THIRTY YEARS’ HISTORY
CHURCH AND CONGREGATION
PRINCE’S STREET CHAPEL,
BY JOHN ALEXANDER,
JOSIAH FLETCHER, UPPER HAYMARKET,
AND JARROLD AND SONS.
LONDON: JACKSON AND WALFORD.
The following history was read to the congregation of the Rev. John Alexander, at a tea party in St. Andrew’s Hall, Norwich, on Tuesday evening, April 6, 1847, which was held for the purpose of celebrating the thirtieth year of his ministry. It is now published in compliance with their request, and in the same style of personal address in which it was originally delivered. After it had been read, several members of the congregation addressed the meeting; and the following resolutions were unanimously passed:—
I. Moved by Mr. Thomas Banks, seconded by Rev. J. Bryan.
“That the history of the Church and Congregation connected with Prince’s Street Chapel, during the last thirty years, which has now been read, should awaken in our minds devout gratitude to God for graciously enabling us to overcome the various difficulties which have arisen in our course; for the enlargement, peace, and prosperity which have been granted to the Church, and to the Institutions associated with it; and for bringing us together at this time under circumstances which are calculated to awaken encouraging hope for the future.”
“That on this Thirtieth Anniversary of the residence of our beloved Pastor in Norwich, we are devoutly grateful to God for having first directed him hither, and for having permitted him to labour so long and so successfully amongst us: that we affectionately thank him, for his constant and faithful devotedness to the work of the ministry and the welfare of his people; and that we earnestly pray, that for yet many years to come, he may be spared to enjoy richly the blessings of the gospel, which he dispenses to others.”
III. Moved by Mr. Frederic Pigg, seconded by Mr. Charles May and Mr. Josiah Fletcher,
“That an increased acquaintance with the doctrines and influence of the gospel of Christ, deepens our conviction of the importance of steadfastly adhering, in our Christian profession and practice, to the great and essential truths of evangelical religion, as declared by this church at its formation; and of promulgating them universally, in connection with those principles of ecclesiastical polity, which we believe to be alike in accordance with sacred scripture, and with religious liberty.”
The speeches delivered on this interesting occasion were reported in the Norfolk News of April 10, 1847, and the following account of the meeting is extracted from its columns:—
“On Tuesday evening the congregation of Prince’s Street Chapel, Norwich, held a Soirée in St. Andrew’s Hall, for the purpose of celebrating the thirtieth anniversary of the ministry of the Rev. John Alexander. About eight hundred persons of all ranks, and including some of various religious bodies, were present, p. vin testimony of one who has earned in no common degree, the esteem of his fellow citizens. We may refer to this tea party as an admirable example of the mode in which occasions of public interest may be made the means of stimulating social sympathies, and of promoting that harmony between the wealthy and the poor, which in England has been so long and so unhappily interrupted. We may refer also to the review of the history of Prince’s Street chapel, and of the church and congregation assembling there, which was read by Mr. Alexander, as a narrative not only full of interest to all who desire the advancement of religion, but full of instruction to all who question the power of the voluntary principle. Here we have an account of a chapel raised, of a church formed, of a congregation collected to the number of 1000 persons, of missions planted in two neighbouring hamlets, of a large Sunday school established, and of the active and efficient maintenance of all these during thirty years, by a comparatively poor body of persons, at an expense altogether of upwards of twenty-two thousand pounds. Such a result is no mean proof of the efficacy of willinghood, when called into exercise by the ministry of a faithful and zealous pastor, and exerted by an affectionate and devoted people.”
The history which our esteemed minister read at the meeting, and which is now printed from his manuscript, it is hoped will be an interesting and useful document, especially to p. vihis own church and congregation, because it will call to their remembrance “all the way which the Lord their God hath led them” these thirty years; and, as a few additional copies will be published for the use of the public, it may serve to show to persons in general, the principles and working of a congregational church, during a long and varied period of its existence.
Some beautiful verses composed for the occasion, are inserted at the conclusion of the history.
Chairman of the Meeting.
Thirty years are an important period in the history of an individual, and even in the history of the world; and during the last thirty years, many events have occurred, especially in this country, by which society has been materially and extensively affected. Civil and religious liberty has been advanced; parliamentary representation has been reformed; Test and Corporation Acts have been repealed; Catholics, and Protestants of all denominations, have been rendered equally eligible for civil offices, and for senatorial seats; slavery, throughout the British Colonies, has been abolished; commerce has been brought into fellowship with freedom; the power of steam has increased the facilities of manufacturing and of travelling a thousand fold; and various institutions, for benevolent and religious purposes, have been established in our p. 8land. But, during these thirty years, while these remarkable changes and improvements have been taking place, a whole generation of human beings, not less in number than eight hundred millions, have finished their earthly course, and have passed into eternity!
