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THE PLANTING OF THE CHURCH IN NEW ENGLAND—PILGRIM AND PURITAN.
THE attitude of the Church of England Puritans toward the Separatists from that church was the attitude of the earnest, patient, hopeful reformer toiling for the removal of public abuses, toward the restless “come-outer” who quits the conflict in despair of succeeding, and, “without tarrying for any,” sets up his little model of good order outside. Such defection seemed to them not only of the nature of a military desertion and a weakening of the right side, but also an implied assertion of superior righteousness which provoked invidious comparison and mutual irritation of feeling. The comparison must not be pressed too far if we cite in illustration the feeling of the great mass of earnest, practical antislavery men in the American conflict with slavery toward the faction of “come-outer” abolitionists, who, despairing of success within the church and the state, seceded from both, thenceforth predicting failure for every practical enterprise of reform on the part of their former workfellows, and at every defeat chuckling, “I told you so.”
If we should compare the English Separatist of the seventeenth century with this American Separatist of the nineteenth, we should be in still greater danger of misleading. 83Certainly there were those among the Separatists from the Church of England who, in the violence of their alienation and the bitterness of their sufferings, did not refrain from sour and acrid censoriousness toward the men who were nearest them in religious conviction and pursuing like ends by another course. One does not read far in the history of New England without encountering reformers of this extreme type. But not such were the company of true worshipers who, at peril of liberty and life, were wont to assemble each Lord’s day in a room of the old manor-house of Scrooby, of which William Brewster was lessee, for Christian fellowship and worship, and for instruction in Christian truth and duty from the saintly lips of John Robinson. The extreme radicals of their day, they seem to have been divinely preserved from the besetting sins of radicalism—its narrowness, its self-righteousness, its censoriousness and intolerance. Those who read the copious records of the early New England colonization are again and again surprised at finding that the impoverished little company of Separatists at Leyden and Plymouth, who were so sharply reprobated by their Puritan brethren of the Church of England for their schismatic attitude, their over-righteousness and exclusiveness, do really excel, in liberality and patient tolerance and catholic and comprehensive love toward all good men, those who sat in judgment on them. Something of this is due to the native nobleness of the men themselves, of whom the world was not worthy; something of it to their long discipline in the passive virtues under bitter persecution in their native land and in exile in Holland and in the wilderness; much of it certainly to the incomparably wise and Christ-like teaching of Robinson both at Scrooby and at Leyden, and afterward through the tender and faithful epistles with which he followed them across the sea; and all of it to the grace 84of God working in their hearts and glorified in their living and their dying.
It would be incompatible with the limits of this volume to recite in detail the story of the Pilgrims; it has been told more amply and with fuller repetition than almost any other chapter of human history, and is never to be told or heard without awakening that thrill with which the heartstrings respond to the sufferings and triumphs of Christ’s blessed martyrs and confessors. But, more dispassionately studied with reference to its position and relations in ecclesiastical history, it cannot be understood unless the sharp and sometimes exasperated antagonism is kept in view that existed between the inconsiderable faction, as it was esteemed, of the Separatists, and the great and growing Puritan party at that time in disfavor with king and court and hierarchy, but soon to become the dominant party not only in the Church of England, but in the nation. It is not strange that the antagonism between the two parties should be lost sight of. The two are identified in their theological convictions, in their spiritual sympathies, and, for the most part, in their judgment on questions concerning the externals of the church; and presently their respective colonies, planted side by side, not without mutual doubts and suspicions, are to grow together, leaving no visible seam of juncture,
Like kindred drops commingling into one.4646 The mutual opposition of Puritan and Pilgrim is brought out with emphasis in “The Genesis of the New England Churches,” by L. Bacon, especially chaps. v., vii., xviii.
To the Puritan reformer within the Church of England, the act of the Pilgrims at Scrooby in separating themselves from the general mass of English Christians, mingled though that mass might be with a multitude of unworthy 85was nothing less than the sin of schism. One effect of the act was to reflect odium upon the whole party of Puritans, and involve them in the suspicion of that sedition which was so unjustly, but with such fatal success, imputed to the Separatists. It was a hard and doubtful warfare that the Puritans were waging against spiritual wickedness in high places; the defection of the Separatists doubly weakened them in the conflict. It is not strange, however it may seem so, that the animosity of Puritan toward Separatist was sometimes acrimonious, nor that the public reproaches hurled at the unpopular little party should have provoked recriminations upon the assailants as being involved in the defilements and the plagues of Babylon, and should have driven the Separatists into a narrower exclusiveness of separation, cutting themselves off not only from communion with abuses and corruptions in the Church of England, but even from fellowship with good and holy men in the national church who did not find it a duty to secede.
