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day. We are told, it is not long since an attempt was made, in Massachusetts, to secure the indictment of a distinguished scholar for a learned article, published in a very respectable theological journal, in which he maintained that there was no prophetic passage in the Old Testament which was originally intended to apply to Jesus of Nazareth. It is not yet ten years since there appeared, in one of the leading secular newspapers of Boston, an article written by a venerable clergyman, calling for the arrest and punishment of a young man who had, in a sermon, spoken against the corruption of the Christian church at this day, and the doctrines that had no foundation in reason and the nature of things. Three years' confinement in the State's prison was the punishment demanded for the young minister!
Every body knows the treatment of Baptists and Quakers in Massachusetts. The “ great Cotton " declared that denial of infant baptism was “soul-murder,” and a capital offence. When Obadiah Holmes was fined thirty pounds for being a Baptist, as he went from the bar he thanked God that he was “counted worthy to suffer for the name of Jesus.”
" Whereupon,” says Holmes, “ John Wilson (minister of First Church' in Boston) struck me before the judgment-seat and cursed me, saying: “The curse of God or Jesus go with thee."" Holmes would not pay his fine, and was whipped thirty stripes with a three-corded whip, “the man striking with all his strength.” But he “had such a spiritual manifestation that I could well bear it,” says he,“ yea, and in a manner felt it not, although it was grievous, as the spectators said.” He told the magistrates, “ You have struck me as with roses,” and “ I pray God it may not be laid to your charge.” Two men came up after the brutal punishment was over and shook hands with him, saying, “ Blessed be God.” They were fined forty shillings, and imprisoned. Yet the Baptists continued to increase. Blow the fire, if you wish it to burn.
The town of Malden was fined for presuming to settle a minister without consulting the neighboring churches, though there was no law to that effect. The General Court forbade the settlement of Michael Powell in the ministry, at the second church in Boston ; he had been a tavern-keeper at Dedham, and though " gifted,” was “unlearned.” How humbly he submitted : “My humble request is, that you would not have such hard thoughts of me that I would consent to be ordained to office without your concurrence; nor that our poor church
would attempt such a thing without your approbation.” At his death, this “ gifted ” man left furniture to the value of fourteen pounds, and a library consisting of “ three Bibles, a Concordance, with other books," valued at “two pounds."
In Massachusetts, men not members of the church were compelled to support the clergyman, and through her influence Plymouth, always before her sister in liberality, passed a law to the same effect. However, Williams, in his settlement at New Providence, could rejoice that we have not been consumed with the over-zealous fire of the so-called godly ministers.” Saltonstall writes to the New Englanders : "First, you compel such to come into your assemblies as you know will not join you in your worship, and, when they show their dislike thereof, or witness against it, then you stir up your magistrates to punish them for such, as you conceive, their public affronts.” Cotton and Wilson replied, “ Better be hypocrites than profane persons,” “we fled from men's inventions,” and only compelled others to attend to “ God's institutions,”- that is, to all the abominations of the Puritan creed and ritual. 66 We content ourselves with unity in the foundation of religion and church order."
Never was the violent attempt to secure “unity in the foundation of religion ” less successful. New England was a perfect hotbed of heresy. “How is it," writes Sir Harry Vane, in 1653, “that there are such divisions among you,such headiness, tumults, disorder, injustice ? Are there no wise men among you,- no public self-denying spirits ?”
A law was passed prohibiting the erection of a meetinghouse withont the consent of the freemen of the town, - who were all theocratically orthodox, -- and the county court, or the consent of the General Court. It would be “setting up an altar against the Lord's altar." Quakers were banished or hanged. But all this was ineffectual in making men think alike. Baptists, Quakers, Antinomians, Ranters of all sorts there were, excited no doubt by the laws against freedom. The “hateful Episcopalians” at length got a church established, in 1686 ; the theocracy dwindled.
It is instructive to see the Puritans in New England and the Jesuits in Canada, at the same time, contending to establish a theocracy, both for the same purpose, each by the same means, -- the suppression of individual freedom in religion.
“ Presbytery does but translate
Stantord University Libraries
Hildreth's History of the United States.
said Butler, and with not a little truth. The laws of Massachusetts, which continued in force till the Revolution, provided that a “Popish priest,” coming here, should be accounted “an incendiary, and disturber of the public peace and safety.” He was to suffer perpetual imprisonment, and death, if he attempted to escape. But spite of the law against “Popish priests,” the worst part of Papacy came here,— the spirit of intolerance and persecution.
