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Antecedents Of Permanent Christi





We have briefly reviewed the history of two magnificent schemes of
secular and spiritual empire, which, conceived in the minds of great
statesmen and churchmen, sustained by the resources of the mightiest
kingdoms of that age, inaugurated by soldiers of admirable prowess,
explorers of unsurpassed boldness and persistence, and missionaries
whose heroic faith has canonized them in the veneration of Christendom,
have nevertheless come to naught.

We turn now to observe the beginnings, coinciding in time with those of
the French enterprise, of a series of disconnected plantations along the
Atlantic seaboard, established as if at haphazard, without plan or
mutual preconcert, of different languages and widely diverse Christian
creeds, depending on scanty private resources, unsustained by
governmental arms or treasuries, but destined, in a course of events
which no human foresight could have calculated, to come under the
plastic influence of a single European power, to be molded according to
the general type of English polity, and to become heir to English
traditions, literature, and language. These mutually alien and even
antagonistic communities were to be constrained, by forces superior to
human control, first into confederation and then into union, and to
occupy the breadth of the new continent as a solid and independent
nation. The history reads like a fulfillment of the apocalyptic imagery
of a rock hewn from the mountain without hands, moving on to fill the
earth.

Looking back after the event, we find it easy to trace the providential
preparations for this great result. There were few important events in
the course of the sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries that did not
have to do with it; but the most obvious of these antecedents are to be
found in controversies and persecutions.

The protest of northern Europe against the abuses and corruptions
prevailing in the Roman Church was articulated in the Augsburg
Confession. Over against it were framed the decrees of the Council of
Trent. Thus the lines were distinctly drawn and the warfare between
contending principles was joined. Those who fondly dreamed of a
permanently united and solid Protestantism to withstand its powerful
antagonist were destined to speedy and inevitable disappointment. There
have been many to deplore that so soon after the protest of Augsburg was
set forth as embodying the common belief of Protestants new parties
should have arisen protesting against the protest. The ordinance of the
Lord's Supper, instituted as a sacrament of universal Christian
fellowship, became (as so often before and since) the center of
contention and the badge of mutual alienation. It was on this point that
Zwingli and the Swiss parted from Luther and the Lutherans; on the same
point, in the next generation of Reformers, John Calvin, attempting to
mediate between the two contending parties, became the founder of still
a third party, strong not only in the lucid and logical doctrinal
statements in which it delighted, but also in the possession of a
definite scheme of republican church government which became as
distinctive of the Calvinistic or Reformed churches as their doctrine
of the Supper. It was at a later epoch still that those insoluble
questions which press most inexorably for consideration when theological
thought and study are most serious and earnest--the questions that
concern the divine sovereignty in its relation to human freedom and
responsibility--arose in the Catholic Church to divide Jesuit from
Dominican and Franciscan, and in the Reformed churches to divide the
Arminians from the disciples of Gomar and Turretin. All these divisions
among the European Christians of the seventeenth century were to have
their important bearing on the planting of the Christian church in
America.

In view of the destined predominance of English influence in the
seaboard colonies of America, the history of the divisions of the
Christian people of England is of preŰminent importance to the
beginnings of the American church. The curiously diverse elements that
entered into the English Reformation, and the violent vicissitudes that
marked the course of it, were all represented in the parties existing
among English Christians at the period of the planting of the colonies.

The political and dynastic character of the movements that detached the
English hierarchy from the Roman see had for one inevitable result to
leaven the English church as a lump with the leaven of Herod. That
considerable part of the clergy and people that moved to and fro,
without so much as the resistance of any very formidable vis inertiŠ,
with the change of the monarch or of the monarch's caprice, might leave
the student of the history of those times in doubt as to whether they
belonged to the kingdom of heaven or to the kingdom of this world. But,
however severe the judgment that any may pass upon the character and
motives of Henry VIII. and of the councilors of Edward, there will
hardly be any seriously to question that the movements directed by these
men soon came to be infused with more serious and spiritual influences.
The Lollardy of Wycliffe and his fellows in the fourteenth century had
been severely repressed and driven into occult conventicles, but had
not been extinguished; the Bible in English, many times retouched after
Wycliffe's days, and perfected by the refugees at Geneva from the Marian
persecutions, had become a common household book; and those exiles
themselves, returning from the various centers of fervid religious
thought and feeling in Holland and Germany and Switzerland, had brought
with them an augmented spiritual faith, as well as intensified and
sharply defined convictions on the questions of theology and church
order that were debated by the scholars of the Continent. It was
impossible that the diverse and antagonist elements thus assembled
should not work on one another with violent reactions. By the beginning
of the seventeenth century not less than four categories would suffice
to classify the people of England according to their religious
differences. First, there were those who still continued to adhere to
the Roman see. Secondly, those who, either from conviction or from
expediency or from indifference, were content with the state church of
England in the shape in which Elizabeth and her parliaments had left it;
this class naturally included the general multitude of Englishmen,
religious, irreligious, and non-religious. Thirdly, there were those
who, not refusing their adhesion to the national church as by law
established, nevertheless earnestly desired to see it more completely
purified from doctrinal errors and practical corruptions, and who
qualified their conformity to it accordingly. Fourthly, there were the
few who distinctly repudiated the national church as a false church,
coming out from her as from Babylon, determined upon reformation
without tarrying for any. Finally, following upon these, more radical,
not to say more logical, than the rest, came a fifth party, the
followers of George Fox. Not one of these five parties but has valid
claims, both in its principles and in its membership, on the respect of
history; not one but can point to its saints and martyrs; not one but
was destined to play a quite separate and distinct and highly important
part in the planting of the church of Christ in America. They are
designated, for convenience' sake, as the Catholics, the Conformists,
the Puritans or Reformists, the Separatists (of whom were the Pilgrims),
and the Quakers.