Nothing of this bitterness and narrowness is found in Robinson. Strenuously as he maintained the right and duty of separation from the Establishment, he was, especially in his later years, no less earnest in condemning the “Separatists who carried their separation too far and had gone beyond the true landmarks in matters of Christian doctrine or of Christian fellowship.”4747 L. Bacon, “Genesis of New England Churches,” p. 245. His latest work, “found in his studie after his decease,” was “A Treatise of the Lawfulness of Hearing of the Ministers in the Church of England.”
The moderateness of Robinson’s position, and the brotherly kindness of his temper, could not save him and his people from the prevailing odium that rested upon the Separatist. Many and grave were the sorrows through which the Pilgrim church had to pass in its way from the 86little hamlet of Scrooby to the bleak hill of Plymouth. They were in peril from the persecutor at home and in peril in the attempt to escape; in peril from greedy speculators and malignant politicians; in peril from the sea and from cold and from starvation; in peril from the savages and from false brethren privily sent among them to spy out their liberties; but an added bitterness to all their tribulations lay in this, that, for the course which they were constrained in conscience to pursue, they were subject to the reprobation of those whom they most highly honored as their brethren in the faith of Christ. Some of the most heartbreaking of their trials arose directly from the unwillingness of English Puritans to sustain, or even countenance, the Pilgrim colony.
In the year 1607, when the ships of the Virginia Company were about landing their freight of emigrants and supplies at Jamestown, the first and unsuccessful attempt of the Pilgrims was made to escape from their native land to Holland. Before the end of 1608 the greater part of them, in scattering parties, had effected the passage of the North Sea, and the church was reunited in a land of religious freedom. With what a blameless, diligent, and peaceful life they adorned the name of disciple through all the twelve years of their sojourn, how honored and beloved they were among the churches and in the University of Leyden, there are abundant testimonies. The twelve years of seclusion in an alien land among a people of strange language was not too long a discipline of preparation for that work for which the Head of the church had set them apart. This was the period of Robinson’s activity as author. In erudite studies, in grave debate with gainsayers at home and with fellow-exiles in Holland, he was maturing in his own mind, and in the minds of the church, those large and liberal yet definite views of church organization 87and duty which were destined for coming ages so profoundly to influence the American church in all its orders and divisions. “He became a reformer of the Separation.”4848 L. Bacon, “Genesis,” p. 245.
We pass by the heroic and pathetic story of the consultations and correspondences, the negotiations and disappointments, the embarkation and voyage, and come to that memorable date, November 11 (= 21), 1620, when, arrived off the shore of Cape. Cod, the little company, without charter or warrant of any kind from any government on earth, about to land on a savage continent in quest of a home, gathered in the cabin of the “Mayflower,” and after a method quite in analogy with that in which, sixteen years before, they had constituted the church at Scrooby, entered into formal and solemn compact “in the presence of God and one of another, covenanting and combining themselves together into a civil body politic.”
It is difficult, in reading the instrument then subscribed, to avoid the conviction that the theory of the origin of the powers of civil government in a social compact, which had long floated in literature before it came to be distinctly articulated in the “Contrat Social” of Jean Jacques Rousseau, was familiar to the minds of those by whom the paper was drawn. Thoughtful men at the present day universally recognize the fallacy of this plausible hypothesis, which once had such wide currency and so serious an influence on the course of political history in America. But whether or not they were affected by the theory, the practical good sense of the men and their deference to the teachings of the Bible secured them from the vicious and absurd consequences deducible from it. Not all the names of the colonists were subscribed to the compact,—a clear indication of the freedom of individual judgment in that 88company,—but it was never for a moment held that the dissentients were any the less bound by it. When worthless John Billington, who had somehow got “shuffled into their company,” was sentenced for disrespect and disobedience to Captain Myles Standish “to have his neck and heels tied together,” it does not seem to have occurred to him to plead that he had never entered into the social compact; nor yet when the same wretched man, ten years later, was by a jury convicted of willful murder, and sentenced to death and executed. Logically, under the social-compact theory, it would have been competent for those dissenting from this compact to enter into another, and set up a competing civil government on the same ground; but what would have been the practical value of this line of argument might have been learned from Mr. Thomas Morton, of Furnivall’s Inn, after he had been haled out of his disorderly house at Merry Mount by Captain Standish, and convented before the authorities at Plymouth.
The social-compact theory as applied to the church, implying that the mutual duties of Christian disciples in society are derived solely from mutual stipulations, is quite as transparently fallacious as when it is applied to civil polity, and the consequences deducible from it are not less absurd. But it cannot be claimed for the Plymouth men, and still less for their spiritual successors, that they have wholly escaped the evil consequences of their theory in its practical applications. The notion that a church of Christ is a club, having no authority or limitations but what it derives from club rules agreed on among the members, would have been scouted by the Pilgrims; among those who now claim to sit in their seats there are some who would hesitate to admit it, and many who would frankly avow it with all its mischievous implications. Planted in the soil of Plymouth, it spread at once through New England, 89and has become widely rooted in distant and diverse regions of the American church.4949 The writer takes leave to refer to two essays of his own, in “Irenics and Polemics” (New York, Christian Literature Co., 1895), for a fuller statement of this point.
