John Allyn.

A sermon delivered at Plimouth, December 22, 1801, commemorative of the pious ancestry, who first imigrated [!] to that place, 1620 online

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Online LibraryJohn AllynA sermon delivered at Plimouth, December 22, 1801, commemorative of the pious ancestry, who first imigrated [!] to that place, 1620 → online text (page 8 of 18)
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our privileges are openly advocated and embraced,
we shall instinctively turn to the wisdom of the past,
and examine with increasing interest the grounds
upon which our liberties and hopes rest ; and all
sober, intelhgent and thoughtful men, whatever may
be their religious opinions or ecclesiastical relations,
will see in the Pilgrims, not greedy adventurers nor
bewildered fanatics, but men chosen of God, and
wonderfully fitted both intellectually and morally for
the arduous work of laying the foundation of a great,
free, and powerful commonwealth, — mejsji who de-
serve to be held in everlasting remembrance, and
honored at each returning anniversary by the praises
of a grateful posterity.

It will not be unsuitable or unprofitable for us to
dwell for a few moments this morning upon the
character, and principles of those from whom we
have received this fair inheritance ; not merely for
the sake of celebrating the praises of men, however
good or great, but of commemorating the work which

God wrought in their days, and by their agency, and
of awakening our gratitude to Him from whom
Cometh every good and perfect gift.

Our Pilgrim Fathers were Enghshmen, and mem-
bers, originally, of the church of England. They
separated from the church in which they were
born and educated, abandoned their pleasant homes,
and came to this wilderness, not merely to escape
from the oppression to which they were subject
on account of non-conformity to the requirements
of a rehgious system which they believed to be in-
consistent with the purity, freedom, and simplicity of
the Gospel ; but to erect the tabernacle of God among
the heathen, according to the pattern shown them in
the mount ; to build around the altar and church of
God a rehgious commonwealth which should be gov-
erned, not by the blind and capricious will of man,
but by the law of Christ; and to propagate the
Gospel among the aborigines of this continent,
which had never before been visited by the day-
spring from on high. Let them be the expositors
of their own principles and designs. " We are
thankfully to acknowledge," says Gov. Bradford,
" the great work of God in the reformation made in
our dear native land ; in which the tyranny and
power of the pope was cast off, and the purity of
doctrine in the chief foundations of religion restor-
ed : and though she fell short, in some things, of
other reformed churches, especially in government,
yet not in the truth and power of godliness, but
rather to exceed these in such as the Lord raised
up and enhghtened among them. But herein was
the great defect, that this lordly hierarchy was con-

tinued after the pope was cut off, in the same callings
and offices, and ruled (in a manner) by the same laws,
and had the same power and jurisdiction over the
whole nation, without any distinction ; all being com-
pelled, as members of this national church, to submit
to the form of worship established, and this govern-
ment set over them far differing from the liberty of the
Gospel and the practice of other reformed churches,
who admitted only such into the church, and to par-
take of the holy things, as manifested repentance,
and made public confession of their faith, according
to the Scriptures ; and had such a ministry set over
them as themselves liked and approved of*

This, not only our fathers, but many in the church,
as Ridley, a bishop and a martyr, complained of.
And " finding the pious ministers urged with subscrip-
tion, or silenced, and the people greatly vexed with
the commissary courts, apparitors and pursuivants,
which they bare sundry years with much patience,
till they were led by the continuance and increase
of these troubles and other means, to search and
see further into these things through the light of
God's word; — how that not only the ceremonies
were unlawful, but also the lordly and tyrannical
power of the prelates, who contrary to the freedom
of the Gospel would load the consciences of men, and
by their compulsive power make a profane mixture
of divine worship ; — that their offices, courts and
canons, were unlawful, being such as have no war-
rant in the word of God, but were the same which
were used in popery and still retained. Upon which

* Bradford's History of Massachusetts. App. p. 430.

these people shake off this yoke of antichristian bond-
age, and, as the Lord's free people, join themselves
by covenant into a church state, to walk in all his
ways, made known, or to be made known to them,
according to their best endeavors, whatever it might
cost them."*

But their design, as has been said, was not merely
to find a spot where they and their posterity might en-
joy freedom from what they considered ecclesiastical
tyranny ; they desired to extend the boundaries of
Zion ; to make Christ known to the heathen ; and to
impart to the natives of this country the blessings
of a pure Christianity in exchange for the asylum
which they sought for themselves. To use their
own language, " They hoped the honor of God, of
their king and country would be advanced by this
settlement without injury to the native inhabitants:
they intended to take nothing but what the Indians
were willing to dispose of; not to interfere with them
except for the maintenance of peace among them,
and the propagation of Christianity."

