strong mind; had been favored with a liberal education; his Christian character was unblemished; and his manners were conciliatory and unaffected. All this gave promise of a life of ministerial usefulness; but the anticipation of the great responsibilities of the pastoral office in the First Church, and in this large city, depressed his mind so much, that he wrote to the Church, declining their call; and soon after left the city abruptly, and returned to Massachusetts. He lived however, to prove that the Church had not formed too high an estimate either of his piety or of his talents.

On the 6th of November, 1804, the Church after much prayerful deliberation, agreed to send for Rev. William Parkinson, of Fredericktown, Maryland, to spend a few months with them, with a view to settlement as Pastor, should it appear to be desirable and proper. As he had preached for them several times in l802, they were somewhat acquainted [sic] with his ministerial. gifts, and were not ignorant of his views of doctrine. He complied with the invitation of the Church, and arrived in the city on the 20th of December. Having preached six weeks, a call to take the pastoral charge of them was presented, February 8th, 1805: this call he accepted on the 14th April following.

Brother Parkinson's preaching attracted large congregations, and the word of truth was owned and blessed of God to the conversion and edification of many precious souls. At the meeting of the New York Association, in May, 1805, the Church reported 253 members; in 1809, they numbered 564. For four or five years a time of refreshing was experienced from the presence of the Lord, and the baptismal waters were visited almost every month during that most interesting and prosperous period. The enemy, however, had been busily engaged in sowing tares, and cases of discipline, exclusion, frequent Church meetings to try delinquents, and strenuous efforts to heal breaches and reconcile differences, were the result.

On the 26th of March, l811, brethren Greenleaf S. Webb, and Jacob H. Brouner, with twenty-four other brethren and sisters, obtained letters of dismission, and united together as an independent body, under the name of the Zoar Baptist Church. They hired a place of worship in Rose Street, and the Pastor of the First Church preached upon the occasion of their public recognition. They continued together, however, only about one year, and then dissolved, taking their letters and uniting with other Baptist Churches as they severally pleased.

The troubles in the Church caused many to leave her, and to seek peace and Christian fellowship elsewhere. These troubles arose principally, at this time, from the accusations brought against the Pastor; but into the merits of the case, it is neither the duty nor the province of the speaker to enter on the present occasion. Some future historian may choose to investigate the subject; it is sufficient now to say, that the Church insisted upon the right of disciplining her own members, although four sister churches had declared in their letters to the Association, "their non-fellowship with the First, Church, on account of their proceedings relative to their Pastor." The following letter was addressed to the New York Association, and is recorded in their Minutes of May 21st, 1812, expressing their views of Church Independence, and their reasons for not submitting the case of discipline in question, to the investigation and decision of that Body:

"Dear Brethren, --
It is well understood by you, that it has been the current opinion of all churches, and of all associations of churches, of our denomination, that every gospel church, regularly constituted, is a society having full power from Christ, the only Lord and Law-giver in Zion, to execute every branch of church discipline; consequently to judge of all charges brought against any of its members; and to choose, continue and dismiss its own pastor at pleasure: and therefore that, although a church may, if so disposed, ask advice of elders, of sister churches, or of an association of churches, yet that such advice, when given, is by, no means binding on the church who asked it, and that it would be gross usurpation for any other body of men whatever, especially unsolicited, to claim the right of judging decisively for a church, in matters either of faith or practice.

"Now, upon this principle, a principle heretofore universally admitted in all our churches and associations, and which we believe to be supported by the Holy Scriptures, we, as a church, have acted in all our proceedings relative to our pastor. Confident of possessing this power, we acted accordingly, when we first called him, and agreed on the pecuniary support we would afford him: we consulted no sister church, nor did any sister church presume to dictate; and feeling independent of every tribunal on earth, we felt conscious of possessing the same right to act, when it became necessary for us to investigate and decide on charges brought against his moral character. Accordingly, from a sense of duty to the person accused, and to ourselves, as common sharers in the reproach; but especially from a concern for the suffering cause of Christ, and from an abhorrence of the crimes alleged, and a determination not to give them any countenance among us, we proceeded to inquire after, and to examine into the several charges rumored, with all convenient speed, and with all possible scrutiny. In doing this, we took all those measures, which to us appeared the most likely to make a discovery of truth in every instance. Having gained all the information we could, by individuals, committees, &c we then had the consideration of each, charge; in turn, before us as a church; and after prayer and due deliberation, we decided, we trust, in the fear of the Lord, and, agreeable to the instructions of his holy word.

"Some of the charges alleged were, indeed, of a most criminal and odious nature; but we are happy and conscientious in assuring you, that we find everyone of them wholly destitute of any foundation other than the mere testimony of the persons themselves, who brought them; and who in every instance, have been proved guilty of untruth and self-contradiction; also, of the grossest inconsistency, with respect to the person accused; as it is well known, and has been in some instances declared under oath, by persons of unimpeached reputation, that they not only attended his ministry, but also spake of him in the highest terms of approbation, after the date of all the crimes of which they have complained. Yet, that they have assigned their own high sense of his virtue as a reason, why they could not possibly believe an ill report of him by another.