During that important period, it has been my privilege to reside in this city, and to exercise my ministry among you the members of my church and congregation; and the close of such a period, affords a suitable opportunity for presenting you with a brief history of the erection of our place of worship, of the formation and advancement of the church, and of other circumstances, connected with our spiritual and ecclesiastical affairs.
Early in the year 1817, while I was pursuing my studies preparatory to the christian ministry, in the college at Hoxton, now removed to Highbury, I received an invitation to visit Norwich, and to preach, for a few Sabbaths, in the Tabernacle. This invitation, being sanctioned and urged upon me by the Committee of the Institution, I accepted for a period of three weeks, and I left London, by the Day Coach, on the morning of Good Friday, April 4th, 1817. It p. 9was a cold and comfortless journey; the North-east wind blew bitterly; a passenger on the coach filled me with anxiety and alarm by his account of the state of things in the Tabernacle; and a few miles before we reached the city, we were informed that, just as the Packet was starting to Yarmouth that morning, the boiler had burst, and eleven of the passengers had been frightfully mangled and destroyed. On arriving at the city, I went, as I had been directed, to the Tabernacle house, where Mr. Phillips, the aged minister, resided, and where I expected to lodge. The good old man and all his household had gone to bed; and when, after loud and long knocking at the door, I awoke him from sleep, and told him my name and my object in coming, he replied, “I really don’t know you, Sir,” and instantly shut down the window. This reception, or rather rejection, though afterwards in some measure explained and apologized for, was sufficiently discouraging; but as it was impossible to return to London that night, I determined to sleep at the Inn, and to wait for the disclosures of the morrow. I was then introduced to a few of the people, who received me kindly. The good old minister, too, interested p. 10and amused me by his lively and picturesque descriptions of his ministerial life; and I began to think that perhaps I might remain till the three weeks had expired. On the first Sunday evening, I preached a sermon in reference to the Steam Packet catastrophe, which had happened on the Friday. The text was Matthew xxiv, 44: “Therefore be ye also ready; for in such an hour as ye think not, the Son of man cometh.” The place was crowded. The Lord himself stood by me and strengthened me. The congregation listened with impressive silence and attention. Many minds seemed to be deeply affected; and I left the pulpit that night, thanking God, and taking courage. On the two following Sabbaths, the congregations were equally large; and when they were over, I returned to London, partly to pursue my studies, and partly to prepare an oration on the subject of Ancient Heathenism, which I had been appointed to deliver at the anniversary of the college; but, before I left, I promised to return, and to preach during the whole of the Midsummer vacation.
My labours at the Tabernacle were resumed on Sunday, July 6th. During this visit, the congregations were very encouraging; and the p. 11people were so earnest in requesting me not to return to London at the end of the six weeks’ vacation, that, after consulting with my tutors, I agreed to remain till the legal opinion was given, which would determine whether the pulpit and the place of worship were under the control of the church, or of the Trustees. That opinion did not arrive till the fourteenth of December. It was the sabbath day. On going to the Tabernacle, I was informed that the decision was in favour of the Trustees; and as I had been invited, not by them, but by the church and congregation, I had therefore no legal right to continue to occupy the pulpit. I had prepared two sermons for the day. The text in the morning was, 2 Corinthians iii, 18: “We all, with open face, beholding as in a glass the glory of the Lord, are changed into the same image, from glory to glory, even as by the Spirit of the Lord.” At the close of the service, I informed the congregation of the legal decision which had been given by the Barrister to whom the question had been referred, and I gave notice that my last sermon in the Tabernacle would be preached in the evening. A very large congregation assembled, and much excitement p. 12and perplexity prevailed. My text was, Psalm xxx, 5: “Weeping may endure for a night, but joy cometh in the morning.” That text, it was often said afterwards, built the new chapel. The people felt as if the language was prophetic; and amidst their night of weeping, they began to look forward to the morning joy. My own mind was, however, rather relieved by a decision which seemed to open the way for my retirement from Norwich. I had received the most affectionate kindness from the people; they were evidently exceedingly desirous to secure me as their minister; and they were willing to make any sacrifices to induce my continuance. But the prospect of having to build a chapel; to re-organize the church; to instruct and train up the people in congregational principles; to originate Sunday Schools, and other institutions; to control and calm the feelings which had been excited by the collision with the Trustees of the Tabernacle; and other circumstances, led me to shrink from an undertaking for which I felt I was incapable, owing to my youth and inexperience. The invitation to become their minister, which was given me, and which was signed by four hundred persons, was p. 13therefore declined on the second of January, 1818; and I took my place in the coach, to return to London, on my way to Kidderminster, where I had been requested to supply. But on the day of my departure, a deputation from the people waited on me, and pressed upon me the invitation with such affectionate earnestness, and with such assurances respecting the building of a new chapel, that I felt the appeal to be irresistible, and I promised to lay the whole matter before my tutors and friends, and to make it the subject of serious and prayerful re-consideration. The result was, a determination to return; and I did return to preach my first sermon in the Lancasterian School, on the twenty-fifth of January, 1818. The text was, “O Lord, I beseech thee send now prosperity”—a prayer which, from that time to the present, the God of mercy has abundantly answered. In that school room we worshipped twice on the Sunday, and in the French church on the week evenings, for nearly two years. The congregations on the sabbath, and especially in the evening, were as large as the place could contain; many “times of refreshing” were granted to us from the presence of the Lord; and we often said, “This p. 14is none other than the house of God, and the gate of heaven!”