This noble design they attempted to realize by
planting Congregationalism, which was at once
church and state, — a Christian commonwealth, — a
church exercising so much temporal power as was
necessary to its preservation and perpetuity, — and a
state modeled upon the idea, and deriving all its
vitality and all its sanctions from the spiritual life of
the church. If they erred in thus uniting, or rather
identifying the church and state, their descendants and
successors have corrected their mistake by separating

* Bradford's History of Massachusetts. App. p. 429.



these two things widely enough. But the church
which they here planted, and the political organiza-
tion which they framed in accordance with their
religious ideas, both survive the lapse of time and the
changes of the world, and make us acquainted with
their view of a free commonwealth, and a truly spirit-
ual church.

Of their political work I do not intend to speak.
Respecting the ecclesiastical system which they
adopted, a few words will suffice. Congregationalism,
— the Congregationalism of our fathers, I mean, —
rests professedly, not partly upon the Bible and partly
upon the devices of men, like the angel of the apoca-
lypse, who stood with one foot upon the land and
the other upon the sea, but directly and solely upon
the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus
Christ himself being the chief corner stone. It recog-
nizes the Redeemer, who gave himself that he might
sanctify and cleanse the church by his own blood,
and that he might present it unto himself a glorious
church, not having spot or wrinkle, or any such
thing, as the only head, and source of all authority. It
calls the ministers of Christ brethren, and forbids them
in the name of him who is the master of us all, to claim
any authority or official preeminence over each other.
It secures to the churches the right to elect those who
are to rule over them in the Lord ; to maintain their
own discipHne and order; and to seek their own edi-
fication and religious welfare in the way pointed out
by the word of God. It elevates the Bible above the
wisdom of man, and makes all the members, from the
least to the greatest, amenable to one tribunal, and
responsible to one Lawgiver. It aims to give free



scope to individual piety, without encouraging pride
of gifts, and calls into exercise the talents of all for
the promotion of the common cause. It guarantees
the right of private judgment in matters pertaining
to the soul's salvation, — encouraging men to think
freely, to act conscientiously, to search the Scriptures
carefully, — and sets no hmit to the development of
Christian character. It presents a plain, scriptural
Creed, vi^hich all who truly believe the Bible, and look
to Christ alone for redemption, can assent to, and a
form of government and of worship at once simple,
conformable to the spirit of the Gospel, and obviously
conducive to personal freedom, edification, and spirit-
ual enjoyment,* It exalts the spiritual above the
formal, without denying the use of decent forms ;
inward worship above external rites ; obedience to
the law of Christ above conformity to man's de-
vices ; and God's truth above all the learning and
philosophy of the world. It preaches to all men
repentance towards God, and faith in the Lord
Jesus Christ as an atoning Saviour, as the great con-
ditions of eternal Hfe ; and when it has secured these,
it exhorts its converts to worship and serve God ac-
cording to the dictates of a conscience purged from
dead works, and enlightened by the Holy Ghost. It
has ever been a powerful ally of civil freedom,
intelhgence, general education, and true progress.
It has infused something of its free spirit into de-
nominations that reject its doctrines, and condemn
its order; and those who would hmit its influence
are often warmed and animated by its fire. It is the

* See Cambridge Platform, 1648, and Confession of faith, 1680.


nursing queen of missions ; and in the name of her
divine Lord, calls upon all her children to aid in
preaching the Gospel to every creature.

