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worship hath been erected. More than half the dwelling-houses in the parish have been built, and most of the others repaired and enlarged. Few (I think but seven) have been consumed by fire.* Some branches of manufactures have been introduced. Others have been extended and enlarged. There hath been an augmentation of property, in the church, and society. The cultivation of the soil hath been carried to greater perfection. The number and commodiousness of buildings have been increased. A church fund† hath been established, and become considerable. This society is become the seat of the public business of a new-formed county. Hereby its figure and respectability are advanced.
And to its honor, it may be mentioned, that a spirit of candor and accommodation hath generally marked its proceedings, to the maintaining peace and harmony. This was the case in building this house for public worship; and in settling the seats, apartments and conveniences to be enjoyed in it. This was the case when a change of the version of the psalms, to be used in public worship, was repeatedly made. And this hath been the case in regulating that agreeable part of religious service, singing the praises of God in his house. And, this also hath been the case when alterations were, more than once, proposed, and agreed to, as to terms and modes, ¶ of admitting persons to church fellowship,
*The houses burned belonged to the following persons, viz. Dr. John Sprague, Robert Smith and his son, Joseph Wight and his son, John Eaton, Israel Everett, Jr., Job Richards, and Isaac Eaton.
The history of the origin and progress of the church's property, is to be found, partly in the records of the church, and partly in those of the original proprietors of those lands which constituted what was, at first, the town of Dedham. It is well understood that the fund, which the church now possesses, proceeded from the sale of a number of lots of land, which belonged to it. This sale was made more than thirty years ago. The money produced by it was let out upon interest. The interest, for a succession of years, was added to the principal. The annual interest now amounts to about $267, or £80. It is applied towards the support of the minister. It renders the burden of maintaining public worship light.
The county of Norfolk was formed out of the county of Suffolk, by an act of the general court, passed March 26, 1793. Dedham was made the shire-town. The public county buildings were not completed, till a year or two after the incorporating act was passed.
§ About thirty-five years ago the society, with very little opposition, exchanged, what was generally called, the New England psalms, for the version of Tate and Brady, and a collection of Dr. Watts's hymns bound with it. About three years ago, without any opposition, they introduced Dr. Watts's version of the psalms, and his hymns, in the room of Tate and Brady's.
|| Much commendation and thanks are due to those who lead in that part of worship, for the judicious and pleasing manner in which the service is performed.
March 7, 1742, the church voted not to insist on persons offering relations, as a term of admission into fellowship with them; and at the same time introduced a confession of faith, to be publicly assented to, by each person, when admitted, who did not offer a relation. This confession of faith, though excellent in general, was long, and contained some religious tenets, concerning which many pious persons have their doubts and difficulties. About the year 1767, it was suggested to the church, that something more concise, and expressed in more general terms,
and Christian privileges. Few disputes and controversies have prevailed in the church or society. If the members have not always been "perfectly joined together in the same mind, and in the same judgment," yet a disposition has prevailed, to permit every one freely to enjoy the right of his private opinion, provided he doth not break in upon the rights of others. This spirit of candor and mutual forbearance has happily tended to the peace of the community. God grant it may abound among us, more and more.
But whether the scenes through which we pass, or the events upon which we are remarking, be pleasing or painful; one thing is certain we shall be here but a little while, to observe them. The fashion of the world changes, and passes away, and we are changing, and passing away with it.
Your pastor need not tell you that he is in the decline of life. Evidences of it cannot escape his and your observation. He desires to adore that kind Providence, which has sustained him so long. And he takes this opportunity to express sentiments of gratitude to his beloved people, for the candor and friendship with which they have generally treated him. He wishes never to forget the many, many expressions of their kindness and affection. Unkindnesses, and injuries he desires to remember none. He wishes to be instrumental of promoting their best interest, during the short remaining period, God may continue him in the ministry. He earnestly requests their prayers that he may be so. He has no ground to calculate upon a long continuance. He can expect no other, than ere long to be laid by, as a broken, or worn out vessel. But while any considerable degree of bodily strength, and powers of mind, is continued to him, he hopes not to be a mere cumberer of the ground, or burden to society. To survive all capacity of usefulness, appears to him an event, by no means to be desired.
might better answer the purpose. A substitute of that kind was proposed, and peaceably adopted.
At a meeting of the church, April 11, 1793, it was suggested, whether it might not be advisable to make some alterations in the modes and forms of admitting persons into communion. A committee was chosen to consider the matter, and report what they think proper to be done. The committee, at an adjournment of the meeting, reported a general form of Christian union, and covenant engagements, in which all persons admitted are to agree. This was adopted without opposition. The said committee also reported the following method of admitting persons, as, in their opinion, proper and advisable, viz. "That a person, desiring admission, shall apply to the minister, and make his desire known; that the minister shall mention this, in public; and if no valid objection is offered against the person, within a fortnight, the name of the person shall be inserted in the church covenant, before mentioned. And when the minister hath notified the church, that this has been done, such person shall be considered as a member of the church, and be treated as such." This report was accepted by the church, the following clause being added, viz. "Provided however, that if any persons shall choose rather to be admitted into the church, in either of the methods which have been heretofore used, they shall readily be allowed their choice."
Though he sincerely wishes that his private intercourse amonghis people may be agreeable to them, and minister to their profit; yet probably his occasional visits may not, in frequency, come up to their expectations, or his own inclination. Should this be the case, their candor, and good sense will furnish sufficient apologies. They will do him the justice to acknowledge, that he hath not been a stranger in their families, in times of sickness and trouble. As he hath taken a tender and sympathetic part in their afflictions, it is his desire to do so still, to the extent of his strength and abilities.
He feels great solicitude for the utility and success of his public labors and instructions. The small capacity he has, as a public religious teacher, he desires diligently and faithfully to improve. Still it lies very much with his hearers to determine, whether these endeavors shall be beneficial to them or not., Without a stated, serious, and prayerful attention, on their part, what profit can they expect to receive? He earnestly entreats them not to refuse such an attention.
The remarks which have been made, at this time, he hopes will be received with the same candor and friendship, with which they have been prepared, and delivered. For a public speaker to say so much concerning himself, may be deemed rather indelicate. The subject and the occasion are his apology. He hath not been wont to trespass in this way. And this probably may be the last time, that any thing of this sort, will be delivered by him, in this place. Possibly some of the historical anecdotes, in the foregoing pages, may be thought too small and trifling to have a place there. It was the desire of the writer not to offend in this way. Little incidents generally interest the feelings of persons immediately concerned in them.
The pastor of this flock considers his time, all his little strength, whether of body or mind, and even his life, devoted to the honor of Christ, and the promotion of their spiritual good; and thinks he can sincerely adopt the language of the apostle, and say, that he "doth not account his life dear to him," if it may be thus faithfully, and usefully spent; and "his course, and ministry finished with joy."
The law of mortality, if nothing else, must ere long dissolve the relation of pastor and flock, which has now subsisted between him and them, through the term of forty years. God grant that he and they may so discharge the respective duties of the relation, as shall promote the joy and felicity of both, in the coming world. AMEN.
OUR FATHERS HONORABLE AND USEFUL TO THEIR POSTERITY.
THE NEW MEETING HOUSE
FIRST CHURCH IN DEDHAM,
NOVEMBER 8, 1838,
TWO HUNDRED YEARS AFTER ITS ORGANIZATION.
BY EBENEZER BURGESS, D. D.,
Pastor of the First Church in Dedham.
PRINTED BY PERKINS & MARVIN.