We were now anxiously occupied in seeking for a suitable piece of ground on which to build our chapel; and after long delay, and many difficulties, the present site was purchased, and I laid the foundation stone, on the 16th of March, 1819. An address was delivered on the occasion, which was afterwards published; and the following inscription was engraved on a brass plate, which was laid on the top of the stone, in the centre of which were deposited several specimens of current coin: “This plate was deposited the sixteenth day of March, one thousand eight hundred and nineteen, and in the fifty-ninth year of the reign of George the Third, in the foundation stone of a Protestant Dissenting Chapel, erected on a piece of freehold ground, in the City of Norwich, and in the parishes of St. Michael at Plea and St. Peter Hungate, by the congregation attending the ministry of the Rev. John Alexander.” The building was completed in about eight months; and the time drew near for us to enter it. The last sabbath which we spent in the Lancasterian school room, was on November p. 15the 28th, 1819. The last text, was the prayer which Moses addressed to God, in Exodus xxxiii, 15: “If thy presence go not with us carry us not up hence.” During our meetings there, we had enjoyed many tokens of the divine presence; the cloud of his glory had blessed and sanctified the place; and the preacher and the people unitedly felt, that it would be better to remain in that humble dwelling, God being with us, than to enter our new and beautiful chapel, unaccompanied with his presence. On the Wednesday following, December 1st, 1819, the chapel was opened for divine worship. The sermon in the morning was preached by Dr. Raffles, of Liverpool, and many of us remember how our hearts glowed with holy delight when he read his text, Exodus, xx, 24: “In all places where I record my name, I will come unto thee, and I will bless thee.” On leaving the School Room, we offered up the prayer, “If thy presence go not with us, carry us not up hence;” on entering the chapel we received the gracious answer, “I will come unto thee, and I will bless thee;” an answer which has been verified from that day to the present. In the evening Dr. p. 16Leifchild preached a most impressive sermon from Hebrews, xii, 25: “See that ye refuse not him that speaketh.”
Having thus entered the chapel, our attention was soon directed to the desirableness of forming a church. After much deliberation and prayer on the subject, thirteen persons of good report among us, agreed to unite together in christian fellowship, believing each other to be the disciples of Christ, and having the sanction of the minister, and of various christian brethren. On the 8th of March, 1820, they held their first ecclesiastical meeting in the vestry of the chapel. The Rev. William Hull, of the Old Meeting, Norwich, and the Rev. Alexander Creak, of Yarmouth, presided. After prayer and the reading of the scriptures, Mr. Creak described the nature and duties of a christian church; after which Mr. William Parkinson, one of the members, read the following declaration.
“Having invited your presence, as ministers of Jesus Christ, to recognize and acknowledge our formation into a christian church, we deem it proper to give you a brief account of those doctrines of religion which we profess to believe and to experience.
p. 17“While we disclaim all regard to doctrines derived merely from the word of man, we find that the religious sentiments we profess, and which we receive as the word of God, correspond with the doctrines commonly called Calvinistic, and that our sentiments respecting church discipline correspond with those which are maintained by the body of Protestant Dissenters commonly called Independents.
“The doctrines contained in our religious creed, and which we firmly believe to be recorded in the scriptures of truth, comprise the being, perfections, and unity of God; the union of the divine and human natures in the person of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ; the personality, deity, and influences of the Holy Spirit; the fall of man, and its awful consequences in the universal depravity of human nature; the atonement made for sinners by the obedience and death of Jesus Christ; the sovereign and gracious election of the people of God to faith, and holiness, and eternal life; their justification by faith in ‘the Lord our righteousness;’ their regeneration and sanctification by the Holy Spirit; their adoption into the family of heaven; their certain perseverance in grace, and final p. 18acceptance with God; the resurrection of the body at the last day; and the final judgment of all mankind at the bar of God.
“We consider a christian church to be a congregation of believers, voluntarily assembling together, and submitting, in all things, to Jesus Christ, their only Lord and Master. Such a church we desire to become; recognizing a pastor and deacons as our only officers, and asserting our exclusive right to make our own independent choice of a minister, to watch over us in the Lord, and of deacons, to attend to our temporal concerns.
“The ordinances of the church we consider to be Baptism and the Lord’s Supper. The former to be administered to unbaptized and believing adults, and also to their infant offspring; and the latter to be administered to those only who profess their faith in Jesus Christ, and are joined in fellowship with his people.
