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   Chapter 10 — BRATTLE CHURCH.

The Emancipation of Massachusetts By Brooks Adams Characters: 25362

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:03


If the working of the human mind is mechanical, the quality of its action must largely depend upon the training it receives. Viewed as civilizing agents, therefore, systems of education might be tested by their tendency to accelerate or retard the intellectual development of the race. The proposition is capable of being presented with almost mathematical precision; the receptive faculty begins to fail at a comparatively early age; thereafter new opinions are assimilated with increasing difficulty until the power is lost. This progressive period of life, which is at best brief, may, however, be indefinitely shortened by the interposition of artificial obstacles, which have to be overcome by a waste of time and energy, before the reason can act with freedom; and when these obstacles are sufficiently formidable, the whole time is consumed and men are stationary. The most effectual impediments are those prejudices which are so easily implanted in youth, and which acquire tremendous power when based on superstitious terrors. Herein, then, lies the radical divergence between theological and scientific training: the one, by inculcating that tradition is sacred, that accurate investigation is sacrilege, certain to be visited with terrific punishment, and that the highest moral virtue is submission to authority, seeks to paralyze exact thought, and to produce a condition in which dogmatic statements of fact, and despotic rules of conduct, will be received with abject resignation; the other, by stimulating the curiosity, endeavors to provoke inquiry, and, by encouraging a scrutiny of what is obscure, tries to put the mind in an impartial and questioning attitude toward all the phenomena of the universe.

The two methods are irreconcilable, and spring from the great primary instincts which are called conservatism and liberality. Necessarily the movement of any community must correspond exactly with the preponderance of liberalism. Where the theological incubus is unresisted it takes the form of a sacred caste, as among the Hindoos; appreciable advance then ceases, except from some external pressure, such as conquest. The same tendencies in a mitigated form are seen in Spain, whereas Germany is scientific.

Such being the ceaseless conflict between these natural forces, the vantage-points for which the opposing parties have always struggled in western Europe are the pulpits and the universities. Through women the church can reach children at their most impressionable age, while at the universities the teachers are taught. Obviously, if a priesthood can control both positions their influence must be immense. At the beginning of any movement the conservatives are almost necessarily in possession, and their worst reverses have come from defection from within; for unless their organization is so perfect as not only to be animated by a single purpose, but capable of being controlled by a single will, liberals will penetrate within the fold, and if they can maintain their footing and preach with the authority of the ancient tradition it leads to revolution. It was thus the Reformation was accomplished.

The clergy of Massachusetts, with the true priestly instinct, took in the bearings of their situation from the instant they recognized that their political supremacy was passing away, and in order to keep their organization in full vigor they addressed themselves with unabated energy to enforcing the discipline which had been established; at the same time they set the ablest of their number on guard at Harvard. But the task was beyond their strength; they might as well have tried to dam the rising tide with sand.

There is a limit to the capacity of even the most gifted man, and Increase Mather committed a fatal error when he tried to be professor, clergyman, and statesman at once. He was, it is true, made president in 1685, but the next year John Leverett and William Brattle were chosen tutors and fellows, who soon developed into ardent liberals; so it happened that when the reverend rector went abroad in 1688, in his character of politician, he left the college in the complete control of his adversaries. He was absent four years, and during this interval the man was educated who was destined to overthrow the Cambridge Platform, the corner-stone of the conservative power.

Benjamin Colman was one of Leverett's favorite pupils and the intimate friend of Pemberton. As he was to be a minister, he stayed at Cambridge until he took his master's degree in 1695; he then sailed at once for England in the Swan. When she had been some weeks at sea she was attacked by a French privateer, who took her after a sharp action. During the fight Colman attracted attention by his coolness; but he declared that though he fired like the rest, "he was sensible of no courage but of a great deal of fear; and when they had received two or three broadsides he wondered when his courage would come, as he had heard others talk." [Footnote: Life of B. Colman, p. 6.]