Such, briefly, is the ecclesiastical system which the
Pilgrims came to this wilderness to establish. And
by the grace of God they accomplished their purpose.
The congregational churches, founded by the Fathers,
have been the glory of the land, the best expositors
of religious rights and duties, and the gate of heaven
to innumerable heavy laden sinners. And if the time
shall ever come when Congregationalism shall be
deprived of its strength, and driven from its place
among the institutions of our country, a great light
will be extinguished, and even those most hostile to
it will have reason to mourn.

What, then, was the moral, and rehgious charac-
ter of those who conceived and executed a design
so vast and so beneficial ? None who read the early
history of New England can fail to see that the Pil-
grim Fathers were extraordinary men ; that, viewed
as the founders of a church and state, every thing
about them bore the stamp of greatness ; that they
had an energy, boldness, decision, steadfastness of
purpose, and clearness of vision, which place them
among the world's greatest men and best benefactors.

But the most prominent and shining characteristic
of those men was a deep, pure, and vigorous piety.
They were eminently holy men. They walked by
faith, and not by sight ; and under the severest labor,
the most disheartening trials, the most cruel sufferings,
endured as seeing him who is invisible. They
reposed unwavering confidence in God and in the
cause which they had espoused. Amidst all the


hardships to which they were continually exposed, —
the terrors of famine, the rigor of a New England
winter without comfortable dwellings, the wasting
sickness which once threatened the very existence
of the infant colony, the unprecedented labors and
discouragements which they encountered at every
step, — they never desponded, and never murmur-
ed. They never expressed regret that they had un-
dertaken to rear the tabernacle of God among the
savages of the wilderness, nor breathed a wish, like
the Israelites of old, to go back to the country from
whence they came out. " We are well weaned,"
said they, "from the dehcate milk of our mother coun-
try, and inured to the difficulties of a strange land.
We are knit together in a strict sacred bond, to take
care of the good of each other and of the whole. It is
not with us as with other men, whom small things can
discourage, or small discontents cause to wish them-
selves at home again." They never doubted that
the cause they had undertaken, would prosper in the
end, or that God would glorify himself by the perma-
nent establishment of Christianity in this new world.
When they were brought apparently to the brink of
destruction, and nothing appeared to the eye of sense
but a speedy annihilation of all their hopes ; when
He in whom they had trusted, and for whose glory
they had made these immense sacrifices, seemed to
frown upon their enterprise, and to disown both them
and their work ; they never rebelled against his provi-
dence, nor questioned his love. Oppressed, afflicted,
cast out from the world's favor and protection, for-
saken of man, and apparently of God also for a sea-
son, shut in by the merciless sea, and the savage


wilderness, they prayed and sang as aforetime ; and
in their deepest distress exclaimed with the clear
vision and earnest faith of the Prophet, " Although
the figtree shall not blossom, neither shall fruit be in
the vines ; the labor of the olive shall fail, and the
fields shall yield no meat ; the flock shall be cut off
from the fold, and there shall be no herd in the stalls ;
yet we will rejoice in the Lord, we will joy in the
God of our salvation." Truly we may say of them
as the apostle speaks of the elders and persecuted
saints of old, of whom the world was not worthy, that
theirs was a faith which subdued kingdoms, wrought
righteousness, obtained promises, stopped the mouths
of lions, and quenched the violence of fire.

The great end of all their labor and sacrifices, was
not, as we have seen, personal aggrandisement, but
the glory of God. The settlement of New England
was designed to secure a place where they and
their children might live according to the divine
commandments, and where they might be instru-
mental in extending the knowlege of salvation. This
is evident from all that they did. Their government,
laws, literary institutions, even the soil from which
they gained their daily bread, were consecrated to
Christ and the Church. Pure and undefiled rehg-
ion was all in all with them. For this they went out,
Hke Abraham, from their father's house, not knowing
whither they went ; for this they cheerfully endured
all the privations and hardships of the wilderness ;
for this they sacrificed every thing dear to them in
this life ; for this they labored, and were at any mo-
ment ready to die.

