The New England Clergy
III. THE NEW ENGLAND CLERGY: THOMAS HOOKER, THOMAS SHEPARD, JOHN
COTTON, NATHANIEL WARD, ROGER WILLIAMS, JOHN ELIOT, THE MATHERS.
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.
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.
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."