After the capture the Frenchmen stripped him and put him in the hold, and had it not been for a Madame Allaire, who kept his money for him, he might very possibly have perished from the exposure of an imprisonment in France, for his lungs were delicate. Moreover, at this time of his life he was always a pauper, for he was not only naturally generous, but so innocent and confiding as to fall a victim to any clumsy sharper. Of course he reached London penniless and in great depression of spirits; but he soon became known among the dissenting clergy, and at length settled at Bath, where he preached two years. He seems to have formed singularly strong friendships while in England, one of which was with Mr. Walter Singer, at whose house he passed much time, and who wrote him at parting, "Methinks there is one place vacant in my affections, which nobody can fill beside you. But this blessing was too great for me, and God has reserved it for those that more deserved it.-I cannot but hope sometimes that Providence has yet in store so much happiness for me, that I shall yet see you." [Footnote: Life of B. Colman, p. 48.]

Meanwhile opinion was maturing fast at home; the passions of the witchcraft convulsion had gone deep, and in 1697 a movement began under the guidance of Leverett and the Brattles to form a liberal Congregational church. The close on which the meetinghouse was to stand was conveyed by Thomas Brattle to trustees on January 10, 1698, and from the outset there seems to have been no doubt as to whom the pastor should be. On the 10th of May, 1699, a formal invitation was dispatched to Colman by a committee, of which Thomas Brattle was chairman, and it was accompanied by letters from many prominent liberals. Leverett wrote, "I shall exceedingly rejoice at your return to your country. We want persons of your character. The affair offered to your consideration is of the greatest moment." William Brattle was even more emphatic, while Pemberton assured him that "the gentlemen who solicit your return are mostly known to you-men of repute and figure, from whom you may expect generous treatment; ... I believe your return will be pleasing to all that know you, I am sure it will be inexpressibly so to your unfeigned friend and servant." [Footnote: Life of B. Colman, pp. 43, 44.] It was, however, thought prudent to have him ordained in London, since there was no probability that the clergy of Massachusetts would perform the rite. When he landed in November, after an absence of four years, he was in the flush of early manhood, highly trained for theological warfare, having seen the world, and by no means in awe of his old pastor, the reverend president of Harvard.

The first step after his arrival was to declare the liberal policy, and this was done in a manifesto which was published almost at once. [Footnote: History of Brattle St. Church, p. 20.] The efficiency of the Congregational organization depended upon the perfection of the guard which the ministers and the congregations mutually kept over each other. On the one hand no dangerous element could creep in among the people through the laxness of the elder, since all candidates for the communion had to pass through the ordeal of a public examination; on the other the orthodoxy of the ministers was provided for, not only by restricting the elective body to the communicants, but by the power of the ordained clergy to "except against any election of a pastor who ... may be ... unfit for the common service of the gospel." [Footnote: Propositions determined by the Assembly of Ministers. Magnalia, bk. 5, Hist. Remarks, Section 8.]

The declaration of the Brattle Street "undertakers" cut this system at the root, for they announced their intention to dispense with the relation of experiences, thus practically throwing their communion open to all respectable persons who would confess the Westminster Creed; and more fatal still, they absolutely destroyed the homogeneousness of the ecclesiastical constituency: "We cannot confine the right of chusing a minister to the male communicants alone, but we think that every baptized adult person who contributes to the maintenance, should have a vote in electing." [Footnote: History of Brattle St. Church, p. 25, Prop. 16.]

They also proposed several innovations of minor importance, such as relaxing the baptismal regulations, and somewhat changing the established service by having the Bible read without comment.

Their temporal power was gone, toleration was the law of the land they had once possessed, and now an onslaught was to be made upon the intellectual ascendency which the clergy felt certain of maintaining over their people, if only they could enforce obedience in their own ranks. The danger, too, was the more alarming because so insidious; for, though their propositions seemed reasonable, it was perfectly obvious that should the liberals succeed in forcing their church within the pale of the orthodox communion, discipline must end, and the pulpits might at any time be filled with men capable of teaching the most subversive doctrines. Although such might be the inexorable destiny of the Massachusetts hierarchy, it was not in ecclesiastical human nature to accept the dispensation with meekness, and the utterances of the conservative divines seem hardly to breathe the spirit of that gospel they preached at such interminable length.

