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author is speaking in his own person, seems infelicitous;* but such faults are easily forgiven to a writer in whose careful narrative the events and personages of the times described are seen as in a moving panorama.
One merit of the work before us is the distinctness with which it marks from time to time the progress of the great controversy, and the stages of advancement on the part of the Puritans, as they went forward from a scruple about the use of certain Romish vestments to a distinct and complete system of ecclesiastical polity on the one hand, (or, rather, to two such systems), and, on the other hand, to a theory of political rights and of English liberty which was irreconcilably opposed to the theory maintained by the court and the hierarchy. Puritanism, at the beginning of the reign of Edward VI, was a hidden germ, an undeveloped tendency, an unspoken thought. Puritanism, at the end of the reign of Elizabeth, had become by slow degrees a great and formidable power in the Church, in the Universities, in the Parliament, in the Court-a party persecuted, yet thriving under persecution-hardly an organization, because an organized party was in those days almost an impossibility; but a body of devout and earnest men everywhere present and everywhere active, bound together by living sympathies, though already beginning to show some signs of division into two parties based on opposite principles of ecclesiastical polity.
It is often said, in a declamatory way, that the Puritans. were the pioneers of religious and civil liberty. On the other hand, they are charged with an extreme narrowness and rigor in their notions of civil government, and with a harsh intolerance toward diversities of religious opinion and practice. Which of these opposite representations is justified by the
The word "Precisian" is used by Mr. Hopkins as a proper name for the punctilious enforcers of conformity. In those times, when the word was commonly used as a name of reproach, it was synonymous with "Puritan.” Of course, Mr. Hopkins is not ignorant of this. Yet the attempt to give to that word a meaning diametrically opposite to that which it had in the time covered by the history, and to make it the distinguishing name not of the Puritan party but of the anti-Puritan, seems infelicitous.
facts? Or is there a point of view from which both of these seemingly contradictory representations are discovered to be substantially true? We think there is. No man is qualified to write the history of the Puritans with an impartial hand, or to read it with an impartial eye, who is not, on the one hand, ready to acknowledge at the outset, and willing to remember from first to last, that they did not propound or hold either the doctrine of absolute religious liberty or the doctrine of democratic government by universal suffrage,—and, on the other hand, equally ready to learn that all their struggles and sufferings were for a principle which is in reality the only basis of liberty in church or state.
What was the principle in which Puritanism began, and in which was all its strength? What was the principle which the Puritan non-conformists in the Church of England held in common with the separatists from the Queen's establishment, and by which both alike were governed? What was the principle which Puritanism in old England inherited from Wycliffe and the persecuted Lollards; and which the New England fathers—both the Pilgrims of Plymouth, and the Puritans of the other colonies-brought with them as the basis of all their institutions? If we attempt to honor the founders of our New England commonwealths by implying that they came hither as Roger Williams went from Massachusetts to Rhode Island-for the purpose of establishing and carrying out, under new forms of government, the great principle of religious liberty, we imply what is not true; for even the Pilgrims, and much more the less advanced Puritans, were far from accepting any such doctrine of religious liberty as that which is now recognized in all our constitutions. If we say that they came hither as fugitives from persecution, or that they came for the purpose of setting up a certain method of church fellowship and discipline, and of enjoying certain forms of worship, we say what is literally true, but we do not reach the principle on which they acted, nor the ulterior and higher purpose for which they came? Why was it that they had occasion to flee from persecution? Why was it that they felt themselves under the necessity of making their abode in a wilderness for the sake of
setting up a certain ecclesiastical system and a certain form of worship? Why did they not conform to the regulations imposed by authority upon the Church of England, and so stay at home in peace? The answer is, They had undertaken to obey God rather than men. They had accepted the Bible as an authority above rubrics, and canons, and acts of Parliament. They had taken the Bible as the rule of their worship, the rule of their church order and discipline, and the rule of their living; and while they were conscientiously loyal to their native land and to its constituted authorities and powers, they had learned that their allegiance to Christ was higher than their allegiance to the crown or to the laws of England. Most willingly did they render to Cæsar the things that are Cæsar's; but it was an inflexible principle with them that they must also render to God the things that are God's, without asking leave of Cæsar. Their struggles, their sufferings, and their achievements, were their testimony to the supreme authority of the Bible, and to the nullity of all human laws that come between the soul and its allegiance to God. It was in this way that they became the martyrs, the prophets, and the founders of liberty.
