Page images
PDF
EPUB

they had calculated with so much confidence, they sunk within one short year to such a state of weakness, that they were indebted to the compassion of the Indians for means wherewith to subsist, and to their contempt for permission to live. It is to the immortal honour of the people at New Plymouth that they received these men, as sent out to establish this rival colony, with the utmost cordiality; that they shewed them great hospitality when that could not be done without great sacrifice; that they assisted them to commence their settlement; and when they were reduced to their lowest state, interposed, at great hazard to their own interests, to save the remnant remaining from destruction, receiving some to their own home, and furnishing others with the means of returning to England. Men who are childless and alone are not always the men to do great thingsthe scale often turns on the other side. The family man may have his motives to caution, but how many other motives has he—motives to self-government, endurance, effort-of which the solitary man has no knowledge ?

Robinson and the church at Leyden were in constant communication with their brethren, and earnestly desirous of joining them. But the company of merchant adventurers at Plymouth threw constant impediments in the way of their departure. Those thrifty gentlemen were much more disposed to favour the colony at New Weymouth, which they hoped to preserve from puritanism or congregationalism, and to retain in a dutiful relation to the established church of the mother country. Delay from this cause was protracted until 1626. In that

In that year Robinson died. The family of that estimable man, and the remainder of the church, succeeded at length in joining their brethren at New Plymouth. Not long afterwards, the people of that settlement purchased an exemption from all further control on the part of the chartered company in England. Friendly and perous colonies rose at convenient distances on either side of them; and before the oldest of the pilgrims was removed by death, it became manifest that the small company which left England in the Mayflower had been the means of founding a new empire in the New World—an empire not only additional to all that had gone before, but different in its spirit

, its institutions, and its religion, from all that had hitherto obtained a place in history.

While many of the exiled independents removed from Holland to New England, many remained in the former country, in hope that the posture of affairs at home might become such as to allow of their return. It was pleasant to think that their ashes might still be laid in the land of their fathers, and that some

NO. I.

pros

D

thing might still be done by them towards the enlightenment, the freedom, and the happiness of their native country. These hopes were not indulged in vain. In 1642, just about two centuries since, the change came which had been so devoutly wished, and from that time Independency has never ceased to be one of the forms of Christianity professed in this country. But what has been its history ?-what is its present condition? During the times of the civil war and the commonwealth, the sagacity and energy allied with that system were not altogether unworthy of it-but what has it done since? We admit that almost everything around it has been uncongenial. Its greatest foes, however, have been from within. It has too often fainted in the face of rebuke—it has not always folded its vesture about it, and fronted the storm as it should have done-it has been wanting, too, we think, in some graver matters. Indeed, in all the points in which the Pilgrim Fathers were strong, modern independency has shown itself weak.

Nothing is more marked in the character of the devout men who found their home at New Plymouth, than the clearness with which they apprehended their distinctive principles, and the importance which they attached to them. It was that they might save those principles from again falling into oblivion that they had become exiles, and that, having become exiles, they still committed themselves to the perils, and hardships, and griefs, of becoming colonists—colonists in one of the most distant and inhospitable regions of the known world. Men who hold principle with a grasp of this order, always hold it to some purpose. The truth thus embraced, is truth that may not die.

Then there were the children of these people. The good most valued by the parents, it was natural they should be most concerned to bequeath to their offspring. Every father in the memorable forty-one who embarked in the Mayflower was as the father of Hannibal-the war against error being committed as a legacy to his children. It was the fact that some of these were seen falling from their stedfastness by reason of their connexion with strangers, and the hope that such danger would be effectually precluded by such removal, that prompted the heads of the pilgrim families to their memorable expedition westward.

But these plain thoughtful men looked not to their immediate children only; they looked to a distant posterity, to the future church of God-the future generations of mankind. There was magnanimity in them, largeness of thought and largeness of feeling. In their instance, professions of this nature were not so much mere sentimentality-not a selfish vanity taking the guise of better affection. Their conduct towards the settlers of New

Weymouth is evidence that they were men superior to littleness of soul-men of exalted and generous sentiments. They lived not to themselves. It was their study that their path might be that of benefactors to the living and to the unborn.

But strong as was the attachment of these confessors to that order in church government and worship which they were so careful to observe, all principle of that nature was viewed as subordinate to piety, and was valued in proportion to its supposed conduciveness to piety. What feeling, inferior to that of a most conscientious homage to the Invisible, could have led these people to expose themselves to so much suffering, or could have sustained them under the pressure of that suffering ? In all their ways they sought a higher guidance than that of mortals. The day of fasting and prayer went before every step of moment in their history. Their first act on touching the soil of the New World, was to prostrate themselves in the exercise of their spiritual priesthood before God; and when exploring the winter shores of that region, you see them employed hours before day in presenting thanksgiving and supplication to their Maker. They believed in God; they were assured of his presence; they confided in him with the fear and the affection of children. The elements were of him-men were of him-and could do no more than his bidding. They loved their polity because it aided their piety. In their case it was not a barren framework, thrust into the place of piety. It was valued because it gave them a real Christian fellowship, and because in so doing it strengthened their Christianity.