They reverenced the Bible. Probably there never


was a community of professing Christians who bowed
with such profound, cheerful, and enhghtened submis-
sion to the revealed will of God. Their faith in its
doctrines was mingled with no doubt or misgiving.
Their obedience to its requirements was checked by
no fear of consequences. They loved to meditate upon
its doctrines and promises. It was infinitely more dear
to them than any earthly good. In their wanderings it
was their cloud by day and pillar of fire by night. In
their afflictions it was their comforter. Its light shone
hke the shekinah in their temples. Their laws were
framed upon its legislation. Its spirit hallowed their
affections and their motives. Its wisdom prompted
and sanctioned all their works. They left it as the
most precious legacy to their children. And to their
constant, prayerful, and systematic study of the divine
oracles we must ascribe that clear sightedness, that
profound wisdom, that lofty patriotism, and that per-
severance in well doing, which so preeminently
distinguished them.

They regarded the Sabbath as a divine Institution.
One reason assigned by the Plymouth colony for their
leaving Holland, where they had been kindly received,
and where they might have remained, was, we are
told, that their children might not be led to adopt the
lax notions which prevailed there, even among Chris-
tians, in regard to the keeping of the Sabbath. They
commenced their great work in this country with the
deep conviction that the religion, the morals, and the
temporal prosperity of the commonwealth were inti-
mately connected with the right observance of this
day. They declared in their laws that the violation
of the fourth commandment by a community tends to


the dishonor of God, and to the reproach of rehgion,
renders divine ordinances unprofitable, destroys the
power of godUness, is the source of all profaneness
and irreligion, and brings down the judgments of God
upon the land. And their practice was consistent
with their principles. They remembered the Sabbath
day to keep it holy. They did every thing in their
power to secure a strict observance of it by their chil-
dren and the population in general. They required
by law that the Sabbath should be kept, outwardly
at least, by abstinence from all servile labor, unne-
cessary travelling, and vain recreation ; and that all
persons should attend public worship on the Lord's
day, unless prevented by some reasonable cause. *

For this they have been blamed by some in modern
times. A generation has come upon the stage who
are disposed to undo all that the Fathers did upon
this subject. For many years there has been a grow-
ing disregard of the Sabbath. Business and pleasure
are allowed to disturb its quiet, to the scandal of rehg-
ion, and the grief of all Christians. And to fill up the
measure of our folly, conventions are held, and
newspapers established, and lecturers employed to
convince the community that the fourth command-
ment was never binding upon us, and that to follow
the example of the Pilgrims is absurd and oppressive.
I wonder what they would have thought of such a
meeting as was held not a great while ago in the city
of Boston, with reference to the claims of this sacred
day. In their gloomiest moments, I am sure, they
never dreamed that men claiming this as their native

* General Laws, pp. 132, 133.


land, and calling themselves Christian reformers,
would endeavor to destroy an institution which they
deemed so essential to our temporal as well as spiritual
prosperity. What say you, my hearers, were the Fa-
thers right or wrong upon this subject? Shall we
follow their example, or join with those who would
blot out the Sabbath, and destroy all the privileges
and blessings connected with it.

They highly valued the ordinances of the gospel.
They landed upon these shores as a church of Christ ;
and their main object was to enjoy without moles-
tation the preaching of the word, and the adminis-
tration of the sacraments, according to their un-
derstanding of the Divine will. And as they prosecuted
their design of founding here a religious common-
wealth, they adopted it as a principle, never to
commence a settlement without a pastor to preach the
Gospel, and to break unto them the bread of hfe. One
of their first works, after fixing upon the site of a
town, was to build a house for the worship of God.
Poor and feeble as they were, they seem never to have
been too poor or too feeble to find out a place for the
Lord, — a habitation for the mighty God of Jacob. The
towns in New England, generally, for more than a
hundred years after the landing of the Pilgrims, did
not average over forty families when they built their
first house of worship, and began to enjoy the stated
ministrations of the Gospel : and there are accounts of
" raisings," as they are termed, where all the inhabi-
tants of the town could sit together upon the sills of
the house. How deeply must they have loved the
sanctuary to be inclined to make such efforts and sac-


rifices, as in their weakness and poverty they must
have done, in order to enjoy its privileges.