The church of Plymouth, though deprived of its pastor, continued to be rich in faith and in all spiritual gifts, and most of all in the excellent gift of charity. The history of it year after year is a beautiful illustration of brotherly kindness and mutual self-sacrifice among themselves and of forgiving patience toward enemies. But the colony, beginning in extreme feebleness and penury, never became either strong or rich. One hundred and two souls embarked in the “Mayflower,” of whom nearly one half were dead before the end of four months. At the end of four years the number had increased to one hundred and eighty. At the end of ten years the settlement numbered three hundred persons.
It could not have been with joy wholly unalloyed with misgivings that this feeble folk learned of a powerful movement for planting a Puritan colony close in the neighborhood. The movement had begun in the heart of the national church, and represented everything that was best in that institution. The Rev. John White, rector of Dorchester, followed across the sea with pastoral solicitude the young men of his parish, who, in the business of the fisheries, were wont to make long stay on the New England coast, far from home and church. His thought was to establish a settlement that should be a sort of depot of supplies for the fishing fleets, and a temporary home attended with the comforts and safeguards of Christian influence. The project was a costly failure; but it was like the corn of wheat falling into the ground to die, and bringing forth much fruit. A gentleman of energy and dignity, John 90Endicott, pledged his personal service as leader of a new colony. In September, 1628, he landed with a pioneering party at Naumkeag, and having happily composed some differences that arose with the earlier comers, they named the place Salem, which is, by interpretation, “Peace.” Already, with the newcomers and the old, the well-provided settlement numbered more than fifty persons, busy in preparation for further arrivals. Meanwhile vigorous work was doing in England. The organization to sustain the colony represented adequate capital and the highest quality of character and influence. A royal charter, drawn with sagacious care to secure every privilege the Puritan Company desired, was secured from the fatuity of the reigning Stuart, erecting in the wilderness such a free commonwealth as his poor little soul abhorred; and preparation was made for sending out, in the spring of 1629, a noble fleet of six vessels, carrying three hundred men and a hundred women and children, with ample equipment of provisions, tools and arms, and live stock. The Company had taken care that there should be “plentiful provision of godly ministers.” Three approved clergymen of the Church of England—Higginson, Skelton, and Bright—had been chosen by the Company to attend the expedition, besides whom one Ralph Smith, a Separatist minister, had been permitted to take passage before the Company “understood of his difference in judgment in some things” from the other ministers. He was permitted to continue his journey, yet not without a caution to the governor that unless he were found “conformable to the government” he was not to be suffered to remain within the limits of its jurisdiction. An incident of this departure rests on the sole authority of Cotton Mather, and is best told in his own words:
“When they came to the Land’s End, Mr. Higginson, 91calling up his children and other passengers unto the stern of the ship to take their last sight of England, said, ‘We will not say, as the Separatists were wont to say at their leaving of England, Farewell, Babylon! farewell, Rome! but we will say, Farewell, dear England! farewell, the church of God in England, and all the Christian friends there! We do not go to New England as Separatists from the Church of England, though we cannot but separate from the corruptions in it; but we go to practice the positive part of church reformation and propagate the gospel in America.’”
The story ought to be true, for the intrinsic likeliness of it; and it is all the likelier for the fact that among the passengers, kindly and even fraternally treated, and yet the object of grave misgivings, was the honest Separatist minister, Ralph Smith.5050 L. Bacon, “Genesis,” p. 467. The ideal of the new colony could hardly have been better expressed than in these possibly apocryphal words ascribed to Mr. Higginson. These were not fugitives seeking asylum from persecution. Still less were they planning an asylum for others. They were intent on the planting of a new commonwealth, in which the church of Christ, not according to the imperfect and perverted pattern of the English Establishment, but according to a fairer pattern, that had been showed them iii their mounts of vision, should be both free and dominant. If this purpose of theirs was wrong; if they had no right to deny themselves the comforts and delights of their native land, and at vast cost of treasure to seclude themselves within a defined tract of wilderness, for the accomplishment of an enterprise which they conceived to be of the highest beneficence to mankind—then doubtless many of the measures which they took in pursuance of this purpose must fall under the same condemnation with the purpose itself. If 92there are minds so constituted as to perceive no moral difference between banishing a man from his native home, for opinion’s sake, and declining, on account of difference of opinion, to admit a man to partnership in a difficult and hazardous enterprise organized on a distinctly exclusive basis, such minds will be constrained to condemn the Puritan colonists from the start and all along. Minds otherwise constituted will be able to discriminate between the righteous following of a justifiable policy and the lapses of the colonial governments from high and Christian motives and righteous courses. Whether the policy of rigorous exclusiveness, building up communities of picked material, homogeneous in race, language, and religion, is on the whole less wise for the founders of a new commonwealth than a sweepingly comprehensive policy, gathering in people mutually alien in speech and creed and habits, is a fairly open question for historical students. Much light might be thrown upon it by the comparative history of Massachusetts and Rhode Island, of New England and Pennsylvania. It is not a question that is answered at once by the mere statement of it.
