Samuel M. (Samuel Melancthon) Worcester.

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Plymouth, Massachusetts, Connecticut and New Haven,
(as the Colonies were then geographically divided and
named,) assembled in the Synod at Cambridge, ''their
learning, their holiness, their purity struck all men that
knew them, with admiration. They were Timothies in
their houses, Chrysostoms in their pulpits, and Augus-
tines in their disputations." Such was the witness of
the venerable John Higginson, of the First Church in
Salem, and of William Hubbard of Ipswich, who, at the
time they wrote, near the close of the seventeenth cen-
tury, were the two oldest ministers of New England.

The idea, which some have attempted to disseminate,
— that our fathers lived in a dark age, and would not have
been what they were in their denominational sentiments,
if they had lived at a later period, for example, in our
times, has not the least foundation in history or in reason.
It might just as well be asserted and argued, that they
would have been atheistical transcendentalists or Four-
ierites, as that, in any essential point, they would have
been otherwise than what they were, namely, — avowed

* See Apijendix.


and firm believers in the Confession of Faith of the
Westminster Assembly of Divines ! — And it has been
stated as a fact, which speaks whole volumes in few
words, — that, for one hundred and fifty years, such a
wretched creature, such a living monstrosity, as an infidel^
was not known among their children !

How could they have been otherwise than they were,
with their holy reverence for the Scriptures of the Old
and New Testament throughout, as the inspired Word of
God ; as the infallible repository of their faith and the
rules of their life in Christ ; and as the ultimate appeal in
all questions of theology and of morals ? The Bible
they exalted above all things human. They were "not
ashamed of the Gospel," any more than was Paul. They
"gloried in the cross." They "sanctified the Lord God
in their hearts ; " and were " ready always to give an
answer to every man that asked a reason of the hope that
was in " them, " with meekness and fear," — -fear of God^
not that " fear of man " which " bringeth a snare." They
were honest, as every one must admit, who knows any-
thing of them, — and were most hearty in all which they
professed to believe, in answer to the question, — " What
saith the Scripture ? "

With special allusion to the early ministers, it was
written a century and a half since ; — " Indeed the minis-
ters of New England have this to recommend them unto
a good regard with the crown of England, that the most
flourishing plantation in all the American dominions of
that crown, is more owing to them than to any sort of
men whatever." They well deserved that eulogium. It
is almost impossible to estimate their influence upon the
world, in an epoch which Merle D'Aubigne has character-
ized as " one of the most important in modern times, so
far as concerns the new developments of nations."

At no time, since the settlement of the country, have
the people at large had so much, probably, of direct pas-


toral supervision, as in the first years of ttie colonies. A
number of the churches, though quite small, had in effect
two pastors, one of whom, called Teacher^ had it in charge
to discourse of systematic theology, rather than deliver
words of "exhortation," upon matters of daily Christian
practice. And of more than one, doubtless, it might have
been said, as it was of a pastor in the neighborhood of
Salem, — that '^ he Vv^as a tree of knowledge laden with
fruit, which the children could reach?^

By the laws of the Massachusetts Colony, all dwellings
must be located within half a mile, or at farthest within
a mile, of the place of worship. This was doubtless for
mutual defence against the Indians, when almost every
man carried his fire-arms to the sanctuary, as well as into
the field of his labor ; also for the greater convenience of
assembling on the Lord's day, and for the weekly lecture
of Thursday, which was of hardly less account than the
services of the Sabbath. There was thus a more frequent
and intimate communion with one another as of the same
'' household of God," and fellow-citizens of " the com-
monwealth of Israel." This was a very different mode
of living from that of the Southern colonists, upon scat-
tered plantations.

At the first, the greater part of adults, both male and
female, were church-members, by profession of hope in
Christ, as pardoned and renewed. There were delightful
seasons of special awakening in those days ; and in some
of the churches, as in that of Cambridge, under the min-
istry of Thomas Shepard, it was expected as a matter of
course, that some new cases of conviction, if not of con-
version, would be manifest every Sabbath.

