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Philip Doddridge : by Rev Thomas Coleman

by Thomas Coleman, from Memorials of the Independent Churches of Northamptonshire, 1853 pp 13-28

The ministry of Mr. Tingey appears to have continued about twenty years, until the first part of the year 1729, for on September 28th of that year we find the first invitation given to Doddridge, with a view to the pastoral office.

As we have a more full account of this pastorate than of any other over the Church at Castle Hill, and as it is invested with some peculiar interest from the labours of Doddridge, so we think it proper to present the particulars to some extent before the reader. The following is a copy of the invitation:—

From the Dissenting Congregation at Castle Hill, Northampton.

The Church of Christ in Northampton sendeth greeting.

Reverend Sir,— The dispensations of God’s providence towards us in suffering the removal of our late pastor is very awful, and we hope hath lain with weight upon our hearts. It hath urged us to make prayer and supplication that God, the Great Shepherd, would appear and direct us in this difficult and weighty matter, and send among us one whom he will eminently own and make a great blessing unto us.

Sir, we have had some taste of your ministerial ability in your occasional labours amongst us which have given a general satisfaction to the congregation; but this matter being so important, we humbly apply ourselves to you, that you would come and preach among us as a candidate for a month. We leave our brethren, who will bring this, to use what further arguments they may think meet, and recommend you to the wisdom and conduct of the divine Spirit, and continue our prayers and supplications to the great God for our direction. We subscribe our names by the order and consent of the whole Church. (Signed by ten persons.)

The prospect of this removal to Northampton became a matter of great concern to Doddridge and his friends. He had recently commenced his academy at Harborough; he was engaged as assistant to Mr. Some; the latter was very unwilling for him to entertain the idea of removing at this time; and from his representations, and the regard Doddridge had for his friendship, with some other circumstances, he had almost arrived at a determined refusal. But in the Church at Northampton there was much concern about the matter, and they did all in their power to obtain a compliance; and it was as if God worked with them. They made such representations to the ministers who were likely to have influence with Doddridge, as to engage them on their side. Mr. Clarke, of St. Alban’s, wrote, October 21st, 1729—

Dear Sir,—Your resolution with respect to Northampton I could not but approve, according to the view I then had of the matter; but to-day Mr. Bliss, of that town, called upon me with a letter from the Church, in which they represent how unanimously and earnestly they desired your settlement among, them, and how ready they should be in every particular to make the removal agreeable to you; and that as to the objection from your attendance upon your pupils, they’ would gladly accept of what time you could spare without any damage to them, as they are sensible that you, have abilities to go through with both employments. They further urged, that shou1d you refuse their invitation, it might expose them to the danger of division, and they could not join unanimously in any other call. Mr. Bliss also told me that they could have a house fit for your academy on easy terms, and that they would furnish some of the rooms for you at their own expense; and that if Mrs. Jennings did not think fit to remove her family, and is out of pocket by having provided for the reception of your pupils, they would make her a handsome present to reimburse her. In short, that the people were so set upon having you on any terms, that they would do anything for you in their power, and earnestly desired me to press you to consent.

I must own, their very great zeal in this matter weighs very much with me; and the more so, because it would give you the prospect of being of great service there, and by that means in all that county, where you might be an instrument of promoting a more catholic spirit, as well as of bringing in souls to Christ. I am ready to think that God has some special work for you to do there.

And Mr. Some, the most decided and earnest opponent of the change, goes to Northampton to converse with the people about the matter, intending to prevail on them to give it up; and he, in writing to Doddridge, says, “The hearts of the people are moved altogether as the trees of a wood when bent by the wind; and they arc under such strong impressions about your Coming to them, that it is impossible for a man to converse with them without feeling something for them. The mention of your name diffuses life and spirit through the whole body, and nothing can be heard of but Mr. Doddridge. I find myself in the utmost perplexity, and know not what to say or do. I think I am like Saul among the prophets; and that the same spirit which is in the people begins to seize me also.”

