ROMANS ix. 5.

"Whose are the Fathers."

THE Apostle enumerates some of the honorable distinctions and special advantages of the Jewish nation. These were the possession of the oracles of God, a spiritual adoption as his children, the visible symbols of his presence, the ordinances of his worship, his covenant of promise, and the Messiah's advent in his human nature as a descendant of Abraham. Among these he inserts, "Whose are the Fathers."

These fathers were the early patriarchs, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, the ancestors of the nation, with whom God condescended to enter into covenant, and to whom he made promises. In a more liberal sense, the fathers included Moses and the prophets, · Samuel and the judges, David and the kings, and all the eminent personages, male and female, among that peculiar people. Such an ancestry was honorable and useful to their posterity to the latest age.

It will be my object on this Second Centennial Anniversary of the institution of this Church, to describe the character of the Fathers of New England, to enumerate some advantages which flow to us from such ancestors, to suggest reasons why they are entitled to remembrance, and to give a historical sketch of this Church from the time of its establishment.

I. Who were the Fathers of New England?

It is not necessary to say that the founders of these Eastern States came from the central and Southern Counties of England. Our history is not lost in extreme antiquity, nor enveloped in an absurd mythology, nor attended with the uncertainty and incidental mistakes of oral tradition. Our records are recent, minute, authentic and well preserved. We know by what European adventurers this continent was discovered, and by whom the several colonies were established: The names of the principal

individuals, the places whence they came, the dates of time, and the objects in view, are all on record.

The first European settlement in New England was made at Plymouth, so named from Plymouth in England, which was the place from which the Pilgrims last embarked. They were a part of the congregation of the Rev. John Robinson, an Orthodox Congregational minister, who fled from England to Holland in consequence of persecution, and thence removed to this land. They were actuated by religious motives, to escape the errors and superstitious customs of the church of Rome, to enjoy civil and religious liberty, to transmit a pure religion and a scriptural mode of worship to their children, and to spread Christianity among the aboriginal inhabitants of this country. The first settlers at Plymouth were not rich in the wealth of this world, or honored with literary and military titles; but they were a reading and thinking people, of pure and stable character, of rigid honesty, of industry and self-denial, of patience and courage, of faith and prayer, who made the Bible their counsellor, who sanctified the Sabbath, who prayed in their families and catechized their children, who established schools and churches, who were patriots as well as Christians,-men of such strong judgment, practical wisdom, enlarged philanthropy and sincere piety, that no generation of their descendants will ever have reason to be ashamed of their name and memory.

The Massachusetts Bay colonists were of the same stamp in their religion, and emigrated to this country for the same general reasons; but they were comparatively of superior rank in society, of greater wealth and more enlargement of mind. Many of them had enjoyed better advantages of education, and were more cultivated by intercourse with the world. There were among them some statesmen of distinction, and many clergymen of learning, who had been forbidden to preach at home. The fact that the hand of persecution rested more heavily on the clergy in England, explains the reason why so many of that profession sought an asylum in this wilderness,-not that they were idle gentlemen or busy office-seekers, but they were exiles for truth and conscience. Hence, perhaps, originated their patriotism and uniform love of liberty.*

Let it not be esteemed ostentatious to refer to the clerical profession, as one of moral dignity and influence among the early colonists. The pastors of the churches were the bonds of social union, the teachers of useful knowledge, the guardians of the young, the founders of schools and colleges, the counsellors of the people. Civil magistrates often consulted them. Their decision and useful services in the Revolutionary struggle were acknowledged. All this influence or moral power can be explained, without ascribing it to superstition, when we consider the excellence of their personal character, their superior advantages of education and their professional employments, together with the trials which they and their predecessors had borne.

This people were prepared by a course of discipline for such an event as their settlement in this country. Like the Hebrews in Egypt, they were subjected to injustice and oppression, to trial and hard service. Some of them had suffered imprisonment and the confiscation of property in their native land. It was in the school of adversity that they were prepared for the immortal honor --of laying the foundations of this happy Republic. If they had not courage and patience, if they could not brave danger and endure hardships, if they were not content with plain fare and coarse apparel and rude houses, if they could not act for the good of posterity and for the honor of God, with faith and submission and hope, they were not the right sort of men and women to engage in this noble enterprise. An early historian says, "God sifted three kingdoms to find the seed with which to sow this country." The PURITANS were the only race of men on earth, who could have made New England what it is. No pagan or infidel ancestry would have trained up such a posterity. A colony of papists would not have transmitted down to us our Bibles and schools, our civil liberty or free press. Nor would a band of Episcopalians, who could live in ease and luxury at home, in the embraces of the maternal church, ever have submitted to the sacrifices and labors of subduing this mighty wilderness. The ejected and oppressed Puritans were the only people, who without a miracle could lay the foundations of this great Republic.