Yet it was very difficult to devise a scheme of resistance. They were powerless to coerce; for, although Increase Mather had taken care, when at the summit of his power, to have a statute passed which had the effect of re?nacting the Cambridge Platform, it had been disapproved by the king; therefore, moral intimidation was the only weapon which could be employed. Now, aside from the fact that men like Thomas Brattle and Leverett were not timorous, their position was at this moment very strong from the stand they had taken in the witchcraft troubles, and worst of all, they were openly supported by William Brattle, who was already a minister, and by Pemberton, who was a fellow of Harvard, and soon to be ordained.

The attack was, however, begun by Mr. Higginson, and Mr. Noyes, of witchcraft memory, in a long rebuke, whose temper may be imagined from such a sentence as this: "We cannot but think you might have entered upon your declaration with more reverence and humility than so solemnly to appeal to God, your judge, that you do it with all the sincerity and seriousness the nature of your engagement commands from you; seeing you were most of you much unstudied in the controversial points of church order and discipline, and yet did not advise with the neighboring churches ... but with a great deal of confidence and freedom, set up by yourselves." The letter then goes on to adjure them to revoke the manifesto, and adjust matters with the "neighbouring elders," "that so the right hand of fellowship may be given to your pastor by other pastors, ... and that you may not be the beginning of a schism that will dishonour God, ... and be a matter of triumph to the bad." [Footnote: History of Brattle St. Church, pp. 29-37.]

Cotton Mather's Diary, however, gives the most pleasing view of the high churchmen:-

"1699. 7th, 10th m. (Dec.) I see another day of temptation begun upon the town and land. A company of headstrong men in the town, the chief of whom are full of malignity to the holy ways of our churches, have built in the town another meetinghouse. To delude many better meaning men in their own company, and the churches in the neighbourhood, they passed a vote in the foundation of the proce

edings that they would not vary from the practice of these churches, except in one little particular.

"But a young man born and bred here, and hence gone for England, is now returned hither at their invitation, equipped with an ordination to qualify him for all that is intended on his returning and arriving here; these fallacious people desert their vote, and without the advice or knowledge of the ministers in the vicinity, they have published, under the title of a manifesto, certain articles that utterly subvert our churches, and invite an ill party, through all the country, to throw all into confusion on the first opportunities. This drives the ministers that would be faithful unto the Lord Jesus Christ, and his interests in the churches, unto a necessity of appearing for their defence. No little part of these actions must unavoidably fall to my share. I have already written a large monitory letter to these innovators, which, though most lovingly penned, yet enrages their violent and imperious lusts to carry on the apostacy."

"1699. 5th d. 11th m. (Saturday.) I see Satan beginning a terrible shake in the churches of New England, and the innovators that had set up a new church in Boston (a new one indeed!) have made a day of temptation among us. The men are ignorant, arrogant, obstinate, and full of malice and slander, and they fill the land with lies, in the misrepresentations whereof I am a very singular sufferer. Wherefore I set apart this day again for prayer in my study, to cry mightily unto God." [Footnote: History of Harvard, Quincy, i. 486, 487, App. x.]

"21st d. 11th m. The people of the new church in Boston, who, by their late manifesto, went on in an ill way, and in a worse frame, and the town was filled with sin, and especially with slanders, wherein especially my father and myself were sufferers. We two, with many prayers and studies, and with humble resignation of our names unto the Lord, prepared a faithful antidote for our churches against the infection of the example, which we feared this company had given them, and we put it into the press. But when the first sheet was near composed at the press, I stopped it, with a desire to make one attempt more for the bringing of this people to reason. I drew up a proposal, and, with another minister, carried it unto them, who at first rejected it, but afterward so far embraced it, as to promise that they will the next week publicly recognize their covenant with God and one another, and therewithall declare their adherence to the Heads of Agreement of the United Brethren in England, and request the communion of our churches in that foundation." [Footnote: History of Harvard, i. 487, App. x.]