Hence it happened, that the strength of their adhesion to their principles as congregationalists, was not more remarkable, than the catholicity of their spirit towards devout men of all other communions. Their residence in Holland,' it is said, had * made them acquainted with various forms of Christianity; a • wide experience had emancipated them from bigotry, and they

were never betrayed into the excesses of religious persecution.' Such is the testimony of Bancroft, whose work on this interesting department of modern history is the most authentic and able in our language. But this result, so little to have been expected in those times, may be traced to the personal character of Robinson, fully as much as to residence in Holland. In respect to certain great principles, that excellent man concluded that he had arrived at certainty; but in many things, as we have seen from his own language, he supposed that both himself and others were still in need of further light. Independency in his hands was fixed in regard to its great principles, but was left to a candid latitude in respect to lesser things. Hence, Mr. Edward

[ocr errors]
[ocr errors]

Winslow, some time governor of New Plymouth, speaks of the rule of this first proper congregational church in respect to communion in the following terms:- It is true we profess and desire ' to practise a separation from the world and the works of it, and

are willing to discern an appearance of the grace of God in all 6 we admit to church fellowship. But we do not renounce all • other churches; nay, if any joining to us formerly at Leyden,

or here in New England, have, with the confession of their ' faith, held forth the duty of an entire separation from the church of England, I have divers times heard either Mr. Robinson our pastor, or Mr. Brewster our elder, stop them forthwith, showing that we required no such thing at their hands, but only to hold forth faith in Christ Jesus, holiness in the fear of God, and ' submission to every ordinance and appointment of God.'

Such, then, were the elements of character most observable in the Pilgrim Fathers. Do modern Independents possess them ? In many they may no doubt be seen--seen in a degree marking a true spiritual lineage. But too commonly we see the obscure in knowledge in place of clearness, and the cold in feeling in place of ardour; or else the substitution of a zeal for polity in the place of a zeal for piety, allied too often with an intolerance of temper, incompatible with a just estimate of the better qualities which belong to the devout of every communion, and leading, not only to onesidedness and misconception, but to an indulgence in misrepresentation, invective, and personalities little consistent with loud professions of attachment to the principles of general freedom. We know that early Independency had its faults of this nature in other connexions; but Robinson of Leyden and the men whose character he moulded were nobly free from them. We venture to say, that if modern Independents would be the powerful body in this country, which two centuries should have made them, it must be by a more general return to that model of temper and action which is before them in the history of the Pilgrim Fathers. Their wisdom will be found in looking thus to the standard they should follow, much more than to those wrongs and provocations--a plentiful crop, no doubtwhich naturally dispose them to indulge in the spirit of retaliation. Temptation comes to all, but while some men fall into the snare, others know how to turn it to advantage.

ART. II. The Ideal of a Christian Church considered in comparison

with Existing Practice; containing a Defence of Certain Articles in the British Critic, in Reply to Remarks on them, in Mr. Palmer's Narrative. By the Rev. W. G. WARD, M.A. London: J.

Toovey. 8vo, 600 pp. In States where thought and discussion are enfranchised, few ages pass without some characteristic movement in religion, for it or against it-backward to a type that has preceded, or forward to some desiderated improvement in harmony with the spirit of the times. Its enemies have their

Its enemies have their paroxysms, and its friends their reformations and revivals. The movement of the past age consisted in the rise and progress of Evangelism' in the establishment, contemporaneous with the extension of the evangelical sects of dissenters. It was a wave powerfully felt in the quiet harbour, but the evident effect of the outside waters. In striking contrast to this, the movement of the present age is a strong ebb-tide, bearing all things backward—so far, at least, as the established church is concerned. We use the word backward, at present, not as prejudging the case, but merely to signify that the religion of the church is rapidly assimilating itself to a certain model, known to have existed in a distant age. Whether the retrograde step is quite backward enough to be firm and safe against the bold questionings of reason, and the rude jostlings of free discussion, is a matter which may be hereafter canvassed.

The old theory, however, which has derived its revival and its impulse from the Oxford theologists, is confessedly a renunciation, in no dulcet tones and honeyed words,' of everything the reformers boasted of having gained for us. It is a bitter execration of that glorious bound of the human mind, which has been followed in successive ages by healthy outbreaks of religious and civil liberty, by the march of evangelical truth, and by apostolical specimens of missionary zeal. The beau-ideal of a Christian church is now referred to the ages of dim religious lightfar enough back to throw the divine form of Christianity into a vanishing perspective. Mystery and antiquity weave the veil through which it is to be exhibited. The medium produces a universal distortion. A delusive image is thus made to personate the heavenly visitant, while its crafty showmen, who usurp the province of its oracles, require both reason and Scripture to veil their bonnets and abase their heads before it. Christianity, as a practical system, is supposed to have grown to maturity somewhere about the fourth and fifth century. Then it had gained

« PreviousContinue »