Still, before his removal from Harborough, he undergoes a great struggle. He had almost decided, notwithstanding all this, to remain there; went to Northampton to “lay down his good friends there as gently as he could”; preached to them with this view from “When he could not be persuaded, we ceased, saying, The will of the Lord be done.” He thinks much of the weight of business that would lie upon him as tutor and pastor; of his own youth; the largeness of the congregation, and having no prospect of an assistant. But he is passing through a room of the house where he lodges, and hears a child reading a chapter in the Bible to its mother;— the only words he distinctly catches are, “As thy day so shall thy strength be.” This deeply impressed him, yet he persisted in his refusal. Then a deacon of the Church, whose father was ill, presents an urgent request for him to improve his father’s death when he is taken away. He dies that night. Doddridge is detained by his promise for the funeral. He is greatly assisted; many attend, and express the greatest satisfaction in his labours. While waiting for this funeral the young people come to him in a body, and entreat his continuance, promising to submit to every method of instruction he might propose. At length he is so overcome as to be convinced that it is his duty to accept the invitation, though still directly contrary to the advice and wishes of his friends; yet, seeing the hand of God in it, he breaks through all other restraints. After much earnest prayer, correspondence, and consultations, Doddridge sends his answer to the invitation to the pastoral office, of which the following is a copy:—

To the Congregation’ at Northampton, on my acceptance of their Invitation to undertake the Pastoral Charge.

December 6th, 1729.

My Dear Friends,— After a serious and impartial consideration of your case, and repeated addresses to the Great Father of Light for his guidance and direction, I can at length assure you that I am determined by his permission to accept of your kind invitation, and undertake the pastoral care of you, with the most ardent feelings of sincere gratitude and affection.

You will easily apprehend that I could not form this resolution without a great deal of anguish, both with regard to those friends whom I am called upon to resign, and in reference to that great and difficult work that lies before me, in the care of your large congregation and my academy. But I hope that I have sincerely devoted my soul to God and my Redeemer; and therefore I would humbly yield myself up to what, in present circumstances, I apprehend to be his will. I take this important step with fear and trembling, yet with a humble confidence in him, and with the hope that in the midst of these great difficulties he will not leave me entirely destitute of that presence which I desire to prefer to everything which life can bestow.

As for you, my brethren, let me entreat of you, that “if there be any consolation in Christ, if any comfort of love, if any fellowship of the Spirit, if any bowels of mercy, fulfil ye my joy.” Let me beseech you to remember, that by accepting your call I have entrusted the happiness of my life into your hands. Prepare yourselves, therefore, to cover my many infirmities with the mantle of your love, and continue to treat me with the same kindness and gentleness as those dear and excellent friends have done whom I am now about to leave in compassion to your souls; for God knows that no temporal advantage you could have offered would have engaged me to relinquish them.

May my heavenly Father comfort my heart in what is now determined, by giving an abundant success to my ministrations among you, so that a multitude of souls may have reason to praise him on that account! and let me beg that you will bear me daily en your hearts before his throne in prayer, and seek for me that extraordinary assistance without which I must infallibly sink under the great work I have thus undertaken.

I shall continue to recommend you, my dearly beloved, to the grace of Almighty God, the great Shepherd of his sheep, with that affection which now so peculiarly becomes your most devoted friend and servant, in the bonds of our common Lord,

Philip Doddridge.

The account of the ordination we present, as inserted by Doddridge in the records of the Church:—

After repeated solicitations, long deliberation, and earnest prayer to God for direction, I came to the resolution to accept the invitation of my dear and most affectionate friends at Northampton on Saturday, December 6th, 1729, and certified the Church of that resolution by a letter that evening. I removed from Harborough and came to settle here on Wednesday, December 24th. On Thursday, March 19th, 1730, I was solemnly set apart to the pastoral office by prayer, and fasting, and imposition of hands. Mr. Goodrich began with prayer and reading Eph. iv.; Mr. Dawson prayed; then Mr. Watson preached from 1 Tim. iii. 1, “If a man desire the office of a bishop, he desireth a good work.” Mr. Norris then read the call of the Church, of which I declared my acceptance; he took my confessions of faith and ordination vows, and then proceeded to set me apart by prayer. Immediately afterwards, Mr. Clarke, of St. Alban’s, gave the charge to me; and Mr. Saunders, of Kettering, the exhortation to the people; and Mr. Mattock concluded the whole solemnity by prayer.

