An historical document from the early history of our church. After spending two days at the Congregational Library on Beacon Street, I was able to transcribe and take pictures of one of the four extant sermons on file in their collection. I had heard that, at the end of his ministry, Paul Litchfield, a 1775 graduate of Harvard University (before it moved to Concord during the war), was a closet Unitarian. I think it likely that someone without a clear understanding of theological discussions of the day misunderstood what they read as the following sermon was delivered first in 1798 and then at Carlisle as in August 1821, close to the end of his ministry; there is no evidence in this sermon of any sort of Unitarian shift. Further, Litchfield is described as a Hopkinsian Calvinist, though there seems to be no evidence of this in these sermons (though they are a very small sample of his output--such views could appeared elsewhere or in letters).
This is the first page of the sermon.
Note how the pages have been sewn together.
Here is another, later sermon. Spelling and grammar throughout are flawless.
The following is not a critical text, though I have prepared such a text. It is an example of the typical sermon of the day, Reformed in outlook, with "improvements" or applications suggested at the end of the message. I've unabbreviated what Pastor Litchfield abbreviated for the sake of saving space ("Cht" for "Christ," for example). I've also tried to include his corrections which were apparently made at his first writing in 1798, when he had been pastor for 17 years.
Westford Agt. –98
Chelmsford April 10. 1808
Augt. 12. 1821
John 3.14, 15.
In the preceding part of this chapter we find an account that Nicodemus, a Pharisee, a ruler of the Jews came to Jesus by night through fear of being discovered by others, and acknowledged his conviction that Christ was a teacher sent from God: his conviction took place in view of the miracles which Christ wrought—“for no man can do these miracles, that thou dost, except God be with him.” At which interview Christ undertook to inform Nicodemus of the necessity of the new birth: or that a man must be born of the spirit and of water in order to enter into the kingdom of God. He gives him to understand that though the new birth be effected by the Spirit, yet that the operation itself of the Spirit is imperceptible—but that the spirit hath operated is known by the effect produced—
“the wind bloweth where it listeth, and thou hearest the sound thereof, but canst not tell when it cometh and whither it goeth: so is every man that is born of the spirit. After this he bringeth the son of man, or himself into view as being lifted up or that he must be lifted up,
in order to the for the salvation of sinners, even as the serpent was lifted up in by Moses, in the wilderness for the healing of the Israelites who had been bitten by fiery serpents. Our Savior by alluding to the serpent which Moses lifted up, does, by the allusion, bring into view the awful situation of sinners as being dead men and lost and at the same time the unspeakable importance of his own character as the Savior of rescued men. The says that he came to seek and to save that which is lost. – and in the text he virtually says the same thing. [when Litchfield’s replaced words are put in with what is crossed out above and written in between the lines, the text reads: Our Savior, by the allusion in the text, compares the awful situation of sinners, as being dead men and lost, to that of the Israelites bitten and himself to the brazen serpent which Moses lifted up. And gives us to understand that as those who looked unto the brazen serpent were healed, so sinners who believe in him shall not perish but have eternal life.]
two three general ideas which have just been mentioned it is proposed to attend—
I. To the awful situation of sinners, as suggested by our savior’s allusion in the text—Let us attend to the matter referred to by our Savior in the text—We have the account Num. 21 Ch. “And the Lord sent fiery serpents among the people; and they bit the people and much people of Israel died.” This calamity amongst the people of Israel took place while they were travailing in the wilderness—Moses reminds the people of the even Deut. 8:15 telling them that God led them through that great & terrible wilderness, wherein were fiery serpents, & scorpions—It is probably that the bite of these serpents conveyed poison to the whose mass of their blood [an?] infected their whole frame.—Satan the old serpent, who is called a great red dragon Rev 12. 3 was instrumental, by his temptation, of sin’s taking place amongst mankind—and sin this awful poison has diffused itself through the whole human race, and has spread through the whole mass of moral exercises in men—All flesh have corrupted their way before God—they are corrupt—there is none that doth good no
t not one.—The whole head is sick, & the whole heart faint. from the sole of the foot, even unto the head. There is no soundness in it; but wounds and bruises, and putrifying sores—if this is definitive of the corrupt moral state of man—Says our Savior form within out of the heart of men, proceed evil thoughts, murder, adulteries fornications, thefts false witness—
the moral exercises of men are so universally corrupt the poison finds vent through all the members of the body—eyes full of adultery—ears uncircumcised—hands full of blood—Their throat is an open sepulcher—with their tongues they have used deceit—the poison of asps is under their lips—their mouth full of cursing & bitterness—their feet run to evil—destruction & misery are in their ways—In my flesh dwelleth no good thing, saith the Apostle men while unregenerated are dead in trespasses and sins, & unto every good work reprobates—alienated from & enemies to God by wicked works. Every imagination of the thoughts of their hearts is evil, only evil, and that continually.