"To us, therefore, it has appeared evident, that the charge under consideration originated in disappointment and malice, and we have to lament that they have been too readily countenanced by those, of whom we had a right to expect better things.

"You must easily perceive, brethren, that a mass of public odium has fallen upon us, by the names of certain persons, of reputable standing in society, being mentioned, far and near, as having decided against us; and we are free to declare, that, had those persons stated to us; that they were witnesses of any criminal conduct in our pastor, we should have been bound to believe them: but, on the contrary, they make no such pretensions; all they rely on is the testimony of persons, whose conduct and character have rendered it 'impossible for us to believe. This explanation we have given, not as requesting you, by a council or otherwise, to judge of the case between us and our pastor; for of this we have ourselves judged already, and believe that we are the only body on earth possessing a right to do so, but merely for your information.

"Dear brethren! We beg leave, in conclusion to submit to your serious reflection, the following particulars:

"1st. Must not any one of you admit that we, as a church, have stronger reasons for examining into the charges against our pasto, than any other church or individual can possibly have, as we have been, and still are in the constant habit of receiving the word and ordinances of Christ, administered by him?

"2d. Have we not had a much better opportunity of acquaintance, with the person complained of, than any other church represented in your body? And have we not had opportunity of access to all the sources of information to which those who complain of us can have had access?

"3d. Are brethren prepared to say, that we, as a church, are not as capable of inquiring into, and judging of our own matters, and so of the matter immediately in question, as churches are in common?

"4th. Can it be presumed that a church, consisting of between four and five hundred members, and many of these of long standing, in church relation, should all agree to wink at, or cover crimes in any one member, such as those alleged against our pastor, who is one of us? For, admitting that there may remain some among us (as perhaps there are in all churches) whose integrity could not be altogether relied on; yet, can any one conscientiously say, can any one seriously believe, that there are no persons of integrity among us? Not even one honest person, who would reveal such a plot to conceal vice? Or are you ready to declare, that the few, who within sixteen months past have been either dismissed or put away from us, were the only persons of all the church, who, at the commencement of our troubles, or ever since, have had either discernment enough to discover, or honesty enough to speak the truth?

"Finally, brethren, suppose that we, as a church, had decided against our pastor; suppose we had not only discarded him; as a preacher, but also excluded him as a professor; would it have occurred to sister churches that we were bound first to have consulted them? Or suppose they had been of opinion that we had done wrong, and had complained to you of our conduct; what would have been your answer? Would you not have said, the church have [sic] a right to decide the matter for themselves?

"With these observations we close our remarks, submitting them to the candid and impartial consideration of all who love the peace and happiness of Zion.

"Read and approved in Church  
Meeting, May 19,1812.                                        "R. Graves, Church Clerk."

The question was decided by a vote of the Churches; fifteen sustaining the views of the First Church, and six against them: "Whereupon the following Churches, viz., Fayette Street, Mulberry Street, Poughkeepsie, and Mount Pleasant, being dissatisfied therewith, requested their dismissing, which on motion was granted." These four Churches met, by their delegates, in Poughkeepsie, November, 21st , 1815, and formed The Hudson River Association, now the largest Baptist Association in the State.

After various seasons of prosperity and adversity, of joy and sorrow, brother Parkinson resigned his pastoral charge, August 11th, 1840, having held it more than 35 years. Between seventy and eighty members took letters of dismission within a few months after, and most of them united in the constitution of the Bethesda Baptist Church, choosing brother Parkinson for their Pastor. His health, however, soon entirely failed, and for more than three years he has been laid aside from the work of the ministry. The Bethesda, Church was publicly recognized, February 28th, 1841: sermon by S. H, Cone from Proverbs 23:23 -- Buy the truth, and sell it not. Brother Charles J. Hopkins is their present pastor.

The First Church was now greatly reduced in numbers, having but about 200 members residing in the city; their debt had been increasing for years, and the sale of their property would do little more than liquidate it; their meeting house was ineligibly situated, and the congregation had moved away from it; and whether it would be better to struggle on and endeavor to maintain their visibility, or not, became a grave and perplexing question. Occasional supplies were obtained for the pulpit; for several months brother Benjamin M. Hill, Corresponding Secretary of the American Baptist Home Missionary Society, preached for them statedly; and the Church resorted to prayer -- frequent, fervent, and importunate prayer -- for the divine guidance and blessing. Those who were present at these special prayer meetings, still speak of them as among the most precious seasons vouchsafed to them on earth.

