The 13th day of June, 1894, will long be remembered by the members and congregation of the Presbyterian Church, Oneida, on account of the interesting services in commemoration of the completion of the first half century of existence as a church organization.
The exercises of the day began at 10:30 A. M., at which time the church was well filled, many being present from out of town who had journeyed hither for the express purpose of being present. After the singing of the doxology by the congregation Rev. Dr. S. Jessup, the honored pastor, invoked the divine blessing upon the exercises that were to follow. The Scriptures were read by Rev. W. S. Carter of Waterloo, N. Y., a child of this church. Rev. O. A. Kingsbury of New Hartford then offered prayer, and the congregation joined in singing, "Come, Thou Fount of Every Blessing." The morning sermon was then delivered by Rev. G. Parsons Nichols, D. D., pastor of the First Presbyterian Church of Binghamton. Dr. Nichols is a nephew and son-in-law of Rev. James Nichols, the first pastor of the church.
Dr. Nichols took for his theme, "The Old Paths of Religion," speaking from the text Jeremiah vi. 16: "Thus saith the Lord, Stand ye in the ways, and see, and ask for the old paths, where is the good way, and ye shall find rest for your souls." He spoke in substance as follows:
We are assembled here this morning under most interesting circumstances. Fifty years ago there was organized for the worship of the only living and true God, the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost, the First Presbyterian Church of Oneida, and we are met to commemorate that event and to offer up our praise to the divine giver of all blessings. Nature herself approves of our intentions and smiles upon to-day. It has always been a custom with all nations and peoples to signalize notable events with commemorative exercises. While Holy Scripture does not make it an obligation, it recognizes the fitness and records many instances of its observance. When the Israelites crossed the Jordan twelve men took twelve stones from the bed of the river and set them up on the place where the feet of the priests had first occupied the promised land. At Mizpah Samuel erected a pillar which he called Ebenezer, saying, Hitherto hath the Lord blessed us. The custom was recognized throughout all primitive nations, and all people have been accustomed to make grateful acknowledgment for victories won and to erect memorial stones. Under such conditions we are here to render praise to Almighty God for blessing vouchsafed in the years that are gone.
As a representative of the first minister to this people, your pastor has asked me to take an introductory part in these ceremonies. I assure you that it is with greatest pleasure that I stand before you to participate in this jubilee celebration. I have no knowledge of the text from which my revered uncle preached his first sermon to this people, but I have a vivid recollection of the last sermon that he preached on earth. It was full of the sublime doctrine of grace through Christ which he had held so steadfastly from the beginning of his service in the Christian ministry-that doctrine of one pure stream of faith and comfort, one transcendent system of truth. There are differences in the progress of impressions, but it is of indestructible existence. You may call it Pauline Christianity, Augustinism, Calvinism, or Presbyterianism, it is God's exalted plan for man's redemption by the great salvation through Jesus Christ, revealed by St. Paul and St. John, systematized by Augustine and Calvin, and preached by Luther and Beecher and Spurgeon. Therefore I am to speak to you this morning on the old paths of religion. Are we to first meet Jesus here in the old paths, or are we to look for some new and better way? Great advancements have been made in the matter of religion, and many are living in confident anticipation of great progress in the spirit of religion. They think that we are even now on the edge of a new dawn, that it is brightly shining in the eastern skies, widening the purple about us in the progress of religion.
We live in an age of improvement, in the physical sciences and mechanical arts. The question is, What things does man improve? In what ways is it best to leave the old and seek the new and better paths, and in what ways do the old paths show the better ways? In the first place, there is this distinction: There is progress in those things in which knowledge is handed down; in those things where each must go back to the fountain springs for himself there can be no progress. There are many things that we pick up where others lay them down, where one generation stands on the shoulders of the preceding one. In these things we do not inquire for the old paths-the new ones are better. We know more about geography than St. Paul, who thought this earth to be only a belt of land around the Mediterranean Sea; more about natural history than the inspired psalmist of Israel, who loved the birds and beasts and who saw the majesty of God in the forests; more about the solar system than the father of theology; more about anatomy than Dr. Harvey, who discovered the circulation of the blood. So in all these lines of inherited knowledge there is progress, and the new ways are the best ways.
But turning to the higher field where each must climb to the fountain springs for himself and put his lips to the clear waters of knowledge and the old ways are the best. What improvement has been made in sculpture since the days of ancient Greece? What improvement in painting since the days of Michael Angelo? What orator has arisen greater than Demosthenes? What philosopher greater than Plato? What poet could equal Homer, Mozart, Shakspere, or Dante? They shine as stars in paths higher than we have known, paths were progress holds no sway. The march of mind is not discernible. Accordingly in these things we inquire after the old paths, we ask for the old ways. We copy the works of ancient genius, and no man having possessed the old desires the new. In these things one man cannot stand on the shoulders of another. Each man must lay his own foundations, build his own structure, and carry back the secret of his wonder-working genius to its divine giver an undivulged mystery. When the Lord Almighty has shown anything from heaven progress is not to be looked for. The cultivating of the soil, the opening of mines, the building of railroads, the improvement of property, the promotion of education, and a multitude of such things have not been spoken from heaven. There is no "thus saith the Lord" there. We do not inquire here for the old paths, but open new ones, and there are still newer ones to be opened. But how to lighten the world, how to beautify the stars, how to distribute the waters and gather them together in one place, how to bring forth the seeds in their order, how to bring forth life, how to put hearing into the ear and open the eye to vision, how to place wings on the butterfly, how to color the rose-these are things where God has spoken and they remain just where he left them; the march of time does not touch them, they continue on from generation to generation. There has been no improvement in trees since David saw them clap their hands. The midnight skies last night, beautiful as they were, were no more so than when Abraham lay out under the Assyrian sky.
Religion is present work. It is like learning to walk or talk. We do the same thing that our fathers have done. There is but one path of holiness; there is none shorter. Each one must come to God for himself. He must climb over the hills and mountains and go over the whole ground for himself. He must start at the beginning and go on to the end just as if he were the first Christian in the world. Religion is the gift of God Almighty and has not been a bit improved since its institution. Why is it not just as reasonable to look for a new and improved sun as for an improvement on the light and knowledge that is in Christ Jesus, our Lord? I want to impress upon you my reasons for holding by the old paths, the old confession of faith, the old Sabbath usages, the old sacraments, the old hymns of devotion, the old acts of piety, and the old, old story of the cross. I love this old way best. I love the old paths because they have been trodden by the feet of so many men and women, by such a magnificent line of faithful witnesses, by an endless procession of triumphant souls, pilgrims, apostles, martyrs, holy men, sainted women, and innocent children. Again, I love the old paths because they are not man's, but God's. I love the old paths because they are for all mankind and suited for the feet of every man, woman, and child. I love the Church because it is not a class church, but a great family in which high and low, rich and poor, cultured and ignorant are all together on the same way. There is a sense in which we can improve religion. Not in itself, but in our relation to it. We can improve religion by giving its truths more enthusiastic homage, by keeping to the old paths more faithfully, by a closer application of its teachings, and by bringing others into the good way where they shall find rest for their souls.
The afternoon session was the historical session of the celebration. The opening prayer was offered by Rev. I. N. Terry, assistant pastor of Westminster Presbyterian Church of Utica, after which Elder Ambrose W. Hill read an interesting history of the church for its first half century. The history was as follows:
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