This last statement is marked by the exuberance of imagination for which the Mathers are so famed. In truth, Dr. Mather had nothing to do with the settlement. The facts were these: after Brattle Street Church was organized, the congregation voted that Mr. Colman should ask the ministers of the town to keep a day of prayer with them. On the 28th of December, 1699, they received the following suggestive answer:-

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MR. COLMAN:

Whereas you have signified to us that your society have desired us to join with them in a public fast, in order to your intended communion, our answer is, that as we have formerly once and again insinuated unto you, that if you would in due manner lay aside what you call your manifesto, and resolve and declare that you will keep to the heads of agreement on which the United Brethren in London have made their union, and then publicly proceed with the presence, countenance, and concurrence of the New England churches, we should be free to give you our fellowship and our best assistance, which things you have altogether declined and neglected to do; thus we must now answer, that, if you will give us the satisfaction which the law of Christ requires for your disorderly proceedings, we shall be happy to gratify your desires; otherwise, we may not do it, lest ... we become partakers of the guilt of those irregularities by which you have given just cause of offence....

INCREASE MATHER. JAMES ALLEN. [Footnote: History of Brattle St. Church, p. 55.]

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Under the theocracy a subservient legislature would have voted the association "a seditious conspiracy," and the country would have been cleared of Leverett, Colman, the Brattles, and their abettors; but in 1700 the priests no longer manipulated the constituencies, and there was actual danger to the conservative cause from their violence; therefore Stoughton exerted himself to muzzle the Mathers, and he did succeed in quieting them for the moment, though Sewall seems to intimate that they submitted with no very good grace: [1699/1700.] "January 24th. The Lt Govr [Stoughton] calls me with him to Mr. Willards, where out of two papers Mr. Wm Brattle drew up a third for an accommodation to bring on an agreement between the new-church and our ministers; Mr. Colman got his brethren to subscribe it.... January 25th. Mr. I. Mather, Mr. C. Mather, Mr. Willard, Mr. Wadsworth, and S. S. wait on the Lt Govr at Mr. Coopers: to confer about the writing drawn up the evening before. Was some heat; but grew calmer, and after lecture agreed to be present at the fast which is to be observed January 31." [Footnote: Mass. Hist. Coll. fifth series, vi. 2.]

Humility has sometimes been extolled as the crowning grace of Christian clergymen, but Cotton Mather's Diary shows the intolerable arrogance of the early Congregational divines.

"A wonderful joy filled the hearts of our good people far and near, that we had obtained thus much from them. Our strife seemed now at an end; there was much relenting in some of their spirits, when they saw our condescension, our charity, our compassion. We overlooked all past offences. We kept the public fast with them ... and my father preached with them on following peace with holiness, and I concluded with prayer." [Footnote: History of Harvard, i. 487, App. x.]

Yet, although there had been this ostensible reconciliation, those who have appreciated the sensitiveness to sin, of him whom Dr. Eliot calls the patriarch and his son, must already feel certain they were incapable of letting Colman's impiety pass unrebuked; indeed, the Diary says the "faithful antidote" was at that moment in the press, and it was not long before it was published, sanctified by their prayers. The patriarch began by telling how he was defending the "cause of Christ and of his churches in New England," and "if we espouse such principles... we then give away the whole Congregational cause at once." [Footnote: Order of the Gospel, pp. 8, 9.] He assured his hearers that a "wandering Levite" like Colman was no more a pastor than he who "has no children is a father," [Footnote: Idem, p. 102.] he was shocked at the abandonment of the relation of experiences, and was so scandalized at reading the Bible without comment he could only describe it as "dumb." In a word, there was nothing the new congregation had done which was not displeasing to the Lord; but if they had offended in one particular more than another it was in establishing a man in "the pastoral office without the approbation of neighbouring churches or elders." [Footnote: Idem, p. 8.] To this solemn admonition Colman and William Brattle had the irreverence to prepare a reply smacking of levity; nevertheless, they began with a grave and noble definition of their principles. "The liberties and privileges which our Lord Jesus Christ has given to his church ... consist ... in ... that our consciences be not imposed on by men or their traditions." "We are reflected on as casting dishonour on our parents, & their pious design in the first settlement of this land.... Some have made this the great design, to be freed from the impositions of men in the worship of God.... In this we are risen up to make good their grounds." [Footnote: Gospel Order Revived, Epistle Dedicatory.]

