William Edwards Huntington.

The Religious history of New England; King's chapel lectures online

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John Winthrop Platner
William W, Fenn
George E. Horr
RuFus M. Jones

George Hodges
William E. Huntington
John Coleman Adams
William L. Worcester



Oxford University Press






THE chapters of this book were prepared and delivered
as lectures under the auspices of the Lowell Institute
in icing's Chapel, Boston, in the winters of 1914-15 and
191 5-16. The Committee in charge of the lectures consisted
of representatives of the Harvard Divinity School and the
affliated schools, Andover Theological Seminary, and the
Episcopal Theological School, Cambridge.

One deficiency the Committee sincerely regret. It ap-
peared impossible to secure either for the lectures or for
the book an historical narrative from a member of the
Roman Catholic communion. The Committee feel that the
book ought not to be issued without at least some word
recognizing the contribution which that Church has made to
the Religious History of New England.





John Winthrop Plainer

Brown Professor of Ecclesiastical History, Andover Theological Seminary

1. The Beginnings of Congregationalism 3

2. The Period of Church Dominance 22

3. Religion and Theology in the Eighteenth Century . 38

4. Modern Congregationalism 56


William W. Fenn

Dean and Busfey Professor of Theology, Harvard Divinity School

1. Popular Movements 77

2. The Unitarians 97


George E. Horr

President and Professor of Church History, Newton Theological Institution


RuFus M. Jones

Professor in Haverford College


George Hodges

Stone Professor of Homiletics and Pastoral Theology, and Dean,
Episcopal Theological School, Cambridge

1. Before the American Revolution 205

2. After the American Revolution 227


William Edwards Huntington

Sometime President of Boston University

1. Personal and Institutional Forces 251

2. Practical Bearings of New England Methodism . . 273


John Coleman Adams

Pastor of the Church of the Redeemer, Hartford, Connecticut


William L. Worcester

President and Professor of Scripture Interpretation, Homiletics, and Pastoral
Duty, New-Church Theological School, Cambridge





THE ecclesiastical forms under which the religious his-
tory of New England was begun, and through which
that history long continued to unfold itself, were for the most
part Congregational. Throughout the colonial period, and
well down into the nineteenth century, Congregationalism
was the dominant church polity, and the churches of that
order remain even today the most important Protestant
bodies in New England. In view of the large influence which
New England has exercised upon the religious, social, and
educational life of the country at large, it must be evident
that, altogether apart from the intrinsic interest of the sub-
ject, a review of Congregationalism is likely to throw light
upon many sides of our national history, and to reveal the
working of some of the most significant forces which have
ever operated within the territory of the United States.

For Congregationalism is the expression of a certain type
of life and character, — self-dependent. God-fearing, indus-
trious, capable, and highly conscientious, — the qualities on
which alone enduring social and political institutions can be
reared. Bishop Creighton's judgment, the judgment of a
trained historian but not an ecclesiastical sympathizer, was
hardly an exaggeration of the facts, when he said that
Congregationalism " stamped upon the early colonies of
America the severe morality and patient industry which
have trained a nation." And the late Lord Acton, also a
trained historian, but even less than Creighton an ecclesias-
tical sympathizer, paid his ungrudging tribute to the Puritans


in general, and Independents in particular, when he said,
" The idea that rehgious liberty is the generating principle
of civil, and that civil liberty is the necessary condition of
religious, was a discovery reserved for the seventeenth
century. . . . That great pohtical idea . . . has been the
soul of what is great and good in the progress of the last two
hundred years. "

It is this chapter of New England history that we are to
review together, so far as the narrow limits of our time

