THE Church of Christ upon earth is a medium through which is exhibited to men and angels “the manifold wisdom of God.” One design of the establishment of a church in the world, was, in the words of the apostle Paul, “to the intent that now unto the principalities and powers in heavenly places (that is, to the heavenly angels) might be known by the church, the manifold wisdom of God.” Ephesians 3:10.
Among other modes in which the wisdom of God is displayed through the medium of the church upon earth, not the least remarkable is the wonderful way in which he overrules even the imperfections and failings of his own people to effect his purposes of mercy in the enlargement of the boundaries of Zion, and in the multiplication of individual churches; thus bringing good out of evil, and making “darkness light and crooked things straight.”
Amid the darkness and imperfection of this world, it is scarcely to be expected that on every subject the children of God should “see eye to eye.” Differences of opinion on various points, ever have existed among true Christians, and probably will continue to exist till the saints shall be made perfect in heaven, and Christ shall present to himself his collective redeemed and sanctified people -- a glorious church, not having spot, or wrinkle, or any such thing.”
Yet, out of these very differences of opinion, how often have new churches arisen; small indeed in their beginning, but in the lapse of years growing into large and influential bodies, and giving full proof, in their subsequent history, by the fruits which they bring forth, that they are vineyards which the Lord hath planted.
As an illustration of this remark, we may point to the numerous and flourishing church which is the subject of the present sketch. Who would suppose, unless familiar with the fact, that the Oliver street Baptist Church of New-York, may be traced, in its early origin, to a dispute in the First Church, on a. matter so trivial (as it appears to us) as the question whether the hymns sung in public worship should be given out “ two lines at the time,” or should be sung continuously from books, as is now very generally the custom '.l Extraordinary as such a cause of dispute appears to us, it was overruled by God to the establishment of a Second Baptist Church in the city of New-York.
It is here worthy of remark that differences of opinion in respect to the introduction or conduct of psalmody have, in former years, been fruitful causes of division in some of the earlier Baptist churches. Such a dispute, nearly a century ago, for a long time agitated the Second Baptist Church of Newport, R. I.
This venerable church was founded in the year 1656. One of its most useful pastors was the Rev. Gardner Thurston, who held that office from 1759 till his death in 1802. It was during his labors that the dispute referred to occurred. In a historical sermon by the present pastor, Dr. Choules remarks as follows “The most important event in the history of the church, under the early administration of Mr. Thurston, was the controversy which so long agitated its members, respecting the introduction of singing in the public worship of God. Perhaps the fashions of this world do not change more entirely, than the opinions of men. That part of our devotion, which in this house is so beautifully and judiciously conducted, and which tends so much to animate pious feelings, was once most strenuously opposed, as savoring too strongly of the abominations of mystical Babylon. In 1764, efforts were made to introduce psalmody, and numerous church meetings were called for the purpose, without accomplishing the object. October 4, 1764, a committee was appointed ‘to ascertain the minds of the brethren in general, concerning singing praise to God in the church.’ At last, April 18, 1765, ‘a church meeting was held, at which twenty seven brethren attended; eighteen gave it as their mind to sing praise to God every public meeting day. Five gave it as their mind to sing at fifth day (Thursday) meetings, (but not on the Lord’s day), and two gave their voice against it at any time. So we concluded to sing praise to God on all days of public worship, and to sing such psalms or hymns as the minister shall direct.’
In the present sketches we intend only to include such churches as are now in existence, yet it may be necessary in some cases, as it is in the present, to insert brief historical notices of some, now extinct or merged in other bodies, on account of their connection with the origin of the churches whose history we propose to give.
(2.) The origin of the present Oliver~street Baptist Church was as follows. In the year 1770, fourteen members of the First Baptist Church, dissatisfied with the decision of the church to dis continue the practice of lineing the hymns sung in public worship, asked and obtained letters of dismission. The names of these individuals were Jeremiah Dodge, Francis Van Dyke, Joseph Fox, Adam Todd, Nicholas Andresea, and Nathaniel Tylee; Margaret Dodge, Elizabeth Van Dyke, Hannah Tylee, Phebe Moss, Elizabeth White, Hannah Burdge, Ann Millen, and Ann Angevine; six brethren and eight sisters. On the 5th of June, 1770, these individuals were publicly recognized by services conducted by the Rev. John Gano, pastor of the First Church, and the Rev. Benjamin Miller of Scotch Plains, as the Second Baptist Church in New York.
In 1790, about thirty persons, formerly members of the First Church, dissatisfied with what they called the “new divinity” in the preaching of Dr. Foster, then pastor of that church, became members of the Second Baptist Church. In a short time a difference of opinion, chiefly upon doctrinal points, arose between these new members and the former members of the Second Church. The consequence was that the church was divided into two parties, both claiming the title of the Second Baptist Church of New-York. This difficulty, however, was soon reconciled by both parties agreeing to renounce that name, the party consisting chiefly of the late members of the First Church taking the name of the Fayette-street Baptist Church,* from the place where they met for worship, and the others, that of the Bethel Baptist Church. The latter, after many changes and reverses, became extinct a few years ago ; the former is the present Oliver-street Baptist Church, and since the dissolution of the Bethel Church, is without dispute the Second, in the order of time, of the Baptist churches of the city, having been constituted in the year 1791.
