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 neve
theless 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


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


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 preëminent 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 inertiæ,

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 coöperation 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.