Travelling northward one hundred and forty-six miles
from London, on the old post-road leading to York and
Edinburgh, one comes to the quiet hamlet of Scrooby,^
inhabited by scarce two hundred persons, but boasting, as
its most interesting possession, an ancient manor house, once
belonging to the archbishop of York, but now a shrine of
Congregationalism and the goal of pious pilgrimages from
New England. Here at the opening of the seventeenth cen-
tury dwelt William Brewster, master of the post, and here,
careful to avoid publicity, assembled irom time to time a
little group of earnest men and women, belonging to the
advanced party of English puritans, — men and women who
were not content to remain within the established church,
however its forms and ceremonies might be modified, but
felt constrained, in loyalty to the Word of God, to withdraw
from all ecclesiastico-political entanglements and, as Brad-
ford puts it, to " join themselves (by a covenant of the Lord)
into a church estate, in the fellowship of the Gospel." From
this little society of " the Lord's free people " proceeded
the impulse which, a few years later, resulted in the first
permanent settlement of New England.

^ Scrooby is in Nottinghamshire, near the borders of Lincolnshire and York-
shire. The nearest railway station is Bawtry.


The movement for which these men of Scrooby stood was
the outcome of many influences, not all ecclesiastical, yet for
the most part religious. It represented one branch, — and
for many years only a minor branch, — of the great Puritan
party, which also included conforming Puritans, Presby-
terians, Anabaptists, and perhaps non-separatist Independ-
ents.^ What differentiated the men of Scrooby from their
fellow puritans was their thorough-going ecclesiastical
democracy, which might perhaps be called their thorough-
going protestantism, only protestantism had not yet become
fully conscious of its logical goal. The beginnings of the
movement are traceable much earlier than the days of
William Brewster. The first church organization of the
independent type is by some believed to have been the
" Privy Church " of Richard Fitz, in London, which goes
back at least to the year 1571. Others would regard the still
earlier Plumbers' Hall congregation, which met in 1567, as
the oldest. But so far as direct and permanent influence is
concerned, the original centre of the Congregational move-
ment seems to have been in the county of Norfolk, and
particularly the town of Norwich, where Robert Browne
began his work about the year 1580, and where local condi-
tions were especially favorable to the development of popular
self-governing associations.

Recent investigation has shown that Norfolk was the home
of many gilds, semi-religious in character, whose statutes
might easily have suggested a form of constitution for
churches of the independent order. ^ Furtherm^ore, nearly
twenty years before Browne organized his separatist move-
ment there, at least one of the regular parish churches of

^ Champlin Burrage finds ground for believing that at first not all the inde-
pendent puritans were separatist in principle. See his Early English Dissenters,
I, pp. 281, 310.

* See an article by J. W. Thompson, in the American Historical Review, April,
1913, p. S03.


Norwich, St. Andrew's, had already acquired a measure of
self-government through the purchase of the right of patron-
age, whereby it gained the power to call and to dismiss its
own ministers.^ John Robinson, the honored Pilgrim pastor,
thought meanly of this arrangement, which he held to be a
poor substitute for the Uberty of the New Testament. The
passage expressing his opinion is worth quoting:

St. Andrew's is not possessed of that poor liberty it useth by any
immediate spiritual right from Christ, as the body from the head, the
wife from the husband, — but by a simoniacal purchase from the
patron, as the most profane assemblies in the kingdom (in which not
a man f eareth God) might purchase it, — and so that spiritual liberty,
which Christ hath bought with his blood and wherein all Christians
ought to stand fast, they buy with a piece of money, committing
herein simony as great as Simon did.

Yet the bare existence before their eyes of a church actually
possessed of a measure of local control, must have encouraged
the separatists to renewed exertions for their more worthy
cause. At any rate it was not long after Robert Browne
removed from Norwich to Holland, that he published his
famous Treatise of Reformation without Tarrying for Any,
in which are clearly set forth the principles of separatism
and independency.^ It remains to this day one of the most
valuable summaries of Congregationahsm ever written.

Two other champions of early English Congregationahsm,
Henry Barrowe and John Greenwood, deserve special men-
tion, for they were martyrs to the cause they had so ably
served. The one was trained as a barrister, the other as a
clergyman, but both became leaders of a non-conforming
congregation, known in the history of independency as the

^ Burrage: New Facts concerning John Robinson, p. 21. Channing calls atten-
tion to a similar condition of things prevailing in a church in the town of Boston,
in Lincolnshire. See his History of the United States, I, p. 288.

