Page images
PDF
EPUB

more and more familiar with the New Testament, began to see that the notion of a national church, coextensive with a state or kingdom, or in any manner dependent on prince or senate, was not in that book at all. They began to ask, Why should not we, the free subjects of an English Queen, use just that liberty which was used by the first disciples under a pagan emperor? The disciples of old instituted not a national church, but local churches, congregations, by voluntary combination and agreement.

What need have we of any other ecclesiastical arrangements than such as they had ? Why should not we do as they did, even though we suffer for it as they suffered? That thought was something more than Puritanism—something far more radical and revolutionary. It was a thought that brought emancipation with it. To those who accepted it, SEPARATION—the free institution of churches sustaining no relation to any church of England, established or imaginary—the gathering of “congregations of saints," self-governed under Christ—was no longer schism, but true unity and catholicity, “the holy catholic church, the communion of saints." Who first received that thought and began to propagate it—whether some obscure tradition of Lollard worship had prepared its way among the people—whether it slowly dawned on many minds at once, or flashed like a sudden revelation on some single mind—will never be known on earth. But this we know, and this they knew who first received the emancipating thought and determined to act upon it,-it was a perilous thing to venture on a separation from the Church of England, in those days. Robert Brown, whose impulsive and headlong zeal made him conspicuous in the movement, and whose instability and other faults made his name a convenient reproach to the cause, was in prisons more frequently than Paul, and was compelled to flee from England, though protected by relatives who were powerful at court. But imprisonment and exile were not the only perils that attended the "sedition" of separation. Two of the earliest Separatists, ministers of the gospel, were hanged for that sedition. Others like them, men " of whom the world was not worthy," died on the gallows, for the same offense.

Mr. Hopkins has already told the story in detail, with great skill, down to the early stages of that outgrowth of Puritanism which at first was stigmatized by Puritan and Conformist alike with the name of Brownism, which outlived that obloquy and was known as INDEPENDENCY, and which to-day, as CONGREGATIONALISM, is a living power, not only in the thousands of churches that bear the name, but in all the Protestant churches, under whatever form of polity, throughout the English-speaking nations. Those who have read the two volumes already published, are prepared to receive his third volume with a hearty welcome.

ARTICLE VIII.—THE PULPIT AND THE CRISIS.

The Pulpit of the American Revolution : or the Political

Sermons of the period of 1776. With a Historical Intro duction, Notes, and Illustrations. By JOHN WINGATE

THORNTON, A. M. Boston: Gould & Lincoln. National Sins. A Fast-day Sermon: preached in the Pres

byterian Church, Columbia, s. C., Wednesday, November 21, 1860. By Rev. J. H. THORNWELL, D. D. Columbia, S.C. Southern Guardian Steam-power Press.

It is a good work which Mr. Thornton has done in bringing out a collection of “political sermons” preached on various occasions from 1750 to 1783. Of the nine sermons in this collection, the first is Jonathan Mayhew's “Discourse concerning unlimited submission and non-resistance to the higher powers. It was preached and printed before “the period of 1776"long before those thoughts of independence, which were in the hopes of the founders of Massachusetts and Connecticut, had begun to revive in their descendants. It belongs not so much to the actual conflict of the revolution, as to the prior conflict between the New England pastors and the intrusive missionaries of the English Society for propagating the Gospel. It was preached on “the Lord's day after the 30th of January, 1749–50,” and is not only a refutation of the political doctrine which the Anglican missionaries taught, but a bold vindication of the war waged by the Long Parliament, a century before, against King Charles I. In the “reflections on the resistance made to King Charles I, and on the anniversary of his death,” a day religiously observed by the missionaries of the Church of England and by their adherents, “the mysterious doctrine of that prince's saintship and martyrdom is unriddled.” The sermon breathes none other than a loyal spirit toward the person of the then reigning king; it gives no intimation of an approaching conflict between the colonies and the British government; it is only an earnest (and, in many passages, terribly sarcastic) refutation of the slavish doctrine which emissaries from the mother country were propagating in New England; its chief aim is ecclesiastical rather than political, religious rather than secular; and yet it is in reality a thoroughly political sermon, expounding and defining, in the light of a great historical illustration, the whole Christian doctrine of obedience to government. Mr. Thornton is right in saying that “by its bold inquisition into the slavish teachings veiled in the mysterious doctrine of the saintship and martyrdom' of Charles I, and its eloquent exposition of the principles of good government and of Christian manhood in the state, this celebrated sermon may be considered as the morning gun of the Revolution.” Just one-third of a century later, (May, 1783), President Stiles of Yale College, preached at Hartford his election sermon on the future glory of the United States. This sermon, not less celebrated than that of Mayhew, closes the series of Mr. Thornton's specimens collected from the almost countless multitude of political sermons that were preached and printed in those revolutionary times. The intervening sermons in the collection are Chauncey's Thanksgiving Sermon on the repeal of the Stamp Act in 1766;—Cooke's (Samuel, of the Second Church in Cambridge) Election Sermon in 1770 ;-Gordon's (William, of Jamaica Plain in Roxbary) Thanksgiving Sermon, 1774 ;-President Langdon's (of Harvard College) Election Sermon in 1775, when there was no election ;-West's (Samuel of Dartmouth) Election Sermon in 1776;—Payson's (Phillips of Chelsea) Election Sermon in 1778; -and Howard's (Simeon, of the West Church in Boston) Election Sermon in 1780. No man can read these sermons, especially with the aid of Mr. Thornton's notes, and not be impressed with the intelligence, learning, and political sagacity, as well as the patriotism, which characterized the Congregational clergy of New England in those times.

He who will carefully examine these sermons, and others of the same kind, that have come down to us from the revolutionary period, will find that the modern “political preaching," complained of by politicians of a certain sort, is even less political than that which contributed to the assertion and establishment of our national independence. We confess that in most of these sermons there is less of distinctively evangelical doctrine and sentiment than there should have been. In this respect President Stiles's Election Sermon outshines the rest. The “political preaching” of our day—especially such as is heard from Congregational and Presbyterian pulpits generally-has more of “the religious element” in it, and more of the gospel, than we find in these specimens brought to us from what has now become “the olden time.” That Election Sermon on “The United States elevated to glory and honor,” preached at Hartford in 1783, amid the august solemnities of an oldfashioned election-day, when Governor Jonathan Trumbull, after fifty years of unbroken service in various stations of public trust, having seen the independence of his native State and of its twelve confederates aehieved and established under his administration, was closing his illustrious career,-is, to our thought, alive with the distinctive spirit of the modern New England pulpit. With all the pedantic multifariousness of its learning, and with the encyclopedistic range of its topics, that sermon is the utterance of a soul burning with Christian zeal, not less than with patriotic ardor. It portrays the future glory of the United States, not indeed with an infallible foresight, but with something of a prophet's fire, as well as with a large and philosophical view of the elements out of which our national riches and power were to be developed; and it foresees our future as in a prophet's vision of those coming days when the knowledge and the true worship of a redeeming God shall fill the earth.

For a few years past it has been held in certain quarters, that allusion to slavery as a wrong to be righted, or an evil to be remedied, is altogether foreign to the province of the pulpit. Opposition to slavery on moral grounds is held to be a modern heresy. But in this collection of old sermons the reader will find that the patriot preachers of the revolutionary period, preaching to governors and legislatures, did not hesitate to speak of slavery as an evil and a wrong. In the election ser

« PreviousContinue »