So indispensable was family prayer to the order of
every dwelling, that you might have visited a hundred or
several hundred contiguous families in succession, without
findhig one, in which the morning and evening sacrifice
were not offered. For a long period, exceptions were


extremely few. And would, that in our day, those who
offer prayer in the family, in the closet, and in other
places, were, in as great a proportion, as strong as were
the fathers in the faith of the Abrahamic covenant, and
all the promises to God's people !

" Prayer and preaching were the living principle of their
institutions ; special prayer upon special emergencies, with
the confident expectation of direct and specific answers ;
preaching, the most plain and pungent, enforcing those
peculiar doctrines of grace which humble man and exalt
God, and which have in every age been made powerful
to 'the pulling down of strong holds.' There was much
also in the state of their infant settlements to favor the
desired results. They were a world within themselves,
cut off by their distance and poverty from most of the
alluring objects which seize on the hearts of the uncon-
verted in a more advanced state of society. They were
all of one faith [in every vital point] ; there was none
among them to question or deny the necessity of a work
of the Spirit ; and the minds of their children were pre-
pared, by their early religious training, to bow submissive
under the sacred influence. In these circumstances, how
natural was it to multiply the means of grace, upon any
appearance of increased seriousness ; to press with re-
doubled zeal and frequency to the throne of God in prayer ;
to urge their children and dependents, with all the fervor
of Christian affection, to seize the golden opportunity,
and ' make their calling and election sure ' ; to remove,
as far as possible, every obstacle of business or amusement
out of the way ; and to concentrate the entire interest of
their little communities on the one object of the soul's
salvation ! How natural that these labors and prayers
should be blessed of God ; that the truth preached under
these circumstances should be made, like ' the fire and
the hammer, to break in pieces the flinty rock ' ; that ex-
traordinary effusions of the Holy Spirit should be granted,


and that there should be an 'awakening,' as it was then
called, or, in modern language, a Revival of Religion."*

There were some sad departures from a strict and close
walk with God ; and flagrant instances of breach of
church covenant. New England w^as better far than the
Goshen of Egypt, but it was no part of the garden of
Eden, from which '' God drove out the man," from whom
our fathers had their descent. f Of the general state of
morals, however, in a comprehensive view, we shall prob-
ably not be much misled, if we draw our inferences from
the witness of an intelligent contemporary, who, with the
prejudices of the Church Establishment in the mother
country, resided a few years in New England, previous to
1641. According to him, one might spend a year in
going from place to place, and not '' see a drunkard, or
hear an oath, or see a beggar " ! J

As the statutes of the Mosaic code were taken as the
general laws of the colonists, the Sabbath was begun at
sunset on Saturday evening. It was observed also with
great strictness, in all domestic arrangements and duties.
And it was, as many may not be fully aware, the strict-
ness of the observance of the Sabbath, as compared with
the practice on the Continent and in Great Britain, from
which, more than from any other difference, the Puritans
first obtained their specific name.

" It was happy for our progenitors," said the late amia-
ble and accomplished Dr. Kirkland, in his discourse de-
livered at Plymouth, forty-five years since, — '' that they
brought with them into the wilderness the confidential
associates of their domestic labors and domestic cares.
Throughout their arduous enterprise, they experienced
the inexpressible value of that conjugal friendship, which
no change of fortune can weaken or interrupt ; in which

* C. A. Goodrich, D. D., in Baird's ** Religion in America," p. 197.
t See Appendix. | Thomas Lechford.


' tenderness is heightened by distress, and attachment
cemented by the tears of sorrow.' The family society
began with the civil and ecclesiastical society. Family
religion and order began with the family society. To
Him who had directed them in a right way for them-
selves, for their little ones, and for all their substance,
' the saint, the father and the husband ' was accustomed
to offer in the presence of his household his daily and
nightly sacrifices of praise. Regular and beautiful was
the church, in which he who ministered, had only to
place in order in the building, those materials, which pa-
rents had previously framed and adjusted to his house."