2 Old South Leaflets, No. 100. Issued from the Old South Meeting-house,
Boston. ,


London- Amsterdam church. Daniel Neal, in his History of
the Puritans, has preserved a highly interesting account of
the formation of this church, and of its simple rites and
ceremonies, including the church covenant, the mode of elec-
tion of officers by the people, their induction into office, and
the manner of administering baptism and the Lord's Supper.^
The views of Barrowe and Greenwood, showing some diver-
gence from strict Brownism, and lodging more power in the
eldership, are conveniently summarized in the " Confession
of the London- Amsterdam Church," written in 1596.^

The distinctive features of the churches which these men
undertook to establish are found not in creed but in pohty.
The creed of early Congregationalists was Calvinistic, as was
that of all their fellow puritans. " It is well known," writes
Increase Mather in 1680, " that as to matters of doctrine
we agree with other reformed churches; nor was it that,
but what concerns worship and discipHne, that caused our
fathers to come into this wilderness." The marks whereby
Congregational churches desired to be known were the inde-
pendence of the local congregation, its constitution under
a covenant, the absence of an episcopate, the conception
of the ministry as exercising delegated powers of a purely
spiritual nature, rehance upon the sole authority of Scrip-
ture, and the separation of church and state. Not all these
principles however were the exclusive possession of Congre-
gationalists; other protestants, with equal justice, could
lay claim to some of them. And not all of them were con-
sistently applied. Nevertheless, they represent the plat-
form on which our New England forefathers stood, and the
manner of church they aimed to rear, — a church in which
was the potency of a richer Hfe and a larger hberty than they
themselves at first enjoyed.

^ History of the Puritans, I, pp. 543 ff. (2d ed. London, 1732.)

* Text in W. Walker's Creeds and Platforms of Congregationalism, pp. 41-74.


Two features of this simple church organization deserve
especial attention, viz., the covenant and the ministry. The
former was the organic or fundamental law, by which alone
a church could exist. Tn principle it is closely parallel to
the famous Mayflower Compact, whereby the Pilgrim com-
pany created their " civil body politic," and began their
existence as a state. Governor Bradford's description of the
church, formed to be sure before their departure from the
old world, sounds like this civil compact transferred to the do-
main of reHgion. They " joined themselves (by a covenant
of the Lord) into a church estate, in the fellowship of the
Gospel, to walk in all his ways, made known, or to be made
known unto them, according to their best endeavors, what-
soever it should cost them, the Lord assisting them." ^ By
such mutual agreements did the subscribers bind themselves
to an orderly community life, in the one case as a body politic,
in the other as a body ecclesiastic. And thus the foundations
of American democracy, in civil and religious life, were laid

Ecclesiastically the subscribers to the covenant gained
thereby all the rights and powers which the Lord had be-
stowed upon his church in the Gospel. They believed that
those rights and powers, in fact all the workings of the
Christian brotherhood, were precisely defined and described
in the New Testament, more particularly in the letters of
the Apostle Paul and in the Pastoral Epistles, and to these
writings appeal was constantly taken for direction and ad-
vice. There was no court of appeal beyond them. The free
churches, based upon covenants, were held to be New Testa-
ment churches, valid and sufficient against all the hierarch-
ical and ecclesiastical usurpations of history.

^ Bradford adds, with touching simplicity, " And that it cost them something,
this ensuing history will declare." History of Plymouth Plantation, p. 31 (ed.
W. T. Davis).