It was a delightful, and I hope it will prove a very profitable, day. I write this memoranda of it under the remembrance of a painful and threatening illness, which detained me from my public work the two ensuing Sabbaths. The event is still dubious; but I leave my life and my dear flock in the hand of the great Shepherd, hoping what passed on my ordination-day will be an engagement to me to live more usefully, or an encouragement to die more cheerfully, than I should otherwise have done. Amen.

I administered the Lord’s Supper, for the first time, on Lord’s-day, April 12th, 1730. I hope we had much of the presence of God with us, and may regard it as a token for good. On the 4th of February it pleased God to add to us eight persons, in whose character and experience we find great reason to be fully satisfied.

The number of names entered in the Church-book, as we consider by the hand of Doddridge, is 342.

After about ten years’ labour as pastor, tutor, and author, finding the State of the Church not to his satisfaction, and feeling that he could not attend to it as it appeared to him to require, he endeavoured to engage the Church to choose some assistants to him in his work among the people, under the name of elders. They acceded to the request of their pastor, and unanimously made choice of the Rev. Job Orton, Rev. John Evans, as also of Mr. John Brown, to assist the pastor in his care of the society; and also desired Mr. Samuel Heyworth, by divine providence resident among them, though a member of the Church at Rowell, to assist, by his counsels and labours, in the same office. They were solemnly recommended to God by prayer at a Church-meeting, February 26, 1740, having then signified their acceptance of the call.

These elders appeared at once to enter with an earnest spirit on the duties of their office. After several meetings amongst themselves, with the concurrence of the pastor and deacons they drew up a letter, to be presented to the Church, expressive of what they considered to be the duties to which they were called, and of what they regarded as necessary to the good order and prosperity of the society. The letter was gratefully received by the Church. Special Church-meetings were appointed to consider the proposals it contained, and the unanimous sanction of the members present was given to what the elders desired.

Regarding the letter as an interesting document, we shall here present it before the reader:—

The Elders and Deacons of the Church of Christ assembling on Castle Hill, Northampton, to their brethren of the Church, greeting.

Dear Brethren, beloved in the Lord, — As we are chosen, in common with our pastor, to watch over you, and serve among you in offices relating to the public honour, edification, and comfort of the society, we think it our duty to address ourselves to you with one consent, on a subject which appears to us of great importance.

You cannot but know, dear brethren, that our Lord Jesus Christ, whose servants we are, has by his apostles commanded his Churches that they “withdraw themselves from every brother who walketh disorderly, and not according to the traditions received from them; that they mark those that cause scandals among them; and that if any obey not the word, that they note that man, and have no fellowship with him, that he may be ashamed; and that if any brother be a fornicator, or covetous, or a railer, or a drunkard, or an extortioner” (and, upon the same principle, if he be a liar, or one that defrauds others), “they should net eat with such a one; but that” (though such as are without are to be referred to the judgment of God) “they judge those that are within, and put away from among themselves such wicked persons.” These, brethren, are the precepts of Christ, according to which, by our entering into Church fellowship, we engaged to walk; and we apprehend that the neglect of these precepts, and the discipline in the Church of Christ which should be founded upon them, is a great evil, which often provokes God to withdraw from his people, and to hinder the success of other ordinances while this is neglected. We do therefore, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, beseech you that ye would attend to these precepts, and would consent to proper measures for the regular exercise of discipline among us. And as we have observed that several have withdrawn themselves from the table of the Lord, though their names stand as members among us, we desire that the Church would take it into consideration, and that if it shall be found (as they fear it will) that some have withdrawn on account of such irregularities in their behaviour as have given scandal and offence, we cannot think the matter ought to rest merely in their withdrawing from us, but that it is our duty as a Church solemnly to admonish them, and, where the offence has been great and public, to separate them from our communion, till God shall give them repentance to the acknowledgment of their sin; after which, it is our undoubted duty, on a suitable time of trial, with proper declarations of their repentance, to admit them again in the spirit of love and rejoicing in their recovery.

