THE TESTIMONY ESTABLISHED.
PREACHED AT THE RE-CONSECRATION OF
Christ Church, Redding Ridge,
Friday, July 6, 1888.
PRESS OF TUTTLE, MOREHOUSE & TAYLOR, NEW HAVEN.
WE WILL NOT HIDE THEM FROM THEIR CHILDREN, SHOWING TO THE GENERATIONS TO COME THE PRAISES OF THE LORD, AND HIS STRENGTH, AND HIS WONDERFUL WORKS THAT HE HATH DONE. FOR HE ESTABLISHED A TESTIMONY IN JACOB, AND APPOINTED A LAW IN ISRAEL, WHEN HE COMMANDED OUR FATHERS THAT THEY SHOULD MAKE THEM KNOWN TO THEIR CHILDREN. [PSALM lxxviii, 4, 5.]
The Church of God was not provided for a single age. It was intended to be perpetuated, to be kept up from one generation to another and wonders were wrought in behalf of the people of old to make the truth a living power among them, as well as to establish the law of divine righteousness.
This Psalm, the longest of the historical Psalms, opens with a call upon the Israelites to incline their ears to the oracles of God. Speaking in his name and by His authority as an inspired messenger, the writer comes forward to rebuke sin and ingratitude and to bring out sharply and clearly the lessons with which the past teemed. What was done to punish rebellion by the special interference of Jehovah may be done again by the ordinary exercise of His Providence, if in these days the conduct of believers be marked chiefly by forgetfulness of His benefits, by murmurings at His dispensations and by general ungodliness. It was laid as a solemn duty upon the Israelites that they should pass down from generation to generation what the Lord had done for them, so that parents were bound to acquaint their children with the historical, as well as the preceptive and doctrinal parts of their religion. All revealed truth is a sacred trust, given to us, not for ourselves alone, but [3/4] that we may hand on the torch to others. As the text affirms:
“We will not hide them from their children, showing to the generations to come the praises of the Lord, and his strength, and his wonderful works that he hath done.
For he established a testimony in Jacob and appointed a law in Israel, when he commanded our fathers that they should make them known to their children.”
It need not be said in this presence that the Christian Church is the continuation of the Jewish, and that, considered collectively as a body, it cherishes the ancient law appointed in Israel and holds out, through its Divine Head, the offers of salvation, not to one tribe or family only, hut to the whole human race. When our Lord commanded little children to be brought unto him; when he took them up in his arms, laid his hands on them and blessed them: when he declared that each of his followers must “enter the kingdom of heaven as a little child,” he was showing the identity of his religion in this particular with the patriarchal and the Jewish and how the best natural affections may be enlisted in communicating Christian instruction to the young and pre occupying their minds with right views and devotional sentiments. Future generations and ages to come are helped to the remembrance of religious duty by the good lives and righteous deeds of children as taught by their forefathers. It has always been admitted to be a blessed thing for our church in Connecticut that its earliest clergy, with rare exceptions, were men of blameless character. They stamped upon it an impress which it has strongly retained. Every time I dip into their work my reverence for them is revived and I thank God that he gave us such champions to “establish his testimony.”
There was no minister of any religious denomination whatever on Redding Ridge when Henry Caner came up from the center of his mission in Fairfield in 1727 to look after and serve a few families here that professed attachment to the doctrines and worship of the Church of England. Among these families were some who well understood the principles of their belief and contended for them with an earnestness and self-sacrifice which no amount of opposition or persecution could [4/5] overcome. What was rooted in this village and in the neighborhood grew into a tree which spread its salubrious branches far and wide and formed a shade and shelter for the refreshment and comfort of those who desired to worship God in the forms of the liturgy. We look back with amazement to the days of bigotry and religious intolerance and wonder now how good men could have opposed with so much bitterness the introduction of Episcopal ministrations into the colony of Connecticut. When John Beach announced to his flock in Newtown, over which he had been settled as a Congregational pastor for eight years, that, from a serious and prayerful examination of the Scriptures and of the records of the early ages of Christianity, he was fully persuaded of the invalidity of his ordination and had determined to conform to the Church of England and seek orders therein, he filled this region with alarm and excitement and a lawful town meeting was called to consult what was to be done with him after such a declaration. It ended in the severance of Mr. Beach from the ecclesiastical society in Newtown and the appointment of a day of solemn fasting and prayer to be observed by the inhabitants of the town “under the present difficult circumstances.”
