The New England Clergy


Theology in New England.

Among a people constituted in temper like the Puritans, a people with whom religion was life and whose life even on its temporal side was closely identified with religion, it was natural that religious ideas should find constant expression in literature. This we have seen to be true in the historical narratives of Bradford and Winthrop. The Puritan writers are always impressed with the spiritual significance of their conquest in this new Canaan. Even the most casual accidents of pioneer experience are interpreted as filled with divine purpose. John Winthrop soberly records the fact that in his son's library of a thousand volumes, one, which contained the Greek Testament, the Psalms, and the Book of Common Prayer bound up together, was found injured by mice. Every leaf of the Common Prayer was eaten through; not a leaf of the other portions was touched, nor one of the other volumes injured. A marvelous providence this, clear enough in its indications. So Edward Johnson, not an educated man, but a farmer and a ship carpenter, who had been active in the founding of Woburn, in 1640, wrote his Wonder-Working Providence of Zion's Saviour in New England (1654). "For the Lord Christ intends to achieve greater matters by this little handful than the world is aware of."

The colonists are soldiers under the divine leader; they must not tolerate the existence among them of a single disbeliever; they must take up their arms and march manfully on till all opposers of Christ's kingly power be abolished. Thus spake Puritanism on the side of its austerity and fanaticism.

The Clergy.

There was in New England one class of men who by natural aptitude and by training were well fitted to be heard from on religious topics. These were the ministers. As the village church, or meeting-house, was the centre geographically, morally, and socially, of every New England community, so the minister was, usually, the dominating force among his townspeople, maintaining the high dignity of the sacred calling with a manner which commanded a deference amounting to awe. Not only was his authority recognized on the purely religious questions of daily life, not only was his voice reverently heard as he preached for hours from the high pulpit on Sunday, but the New England minister was the natural leader of his flock in every field. He gave counsel in town affairs, he directed the political policy of his people. In cases of disagreement, the minister was usually the mediator and the final court of appeal. The greater part of the New England ministry were educated men of noteworthy gifts. The majority were graduates of the English universities; many of them had been distinguished for their eloquence and piety before the religious persecution of Charles and his ministers had driven them forth to find religious liberty elsewhere.

Three strong thinkers and eloquent preachers are usually mentioned as conspicuous among these early colonial ministers: Thomas Hooker, Thomas Shepard, and John Cotton. All three were graduates of the same college at Cambridge; all were Puritan preachers in England until compelled to flee for their lives because of the hostility of Bishop Laud.

Thomas Hooker, 1586-1647.

Hooker had escaped into Holland, and in 1633 followed in the track of those who had crossed the ocean before him. He became the minister at Cambridge. Three years later he led a colony of one hundred families through the wilderness into the beautiful Connecticut valley and founded the town of Hartford (1636). Here until his death, in 1647, Hooker wrote and preached and moulded the life of his parish. His power in the pulpit is said to have been wonderful. Many of his sermons were published; he wrote numerous treatises on theological and spiritual themes. It is significant of the impression left by Hooker on his contemporaries that an English clergyman affirmed that "to praise the writings of Hooker would be to lay paint upon burnished marble, or add light unto the sun."

  By PanEris using Melati.

Previous chapter Back Home Email this Search Discuss Bookmark Next chapter/page
Copyright: All texts on Bibliomania are © Ltd, and may not be reproduced in any form without our written permission.
See our FAQ for more details.