We do therefore, in concurrence with our pastor, by whose approbation we write these things, exhort you, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you enter into a serious disquisition of these things; and advise, that you appoint a day in which they may be solemnly discussed, at which the members of the Church shall be present, and such only; at which time we, the elders, are ready to exhibit a list of several persons absenting themselves from communion, of whose cases the Church will do well to judge, that such measures may be taken concerning them as the precepts of our common Lord direct; and we desire that the elders may now be commissioned, in the name of the Church, to give notice to such persons, if they think proper to attend at that meeting, that if they have anything to offer in favour of themselves and their own conduct, they may be heard, and all due regard be paid to their defence; they being also in the name of the Church informed, that if they do not so attend, their absenting themselves without sufficient reason assigned will be taken as a confession of their being incapable of offering any excuse, so that the Church will accordingly proceed against them.

To this, as our unanimous advice to the Church, we have here set our bands, that if any of us then should be absent, our approbation of these measures may be evidently declared; and we pray that God may guide you in all your deliberations and resolutions, to the glory of his name, and the honour and edification of this Society.

April 2nd, 1741.

After this follows a number of cases presented to the Church for suitable admonition and discipline. One entry we will quote, as deserving the attention of the Churches of Christ at the present day:—

It is the unanimous judgment of this Church, that the frequent acts of bankruptcy which have happened in Dissenting congregations, as well as elsewhere, have brought so great a dishonour on religion, and occasioned so much mischief and reproach, that we think ourselves obliged in duty to enter our public protest and caution on this head; and we do hereby declare, that if any persons in stated communion with us shall become a bankrupt, or, as it is commonly expressed, fail in the world, he must expect to be cut off from our body, unless he do within two months give to the Church, by the elders, either in word or writing, such an account of his affairs as shall convince us that his fall was owing not to his own sin and folly, but to the afflicting hand of God upon Mm; in which case, far from adding affliction to the afflicted, we hope that as God shall enable us we shall be ready to vindicate, comfort, and assist him, as his friends and brethren in Christ.

Signed, in the name and presence of the Church, this 1st day of May, 1741, by the pastor and deacons.

Shortly after this Doddridge is deprived of his valuable assistant in the academy and the Church, Job Orton; and he parts with him in a manner that indicates the high sense he entertained of his worth, and the affectionate attachment he felt to him. When it was decided for him to leave, we find this record:—

Our dear and reverend brother, Mr. Job Orton, having declared his purpose of leaving us, on the invitation of the united Church at Shrewsbury, was solemnly recommended to God by the prayers of the Church, several hours being spent in that exercise, and then was dismissed to the said Church at Shrewsbury by the following letter, sent by the pastor, in the name of the Church:—

“The Church of Christ assembling on Castle Hill, Northampton, to the Church of Christ in Salop assembling.

“Dear Brethren and Friends, beloved in the Lord,— As the providence of God hath seen fit to remove from us to you our reverend and dear brother, Mr. Job Orton, who has for many years resided amongst us, and has of late years, with great honour and acceptance, ministered unto us and assisted us under the office of an elder; though we cannot resign him without the most affectionate and tender concern and deep regret, yet, being obliged to acquiesce in the determination of the great Head of the Church, though to us a very painful one, we think it our duty by these letters to dismiss him from our stated communion to yours; which accordingly we hereby do, blessing God for all the advantages we have enjoyed by his ministry and presence, and earnestly praying that his labours may not only be highly acceptable and delightful to you, as we are persuaded they must be, but that they may be crowned with abundant success. We cannot doubt but your conduct to him will be so obliging and affectionate, as abundantly to demonstrate the sense you have of the singular favour of Providence to you in sending among you so able, so faithful, and so zealous a labourer; and we earnestly desire your prayers for us, that God may make up to us, by his immediate presence and blessing, the unspeakable and otherwise irreparable loss which we sustain by his removal from us.