I need only allude to the early establishment of free
schools, that every child might J^e taught the elements of
what is understood by "■ popular education " ; — and for
the express purpose, that all might be able to read for
themselves the Word of God, and be fortified against the
machinations, both of Papacy and Prelacy, in particular,
and of all the pretences and allurements of " false apos-
tles " in general. And within ten years after the begin-
ning of the permanent settlements in Massachusetts, the
College at Cambridge was established, that " the children
of the old men" might not fail of a supply of pastors,
who would " feed the flock of God," '' with knowledge
and understanding." *

It was eminently of divine favor, that so many learned,
evangelical, and eloquent ministers arrived in New Eng-
land before 1640. Some few of them went back at the
time of the civil wars, and after the establishment of the
Commonwealth, under Cromwell. Such was the change
of times, it has been quaintly recorded, — " that instead of
Old England's driving its best people into New, it was
itself turned into New." During the troubles at home,
opportunity was given for the progress of the experi-

* See Appendix.


mental institutions of the colonists, to a maturity of
consolidation, which could bid defiance, though not
without some misgiving of alarm, to the insidious and
deadly machinations of the profligate court and the
godless hierarchy of Charles II. And from that day to the
present, it is undeniable, that the mother country has
experienced an incessant and most powerful reaction upon
herself, of the principles and the example of the exiled
founders of the mighty fabric, which is now the wonder
of all nations.

But of the first ministers, who, under the pressure of
intolerance, or in despair of the progress of the Reforma-
tion in their native island, came to these '' foreign parts,"
and to a pagan and savage wilderness of an extent
unknown and unimagined, by far the greater part re-
mained, died among their own people, and were gathered
by devout men to their burial, amidst lamentations and
gratulations. They displayed a faith in God, as a
Rewarder, an energy in view of obstacles, a constancy
under discouragements, and a fortitude in suflering, which
are beyond all human praise or reward.

And, my brethren, if we would inherit the same
promises, which sustained them so triumphantly to the
last, we shall be slow to forget, that, from the ordinance
of Heaven, a New England w^as originated by self-denial
for Christ's supremacy ; implicit reliance upon the witness
of the Holy Scriptures, to the utter exclusion of all
" philosophy and vain deceit ; " a well-educated and truly
pious ministry, who ''shunned not to declare the whole
counsel of God ; " sound Calvinistic doctrine, fearlessly
addressed to the understanding and the conscience ]
prayer without ceasing, like that at Bethel, at Carmel,
and in " the upper room " at Jerusalem ; family religion,
with a confiding, grateful self-application of the Abra-
hamic covenant ; fraternal or congregational independence
of the churches; universal instruction, literary and Chris-


tian ; and the remembrance of the Lord's day, according
to the Fourth Commandment, in its original import, and
as written by the " finger of God," for an everlasting
statute and memorial.

It is, as I regard it, a most instructive fact of our early
history, that the period during which the ^^old ministers "
flourished in New England, was most remarkable for
prayer of Puritan fathers and mothers, on both sides of
the Atlantic, that all those who were " bone of their bone
and flesh of their flesh " might be '' sons and daughters
of the Lord Almighty." They deprecated as the direst
of curses " a seed of evil-doers, children that are corrupt-
ers." " No greater joy " could they have, than " to see
their children walking in the truth." And many were
the supplications of the pastors, like that of the venerable
Higginson and Hubbard, at the close of the century in
w^hich New England began, — " that God would raise up
from time to time, those who may be the happy instru-
ments of bringing down the hearts of the parents into the
children ! "

Born of such parents, baptized in real faith, and nur-
tured for Christ and the church, not for worldly aggran-
dizement or splendor, a very large number, as would be
inferred from the sketches already drawn, became sincere
followers of the Son of God, and shone brightly as
" lights in the world." " Plain mechanics have I known,"
says a writer in 1681, *' well catechised and humble
Christians, excellent in practical piety ; they kept their
station ; did not aspire to be preachers ; but for gifts of
prayer, iew clergymen must come near them."*

Among the children and grand-children of "the fathers,"
it was not at all difficult to find those, who were as stead-
fast and efficient, as were Caleb and Joshua, in their
co-operation with Moses and Aaron. Situated as they

