Samuel M. (Samuel Melancthon) Worcester.

New England's glory and crown : a discourse delivered at Plymouth, Mass., December 22, 1848 online

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Online LibrarySamuel M. (Samuel Melancthon) WorcesterNew England's glory and crown : a discourse delivered at Plymouth, Mass., December 22, 1848 → online text (page 3 of 5)
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that period, in portraying the character of the times.
Many circumstances conspired to spread a gloom over every
aspect of affairs, both civil and religious. The pious old
ministers especially, who remembered the best things of
the earlier days, and forgot the worst, would not unnatu-
rally make assertions or accusations, which (like some
confessions in prayer) the historian and the reader must
not interpret too literally.

The truth was, probably, that with an indisputable fall-
ing away in some marked respects, there was yet a large
majority of families, in which the memory and example
of " the fathers" were cherished with a sincere and sacred
veneration. And great as was the quantity of tares which
the arch-enemy of all righteousness had sowed among the
wheat, by himself or his servants, the wheat was still able



29

to grow for a harvest of " thirty and sixty," if not " an
hundred fold."

Whenever, in our own day, "they that fear the Lord,
speak often one to another" in the retired private meet-
ings of prayer and conference, — it is an infallible proof,
that the Holy Spirit has not been taken away from the
surrounding community, and an auspicious token of a
blessing to come. From the beginning of the colonial
settlements, it had been common to sustain such meetings.
At some seasons, these were multiplied or more frequently
attended. Not far from 1680, or in the very time when
the "degeneracy" from the practices of "the fathers"
was so much lamented, — we find the statement of a
writer, that " the country still is full of those little meet-
ings." There are those, to whom this single item of
history, is like opening a window upon a verdant land-
scape, where the rains have fallen, and the sun is shining,
and the joy of harvest will erelong awaken the song of
the reaper. Upon the whole, it may unhesitatingly be
affirmed, that, in no part of the Christian world, was there
so great encouragement for godly parents to hope for
spiritual blessings upon their " children's children."

In the " Magnalia," we have an "ecclesiastical map of
the country " for 1696. It aff'ords conclusive witness of
great religious advancement. And with good reason did
an aged saint of that period remark upon his death-bed, —
" Well, I am going to heaven, and I will there tell the
faithful, who are long since gone from New England
thither, that though they, who gathered our churches are
all dead and gone, — the churches are still alive, with as
numerous flocks of Christians, as were ever among them."

At this time also, notwithstanding all the obstacles and
difficulties, so great had been the success of laborers
among the Indians of different tribes, or diff'erent portions
of the same tribe, — that, in 1696, there were not less than



30

thirty Indian churches in Massachusetts alone ; and in
1698, there were three thousand reputed converts.

But it is painful to be obliged to say, — that there are
those, who know little else of the religious history of New
England, in the 17th century, — that is, during the eighty
years after the Plymouth settlement, — excepting that
Roger Williams was banished to Rhode Island ; that
some, who were called Baptists and Quakers, — very
different people from those now so called, — were made
to suffer severe penalties of law ; and that, in Salem,
innocent people were put to death, under accusation of
witchcraft.

I would not assume the responsibility of justifying all
that was done by '' the fathers," in repelling the encroach-
ments of conflicting religious opinions, and in suppressing
the movements of disorganizers and fanatics ; any more
than I should be ready to vindicate the propriety of such
executions as those in Salem, in 1692. But I am prepared
to say, that the man who cannot find so much of an
apology for the transactions in question, that he can most
freely forgive the mistakes of the few, who were most
concerned in them, and most heartily join in a tribute of
grateful respect and reverence for those, who are properly
styled ''the Fathers of New England," — can hardly be a
man, who is entitled to a very high consideration, for his
knowledge of the facts, his discrimination of truth, or his
candor of judgment. Make the very most that can be
made, of alleged intolerance, persecution, and bigotry, it
can still be demonstrated, that our New England progeni-
tors were entirely and most honorably in advance of all
the rest of Christendom, in their conception of the rights
of conscience, and their exemplification of Christian liber-
ty. If they acted inconsistently with their principles, it
was from the very necessity of their position. " It was
not," as has been justly said, " so much a question of
toleration as of the maintenance or defeat of the very de-



31

sign of their emigration ; they were well assured, that, if
the malcontents could succeed in their designs, they them-
selves would not much longer be allowed their freedom
in the worship of God."* It was not for opinions, but
for corrupt, shameless, disorganizing, and demoralizing
words and deeds, — that those were caused to suffer, who
never deserved the least credit or sympathy, as if Chris-
tian martyrs. He that courts martyrdom, is no martyr.
Let things be done now in Salem, on the Sabbath, or on
other days, like those for which some are falsely said to
have been persecuted ; — and not an hour would pass,
before the offenders would be in custody.

