Haven was born on March 2, 1733 in Framingham, Massachusetts. He was graduated from Harvard College in 1754. Following a fever in 1774, for which a day of fasting and prayer was called, he remain "an invalid" for the rest of his life.
He was a member of the Massachusetts Constitutional Convention of 1779–1780 and a supporter of the American Revolution. He believed it granted Americans "civil and religious privileges, equal, or perhaps superior to those enjoyed in any part of the world." He held the pulpit until his death on May 17, 1803.
Haven was called to the Dedham church in 1755 and ordained on February 5, 1756. As part of the call, he was offered 133 pounds, six shillings, and 8 pence in addition to an annual salary of 66 pounds, 13 shillings, and 8 pence plus 20 cords of wood. He was also granted "the use and improvement" of plot of land near the meetinghouse and given three parcels of land in Medfield, Massachusetts. There was some opposition to his call but, after 40 years of ministry, he counted those early opponents as friends.
As minister, he brought a number of young men into his household to prepare for college or the ministry; 14 of them went to Harvard College. He also oversaw the construction of the current meetinghouse in 1762. A gifted orator, he was frequently called upon to preach at ordinations and to address public assemblies. He addressed the Ancient and Honorable Artillery Company at the election of their officers in 1761 and preached a sermon before the Great and General Court in 1769. He preached the general election sermon in 1766 and the Dudleian lecture in 1789. In 1794, he preached the convention sermon.
In 1793, he instituted a new method for bringing new members into the congregation. The minister would propose an individual and, if there was no objection after 14 days, they became a member of the church.
We profess our belief in the Christian Religion. We unite ourselves together for the purpose of obeying the precepts and honoring the institutions of the religion which we profess. We covenant and agree with each other to live together as a band of Christian brethren; to give and receive counsel and reproof with meekness and candor; to submit with a Christian temper to the discipline which the Gospel authorizes the church to administer; and diligently to seek after the will of God, and carefully endeavor to obey all His commandments.
The new covenant allowed anyone who declared himself to be a Christian to be admitted as a member.
Teaching against fornicationEdit
Prior to Haven, the church had very infrequently enforced a provision requiring anyone who had sex with another before marriage to confess the sin before the entire congregation.[a] Such confessions increased dramatically during Haven's term. During his first 25 years there were 25 such confessions, of which 14 came during the years 1771 to 1781.
In 1781, he preached a sermon condemning fornication and the then-common practice of women sleeping with men who professed their intention to marry. The sermon was so long and memorable that decades later, in 1827, congregants still remembered the ashamed looks on the faces of those gathered and how uncomfortable many were.
- Worthington, Erastus (1827). The history of Dedham: from the beginning of its settlement, in September 1635, to May 1827. Dutton and Wentworth. Retrieved July 17, 2019.
- Smith, Frank (1936). A History of Dedham, Massachusetts. Transcript Press, Incorporated. Retrieved July 18, 2019.
- Allen, William (1832). An American biographical and historical dictionary...: containing an account of the lives, characters, and writings of the most eminent persons in North America from its first settlement, and a summary of the history of the several colonies and of the United States. W. Hyde. Retrieved 20 August 2019.