* Mather's Magn. Vol. I. 221.


were, in temporal privations and perils ; — obliged to
submit to every hardship and encounter innumerable
obstacles to pecuniary advancement ; an immense work
to be done in the accomplishment of their purposes and
measurable realization of their hopes and their faith, —
their circumstances were highly suited to awaken the
general mass to no ordinary degrees of physical, religious,
and intellectual activity. The indomitable energy of the
men of that early period, is vibrating yet in every pulsa-
tion of some millions of their resolute and still advancing

The Fathers held in common with other Puritans,
'' that all men are by nature destitute of true piety ;
that they naturally grow up in the practice of sin ; and
that no one becomes religious, except by a change in his
habits of thought, feeling and conduct, which they
ascribed to the special operation of the Holy Spirit as its
supernatural cause. They believed that the truly pious
are ordinarily conscious of this change in the action of
their own minds when it takes place, and are able to
describe it, though they may not then know that the
change of which they are conscious is regeneration. In
some cases, they admitted, the- man is not aware of any
change at the time of his conversion ; yet he will be
conscious of exercises afterward, such as no unregenerate
man ever has. Some may be regenerated in infancy,
which it is lawful for us to hope is the case with all who
die before they are old enough to profit by the external
means of grace. If any of them live to maturity, they
will not be able to remember the time of their change,
but they will be conscious of sensible love to God and
holiness, penitence for sin and other pious exercises, and
can give an account of them. They believed, therefore,
that every converted person, who has arrived at the age
of discretion, has a religious ' experience ' which he can
tell, and by hearing which, other pious persons may judge


of his piety. The evidence thus afforded, however, was
to be compared with his conduct in all the relations of
life, and if this also was ' such as becometh saints,' he
was to be accounted a pious man."

Further ," " a church they held to be ' a company of
faithful persons, [so says the Platform of 1648,] i. e.,
persons who have saving faith, regenerate persons, agree-
ing and consenting to meet constantly together in one
congregation for the public worship of God and their
mutual edification ; which real agreement and consent
they do express by their constant practice in coming
together for the worship of God, and by their religious
subjection,' that is, by their subjecting themselves volun-
tarily from religious motives, ' to the ordinances of God
therein.' " *

Moreover, it was most obvious, that the Congregational
church government could never be administered properly,
if all persons who pleased, could obtain admission to the
churches. Men of no piety might soon outnumber all
others, and the church would become but a name of dis-
tinction from the world.

Hence the mode of admission to the New England
churches was entirely different from that which then
obtained in almost every part of the Christian world. It
was expected of all who joined them, to make a volun-
tary application, and furnish evidence of " fitness for

Thus, in process of time, or about 1650 or 1655, arose
a difficulty of a very serious nature. " Throughout
Christendom in that age, neither Jews, Turks, pagans,
infidels, nor excommunicated persons could enjoy the full
privileges of citizenship. These privileges belonged only
to persons who were in communion with the churches

* Religion in America, Book YII. Chap. III. This chapter was furnished
for the work, by Kev. Joseph Tracy.


established by law. The same rule was adopted in New
England. None but members of churches could hold
offices or vote at elections. Here, however, it operated
as it did nowhere else. As the churches contained only
those who were, in the judgment of charity, regenerate
persons, a large portion of the people, among whom were
many persons of intelligence, of good moral character,
and orthodox in their creed, were excluded from valuable
civil privileges."

It is probable, that the greatest dissatisfaction was ex-
pressed by those, who had newly arrived in the country,
and who were quite different from the original colonists.
But there were some of the children of the fathers, who
gave no evidence of conversion, and were therefore not
entitled to vote, or to hold civil offices. To meet the
difficulty and the growing uneasiness, a part of the
clergy, in a Synod at Cambridge, 1662, devised what has
ever since been known, as the '' half-way covenant ; " —
which, however effectual in quieting the discontent of
such as felt aggrieved, was a very serious mistake, and
productive of great evil.

