Church On The Common 1816


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Dedication Of Brattleborough Village Meeting House.


On the 22d inst. the Meeting House, lately erected in Brattleborough Village, was dedicated, with suitable solemnities, to the service of Almighty God. A repectable number of the clergy were present, and the house was thronged to overflowing, by the Inhabitants opf this & the neighboring towns.


The Rev. William Wells, pastor of the church in this place, made the Dedicatory Prayer. The Rev. Sam'l Williard, of Deerfield, gave an excellent discourse from Hab. ii 20. "The Lord is in his holy temple."* The Rev. Mr. Pratt, of Westmoreland, made the concluding prayer.


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The following hymns, among others selected for the occasion, were performed in such a manner, as to merit and receive the approbation of the admirers of sacred music.


With joyful hearts and tuneful song,
Let us approach th' Almighty Lord,
Proclaim his honors with our tongue,
And sound his wond'rous truth abroad.


His glorious name on golden lyres,
Strike all the tuneful choirs above,
And boundless nature's realms conspire,
To celebrate his matchless love.


In temples, sacred to his name,
His saints assemble round his board,
Raise their hosannas to the Lamb,
And taste the supper of the Lord.


O God, our King, this joyful day,
We dedicate this house to thee;
Here would we meet to sing and pray,
And learn how sweet thy dwellings be.


O King of saints, O glorious God,
How the high heav'ns , and lend thine ear,
O make this house thy fix'd abode,
And let thy heavenly Dove rest here.


Within these walls may Jesus' charms
Allure ten thousand souls to love,
And all, supported by his arms,
Shine bright in realms of bliss above.


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Thou, to whom all worlds are present,
Countless ages as a day,
We thy creatures evanescent,
Trusting in thy boundless sway,
On this house implore thy blessing;
Be it thy abiding place:
Mortals here their sins confessing,
Comfort with thy saving grace.


Should thy judgments fall upon us,
And for pardon, here we pray,
Father! have compassion on us!
Hopeless send us not away!
But on all before thee kneeling,
Freely let thy mercy flow,
Like Bethesda's waters, healing
To the aching heart of woe.


Whatsoever ills beset us,
Pious confidence to wound,
In the strength of Jesus, let us
More than conquerors be found:
By his infinite affection,
Holy birth, and life divine,
By his death and resurrection,
God Almighty---make us thine!


Lord, dismiss us with thy blessing,
Hope and comfort from above:
Let us each, thy peace possessing,
Triumph in redeeming love!
Thanks we give, and adoration,
For thy gospel's joyful sound;
May the fruits of thy salvation,
In our hearts and lives abound.


The whole proceedings were marked [with] order, propriety, and solemnity, and [___ed] highly to interest the feeling [ ] and the attention of a num [ ]


Brattleborough Reporter, August 28, 1816.

(Column ending is illegible)


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Rev. William Wells


First Sermon in the "New Meeting House."


In Its Original Location on the Common---

Mr. Wells Took the Occasion to Declare his Doctrinal Views,

and to Rebuke the Presumption of Certain "Young Men"---

Other Matters of Historical Interest.


In a copy of the Brattleboro Reporter of July 31, 1816, recently sent to this office, there appears on the first page the address delivered by Rev. Wm. Wells in "the new meeting-house in Brattleborough" on the 7th of that month. The Congregational church, which now stands on Main street, had then just been erected on the common, church services for the town having up to that time been held at what is now West Brattleboro. The title, or introduction, to the address, as printed in the old newspaper, reads:


"Some Observations, taken in part from an address delivered in the new meeting-house in Brattleborough, July 7th, 1816, being the first Christian communion held in that place."


Since this was evidently the first service held in the church, it is of historical interest to know what that address was, and its main points are therefore here reproduced, the less important parts being given in summary.


The Address.


"I am thankful, my Christian friends, that providence hath so far favoured us in the erection of this place, that it is now completely finished; that a regular Christian church is established amongst us; and that we are met together for the first time on such an occasion as this. May providence preserve this building, which has been erected with so much cheerfulness, for many ages; and may great numbers who are yet unborn meet together here, to support Christian ordinances, and worship God in spirit and in truth, when our heads shall all be laid in the dust, and our names forgotten amongst men.