And it really would seem a little too much for ordinary
forbearance, that as honest and pure men as ever breathed,
should be opposed and reproached in their own generation,
as going a w^hole age or more, too fast and too far, and
then, in generations afterwards, be calumniated and stig-
matized, for not going, ages upon ages, farther than they
did ; — calumniated and stigmatized by men too, who, if
there never had been in the world such characters, as they
thus outrageously abuse, would themselves have now
been in benighted barbarism or polluted heathenism !
Let who will, point the finger of derision at the pious
founders of these associated States of the American Re-
public, — the history of man will be searched in vain for a
people, that adopted wiser measures, or secured for their
posterity more exalted privileges and means of knowledge
and virtue, freedom and happiness ! Toleration of reli-
gious opinions is one of the last lessons of human ad-
vancement. And it is much easier to denounce others,
for illiberality and intolerance, than to be examples of true
Christian charity. Those who complain the most of their
fellow-men, for uncharitableness, are not seldom the
greatest offenders, by being so " fierce for moderation."

* See Appendix.



Passing out of the 17th into the 18th century, we soon
notice another ecclesiastical innovation, which was the
natural sequence of the half-way covenant of 1662. In
1707, the Rev. Solomon Stoddard, of Northampton, a
highly influential divine, published a sermon, in which he
maintained, that "unregenerate persons ought to partake
of the Lord's Supper." He had avowed the belief, three
years before, that the Lord's Supper should be considered
a means of regeneration. It has been sometimes said,
that he himself had had a religious experience, which
would make such a belief very plausible, if not, in his
own view, unquestionable.

One of his arguments, and plainly a very specious one,
was, that " it is impossible to distinguish the regenerate
from the unregenerate, so as to admit the former and ex-
clude the latter." So far as his opinions received counte-
nance, the practical effect was, to remove entirely that
barrier to indiscriminate communion, which the old half-
way covenant had not presumed to touch. And as it has
been shrewdly remarked, " the church was now obliged
to convict the applicant of a scandalous life, or of heresy,
or admit him to full communion; and one reason for it
was the supposed impossibility of judging whether he was
regenerated or not ! "

Mr. Stoddard was personally a decided Calvinist ; but
his system inevitably favored Arminianism, by " teaching
that the impenitent have something to do before repent-
ance^ as a means of obtaining saving grace." The unre-
generate communicant would of course consider himself
as in the way appointed for his salvation. And assuming
that it was impossible to distinguish the really converted
from the unconverted, by any definite experience which
could be described, there would naturally be no very great
disquietude of conscience.

Mr. Stoddard's new doctrine was ably resisted. Still
the influence was disastrous ; as appeared from the gradual



adoption of it by churches, which had recognized the
system of the half-way covenant. It paralyzed effort for
immediate conversion. No awakenings were known in
places, which had previously been highly favored ; and
many partook of the sacramental elements, who " had a
name to live, but were dead." And that the disaster was
not more extensive and deplorable, is only to be explained
by the steadfast adherence of so large a portion of the
ministers and church members to " the old paths," and
"the good way" in which " the fathers found rest for
their souls." There were those in large numbers, who
protested against the assertion and assumption, that re-
generate persons cannot be distinguished from the unre-
generate, with any such certainty or probability, as would
make a profession of Christian experience a suitable and
just requirement for admission to the full privileges of
church-membership.