With regard to the second feature of their poHty, the
ministry, the founders of CongregationaHsm rejected the
traditional view of clerical orders, and maintained the simple
theory that the ministry is not an order at all, but merely
an office. The " minister" of a church was the man chosen
and set apart, from among their own number, to be the
pastor and teacher of the rest. He was their " bishop," if
they pleased to call him so, — which they usually did not,
bishops being unpopular persons among the English separa-
tists. He had no ecclesiastical superior, and according to
the early New England practice, he lost his ministerial
standing when he ceased, for any reason, to hold a pastoral
charge. According to this theory, there was no such thing
as a minister, apart from the church he served.^ This simpli-
fied conception of the ministry, pushed through so coura-
geously by its advocates, was based in the last analysis
upon the ancient and highly respectable theory of Jerome,
that in the New Testament the terms bishop and presbyter
are used interchangeably for the same officer in the churches.
(Jerome, Epistles 69 and 146.) It is the theory accepted
and maintained by many Protestant churches, and it has
found distinguished advocates, like the late Bishop Light-
foot, even within the Episcopal communion. But of course
the CongregationaHsts went a step beyond their brethren
in other denominations, in rejecting the entire conception of
clerical orders.

The congregations or brotherhoods with which we are
immediately concerned, boldly declared their independence,
under God, from the established religion of the English
realm, and their self-sufficiency as churches, wherever they
might find themselves; and thus they re-affirmed the in-

^ This extreme view, represented by the Cambridge Platform, was never ac-
cepted by the entire body of Congregationalists, and has long since ceased to be


alienable right of the individual in all matters of religion,
which had been one of the most momentous impHcations of
the protestant movement. Taking the apostolic churches
as their standard, — from which they believed that the or-
ganized Christian world had grievously fallen away, — they
pronounced severe judgment upon others, and laid them-
selves open to many a charge of uncharitableness, which
their opponents were quick to bring against them.^ Yet
uncharitableness is very apt to characterize earnest men
who, in the face of apparently overwhelming opposition, are
engaged whole-heartedly in the most serious affairs of life.

The first little company of separatists came to New
England in 1620. It was a church migration, and may be
described geographically as the Gainsborough-Scrooby-
Leyden-Plymouth church. They left their own mother
country as fugitives; they left in turn the place of their
temporary sojourn in Holland; and on they came to the
American wilderness, — half of their number to die within
the first six months, and the other half to lay foundations
upon which we are still building.

In comparison with the settlers of the Plymouth planta-
tion, those who came ten years later to Massachusetts Bay
were a multitude in number. And their views of the nature
of the church were at first not exactly the same. No better
description of the spirit and temper which animated the
leaders of the great migration can be found than the well-
known words of Francis Higginson to his fellow passengers,
when, in the year 1629, their ship was off Land's End and
headed westward: " We do not go to New England as

^ " Their chief crime was their uncharitableness, in unchurching the whole Chris-
tian world, and breaking off all manner of comrrunion in hearing the Word, in
public prayer, and in the administration of the sacraments, not only with the church
of England, but with all foreign Reformed churches, which though less pure ought
certainly to be owned as churches of Christ." Neal, History of the Puritans, I,
P- 379-


separatists from the church of England, though we cannot
but separate from the corruptions in it, but we go to practice
the positive part of church reformation, and propagate the
Gospel in America." Similarly, two generations later, the
Rev. John Higginson, son of Francis, writing in his old age
an " attestation " for Cotton Mather's Magnalia, said of
these voluntary exiles, that they "came into a wilderness for
that very end, that hence they might be free from human
additions and inventions in the worship of God, and practice
the positive part of divine institutions, according to the
Word of God."

But whatever may have been the precise shades of eccle-
siastical opinion held at first in Salem, Boston, and Charles-
town, the churches there established, in the early days of
the Bay Colony, were Congregational churches, and they
all promptly adopted the fundamental principles for which
the Pilgrim Fathers at Plymouth stood.

