The First Presbyterian Pastor in Vermont
From Volume 10 of THE PRESBYTERIAN REMEMBRANCER AND HISTORICAL ALMANAC (1868), comes this account of an Associate Presbyterian minister, born in 1749, who immigrated here from Scotland in 1788, and who was soon called to serve a church in Vermont.
In June of 1789, a delegation from the town of Barnet, Vermont, came to Cambridge, New York, performing a journey of one hundred and fifty miles, through a mountainous and unsettled country, to have an interview with Mr. Beveridge, then settled there, to represent to him, and through him to the Church, their spiritual destitution, and their desire to have a pure gospel proclaimed to their countrymen beyond the Green Mountains. They were encouraged by him to write to Mr. Goodwillie, then at New York City, informing him “that the congregation of Barnet would be exceedingly glad to have a visit from him as a minister of the Associate Church; that there were about forty Scotch families in Barnet, with a number in Ryegate, an adjoining town; that some of them had heard Mr. Goodwillie preach in their native land, and would be well pleased to have him settle among them as their minister.” The session, in connection with a committee of the town, afterward petitioned the Presbytery “for supply of sermon,” and particularly a hearing of Rev. David Goodwillie.”
In this connection it is worthy of note, as something very remarkable in the history of Presbyterianism, and, as far as we are aware, the only instance in this country, that the movement for preaching at Barnet was made by the town. Three years before this the town had voted to apply to the Associate Synod of Scotland for preaching, promising a salary and payment of expense of a minister’s passage to this country. Then, in 1789, the town voted to apply to the Presbytery of Pennsylvania. It set apart three lots of land to be given to the first minister of the gospel who should settle in the town. Four acres of one of these lots were cleared—each quarter of the town clearing one acre—and on this spot a meeting-house was erected. The town voted to raise money by subscription to finish it, and subsequently voted that the meeting-house was town property and subject to town rules; and in the town records of July 5, 1790, is the following minute: “The committee appointed by the town February 4th last, for the purpose of applying to the reverend the Associate Presbytery of Pennsylvania for a moderation of a call agreeable to the vote of that day for procuring a settled minister, having petitioned said Presbytery for one of their number to moderate in the election of a minister, said Presbytery having granted the petition by appointing Rev. Thomas Beveridge, of Cambridge, New York, for the purpose mentioned in the petition, and Mr. Beveridge having, agreeable to appointment, come to this town and declared his instruction to said committee, and the public being duly notified, and the people being met at the meeting-house this day for the aforesaid purpose; after sermon the moderator proceeded by calling for nominations, when the Rev. Mr. David Goodwillie being nominated by one of the elders, and upon the question being put, ‘Do the people of this town make choice of Rev. David Goodwillie for there minister?’ when there appeared upward of forty for the affirmative; and the question, ‘Who are against Rev. David Goodwillie?’ being put three several times, and none appearing, the moderator was pleased to declare Rev. David Goodwillie duly elected.” In 1805 the pastoral relation between the minister and the town was dissolved by mutual consent, the laws of the State having been essentially modified.
In this congregation Mr. Goodwillie labored for forty years. The congregation of Ryegate received one-sixth of his pastoral services for thirty-two years, when it became a separate charge. During his ministry nearly six hundred persons were enrolled members of these two congregations. That he should not only maintain his position for so many years as an acceptable pastor in the heart of New England, where his principles received little outside sympathy, and subject as he was to many trials and isolated from his brethren, but that he saw his flock steadily increasing, on to the day of his death, when it numbered between two and three hundred members, is certainly an evidence of his ability and faithfulness.
It was his custom on Sabbath mornings to deliver expositions or lectures on the Scriptures in regular course; in this way he went over all the New and most of the books of the Old Testament, drawing inferences and observations both doctrinal and practical from the passages expounded. In the pulpit he was grave and solemn in his appearance, calm and deliberate in delivery, having no aspirations for popular applause, but with great plainness of speech preached the glorious gospel of the grace of God. So deeply was his own soul impressed with the power of divine truth that he often shed tears while holding it up to others and urging sinners to accept of it. His sermons were sound and substantial rather than showy; probably their chief excellence was the admirable arrangement of the material of which they were composed and the clear and full expression of thought in every part. No man could remain long his enemy, for throughout his life, he observed that excellent rule, Speak evil of no man. When he was defamed he generally made no defence, unless he thought the interests of truth demanded it, following a more excellent way, “when he was reviled he reviled not again but committed himself to him who judgeth righteously;” and obeyed the injunction, “with well doing to put into silence the ignorance of foolish men.” Even when he deemed severity necessary, his manner of reproof was so open and free from personal malice as to disarm resentment.
His last discourse was preached to his own congregation on Sabbath, July 18, 1830, from the words, “There remaineth therefore a rest for the people of God.” During the following week he seemed to be overcome by the heat, which was very oppressive, accompanied with debility and symptoms of congestion of the lungs. He grew gradually worse till August 2d, when, after exhorting his children present to walk in the faith, and sending messages to the absent ones, and then acknowledging God’s great goodness to himself and his church, he entered upon that rest in the 81st year of his age and 52d of his ministry. A suitable monument marks his resting-place in the beautiful burying-grounds among the green hills of Barnet, where he so long held forth salvation to the worshipers in Zion.
Words to Live By:
Sharing with those who have need:—What would church be like if, when we meet, we actually worked at encouraging one another in the faith? If instead of passing the time of day with idle conversation, we instead sought to point one another to Christ our Lord? For some of us, it may not be easy; it may even be hard work—to discipline ourselves in that way. But it can be as simple as being peaceable, considerate, and forgiving. When you meet together, try to consciously work at using your speech in such a way that you have something edifying to share with your brother or sister. If you are a Christian, they deserve that much from you. I know you will be blessed if you do.
Therefore, laying aside falsehood, speak truth each one of you with his neighbor, for we are members of one another. Be angry, and yet do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, and do not give the devil an opportunity. He who steals must steal no longer; but rather he must labor, performing with his own hands what is good, so that he will have something to share with one who has need. Let no unwholesome word proceed from your mouth, but only such a word as is good for edification according to the need of the moment, so that it will give grace to those who hear. Do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God,by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. Be kind to one another, tender-hearted, forgiving each other, just as God in Christ also has forgiven you. (Ephesians 4:25-32, NASB)