“Having made this declaration of our faith and practice, in which we all most cordially unite, we confess that, as guilty sinners, our only hope is in the righteousness of Jesus Christ; and having, we trust, first given ourselves to the p. 19Lord, we desire now in your presence, and in the presence of Almighty God, to unite together in church fellowship, that we may enjoy the communion of saints, and walk in the ordinances and commandments of the Lord blamelessly.”
This declaration having been read, the ministers present acknowledged the persons assembled to be a church of Christ, and gave to them the right hand of fellowship; after which, the members shook hands with each other. My dismission from the Independent Church in Liverpool, under the pastoral care of the Rev. P. S. Charrier, was then read, on which I was received into membership with the newly-formed church. Of the fourteen persons who thus composed this infant church, seven are alive and remain unto this day: six hundred and sixty-eight persons have since been added to them making the whole number six hundred and eighty-two; an increase, for which devout gratitude is due to Him by whose gracious power alone sinners are constrained first to give themselves to the Lord, and then to his people according to his will.
But though a church had thus been formed and recognized by the pastoral representatives p. 20of other churches, and though I had become united with it, my membership did not, of course, constitute me its pastor; but, on receiving an invitation from the church to sustain that office among them, I at once accepted it, and it was agreed that my ordination should take place at the end of May. The independent ministers in the county, and some of those in the neighbouring counties, were invited to attend on the occasion, as the representatives of their churches, in order that their sanction might be given to our proceedings; and the following extract from the Church Book will shew the manner in which the service was conducted.
“The solemn service of Mr. Alexander’s ordination to the pastoral office over the church assembling for divine worship in Prince’s Street Chapel, Norwich, took place on Wednesday morning, May 31, 1820, in the following order.
“The Rev. Isaac Sloper, of Beccles, implored the divine presence and blessing by a suitable prayer, after which he read the third chapter of the first of Timothy.
“A brief account of the circumstances which led to Mr. Alexander’s residence with the people was then read by Mr. Gurney, one of the members of the church; after which all the members testified, by holding up the right hand, that they had unanimously invited Mr. Alexander to the pastoral office.
“In reply to questions proposed by Mr. Craig, Mr. Alexander gave an account of his religious experience, and stated his motives for entering the christian ministry; his reasons of dissent from the Established Church; his cordial acceptance of the call of the church; his determination, by the help of divine grace, to approve himself as a minister of Christ; and his belief in the great doctrines of the everlasting gospel.
“The Rev. George Collison, of Hackney, then offered up a most solemn and impressive ordination prayer, connected with the imposition of hands; after which each of the ministers present gave to Mr. Alexander the right hand of fellowship.
“The Rev. Peter Samuel Charrier, of Liverpool, Mr. Alexander’s late pastor, addressed to p. 22him a very affectionate and appropriate charge, from Acts xx, 24: ‘So that I might finish my course with joy.’
“The Rev. Edward Hickman, of Denton, very affectionately and suitably addressed the church and congregation, from Philippians i, 27: ‘Only let your conversation be as it becometh the gospel of Christ.’
“The Rev. Richard Fairbrother, of Dereham, read the hymns selected for the occasion; and the Rev. John Dennant, of Halesworth, concluded the service with prayer.
“The above service was conducted in the presence of a very numerous and attentive congregation, and evidently in the enjoyment of His presence, who says to his ministers, ‘Lo! I am with you always to the end of the world.’ It was indeed a time of refreshing from the presence of the Lord; and never may the minister, and never may the people forget the vows which they then formed, nor lose the impressions which they then received. May the union, thus solemnly and publicly recognised, continue uninterrupted and unbroken till terminated by the stroke of death; and may the pastor and all the people hereafter meet and dwell together in that p. 23holy and happy world, where sin, and death, and sorrow, shall be known no more.”
