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 9 of 18)
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ble in their morals.* Their deep interest and con-
fidence in catechetical instruction was remarkable,
even in an ase when that mode of communicatins;
religious truth was far more common than it is now.
Every minister was expected to catechize all the chil-
dren in his congregation frequently, and all parents
were required to see that their children were prepared
for that exercise. The selectmen of the several towns,
also, were required to see that all heads of families
catechized their children and domestics in the grounds
and principles of rehgion at least once a week ; and
if any were unable to do this, they were to cause such
children and domestics to learn some short orthodox
catechism by heart, that they might be prepared to an-
swer the questions that should be put to them out of the
book by their parents, or by the selectmen themselves.f
It is to be greatly lamented that catechetical instruc-
tion, which our Fathers felt to be so important in the
religious education of the youth of New England, should
be so generally laid aside as it is at the present day.
To this is unquestionably to be attributed much of the
the ignorance, error, and instability which has for a
long season been so deplorably manifest among us.
Nor will these evils be removed or diminished until
this practice is revived, and attended to with as much
faithfulness, diligence, and prayer, both in families and
in the church, as in the days of the Puritans. It may
be replied that we have the Sabbath school, which our
Fathers had not. But Sabbath schools, beneficial as
they are, should never be permitted to interfere with

* General Laws, p. 136. t Ibid. p. 26.


parental or ministerial responsibility to the young ; nor
be regarded as a substitute for thorough doctrinal and
catechetical instruction at home. There is need of
both, and they should go hand in hand in the great
work of training up the rising generation in the
nurture and admonition of the Lord.

Such was the character of those men who turned
the wastes of New England into fruitful fields, and
made the wilderness to blossom as the rose.

But it is said they had their errors. It is even so.
To err is human. No one will maintain that they
never believed anything that was not true, nor did
anything that had better not have been done. But
in what period of the world, in what nation, shall we
find a company of men to whom was committed so
great a work, or who have executed the task as-
signed them, whatever it was, so nobly and so success-
fully ? What were their errors ? They were intolerant
bigots, says one. They were bloody persecutors, says

The charge of bigotry is often brought against the
Fathers of New England, by those, who of all men
have the least right to say anything upon that sub-
ject. The words of the Saviour to those who clam-
ored for judgment upon the woman taken in adul-
tery, "Let him that is without this sin among you cast
the first stone at her," contain an admonition which
these swift witnesses against the Puritans would do
well to lay to heart. Moreover we may insist upon
the evidence that the Fathers of New England were
bigoted at all. What is bigotry ? Bigotry has been de-
fined to be a blind partiality for a particular sect, com-
bined with hatred of all who diflfer from us. If this


definition be correct, the Pilgrims were no bigots.
They were Calvinists indeed ; and that they loved
their own church with an affection stronger than
death, is evident from the hardships they endured, and
the personal sacrifices they made to plant it, and to
sustain it in this country. But their attachment was
not bhnd or foolish. They knew by experience the
value of what they loved, and felt that the most in-
tense affection is cold in comparison with that love
wherewith they were loved by Him who died for them.
Nor did they hate any man or sect for differing from
them in opinion or practice. When the Massachu-
setts company were about to sail from Yarmouth, they
addressed a letter to the Christians of England which
exhibits a most kind, liberal, benevolent, and Christian
spirit. " We esteem it an honor," said they, " to
call the Church of England, from whence we rise, our
dear Mother ; and cannot part from our native coun-
try, where she specially resideth, without much sadness
of heart, and many tears. You are not ignorant that
the Spirit of God stirred up the heart of the apostle
Paul to make continual mention of Philippi, which
was a colony of Rome. Let the same Spirit, we be-
seech you, put you in mind to pray for us without
ceasing, who are weak colony from yourselves, making
request for us to God in your prayers. And so far as
God shall enable us, we will give Him no rest on your
behalf, wishing our heads and hearts may be as foun-
tains of tears for your everlasting welfare, when we
shall be in our poor cottages in the wilderness, overshad-
owed with the spirit of supplication, through the man-
ifold necessities and tribulations which may not alto-
gether unexpectedly, nor, we hope, unprofitably befal


