Benjamin B. (Benjamin Blydenburg) Wisner.

Influence of religion on liberty. : a discourse in commemoration of the landing of the Pilgrims, delivered at Plymouth, December 22, 1830. online

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Online LibraryBenjamin B. (Benjamin Blydenburg) WisnerInfluence of religion on liberty. : a discourse in commemoration of the landing of the Pilgrims, delivered at Plymouth, December 22, 1830. → online text (page 3 of 4)
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sword." These are the principles afterwards adopted by
the Independents in England, and, with some slight modifi-
cations, by the Congregationalists in this country. Brown
published his sentiments in 1582. Not long after he gath-
ered a separate congregation upon his own principles; whose
members the persecuting vigilance of the government com-
pelled to flee to Holland, where they formed themselves into
a church, which soon, however, fell into divisions, and,
being deserted by its pastor, who returned to the Estab-
lished Church, was at last broken up. But the seeds of
separation which Brown had sown in several parts of Eng-
land, were not destroyed. His followers increased; and,
having discarded his extravagancies and most of his errors,
became a considerable body in the latter part of this and the
beginning of the subsequent reign.*

James I. succeeded Elizabeth in 1603. From him the
Puritans entertained high expectations, as he had been edu-
cated a Presbyterian, and had professed a warm attachment
for that discipline. But, doubtless for the same reasons as
in the case of Elizabeth, Providence disappointed their ex-

* Neal, i. STG— .^79. " In the roign of Elizabeth, Sir Walter Raleigh declared in
Parliament, that the Hrownists alone, in their various congregations, were increased
to the number of twenty thousand. — Sir Sinionds D'Ewes' Journals of the Parlia-
ments during the reign of queen Elizabeth. London, 1G82. p. 517."


pectations. James followed in the course of his predecessor,
adopting additional and more rigorous measures against the
Puritans. These new severities drove yet greater numbers
to Holland ; among whom was the venerated Robinson,
and those who, with him, formed the English Church at
Leyden.* And with them went those pure and almost per-
fect principles of religious liberty, and those elements of
civil freedom, which had been struck out by the instrumen-
tality of Robert Brown ; separated, however, as has been
intimated, from his. extravagances and most of his errors. f

But even here, the depositories of these principles and
elements, fraught with so many blessings to mankind, are not
permitted to remain. Had such been the arrangements of
Providence, the sacred treasure would soon have been lost,
from the encroachments of a foreign population and of sur-
rounding corruptions. J To preserve it, these martyrs in the
cause of religious and civil freedom determine to abandon
the comforts of their newly acquired home, and encounter
the dangers of the ocean, and the perils of this western wil-
derness. They embark for America, and establish the colony
of Plymouth ; and are soon followed by a more numerous
band, of similar principles and spirit, who found the colony of
Massachusetts Bay.

And now, a stranger to the history would be ready to say,
being escaped from the restraints and oppressions of civil and
ecclesiastical tyranny, we shall see their principles at once
carried out to their full extent, and perfect religious and po-
litical freedom at length obtaining an existence in the world.

* Neal, ii. Chapters 1 and 2.

t Among- the errors of Brown which the Independents, of whom Robinson and
others were the leaders, rejected; one of the most important was, requiring in those
who joined their churches a renunciation and denunciation of the Church of England.
" If any," says Governor Winslow, (as quoted in the Appendix to Rev. Mr. Storrs'
Sermon at Plymouth, Dec. 22, 1826, p. 39,) " if any joining us have, with the mani-
festation of their faith and holiness, held forth therewith separation from the Church of
England, I have divers times heard either Mr. Robinson our pastor, or Mr. Brewster
our elder, stop them forthwith, showing them that we required no such thing at their
hands; but only to hold forth faith in Christ Jesus, holiness in the fear of God, and sub-
mission to every appointment and ordinance of God." Those are therefore in error
who represent Robinson and the Church at Leyden as rigid " Separatists."

t See Morton's New England Memorial, pp. 18—20.