“Signed, by the unanimous direction of the Church, at their Church-meeting, October 1st, 1741, in the name of the whole society,

“Philip Doddridge.”

Another memoranda by Doddridge we shall here insert:—

May 2nd, 1748.

I reviewed the list of the Church from the beginning, and found that from 1694, when Mr. Hunt was settled as their pastor (that is, within the compass of 54 years), 784 members have been admitted, inclusive of those then found — that is, one year with another, more than 14 members each year: of which 240 only continue alive and reside still among us; of which, 58 were admitted before my settlement with the Church ;—and, as I have admitted 299, they show that 117, who have been admitted from that time, are either removed or dead, besides many others who were admitted before.

N.B. — Seventy-eight have been my pupils.

This would average, during the ministry of Doddridge, 16 admissions in a year.

The following letter of Doddridge, written about this period, containing some statements relating to his Church and his feelings as a pastor, we think never before published, may here be suitably introduced. It was addressed to “the Rev. Mr. Ryland, in Warwick,” father of the late Dr. Ryland, of Bristol, and afterwards minister of College Street Chapel, Northampton.

Northampton, May 17th, 1747.

Rev. and dear Sir,—I am much obliged to you for your affectionate letter, and shall be very ready to give you a visit and a sermon, if Providence give me a convenient opportunity; but my motions are at present uncertain, depending partly on some visits I expect from my friends, and partly upon other circumstances. Be assured, Sir, that if I have an opportunity I shall be very glad to see you and serve you to the best of my little power, and think myself happy in an opportunity of doing anything to promote the kingdom of Christ amongst you or elsewhere. I beg your prayers for me. Through the Divine goodness I continue well. I have been much afflicted by the breach made in our Church by the Moravians, who have got from us a little congregation. The affliction has been increased by the death of some very promising and hopeful persons, especially of one who died last. night, and whose age, circumstances, and character concurred to give us the greatest hopes of usefulness from him; so that it is one of the greatest blows of that kind that I have received since I came hither. My spirits are much grieved and oppressed; pray that I may be enabled to wait on the Lord with quiet submission and humble hope.

We congratulate you on your marriage, and heartily recommend you and Mrs. Ryland to the Divine blessing.

I am, Rev, and dear Sir,

Your affectionate brother and obliged humble servant,

P. Doddridge.

One more entry we have in the Church-book, relating to his success as a pastor:—

Some Remarks which have occurred to me on the State of the Church since January 1st, 1747, which I note for the Instruction of any future Pastor.

At the time above mentioned, I took a review of the number of Church members, which I found more decreased since Michaelmas, 1745, than I ever knew it to be in double that time; for I found that since that time we have received only 15 members, and have lost 17; 12 have died or removed the last year, and only 8 of the 15 have been admitted this year; so that our decrease since Michaelmas, 1745, is 2, and since this time twelve-months, on the whole, 4 — a very discouraging circumstance, especially considering how much I have abounded in exhortations to the Lord’s table during the last year.

N.B.—The omission of the names of three, since recollected, who were admitted in 1745, made the state of affairs appear more melancholy than I afterwards found it to be.

His last statement is — “In looking over the account for the year 1749, I find that 22 had been admitted, and 22 removed by death or otherwise; so that we were just as at the beginning of the year—in all, 239.”

These statements rather surprise us; considering what the writer of them had devolving upon him in the care of his academy, in his extensive correspondence, in his numerous and valuable publications, that he should, amidst all this, pay so particular and minute attention to the state of the Church of which he was pastor. It shows strikingly the activity, ardour, and entire devotedness of his spirit. But, alas! it was too active and ardent for the material framework long to sustain the efforts to which it was impelled. Hence the very next entry we meet with is, “That the Rev. Philip Doddridge, Doctor of Divinity, after being twenty-one years pastor of this Church, died at Lisbon, to which place he had resorted for the recovery of his health, on the 26th of October, 1751, we may truly say, to the unspeakable loss of this Church.”