Such a Christendom was it, so disorganized, divided, and subdivided into
parties and sects, which was to furnish the materials for the peopling
of the new continent with a Christian population. It would seem that the
same somewhat not ourselves, which had defeated in succession the
plans of two mighty nations to subject the New World to a single
hierarchy, had also provided that no one form or organization of
Christianity should be exclusive or even dominant in the occupation of
the American soil. From one point of view the American colonies will
present a sorry aspect. Schism, mutual alienation, antagonism,
competition, are uncongenial to the spirit of the gospel, which seeks
that they all may be one. And yet the history of the church has
demonstrated by many a sad example that this offense must needs come.
No widely extended organization of church discipline in exclusive
occupation of any country has ever long avoided the intolerable
mischiefs attendant on spiritual despotism. It was a shock to the hopes
and the generous sentiments of those who had looked to see one undivided
body of a reformed church erected over against the medieval church,
from the corruptions of which they had revolted, when they saw
Protestantism go asunder into the several churches of the Lutheran and
the Reformed confessions; there are many even now to deplore it as a
disastrous set-back to the progress of the kingdom of Christ. But in the
calmness of our long retrospect it is easy for us to recognize that
whatever jurisdiction should have been established over an undivided
Protestant church would inevitably have proved itself, in no long time,
just such a yoke as neither the men of that time nor their fathers had
been able to bear. Fifteen centuries of church history have not been
wasted if thereby the Christian people have learned that the pursuit of
Christian unity through administrative or corporate or diplomatic union
is following the wrong road, and that the one Holy Catholic Church is
not the corporation of saints, but their communion.

The new experiment of church life that was initiated in the colonization
of America is still in progress. The new States were to be planted not
only with diverse companies from the Old World, but with all the
definitely organized sects by which the map of Christendom was at that
time variegated, to which should be added others of native origin.
Notwithstanding successive booms now of one and then of another, it
was soon to become obvious to all that no one of these mutually jealous
sects was to have any exclusive predominance, even over narrow precincts
of territory. The old-world state churches, which under the rule, cujus
regio ejus religio, had been supreme and exclusive each in its
jurisdiction, were to find themselves side by side and mingled through
the community on equal terms with those over whom in the old country
they had domineered as dissenters, or whom perhaps they had even
persecuted as heretics or as Antichrist. Thus placed, they were to be
trained by the discipline of divine Providence and by the grace of the
Holy Spirit from persecution to toleration, from toleration to mutual
respect, and to co÷peration in matters of common concern in the
advancement of the kingdom of Christ. What further remains to be tried
is the question whether, if not the sects, then the Christian hearts in
each sect, can be brought to take the final step from mutual respect to
mutual love, that we henceforth, speaking truth in love, may grow up in
all things into him, which is the head, even Christ; from whom all the
body fitly framed and knit together through that which every joint
supplieth, according to the working in due measure of each several part,
shall make the increase of the body unto the building up of itself in
love. Unless we must submit to those philosophers who forbid us to find
in history the evidences of final cause and providential design, we may
surely look upon this as a worthy possible solution of the mystery of
Providence in the planting of the church in America in almost its
ultimate stage of schism--that it is the purpose of its Head, out of the
mutual attrition of the sects, their disintegration and comminution, to
bring forth such a demonstration of the unity and liberty of the
children of God as the past ages of church history have failed to show.

That mutual intolerance of differences in religious belief which, in the
seventeenth century, was, throughout Christendom, coextensive with
religious earnestness had its important part to play in the colonization
of America. Of the persecutions and oppressions which gave direct
impulse to the earliest colonization of America, the most notable are
the following: (1) the persecution of the English Puritans in the reigns
of James I. and Charles I., ending with the outbreak of the civil war in
1642; (2) the persecution of the English Roman Catholics during the same
period; (3) the persecution of the English Quakers during the
twenty-five years of Charles II. (1660-85); (4) the persecution of the
French Huguenots after the revocation of the Edict of Nantes (1685); (5)
the disabilities suffered by the Presbyterians of the north of Ireland
after the English Revolution (1688); (6) the ferocious ravaging of the
region of the Rhenish Palatinate by the armies of Louis XIV. in the
early years of the seventeenth century; (7) the cruel expulsion of the
Protestants of the archiepiscopal duchy of Salzburg (1731).

Beyond dispute, the best and most potent elements in the settlement of
the seaboard colonies were the companies of earnestly religious people
who from time to time, under severe compulsion for conscience' sake,
came forth from the Old World as involuntary emigrants. Cruel wars and
persecutions accomplished a result in the advancement of the kingdom of
Christ which the authors of them never intended. But not these agencies
alone promoted the great work. Peace, prosperity, wealth, and the hope
of wealth had their part in it. The earliest successful enterprises of
colonization were indeed marked with the badge of Christianity, and
among their promoters were men whose language and deeds nobly evince the
Christian spirit; but the enterprises were impelled and directed by
commercial or patriotic considerations. The immense advantages that were
to accrue from them to the world through the wider propagation of the
gospel of Christ were not lost sight of in the projecting and organizing
of the expeditions, nor were provisions for church and ministry omitted;
but these were incidental, not primary.

This story of the divine preparations carried forward through
unconscious human agencies in different lands and ages for the founding
of the American church is a necessary preamble to our history. The scene
of the story is now to be shifted to the other side of the sea.





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