But, no. Our fathers were not yet sufficiently instructed in
the difficult lesson, nor was the way yet fully prepared in the
inscrutable arrangements of Providence. Not only did they,
of necessity, retain an allegiance to the British crown, but,
by their own voluntary act, they immediately determined that
none should be freemen but members of their churches ; that
no church should be gathered without the consent of the civil
magistrate ; and that the people, of whatever persuasion,
should be taxed for the support of their ministers ; and en-
forced these regulations with rigor, by fines, imprisonment,
and banishment. Institutions wide, indeed, from those of
perfect religious and civil freedom. But let not your won-
der at what has often been, inconsiderately, called their in-
consistency,* turn off your contemplation from the wisdom
of an overruling Providence, in providing, by this very means,
for the ultimate perfect developement and establishment of
the principles of religious and civil liberty. Had not our
fathers excluded, as they did, all other sects from authority
and influence among them, the EngHsh hierarchy would soon
have extended to them here its iron grasp ; and thus, the
whole object of their emigration would have been frustrated,
and the spirit of freedom, both civil and religious, extinguish-
ed. As it was, — ^though evils resulted, some of which con-
tinue in their influence to this day, — ^y et the far greater good
was accomplished, of keeping alive, and further and further
developing, in the independence of their churches and the
freedom of their elections, the principles of religious and civil
liberty, and guarding them effectually from extinction, and
even from serious encroachment. f

* Inconsiderately called their inconsistency, because every one acquainted with the
circunfistances of that age, must feel, that it would have been little, if any, short of a
miracle that could have brought them, in their circumstances, to a full understanding
of the principles of religious and civil liberty. See this ground of their vindication
well slated, by the Hon. Judge Story, in his Centennial Discourse at Salem, pp. 45 —
51, and by the lion. Edward Everett, in his Centennial Address at Charlestown in
1830, pp. 42— 4^1.

t This is the principal ground of vindication of the Fathers of New England in re-
gard to their religious institutions. See it ably and triumphantly stated in President
Quincy's Centennial Address at Boston, Sept. 1830, pp. 25—29, and Note F. The
" union " they established " between church and state," Judge Story has styled, in
his Centennial Discourse, p. 55, a " fundamental error." I have myself called it; in


In the mean while, by the influence of their Puritan breth-
ren who had remained in England, the throne and the hierar-
chy had been overturned under Charles I. ; and toleration
and a high degree of political liberty engrafted into the Brit-
ish constitution by the revolution of 1688 ; and civil and
ecclesiastical oppression in the old world had driven to the
colonies south of New England multitudes who had been
trained under the influence of principles and forms of church-
government derived, like those of the Puritans, from the Re-
formers of Geneva.* And the emigrants who were not of
this class were, most of them, Protestants, who had adopted
the principles established in England on the accession of
William and Mary.f

At length, when the fulness of time was come, the all-wise
Ruler of the nations permitted those usurpations and oppres-
sions on the part of the parent country, which led to our
independence, and consummated our political freedem.
And now was to be formed a government for confederated
States, all possessing equal rights, in regard to which the
arrangements of Providence had been such, in respect to re-

a former publication, " a material error." History of the Old South Church in Bos-
ton, p. 4. It was, indeed the cause of real and great evils, some of which continue to
this day, and wliich I have stated in (he History just referred to, Sermon HI. Fur-
ther investigation and reflection have, however, led me to doubt whether it should be
called an error. I see not by what other arrangement they could, in their circum-
stances, have secured the privileges for which they had emigrated, and preserved
among them, for more perfect developement, the principles of religious and civil free-
dom. — The valuable purposes to be effected by this arrangement have long since
been fully accomplished. Why then should it, under any modification, be continued 1
It is strange indeed that in Massachusetts alone of all the free States of this Union, the
support of religious institutions should slill be required by the State. When will this
Commonwealth imitate the example of all the other members of the confederacy, in
abolishing entirely and forever all connection between church and state, and thus per-
fecting her religious and civil freedom ?