They vv^ere men of much prayer, and communion
with God. The greatness of their work and of their
trials taught them the value of a throne of grace ; and
they gathered about it, not to perform a ceremony, or
to fulfil a duty, but to ask for the strength they needed
in their perils and their sufferings. Perhaps there
never was a people who sought so constantly, so
fervently, so perseveringly, the Divine blessing upon
their work. They undertook nothing either of a pub-
lic or private nature without solemn prayer. They
baptized their whole life with the spirit of supplication.
It was this that imparted fortitude and courage to their
hearts. It was this that bore them triumphantly through
their hardships. It was this that gave to their religious
character that firmness and transparency which ren-
dered it so remarkable. It was this that crowned their
work with success. We may safely say that no com-
pany of prayerless men, ever exhibited the character,
or performed the works, or enjoyed the Divine peace,
that distinguished our Fathers.

They were men of profound wisdom, prudence, and
foresight. Many are accustomed to speak of the
Pilgrims as people, whose views were bounded by a
thorny and unintelligible creed, and whose affections
were confined within the limits of a small and pecu-
liar sect. Piety was, doubtless, their most prominent
and beautiful characteristic ; and they labored with
singular devotion for the prosperity of the church, and
the diflTusion of their religious views. But they were
not merely pious and narrow-minded theologians.


Many of them were great men, even in the sense in
which that phrase is used hy the world. They pos-
sessed all the elements of a sublime and illustrious
character. They were men of highly cultivated minds.
They had much knowledge of the world. Their plans
were conceived and executed with great wisdom and
prudence. They were far in advance of their age in
sound political knowledge. They were public spirited
men ; who Hved not to themselves, but for a remote
posterity. England at that time had not many better
men, and it would be a grievous wrong to their mem-
ory to compare them with the founders of Greece or
Rome. That we do not estimate their intellectual
character extravagantly, is evident from their works,
— from what they accomplished. They have left their
image and superscription upon all that we see around
us. Here is a desert turned into a fruitful field.
Here are institutions, religious, political, and liter-
ary, which are adapted to secure and perpetuate the
most precious rights of man ; — institutions, which,
with the light and experience of two centuries we have
not changed materially, except for the worse. When
did feeble and narrow-minded men ever conceive and
execute a work hke this ? " Do men gather grapes
of thorns, or figs of thistles ? Wherefore by their
fruits we may know them."

That the Pilgrim Fathers understood the importance
of general education in relation to the virtue, freedom,
and happiness of society, is evident from their early
and unwearied eflforts to diffuse among the people a
sound and healthful literature. The schoolmaster
held, in their estimation, a place next the gospel min-
ister ; and the school-house, in their settlements, rose

fast by the house of God. To them we owe that system
of common school education which extends the benefits
of knowledge to all classes, and to every man's door.
And as soon as they had provided themselves with
dwellings for their families, and erected convenient
places for God's worship, while yet poor, and suffer-
ing the want of even the common necessaries of life,
they founded a High School, which soon became a
flourishing College, for the advancement of learning,
and the thorough education of their posterity ; believ-
ing that it greatly concerned the welfare of the country
that its youth should be acquainted with good litera-
ture, and dreading to leave an illiterate ministry to the
churches, when their first pastors were in the dust.*

There was one element in the educational system
of the Puritans which distinguished it, and which we
must not pass over without remark, and that was re-
ligion. Believing that it is " one chief object of Satan
to keep men from the knowledge of the Scriptures,"
and that it was necessary to the safety of the people
that youth should be educated in sound doctrine, as
well as in good learning, they took care that all the
children of the commonwealth should be taught to
read and understand the Bible. They had but little
confidence in knowledge without piety ; and they
sought to perpetuate the privileges and blessings they
had suffered so much to secure, by imbuing the minds
of their children with the doctrines of the Gospel.

It was with these views and feelings that they caused
the Bible and the Catechism to be taught diligently in
the college ; and required that all instructors of youth

* New England's First Fruits, 1643.


should be sound in the faith, as well as unexceptiona-

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Online LibraryJohn AllynA sermon delivered at Plimouth, December 22, 1801, commemorative of the pious ancestry, who first imigrated [!] to that place, 1620 → online text (page 8 of 18)