A FUNERAL SERMON

 

 

PREACHED AT NEWFANE ;

 

 

OCCASIONED BY THE DEATH OF MR. HENRY SAWTELL,

HIS WIFE AND FIVE CHILDREN, WHO WERE ALL

CONSUMED BY THE FLAMES OF HIS HOUSE,

WHICH TOOK FIRE ON THE OF 2D

FEBRUARY, 1782.

 

BY THE LATE

 

 

REV. HEZEKIAH TAYLOR,

 

FORMERLY PASTOR OF THE CHURCH 1N THAT PLACE.

 

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ST. LUKE, CHAP. XIII part of the 2d, 3d, 4th, and 5th verses.

 

"Suppose ye that these Galileans were sinners above all the Galileans, because they suffered such things? I tell you, Nay; but except ye repent, ye shall all likewise perish. Or those eighteen upon whom the Tower in Siloam fell, and slew them ; think ye that they were sinners above all the men that dwelt in Jerusalem? I tell you, Nay ; but except ye repent, ye shall all likewise perish."

These words of our blessed Saviour, which by divine leave have now been read, and are designed for the subュject of our present meditation, need no other introduction than the melancholy occasion, and the sorrowful dispensaュtion of God's holy and righteous providence, in taking suddenly away a whole family from our neighborhood and parish ; both parents and children all perishing together, whose remains are reduced to the contents only of that coffin!

The circumstances and manner of their deaths is an exhibition of a most tragical scene! such an afflicting instance as cannot, perhaps, be found, except among God's

 

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special providences; and our blessed Saviour teaches us in the text what improvement we are to make of such disasters, both negatively and positively.

Negatively, he forbids our imputing the awaking judgments, which befall some of the children of men, and the awful end some are brought to, and carried out of the world by, to the effects of God's wrath, or our supュposing those who suffer by such things to be the special objects of the divine indignation.

It is the case of some to draw such false conclusions from such awful providences, as did those who discoursed with our Saviour, as is mentioned in the context, respectュing those poor mortals, whose lot it was to fall victims to Pilate's rage, and cruelly have their blood mingled with their sacrifices; and also those unfortunate ones who were crushed to death by the fall of a tower. But Christ, by his answer to them in the text, forbids their entertainュing such uncharitable thoughts as these, and expressly tells them, that their being brought to such an awful, untimely end, was not because they were greater sinners than others that lived around them. So neither are we to suppose, that this unhappy family, that we are now called to mourn the loss of, were destroyed thus suddenly in this sorrowful manner, because they had provoked God more than we had ; or that he was more displeased with them, and hereby intended to make manifest to us his anger and indignation towards them. No, it may be we are more deserving his wrath and displeasure, and have more highly and aggravatedly sinned against him.

Let us be deeply impressed with humiliation and due penitence to almightly God, for we behold here in his severity and goodness severity towards them and goodness towards us, that we are yet the objects of his sparing mercy, and forbearing goodness; and "despise not the riches thereof, and his long suffering; otherwise thou also shalt be cut off." [See Romans xi. : 22.]

The manner of one's death is no proof of his being a good or a bad man. But we are all born to die! The decree has gone forth, and it is unavoidable by the righteous and the wicked. Death is entailed to us by the

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fall of our first parents. By one man sin entered into the world, and death also came by sin, for all men have sinned.

The manner and circumstances "of our deaths depends upon God's sovereign will and pleasure. There are many ways in which God is pleased to take us out of the world, and there is no difference nor distinction made of the good or bad; it is the certain fate of both. The manner is no ways essential, and does not effect the future state of the soul. Some of the brightest saints have died the most cruel and tormenting deaths. Our Saviour died upon the cruel cross! Many of his faithful followers have patiently and courageously ended their lives in the pains and agonies of the flames! Outward circumstances in life, nor at death, are any certain tokens of the divine special favour, or disュpleasure of almighty God. "No one," the wise man tells us, "knows love or hate by these things;" as is the good, so is the bad in this respect. The same befalleth them both; as dieth the one so dieth the other. The saint hath no preference above the sinner, as to the circumstance or temporal part of his death.

As our text forbids our condemning what befalls, or the manner of one's death ; so also it forbids condemning any persons, on account of their unfortunate vicissitudes in life. Some are so censorious as to impute the hard fortunes and frowns which many meet with, to their being more wicked, and greater sinners. Thus Job's friends, or pretended comュforters, disputed his innocence and uprightness, upon the account of his sore trial, and condemned him as being only an hypocrite ; for who, said they, ever perished and suffered such things, being innocent; and who but the wicked were thus afflicted? and ask Job to which of the saints he would turn for an instance of the like calamity that he was visited with ; as though the wicked only suffered thus. "Though I have seen," says Eliphaz, "the foolish taking root, yet I suddenly crossed his habitation, for his children are far from safety, and they are crushed in the gate, and there is none to deliver them." But Job tells us that he had seen the reverse; both the righteous suffer and the wicked flourish and prosper. He had seen these live to be old, and become mighty in power. "Their houses," saith he, "are

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safe from fear, neither is the rod of God upon them. Their children dance, take the timbrel and harp, and rejoice at the sound of the organ, they spent their days in mirth, and at last die an easy death, in a moment go down to the grave." [See Job, chap. xxi.]