* Of this class were the whole body of emigrants from Holland, Scotland, and the
north of Ireland, and a large portion of those from Germany, settled in the middle
and southern colonies.

t The onlv exception was the colony of Maryland, established by Lord Baltimore,
and composed chiefly of Roman Catholics. But even upon these, attached as they
were to a religious system whose essential principle is blind submission to authority,
such had been the influence of the persecutions they had suffered from the Church and
government of England, that, in settling their government, they enacted, that " no
persons professing to believe in Jesus Christ should be molested in their religion, or in
the free exercise thereof, or be compelled to the belief or exercise of any other reli-
gion, against their consent; so that they be not unfaithful to the proprietor, or con-
spire against the civil government." Chalmers' Political Annals, p. 218. A brief
account of the civil and religious institutions of the various colonies, from their estab-
lishment to the revolution, may be seen in Pitkin's History of the United Slates, vol. I.


ligion, that in some Congregationalism was established,* and
in others Episcopacy ;f in one State the Baptists predomi-
nated,! '^^ another the Quakers,^ and in another the Roman
Catholics, II and in the majority, there was among the people
great diversity of religious sentiment and practice. In such
a state of things, what could be done, but leave the Church,
as its divine Founder had left it, to be simply protected, and
to take care of itself, in sole dependence on His blessing ?
A necessity created by Providence, chiefly in directing the
influence of that love of religion which it had produced by
means of the Reformation, compelled the full establishment
of religious freedom ; for which the same Providence had
now, for the first time since the foundation of the world, fully
j)repared the way, in the minds of men, and in the circum-
stances of the nations.

Such is a sketch of the developement, and full estabhsh-
ment in this beloved country, for the benefit of the whole
world, of religious and civil liberty : all by the influence of
the Protestant Reformation, and by the immediate instru-
mentality of the Puritans. Truly they were *^ the Lord's
portion ; the lot of his inheritance. He found them in a "
moral " desert, and in a waste howling wilderness. He led
them about, he instructed them, he kept them as the apple
of his eye. As an eagle stirreth up her nest, fluttereth over
her young, spreadeth abroad her wings, taketh them, bearetli
thera on her wings ; so the Lord alone did lead them, and
there was no strange god with him ;" — all " to do them good
in their latter end," and make them the means of unspeaka-
ble and universal good.

Of tlie numerous interesting reflections that crowd upon
my attention, I will trespass further on your patience to name
but one. How obvious the dependence of liberty on

* In Massacliusotls, Connecticut, aiifl New Hampsliirc. f In Virginia and New
York, i- In Rhode Island. § In Pennsylvania. || lu Maryland.


VITAL RELIGION. Without this, we have the testimony of
infidels, of the highest distinction and authority, that the
changes in the ecclesiastical and civil institutions of Europe,
which began in the sixteenth century and have ever since
been meliorating the condition of men, would never have
been effected.* The religion of the Bible, exerting its un-
corrupted influence on the minds of men, produced the Re-
formation, and originated all the happy influences exerted by
that great event upon the intellectual, moral, social and polit-
ical condition of man. Their pre-eminence in scriptural re-
ligion carried our Puritan ancestors so much further than
others in the work of ecclesiastical and pohtical reform.
Their love of this sustained them in their innumerable sacri-
fices and sufferings ; impelled them in their unwearied search
for the original and unalienable rights of men ; and led them
to discover, one by one, and assert, and successfully main-
tain, the principles of rehgious and civil freedom. This it
was, pre-eminently and, I may almost say, alone, that fitted
them for the ultimate acquisition, and enjoyment, and perma-
nent establishment, of such perfect liberty.

How, then, shall we preserve the rich inheritance they
have left us ? By imbibing, and cherishing, and giving a
controlling influence on all our population to scriptural
religion. How shall we diffuse the blessing through the

* D'Alembert, a celebrated infidel of France in the time of her first revolution,
says, "The middle of the sixteenth century beheld a sudden change in religion, and
ill the system of a great part of Europe. The new doctrines of the Reformers, de-
fended on one side, and attacked on the other, with that ardor which the cause of God,
uell or ill understood, is alone able to inspire, equally obliged their defenders, and their
opponents, to acquire instruction. Emulation, animated by this ■powerful motive, in-
creased all kinds of knowledge j and light, raised from amidst error and dissension,
was cast upon all objects, even such as appeared most foreign to those disputes."
Elements of Philosophy, I., as quoted by Villers, pp. 397, 398. Saj's Hume, " In
that great revolution of manners which happened during the sixteenth and sevenleenth
century, the only nations which had the honorable, though melancholy, advantage of
making an effort for their expiring privileges, were such as, together with the princi-
ples of civil liberty, were animated tvith a zeal for religious parties and opinions." " In
their circumstances, nothing but a pious zeal, which disregards all motives of human
prudence, could have made them entertain hopes of presenting any longer those privileges
which their ancestors, through so many ages, had iransmiited to them." History of
England, iii. 332, 333. And, speaking of the house of Sinari, he says, " So extensive
was the royal authority, and so firmly established in all ils parts, that it is probable
the patriots of that age would have despaired of resisting it, had they not been stimu-
lated by religious motives, which inspire a courage unsarmountahle by any hufnan ob-


