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A Biographical Sketch
of the Life and Character of the
Rev. Peter Werden
By John Leland

     Who died at Cheshire, on Lord's day, the 21st of Feb. 1808. The funeral was attended the Wednesday following by a large assembly of people. An appropriate discourse was delivered on the occasion, from Acts xiii. 36, 37, by the Rev. John Leland; at the close of which, the following lines were exhibited:

Howl, fir tree, for the cedar is fallen!
Help, Lord, for the godly man ceaseth; for the righteous is taken away from among men.
My father, my father, the chariots of Israel and the horsemen thereof.
Let me die the death of the righteous, and let my last end be like his.
      ELDER WERDEN was born June 6th, 1728, and ordained to the work of the ministry, at Warwick, Rhode Island, May, 1751, in the 24th year of his age.

      When he first began to preach, he was too much of a New-light, and too strongly attached to the doctrine of salvation by sovereign grace, to be generally received among the old Baptist churches in Rhode Island, which had been formed partly upon the Armenian plan, until the following event opened the door for him. A criminal, by the name of Carter, was executed at Tower Hill. This occasion collected abundance of people from all parts of the state. While the criminal stood under the gallows, young Werden felt such a concern for his soul, that he urged his way through the crowd; and being assisted by the sheriff, he gained access to Carter, and addressed him as follows: "Sir, is your soul prepared for that awful eternity, into which you will launch in a few minutes?" The criminal replied, "I don't know that it is, but I wish you would pray for me." In this prayer, Mr. Werden was so wonderfully assisted in spreading the poor man's case before the throne of God, that the whole assembly were awfully solemnized, and most of them wet their cheeks with their tears. This opened a great door for his ministrations, both on the Main and on the Island.

      He preached at Warwick, Coventry, and many other p1aces with good success, about nineteen years, and then moved, in 1770, into this place, where he has lived and administered almost thirty-eight years.

      In his first religious exercises, he was led to dig deep into his own heart, where he found such opposition and rebellion, that when he obtained pardon, he attributed it to sovereign grace alone; which sentiment, so interwoven in his own soul, he ever proclaimed aloud to a dying world. Nothing appeared to be more disgustful to his mind, than to hear works and grace mixed together, as the foundation of a sinner's hope. To hold forth the Lamb of God as a piece of a Saviour; or to consider the self-exertions of a natural man, to be the way unto Christ, the true and only way, were extremely displeasing to that soul of his, which delighted so much in proclaiming eternal love, redeeming blood, and matchless grace.

      Sound judgment, correct principles, humble demeanor, with solemn sociability, marked all his public improvements, and mingled with all his conversation in smaller circles, or with individuals.

      In him, young preachers found a father and a friend; distressed churches, a healer of breaches; and tempted souls a sympathizing guide. From his first coming into this place, until he was seventy years old, he was a father to the Baptist churches in Berkshire and its environs, and in some sense an apostle to them all.

      His many painful labors for the salvation of sinners, the peace of the churches, and purity of the ministers, will never be fully appreciated, until the time when he shall stand before his Judge, and hear the words of his mouth, "Well done good and faithful servant."

      The character which I have drawn of the life and labors of the man, who now lies sleeping in death before our eyes, many of you know to be true. From the sternness of his eyes and the blush of his face, a stranger would have been led to conclude that he was sovereign and self-willed in his natural habit of mind; but on acquaintance, the physiognomist would have been agreeably disappointed. He has so much self-government, that he has been heard to say, that, except when he had the small-pox, he never found it hard to keep from speaking at any time, if his reason told him it was best to forbear; and no man possessed finer feelings, or treated the characters of others with more delicacy than he did. He had an exalted idea of the inalienable rights of conscience; justly appreciated the civil rights of man, and was assiduous to keep his brethren from the chains of ecclesiastical power.

      His preaching was both sentimental and devotional; and his life so far corresponded with the precepts which he taught, that none of his hearers could justly reply, " Physician; heal thyself."

      A number of revivals have taken place in the town and congregation where he has resided and preached, and a number of ministers have been raised up in the church of which he was pastor.

      For about ten years his physical and mental powers have been on the decline, and how many times have we heard him rejoice, that others increased though he decreased; but his superannuation was not so great as to prevent the whole of his usefulness, and his hoary head was a crown of glory unto him.

      A number of times he has been heard to pray, that he might not outlive his usefulness, which has been remarkably answered in his case, for the Sunday before he died, he preached to the people he preached his last.

      The disease which closed his mortal life, denied his friends the solemn pleasure of catching the balm of life from his lips, in his last moments. He had finished his work before, and nothing remained for him to do but to die. Socrates, the patient philosopher, said to have never been angry in his life, when dying, was vexed. The cause was this: his pupils asked him what he would have them do with his body after he was dead. To whom he sternly replied, "have I been so long with you, and taught you no better? After I am dead, what you see will not be Socrates. Socrates will then be among the gods." The improvement which I now make on the words of this philosopher is this: what we see here lying before our eyes, is not Werden, this is but the shell: his soul is now among the angels and saints in light, before the throne of glory. I will not say that his soul is under the altar with others, crying, "how long, O Lord, holy and true, dost thou not judge and avenge our blood on them that dwell on the earth," because he did not offer his life on the altar of martyrdom; but I have an unshaken belief that his soul has left all its tribulation, being washed and made white in the blood of the Lamb, and is now basking in the sunbeams of immortal noon.

      Let the inhabitants of Cheshire reflect a moment on the dealings of God towards them. Within about three years, three ministers, belonging to Cheshire, have departed this life. The pious Mason took the lead the pleasing Covell followed after and now the arduous Werden, who has been in the ministry a longer term than any Baptist preacher left behind, in New England, has finished his course, in the eightieth year of his age, while Leland remains alone to raise this monument over their tombs.

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      Peter Werden assisted in writing the Circu1ar Letter for the Shaftsbury Baptist Association in 1791 on the subject of "The Nature, Business, Power and Government of a Gospel Church." [Jim Duvall]

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[From The Writings of the Late Elder John Leland, Miss L. F. Greene, editor, 1845; reprt. 1986, pp. 196-199.]



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