And now the dismissed or deposed minister is on his way home, as it was termed at that period, for Holy Orders. Lemuel Morehouse and others, “members of the Church of England in Reading and Newtown,” have put into his hands a petition to bear to the Venerable Society for the Propagation of the Gospel to the effect that he may be returned, according to his own desire, to the scene of his former ministrations, and the petition has been granted. [Church Documents, Connecticut, vol. i, p. 149.] Hither he comes and enters in faith upon the work which for half a century he prosecuted with singular intrepidity and unremitting diligence. The hardships that he endured, the trials and tribulations through which he passed, in fulfilling his ministry and defending with his pen the church of his adoption from the bitter assaults and misrepresentations of enemies, made him a prominent figure in the ecclesiastical history of the time and drew closer around [5/6] him a people who never ceased to regard him with love and veneration. During his long pastorate, interrupted only by occasional illness, he divided his residence between Redding and Newtown and officiated alternately on Sundays in their respective houses of worship, often going from one to the other and holding a third service in the evening. His week day ministrations reached out to Ridgefield, Danbury, New Milford and other places, in all of which the Church has since become stronger than on this spot where he had, in the most prosperous days, about 300 hearers and wrote so many encouraging letters to the Venerable Society. He lived to see a first and a second church built in each of his mission stations, which was a gratifying evidence of his faithfulness and of increase in the strength and number of his people. These churches, as in other towns of the colony, were constructed of wood, and of the plainest architecture, in keeping with the rustic habitations of the early settlers, but they answered well their pm-pose and have been succeeded by the more convenient, substantial and ornate structures demanded by the luxury, the culture and wealth of the present day.
I have no doubt that churchmen loved and honored those rude old sanctuaries with all the interest and affection which we bestow on ours now. They travelled, many of them, it is certain, six, eight and ten miles to offer in them prayer and praise and to be publicly instructed in the way of Christian truth and duty. Long years ago, when I was holding my first pastoral charge in Cheshire, a venerable parishioner presented to me a manuscript sermon written by the Rev. John Beach. It was delivered to your ancestors in this village in 1754 and from the text, “Keep thy foot when thou goest to the house of God and be more ready to hoar than to give the sacrifice of fools, for they consider not that they do evil,” he drew lessons which are as significant and important at one time as another. A single passage may be cited for its peculiar pertinency to this occasion:
“When we are in the house of God, we should say, as Jacob did, ‘How dreadful is this place—this is none other but the house of God and this is the gate of heaven.’ God says. [6/7] ‘Ye shall keep my Sabbaths and reverence my sanctuary.’ The reverence is not to be paid to the place for itself, but to God whose house it is and who is here in a special manner. Where two or three meet in His name, there He is. lie was visibly present in the tabernacle and temple by the cloud of His glory and He is as really present in all the assemblies of His saints.”
Nothing shows the presence of thrift and care so completely as the neat farm house, kept with all its surroundings in the best order and giving evidence thereby of the peace, the comfort and the happiness of its occupants. In like manner, the neat little church, rising on the hillside or nestled in the valley, is among the most attractive objects in a landscape and it stirred to enthusiasm the sentiment and feelings of the Christian poet when he penned the charming ballad,—
As I rode on my errand along,
I came where a prim little spire
Chimed out to the landscape a song,
And glowed in the sunset like fire.
Its cross beamed a beckoning ray,
And the home of my Mother I knew;
So I pressed to its portal to pray,
And my book from my bosom I drew.
How sweet was the service within,
And the plain rustic chant how sincere!
How welcome the pardon of sin,
And the kind parting blessing how dear!
And the parson—I knew not his name,
And the brethren—each face was unknown;
But the Church and the prayers were the same,
And my heart claimed them all for its own.
More than half a century has passed away since a society was formed in Cambridge, England, which took for its motto the words of Horace, Donec templa refeceris; and its object was to stimulate an interest in church architecture and especially to direct public attention to the condition of parish [7/8] churches throughout the realm, many of which were then sadly neglected and even sinking into decay. No recent traveller in England can fail to note the wonderful restorations and improvements which have been made within the last few years of buildings, large and small, set apart for public worship according to the ritual of the Church.