Along with this intolerance of the churches, the old elements of feudal aristocracy were brought to America, and continued to live for awhile in the new soil. A distinction was carefully kept up between “gentlemen" and those of an inferior condition. Only the “gentlemen” were allowed the title “ Mr. ;" their number was not very large. The rest rejoiced in the appellative “Goodman.” In 1639, some " persons of quality" wished to come to New England, and it was proposed to establish “a standing council for life;" in the Commonwealth there were to be two classes of men, namely, “hereditary gentlemen," to sit as a permanent senate, and a body of “ freeholders," who were to send deputies to constitute a lower house. The magistrates and elders favored the scheme, finding it conformable to the “light of nature and Scripture.” The "great Cotton,” an able man, with the soul of a priest, liked the scheme well ; democracy was "not a fit government either for church or state;" monarchy and aristocracy“ are approved and directed in Scripture,” “ but only as a theocracy is set up in both.” “ If the people are governors,” says he, “who shall be governed ?" Indignant Mr. Savage, commenting on this measure, says, “the ministers were perpetually meddling with the regimen of the Commonwealth ; and we have frequent occasion to regret that their references to the theocracy of Israel were received as authority rather than illustration." But how could it be otherwise, with such a theology? Calvinism naturally leads to an aristocracy on earth, as well as in heaven. The world - this and the next — is for the elect, and who shall lay any thing to their charge ? However, the people put an end to all talk about “ hereditary gentlemen,” who disappear from the history of New England forever. Had this ungodly proposition become a law, the state of things would have been a little different today! For a long time, the law, however, recognized à distinction between the gentleman and the simple man. “ No man,” says a law of 1641, “ shall be beaten above forty stripes ; nor shall any true gentleman, or any man equal to a gentleman, be punished with whipping, unless his crime be very shameful,
and his career of life vicious and profligate.” But, in 1703, Paul Dudley thought Massachusetts a very poor place for “gentlemen;" meaning, says Mr. Hildreth, " those who wish to grow rich on the labor of others.” For some time there was no trial by jury in Connecticut ; “no warrant was found for it in the Word of God.” We find the democratic element active in New England at the very beginning, continually increasing in strength. At first, it is more powerful in Plymouth than in Massachusetts. For eighteen years, all the laws of Plymouth were made in a general assembly of all the people. The governor was only president of a council of assistants. The church had no pastor for eight years; Brewster, the ruling elder, and such members as had the “ gift of prophecy,” exhorted the congregations. On Sunday afternoons there was a free meeting; a question was started, and all spoke that saw fit. But gradually the theocratic spirit of Massachusetts invaded the sister colony. Still church membership was not required as a condition of citizenship. In 1631, the freemen in Massachusetts began to be jealous of the theocratic oligarchy which ruled the colony, and claimed the right of annually electing new assistants. The constitution of towns was democratic from the beginning, and has been changed but little since. The towns were then, as now, little republics, managing their own affairs, voting money, levying taxes, and choosing “selectmen,” a town clerk, treasurer, and constable. The town system is an original New England institution, and has proved of great value in the acquisition of political liberty. The freedom of the town helped overcome the tyranny of the church.
At first, the magistrates levied the taxes for the whole colony; but, in 1632, the people of Watertown considered that it “ was not safe to pay moneys after that sort, for fear of bringing themselves and their posterity into bondage.” It was a wholesome and a timely fear. The freemen determined to choose their governor and deputy governor. In 1634, the first representative court assembled; there were three deputies from each of the eight towns or plantations. Soon they demanded fixed and definite laws. It seems quite remarkable, but it is true, that while money was not the chief basis of social respectability, Boston was far before the country in point of liberality. Now, the opposite is true. Providence Plantation led the way in the establishment of liberty; for, in 1647, the government was declared “democratical,” freedom of faith and worship was assured to all, “the first formal and legal establishment of religious liberty ever promulgated,” says Mr. Hildreth. In 1652, in Yorkshire, (in Maine,) and in some other parts of New England, church membership was not necessary to citizenship: Toleration began to be demanded for the Church of England, and, as the Puritans had established a theocratic tyranny as bad as what they fled from, so the Episcopalians became an humble instrument in promoting religious freedom in America. In 1662, the king demanded the repeal of the law which limited citizenship to church members, substituting a property qualification instead, and the admission of all persons of honest lives to baptism and the Lord's Supper. For some years there were three parties in New England: the theocratic party, which continually diminished; the Episcopalians, Baptists, and Quakers, who demanded religious freedom; and the moderate men, who mediated between the two extremes. The “halfway covenant” was adopted in 1659; a few years later a Baptist church was formally organized in Boston, and though persecuted for a long time survives to this day. After the revocation of the charter, the theocratic party was weakened still further, and their domination at length came to an end.
“A new school of divines, known as Latitudinarians, sprung up among the Protestants towards the conclusion of the previous century, had essayed the delicate task of reconciling reason with revelation. They not only rejected the authority of tradition, so highly extolled and implicitly relied upon by the Catholics and the English High Churchmen; they scouted, also, that special interior persuasion which the Puritans, after the early Reformers, had denominated faith, but which to these reasoning divines seemed no better than enthusiasm. They preferred to rest the truth of Christianity on the testimony of prophecy and miracles, of which they undertook to establish the reality by the application to the Bible history of the ordinary rules of evidence ; by which same rules they undertook to establish, also, the authenticity and inspiration of the Bible itself.”— Vol. II. pp. 249–250.
They presently pushed the principle of the halfway covenant so far as to grant to all persons not immoral in their lives admission to the Lord's Supper; indeed, all the privileges of full church membership Much to the mortification of the Mathers, who wrote and protested against this doctrine, the college at Cambridge presently passed under the control of the new party a change not without important results on the intellectual history of New England."— lb. p. 250.