us." What language to use towards a church from
which they had received such hard measure ! If they
could have hated any denomination of Christians, it
would have been the Church of England. But flee-
ing as they were from fines and imprisonment to a
waste howling wilderness, they pour out their prayers
and tears for that Mother, who seemed to have closed
her heart against some of the worthiest of her chil-
dren, and made their lives bitter with hard bondage.
Even Cotton Mather, who has been thought the
straitest and most exclusive of his sect, says that
the New England churches, though they were " shy
of using any thing in the worship of God, for which
they could not see a warrant in the Bible, yet swal-
lowed up the names of Congregational, Presbyterian,
EpiscopaUan, Anti-psedo Baptist, in that of Christian ;
persons of all those persuasions being taken into
fellowship, when visible godliness recommended
them." * When did bigotry ever use language like
this? What denomination of Christians will now
reciprocate this charitable judgment which went forth
from the heart of Congregationalism, and which every
true son of the Pilgrims is now ready to subscribe
with his own hand ?

The other charge referred to is more serious. They
fled from persecution, it is said, and as soon as they
obtained power, they became the merciless persecu-
tors of all who could not agree with them in opinion
and practice.

This has been repeated so often, so confidently, and
with such a plausible reference to time, place, and

* Enchantments Encountered, p. 10.


persons, that to many it seems like an incontrovertible
fact ; and any attempt to vindicate those much injured
men, may be regarded as indicating great ignorance of
their characters, or disregard of historical truth. To us,
however, this is not clear. After a somewhat careful
examination of the history of those troublous times
which tried the faith, and patience, and principles of
our Fathers, we are unable to find satisfactory evidence
that they were ever guilty of persecuting any man, or
body of men, on account of their rehgious opinions.
That it was their first great object to establish a church
and commonwealth upon principles, which were re-
garded by many as exclusive; that they adopted a
discipline which was felt by dissenters from their doc-
trines to be severe ; that they guarded the infant
church, which was of all things in this world dearest to
their hearts, and which they perilled all their hopes on
earth to plant firmly upon this soil, with a jealousy
very inconvenient to those who hated it ; and that they
were at times severe in the punishment of those who
intentionally violated the religious or civil order of the
country, no one will deny. But that they were perse-
cutors of good men, in the proper sense of that word,
cannot be shown from the undisputed record of their
public acts; and even the jealousy of dissent, and
severity of discipline which are complained of, find an
ample apology in the circumstances under which they
were obliged to act.

What is persecution ? There is much vagueness
and confusion of thought in the public mind in rela-
tion to this question ; and every man who suffers in
mind, body, or estate, from the doings of church or


commonwealth, is called a martyr by the multitude,
who do not discriminate between the sentence of a
wise and necessary law, and an act of wanton cruelty.
We may learn what persecution is from the consola-
tion which the Saviour administers to those who are
objects of it. " Blessed are they which are persecu-
ted for righteousness' sake ; for theirs is the kingdom
of heaven. Blessed are ye when men shall revile you,
and persecute you, and shall say all manner of evil
against you falsely, for my sake.'''' This passage re-
quires us, in all cases, to examine the character and
acts of those who suffer, as well as of those against
whom the charge of persecution is brought.

The persecutor is a man who hates truth, and good
men ; who uses his power to harass and distress
those who seek only to enjoy inahenable rights, and
to do the work which God has assigned them; who
endeavors by fines, imprisonment, and death, to
suppress the doctrines of the Gospel, and to destroy
the liberty with which Christ has made men free.
Every act of undue severity, or even injustice, is
not persecution. To imprison or hang a man for vio-
lating the laws of the state; to excommunicate a her-
etic from the church ; to expel a disturber of the peace
from the society which he would subvert, — is not to
persecute him. It is an old and sound remark, that
it is not the kind or degree of suffering which a man
may endure, but the cause which makes a martyr.
Men complain that they are objects of relentless per-
secution, because they are not permitted to promul-
gate by the tongue and pen any doctrines which
they have adopted, or are involved in difficulties


by the violation of the fundamental principles of
the government under which they live : as if every
opinion of theirs is an eternal truth vi^hich all
men are bound to reverence, and every action
the result of a pure conscience, v^^hich it would
be a sin against God and humanity to discount-
enance. But the Saviour promises a blessing only
upon those who suffer for righteousness^ sake. It
is not a man's own opinion, but Christ's truth,
that is the proper object of persecution. Men can-
not be martyrs, except as witnesses for God and
his cause.