"Dr. Doddridge observes, in his introductory sermon to his lectures against popery, which I have in manuscript: 'Such of you who have frequently attended my ministry, well know that it has not been my custom to insist on subjects of controversial divinity. As my temper does not incline me to dispute, so I confess, when I seriously consider the importance of that eternal world to which we are hastening, I can seldom persuade myself to employ in matters of criticism and debate, those sacred and important moments, which we separate from our common time, with a view to a more immediate preparation for it. Practical preaching is, under God, the great supposrt of the gospel, so practical precepts have everywhere the greatest stress laid upon them in it.'


"I most sincerely and heartily assent to the sentiments contained in the above quotation. And you, my friends, can witness for me, that I very seldom indeed bring matters of controversy into my public discourses. * * * I shall, however, on the present occasion, give you my opinion, as briefly as may be, on some controversial points.


"Before I came into this country, I wrote to Dr. Morse respecting a removal hither; informing him I was no great stickler for particular sentiments in religion; being well assured that many wiser and better than myself differed from me, both on the one side and on the other. But as it was generally reckoned there should be some considerable agreement between a minster and his people, I would observe, I might perhaps be justly stiled a moderate Baxterian; there being no other I was acquainted with, who more generally agreed with me on religious subjects than he did. The doctor answered, there were many ministers in New England of similar sentiments with mine.


"I landed in Boston the 13th of June, 1793, and in March, 1794, I came with my family to Brattleborough, to settle on a farm. Immediately after my arrival here I was desired to preach, and was the only minister in this town for 20 years; to which office I was chosen annually, that is to say, 20 times in 20 years, always, as I have been told, by large majorities, and often without a dissenting voice.


"Here I lived in great peace and comfort with my parish, having never had any difference, nor even a dispute with any one. * * * I shall always reflect with pleasure on that part of my life, having reason to hope my labors were not without a divine blessing. * * * I consider many people in this town, who do not now attend my labors, as my old friends, for whom I shall retain an affectionate regard to my dying hour. * * * And I can appeal to my later flock to say whether I was negligent of their spiritual welfare.


"The latter end of March, 1814, in consequence of ill health, and other causes that need not be mentioned, I gave up my pastoral charge. The very next Sabbath I was invited to preach at the village; the people there, with some others, having about that time determined to build a new meeting house, that themselves and families might be better accommodated, as to the public worship of Almighty God. As my advanced age and infirm health did not admit of my having the charge of the whole parish, they wished me to preach to them, as a separate society. This I have done ever since the first Sabbath in April, 1814.


"When in the course of my education I was called to study the controversial points I paid great attention to them, and my opinions respecting them became established, and are now very much the same they have been the last 50 years of my life.


"One would have thought that being the only minister in this town for 20 years, my sentiments in religion must have been pretty well known. I always thought and said we should worship one God the Father, through one mediator, the Lord Jesus Christ, by the gracious assistance of one spirit. * * * St. Paul observes, Eph. II, 13, 'Through him we have access by one spirit unto the Father;' and chap. III., 14, 'For this cause I bow my knees unto the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ' Rom. VIII, 6, 'To us there is one God the Father, and one Lord Jesus Christ.' I always explicitly declared my sentiments, excepting on two points---the doctrine of election and reprobation, and the doctrine of the trinity. On the former I seldom said anything at all, and never professed to believe it. On the other, the trinity, which I never could understand, I generally made use of scripture language. Had these controverted points been brought into the pulpit I should have judged it a shameful waste of sacred time; and they would very likely have occasioned disputes and strife about what we can none of us understand. * * * I therefore judged it more prudent to say but little abouth them, these difficult questions, though of little importance, having been matter of bitter contention in the church for 1500 years. For this mode of proceeding my heart will never reproach me so long as I live. In all other points I always expressed myself without any reserve. And it may be fairly supposed that had not my doxtrine and manner of preaching, and manner of life, too, been agreeable to the society in general, they would not have chosen me for their pastor for 20 years in succession.


Mr. Wells's doctrinal views had evidently aroused discussion, and had doubtless been severely criticised and caused division of sentiment, for he goes on from this point to say that,


"Within these two years strange reports have been circulating respecting my erroneous opinions in religion, particularly as to the doctrine of the trinity---a word that never occurs in the word of God."


He speaks at some length on the nature of Christ, declaring himself not a Socinian, or one who denies that Christ had an existence before he came into this world; but in his broad tolerance he dares not condemn those who embrace Socinianism. He sees in the nature of Christ a mystery that cannot be comprehended. He believes that, according to the teaching of Scripture, Christ made an atonement for the sin of mankind, but he does not understand the manner in which it is brought about. He therefore thankfully receives the doctrine, "just as I would thankfully receive any efficacious medicine that would certainly cure a most dangerous disease, though I knew nothing of the ingredients of which it was composed, or the manner in which it operated on the human frame."