The interest thus awakened in the mother land has been brought over to this country, where it has developed itself in the erection or reconstruction of churches better fitted to a rubrical and more dignified rendering of our service. A large part of this congregation may recall the time when the chancel arrangements were clumsy and inconvenient, when pulpits in rural churches, overhung with sounding boards, were spacious, built against the wall nearly midway between the level of the floor and the apex of the roof and used frequently both for the prayers and the sermon. Sometimes, lower down in front of the pulpit, a high breastwork was raised, and outside of this stood the Lord’s Table, which the minister approached only on Communion Sundays. The procession of a single clergyman from the vestry room at one end of the church to the chancel at the other, and, when a surplice was worn, his recession to change for the black gown to deliver his sermon, are things in the past not to be revived and not pleasant for many of us to remember.
To say nothing about the new edifices, I believe I am safe in the statement that since the consecration of our present bishop nearly every old Parish Church in the diocese has been enlarged, remodeled, beautified or reconstructed. [October 29, 1851.] You have done a good thing for yourselves, my brethren and “shown to the generations to come the praises of the Lord” by richly adorning your Church and making tasteful improvements in it, conformable to the spirit and requirements of the day in which we live.
[The improvements reflect great credit upon, the Rector and people of the parish, and upon the Rev. G. M. Wilkins, Rector of Trinity Church, Newtown. The handsomely carved Eagle Lectern bears the inscription:—
This lectern is placed hero to the glory of God and in grateful recognition of the valuable aid rendered by the Rev. Gouverneur Morris Wilkins to this ancient parish of Christ Church, Redding Ridge.
The memorial gift of the chancel and its furniture is described in a brass tablet occupying the space over the door leading into the vestry-room from the rear of the church:—
To the glory of God and to the blessed memory of the Rev. John Beach, A.M., faithful missionary of the Venerable Society for the Propagation of the Gospel in Newtown and Redding in the troublous times from 1733 to 1783, this, chancel is erected and furnished by two of his descendants.
Near by is another brass tablet which preserves a relic of the early history of the church in Redding and on which is engraved;—
This bullet was fired at the Rev. John Beach, A.M., while officiating in the ante-Revolutionary church of this parish and was found lodged in the sounding board when that building was taken down and the present edifice erected. Pausing for a moment, the venerable pastor repeated these words to the alarmed congregation: “Fear not them which kill the body, but are not able to kill the soul; but rather fear Him which is able to destroy both soul and body in Hell.” The bullet is preserved hero as a relic of his loyalty to the Church.
The musket ball forms the center of a Maltese cross in the left hand corner of the tablet in bold relief to be seen from any part of the church.
Other memorial gifts to the church are recognized with suitable inscriptions.
 This chancel, erected by the munificence of descendants of John Beach, is a fit memorial of one, the intimate convictions of whose mind could not be smothered by persecution and adversity or overlaid by the sharp controversies into which he was unwillingly drawn. How it would have gladdened his heart to behold the spectacle before us and to have shared with a bishop and a company of clergymen in a service which it was not permitted him to witness on this continent. He labored zealously to build up the Church under the superintendence of an earthly head 3000 miles away and never ceased to wonder why one of the Episcopal order could not be sent over to perform the Apostolic offices and save young men, who might have it in their minds to apply for Holy Orders, the expense and dangers of a voyage to England. It is impossible to interpret the policy of British rulers in denying the repeated entreaties of the colonial clergy for the Episcopacy on any ground but the fear of offending the Puritan element and exciting the colonies to rebel against the home government. [9/10] The narrow statesmanship of the day would not allow anything to be done for the Church which might be thought to put in peril the possessions of the Crown, or interfere with the trade and commerce of the country. But Providence worked out the problem in His own way and in time gave us Bishops untrammelled by the State and free to exercise the spiritual functions committed to them in the Church of God.