A church needs however not only a Pastor, as its Bishop, who is to “give himself continually to prayer, and to the ministry of the word,” but Deacons also, to superintend its temporal affairs, and “to serve tables.” The church therefore, in the first instance, chose two of its members to that office; a number which has been increased again and again, as the necessities of the church required. In addition to the meetings of the church for devotional purposes, it has always held a meeting once a month for general business, and these meetings have been chiefly occupied in the reception of members. Sometimes, when a member has been going to reside in some other town, we have had to grant him a letter of commendation and dismission to the church with which he has wished to unite, and on which that church has received him. Sometimes, we have had to discuss questions relative to the best mode of proceeding in the election of officers, and in the transaction of other business. And sometimes, we have had to investigate charges against character, and solemnly to exclude an unworthy p. 24member. And when a church can keep “the spirit of the world” from mingling with its proceedings, its very discussions, as well as its devotions, are highly beneficial, and contribute to the acquisition of “manly piety,” and to the exercise of holy wisdom and of brotherly love. On such occasions, when every brother is free to hold, and free to express his own convictions, it is a degree of liberty which, though liable to abuse, is one of the invaluable privileges of the church of Christ; and when used in his spirit, and in accordance with his directions, is one of the sources of its strength and security. Amidst the great variety of proceedings in which, as a church, we have had to engage, it has been our mercy “to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.” The people have been “kindly affectioned one towards another, and towards their pastor, in brotherly love;” so that, amidst our many imperfections and infirmities, God has dealt very graciously with his servants, and the cloud of his glory has continued to rest over our assemblies. Our church meetings, from the beginning, have been seasons of much spiritual enjoyment and edification. The letters which have been read to us, from such candidates for p. 25communion as have been disposed to write them, and the reports of the faith and experience of the various candidates, which have been related to us by the brethren who have visited them, have often filled our hearts with gladness and our eyes with tears, and have been, beyond all description, edifying and animating to our souls. Hundreds of those letters, still in the possession of the pastor, many of them from the hands of beloved young persons, and some of them written by hands which have long since “forgot their cunning,” are among the richest rewards of pastoral labour, and the strongest attestations to the power and excellency of the gospel of Christ.
In connection with this abundant degree of peace and prosperity, our course has however been attended, externally at least, with difficulty and tribulation, and we have had to build the walls of our Zion in troublous times. It was no easy thing for a young and inexperienced minister to have the formation and guidance of an infant church committed to his care, and at the same time to have to give attention to reading; to have to prepare three, and afterwards four sermons every week; besides visiting the sick; p. 26attending a weekly prayer-meeting; conducting two separate Bible classes, which at one time he had in charge; preaching occasionally at Thorpe and at Trowse, two village stations in connection with the chapel; and attending the committees and public meetings of various religious institutions in the city and county. In the earlier periods of these labours, the debt which remained on the chapel began to press with most burdensome weight; and those who had advanced the largest sums of money, became more than wishful for repayment. Once, the income of the minister was taken for the payment of the interest; but it was immediately returned to him, doubled in amount, by an affectionate and sympathizing congregation. One difficulty became, however, the forerunner and progenitor of another, as is generally the case when a chapel is burdened with an oppressive debt; and at length the state of things became so harassing and intolerable, especially to the pastor’s mind, that after many struggles and much mental suffering, he wrote a letter resigning the pastoral office, and sent it to the church on February 4th, 1825. That letter, though sent, was never opened; for just as the church p. 27assembled, an arrangement was completed by which the burden of debt was diminished, and by which some persons, whose pecuniary claims had been urgently pressed, were satisfied. Thus our extremity became God’s opportunity; and the minister and the people, instead of being separated, became, through mutual suffering, still more closely and affectionately united.
As the congregation had become pledged to raise between eight and nine hundred pounds in five years, to effect the proposed liquidation of the debt, every hand became engaged in the work, and great labour and liberality were manifested. But our troubles were not yet terminated. At the end of two years, out of the five, it was discovered that the roof of the chapel, which had been constructed on a false principle, was giving way, and that it, together with the upper part of the walls, must be taken down. The expence of doing this would be full three hundred pounds; we had yet to raise more than that sum towards the debt; how was it possible to do both? especially as the congregation must, for some time at least, leave the chapel, and perhaps be irrecoverably dispersed; for it was now the beginning of winter, and four or five p. 28months must elapse, before the place could be repaired, and rendered fit for our return. We were perplexed, and almost in despair. But again, by God’s great mercy, our light rose in obscurity, and the night of weeping was followed by the morning joy. The Lancasterian School, the Old Meeting House, and the French Church, were kindly granted to us, for our Sunday and our week-day worship; the congregation, instead of sinking into despondency, was roused to exertions the most zealous and liberal; our Christian friends in the Old Meeting, and in St. Mary’s Chapel—Baptists as well as Independents, affectionately sympathised with our circumstances; and in the course of a few days presented to us the noble sum of upwards of a hundred guineas; the walls were re-built; a new and substantial roof was raised; and we returned to the place on the 16th of March, 1828, with as large a congregation as we had when we left it, and which from that time continued to increase till every seat was occupied! Then too, the God of all grace began to enrich us with a greater increase of spiritual prosperity. Many sinners were converted; the church was enlarged, and confirmed, and edified; p. 29our Sunday Schools were invigorated; our interest in the place, and in each other, was strengthened; and God himself seemed again to repeat his gracious promise, “I will come unto thee, and I will bless thee.”