We do not need to be told that to the little Separatist settlement at Plymouth, still in the first decade of its feeble existence, the founding, within a day’s journey, of this powerful colony, on ecclesiastical principles distinctly antagonistic to their own, was a momentous, even a formidable fact. Critical, nay, vital questions emerged at once, which the subtlest churchcraft might have despaired of answering. They were answered, solved, harmonized, by the spirit of Christian love.
That great spiritual teacher, John Robinson, besides his more general exhortations to brotherly kindness and charity, had spoken, in the spirit of prophecy, some promises and assurances which came now to a divine fulfillment. 93Pondering “sundry weighty and solid reasons” in favor of removal from Holland, the pilgrims put on record that “their pastor would often say that many of those who both wrote and preached against them would practice as they did if they were in a place where they might have liberty and live conformably.” One of the most affectionate of his disciples, Edward Winslow, wrote down some of the precious and memorable words which the pastor, who was to see their face no more, uttered through his tears as they were about to leave him. “‘There will be no difference,’ he said, ‘between the unconformable ministers and you, when they come to the practice of the ordinances out of the kingdom.’ And so he advised us to close with the godly party of the kingdom of England, and rather to study union than division, viz., how near we might possibly without sin close with them, rather than in the least measure to affect division or separation from them.”
The solitude of the little starving hamlet by the sea was favorable to the springing and fructifying of this seed in the good and honest hearts into which it had been cast. Before the great fleet of colonists, with its three unconformable Church of England clergymen, had reached the port of Salem the good seed had been planted anew in other hearts not less honest and good. It fell on this wise. The pioneer party at Salem who came with Endicott, “arriving there in an uncultivated desert, many of them, for want of wholesome diet and convenient lodgings, were seized with the scurvy and other distempers, which shortened many of their days, and prevented many of the rest from performing any great matter of labor that year for advancing the work of the plantation.” Whereupon the governor, hearing that at Plymouth lived a physician “that had some skill that way,” wrote thither for help, and at once the beloved physician and deacon of the Plymouth 94church, Dr. Samuel Fuller, hastened to their relief. On what themes the discourse revolved between the Puritan governor just from England and the Separatist deacon already for so many years an exile, and whither it tended, is manifested in a letter written soon after by Governor Endicott, of Salem, to Governor Bradford, of Plymouth, under date May 11 (= 21), 1629. The letter marks an epoch in the history of American Christianity:
“To the worshipful and my right worthy friend, William Bradford, Esq., Governor of New Plymouth, these:
“RIGHT WORTHY SIR: It is a thing not usual that servants to one Master and of the same household should be strangers. I assure you I desire it not; nay, to speak more plainly, I cannot be so to you. God’s people are marked with one and the same mark, and sealed with one and the same seal, and have, for the main, one and the same heart, guided by one and the same Spirit of truth; and where this is there can be no discord—nay, here must needs be sweet harmony. The same request with you I make unto the Lord, that we may as Christian brethren be united by a heavenly and unfeigned love, bending all our hearts and forces in furthering a work beyond our strength, with reverence and fear fastening our eyes always on him that only is able to direct and prosper all our ways.
“I acknowledge myself much bound to you for your kind love and care in sending Mr. Fuller among us, and I rejoice much that I am by him satisfied touching your judgments of the outward form of God’s worship.5151 The phrase is used in a large sense, as comprehending the whole subject of the nature and organization of the visible church (L. Bacon, “Genesis,” p. 456, note). It is, as far as I can yet gather, no other than is warranted by the evidence of truth, and the same which I have professed and maintained ever since the Lord in mercy revealed himself 95to me, being very far different from the common report that hath been spread of you touching that particular. But God’s children must not look for less here below, and it is the great mercy of God that he strengthens them to go through with it.
“I shall not need at this time to be tedious unto you, for, God willing, I purpose to see your face shortly. In the meantime I humbly take my leave of you, committing you to the Lord’s blessed protection, and rest
“Your assured loving friend and servant,
“The positive part of church reformation,” which Higginson and his companions had come into the wilderness to practice, appeared in a new light when studied under the new conditions. The question of separation from the general fellowship of English Christians, which had lain heavily on their consciences, was no longer a question; instead of it arose the question of separation from their beloved and honored fellow-Christians at Plymouth. The Act of Uniformity and the tyrannous processes by which it was enforced no longer existed for them. They were free to build the house of God simply according to the teaching of the divine Word. What form will the structure take?
