"The date which marks the formation of the church is the 13th of May, 1798. In the evening of that day, which was 'the holy Sabbath,' the venerable Abraham Booth engaged in constituting the little Christian Society of eight members, whose names our aged few will be pleased to have repeated: Mr. Burford and Mrs. Burford, Mr. Frimley and Mrs. Frimley, Mr. Holman, Mr. Hodgkins, Mr. Marsom, and Mrs. M. Marsom. The grave and eminent preacher selected for his text, Ephesians ii. 22 'In whom ye also are builded together for an habitation of God through the Spirit.' Mr. Ranee, whom the people were beginning to solicit as their future pastor, wrote at the time in his diary, which is still preserved, 'Now from this small beginning of a Baptist church in Hackney, which is the first that was ever formed in that place, I trust the Lord will raise up many to show forth his praise,' a devout desire, which our Heavenly Father has permitted to be extensively fulfilled.
Mr. Ranee was a man of considerable gifts, and still more remarkable humility. He struggled for a long time most severely with apprehensions of his own incompetency for the work, to which it was nevertheless evident he was called. On the 30th of July, he writes: 'I cannot think I am called to be the pastor of this church. Wrote to Mr. Burford, the deacon, and desired him to think no more of it, as I am fully determined not to undertake it.' Again, on the 6th of August: 'It is now a year since I began publicly to preach the gospel, and I am exactly of the same opinion I was then: viz., that I have not gifts for preaching constantly to the same people. I am, therefore, determined not to take the charge of the people at Hackney.'
The first addition of three persons to the church was made on the 16th of the same month, when Mr. Booth preached. 'As this,' says Mr. Ranee, 'is the first addition to the little church at Hackney, I pray the Lord would bless them abundantly, and it may appear in years to come that this is all his own doing.'
The scruples of this excellent man, who continued to officiate, sabbath after sabbath, in their assemblies, were at length overcome, and he was publicly ordained to the pastoral charge at Hackney, on the 4th of October, 1798. All who united in that service have 'finished their course with joy' Drs. Rippon, Newman, and Jenkins, Mr. Booth and Mr. Upton.
The ministry of Mr. Ranee was in accordance with his own character. He enjoyed a solid, though scarcely a brilliant success; but the small place of the church's solemnities was very greatly enlarged, and re-opened on the first of September, 1801. The pastor was beloved by the people; and highly estimated, not only in the locality of his constant labours, but among ministers and christians of his own denomination in the Metropolis, to whom he was chiefly known. He entered at last into the heavenly rest, suddenly, but quietly, in the silence of the night. His memory still lingers, like yet undeparted twilight, in the minds of many surviving friends. The peace and prosperity of the church were, after a time, greatly interrupted; and, through some unhappy dissensions, both the church and congregation became reduced to a low state, at the period of your present pastor's first acquaintance with it. It was not a season, indeed, of entire destitution; for the late Mr. Bradley occupied the station as the second pastor for about three years.
The circumstances of my own settlement in Hackney have often been brought under review, as constituting a singular part of my personal history. The primary intimations of the wish of the church at Hackney were entirely declined; indeed, as some of my friends are aware, an arrangement to supply for four sabbaths was made, upon the express condition, that it was only to be regarded as a temporary aid to a destitute church, and that I should not be requested to remain longer, having fully resolved on not accepting any invitation. The reasons of this it is unnecessary to explain, and the result is too obvious for a formal statement. I have just adverted in this manner to the fact of this strictly providential counteraction, as I have
ever deemed it, of my own intentions and desires, in order to supply materials for grateful thought respecting the workings of that all-ordering Wisdom which overrules our weakness, waywardness, and reluctance to do His will, to promote his own glory and our ultimate satisfaction in his dispensations. The disobedient son said in the first instance, 'I will not,' but 'afterwards repented and went;' and the gracious Father forgave the resistance, and stamped his blessing on the new determination. In the middle of February, 1811, I came for a month, and a month only. Mysterious mercy! I have been constrained to stay five and thirty years.
It was deemed expedient, after the lapse of a few months from my first engagement, that there should be a public recognition of the union, which accordingly took place in the following October, when an appropriate discourse was delivered by the Rev. Joseph Hughes, of Battersea, from I Thessalonians iii. 11, 'Now God himself, our Father, and our Lord Jesus Christ, direct our way unto you.' As the congregation continued to increase during the summer and the ensuing winter, a resolution was taken to erect a new and larger place of worship, on some piece of ground of permanent tenure, the existing building having only a leasehold foundation of less than thirty years. The people readily contributed to this new design; but the outlay was large, in consequence of the price of materials at the time; and, notwithstanding ever effort, a debt was incurred of at least £2,600. Immediate measures were adopted to insure a gradual liquidation; and, to the honour of a comparatively poor people be it spoken, in a few years every incumbrance was removed, the last £1,500 being raised in twelve or fourteen months. Some time afterwards, an addition was made of two side galleries, and subsequently, after the lapse of perhaps ten years more, the upper part of the place was extended twenty-eight feet, so as to provide, besides accommodation for the children of the Sunday schools, a spacious vestry below.