Dr. Cone remarked, that at this period he had announced his intention of resigning his charge of Oliver Street Church, at the end of two, four or six months, as the Church might prefer; expecting to remove from the city. He was not aware of what had been passing in the First Church nor had the thought of becoming their pastor ever crossed his mind. Dr. Thomas T. Devan, an intimate friend, now called and spread before him the situation of the First Church; their embarrassments, and their determination to make a mighty effort to sustain themselves; he stated, furthermore, that they cou1d not unite in a call to any other minister, as far as he could see. Similar conversations were held with the Pulpit Committee, and other influential members of the Church, and resulted in his consenting to entertain a call to the pastoral charge of the First Church, on condition "that the call should be unanimous; that he should be expected to preach but twice on the Lord's day -- morning and afternoon; and that the Church should erect such a building on their Broome Street lots as would accommodate our Bible and Missionary Societies, at a merely nominal rent; besides suitable accommodations for the Church and congregation." These conditions the Church cordially approved and their call was dated Match 29th, 1841. After a month's deliberation and prayer -- the hand of the Lord appearing evidently to be in this thing -- the call was accepted and the present Pastor assumed the arduous duties and responsibilities of his station, July 1st, 1841: having preached in the Oliver Street Church eighteen years and two months.

The building we now occupy, was opened for public worship, February 20th, 1842; -- sermon by the Pastor, from Psalm 20:5 -- In the name of our God we will set up our banners. The entire edifice measures 75 feet wide, by 110 on the East side, 87 on Broome Street, and 90 on Elizabeth Street; -- the auditory is nearly 75 feet square; the remainder of the building, fronting on Broome Street, is occupied by the American and Foreign Bible Society and the American Baptist Home Mission Society, at an annual rent of one dollar each per annum. The whole cost of lots and house, including interest paid before the house was finished, and the expense of a law suit since to defend our title, falls but little short of seventy-five thousand dollars. Within a few days, the lots on Gold Street have been sold for thirty-three thousand dollars, so that on the1st of May next our debt will be reduced considerably below twenty thousand dollars; and the burying ground, consisting of seven lots on Houston Street, will be unencumbered. The Lord hath done great things for us, whereof we are glad.

What hath God wrought! did Israel say
When Jordan rolled its tide away!
What hath God wrought! this Church should say,
Since God hath rolled her debt away.

For four years past the Church has enjoyed uninterrupted prosperity; the attendance upon the ministry of the word is uniformly large; the number of members reported to the Association, May 27th, l845, was 586; the 1argest number of which she was ever composed and they are happily united in doctrine, in brotherly kindness, and in benevolent effort - and according to this time, with grateful hearts we would say -- WHAT HATH GOD WROUGHT!

From this imperfect sketch, we make the following closing remarks :
1. This may with propriety be called the Centennial Anniversary of the First Church; since the brethren and sisters who worshipped in brother Dodge's house, in, 1745, supported the cause, obtained preaching, had the ordinances of the gospel administered, and received converts into their fellowship by baptism, before the Scotch Plains Church was constituted. They also purchased ground, erected a meeting house, called a Pastor, &c., as an independent body.

2. For one hundred years this body has met all the pecuniary charges attendant upon their organization, without ever sending their pastors to solicit from other Churches.

3. It appears, from the records, that the Church has never received an excommunicated, member from a sister Church, in a single instance, and extraordinary circumstances alone can ever justify, a departure from this course.

4. She has uniformly and steadfasl1y maintained from the beginning, the doctrine of Church Independence -- a doctrine dear to the hearts of American Baptists.

5. This Church has "earnestly contended for the faith once delivered to the saints," and in the warm attachment of the members to the glorious doctrines of sovereign and all-conquering grace must be ascribed, under God, the continuance of her visibility until the present day. To the truths contained in her Confession of Faith she still inviolably adheres.

6. From this Church have sprung the Second or Bethel, Zoar, Abyssinian, Peekskill, North, Stamford, and Bethesda Churches; besides several others principally formed out of members who had belonged to her. Ministers sent out by her were, Thomas Ustick, Ebenezer Ferris, Isaac Skillman, Stephen Gano, Thomas Montayne, Cornelius P. Wvckoff, James Bruce, John Seger, Simeon J. Drake, William Rollinson, Henry C. Fish; and Thomas T. Devan, missionary in Canton, China.

7. A large portion of the heart-rending trials of the Church, especially in the former part of her history, arose from evil-speaking, backbiting, and the unblushing violation of the Saviour's command, Matthew 18:15-17, If thy brother offend, &c. "Behold how great a matter, a little fire kindleth; and the tongue is a fire -- a world of iniquity!"

Finally, in looking back upon all the way in which the Lord our God hath led us, we acknowledge heartily that to Him belonged all the grace and all the glory -- but to us, "confusion of faces, as at this day." May the Lord preserve this Church from all the evils which have been connected with the history of the past; may he enable her members to cling to the cross of Christ, and exemplify in their whole deportment the sanctifying influence of the DOCTRINES OF GRACE; may he greatly increase their zeal in promoting the interests of Messiah's kingdom throughout the earth; and may their unchanging motto be -- According to this time it shall be said -- WHAT HATH GOD WROUGHT! Amen and Amen!


[From Baptist Memorial and Monthly Record, March, 1846, pp. 69-78. The title is changed from "History of the First Baptist Church, N. Y. City." jrd]

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