One of the first practical questions to emerge was the question by what authority their ministry was to be exercised. On one point they seem to have been quite clear. The episcopal ordination, which each of them had received in England, whatever validity it may have had in English law, gave them no authority in the church of God in Salem. Further, their appointment from the Company in London, although it was a regular commission from the constituted civil government of the colony, could confer no office in 96the spiritual house. A day of solemn fasting was held, by the governor’s appointment, for the choice of pastor and teacher, and after prayer the two recognized candidates for the two offices, Skelton and Higginson, were called upon to give their views as to a divine call to the ministry. “They acknowledged there was a twofold calling: the one, an inward calling, when the Lord moved the heart of a man to take that calling upon him, and fitted him with gifts for the same; the second (the outward calling) was from the people, when a company of believers are joined together in covenant to walk together in all the ways of God.” Thereupon the assembly proceeded to a written ballot, and its choice fell upon Mr. Skelton and Mr. Higginson. It remained for the ministers elect to be solemnly inducted into office, which was done with prayer and the laying on of hands in benediction.
But presently there were searchings of heart over the anterior question as to the constituency of the church, Were all the population of Salem to be reckoned as of the church of Salem? and if not, who should “discern between the righteous and the wicked”? The result of study of this question, in the light of the New Testament, was this—that it was “necessary for those who intended to be of the church solemnly to enter into a covenant engagement one with another, in the presence of God, to walk together before him according to his Word.” Thirty persons were chosen to be the first members of the church, who in a set form of words made public vows of faithfulness to each other and to Christ. By the church thus constituted the pastor and teacher, already installed in office in the parish, were instituted as ministers of the church.5252 L. Bacon, “Genesis,” p. 475.
Before the solemnities of that notable day were concluded, a belated vessel that had been eagerly awaited 97landed on the beach at Salem the “messengers of the church at Plymouth.” They came into the assembly, Governor Bradford at the head, and in the name of the Pilgrim church declared their “approbation and concurrence,” and greeted the new church, the first-born in America, with “the right hand of fellowship.” A thoughtful and devoted student declares this day’s proceedings to be “the beginning of a distinctively American church history.”5353 L. Bacon, “Genesis,” p. 477.
The immediate sequel of this transaction is characteristic and instructive. Two brothers, John and Samuel Browne, members of the council of the colony, took grave offense at this departure from the ways of the Church of England, and, joining to themselves others like-minded, set up separate worship according to the Book of Common Prayer. Being called to account before the governor for their schismatic procedure, they took an aggressive tone and declared that the ministers “were Separatists, and would be Anabaptists.” The two brothers were illogical. The ministers had not departed from the Nationalist and anti-Separatist principles enunciated by Higginson from the quarter-deck of the “Talbot.” What they had just done was to lay the foundations of a national church for the commonwealth that was in building. And the two brothers, trying to draw off a part of the people into their schism-shop, were Separatists, although they were doubtless surprised to discover it. There was not. the slightest hesitation on the governor’s part as to the proper course to be pursued. “Finding those two brothers to be of high spirits, and their speeches and practices tending to mutiny and faction, the governor told them that New England was no place for such as they, and therefore he sent them both back for England at the return of the ships 98the same year.”5454 Morton’s Memorial, in Palfrey, vol. i., p. 298. Neither then nor afterward was there any trace of doubt in the minds of the New England settlers, in going three thousand miles away into the seclusion of the wilderness, of their indefeasible moral right to pick their own company. There was abundant opportunity for mistake and temptation to wrong-doing in the exercise of this right, but the right itself is so nearly self-evident as to need no argument.