While on the subject of material constructions, your efforts ought to be commemorated in the erection of that commodious building in Ann's place, at the cost probably of £700 or £800. It is at once a school-room for infants and for a Sunday-school, and a preaching station of no mean importance, which has proved an eminent blessing to the neighbourhood and a valuable nursery for the church.
Branch operations of different kinds have been and are conducted in different vicinities, of which the most remarkable is seen in the results of the pious and indefatigable labours of our late excellent friend, Mr. Bradley, of Shoreditch, and his surviving partner. The story of their proceedings is of a most interesting character, with which some of you are familiar; but the necessary limits of my address forbid more than a general reference, marking the fact of a Sunday school of 600 children having been gathered, a place of worship erected, and a church formed, from which has originated another church, and yet another, in which Christ has been exalted, and souls converted to God. Thus the well of salvation opened in Hackney by the pious and indefatigable Ranee, has sent forth its streams of mercy in various places, to refresh the moral wilderness, and cause it to bloom, as with Eden's beauty and Carmel's fertility.
On the present occasion, you will probably be gratified to learn the general progress of the church, statistically considered, as nearly as can be ascertained. I have not sufficiently accurate information of its earlier history; but, at the time of my undertaking the pastorate, the number of residents and non-residents amounted to eighty-nine or ninety. It is gratifying to know, that the annual additions have been generally on the increase; and, notwithstanding the wastes of mortality and various other causes of diminution, the present number is nearly or quite 620. The annual progress of the church, then, during thirty-five years, has been, upon the average, about fifteen members. If we should think this to be a large comparative amount, and be tempted to glory in ourselves, let us pause and reflect how much greater it might have been, had our efforts been more extensive and more pure in motive, and had not our sinfulness prevented the efflux of divine blessings. It is not the comparative number that should make us boast, but the comparative paucity that should make us mourn.
During the five-and-thirty-years of the present ministry, the church has had the privilege and honour of sending forth thirteen or fourteen preachers of
the gospel, most of whom are living to occupy useful stations, two in the missionary field, and one as a tutor in a collegiate institution.
In glancing over so considerable a period, it will not be surprising that the desolations of mortality are conspicuous in the scene. Alas! how many successive times have these seats been occupied by a new generation! How many groups of happy families, once in joyful entireness and in sweet association, have been dissolved! How many bands of friendship have been broken by the winds of dispersion, or the icy touch of death! How many dear and departed ones, yet immortal in our memories and alive in our hearts, come up at this moment in review! Would we might expatiate where we can only name! Adams, Chapman, and Norton adorned, but soon disappeared from the deacon's office. Fox, the modest, the gifted, the laborious and persevering promoter of the Sunday school, none can forget. Bradley has already been introduced, whose works follow him to an honoured grave. Our elder Gamble, whose energy and devotedness failed not to the last. Dupree and the aged Robson, beloved alike for transcendant virtues, and worthy of more than "heroic fame." Webb is, too, a name of honour in our annals. And those ministers in the humbler offices of the church, and bright examples in their sphere, William Pack and his partner, whose remembrance would lead one to say, ' I had rather be a doorkeeper in the house of my God than dwell in the tents of wickedness.' Nor can we fail to present before fancy's eye the living form of that venerated saint and servant of Christ, Isaiah Birt, as whose assistant I began my ministerial career in Devonport, and who, at a distant period, for two years became my associate here in the evening services of the sabbath. Again, as his image rises to view, we seem as if called to pronounce a second farewell, and to say, 'Thou winning preacher! thou devoted servant! thou ardent friend! thou cheerful companion! thou many gifted fellow-labourers! who hast left sons to honour and perpetuate thy name and follow in thy course once more but not a long farewell.' And there was one beloved of the church beloved of all young promising solemnly engaged in preparing for his great Master's work on earth but he was ripe for heaven! I name him not.*
There are absent, yet still connected and much valued friendsour estimated Medley and Gamble, so long distinguished in their office whom to mention is but to awaken regrets that they cannot gratify our wishes and their own, by taking part in this evening's grateful commemorations. With them, and with others yet unnamed, we are permitted to indulge the hope of an everlasting meeting before the Throne, where friendship shall be perfected and union be eternal.
It cannot be supposed, that during so lengthened a period as that upon which our reflections have been turned, the church should have experienced uninterrupted prosperity. No: but while we hare watched the now advancing, now receding wave, the tide has been steadily progressive on the whole; and we would fain hope and fervently pray, it may not have reached its height, but will continue to flow till these fluctuations shall cease, and "moons shall wax and wane no more."