How he lived and how he died is very extensively known, by the Memoir published by Orton—the “Centenary Memorial” of him recently sent forth by Stoughton; so that, though we would fain linger over his memory, yet anything further respecting him would seem to be out of place here.

We happen to ‘have in our possession a copy of the poem sacred to the memory of Doddridge, as it was first published by its author, Mr. Henry Moore, who had been one of the Doctor’s students, and was afterwards settled as a minister in Devonshire. It is the same poem in substance as is given by Orton at the close of his ‘Memoirs of Doddridge’; but it is there considerably altered from this first copy. It is thus inscribed to Mrs. Doddridge:—

Permit me, Madam, to present to you the following poem, as a testimony of my high veneration for the memory of my deceased tutor, and my tender sympathy with his afflicted family.

I am, Madam, your most obliged humble servant,

H— M—.

Northampton, February 1st, 1752.

We extract the following lines from pages 7-9:—

O, snatch’d for ever, ever from our view, Thou boot, thou greatest of thy kind, adieu! Thou, in whose ample, comprehensive mind, All the ten thousand streams of science join’d;— All the fair train of social virtues smil’d, And bright religion beam’d divinely mild. Ah, love shall listen with delight no more, While from thy lips Truth pours her sacred store;— No more, while studious to instruct and please, You temper serious sense with graceful ease;— No more, with zeal for God and virtue fired, By reason govern’d, and by heaven inspired, Thy various eloquence our ears shall charm, Command our passions, and our bosoms warm; Bid in our breast seraphic raptures roll, And spread the generous flame from soul to soul; While sinners start, by conscious terror stung, And tremble at thy thunder of thy tongue. Once more, adieu! O friend, instructor, guide, With whom our hopes, our fairest prospects died. With what fond zeal we press’d the throne divine, To rescue from the grave t life like thine! If ardent prayers — if streaming sorrows, shed In all the bitterness of soul — could plead, Our prayers, 0 Doddridge! had revers’d thy doom, And tens of thousands wept thee from the tomb. But cease, rash Muse — oh, tremble to repine! ‘Tis heaven demands him, and we must resign. All-perfect Goodness ever wills the best.: Then bow submissive to the high behest, And silent drop the tributary tear That nature’s forced to pay to friendship dear. Though heaven forbids us to indulge our grief, A tear it will allow — the soul’s relief. Yet who would wish him still confin’d below, Struggling with dire disease, or loads of woe ? Then dry the tear, suppress the rising sigh, Weep not for him who could rejoice to die. E’en when the quiv’ring pulse, the panting breath, And clay-cold sweat, presag’d th’ approach of death, His steady soul, by conscious virtue arm’d, No inward stings or gathering clouds alarm’d. Calm as the silent surface of the sea, When ev’n the gentle breeze has ceased to play, Fair hope, strong faith, his sinking soul sustain’d, In smiling peace each rising care seren’d; Heav’n on the saint shed down her cheering ray, And open’d on his mind her dawning day. Then his warm breast with bliss ecstatic glow’d, Fir’d with th’ approaching vision of his God. Impatient of his soul-confining chains, Eager he welcom’d the dissolving pains; Already seem’d on seraphs’ wings to rise, Already spurn’d his dust, and tower’d into the skies. Methought I saw him mount the starry way, His temples beaming with celestial day. Rapt in a flamy car, sublime he flow— The flamy car fire-breathing coursers drew; Swift as the lightning glimpse he flash’d along; While, waiting for his flight, a white-rob’d throng (Once wretched souls, enslaved by Satan’s yoke, Whose painful bonds his arduous labours broke), Grateful and happy, smile to see him rise, And hail him welcome to th’ applauding skies; Ten thousand harps, harmonious as the spheres, Proclaim their joy, and charm his ravish’d ears.

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