The Official Story
Chapter 2

Henry Sewall mounts an attack against Rev. Mr. Foster

Hallowell's town clerk Captain Henry Sewall had experienced a profound religious conversion several years before the arrival of Isaac Foster. In his view, Foster did not understand the critical importance of man's depravity and God's grace when considering the fate of men. He thought the young minister put too much faith in human deeds and human will.

Fortunately for us, Henry Sewall (like Martha Ballard) recorded the events in his life. Sewall's diary, which is not nearly as massive as Martha's, is very different from hers in content. It is filled with the political and church events which Martha mentions only peripherally.

Read what Sewall said about a Sabbath meeting he approved of. It tells you a great deal about the kind of religious experience he was looking for. He wrote: "Evidenced a remarkable and gracious manifestation of God's peculiar goodness. Had meat to eat which the world knows not of." For Sewall, church was a place to be awakened; he wanted the heavens to open. He believed God chose those who would be saved. And he believed he'd been chosen. Like other Evangelical Congregationalists, Sewall believed that human beings are innately depraved, and that God through Christ displayed mercy and forgiveness to a predestined elect, whose salvation had nothing to do with their measley deeds on earth. Sewall clearly saw himself as one of the elect, able to sample "meat the world knows not of."

Henry Sewall was alarmed by the preaching of the young Isaac Foster. See what Sewall recorded in his diary about Foster on July 23 of 1786, on August 6 and again on August 8 and August 15. Just after Foster moved to town, Sewall complained: "Mr Foster preached --poor Doctrine." He called one of Foster's sermons "rank Arminianism." And twice, he met privately with Foster, to convince him "of the impropriety of his doctrine" and interview him "respecting his...heretical doctrines." Sewall also complained about the sermon given by Isaac Foster's brother on October 8th which he dubbed "flagrant freewill doctrine."

The "Arminians" Sewall referred were a sophisticated, mostly urban group who did not believe human beings are innately depraved; in fact, they believed that God's conduct of the universe proceeded from reasonable principles intelligible to the human mind. A letter Henry Sewall wrote to his son has survived; in it, we can read his doctrinal views of various sects, since he spelled them out to instruct his son.

What was Martha's reaction to Isaac Foster's sermons?

When Foster's ordination drew near, Sewall fasted, and prayed, and on October 4th, drew up a list of seven objections to the new minister which he presented to the young minister and to the town's ordination council. (As written up in North's town history, no objection #5 was listed.) His October 11th attempt to block the ordination failed, and the next day he sarcastically recorded Foster's claims before the council. After that he boycotted public worship, and was heard accusing the Rev. Mr. Isaac Foster of being a liar.

The New Minister
What was the response of the young Rev. Mr. Isaac Foster? Did he turn the other cheek?

Table of Contents

Letter from Sewall to his son, in Henry Sewall's Diary
Sewall, Henry
November, 1826
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of baptism does not seem to be determined by scripture; but the subjects are if it is in place of circumcision. And this seems to be strongly corroborated if not proved by the instances of baptism of households, as in the case of the jailer, of Lydia, & of Stephanos. And the proceedings of the council of bishops A.D. 253, soon after the age of the apostles, assembled to decide the question, whether infants might be baptized before they were 8 days old? being unanimously determined in the affirmative, goes to prove both the practice of infant baptism, & that it was considered, at that early stage of the christian era, in place of circumcision. If then John's baptism was not christian baptism, & that ordinance was not instituted until after our Saviour's resurrection, we have but one instance on scripture record that favors the mode of immersion, viz. the case of Philip & the Eunuch (Acts 38.) But this is not stated to have been done at a river, but only at accessible water in the way as they traveled. [Permit me here to illustrate the improbability of immersion in the above case by the following incident. My neighbor, Esq. H. & myself were once riding horseback from Augusta to Hallowell, when our horses stopped at the Glennady brook to drink. Whereupon I asked my fellow traveler, what evidence we had from scripture, that the water where Philip baptized the Eunuch was any deeper than this sahllow brook? He replied, it was so deep that they went down into it & came up out of it. So, said I, have our horses gone down into this water, & with come out of it, when they have done drinking. But, rejoined he, it was so deep that he baptized him, & that was immersion. But viz., s.d I, in conclusion, this is the very point to be proved,- are you not begging the question?]