The bite of those serpents was destructive & deadly to the Israelites—and so sinners deadly & destructive to men. There is something tormenting in the very nature of a sinful temper in many of its operations—in a refractory, stubborn, murmuring, & envious temper—a spirit of opposition to God never suffers the person possessed of it to enjoy any rest or quiet of mind except it be by deceiving him either about hiss own situation or about the true character of God, or by an awful degree of stupidity—Sin the awful poison which pervades the human heart, under certain circumstances, occasions keen [?] and piercing distress in this world—Ask awakened and convinced sinners what keen remorse—what piercing anguish—what deep distress—what fear and terror in the fruit and wages of sin—The terrors of the Lord made the Psalmist distracted—Ask them whether any or all the allurements, pleasures, amusements delights & the sweets of sin are sufficient to counterbalance the pain, the anguish, the remorse the terror & distress [began to write “remors” and crossed it out] which they feel? Ask them if gall & bitterness be not the consequence of all their sinful sweets and amusement—ask them whether a reflection upon their sinful enjoyments does not now pierce them through with many sorrows—Ask them what is the consequence of disregarding God, his word, his Sabbaths, his Law, his son & his institutions—the consequences of despising and breaking all these things with contempt. Ask them what it is to see God frown—what it is to bear all the curses of the divine law thundering against them—what it is to hear inspiration declare, he that believeth not is condemned already & the wrath of God abideth on him, he that believeth not shall be damned—Prov. 23.31,32 It is said, “Look not upon the wine when it is red, when it giveth his color in the cup, when it moveth itself aright. At the last it biteth like a serpent & stingeth like an adder.” Jus so is it with all the pleasures & sweets of sin. they at the last bit like a serpent & sting like an adder—And the
y sweeter the pleasures, the greater the delights which men have in sin, the more painful will be the bite, the more piercing & distressing will be the sting. This will take place in this world, if the conscience of the sinner awake & he realize the truth—But if not, still the day will come when they shall gnaw their tongue with anguish. They shall dwell in the blackness of darkness—where the worm dieth not & the fire is not quenched—where is weeping and wailing & gnashing of teeth — [blank side of a page here]
However painful, distressing & fatal was the bite of the fiery serpent unto the Israelites, yet a remedy was provided—and God, who sent the serpents was the Being, by whom the remedy was procured—and god hath provided a remedy for perishing sinners he hath found a ransom. He hath laid help on one who is mighty to save—even unto the uttermost all who look unto him—The malady of sinners is terrible & awful, but there [there repeated] is balm in Gilead—and there is a physician there even Jesus Christ—
This leads to the second thing proposed which is the comparison of Christ to the
brazen serpent which Moses lifted up for the healing of the Israelites—This serpent was made of brass—brass is durable, & so is Christ—he endureth forever—is the same yesterday, to day, & forever. Brass is capable of shining brightness—So of Christ it is said, that his feet were like unto fine brass, as if they burned in a furnace Rev. 1—
The brazen serpent which Moses lifted up was made in the shape of the fiery serpent by which the Israelites were bitten and yet had no poison, no sting—So Christ was made sin for men, & yet knew no sin—he was made in the likeness of sinful flesh--& yet not sinful, he was in fashion as a man, yet was holy, harmless, undefiled, separate from sinners—
The serpent was a cursed creature—So Christ was made a curse for sinners
That which cured the Israelites was calculated to remind them of their plague. So in what Christ hath done & suffered is exhibited the evil of sin—he condemned sin in the flesh—he was wounded
of for our transgressions—was bruised for our iniquities—the Lord laid on him the iniquities of us all—the chastisement of our peace was upon him, & with his stripes sinners are healed—
The serpent which Moses made was set up on a pole, --
so Christ was lifted up in the cross—John 12.32, 33. And I, if I be lifted up from all the earth will draw all men unto me. This he said, signifying what death he should die, He was lifted upon the cross for a spectacle & mark for all the concourse of people to behold, who were assembled at the time of his crucifixion—
The serpent was lifted up for all the thousands of Israel to behold—That they might all see it—So Christ is or finally will be lifted up by the preaching of the everlasting gospel. He said to the Apostles, God ye into all the world, & preach the gospel to every creature—Mat. has it—Go ye, therefore & teach all nations—and St John saw and angel fly in the midst of heaven, having the everlasting gospel to preach unto them that dwell on the earth and to every nation, & kindred & tongue, & people. Rev. 14.6 Christ
in the gospel crucified is exhibited an held forth to sinners in the gospel—The Apostle Paul travailed among the gentiles & preached Christ crucified—
Christ is in the gospel set up as an ensign to which sinners are invited to repair. Is. 11.10. “And in that day there shall be a root of Jesse, which shall stand as an ensign of the people: So it shall the gentiles seek, & his rest shall be glorious.”
3. As the Israelites who were bitten, were healed by looking unto the serpent which Moses set [?] up, so sinners who believe in Christ shall not perish, but have eternal life—
If any bitten Israelite were so insensible of his fatal situation or so despised the method as not to look unto the serpent—he justly died of his wound. But every one that looked to it did well—
so if any sinner so far slight their disease by sin, or the method of em[blurred] by Christ, as not to embra[blurred] Christ upon his own terms [“terms” is blurred as well but legible with difficulty and makes sense in the context] their blood will be upon them.
He hath said Is 45.22 Look unto me & be ye saved, all the ends of the earth. – This looking or believing implies a sense of the evil nature of sin abhorrence of it—desire of deliverance from it—A sense of being undone—Appropriation of the method of recovery from ruin The offer of salvation is universal whoever believeth shall be saved—
The salvation offered is complete—shall not perish, but have eternal life.
[the following in a lighter color of ink, added later?]
Im. [I suspect, as in Edwards, he meant by this “improvement,” how to get good use out of this sermon in your living it out, and that Pastor Litchfield fleshed out this sparse points in his application as was typical for the time.]
1/ Adapted to lead saints to reflect on the entire moral depravity of their natural state
2/—On the wretchedness of it.
3/The subject shows the marvelous grace of God in providing such a remedy—
4/--The groundlessness of the hope of being saved merely because a Savior is provided
[Seemingly in a different and crabbed hand:]
Preached by Rev Paul Litchfield of Carlisle, Mass.