Let us not, therefore, entertain the thought, that these our deceased neighbors were greater sinners than we, on account of what they have met with in the dealings of God's providence towards them in life or in death ; in their being all cut off together, and suffering, as we may suppose, in the greatest agony of body. But in the positive sense of our text, let us improve this sad disaster, this awakening, affecting, dispensation as our blessed Lord teaches us to our own repentance ; for, "except ye repent," saith he, "ye shall all likewise perish."

Our Saviour is not to he understood in a literal sense altogether, that they would perish in the same manner, either by being made a sacrifice, or by the fall of a buildュing ; but hereby taught them their exposedness, and that they were liable to meet with the like disaster ; they might be taken out of the world as suddenly, and with as little warning. That they were not so specially interested in God's love and mercy as that they had reason to expect any more favor in this regard than the other ; and the same also we are taught, and are loudly called upon hereby to repentance. This important duty is presented to you, my hearers! From this providence, and the motive to excite you hereunto is greater than that which is body temporal ; it is greater than that you may escape a sudden and sorrowュful death ; it is greater than that you may escape being consumed in your houses, burnt alive in the flames of an earthly fire ; but that you may escape the flames of that "fire that never shall be quenched. Where the worm dieth not, and the fire is not quenched."

Let us realize and consider how we are exposed every day and every hour to be called for, to he called off this state of trial and probation, and to appear before God our Judge ; for we know not what hour our Lord will come, whether at the second or third watch, whether at eve or midnight.

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When we reflect on the frailty and uncertainty of life, of what vast importance and concern does it appear to us, to be ready, to be always ready and prepared for death, and not to have the whole and great work of our souls undone, and all to do, at the last moment. O, how great is the danger, and how very hazardous it is to live one day in sin, and in a state of impenitency ; without God, without a reconciled God, while our peace is not made with him ; while we have no Saviour, no saving interest in Christ. How danュgerous I say to live one day in a state of sinful nature! How dangerous to go out or come in, to lie down or rise up. How awful is the state of such, that are instantly called out of the world. And what a poor time it is also to prepare for eternity upon a death-bed ; or when we have but a few moments warning. These our deceased friends, it is probable, had a short space allowed them to cry unto God for mercy in ; inasmuch as it appears evident from the places where their remains lay, that they awoke and arose out of bed, and fled to that part of the house most distant from where the fire then raged. But if it was their unhapュpiness to have misimproved their former opportunities of the day and seasons of grace, what a poor time was that for them to prepare for eternity in ; for any in such deplorュable circumstances, being encompassed about with the flames of fire and smoke!

Such was the unfortunate construction of the building in which they lived, it seems they had no chance of escaping. No one escaped to relate the mournful tale, no one to describe the agonizing groans of parents, and the doleful cries of children for help! or how long they remained in agony before death closed the scene! They have "gone to that bourne from whence no traveler returns." And how it is with them now is not for us to determine; but we may rely upon this, that they have gone to a just God, that will do them no wrong.

If they died in Christ, their bodies, though reduced to a few sad remains, will be raised in incorruption and immortality.

In the times of the persecutions of the Christians, when many laid down their lives as faithful witnesses for Jesus,

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the persecutors undertook to gather up the ashes of the saints that were burnt, and strew them in the air, that they might be all dispersed by the wind, in order to prove the impossibility of the truth of their doctrines, that their bodies would he raised again. But God our maker is able by his almighty power, to re-animate and raise these bodies in their former shape.

Without being particular in portraying the lives of the heads of the deceased family, in justice to their memory it may be observed of him, that he was a good neighbor, a kind, obliging man, uniformly disposed to live in peace, ever ready to afford relief and assistance to the needy and distressed, to the utmost of his ability, honest in his dealュings, and punctual in the perfomances of his promises and engagements.* She, the wife of Mr. Sawtell, seemed to be a well-disposed woman, to have a regard for religion, for God's house and worship; and considering their situation and circumstances, it appeared they both did not willingly forsake the assembling themselves with us in the adoration of God, and in the solicitation of his needed mercies; and have pretty constantly attended through this inclement winter season. It was but lately they were here present, joining with us in the public worship of almighty God, and little thought, perhaps, that they and their little ones should be so soon in eternity ; and be brought here in this deplorable situation, exhibiting an awful pile of the relics of mortality!

These bodies, though dead, and nearly consumed, seemュingly speak to us, and are calling upon us by a voice not to be equalled by any human living tongue, and plead with us the great necessity it is, to be ready one and all of us, old and young. These remains teach us the frailties of our nature, and the uncertainty of our lives, and the importance of our being prepared for a dying hour, and for the eternal world; and also our wisely improving our present time, and not to put far away the evil day ; "for in a thoughtless hour, our final and fatal summons may arrive," to appear before that tribunal, from whence there is no appeal.