While the civil and ecclesiastical foundations of the Salem community are thus being laid, there is preparing on the other side of the sea that great coup d’état which is to create, almost in a day, a practically independent American republic. Until this is accomplished the colonial organization is according to a common pattern, a settlement on a distant shore, equipped, sustained, and governed with authority all but sovereign by a commercial company at the metropolis, within the reach, and thus under the control, of the supreme power. Suppose, now, that the shareholders in the commercial company take their charter conferring all but sovereign authority, and transport themselves and it across the sea to the heart of the settlement, there to admit other planters, at their discretion, to the franchise of the Company, what then? This was the question pondered and decided in those dark days of English liberty, when the triumph of despotism, civil and spiritual, over the rights of Englishmen seemed almost achieved. The old officers of the Company resigned; their places were filled by Winthrop and Dudley and others, who had undertaken to emigrate; and that memorable season of 163o not less than seventeen ships, carrying about one thousand passengers, sailed from English ports for Massachusetts Bay. It was the beginning of the great Puritan exodus. Attempts were made by the 99king and the archbishop to stay the flow of emigration, but with only transient success. “At the end of ten years from Winthrop’s arrival about twenty-one thousand Englishmen, or four thousand families, including the few hundreds who were here before him, had come over in three hundred vessels, at a cost of two hundred thousand pounds sterling.”5555 Palfrey, vol. i., p. 584. What could not be done by despotism was accomplished by the triumph of the people over the court. The meeting of the Long Parliament in 1640 made it safe for Puritans to stay in England; and the Puritans stayed. The current of migration was not only checked, but turned backward. It is reckoned that within four generations from that time more persons went to old England than originally came thence. The beginnings of this return were of high importance. Among the home-going companies were men who were destined to render eminent service in the reconstruction of English society, both in the state and in the army, and especially in the church. The example of the New England churches, voluminously set forth in response to written inquiries from England, had great influence in saving the mother country from suffering the imposition of a Presbyterian hierarchy that threatened to be as intolerant and as intolerable as the tyranny of Laud.
For the order of the New England churches crystallized rapidly into a systematic and definite church polity, far removed from mere Separatism even in the temperate form in which this had been illustrated by Robinson and the Pilgrim church. The successive companies of emigrants as they arrived, ship-load after ship-load, each with its minister or college of ministers, followed with almost monotonous exactness the method adopted in the organization of the church in Salem. A small company of the 100best Christians entered into mutual covenant as a church of Christ, and this number, growing by well-considered accessions, added to itself from time to time other believers on the evidence and confession of their faith in Christ. The ministers, all or nearly all of whom had been clergymen in the orders of the Church of England, were of one mind in declining to consider their episcopal ordination in England as conferring on them any spiritual authority in a church newly gathered in America. They found rather in the free choice of the brotherhood the sign of a divine call to spiritual functions in the church, and were inducted into office by the primitive form of the laying on of hands.
In many ways, but especially in the systematized relations of the churches with one another and in their common relations with the civil government, the settled Nationalism of the great Puritan migration was illustrated. With the least possible constraint on the individual or on the church, they were clear in their purpose that their young state should have its established church.
Through what rude experiences the system and the men were tested has been abundantly told and retold.5656 As, for example, with great amplitude by Palfrey; and in more condensed form by Dr. Williston Walker, “Congregationalists” (in American Church History Series). Roger Williams, learned, eloquent, sincere, generous, a man after their own heart, was a very malignant among Separatists, separating himself not only from the English church, but from all who would not separate from it, and from all who would not separate from these, and so on, until he could no longer, for conscience’ sake, hold fellowship with his wife in family prayers. After long patience the colonial government deemed it necessary to signify to him that if his conscience would not suffer him to keep quiet, and refrain from stirring up sedition, and embroiling the colony 101with the English government, he would have to seek freedom for that sort of conscience outside of their jurisdiction; and they put him out accordingly, to the great advantage of both parties and without loss of mutual respect and love. A little later, a clever woman, Mrs. Ann Hutchinson, with a vast conceit of her superior holiness and with the ugly censoriousness which is a usual accompaniment of that grace, demonstrated her genius for mixing a theological controversy with personal jealousies and public anxieties, and involved the whole colony of the Bay in an acrimonious quarrel, such as to give an unpleasant tone of partisanship and ill temper to the proceedings in her case, whether ecclesiastical or civil. She seems clearly to have been a willful and persistent nuisance in the little community, and there were good reasons for wanting to be rid of her, and right ways to that end. They took the wrong way and tried her for heresy. In like manner, when the Quakers came among them,—not of the mild, meek, inoffensive modern variety to which we are accustomed, but of the fierce, aggressive early type,—instead of proceeding against them for their overt offenses against the state, disorderly behavior, public indecency, contempt of court, sedition, they proceeded against them distinctly as Quakers, thus putting themselves in the wrong and conceding to their adversaries that crown of martyrdom for which their souls were hankering and to which they were not fully entitled.
Of course, in maintaining the principle of Nationalism, the New England Puritans did not decline the implications and corollaries of that principle. It was only to a prophetic genius like the Separatist Roger Williams that it was revealed that civil government had no concern to enforce “the laws of the first table.” But the historical student might be puzzled to name any other church establishment 102under which less of molestation was suffered by dissenters, or more of actual encouragement given to rival sects, than under the New England theocracies. The Nationalist principle was exclusive; The men who held it in New England (subject though they were to the temptations of sectarian emulation and fanatic zeal) were large-minded and generous men.