With greater privileges and advantages come greater responsibilities. If the age, with its special characteristics, makes new demands upon the clergy and requires them to meet and ponder the questions which science and philosophy are perpetually raising, they are not to forget, and the people are not to forget, the old truths, the old plan of salvation. No era of religious thought can take away or lower the claims of Christ and the standard of Christian duty. The worship which your fathers offered on this summit was to the same God who claims your homage and worship now. Your present condition is but a link in a chain of events which stretches over a long period and teaches you, as the children of a blessed inheritance, not to be unmindful of what is before you, at the same time that you are not forgetful of what is behind. The way to keep alive an old parish that is constantly drained by a stream of its people running outward is for those who remain to be patient and more self-sacrificing, to stand fast by the teachings of Christ and his apostles, which are the standard of the Church and the rule of its existence. I have often thought that the early churchmen of Connecticut were more careful to remember the Lord in their wills than men of the present day. You will not find great stones, elaborate in design and exquisite in sculpture, erected to their memory in cemeteries, but their names are written in many a parish record book and, if the legacies they devised were in some instances absorbed by the Revolution and in others misused or misappropriated by vestries, they show at least a desire on the part of those who made them to serve the Church after death and help maintain constant regular ministrations. Sometimes a man, who has gone forth to the great city and been successful in accumulating a fortune and making a name for himself, looks back to the [10/11] home of his boyhood and the Church where he was dedicated to God in baptism and, by a timely benefaction, revives the drooping hopes of the little rural parish and starts it into a new and better life.
Much is said in these days about Christian unity, for which we may all labor and pray. Time has mellowed the prejudices and modified many of the opinions that existed a century ago, but no true churchman will for a moment maintain that the decomposition of the kingdom of Christ into a multitude of sects is a matter of indifference to Him or that all the multifarious communions around us are of equal value in His eyes. John Beach never surrendered a cardinal principle of his belief to gain a friend or secure peace. He carried on a war at a distance in defence of the Church, but here at home he was gentle as a lamb and taught his people to be so in the intercourse of private life; else how could he have gone through the struggles of the Revolution and continued to pray for the king and royal family. In one of his communications to the Venerable Society, ten years before his death, he said:
“We live in peace and harmony with each other and the rising generation of the Independents seems to be entirely free from any pique and prejudice against the Church.”
This is the way for Christian bodies to live side by side. May the Lord through His Spirit strengthen you and give you prosperity. By all the hallowed memories of the blessings of the Christian ministry, by the eucharistical feast, by the baptismal rite, by the marriage vow, by the remembrance of your dead buried out of your sight “in sure and certain hope of the resurrection to eternal life,” by all these, be entreated to hold the truth “in faith and love which is in Christ Jesus.” That truth will endure when everything which is not true shall have passed away.
It was a delightful summer day when the church was re-opened. The members of the Parish and visitors and friends from neighboring towns and villages, gathered at an early hour and occupied every sitting and standing place in the renewed edifice. The consecration service was adapted to the occasion by Bishop Williams, and the morning sermon was preached by the Rev. Sylvester Clarke, Professor of Homiletics, etc., in the Berkeley Divinity School at Middletown, from St. Luke II. 14, Glory to God in the highest.
The Bishop was assisted in administering the Holy Communion by the Rev. M. B. Dunlap, Rector of the Parish, the Rev. Mr. Wilkins of Newtown, and the Rev. Dr. Beardsley.
During the noontide intermission the people were refreshed from the bountiful tables spread in the Rectory and on the Rectory grounds, by the good people of Redding Ridge; and at half past 2 o’clock, the bell was again rung, and the Church was again crowded. At this time the Rev. G. P. Torrence, of Bethel, the Rev. J. H. George, of Salisbury, the Rev. W. E. Hooker, of Bridgewater and Rev. E. S. Lines of New Haven, conducted the service.
In addition to the clergy mentioned above there were present the Rev. Dr. S. S. Lindsay and G. S. Mallory of Bridgeport; the Rev. Messrs. C. W. Boylston, Grace Church, Long Hill; W. H. Bulkley, of Tashua; A. P. Chapman, Sandy Hook; J. E. Coley, Westport; B. J. Hall, Danbury; and O. W. Kelly, Redding Ridge.
The change in the interior and exterior of the building has made it almost a new Church. The whole cost of the improvements amounts to about $5,000.