Since that period we have made several alterations and improvements in our place of worship; and on one of these occasions, in 1842, we worshipped in the Dutch Church for the space of two months. Our own service was in the morning and evening; and the service of the Church of England, conducted by the clergyman of the place, was in the afternoon. On one of the afternoons, the service was conducted by the venerable and excellent Bishop of the Diocese, who preached from the same pulpit that had been occupied in the morning by the Dissenting minister; and during our stay there, we had sermons from ministers belonging to almost every evangelical denomination of the Christian church. In our own place of worship too, it has often been our privilege to contribute, in some degree, to the general communion of saints; especially at the Lord’s table, the first place at which Christians should meet, and the last at which they should separate. There we p. 30have been joined by Episcopalians, Presbyterians, Baptists, and Methodists, who have eaten with us of the same bread, and who have drank of the same cup, in devout remembrance of Him, who purchased the church with his precious blood.
One of the objects to which we directed our attention, soon after the opening of the chapel, was the formation of a Sunday School. Several young persons, of piety and zeal, offered themselves as teachers, some of whom continue to the present day, honourably and usefully employed in the beneficial work. We began in July 1820, with eighty-one scholars. The pastor advised the teachers to form the committee out of their own body; to have no more rules for the regulation of the school than circumstances rendered necessary; to conduct all their affairs religiously; and to apply to their minister, whenever they needed help or encouragement. This undertaking, which has been pursued with unabating ardour and vigour to the present day, has been abundantly prospered by the divine blessing. Not less than three thousand children have, from time to time, received from it some degree or other of religious instruction. Many of these p. 31children have become teachers; some of them have died in the Lord; and at our Sunday School anniversaries, we have listened to many affecting and spirit-stirring details of the resignation and the joyful hope, which they have expressed in the prospect of death and heaven. The school too, has been a fruitful nursery for the church. For many years past, we have seldom had a church meeting without receiving some one as a member, whose religious impressions were either derived or deepened from his education, or from his employment, in the school. At this time, in addition to twenty-three youths in the monitorial class, preparing to become teachers, there are no less than a hundred and twenty, chiefly young persons, belonging to the church and congregation, who are actually engaged as Sunday School Teachers in Prince’s Street, and in our other schools; and though, during nearly the last thirty years, they and their predecessors have conducted the general business of the schools entirely by themselves, yet they have co-operated steadily and cordially; no root of bitterness has sprung up to trouble them; and, by the grace of God, they still continue to feel and to manifest “how good and how pleasant it is, for brethren to dwell p. 32together in unity.” Such an institution, it will easily be perceived, must have afforded great help to the interests of religion in the congregation, and great encouragement to the pastor. It has indeed often been his solace in adversity, and one of his chief joys in prosperity; and his heart is glad of the opportunity, which this festival affords, to acknowledge the large circle of Sunday School Teachers, by whom he is surrounded, as his fellow labourers in Christ, and as the joy and crown of his ministry.
Our Sunday School operations however, have not been confined to the chapel in Prince’s street. We have supplied Teachers to the school in Pockthorpe, two of whom were mainly instrumental in raising money for the erection of the present spacious building, which is used for an Infant School during the week, as well as for a Sunday School; and we have also supplied Teachers to the school in Stepping Lane, and to some others, while we have entirely supported the schools and the chapels in the villages of Thorpe and Trowse. Mr. Alexander began to preach in a Room at Thorpe in the year 1819, which, several years afterwards, began to be supplied by some of the members of his church. p. 33The attendance there became at length so numerous and encouraging, that it was determined to build a chapel; and after encountering many discouraging difficulties, a suitable piece of ground was obtained; and the present building was erected, at a cost, including the ground of £450, towards which one liberal friend contributed £100. The chapel was opened for divine worship in 1839, and the Sunday School was formed in the same year. Four religious services are conducted in the chapel weekly, by members of our church; about eighty children are instructed in the Sunday School; and there is a Vestry Library for the use of the congregation. The Sunday School at Trowse was established as early as 1821, and about seven years afterwards, we began to preach the gospel there; but we did not occupy the present chapel till 1830. There is religious service in it four times every week; a Sunday School containing a hundred and fifty children; and a circulating Library for the use of the village. We hope soon to be enabled to erect another chapel there in a better situation, which may also be used for both Day and Sunday Schools. During the last eight years, p. 34Mr. Barnsdale, who from the beginning has devotedly laboured for the welfare of Trowse, has been employed by us as a Missionary in the two villages of Trowse and Thorpe, on the plan of the City Mission; and the Reports which he has read at our quarterly meetings, have made us acquainted, not only with the peculiar difficulties which the gospel has to contend with in villages situated near a large city, but also with many blessed triumphs which that gospel has gained over human depravity, in the regeneration and salvation of the souls of men.