Persons who had been baptized in infancy, were to be
recognized as members of the church to which their
parents belonged ; excepting that they were not to be
allowed to partake of the Lord's Supper, until they
should furnish the accredited evidence of personal regen-
eration. They were to profess their assent to the confes-
sion of faith, at some suitable time, after arriving at
maturity of understanding. And if they were not
scandalous in life, having owned the covenant of the
church, they were entitled to bring their children to the
ordinance of baptism.

This new system was strenuously resisted by a part of
the ministers and of the laity. It never became univer-
sal ; for the power of the synod, which recommended it,
was only advisory. But a great change was effected ;


and, in general, the collision between citizenship and
church-membership was really at an end.

Not a few in New England were now ready to write
"Ichabod" upon all the pillars of the churches. It has
been thought, that such a change would have been
impossible, during the lives of the most able and influ^ -
tial of the first generation of ministers. These were
now nearly all gone, and the residue were just going.

It had become a common remark, it has been said, that
the old and tried ministers, and other venerable men, were
fast ceasing from the land ; and a frequent lamentation
anticipated a most disastrous withering of the hopes,
which had been watered with their tears, at the feet of
their sympathizing Redeemer and Lord. But the " vine
out of Egypt " which had been " planted " among " the
heathen," was not thus soon to be forsaken by Him, that
^' dwelleth between the cherubim." Already it had been
*^ caused to take deep root." " The hills were covered
with the shadow of it," and "the boughs thereof were like
the goodly cedars." The " hedges " were not " broken
down," that " the boar out of the wood " should " waste
it," and " the wild beast of the field devour it."

The predominant influence in all matters, both of State
and Church, was decidedly that of the former generation.
Troubles multiplied with the Indians, and much more
blood was poured out, in wars offensive and defensive.
Yet some thousands in the different tribes were brouglit
under the power of the Gospel, and considerable villages
were formed from among them, in which churches were
built and schools supported. These were at times sub-
jected to terrible slaughter and devastation, by the Pagan
Indians ; and suffered not a little also, in some instances,
at the hands of the whites, who charged the Christian
Indians, as being spies or accomplices of those who had
taken up the tomahawk, for the extermination of the



A league for this end was formed, under the direction
of the famous king Philip ; and in the struggles which
preceded and accompanied it, before his death, " every
eleventh family was houseless, and every eleventh soldier
had sunk to his grave."

It was just at this period, that the French were moving
in Canada, to extend the power of France over all the
immense region of the northwest ; and to secure the
dominion from the Gulf of St. Lawrence, through the
great lakes and rivers to the Gulf of Mexico. But of
their adventurous explorations, from Montreal to Michigan,
and from Michigan to the Mississippi, the New England
fathers, it is believed, knew little or nothing.*

So great was the impoverishment of the people, and
their distress from Philip's war and divers calamities, that
their condition awakened the compassionate sympathy
of their relatives and others across the water. It is
peculiarly interesting to us at this time to know, that a
large donation was sent hither from Ireland, in January,
1677. Nathaniel Mather, pastor of a church in Dublin,
and brother of Increase Mather, then pastor of the North
Church in Boston, is supposed to have been the principal
agent in procuring this donation. The amount distrib-
uted in Massachusetts was not less than £363 ; beside
what was sent to the other Colonies; — which, with the
necessary expenses, would make the whole collection,
nearly if not quite one thousand pounds. Truly a gene-
rous donation in those days, and in proportion to numbers
and means, fully equal to what has been considered a
magnificent charity, — the relief sent to Ireland in the
recent terrible famine !

Before 1680, there is no doubt, that there was a marked
deterioration in the manners and morals of the population,

* They had probably learned, however, some years before this time, that
New England is not an " island." See Appendix.


as compared with the communities of 1640. This may
have been owing in a degree to the reaction of the strict
enforcements of the previous generation ; but far more,
probably, to the irreligious example of immigrants from
Europe, and more than all to the fashionable gaiety and
licentiousness, which had such fearful ascendency in

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Online LibrarySamuel M. (Samuel Melancthon) WorcesterSermons / by Samuel M. Worcester → online text (page 6 of 11)