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

Henry Sewall's seven objections to Rev. Isaac Foster
Sewall, Henry
Oct. 4, 1786
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These objections have been trascribed from North's History of Augusta pages 205 - 206.



The Objections


   The objections against the doctrines held by Mr. Foster, prepared and presented by Capt. Sewall, are stated as follows:

   ARTICLE 1. Holding that the gospel dispensation was purchased by the death of Christ, in order that God might accept of an imperfect obedience from his creatures, instead of that perfect one which his law originally required.

   2. Denying that Adam was created holy. Holding that he had only a capacity to generate holiness by a series of obedience.

   3. Denying the total depravity of human nature in its unregenerate state. Holding it only in extent, not in degree. Asserting that unregenerate persons have a moral power, while such, to ask, and seek, and strive, in the gospel sense; and that if they then improve common grace they will obtain special grace.

   4. Denying the doctrine of absolute, unconditional election. Holding that election is no more than God's foresight of the faith and good works of his creatures, and these to be the discriminating ground of their title to eternal life.

   6. Denying the saint's final perseverance to be founded in the power and faithfulness of God. Holding that if they do persevere it is by virtue of their own choice, and asserting that persons may apostatize from good beginnings, which if pursued would lead to saving grace.

   7. Holding that the heathen, who are destitute of the light of the gospel, really do their duty in their worship even though they should hold to a plurality of deities. That Paul was doing his duty while persecuting the church, and that we have no account in Scripture of his being reproved for that conduct.

Transcribed from North's History of Augusta pages 205-206, where the source is stated as 'A copy in the hand writing of H. Sewall, signed by him and Benjamin Pettingill, one of the elders of the church, "and several others." '