The general uniformity of church organization among the Puritan plantations is the more remarkable in view of the notable independence and originality of the leading men, who represented tendencies of opinion as widely diverging as the quasi-Presbyterianism of John Eliot and the doctrinaire democracy of John Wise. These variations of ecclesiastico-political theory had much to do with the speedy diffusion of the immigrant population. For larger freedom in building his ideal New Jerusalem, the statesmanlike pastor, Thomas Hooker, led forth his flock a second time into the great and terrible wilderness, and with his associates devised what has been declared to be “the first example in history of a written constitution—a distinct organic law constituting a government and defining its powers.”5757 L. Bacon, “Early Constitutional History of Connecticut.” The like motive determined the choice company under John Davenport and Theophilus Eaton to refuse all inducements and importunities to remain in Massachusetts, choosing rather to build on no other man’s foundations at New Haven.5858 L. Bacon, “Thirteen Historical Discourses.” The two mutually independent republics at Hartford and New Haven represented opposite tendencies. That at New Haven was after the highest type of theocracy; the Connecticut colony inclined to the less rigorous model of Plymouth, not exacting church-membership as a condition of voting. How important this condition appeared to the mind of Davenport may be judged from his exclamation when it ceased, at the union of New Haven with Connecticut. He wrote to a friend, “In N. H. C. Christ’s interest is miserably lost;” and prepared to turn his back forever on the colony of which he was the father. At the end of a hundred years from the settlement of Boston the shores and 103river valleys of Massachusetts and Connecticut were planted with towns, each self-governing as a pure democracy, each with its church and educated minister and its system of common schools. The two colleges at Cambridge and New Haven were busy with their appointed work of training young men to the service of God “in church or civil state.” And this great and prosperous and intelligent population was, with inconsiderable exceptions, the unmingled progeny of the four thousand English families who, under stress of the tyranny, of Charles Stuart and the persecution of William Laud, had crossed the sea in the twelve years from 1628 to 1640.
The traditions of the fathers of New England had been piously cherished down to this third and fourth generation. The model of an ideal state that had been set up had, meanwhile, been more or less deformed, especially in Massachusetts, by the interference of England; the dominance of the established churches had been slightly infringed by the growth here and there of dissenting churches, Baptist, Episcopalian, and Quaker; but the framework both of church and of state was wonderfully little decayed or impaired. The same simplicity in the outward order of worship was maintained; the same form of high Calvinistic theology continued to be cherished as a norm of sound preaching and as a vehicle of instruction to children. All things continued as they had been; and yet it would have been a most superficial observer who had failed to detect signs of approaching change. The disproportions of the Calvinistic system, exaggerated in the popular acceptation, as in the favorite “Day of Doom” of Michael Wigglesworth, forced the effort after practical readjustments. The magnifying of divine sovereignty in the saving of men, to the obscuring of human responsibility, inevitably mitigated the church’s reprobation of respectable 104people who could testify of no experience of conversion, and yet did not wish to relinquish for themselves or their families their relation to the church. Out of the conflict between two aspects of theological truth, and the conflict between the Nationalist and the Separatist conceptions of the church, and especially out of the mistaken policy of restricting the civil franchise to church-members, came forth that device of the “Half-way Covenant” which provided for a hereditary quasi-membership in the church for worthy people whose lives were without scandal, and who, not having been subjects of an experience of conscious conversion, were felt to be not altogether to blame for the fact. From the same causes came forth, and widely prevailed, the tenet of “Stoddardeanism,” so called as originating in the pastoral work, and, it is said, in the personal experience, of Solomon Stoddard, the saintly minister of Northampton from 1669 till 1729, when he was succeeded by his colleague and grandson, Jonathan Edwards. It is the view that the Lord’s Supper is instituted as a means of regeneration as well as of sanctification, and that those who are consciously “in a natural condition” ought not to be repelled, but rather encouraged to come to it. From the same causes, by natural sequence, came that so-called Arminianism5959 The name, applied at first as a stigma to the liberalizing school of New England theology, may easily mislead if taken either in its earlier historic sense or in the sense which it was about to acquire in the Wesleyan revival. The surprise of the eighteenth century New England theologians at finding the word associated with intense fervor of preaching and of religious experience is expressed in the saying, “There is all the difference between a cold Arminian and a hot Arminian that there is between a cold potato and a hot potato.” For a lucid account of the subject, see W. Walker, “History of the Congregational Churches,” chap. viii. which, instead of urging the immediate necessity and duty of conversion, was content with commending a “diligent use of means,” which might be the hopeful antecedent of that divine grace.105
These divergences from the straight lines of the primeval New England Calvinism had already begun to be manifest during the lifetime of some of the founders. Of not less grave import was the deflection from the lofty moral standard of the fathers. A great New Englander, Horace Bushnell, maintaining his thesis that great migrations are followed by a tendency to barbarism, has cited in proof this part of New England history.6060 Sermon on “Barbarism the First Danger.” As early as the second generation, the evil tendency seemed so formidable as to lead to the calling, by the General Court of Massachusetts, of the “Reforming Synod” of 1679. No one can say that the heroic age of New England was past. History has no nobler record to show, of courage and fortitude in both men and women, than that of New England in the Indian wars. But the terrors of those days of tribulation, the breaking up of communities, the decimation of the population, the long absences of the young men on the bloody business of the soldier, were not favorable for maturing the fruits of the Spirit. Withal, the intrigues of British politicians, the threatened or actual molestations of the civil governments of the colonies, and the corrupting influences proceeding from every center of viceregal authority, abetted the tendency to demoralization. By the end of the first third of the eighteenth century, New England, politically, ecclesiastically, theologically, and morally, had come into a state of unstable equilibrium. An overturn is impending.
