Baptists in New Jersey
New Jersey is one among the smaller states of the great republic of which she was a constituent member, and to the prosperity and glory of which she has ever been devoted, having furnished some of the ablest of her statesmen, and educated within her bosom, in her halls of science and literature, many of the brightest stars of her sister states. She has maintained, nothwithstanding her diminutive size and the sparseness of her population, and her consequently limited resources, a high rank for intelligence and for devotion to every good work. Her religious and moral character has always been among the fairest in our land, and though she may not have equalled many others in her liberality, or in the extent of her contributions to promote religious objects, she has not been wanting in efforts to do good within her own limits, and throughout the world. This state was originally settled upon principles of entire religious toleration; and amongst its earliest British settlers, there were some who occupied the high ground in their religious principles and practices, of a rigid observance of the ordinances of the gospel. They were induced to come hither by the promise of a "full liberty of conscience to all religious sects that should behave well," and as their good behavior was no security against persecutions they endured where they lived, and from those who perverted the ordinance of baptism, they embraced this promise, and having set up their standard in both East and West jersey, they promulgated their views of divine truth, and their sentiments have continued to spread, and their numbers to increase until the present period. A number of the eminent names in the denomination were born in New Jersey, though their ministry was chiefly in other parts of the land. Among them were John Gano, James Manning, and Hezekiah Smith.
The oldest church in the state, is that at Middletown, originated in 1667, when the place was purchased from the Indians, though the church was not formally constituted until 1688. The church at Piscataway was constituted in 1689. The Cohansey church was constituted in 1690, and was originated by the immigration of some Baptists from Ireland, who settled in the neighborhood in 1683. This church had but six pastors in one hundred and forty-nine years, our lamented brother Smalley having been the sixth, and ordained over the church in 1790; and what may seem more remarkable in this day of change and removals, each of the pastors continued in the office till his death. The Cape Mat church was constituted in 1712, though the foundation for it was laid as early as 1675 by the settlement of some Baptists at the Cape. The first pastor was Nathaniel Jenkins, a Welchman, who is said to have been "a man of good parts, and tolerable education." He was in the Assembly of the Province in 1721, when he evinced that abhorrence of religious intolerance and persecution which has ever characterized the Welch nation, and the Baptists of every nation. A bill was introduced, "to punish such as denied the doctrine of the Trinity, the Divinity of Christ, the Inspiration of the Holy Scriptures, &c.," in opposition to which Mr. Jenkins said, "I believe the doctrines in question, as firmly as the promoters of that ill-designed bill; but will never consent to oppose the opposers with law, or with any other weapon, save that of argument," &c.
A number churches were constituted in different parts of the state before 1792, when Morgan Edwards published a small book, entitled, "Materials for a History of the Baptists in New Jersey," and then he estimated the number of churches at twenty-three. Among them was the church at Scotch Plains, constituted in 1747, from which the first church in the city of New York, and some others originated. From that period until the publication of Benedict's History in 1813, the progress of Baptist sentiments could not have been very rapid, for he then states the number of churches at about thirty.
In 1811, the New Jersey Association was formed out of the Philadelphia Association, the churches in the neighborhood of New York having connected themselves with the New York Association. The Central New Jersey Association was organized in _____, of churches in the central part of the State, up to that time connected with the New Jersey Association; and the Sussex in 1833, out of the Warwick, from which it separated in consequence of the opposition of the latter body to the missionary and other benevolent operations of he day. In 1841, most of the churches in this state connected with the New York Association, conveyed by their delegates at New Brunswick, and resolved to organize themselves into the East New Jersey Association, and appointed their first regular session on the first Tuesday of June, 1842. There are now, therefore, four associations in this state, comprising all but eight of the churches, and most of these will probably connect themselves with the last named body.
In most of the churches, from an early period, some little effort was made to extend the truth, and the New Jersey Association had a small fund annually contributed for missionary efforts in the state, amounting in the average to about one hundred dollars per annum. The churches in East Jersey contributed through the New York Association. The whole amount of contributions, however, was exceedingly small, and the effort which was made, was consequently of little avail. The employment of a single missionary for three or four months, with the whole state for his field of labor, could not effect any permanent benefit to the denomination. To remedy this defect, and to concentrate the efforts of the denomination in the state, a few brethren met at Nottingham Square, in July, 1830, and resolved to organize a State Convention, for missionary purposes, and appeal to the churches in behalf of the destitute portions of the State. The appeal was responded to, and at the first meeting held at Trenton, in November of the same year, eighteen churches were represented, and four hundred and thirty-nine dollars and fifty-seven cents were paid for the furtherance of the objects of he convention.
Since that period the contributions have steadily increased, and the Board have been enabled to keep in the field a number of missionaries, and to aid several feeble churches in supporting their pastors, and thus keeping up the general ministry of God's word. During the year prior to last November, the amount of missionary labor was equal to five years and ten month's labor of one faithful minister, and fifteen churches received assistance, securing an additional amount of effort equal to eleven and two-thirds years' labor of one preacher. The average annual contributions of the churches to the treasury of the convention are now about fourteen hundred dollars.
When the missionary effort was revived in 1830, but little was done in the state for Foreign Missions. Since then the contributions to that cause have much increased. The East Jersey Foreign Mission Society has enlarged her donations to about four hundred dollars annually, and from eight hundred to one thousand dollars are annually furnished to the Foreign Board through the convention, and from churches and individuals.
A New Jersey Baptist Education Society was organized in 1837, and it has now several beneficiaries in a course of education at the Hamilton Institution. There is in most of the churches an increasing interest felt in the important subject of Ministerial Education, and about one thousand dollars have recently been pledged in a few of them, towards paying the debt of the institution where their beneficiaries are sustained. There is much ground for the hope, that this society will prove a great blessing in supplying the churches with an intelligent and efficient ministry.
There are now in New Jersey, seventy-five Baptist churches and eight-nine ordained and licensed preachers of the gospel, sixty of whom are stately laboring in the pastoral office. The whole number of communicants, in November, 1841, was nine thousand three hundred and twenty-two, of whom six hundred and seventy-seven had been baptized during the year. The denomination had much more than doubled in eleven years, or from 1830, when the convention was formed, and as many of the churches have recently enjoyed, or are now experiencing gracious revivals of religion, the whole number cannot now be much short of ten thousand.
The churches are distributed in their associational relations as follows: twenty-eight in the New Jersey Association; seventeen in the Central New Jersey Association; nine in the Sussex; thirteen in the East New Jersey; four in the New York; and four in the Hudson River Association. Besides these, there are three other churches, which a few years since withdrew from the fellowship of their sister churches, on account of their determination to labor for the promotion of the kingdom of Christ. Of their state we have but little knowledge, except that since their withdrawal, they appear to have had but little increase.
There is at this time a decidedly favorable state of things among the Baptists in New Jersey. Opposition to truth has given way; a missionary spirit is felt in all the churches in a good degree; a deeper sense of the importance of the position occupied by a denomination holding and practicing the whole truth is felt, and when all its energies shall be brought into requisition, and used liberally, vigorously, and prayerfully, there is nothing to hinder it from becoming the foremost and most efficient band in all the "sacramental host of God's elect," within the limits of the state. R.
[From The Baptist Memorial and Monthly Chronicle, May, 1842, pages 133-135. The author does not identify himself except to place an "R" at the end of the essay. Morgan J. Rhees was an assistant editor of the journal and is probably the author of this work. Formatted and scanned by Jim Duvall.]
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