They must also be good men. " Blessed are ye,"
says the Saviour, " when men shall revile you, and
persecute you, and say all manner of evil against you
falsely.'^'' A man must not give occasion for any one
to speak evil of him. " If a man suffer as a Christian,"
says the apostle, " let him not be ashamed. But let
none of you suffer as a murderer, or as a thief, or as a
busy-body in other men^s matters : for what glory is it, if
when ye be buffetted for your faults, ye shall take it pa-
tiently?"* " Having your conversation honest among
the Gentiles, and having SLgood conscience, that whereas
they speak evil of you, as evil doers, they may be
ashamed \hdl falsely accuse your good conversation in
Christ." t If, then, a man professing to be a Christian,
acts inconsistently with his profession ; if he does not
submit to the law of Christ ; if he exhibits the spirit of
Cain or of Korah, and receives a just recompense
for the wrong that he has done, we are not to
consider him a martyr, nor feel much compassion

* 1 Peter, iv. 15, 16. t 1 Peter, ii. 12.


for his sufferings. The act by which he suffers is not
persecution, but punishment. It falls not upon right-
eousness and truth, but upon crime, which the law
ought to punish wherever it appears. We should
not regard the clamor of such sufferers. Shall
men of perverse minds be permitted to plead their
religion as an excuse for their evil deeds, and when
they suffer as wrong-doers, to complain that they
are persecuted ? Shall the wolf in sheep's clothing
be looked upon as a martyr, because he is driven
by force from the fold, or has an iron collar placed
about his neck ?

It is well also to examine the temper manifested by
those who complain that they are persecuted. Our
Saviour points out the graces by which his martyrs
are adorned ; a heavenly wisdom which is pure,
peaceable, gentle, easy to be entreated, full of mercy
and good fruits, without partiality, and without hypoc-
risy ; a divine patience that complains to none but
God ; a holy courage that fears nothing but sin ;
a pure zeal that burns like the fire kindled from heaven
upon the altar of sacrifice ; above all, a charity that
thinketh no evil, that rejoiceth not in iniquity but in
the truth, that will pity, and forgive, and bless, and
pray for the guilty persecutor, and will not fail even
at the stake or upon the cross. With such a temper
the blood of the martyr becomes the seed of the

Now let us judge our Fathers and their acts of al-
leged persecution, by these plain Gospel principles.
When it is said that they fled from persecution, and
as soon as they obtained power, began to persecute
all who differed from them in opinion, we should ask


ourselves again, who our Fathers were, — what was
their position, — what were the circumstances in which
they were called to act, — and who were the objects
of their severity.

The Pilgrim Fathers were not, as we have seen, or
may easily learn, haters of truth, or of good men.
They were not revilers of those who endeavored to
keep a conscience void of offence towards God and
towards man. They were not enemies of that king-
dom of righteousness and peace which Christ came to
establish in this world. On the contrary, they were
men who feared God, — who submitted with child-like
docility to the Law of Christ, — who loved the cause of
religion more than father, or mother, or country, — who
rejoiced in all the successes of the church, — who
blessed God for the partial reformation of the body from
which they were at last compelled to separate, — who
longed and prayed for the coming of Christ's kingdom
in power, — and who could say respecting Zion and her
sons, as David said of Jerusalem, " If I forget thee,
let my right hand forget her cunning. If I do not re-
member thee, let my tongue cleave to the roof of my
mouth : if I prefer not Jerusalem above my chief joy."
How could such men harbor the spirit of persecu-
tion, or use their power to crush and destroy any faith-
ful servant of Jesus Christ ?