He declares his acceptance of the doctrine of the fall of man, but, he says, "the fall of man, as it is called, is our misfortune, but not our fault." This part of his discussion he concludes by saying with evident emphasis:


"But that all mankind are liable to eternal damnation for Adam's sin is what I do not believe. And as for innocent children being punished forever in a future world for the sins of their remote or immediate parents is so dreadful and shocking an idea that it ought never to enter the human mind."


What remains of the controversial part of his discourse the venerable preacher devotes to the doctrine of the trinity. If asked if he believed in the trinity, or accepted the phrases in which the dogma is expressed, he would answer: "These are human phrases which I do not understand; and no two that have attempted to explain them have agreed in their explanation. They are doxologies, fetched from the dark and barbarous ages of popery, unknown to the apostles and first Christians, and have occasioned endless contention and animosity."


"This controversy began about the year 317 of the Christian era, and hath been carried on with no small animosity, in almost every age, during 500 years."


"The doxologies above mentioned form, in a great measure, the standard of the orthodox opinions on the trinity; and if a person will subscribe and use them, that settles the matter, no suspicions of heresy are sustained. I must decline having anything to do with them. They perplex rather than explain the doctrine in question, and were framed on purpose to ensnare the consciences of men. And if any will think hard of me, because I do not understand, cannot subscribe, and will not use, these unintelligible phrases, and will estimate me by these unjust measures and weights, and these false balances, which have no right to a place in the sanctuary of God, * * * If for these reasons they denounce me as rejecting the Saviour, and denying the Lord that bought us, I will say they defame."


Mr. Wells protests earnestly, but in calm and dignified temper, against attempts to call him to any human bar for judgment for his opinions, for censure, or to be branded with opprobrious names. "These groundless suspicions, hard speeches, unjust censures and cruel proceedings will be found another day amongst the hay and stubble that will be burned."


In conclusion the preacher thus declares his own duty and philosophy of life for the time that may remain to him:


"Here I am, between 70 and 80 years of age, full of infirmities which I expect to carry with me to the grave, waiting and hoping, and occasionally even longing, for a blessed immortality, where in God's light I shall see light. * * * I have little to fear, or to hope, from the present world; and to be judged or censured of men is with me a small thing indeed, especially by those who have taken up their opinions from others, and never had time or capacity for knowing much on these mysterious points. It excites a smile of compassion to think that men, that young men, who have never been in the habit of study and close thinking, should suppose themselves capable of pointing out and correcting my errors on the most difficult questions, though I have made them the subject of daily study, more or less, for 50 years, having never had any object in view but to find out the meaning of the word of God.


"During the short period of my life that may yet remain to me, I shall continue to preach, in my humble way, repentance towards God and faith in opur Lord Jesus Christ, urging upon my hearers that holiness, without which no man shall see the Lord. And I cannot but think that ministers and people would be better and more usefully employed were they to spend their zeal in doing justice, loving mercy, and walking humbly with God, rather than in preaching and talking, and taking so much pains to know what others think on these high points, of which we can know but little, and what we do know is of small importance.


"After the controversy about them has been carried on 1500 years it is high time to drop it. For us to copy after the example of Christ, be in this world as he was, and have the same mind in us that was also in Christ Jesus, would be more pleasing to our divine master, than to attempt to dive into the mysteries of his nature which are not revealed, and endeavoring to explain things altogether above our comprehension. As for myself I shall leave these things to those that are fond of them, and direct my attention to the virtues and graces of the Christian temper, in which all the sincere followers of Christ agree. * * * Cheerfully waiting for the happy time when that which is perfect is come, and that which is imperfect shall be done away. When we come to be with Christ we shall see him as he is, and know even as we are known."


In issues of the Reporter subsequent to the one in which this sermon is printed---Aug. 14 and Sept. 2---there appear articles from Mr. Wells which were taken from or relate to a pamphlet entitled:


"'Candid reflections on the different manner in which the learned and the pious have expressed their conceptions concerning the doctrine of the trinity,' by the Rev. Benj. Fawcett, late a dissenting minister at Kidderminster---a man eminently useful and pious---an old friend and a near neighbor of mine."