earth ? By extending through it the knowledge and the
influence of scriptural religion. Not every thing that calls
itself the religion of the Bible. Not a religion that brings
the authority of revelation to a level with human reason, and
knows not the meaning of Scripture, and attaches no special
importance to any particular opinions, and takes away the
sanctions of God's law, and the power of the Saviour's cross,
and can accommodate its doctrines and practices to con-
venience, and fashion, and purposes of worldly ambition.
Where had now been the liberties of the world, had such
been our fathers' religion ?* Standing here in the full blaze
of the light of their history, as patriots and philanthropists,
how can I commend to you such a religion ? No, my
hearers, no. It is of the religion of the Puritans that I
speak. A religion which made the plain declarations of
God's word its authoritative and infallible guide ; and
attached the utmost importance to opinions ; and would
receive no article of faith or rule of conduct which had not
the sanction of Scripture ; and received unhesitatingly its
every teaching ; and viewed every thing as regulated by
Jehovah's controlling agency, and developing his wise and
unchanging purposes ; and regarded all human conduct as
bearing upon an eternal retribution ; and lived continually
under the humbling and purifying influence of the Re-
deemer's cross ; and aspired to an assurance of an interest
in God's everlasting favor, and to habitual and intimate com-
munion with him ; and for principle, even when involving no
direct advantage, would sacrifice comfort, and reputation, and
property, and life ; and aimed, in all things, to exhibit supreme
love to God and impartial love to men. Let this religion,
any where, pervade the minds and form the characters of
men, and they cannot but be free.

* " In 1772, about two hundred and fifty clergymen of the Cliurcli of England
petitioned tiie Legislature for relief from the necessity of subscribing the articles of
that Church, because that subscription was opposed to their conscientious belief.
'J'heir prayer was rejected by the House of Commons, and the subscription was en-
forced. JNotwithstanding this, the petitioners, with the exception of Mr. Lindscy,
clung to the emoluments of a Church, the doctrines of which they had publicly de-
clared they no longer believed."


By your veneration, then, for your illustrious ancestors, by
your love for your country, by your desire for the happiness
of men, by the imperative admonitions of God's providence
and word, we charge you, yield up your heart and life to the
influence of the religion of the Puritans ; and do all in your
power, by your example, your influence, your property, to
maintain and extend its efficacy among your countrymen,
and to difllise it through the world. Suffer it not, when you
can prevent it, to be perverted or reviled. Preserve its
sacred regard for the institution of the Sabbath, that guardian
of the authority, and chief source of the energy, of the
whole moral law. Guard most vigilantly the independence
of the churches, and their entire separation from the state.
Do what you can to have all in this country, and throughout
the earth, possessed of the Scriptures, and enabled to read
them, and their understandings and hearts imbued with their
subduing, elevating, and sanctifying truths. Fill this land
with the religion of the Puritans, and its liberties cannot be
destroyed. Fill the world with the religion of the Puritans,
and the world is free.


It may not be unacceptable to the reader to add a few particulars in con-
firmation of the statement made on page 18, in reference to the influ-
ence of Calvin in forming the opinions and character of the Puritans, and
thus contributing to the discovery and establishment of the principles of reli-
gious and civil liberty.

The peculiarities of the religious doctrines of the Puritans had an important
influence in producing in them determined and persevering resistance to
arbitrary power, and a successful vindication of their religious and political
rights. This fact is sufficiently illustrated in the quotation in the sermon from
the Edinburgh Review. It is admitted by Hume, and by all, whatever
their religious opinions, who have thoroughly investigated the springs of
action in those discoverers and founders of religious and civil freedom. But
the doctrinal views of the Puritans were derived from Calvin.