As God, in the wonderful working of his providence
would have it, an instrument of most formidable opposi-
tion to the doctrine and system of Stoddard, was raised
up in his own grand-son, Jonathan Edwards ; who, as the
greatest theologian and metaphysician of this continent,
commenced his career in the very place, where his much
respected grand-parent had proclaimed his unfortunate
errors. As early as 1735, a course of sermons on justifi-
cation by faith, with others on kindred topics, such as the
necessity of the Spirit's influences, were blessed of God
with a marvellous accompanying of convictions and con-
versions. A similar awakening or revival was experienced
in other towns of Massachusetts and Connecticut. " The
work in Northampton was confined to no class or age."
" Ten persons above ninety, more than fifty above forty
years of age; nearly thirty between ten and fourteen, and
one, of only four, became, in the view of Mr. Edwards,
subjects of renewing grace. More than three hundred
were added to the churchf"
5



34

A tremendous shocfk was now given to the doctrine,
that the exercises of regenerate persons were not distin-
guishable from those of unregenerate. Several hundreds of
new converts, in difl'erent towns, had such distinctive re-
ligious exercises, that they had not the least hesitation in
speaking of them, as matters of fact in their consciousness,
as much as any facts whatsoever. They could give a ra-
tional and most affecting account of their conviction of
sin, their struggle before submission to God, their accept-
ance of Christ as the Saviour of the lost, and their sub-
sequent trust or hope, peace or joy, as believers in Jesus.
Among these were many persons of such acknowledged
powers of intellect, and of such indisputable eminence,
that no man could class them among the ignorant and the
obscure.

Ministers were now called to very solemn searchings of
heart, in regard to their own prospects of acceptance at
the judgment-seat of Christ. A new encouragement was
felt, in preaching the law and the gospel, from the expec-
tation that hearers would be converted, and would be able
to exhibit credible evidence of having passed from death
unto life. Church members, also, could not all escape
the question, so pungently asked by some in our own
days, ' What reason have I to think myself a Christian ? '

Intelligence of the revival in this country arrested the
attention of a multitude in England and Scotland. Ed-
wards wrote a narrative, under the title of " Surprising
Conversions," — which was published in London, "with
an Introduction by Drs. Watts and Guise." It was so6n
reprinted in Boston, and was extensively read, and exerted
a powerful influence in both hemispheres.

In 1740, revivals commenced anew at Northampton,
Boston, and many other places, very nearly at the same
time, and spread within a year and a half throughout all
the English colonies. For some time, there was most evi-
dently a silent, powerful, and sublime work of the Spirit



of God. Whitefield came, and preached like Peter on
the day of Pentecost. Afterwards, the intemperate zeal
of some preachers, like Davenport, with excesses of vari-
ous kinds, gave occasion to open and violent contention
in some towns, and, perhaps, in none more unhappily
than in Boston.

Just in the hour of need, the great and good Edwards
applied his gigantid powers, in a searching and refining
operation, that all who would, might see the difference
between the precious and the vile. His work, entitled
" Thoughts on the Revival of Religion in New England,
and the way in which it ought to be acknowledged and
promoted," — begins and ends, as if his soul had been
bathing for years in the " pure river of water of life,
clear as crystal, proceeding out of the throne of God and
the Lamb."

Of the most respectable ministers in New England,
New York, and New Jersey, one hundred and sixty
united in a public attestation to the genuineness and
purity of the Revival, in most places ; while they joined
with Mr. Edwards, in censuring and deploring those
improprieties and excesses, which had given the enemies
of God much occasion to blaspheme. Among these, I
am grateful to know, was my honored father's godly
grand-parent, — the Rev. Francis Worcester, who was at
the time the pastor of the Second Church, in your neigh-
boring town of Sandwich. An intimate acquaintance,
and sometimes a fellow-traveller with Whitefield, he
afterwards was a very successful evangelist and home
missionary, in the more destitute parts of New England.

Those excellent men could not counteract, as they de-
sired, the untoward efiect of the spirit of controversy,
which had been inflamed, and which has always proved
fatal to the progress of a revival. As the Holy Spirit
operates through the truth, as in Jesus, and the truth
must be kept distinctly before the mind, that the legiti-



36

mate effect may be produced, — it is obvious, that what-
ever serves to divert the attention of the anxious inquirer
from the truth itself in its manifestation to the conscience,
will inevitably be injurious, if not fatal, to the progress of
the work of grace. It is thus, that discussions on the
subject of baptism have sometimes put an immediate end
to a revival.

