THE OLDEST BAPTIST CHURCH IN PENNSYLVANIA
We always look with feelings of veneration, upon that habitation which may be regarded as the cradle of greatness or goodness, and which antiquity has marked its deep impressions. Inpassing over such scenes we seem to call up the revered actors, to hold communion with the reposing spirits that once enlivened that solitude, and to identity them with all the names and incidents which gladden and diversify the present moment. We look back upon the generous anxiety with which their bosoms throbbed, when they laid those foundations on which others have built. We call to mind their mingled feelings of hope and fear, when they stretched the cords, and planted the stakes of their tents; and fixed a habitation for their God. Probably they indulged such questionings as these: Will the generations which are to come after us, build up, or demolish these feeble beginnings? Will they have a heart to respond to those unutterable groanings of the Spirit which now float along these waste places, or will they reject the memory of our humble deeds, and trample down these frail institutions as the remnants of a rude and uncultivated age? Will hearts, as ardent, in the love of God, and tongues as vocal with his praise as our's are, continue to bow in the lowly temples which we construct in this wilderness; or will this prayer-hallowed ground, become the soil of the luxuriant weeds of error and vice?
Such were the secret exercises of our mind on making, not long since, a visit to the BAPTIST CHURCH, at Lower Dublin, Pa. now the most ancient in this State, and among the oldest in America. The little company that first embodied with one accord to form this ancient society, had attained a settlement on the pleasant stream then called Pemmapeka, now Pennepek, a few years subsequent to the grant of Charles II. to William Penn. The very names of the first settlers are preserved by the singular minuteness and fidelity of the historian of the Baptists, Morgan Edwards, and the constitution of the church bears date from the year of our Lord, 1688. The place they selected for their residence must have exhibited a most inviting aspect to these early emigrants. Though the hand of cultivation has marred the native beauties of the scenery, even yet there is much to invite the eye of him who loves to gaze upon nature's loveliness. Along the banks of the stream which we have named, there is a sweetness and a silence which invite to contemplation. Many native trees of the forest, which the indulgence of an importunate cultivation has yet spared, there interweave their hospitable branches, and cover with pleasant shades of green margin by which the laboring current softly meanders. A flat rock, which projects into the stream at a certain point; and leaves an easy slope into the water, has been for a series of years, the platform on which the administrator of baptism has stood to propound the way of truth to the surrounding multitude, and from which he has conducted into the yielding elements below him, the placid forms of new converts.
Our opportunity for observation and thought was favorable. It was a mild morning in early spring, when the whole visage of nature was most serene and expressive. Winding our way to the ancient scite [sic] over the clear stream, and along the declivity which overlooks it, we arrived at the house of prayer before the congregation had generally gathered. A neat stone house, commodious, but not sumptuous, placed in the rear of a grove of oaks, came suddenly to view; and the more distant prospect showed the moving companies advancing to the place. But the joyous calm of the scene was disturbed by an unexpected sight. Turning our eyes towards the silent repository of the dead which had been partly concealed by the meeting house, we saw a pensive group surrounding an open grave, in which the slumbering remains of a fellow mortal were about to be laid. After a little interval another mournful procession advanced, and another coffin with its pale tenant was let down into the clay cold cell. This led us to look transiently through this cemetery which encloses the mortal remains of the worthy ancients. There our met "clad in his rocky tunic," and reposing far from his kindred dust, the plain funereal tablet of the friend of our youth. A line on the surface only spoke the name and age of THOMAS GILLISON. A nobler inscription in the Lamb's book of life, as we humbly trust, perpetuates his memorial. Upon entering the meeting-house we found a large and respectable congregation. When we reflected that many before us were the descendants of the men of prayer, and of the women of prayer, who had bowed in supplication to God, more than one hundred years ago, on that very spot, we could not but realize the faithfulness of a gracious and covenant keeping Father, who had preserved a seed to serve and honor him in that place. At the same moment our heart almost fainted at the recollection of the many painful contrasts to the picture before us, now exhibited in the history of other churches, which, instead of prosperous circumstances, show little else than Zionís desolations. The church at LOWER DUBLIN has enjoyed the ministerial services of a succession of faithful and eminent men. The following remarkable incident is related of ELIAS KEACH, the first pastor. He was a son of the famous BENJAMIN KEACH, of London, and came a wild youth to America in the year 1686. On his landing, he assumed the costume of a minister of the Gospel, and began to preach. Having called together a multitude of people, he was proceeding with his discourse, when he suddenly stopped short, and looked like a man astounded. The audience concluded that he had been seized with a sudden disorder, but on asking him what the matter was, received from him a confession of the imposture, with tears in his eyes and much trembling. Great was his distress, though it ended happily, for from this time he dated his conversion. His successor JOHN WATTS was 12 years pastor. EVAN MORGAN came next, and was two years in office. SAMUEL JONES, after that period had charge about16 years. To these succeeded JOSEPH WOOD, ABEL MORGAN, JENKIN JONES, PETER PETERSON VANHORN, and SAMUEL JONES, D. D. The last named pastor was an officer about half a century. Under him, though a man of intelligence and respectability, but few accessions were made to the church. The soul-stirring operations of Sabbath Schools, Bible Societies, and missionary enterprise, had not begun to bless the age. As an evidence of the dormancy of this body, under the late Dr. Jones, we mention the following fact. A lady brought up by pious parents, members of this church, and in the habit of attending most of its meetings, has no recollection of ever having seen the ordinance of baptism performed, until she was fifteen years of age. Did the church and its venerable pastor, during that long interval, think ; that the Lord might be left to do his own work, or were they actively engaged in spending, and in being spent for his declarative glory? The present indications in this religious community are happy and encouraging. The spirit of missions, of Sabbath schools, of prayer, and of activity in all the important departments of Christian duty, is now in course of pleasing exemplification among them. The present pastor, DAVID JONES, is a brother whose heart is with the Lord and with his people. To a judicious and faithful ministry, he adds the affection, the kindness and vigilance of pastoral fidelity.
[From a Microfilm copy at Steely Library, Northern Kentucky University, from The Columbian Star and Christian Index, W. T. Brantly, editor, Philadelphia, July 18, 1829, pages 33-34. - jrd]
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