Their disapprobation of the rites and ceremonies enjoined by the English
government was a prominent means of leading them to the discovery, and
stimulating them to the successful vindication, of the principles of religious
and civil liberty. And that disapprobation may be directly traced to the in-
fluence of Calvin. With him many of the leading Puritan divines studied
theology, and were taught the importance of laying aside the whole mass of
Popish additions to the simplicity of apostolic worship. When the difficulties
arose among the exiles at Frankfort, in Mary's reign, about the use of king
Edward's Liturgy, they asked the advice of Calvin, " who, having perused
the English Liturgy, took notice, ' that there were many tolerable weak-
nesses in it, which, because at first they could not be amended, were to be
sufiFered ; but that it behoved the learned, grave, and godly ministers of
Christ to enterprize farther, and to set up something more filed from rust,
and purer. If religion,' says he, ' had flourished till this day in England,
many of these things should have been corrected. But since the reformation
is overthrown, and a church is to be set up in another place, where you ar«


at liberty to establish what order is most for edification, I cannot tell what
they mean, who are so fond of the leavings of Popish dregs.' " When the Con-
formist parly had triumphed at Frankfort, they " wrote to Mr. Calvin to
countenance their procedings ; which that great divine could not do : but,
after a modest excuse for intermeddling in their affairs, told them, that, ' in
his opinion, they were too much addicted to the English ceremonies ; nor
could he see to what purpose it was to burden the church with such hurtful
and offensive things, when there was liberty to have a simple and more pure
order.' " The Puritan part of the exiles retired to Geneva, and there
prepared and published a service book, in the dedication of which they say,
that " they had set up such an order as, in the judgment of Mr. Calvin and other
learned divines, was most agreeable to Scripture, and the best Reformed
churches." And when, subsequently, the important step was taken by
several Puritants in and about London, of breaking off from the established
churches and setting up a separate congregation, they adopted for use, (as
they say in their ' agreement' thus to separate,) " a book, and order of preach-
ing, administration of sacraments and discipline, that the great Mr. Calvin
had approved of, and which was free from the superstitions of the English
service." Neal, i. 152, 154, 155, 252.

But most important of all, in its influence on religious and civil liberty,
was the attachment of the Puritans to a popuar church government. And of
the origin of this system we have the following account from ' the judicious
Hooker,' prefixed to his famous work on Ecclesiastical Polity, written ex-
pressly against it. " A founder it had, whom, for mine own part, I think
incomparably the wisest man that ever the French (Protestant) church did
enjoy, since the hour it enjoyed him. His bringing up was in the civil law.
Divine knowledge he gathered, not by hearing or reading, so much as by
teaching others. For though thousands were debtors to him, as touching
knowledge in that kind, yet he to none, but only to God, the author of that
most blessed fountain the Book of Life, and of the admirable dexterity of
wit, together with the helps of other learning, which were his guides. Two
things of principal moment there are, which have deservedly procured him
honor throughout the world : the one, his exceeding pains in composing the
Institutions of the Christian religion ; the other, his no less industrious travels
for the exposition of Holy Scripture, according to the same Institutions. In
which two things, whosoever they were that after him bestowed their labor,
he gained the advantage, of prejudice against them if they gainsayed, and of
glory above them if they consented. Of what account the Master of Senten-
ces was in the Church of Rome, the same, and more, among the preachers of


the Reformed churches, Calvin had purchased ; so that the perfectest divines
were judged they who were skillfulest in Calvin's writings ; his books being
almost the very canon to judge both doctrine and discipline by."

These statements are confirmed by abundant testimony from writers ot
authority who had no good opinion of Calvin or his principles. Says Hume,
(History of England, iii. 57.) " These disputes [about ceremonies, &.c.]
which had been started during the reign of Edward, were carried abroad by
the Pi-otestants who fled from the persecutions of Mary ; and as the zeal of
these men had received an increase from the pious zeal of their enemies,
they were generally inclined to carry their opposition to the utmost extremity

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Online LibraryBenjamin B. (Benjamin Blydenburg) WisnerInfluence of religion on liberty. : a discourse in commemoration of the landing of the Pilgrims, delivered at Plymouth, December 22, 1830. → online text (page 3 of 4)