The first pastor of this infant church was the Rev. Benjamin Montanye,+ who continued with them a few years without seeing much fruit of his labors, when he removed to Deer Park. The second pastor was one whose name is still dear to the hearts, and whose memory is still fondly. cherished in the minds of hundreds in this city, the Rev. John Williams, father of the Rev. Dr. Williams, the present pastor of the Amity-street Church.
The history of “Father Williams” for the 27 years of his pastorate is a history of the Oliver-st. Church; and as a biographical sketch has been drawn by the hand of his amiable and gifted son, we shall borrow a portion of that deserved and beautiful tribute of filial affection and regard. Mr. Williams was a native of Caernarvonshire, in Wales, and was born on the 8th of March, 1767. “On the 25th of July, 1795, he landed at New-York, bearing warm recommendations from his church and friends in Wales, and among others, from his former pastor, the Rev. Dr. Lewis. A younger brother accompanied Mr. W. Within a fortnight after their arrival in the country, this brother died most suddenly at Schuyler’s Mines, near Newark, N. J. Mr. Williams, who was then at New-York, was informed of the distressing event, and immediately set out travelling on foot to the place. The exertion of the journey, added to the suddenness of the blow, produced a violent fever, in which the mind was scarcely less agitated than the body. He had left. his native soil, his family, and his friends, to find in a foreign land and among a people of strange language, a grave for the companion of his voyage, a beloved brother. He began to doubt if he had not rasth ventured where God had not called him; and this consideration seemed to raise his feelings, which were naturally acute, to a pitch of intense agony. It was .but the prelude and the promise of after usefulness; it was in a manner the parting blow of the adversary -- the struggle in, and by which, his heavenly Father was girding and exercising him for his appointed task. In his distress he prayed that one, though but one soul, might be granted to him in America as the fruit of his ministry and the proof of his calling; and when he arose from the bed of sickness, he arose, if possible, more anxiously earnest than ever in the work of his heart.
“He had intended to have settled in some neighborhood inhabited by Welsh emigrants, and in his mother language to have continued his ministerial labors; and with this view, his attention had been directed to Beulah, in Pennsylvania, and Steuben in New-York. The Baptist Church in Oliver (at that time Fayette) street, was then composed of about thirty members, of whom, however, only twenty could be found, who met in a small unfinished wooden building, about thirty feet square, without galleries, and seated with benches instead of pews. This church permitted him and his countrymen occasionally to use their place or worship for service in their own language. They also encourages Mr. W. to attempt the acquisition of the English language, a request with which after some hesitation he complied, and began to preach in English for one part of the Sabbath, on the other part still continuing the use of the Welsh. Through every disadvantage, the English brethren saw a deep and fervent piety and a native vigor of mind which greatly delighted them. They had made several attempts to procure a supply, but were unable to find one in all respects suitable. They now began to fix their h0pes upon the young stranger, and at length, after a trial of nine months, Mr. Williams became, on their unanimous request, their pastor on the 28th of August, 1798. In the summer of this year, the yellow fever commenced one of its most dreadful attacks upon the city of New-York. Mr. W among others, was early seized with the contagion, and his life was despaired of. But the decisive conduct of his physician, who, in the course of a few hours, drew from him an unusual quantity of blood, proved under God the means of his recovery, and he again appeared with new zeal among the people of his charge. Encouraged by the attention which he excited, in January following the little church substituted pews for benches. But they grew, and the place soon became too strait, and in 1800, the meeting-house was enlarged to 60 by 43 feet, and galleries were added. In the course of years this place also became insufficient; and in little more than twenty years after his first settlement, Mr. W. saw raised the third meeting-house, a large stone building, 64 by 94 feet. Great as was this success, it is not to be supposed that he was without his sorrows: They met him at his very entrance. Some even among the officers of this little church had drunk into the spirit of Antinomianism, and by habitual intemperance provoked exclusion from the privileges of church membership. But in the midst of his sorrows he had also pleasures of the most exalted kind. He saw a small and divided body gradually growing into strength and harmony, and a pious and zealous people gathering around him. God raised up for him active friends, and brought into the church men like-minded with himself. In a few months after his settlement, he baptized Thos. Hewett. In Oct. 1799, John Cauldwell with his wife was added. on a letter of dismission; and in a similar manner were received in June, 1801, Mr. and Mrs. Withington. The names of these revered and lamented men are mentioned because they now rest from their labors. They seem to have been raised with their pastor, and they, with many others, continued to cheer his heart and strengthen his hands until the year 1822, when all three in quick succession descended into the grave. During an earlier part of his ministry, the salary received from his people was insufficient even to pay his board; be however derived assistance from the trifling funds which he brought with him from Wales. But he was not, to borrow an expression of his own, one of the “disciples of the loaves.” With pecuniary difficulties he struggled in silence, thankful to see in the growing prosperity of his charge, that the blessing of heaven if not of earth was with and upon him. The number of members continued steadily to increase, and most walked worthy of their profession. His high recommendations from Wales, together with his own conduct, gained him new accessions of' friends among all denominations. He had not looked for applause, he had not labored for it; but the reputation of being a wise and devoted minister continually followed him. By gradual increase the church enlarged its numbers, till at the time of his death, it counted more than 540 members within its fellowship -- During his connexion with them, Mr. W. baptized about 440 members, exclusive of others baptized on Long Island and in other parts of the State. On the 22d of May, 1825, about 20 minutes before 10, A. M., he entered into his rest. On the following Tuesday, his remains were interred from the meeting-house in Oliver street, after an affecting funeral discourse, pronounced by one who had travelled with him, in the Christian and ministerial path, many days, the venerable John Stanford. ‘The rest of the laboring man’ of God ‘ is sweet,’ formed. the basis of the discourse.”