They came to this country, as I have said, in or-
der to organize a religious community, according to
what they believed the Law of Christ sanctioned and
required ; to worship God in the forms which they
judged most conducive to rehgious enjoyment and
spiritual edification ; to train up their children in the
nurture and admonition of the Lord ; and to spread


a pure gospel among the benighted tribes that
roamed through these forests. In order to real-
ize their object, they abandoned the soil which gave
them birth. They left Christendom to build the church
of God in its own way. They chose a spot for their
purpose, far from the civilized world, — a spot to which
no nation could lay a higher claim than their own,
founded as it was upon prior occupancy, and actual
purchase of the wild tribes that sometimes used it for
hunting. They invaded nobody's rights; " they got not
the land in possession by their sword," but in a manner
that all the world must pronounce just. And they
asked of their fellow-men nothing but to be allowed
the privilege of carrying out their own principles upon
their own soil, and of regulating the affairs of their
church and state, according to their views of truth
and duty.

And with what spirit and temper did they proceed
to execute their great design ? First of all, their char-
ter declared expressly, that there should always be lib-
erty of conscience in matters of rehgion. Then they
declared that all the people of God who were orthodox
in judgment, and not scandalous in life, should have
full liberty to gather themselves into a church estate,
provided they did it in a Christian way, observing the
rules of Christ revealed in his word, and with the ap-
probation of the magistrates, and of the elders of the
neighboring churches; and that every church should
freely enjoy all the ordinances of God, according to
the rules of the Gospel. And, finally, they announced
to the world, that all strangers professing the Christian
religion, who should flee to this colony from the tyr-
anny of their oppressors, should be succored accord-


ing to their utmost ability.* These provisions, all
must allow, were as Uberal as the condition and ob-
jects of the colony could possibly permit.

It is true that while they professed to maintain the
inviolability of conscience in matters of religion, they
regarded those who obstinately promulgated doctrines
subversive of the Christian faith, destructive to the
souls of men, and dangerous to society, as enemies of
the commonwealth; and therefore they passed laws
designed to restrain or punish such persons.f
They were wilhng that all persons within their juris-
diction, whether inhabitants or strangers, should enjoy
the same law and justice that was general for their
colony, in all cases proper to their cognizance, with-
out partiality or delay ; J but at the same time they
ordered that all who endeavored to destroy or disturb
the peace of the churches here established, by openly
renouncing or reviling their church estate, or their
ministry, or any ordinance dispensed in them, should
be punished with fine, imprisonment, or banishment,
according to the exigences of the case.||

Under such laws, which they not only had a perfect
right to enact, but which were obviously required by
the condition of the colony, a few persons who came
into the country with no respect for the government,
or good-will toward the churches, might have suf-
fered some inconvenience. When they felt them-
selves bound to oppose publicly the religious order
here established, and to disobey the laws of the
state, they were compelled to endure the priva-
tion of accustomed privileges, or to withdraw from

* General Laws, p. 143. f lb. p. 39. | lb. p. 143. |1 lb. p. 45.


the jurisdiction ; which they always had perfect
Uberty to do. Those members of the church of
England who had found their way to the colony,
were not allowed to observe publicly the forms of that
church ; and Thomas Lechford, who thanked God
that he " understood by experience, that there is no
such government for Englishmen, or any nation, as a
monarchy ; nor for Christians, as by a lawful ministry
under godly diocesan bishops, deducing their station
and calHng from Christ and his apostles, in descent
or succession," complained that he suffered much
by reason of not being able to agree to the dis-
cipline here established; being "kept from the sa-
crament, and all place of preferment in the com-
monwealth, and forced to get a living by writing
petty things, which scarce found him bread."*