Hence, from the controversy which was occasioned,
the Great Awakening appeared, in 1743, to have come
to its close. It had wrought, however, a " great salva-
tion : " for " it was the Lord's doing." And well might
it be "marvellous " in the eyes of his people, notwith-
standing all which they had seen or heard of human
imperfections and extravagances. " Those who had the
best means of judging," says a learned and careful writer,
" estimated the number of true converts, as proved by
their subsequent lives, at 30,000, in New England alone,
at a time when the whole population was but 300,000 ;
besides many thousands more among the Presbyterians of
New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and the more
southern settlements."

It was, then, as you may see, a result, which you will
the more vividly apprehend, if you just consider, that it
would be like adding to the churches in Massachusetts,
within the next three years, — 80,000 persons, young and
old, — and of such as would continue to sustain a Christian
character ; and to the churches throughout the Union,
not less than eighteen hundred thousand ! !

The more I reflect upon the subject, the more am I
persuaded, that no inconsiderable part of that which
makes the true glory of New England, and which to
human eye affords the brightest promise of the world's
hastening and approaching salvation, would never have
had an existence, but for those marvellous years of the
right hand of the Most High.

I do not wonder that Edwards was led to believe, that



37

the millennium was to begin in New England. Most
cordially did he respond to the proposal by the churches
of Scotland, in 1746, for a Concert of Prayer for the
Conversion of the World. And after being dismissed
from Northampton, it was in the true spirit of missions,
that he took charge of a church and school of Indians, at
Stockbridge.

There were of old mighty men and men of renown.
But who among " the fathers " was equal to him ? And
where now is his equal ? His work on "Original Sin,"
his unanswerable Treatise on the " Will," his " His-
tory of Redemption," his analysis of the " Affections,"
are theological classics, of priceless value, and their
influence is incalculable. David Brainerd, the most
illustrious missionary in those times of extraordinary
reviving, has never had his superior upon the earth, in
all the essential qualities of an ambassador for God in
Christ's stead. The wonders of divine grace were no-
where more wonderful, in all the wide extent of the
memorable visitation of God's covenant love, than among
the Indian tribes to whom he ministered in New Jersey.
To pray for the conversion of the whole world, in the
concert of prayer recommended the year previous by the
churches of Scotland, was, in 1747, the farewell injunc-
tion of that lamented man of God, when he fell asleep in
Jesus. And who can tell how many, less known by their
memoirs, or by any other witness, than Henry Martyn
and Robert Murray McCheyne, have been awakened or
stimulated to a holier devotedness, by the refulgent and
inextinguishable lustre of David Brainerd's example in
imitation of Christ !

Much of missionary spirit was enkindled in the Revival
of 1740. Hence the Indian school of Rev. Eleazer
Wheelock, at Lebanon, Conn. ; designed to educate
preachers to the Indians. Hence other efforts which



38

cannot be gpecified. And if the French war and the
Revolutionary war had not so soon followed, and so
occupied all classes, very much more would undoubtedly
have been attempted and accomplished. Nothing can be
plainer, to my own view, than that the churches and
people of New England grew and prospered, according as
they enjoyed revivals of religion ; and that in proportion
as the spirituality of the churches was advanced or
retarded, the active interest in missionary toils and
sacrifices was evinced or suspended.

In 1745, Whitefield preached at Boston before the
New England army, — I had almost called them "a sacra-
mental host," — which was just embarking for Louisburg,
under command of Sir William Pepperell. The expedition
was undertaken as in " a war of the Lord," against the
" man of sin," and the power of mystical " Babylon."
For wherever France prevailed, there Romanism and
Jesuitism followed,— the Romanism and Jesuitism of the
bloody night of Saint Bartholomew's. Unnumbered
prayers, therefore, went up to the "Lord of Sabaoth."
The triumph was as when Jerusalem had deliverance
from Rabshakeh, and Sennacherib : — or as when the
Maccabees returned to the holy city, after the overthrow
of the legions of the ferocious Antiochus of Syria, who
had sworn to exterminate the worshippers of Jehovah
from every foot of soil in the land of promise.