On the minutes of the Hudson River Association for 1825, we find the following affectionate notice of his death, prepared by the Rev. Charles G. Sommers:“Resolved, That it is with mixed emotions we call to mind the departure of our dearly beloved brother John Williams, who, from the perils and sorrows of this militant state was, on the 22d of May last, called to enter into the joy of his Lord. Need we say any thing on an event, which while it fills our hearts with inexpressible grief at the recollection of our loss has, we are persuaded, ere this, become to him a source of unspeakable and eternal gain? We desire in silence to adore, and constantly to admire that grace of God, which through the whole course of a long and useful life, enabled him to exemplify its sacred tendencies in all the fruits of the Holy Ghost, and in all the labors of the gospel ministry. At an early period of his life, it pleased God to call our dear departed brother, by his grace, and to put him into the ministry; that he might not only be the honored instrument of adorning the doctrine of Christ by a holy conversation; but that by fully and extensively preaching the everlasting gospel of his ascended Lord, as the appointed means of edifying the saints of the Most High God, and of translating sinners from the power of darkness into the kingdom of Jesus Christ our Lord. The church over which he was for so many years the beloved and useful pastor, and which through his instrumentality was greatly enlarged, will we trust, long remain as a standing memorial to us all, how much may be accomplished by the unobtrusive but faithful, affectionate, and persevering labors of a single servant of the Lord. He is now reaping the gracious rewards of his labors of love, and the best regard we can show to his memory, which is embalmed in our hearts, is to emulate his pious zeal, and to follow him as he followed Christ, through faith and patience, until with patriarchs and prophets we inherit the promises.”In the year 1823, in consequence of the declining strength of the venerable man of God who had so long and so successfully labored with the Oliver-street Church, the Rev. Spencer H. Cone was associated with him in the pastoral office, and after the death of Mr. Williams succeeded as sole pastor of the church, in which office he continued till 1841, when he received and accepted a call to become the pastor of the First Baptist Church, New-York. The history of Dr. Cone’s long and eminently successful pastorate in the Oliver-street Church, is too fresh in the memory of the readers of the Memorial to need recapitulating here. During this period there was from year to year, a steady and healthy increase, and a growth in all that constitutes the stability and genuine prosperity of a church of Christ. Few churches, if any in our country, during the whole of this period, excelled them in intelligent piety, sound doctrine, and enlarged liberality in contributing for the spread of the gospel throughout the world.
The same remarks may be made in relation to the pastorate of the Rev. Elisha Tucker, formerly of Rochester, N. Y., who succeeded Dr. Cone in 1841, and continued the beloved and successful pastor till 1848, when he resigned his charge and accepted a call to the Baptist church of Chicago, Illinois.
On the 23d of March, 1844, the house of worship occupied by the Oliver-street Church was burned, and the present spacious and beautiful edifice was soon after erected on the same spot. The total number of members reported as belonging to this church at the last anniversary of the Hudson River Association, held in June, 1848, was 572.
Since the resignation of Dr. Tucker, the church has continued destitute of a pastor. May the Lord speedily send them a worthy successor of a Williams, a Cone, and a Tucker, and may their future history be yet more distinctly marked by the divine favor and blessing than the past.
* The former name of Oliver-street.
+ The name of Mr. Montanye is given as the first pastor of the Oliver-street Church solely upon the authority of Mr. Benedict, in his history of the Baptists, published in 1813. The same statement is made in his recent work on the same subject. In conversation with the members of that church, I find that “ Father Williams” is very generally believed to have been the first pastor; and the original church books are not now in existence to decide the question. Probably the discrepancy may be reconciled by supposing that Mr. Montanye officiated for some time as a supply, without being regularly called to the pastoral office.
[From The Baptist Memorial and Monthly Record, 1849, Volume VIII, pp. 144-151. Scanned and formatted by Jim Dvuall.]
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