And who were the Puritans? The name was originally given as a term of reproach, but subsequently assumed for the sake of distinction. They were a part of the English Protestants, who desired a more complete separation from the Papal church. "They were," says Neal, "a people of severe morals, Calvinists in doctrine, and Non-Conformists to the ceremonies and discipline of the English Church." They set up the Bible, the inspired word of God, as the only infallible standard of faith and practice. And while they embraced the doctrinal Articles of the Episcopal church, they dissented from its form of government and modes of worship, and hence were denominated Dissenters. And because they aspired to a more complete reformation from the Romish apostasy, in respect to its arrogant claims, its superstitious customs and its religious services, they were called Puritans. The name is of little importance, however momentous the thing. And they were called Congregationalists from their form of church government, disclaiming the authority of bishop or presbytery, and maintaining that all ecclesiastical power is vested by Christ in the congregation or assemblage of the brethren in covenant.

It is to be remembered that the Pilgrims of New England were Congregationalists. Such were they, who trode on the Rock of Plymouth, and they who settled around the Massachusetts Bay,

and they who migrated to found the colonies of Connecticut, and they who spread along the shores of Maine, and over the hills of New Hampshire and Vermont. All the early churches of New England, with the single exception of that in Providence, R. I. were Congregational. To say that they were strictly orthodox or evangelical is to introduce terms of disputed import. But if we wish to know what they did believe as to doctrine and discipline, we have undisputed sources of intelligence. We may read in our own tongue the Creeds and Confessions of those ancient churches, the Westminster Assembly's Catechism, to which they gave the most public and cordial assent, and which they were accustomed to teach their children in the school and at the fire-side, and the Cambridge Platform which was adopted in a full assembly of the Elders and Messengers of the churches, and published with the approbation of the General Court of Massachusetts.

Were they a people of pure blood, not rendered effeminate by luxury or emaciated with inveterate disease? Did reason control sensual appetite? Were they content with extreme simplicity, and ready to exercise self-denial from moral considerations and a regard to futurity? Could they endure toil, cold and hunger, and brave the storms of winter? Poor houses and scanty fare and coarse apparel did not frighten them in their adventurous enterprise. A sound body, as the receptacle of a vigorous and healthful mind, is no contemptible portion in our fair inheritance.

Were they a people of patient industry and rigid temperance? The culture of the soil was the ordinary employment. A competent number were exercised in the mechanic arts. Some were early engaged in commerce on a small scale and in the fisheries. But idlers, and gentlemen of no professional employment, who despised manual labor, and vagrants who lived by rapine on the community, were unknown among the Pilgrims of New England. Whatever was right and useful, was reputable and proper to be done. Hereditary title or rank, like hereditary slavery, was not recognized among them. Active exercise in some useful and appropriate labor, whether in man or woman, gave firmness to the muscle and healthful circulation to the blood. Stimulants were little known in diet. Alcoholic liquors, as a beverage, were not in ordinary use. Tea and coffee, whether from the East or West Indies, were not yet imported into England. And that filthy weed, the tobacco-plant, was hardly known to the civilized nations of Europe. Still they lived in tolerable comfort, and many of them survived to old age.*

Some of the first emigrants fell victims to the severity of this climate and to the great change in their habits of life, but there were many instances of longevity among their children of the early generations.-The tobacco-plant was introduced into England from North Carolina by Sir Walter Raleigh in 1583, and in a course

Were they friends to order and good government? This was implanted in their nature. Such was their reverence for age, such was their submission to parental authority, such was their instinctive regard to the peace of society, that there was little need of municipal vigilance or restraint. The jail, if known at all, was not a stately edifice of hewn stone. Nor was the calendar of the court a long catalogue of crimes. Government was considered a divine institution, and obedience to it was an imperious duty. The administration of it might well be patriarchal, as the officers were men of like spirit, chosen by the people for gravity and wisdom, and because the public welfare required no arbitrary dictation or military force. The midnight cabal, the popular mob, the direct or combined resistance of civil authority, was a thing unknown. A high sense of liberty, a stern tenacity of civil rights, a strong aversion to foreign tribute, grew out of their love to a government of law, founded in sober reason and just principles. They were not rude barbarians or visionary theorists, abjectly submissive or instinctively rebellious.

Were they imbued with the sentiments of civil and religious liberty? This was a prominent motive, which induced them to seek an asylum in this wilderness. This spirit sustained them in dangers, and comforted them in trials. They were not allowed in England to worship God without molestation, and to administer the ordinances of religion without forms and ceremonies, which they considered superstitious. Their preachers were silenced, and often imprisoned; their religious assemblies were dispersed by military officers; their houses of worship were shut up: Some fled to Holland, others to Germany, and many to Switzerland. If they had not perfect views of liberty of conscience, it cannot be denied that they were much in advance of the age in which they lived. Hume, the historian, who had no partiality to the Puritans, attributes much in the free institutions of the English government, to their influence. When they settled on these shores, they planted the tree of civil and religious freedom, and sat down under its branches with great delight.

Were they an intelligent and educated people? High attainments in polite literature, or in abstract science, or in the fine arts, are not claimed in their behalf. There were some honorable exceptions of individuals, who were scholars of rank in the Universities of Cambridge and Oxford. But they all possessed the elements of knowledge, as they could read and write and compute numbers. They knew how to appreciate a learned and able ministry. They established schools, and early adopted measures

of time was transferred to Ireland and to the continent of Europe. Tea began to be imported into England in 1641, and coffee in 1666, and into New England in 1720. The general use of either is much more recent.

« VorigeDoorgaan »