Freely do we admit, and deeply ought we to deplore, that many evils exist among usmany which even a superficial survey might detect, and many more that a microscopic inspection might reveal. Our sins and shortcomings demand humiliation as a people before God; our many imperfections require continual watchfulness and prayer. There is no occasion, however pleasant and festive, on which christians ought not to 'rejoice with trembling;' nor is the feeling superinduced by a reference to our unworthiness in the Omniscient presence, inharmonious with the best, the noblest, and even the most joyous emotions of the soul. It is not in the forgetfulness of our real character we are to find our happiness, but in the 'tears' of penitence that have 'their own sweetness too' in the full realization of all that is calculated at once to prostrate and to elevate, to deepen our godly sorrow and to 'fill us with joy and peace in believing.'
Let us aspire after greater degrees of
* We understand this to be an allusion to the late Mr. Frederick Cox, an amiable, pious, and most promising youth, who was called by the unanimous voice of his father's church to preach the gospel, and had entered upon the course of preparatory study at Stepney College, when symptoms of pulmonary disease suddenly appeared, which the efforts of medical skill failed to arrest. His early and much lamented decease was the result. [editor.]
grace and spirituality. Let us, by faith, zeal, conformity to Christ, and holy love, 'make our calling and election sure.' Let the doctrines of Christianity be firmly fixed in our minds as a fortification against the errors of the day; let its precepts be rigidly observed as the means of impressing its true character and moral power upon the world; and let the spirit of forgiveness, gentleness, and divine heroism which characterized our Redeemer that hallowed mixture of the peaceful and the brave be our radiant distinction in this world of ignorance, delusion, and hostility. Let us be diligent in the observance of every christian ordinance, steady and undeviating frequenters of the house of our God, not only for our own sakes, but on account of others whose conduct may be greatly influenced by our wanderings on the one hand, or our regularity on the other. Let us point an individual aim at the salvation of our neighbours 'compelling them to come in' that the house may be filled, and the vacant places at the sabbath festival replenished. Let us cherish the aged, encourage the young, live as christians, and love as brethren; forgiving one another as Christ also hath forgiven us, preventing contention by mutual forbearance; and, if the enemy has endeavoured to implant a 'root of bitterness,' at once begin its extermination. Walk in love to all within in wisdom to all without. Pursue the King's 'highway of holiness,' for it leads us straight to the celestial city. Let the successes of the past inspire diligence for the future; and let the remembrance of those showers of blessing that have from time to time descended, assure us that there are infinite resources in the divine Spirit, and that faith and prayer can ever keep the windows of heaven open. The revolution of multiplied years since our first connexion, has brought us into a new age and novel circumstances; while we seek personal and private blessings as a church, be it remembered we have also public and most important duties to discharge. It is impossible to escape from the responsibilities of our new position. We must not be inactive in an age of activity; we must not be selfish and monopolizing in a season of enlarged benevolence; we must not be irresolute in a day demanding decision. There are mighty stirrings in the world and in the church. Great questions are at issue; I refer not to commerce or to conquest, which is not our business here, but to religion; questions which regard its purity and power questions which involve the consideration whether the corruptions in principle or in practice, which have defiled its nature, impeded its progress and dishonoured its name, shall be suffered to remain as the monuments on which posterity will see inscribed our apathy and inertness; or, whether we shall unite with others who feel that the welfare of men and the glory of God are concerned in destroying them. Nonconformity is the great honour of our land. It exhibits independence of mind, freedom of thought, unselfish magnanimity, uncowering rectitude, but withal a profound submission to Christ and truth. It is marching forth with a weapon besprinkled with the blood of martyrdom and glorious conflict. Called to another spiritual war, new aids are demanded, new efforts claimed. Principalities and powers and hierarchies are leagued in hostile confederacy; but the battle is the Lord's. The christian church, in the conflict with, and by the victory, through the grace of God, over unscriptural principles, and confederacies of resistance to the sole, supreme, and perfect authority of Christ, shall acquire more imperishable honour let us hasten to share it than of yore did Sparta's champion, or of late did Europe's hero.
But there is a voice which above all we wish, you to hear to-day. Let its sweet and cheering accents be the last to fall upon our ears as separately addressed to each of us. 'Be thou faithful unto death, and I will give thee a crown of life.'
The feeling which this abstract of the history of the church excited, may be much more easily conceived than it can be described. An uninterested observer (if such a thing were possible) would probably have been unable to discover a single dry eye in the place.
At the conclusion of this address a hymn was sung, and Dr. Cox called upon Mr. Winterborn, one of the witnesses of his whole career, to say a few words, after which the deacons successively offered their congratulations to their pastor. Mr. Katterns then offered up some seasonable and earnest supplications, and Dr. Cox dismissed his delighted guests with the apostolic benediction.
[From Baptist Reporter and Missionary Intelligencer, Volume 20, 1846, pp. 205-209. Document from Google Books. Formatted by Jim Duvall.]
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