The Baptists, also, were doubtless subject to incon-
veniences which must have been somewhat galling.
When a Baptist church was gathered in opposition
to a law of the colony above referred to, the mem-
bers were summoned before the magistrates, and for-
bidden to proceed ; but refusing to obey the law,
and persevering in their purpose to organize them-
selves into a church, some of them were imprison-
ed for contempt, and some were ordered to depart
from the colony, f But this act, it will be ob-
served, however harsh it may seem, had no relation
to their opinions upon the subject of baptism, but
to their actual violation of the laws. The condition
of Baptists, as well as of Episcopalians, was, no
doubt, unpleasant, under a government so thoroughly

* Plain Dealing, p. 68, 69. t Bradford's Hist. Mass. p. 68.


congregational ; but we hear of nothing hke the per-
secution of them merely on account of their religious
opinions. That the government had a legal right by
their charter to establish a church polity which they
deemed conformable to the word of God ; to forbid
formsof worship which they judged to be unscriptural ;
and to insist that if churches were gathered here, they
should be organized in accordance with the ecclesias-
tical system which they had adopted amidst so many
trials and hardships, no one can doubt. It might have
been injudicious ; it might have been contrary to
sound policy ; but it was not persecution. The error
of our Fathers, if they were in error upon this point,
consisted, says Bradford, in assuming that they had
at last discovered the true meaning of revelation, and
that it was their duty to allow no deviations from
it.* But the historian himself, while he condemns
their strict discipline and government in some cases,
and their severity towards those who would not
conform to their usages, admits that the toleration
pleaded for would have been fatal to the design which
they had in view. They came to America, he says, un-
der great privations, after long persecutions, to, enjoy
their own forms of worship, which they believed to be in
accordance with the word of God. And had they not
been select in receiving new comers, and in reject-
ing the turbulent and schismatic, their object would
have been entirely defeated, and the colony probably
broken up.f So that the great question is, whether the
end they had in view in coming to this country, was of
importance enough to the church and to the world,

* Bradford's History of Massachusetts, p. 50. tibid. p. 33.


to be secured by laws which subjected a few dis-
senters to such privations as have been complained
of. Who will say that the unlimited toleration de-
manded, subversive as it must have been of the great
object of our Fathers, would have been better than the
New England which they left us as an inheritance ?

But there are cases of greater alleged oppression
and persecution, which are often referred to as evi-
dence that the Puritans cherished a bitter and relent-
less hostility against all who differed from them in
opinion. I allude to the banishment of Roger Williams ;
the imprisonment, banishment, and capital punishment
of the Quakers ; the dispersion of the company at Mount
Wollaston ; and the punishment of some others, re-
specting which I wish to say a few words. I do not
refer to the " trial of the witches," because that melan-
choly excitement does not properly belong to this

Of Roger Williams I desire to speak with all suitable
respect. He came to Massachusetts a congrega-
tional minister of no mean standing, and by his tal-
ents and learning soon acquired considerable influ-
ence among the people. That he was a lover of
freedom, and capable of great usefulness in church
and state, will not be denied. It was doubtless very
grievous to him that he was obliged to leave the colony
at all, especially in the dead of winter, though he was
furnished with money, it is said, from Governor Win-
throp's purse to defray the expenses of his journey.
But it is proper to remark that he was regarded, even
by his best friends, as " an eccentric man," greatly
"wanting in prudence and stability of character,"
" very precipitate and passionate," and easily carried


away by " extravagant theories." He professed, in
later life, to be a Baptist ; but he was not banished
for being a Baptist. His opinions in relation to the
mode or subjects of baptism, had no influence what-
ever in drawing down upon him the indignation of
the government. He was required to leave the col-
ony because he was a disturber of the public peace,
and dangerous to the well-being of the church.

In what way he became obnoxious to the charge
of being an enemy of the commonwealth, whom
it was necessary to get rid of, will appear by a
brief reference to some of the dangerous doctrines
which he promulgated in spite of all the kind and
friendly efforts which were made to persuade him to
desist. He violently opposed the whole civil and
ecclesiastical order which he found established here.
He denied the validity of the government's title to the
soil founded on the royal charter ; and, although every
foot of land, occupied by the people, had been actually
purchased and paid for, maintained that the Indians
were the only true proprietors of the country. He
denied the right of the civil authority to make laws

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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 9 of 18)