 

* "An honest man's the noblest work of God."

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These our poor friends and neighbors, who were so recently alive, and in good health, are gone to be here no more. However like a dream it may to any seem, yet they have enough left for testimony, and to prove it to a demonstration. They have done forever with the things of this world ; no more to be worried and perplexed with the cares thereof. No more to be found in a state of trial and probation. They have had their day and seed-time for repentance, and the means and necessaries of grace. They are now in that state where there is no obtaining the divine pardon of one sin, for

 

 

"There is no act of pardon passed

In the cold grave to which we haste;

But darkness, death, and long despair

Reign in eternal silence there."

 

 

Jesus our mediator has taught us to "love our neighbor as ourself." In this sorrowful loss of one of our neighbors, how deeply ought we to be impressed with our Saviour's pious and benevolent precepts. However remiss we have been in performing those Christian and charitable duties in times past, to these our deceased friends, we too well know that our time of performance is now over, as relates to them. Divine revelation teaches us to do unto others as we may wish them to do unto us. And whenever duty and charity may hereafter call us to perform any necessary act of kindness towards our neighbors and fellow mortals, we ought ever to bear in remembrance that it may be the last in our power to do. And this ought to induce us to the performance thereof, with a willing heart.

In the death of the younger branches of this family (the children) we have a loud call to such as are young, in the sorrowful instance of their being taken out of the world in the morning of life. How apt it is for youth to expect to live to grow up, or arrive at manhood; and live wholly thoughtless about death ; easily led away by the world and its temptations. But, my young friends, don't think you are so safe one day, as that it is safe for you to live in sin. Death frequently passes by the decreptitude of old age, and levels its fatal shafts on youth.

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Here is also a call to parents and guardians, in attending to those incumbent duties they owe to their children, and those under their immediate care. When our children are taken from us by death, the day is past ; it hath gone over ; we can do no more for them ; and however we may lament our neglect of past duty to them, in not training them up in the "nurture and admonition of the Lord," there is no remedy, no future opportunity for us to perform these important duties to them. Let us therefore see that we embrace and improve the present, as it is the only certain time we have.

To conclude, let us all be directed to view the hand of God and wisely improve his dispensations, for he frequently calls on us, and loudly, too, by one and another of his special providences.* And may our hearts be softened under his divine reproofs. O that we may become "heirs of God, and joint heirs with Christ:" that we may repent of our sins, and shun the sinner's way. That God would quicken us by his all-powerful grace, in every duty that will enable us to obtain a saving interest in his divine favor. And then we shall be ready, however soon or suddenly, or in whatever manner we may be called for. Which may God of his infinite mercy grant. Amen.

 

Mr. Sawtell was a native of Templeton, Mass, Mrs. Sawtell's maiden name was Hudson ; she was born in Petersham, Mass.

The names and ages of this family are as follows:

Mr. Henry Sawtell, aged 41 years.

Mrs. Jerusha " 37 "

Henry, aged 14 years.

Levi, " 12 "

Jerusha, " 10 "

Rufus, " 7 "

Thomas, " 4 "

Joel, " 2 "

 

* The winter before this disaster, February 17, 1781, Mr. Benjamin Fuller, aged 24, perished in the woods, at the northwest part of Newfane. In 1779, Mr. Ebenezer Merrick, aged 75, a spry, hearty man of his age, was killed by the fall of a tree, at the southeast part of the town. Same year Mr. Jonas Cook had a child scalded to death.

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Levi, the second son, was living with friends in Temュpleton, and thus escaped the sad fate of the rest of the family. He afterwards married and lived in Marlborough, where he died a few years since, leaving a wife and children.

 

 

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LONGEVITY, LONG MARRIED LIFE, ETC.

 

 

The first white woman and undoubtedly the oldest person that ever lived in town, was Mrs. Jane Hazleton, who died on the Franklin farm, February 16, 1810, at the advanced age of one hundred and three years, eleven months and eleven days. A venerable lady who well remembers this centenarian, says of her, that the day she was one hundred years old she spun a full day's work, and then called her son and told him to set her wheel away, as she had spun her last thread. Tradition says that Mrs. Dyer was the first white woman that ever wintered within what was then supposed to be the chartered limits of Fane. We find her death recorded November 27, 1789, at the age of eighty-nine, and that of Joseph Dyer, September 2, 1790, at the age of ninety. The name of Ebenezer Dyer, who is reported in Thompson's Gazetteer as one of the original trio of settlers, is not mentioned in the town records or Hezekiah Taylor's notes ; but, inasmuch as the early historian has handed down the name, it is probable that there was such a name in the family. We have been able to obtain the least authentic knowledge of this family of either of the original three.

Isaac Goodnough and wife lived in the married state sixty-six years. She died October 8, 1804, aged eighty-seven, having been a member of the church seventy-two years. He died July 6, 1805, aged ninety-two. Thomas Green and wife lived together sixty years, dying July 10 and 24, 1804, at the age of eighty. Artemas Bruce and wife

 

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