One of the best examples of the early New England Way
is found in the proceedings of the Salem colonists in setting
up their church. First they formulated this simple covenant :
" We covenant with the Lord and one with another, and do
bind ourselves in the presence of God, to walk together in
all his ways, according as he is pleased to reveal himself unto
us in his blessed word of truth." Next they elected Samuel
Skelton as their " pastor," and Francis Higginson as their
" teacher." Then, to quote from the invaluable contem-
porary letter preserved for us in Bradford's History:

Mr. Higginson, with three or four of the gravest members of the
church, laid their hands on Mr. Skelton, using prayer therewith. This
being done, there was imposition of hands on Mr. Higginson also.

The full significance of this simple narrative can be grasped
only when one remembers that both these men were already
ordained clergymen of the Church of England.


The mode of procedure at the formation of the Charles-
town-Boston church, the following year, was essentially the
same, Governor Winthrop and the Rev. John Wilson being two
of the four charter members. Other churches were organized
throughout the colony, as the tide of immigration strength-
ened and the number of settlements increased.^ In Win-
throp's Journal the entries run like this: "A church was
gathered at Dedham," or " A church was gathered at the
Mount" (Mount Wollaston). The methods pursued in all
prove the widespread acceptance of the principle laid down
by Thomas Hooker, in his Survey of the Summe of Church
Discipline, " The church, as Mum essentiale, is and may be
before officers." This puts Congregationahsm in a nutshell;
it is the essence of the whole matter.

A few of the churches of New England were organized
before reaching America, such as the church at Plymouth
and the first church in Dorchester. A few, like the church in
Newtowne, removed bodily from their original place of
settlement to another, — in this case, Hartford. With the
growth of the larger settlements the first parish was some-
times set off into two, or even more, and town divisions
usually followed the same lines. The relation between church
and community was much closer in colonial New England
than is sometimes supposed.

The connection between church and state was also close,
in spite of their theoretical separation, — so close in fact that
the government of Massachusetts Bay has often been de-
scribed as a theocracy. The people of New England were
steeped in the conviction that they had been chosen and
were led of God, and that every part of their life was under
His divine control. No human government could be firmly

^ The exodus, within a decade, of twenty thousand persons from their English
homes and their settlement in the Massachusetts Bay colony, constitute one of
the most significant instances of race-migration which history can show.


established, unless based upon the divine. The principles of
this divine government were cleariy set forth in Scripture,
and to the Scriptures one must look if one would learn the
will of God. The way of the churches was plainly described
there; and there too was legislation for the community.
Accordingly the colonists made a double appeal to the Bible,
as to a God-appointed constitution for the church and for the
state, — with the natural result that their type of govern-
ment during all the early years was decidedly theocratic.

Furthermore, large numbers of ministers came to New
England, — nearly one hundred of them in the first twenty
years, — and nearly all accepted parish charges. These
ministers were for the most part graduates of the University
of Cambridge, the nursery of puritanism, and they repre-
sented a much higher professional type than the clergy who
went to Virginia and Maryland, where their influence was
comparatively slight. The high intellectual and spiritual
level on which the New England ministers stood, and the
popular respect which they immediately gained, greatly
strengthened the theocratic tendency. They were con-
stantly consulted by the magistrates and governors, not
only on matters pertaining to religion, but also on questions
of colonial policy and legislation. Their advice was freely
given, sometimes even before it had been asked; yet it was
never unwelcome. In 163 5, the Rev. John Cotton drew up, for
the use of the General Court, a law-code based upon " Moses,
his judicials," and this, or something like it, formed a large
part of the groundwork of the legislation in the Bay colony
for many years. Citations of Biblical authority were deemed
conclusive in the court room, and capital punishment long
continued to be inflicted for a variety of offences specified in
the book of Leviticus.

This mixture of law and religion of course gave rise to
difficulties, and aroused criticism. It was the persistent


exercise of jurisdiction over offences " against the first table
of the law" (i. e., against the first four commandments of
the decalogue) that provoked the open hostility of Roger
WilHams against the authorities, and caused him to protest
that the things of God and the things of Caesar should not

Online LibraryWilliam Edwards HuntingtonThe Religious history of New England; King's chapel lectures → online text (page 1 of 27)