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THE FIRST SERMON.
I find it necessary to divide my addresses at this anniversary, and I shall to-day give some account of the history and organization of the church, and its method of work; and next Sunday shall present the internal order and spirit and purpose of the church. Together, these discourses will describe the outer and inner life in their general principles. I take for my text this morning these words:
I shall be ready always to put you in remembrance of these things, though ye know them, and are established in the truth which is with you. - 2 Peter 1:12.
If I am to give further account of the history of this church and its life, I shall resume the narrative at the point where it paused five and thirty years ago. We were then about to enter this house, and the last word was the ancient prayer,
The Lord our God be with us, as he was with our fathers.” Even to-day our mind reaches beyond our own time to that beginning, and we remember the fathers. It is the work of their hands which, augmented, is established upon us. They are entitled to our reverent thought. Their place has been well asserted in the fine sentence of our neighbor, Mr. Lowell: “ That happy breed of men who, both in church and state, led our first emigration were children of the most splendid intellectual epoch that England has ever known.”
I delight to praise these men, but I do it now especially for the sake of tracing our lineage, while I claim that this generation is worthy of all which have preceded it. They were indeed men of mark, our founders and fathers. If I may repeat my own words, they made a community which endowed a college with a liberality which has not been surpassed; which set up schools and placed wise men over them; which required that children should be trained in some useful employment; which preserved its own morality and exalted the Christian virtues; which dealt with criminals more humanely than old England, and loved freedom so well that, with slavery thrust upon it, there has not been a slave born in Massachusetts since this church was five years old; which cherished kindness and equity towards Indians and sought their well-being; which kept its place and name till colonies could become a nation, and wrote the first lines in our national annals. They had limitations and infirmities, but they were strong men, bent upon the right, instructed in good learning, and mindful of posterity — which posterity we are.
The foremost purpose of our fathers was to establish here a church after the New Testament pattern, in which their loyalty to truth and liberty would be unrestrained. They held the old creeds, and they joined in the covenant which embodied the spirit of the creeds, the covenant which has been preserved and is constantly renewed among us:
We who are now brought together and united into one church, under the Lord Jesus Christ, our Head, in such sort as becometh all those whom he hath redeemed and sanctified to himself, do here solemnly and religiously, as in his most holy presence, promise and bind ourselves to walk in all our ways according to the rule of the gospel, and in all sincere conformity to his holy ordinances, and in mutual love and respect each to other, so near as God shall give us grace."
We are able to stand in this compact in the protection of the trust with which they sealed their vows, “ so near as God shall give us grace.” They made their personal confession of faith and experience, and they, and those who followed them, framed from time to time such systems of administration as were requisite and profitable. No form of words which men devised was binding save so far as it had the warrant of holy Scripture. That principle remains unchanged, and in it are our wisdom and strength. Yet we are in accord with the essential teaching of the church from its earliest time. We sing the old anthems and the Christian hymns, and we hold to the apostolic succession. We are the children of the fathers. This line of prophets and ministers started with a wise and determined leader, and it was continued in the men whose names are written with his on the tablet before you and beside this pulpit. They are more than names or they had not been cut in stone. This course of years was worthy of the men, and we owe it to them and to ourselves to be versed in their history. The time came for another forward movement and the men appointed to it were here.
It was a great advance when the church, true to itself, came up to this, its sixth house of worship, its new meetinghouse. It had been erected in a worthy ambition and creditable faith. It was built for the future, with ample room for an increase of numbers and an extension of influence. It was built with the boldness of the prophetic spirit, and the steadiness of men with rational earnestness I set this in with the notable events of our centuries. I am sure that the hand of the Lord was in it: the God of the fathers. There seems now, as we look back, to have been almost an excess of confidence, and that prudence was held in abeyance. Time has proved that the design was discreet.
The right man was chief in the enterprise, a man with the hereditary interest in the church, and patriotic reliance even upon the ground which had been secured for its house, with a remarkable blending of courage and caution, preëminently the man for the work. He did not long enjoy the result of his efforts, but I trust that his name will at some time be set in window or wall in the house which owes so much to him. There were great men in the church and parish when this pastorate began. The law was represented by Parker and Washburn; science by Gray and Horsford, and merchants by Whitman and Melledge; and there were men of all the professions. The past had none of higher rank, and recent years have not lessened their fame. Each of the years has had its own men who were worthy of their places. The new house brought new duties, but the men were equal to them. It is no small tribute to the people at large, and to those who have been prominent in the affairs of the parish, that without great wealth this house was built and paid for and has been sustained and enlarged, and stands to-day in its grandeur, a fitting home for generations to come. It is an instance of excellent financial management, to which I am glad to give this grateful recognition. Nothing is lacking to the house but the completion of its windows, and I have in waiting the names of those whose memory should be enshrined in these forms of beauty, with those which already render it homelike and attractive.
These have been years of activity, in wbich many have been engaged. They are too many to be named and too well known to need to be named. The officers of the church, from the two deacons whom I found, through the line of good men who have honored the office which gave them honor and confidence, have devised and maintained good works, which have conserved and promoted the well-being of the church. Quietly and patiently they have borne their burden and given their thought, in the freshness of young manhood and in the revered dignity of accumulated wisdom. No man has sought his own. In the long catalogue of names Diotrephes does not occur, nor is there one who has sought preëminence among us. That this has tended to harmony is obvious. It accounts in some measure for the continuance of the pastorate, which in its turn may have given by its stability some constancy to counsel and purpose.
While I speak of the church I do not for a moment forget the men who entirely of their own desire have not been enrolled as communicants, but who have cherished an interest in the affairs of the society with which the church is allied, and have