Our thirty years have therefore been spent, not only in overcoming our own difficulties, and in establishing and increasing ourselves, but also in endeavouring to extend the knowledge and influence of the gospel in the regions beyond. This indeed is the combined duty of every religious society. The church was instituted by its divine Lord, not only for preserving and professing the truths of the gospel, but also for propagating them. This, you know, has always been urged upon you from the pulpit as a solemn duty, and though you have perhaps sometimes felt as if you had been urged too much; and though your pastor has sometimes p. 35been kindly warned that his own resources would be diminished, if he so earnestly pleaded for foreign objects; yet, I trust, many of you have found that the money you have given, and especially the personal efforts you have put forth, for the spread of the gospel, have not been in vain in the Lord, but have been spiritually advantageous to yourselves, as well as to others. As one consequence of these appeals and urgings, your pastor has always been associated with many fellow-labourers in the work of the Lord, who have been distributors of tracts, collectors for public Institutions, christian Instruction Agents, Sunday School Teachers, conductors of prayer meetings, and preachers of the gospel in the neighbouring villages. And by so doing, you have been the means of converting sinners from the error of their way, and of saving their souls from death; your personal piety and the prosperity of the church has been advanced; your pastor’s heart has been strengthened and comforted; and the name of Christ has been glorified. May the Lord of the harvest never fail to supply us with such labourers, and may all succeeding pastors and members of the church, be constrained, by the love of Christ, p. 36“to live not to themselves, but to Him who died for them and rose again.”
Several other Institutions, which it is needful or desirable should be formed in connection with a church of Christ, exist among us; some of which are more particularly for the use of our own congregation, and others for the general interests of humanity and religion. The Society for the relief of our sick and aged poor, was instituted in 1821, and has all along been most economically and efficiently conducted by a committee of ladies, who meet for business once a month, and who visit and relieve the needy and afflicted objects. They have thus distributed full £330. The Provident Society was instituted in 1835, and affords an opportunity for any person in the congregation, or for any child in the Sunday School, to secure a sum of money weekly during sickness, and a pension for old age, by paying a proportionate monthly subscription during health. It has received from these payments about £200. The Vestry Libraries, connected with the chapel in Prince’s Street, contain nearly a thousand well-selected volumes on various subjects, but especially on religious subjects; to which any persons in the p. 37congregation have access, on subscribing a shilling a quarter, and to which the Sunday School Teachers and children have access gratuitously. Our Christian Instruction Society, was formed for the purpose of paying religious visits, and for distributing tracts, in several districts, chiefly in the neighbourhood of the chapel; and though the subsequent institution of the City Mission has, in some measure, superseded its labours, there are now about fifteen agents connected with it, and it occupies a room in King-street for religious worship on the Sabbath. We have also auxiliaries and associations formed among us on behalf of the London Missionary Society, for sending the gospel to the heathen; on behalf of British Missions, embracing the Home Missionary Society, the Irish Evangelical Society, and the Colonial Missionary Society; on behalf of the County Association for the spread of the gospel in Norfolk; and on behalf of the Norwich City Mission; besides granting collections and subscriptions to various other religious institutions, formed for promoting the spiritual welfare of our fellow countrymen, and of mankind at large.
The amount of money required for these p. 38various purposes and for the support of the ministry, has of course not been small. A careful effort has been made, to obtain a full and correct account; but it has been found impossible to ascertain all the items. Since the chapel was opened, many public collections have been made, of which there is no record, and which are now entirely forgotten. The following account may be considered correct as far as it goes, and at the end of it something may be added for omissions.
The total amount of all these sums is £22,200 18s. 4d.; and we may safely add at least £300 for subscriptions and collections which cannot be remembered; so that, in about twenty-nine years, there has been collected, for various purposes, the large sum of £22,500.
p. 40All this money, it must be remembered, has come from a congregation, which though numerous, has not been rich; and it has been contributed by them, not as a compulsory tax, but in addition to the compulsory taxes which they have been compelled to pay towards the Church Establishment from which they have conscientiously dissented. We have, therefore, “not robbed other churches” for the support of our own; but all our contributions have been given on the voluntary principle, and as a freewill offering, which in many cases have, no doubt, been given as unto the Lord, and not unto men. It has indeed been contributed by a people who have often been taught the duty and importance of giving both money and personal efforts to the cause of Christ, as a testimony of allegiance to their Lord and Master, and as a means of personal prosperity and usefulness. And let any people, under the influence of religion, which is the true voluntary principle, be suitably appealed to by their minister for pecuniary help, on behalf of institutions for the spread of the gospel, and he will be far from injuring either them or himself. They will become better and happier by helping others, and he and his family p. 41will be the better and the happier too—at least such is the testimony which the pastor of Prince’s Street can bear, relative to himself, and to his liberal congregation.