From the capture of Louisburg to the fall of Q,uebec,
— thence to the Peace of 1783, — and thence to 1795,
when the volcano of the first French Revolution sent its
lurid glare and desolating lava over the civilized world, —
the Christian people of New England and of all the
Colonies, for more than half of the whole period, had no
rest from the alarms of war. Their patriotism was one
with their piety. Tens of thousands went forth to battle,
or suffered privations and hardships, with as pure a prin-



39

ciple of duty, and as firm a reliance upon the mighty
God of Jacob, as ever emboldened and sustained those
Hebrew worthies, "who through faith subdued king-
doms, wrought righteousness, obtained promises, stopped
the mouths of lions, quenched the violence of fire,
escaped the edge of the sword, out of weakness were
made strong, waxed valiant in fight, turned to flight the
armies of the aliens ! "

There were earthly and ungodly elements that min-
gled in the strife. But if it had not been for the religious
element ; if it had not been for the baptism, into which
the "children's children" had been baptized, — never,
never, could the materials have been furnished for such
volumes of history, — never have been known such unex-
ampled occasion for the gratitude of posterity and the
world, to them and to their fathers, and to their own and
their fathers' God.

It would not be difficult to draw a portraiture, with
some dark lines and shadows. Influences of evil, both in
opinion and practice, were powerfully at work, in secret
and in open day. Perhaps none were more decisive upon
a part of the clergy, than the imported publications of
Whitby, Taylor and Emlyn. The Socinian "Inquiries"
of the latter were reprinted in Boston, without any re-
sponsible editor ;— but not without a strong surmise of the
real patron, in an eloquent minister of the city. But with
all that was sadly incompatible with the " free course " of
the gospel ; with all that was positively demoralizing ; —
the foundations of the " fathers " remained, as unmoved
as the everlasting hills.

Although in the metropolis and some of the interior
towns, there was more of Arminilis than of Calvin, both
in the study and in the pulpit, if not also as much of
Arius as of Arminius, or as much of Socinus and Taylor
as of Edwards and Athanasius ; yet a vast majority of the
New England churches would not endure any other than



40

" sound doctrine " as they understood it, and would not
support any other than liberally educated and strictly
evangelical pastors. The theological system of the elder
Edwards had most able advocates. His own son, a
greater reasoner with somewhat less of the native power
of reason than the father, vindicated New England divini-
ty with amazing force of moral demonstration. There
were others, like Bellamy, Smalley, Backus, West, Hop-
kins, Emmons, who were as the cedars of Lebanon to the
trees of the field.

During the period from 1745 to 1795, the state of re-
ligion, according to the standard of the fathers, was, per-
haps, nowhfere more unpromising, than in the easterly
part of Massachusetts, and within the limits of a great
portion of the oldest churches. It may be accounted for,
by the more immediate and frequent intercourse with
foreigners, who had but little favor for experimental god-
liness ; by the encouragement which a few distinguished
names afforded to the open opposers of the "New Lights,"
as some chose to designate the friends of the " Great
Awakening ; " and by an ambiguous and indefinite mode
of preaching, which naturally resulted from a real, but
generally covert, hostility to the Trinitarian and Calvinis-
tic forms of belief. There was no revival of any note, in
any of the Congregational churches of the city of Boston,
from the period of the revival of 1740, almost to our own
day. With very inconsiderable exceptions, the same re-
mark may be made of Salem, and other towns on the sea-
coast.

It was far otherwise in many places. There was not
by any means such an apparent suspension of divine in-
fluence in reviving and enlarging the churches of New
England, as has sometimes been represented. In the fifty
years previous to the remarkable season of "refreshing,"
at the close of the last century, there were numerous in-
sulated revivals, — as has been abundantly attested by re-



41

cent investigations ; and also some that were contiguous
or nearly associated, throughout all that period. There
were no magazines or religious newspapers to report them ;
and hence mainly the mistake of some, who have sup-
posed that there were few or none to report. Besides,
many of the revivals were in towns which had but little
communication with the capital.

When, however, the eyes of the Christian world were
turned with consternation to the atheistical revolution in
France, the pious people of this country, and nowhere
more than in New England, gave themselves to prayer.
There was also a new searching of the Scriptures, that,


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Online LibrarySamuel M. (Samuel Melancthon) WorcesterNew England's glory and crown : a discourse delivered at Plymouth, Mass., December 22, 1848 → online text (page 3 of 5)