The sermon and these two contributions were afterward printed in a pamphlet which bears the imprint: "Brattleboro: Printed by John Holbrook, 1816." Only one copy of this pamphlet is now known to be in existence. If there are others it would be interesting to know in whose possession they are.


The sermon did not pass unnoticed by those who held severer theological views than Mr. Wells. A pamphlet of 15 pages is in existence which Daniel Haskel issued in reply to Mr. Wells. It bears date "Bulington, Jan. 1, 1817." There is other evidence of a warm controversy which was stirred up by Mr. Wells's views.


Mr. Wells' Life and Personality.


Mr. Wells was a native of Biggleswade, England, and was for 23 years a dissenting minister in that country. He came to this country, as stated by him in his discourse, and was the second resident minister in Brattleboro, succeeding the Rev. Abner Reeve in 1794. He lived in a house which stood near where the Summer Retreat now is. One of his daughters, Mrs. Freme, the widow of a Liverpool merchant, was burned to death in the destruction of the house by fire one night 22 years after her father's death.


According to the well-established tradition which has come down to us Mr. Wells was a man of high personal character, and of becoming benignity of bearing, and warmly beloved throughout the town. He possessed attractive social qualities and was always a welcome guest in the homes of his people. He was, moreover, a favorite with the children---something that did not always happen with the clergy of the olden time.


Mr. Wells died on a Sunday evening in December, 1827, aged 83 years. In an obituary notice printed the week following his death, over the signature "Communicated," it is said of him that---


Although his mind was stored with those rich treasures of theological information which are the products of a long and studious life, he had none of the pride and pomp of education; and although he was blessed with ample powers of argument, he did not feel it his duty to expatiate in the thorny tracts of controversy, believing that he could better serve the great cause of truth and piety by preaching Christ and him crucified, by plain and practical illustrations of the pure morality and perfect purity of the Christian system. While his capacious mind embraced, in its benevolent wishes, and in its fervent aspirations, the whole family of man, he acknowledged no human master of the human mind, and still less did he presume to mark out the limits, of either the power, the justice, or the mercy of the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. The 'daily beauty' and moral elevation of his character were of course more peculiarly obvious to his family, his intimate friends, and the circle of his neighborhood. But he had a name and a praise in many of the congregations on both sides of the Atlantic. To the church he was a shining light, and to the world a bright example. It is known that many able and candid men, of different denominations, regarded him as combining, in a degree very unusual in this late age of the world, the primitive simplicity of the patriarchal, with the paternal dignity of the apostolical character."


A manuscript letter is in existence which was written by Mr. Wells to Stephen Greenleaf, probably in 1815, which relates to the division of sentiment which was occasioned by the proposition to establish a "new meeting" in the east part of the town. It is evident from this letter that those who lived in the extreme west part of the town were hotly opposed to the proposed new departure, while there had been so much growth in the population in the east part that the "50 families" which it embraced felt that they ought not to be compelled to go "2 1/2 to 5 miles to attend the Sunday services. Mr. Wells, himself a resident of the east part of the town, took the side of his neighbors, and was undoubtedly right in doing so. In one place in his letter he tersely says: "The people in the western part of the town have nothing to do in this business, it being well known they have no connection with the society and none they wish to have. The meeting house might stand on the top of West River mountain for any thing they care about it, as they neither come nor pay." Mr. Wells's attitude, however, is that of a peacemaker, and he strongly deprecates any display of personal feeling which will stir up strife and lead to division in the parish. The original proposition was not to make two societies, but simply to provide a place in the east part of the town where services could be held a part of the time.


Vermont Phoenix, May 4, 1898.


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Rev. William Wells' 1816 Holy Bible


Rev. William Wells perhaps purchased this first edition specifically for the August 22, 1816 Church on the Common dedication. This is the title page from the Bible owned by Rev. William Wells---


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Charter member for the Church on the Common, Deacon John Holbrook, published his minister's Bible at his manufactory near Canal and Main Streets---


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This first meeting house was used for Sunday meeting, for the Sunday school classes, and as a Brattleboro town schoolhouse. This meeting house stood on the Common until 1857, when it was moved to its present location on Chase Street.


The Chapel on Elliot Street was built following 1833 on the old Methodist Church site. It was removed westerly along Elliot Street after the March 1877 fire, to where Emerson's Furniture now stands. In 1913 the chapel was removed to the crook in Spring Street, and later to the western extremity of Spring Street, where it stands now.


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