The set and sturdy resolution of the founders of the four colonies of the New England confederacy that the first planting of their territory should be on rigorously exclusive principles, with a homogeneous and mutually congenial population, under a firm discipline both civil and 106ecclesiastical, finds an experimental justification in the history of the neighbor colony of Rhode Island. No commonwealth can boast a nobler and purer name for its founder than the name of Roger Williams. Rhode Island, founded in generous reaction from the exclusiveness of Massachusetts, embodied the principle of “soul-liberty” in its earliest acts. The announcement that under its jurisdiction no man was to be molested by the civil power for his religious belief was a broad invitation to all who were uncomfortable under the neighboring theocracies.6161 And yet, even in the Rhode Island communities, the arbitrary right of exclusion, in the exercise of which Roger Williams had been shut out from Massachusetts, was asserted and adopted. It was forbidden to sell land to a newcomer, except by consent of prior settlers. And the invitation was freely accepted. The companions of Williams were reinforced by the friends of Mrs. Hutchinson, some of them men of substance and weight of character. The increasing number of persons inclined to Baptist views found in Rhode Island a free and congenial atmosphere. Williams himself was not long in coming to the Baptist position and passing beyond it. The Quakers found Rhode Island a safe asylum from persecution, whether Puritan or Dutch. More disorderly and mischievous characters, withal, quartered themselves, unwelcome guests, on the young commonwealth, a thorn in its side and a reproach to its principles. It became clear to Williams before his death that the declaration of individual rights and independence is not of itself a sufficient foundation for a state. The heterogeneous population failed to settle into any stable polity. After two generations the tyranny of Andros, so odious elsewhere in New England, was actually welcome as putting an end to the liberty that had been hardly better than anarchy.
The results of the manner of the first planting on the growth of the church in Rhode Island were of a like sort. 107There is no room for question that the material of a true church was there, in the person of faithful and consecrated disciples of Christ, and therefore there must have been gathering together in common worship and mutual edification. But the sense of individual rights and responsibilities seems to have overshadowed the love for the whole brotherhood of disciples. The condition of the church illustrated the Separatism of Williams reduced to the absurd. There was feeble organization of Christians in knots and coteries. But sixty years passed before the building of the first house of worship in Providence, and at the end of almost a century “there had not existed in the whole colony more than eight or ten churches of any denomination, and these were mostly in a very feeble and precarious state.”6262 Dr. J. G. Vose, “Congregationalism in Rhode Island,” pp. 16, 53, 63.
Meanwhile the inadequate compensations of a state of schism began to show themselves. In the absence of any organized fellowship of the whole there grew up, more than elsewhere, a mutual tolerance and even love among the petty sects, the lesson of which was learned where it was most needed. The churches of “the standing order” in Massachusetts not only admired but imitated “the peace and love which societies of different modes of worship entertained toward each other in Rhode Island.” In 1718, not forty years from the time when Baptist churches ceased to be religio illicita in Massachusetts, three foremost pastors of Boston assisted in the ordination of a minister to the Baptist church, at which Cotton Mather preached the sermon, entitled “Good Men United.” It contained a frank confession of repentance for the persecutions of which the Boston churches had been guilty.6363 Ibid., pp. 56, 57. “Good men, alas! have done such ill things as these. New England also has in former times done something of this aspect which would not now be so well approved; in which, if the brethren in whose house we are now convened met with anything too unbrotherly, they now with satisfaction hear us expressing our dislike of everything which looked like persecution in the days that have passed over us.”108
There is a double lesson to be learned from the history of these neighbor colonies: first, that a rigorously exclusive selection of men like-minded is the best seed for the first planting of a commonwealth in the wilderness; secondly, that the exclusiveness that is justified in the infancy of such a community cannot wisely, nor even righteously, nor even possibly, be maintained in its adolescence and maturity. The church-state of Massachusetts and New Haven was overthrown at the end of the first generation by external interference. If it had continued a few years longer it must have fallen of itself; but it lasted long enough to be the mold in which the civilization of the young States should set and harden.109
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