Standing upon this principle, they stood simply where the first Christians stood in relation to the government of the Roman empire. Christ came into the world, not only as a Redeemer and a revealer, but also as a lawgiver and the founder of a spiritual commonwealth. He saves men, and he saves the world, not only by offering a free forgiveness, but by establishing in the souls that receive him, and thus establishing in the world, a new kingdom of God. As the law of Moses, in its minutest details, was the rule of action for all Israelites; so the law of Christ was the rule of action for all who, 'professing to be his disciples, received the revelation of the will of God, and the precepts for the guidance of human life, given in his sermon on the mount, in all his discourses and teachings, and in the testimony of his commissioned and inspired apostles. The Israelite, wherever he dwelt, whithersoever he went to sojourn for a season, into whatsoever land he had been carried captive, and whatever changes
were effected in the government of his own holy land, was still obedient to the law which God had given to his fathers. The heathen might deride him or abhor him; but as for him, if he was to retain his rights and hopes in the commonwealth of Israel, that law, in all its details of morality or of religious observance and ceremony, was the rule of his life. In like manner they who received the gospel-whether at Jerusalem, at Antioch, at Corinth, or at Rome-received it not as a faith only, but also as a law; not only as a revelation of pardon and of hope, but also as a revelation of duty; not only as showing what God had done and promised for them, but also as showing what God would have them do. The law of Christ, in other words, God's word and will, which Christ had made known to them for the guidance of their life, was to them the highest law. That which visibly distinguished the believer in Christ from a heathen, on the one hand, and from an unbelieving Israelite on the other, was not merely his theory of religion, but his practice; not so much what he believed or what he rejected did and what he refused to do. tidings of the new kingdom of become a subject in that kingdom. and holy commonwealth governed by the law of Christ.
from his belief, as what he
The church, then, as all can see who read the New Testament for themselves, was at first, from the nature of the case, nothing else than a society or community of Christians brought together by their religious sympathies, and formally or informally agreeing to be governed as a body, and to govern themselves as members of that body, by the law of Christ. The pledge which they gave to each other and to their common Lord, was a pledge of adherence to the new faith which they had received, and of obedience to those higher principles and rules of life which Christ had made known to them. As members of Christ they were members one of another, and, recognizing each other in that relation, they were brethren and sisters needing each other's help, and bound to each other by special ties of mutual duty. As the Jews in every Gentile city were a community by themselves, governed by their own
law, so the Christians, in every city where the gospel entered, became a community by themselves, governed by the law of Christ. Under that law, they forsook not the assembling of themselves together for worship, and for consolation and instruction; they observed the symbolical ordinances of their new religion; they provided for the relief of the poor and the suffering, and for the comfort of the afflicted; they maintained their simple discipline, admonishing offenders or excluding them; and all without asking permission of any human power. They yielded without evasion or resistance, whatever the imperial government might choose to exact, however unjustly; but when Cæsar required them to do what God forbids, or forbade them to do what God requires, they were ready to die rather than not to obey God. Wherever in the Roman empire a church of Christ was instituted, there was an organized community, asserting and exercising rights for which it acknowledged no dependence on the state, and governing itself and its members by a law which it honored as paramount to all imperial rescripts.
Thus the first preaching of the gospel of Christ was, in effect, though not in form, the proclamation of an inalienable right to worship the true God, and to obey his law in the face of all opposition from human law and government. It assumed, and virtually proclaimed the self-same right which Daniel and his fellow captives asserted against the king of Babylon, the same which Moses, so long before, asserted in God's name for a nation of slaves, against the king of Egypt. The instituting of Christian churches in the Roman empire, without asking or obtaining the consent of the state, and in like manner the continued existence of those churches after the state had undertaken to suppress them, was an unconscious assertion of the great principle of religious liberty—a principle which, wherever it is asserted, is the vital germ of civil liberty.
A similarly unconscious assertion of the same principle was made in the controversies and conflicts of the Reformation. By imperceptible degrees, in the progress of ages, the original form of Christian churches, and, to a great extent,