Such, brethren, is our eventful and varied history, as a church and congregation, during the last thirty years—a history which, on the review, most impressively reminds your pastor of many imperfections and infirmities, which have been connected with him as a man, a christian, and a minister; and on account of which he finds it needful every day to humble himself before God, and to say, “Enter not into judgment with thy servant, O Lord;” and yet a history which, even so far as he is concerned, has afforded many remarkable manifestations of divine love and mercy. He had, for many years, an abundant degree of bodily health, which enabled him to do the work of the Lord laboriously and happily; he has had a large share of domestic comfort and privilege, and now is surrounded by a beloved family, most of whom are his spiritual as well as his natural relatives, and some of whom are gone to be for ever with the Lord; he has been privileged with a large degree of public friendship and approbation, and p. 42has many beloved and esteemed friends in surrounding churches, some of whom are of other denominations, and some of whom are the fruits of his ministry; he has, above all these things, been abundantly honoured and blessed by the Great Head of the church, in promoting the conversion of sinners, and the peace and union of the church, in whose affectionate confidence it has been his privilege to live; and though latterly health has occasionally failed, and now and then he has been admonished that his master will soon require his services in another world, yet, thanks be to God, for that degree of vigour and buoyancy which yet remains, and which he is more desirous than ever should be consecrated to your spiritual welfare; and, thanks be to God, for that good and joyful hope which he cherishes, that when his earthly labours are concluded, he shall be gathered to the fellowship of the redeemed and the Redeemer, in the many mansions of his Father’s house.
But, beloved brethren, the history of the last thirty years affords many subjects for grateful and humbling review to yourselves, as well as to your pastor. You have erected a noble chapel, which will be, I trust, during future years, as it p. 43has been during the past, the spiritual birthplace of immortal souls; you have had a Christian church formed among you, in which “one is your Master, even Christ, and all ye are brethren,” and which, through the power and grace of the Holy Spirit, has increased, from fourteen, to nearly seven hundred members; you have enjoyed, amidst the services of the sanctuary, many a time of sweet and heavenly refreshing; you have, in connection with your own place of worship, many valuable institutions, conducted by zealous and laborious individuals, and which are the salt and savour of the church; you have two very important and interesting village stations under your care, in one of which you have built a chapel, and in both of which you support a worthy missionary, preach the gospel, and teach Sunday Schools; you have cheerfully and sufficiently supported your own minister; you have paid your own congregational expences; and you have contributed to various religious objects and institutions the noble sum of twenty-two thousand five hundred pounds; and now, at the close of the first thirty years of your ecclesiastical history, you have assembled together, to review the past with p. 44humble gratitude to God; to testify your unabated attachment to the pastor of your voluntary choice; and to enter upon another thirty years, which, as they roll along, will bear away many of you, and me also, into the eternal world. “Let thy work, O Lord, appear unto thy servants, and thy glory unto their children. And let the beauty of the Lord our God be upon us; and establish thou the work of our hands upon us; yea, the work of our hands establish thou it.”
Thirty years have rolled away,
Since that holy, happy day,
When amongst us first he came,
In his Master’s cause and name,
Hearts to gladden—souls to win
From the power of death and sin.
Thirty years their dews have shed
On his loved and honoured head,
Since, in all the glow of youth,
Champion of celestial truth,
He his hallowed task began,
Holiest work of fallen man.
Since that holy, happy day,
Many a soul hath passed away—
Many a soul that listened long,
To the pleadings, soft, yet strong,
From his kindled lips that fell,
For the Lord he loved so well.
Since that holy, happy day,
Who amongst us all can say—
Say how many hearts have felt
Stubborn pride within them melt,
As, with tenderness and love,
In the Saviour’s cause he strove?
This we know and this we feel:—
Something of his quiet zeal;
Something of his holy love,
(Likest that which blooms above)
Ever quick to soothe and bless
With its tones of tenderness;
Something too we all have known
Of that wisdom—all his own,
Wherewith in our darkest day
He can guide us on our way;
Something of his genial heart,
Wherein all the world hath part.
Spare him Lord! and spare him long!
In thy strength may he be strong.
Spare him still to lead us on
To the fight that must be won.
But as thou wilt one day, Lord!
Take him to his high reward,
Unto us and him be given,
One eternal home in heaven!
The Preacher prom the Press. Sermons to explain and to recommend the Gospel of Jesus Christ. 2 vols., cloth boards, Price 6s.
The Death of a Minister an Event of Peculiar Importance. A Funeral Sermon for the Rev. John Sykes, of Guestwick.
The Mourning Congregation reminded of the work of their deceased Minister. A Funeral Sermon for the Rev. Joseph Kinghorn, of Norwich.
Church Membership. An Appeal to Christians on the Duty and Importance of Communion with the Church.
The Objects and Motives of Modern Nonconformists. A Sermon preached at the Opening of Hingham Chapel.
The Baptism of the Prince. A Sermon preached in anticipation of the Baptism of his Royal Highness the Prince of Wales.
Apostolic Ways in the Church. The Introductory Discourse delivered at the Ordination of the Rev. Andrew Reed, B.A. in the Old Meeting House, Norwich.
The Christian serving his own Generation. A Sermon occasioned by the lamented death of J. J. Gurney, Esq.
Brief Memoir of J. J. Gurney, Esq. With Portrait. Tenth Thousand.#ENGLISH