They then went on to expose the abuse of public relations of experiences: "But this is the misery, the more meek and fearful are hereby kept out of God's house, while the more conceited and presumptuous never boggle at this, or anything else. But it seems there is a gross corruption of this laudable practice which the author does well to censure; and that is, when some, who have no good intention of their own, get others to devise a relation for them." [Footnote: Idem, p. 9.] They even dared to intimate that it did not savor of modesty for the patriarch "to think any one of his sermons, or short comments, can edifie more than the reading of twenty chapters." [Footnote: Idem, p. 15.] And then they added some sentences, which were afterward declared by the venerable victim to be as scurrilous as other portions of the pamphlet were profane.

"We are assured, the author is esteemed more a Presbyterian than a Congregational man, by scores of his friends in London. He is lov'd and reverenced for a moderate spirit, a peaceable disposition, and a temper so widely different from his late brothers in London.... Did our reverend author appear the same here, we should be his easie proselites too. But we are loath to say how he forfeits that venerable character, which might have consecrated his name to posterity, more than his learning, or other honorary titles can." [Footnote: Gospel Order Revived, pp. 34, 35.]

No printer in Boston dared to be responsible for this ribaldry, and when it came home from New York and was actually cast before the people, words fail to convey the condition into which the patriarch was thrown. At last his emotions found a vent in a tract which he prepared jointly with his son.

"A moral heathen would not have done as he has done. [Footnote: Collection of Some of the More Offensive Matters, Preface.]... There is no one thing, which does more threaten or disgrace New-England, than want of due respect unto superiors. [Footnote: Idem, p. 10.]... It is a disgrace to the name of Presbyterian, that such as he is should pretend unto it. [Footnote: Idem, p. 12.]... and if our children should learn from them, ... we may tremble to think, what a flood of profaneness and atheism would break in upon us, and ripen us for the dreadfullest judgments of God. [Footnote: Idem, p. 7.]... They assault him [the aged president] with a volley of rude jeers and taunts, as if they were so many children of Bethel." [Footnote: Idem, p. 8.] Among these taunts some struck deep, for they are quoted at length. "'Abundance of people have long obstinately believed, that the contest on his part, is more for lordship and dominion, than for truth.' But there are many more such passages, which laid altogether, would make a considerable dung-hil." [Footnote: Idem, p. 9.] They dwelt with pathos upon those sacred rites desecrated by these "unsanctified" "young men" in their "miserable pamphlet." "The Lord is exceedingly glorified, and his people are edified, by the accounts, which the candidates, of the communion in our churches give of that self-examination which is by plain institution ... a qualification, of the communicants. Now these think it not enough to charge the churches, which require & expect such accounts, with exceedingly provoking the Lord. But of the tears dropt by holy souls on those occasions, they say with a scoff, 'whether they be for joy or grief, we are left in the dark.'" [Footnote: Collection of Some of the More Offensive Matters, p. 6.] But the suffering divines found peace in knowing that Christ himself would inflict the punishment upon these abandoned men which the priests would have meted out with holy joy had they still possessed the power.

"Considering that the things contained in their pamphlet, are a deep apostasy, in conjunction with such open impiety, and profane scurrility against the holy wayes in which our fathers walked, in case it become the sin of the land, (as it will do if not duely testified against) we may fear that some heavy judgment will come upon the whole land. And will not the holy Lord Jesus Christ, who walks in the midst of his golden candlesticks, make all the churches to know ... that these men have provoked the Lord!" [Footnote: Idem, pp. 18, 19.]

Yet, notwithstanding the Mathers' piteous prayers, God heeded them not, and the rising tide that was sweeping over them soon drowned their cries. Brattle Street congregation became an honored member of the orthodox communion, the principles which animated its founders spread apace, and the name of Benjamin Colman waxed great in the land. The liberals had penetrated the stronghold of the church.

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