Change and Continuity
Change and Continuity
Theology and Social Practice, c. 1640–1660
Abstract and Keywords
This chapter explains that by the mid-1640s, a Holy Spirit-centered understanding of conversion and assurance (nicknamed “Antinomianism”) had acquired a new group of advocates who hailed it as an alternative to the practical divinity. Orthodoxy had constantly spawned renegades and outliers who tested its boundaries. Now, however, originality was becoming more widespread and controversy more intense in response to a mixture of political and intellectual circumstances that included the collapse of censorship. How the practical divinity was being assailed and defended are topics that lead to the Antinomians of mid-century, the Westminster Confession, and the reasoning of ministers such as Samuel Rutherford on behalf of orthodoxy. The chapter then revisits the Antinomian controversy that roiled mid-1630s Massachusetts. Here, too, debate was prompted by criticism of the practical divinity. The chapter also describes change and continuity in institutional and cultural practices in the orthodox colonies in New England.
ALICE STEDMAN ARRIVED IN MASSACHUSETTS in the 1630s, found a husband, and settled in Cambridge, where she was accepted into the church after making the customary “relation” of her spiritual journey. Stedman spoke frankly about the stress of having a godly minister in England describe her spiritual estate as “woeful” unless she reconciled with God. Nor, he had remarked, was she doing enough to “humble” herself. Possibly after reaching her new home, she was hearing sermons that emphasized “the freeness of His love” to those who acknowledged their sinfulness—free but also contingent, for the gospel promise was transmitted through “means” that included her willingness to repent.
This intertwining of divine love, grace, repentance, and the means was reinforced by what Thomas Shepard, her minister in Cambridge, was saying. At one moment, he encouraged her to “believe” that “the Lord” would reach out and help her. At another, something he said led her to conclude that there was “nothing for me” in the gospel promise. She also remembered another minister’s message (possibly an echo of the Antinomian controversy; see below) that some people “build upon wrong foundations to close and catch the promise and missed Christ.” How long this mixture of messages kept her in suspense is not known, but when she testified to the church, she could report that she had received Jesus. “And so was much confirmed, and many times since the Lord hath spoken to me to help me.”1
Obadiah Holmes arrived in the same colony in 1638 and, two years later, joined the church in Salem, where he had settled. As children were born, he and his wife had them baptized. Mid-decade, he moved to Rehoboth in Plymouth Colony. There, too, he became a church member—a restless member, for a few years later he affiliated with local Baptists. Narrating a spiritual journey (p.301) that began with his boyhood in England, he remembered being burdened by “duties,” the imperative to repent, and being “left … without hopes of any mercy.” In retrospect, he blamed his emotional ups and downs on the practical divinity, which stripped him of any “rest in the soul, though I was in a manner as strict as any.”
Then came the breakthrough moment when he realized that “all his righteousness” was as “filthy rags” (Is. 64:6) and salvation solely the doing of the “New Covenant” established by Christ. It was a merciful Christ on whom he should depend, not the “means,” as he had been told by ministers in England and Massachusetts. Another lesson of this spiritual awakening was that he could “never fully quiet” his “spirit in the most excellent performance.” Righteousness or duties paled alongside the grace made possible by Christ’s death on the cross. Holmes continued to affirm a Reformed understanding of the Atonement and decree of election, and, as he implicitly signaled in his “Last Will & Testimony,” he was no libertine. Yet he found his way to a new understanding of the relationship between faith and works. Summing up that relationship, he declared that an inward “faith in the Son of God” made “works” irrelevant or incidental to the Christian’s journey.2
Holmes and Stedman were among the many laypeople who, at mid-century, were choosing between two versions of the “new birth,” or conversion. Stedman stayed within the contours of the practical divinity. Holmes started out within that framework until he decided that it came too close to endorsing “works.” On both sides of the Atlantic, decisions of this kind were propelled by winds of doctrine that threatened the Calvinism of William Perkins and his immediate heirs. Theological controversy had always accompanied the practical divinity, much of it provoked by Catholic and Dutch Arminian alternatives or, more covertly, by “Antinomian” currents in pre–civil war England.3 Now the whole of the practical divinity was being challenged by tub preachers, itinerant spiritualists, and a handful of university-trained ministers. Catholic and Arminian versions of justification remained a menace, so much so in the case of Arminianism that John Owen addressed it in the first of his many books, A Display of Arminianisme (1643). Thomas Hooker did so as well in the revised version of The Application of Redemption (1657) that he drafted in Connecticut. The newer enemies included a theological package known as Socinianism. Even though its appeal was limited to a few English ministers and lay intellectuals, the Socinian version of the Trinity threatened the foundations of orthodoxy. By the mid-1640s, a Holy Spirit-centered understanding of conversion and assurance (nicknamed “Antinomianism”) had also acquired a new group of advocates who hailed it as an alternative to the practical divinity.
Orthodoxy had constantly spawned renegades and outliers who tested its boundaries.4 Now, however, originality was becoming more widespread and controversy more intense in response to a mixture of political and intellectual circumstances that included the collapse of censorship. How the practical (p.302) divinity was being assailed and defended are topics that lead us to the Antinomians of mid-century, the Westminster Confession, and the reasoning of ministers such as Samuel Rutherford on behalf of orthodoxy. In section 2, this chapter revisits the Antinomian controversy that roiled mid-1630s Massachusetts. Here, too, debate was prompted by criticism of the practical divinity. A concluding section describes change and continuity in institutional and cultural practices in the orthodox colonies in New England.
Decline, Persistence, and Alternatives: The Practical Divinity at Mid-Century
Were catechisms our only source for assessing continuity or disruption, continuity would prevail. No matter who wrote them, these were more alike than different. In New England, Shepard and John Cotton published their versions of the genre in the 1640s, and Cotton’s Milk for Babes (1646) would enjoy a long life as part of a widely used schoolbook. Henry Jessey, the English semi-Separatist turned Baptist, waited until 1652 to publish his catechism, which may not have been reprinted. Jessey tilted toward the “spiritualist” end of the spectrum and the moderate nonconformist John Ball toward the more corporate or institutional in his much-reprinted A Short Catechism (c. 1615). Yet no godly reader of these books seems to have regarded either of them troubling or controversial. At this level of teaching, consensus prevailed on the basic points of doctrine.5
Catechisms were meant to be conventional in the sense of building on each other. So were formal creeds. The Lambeth Articles of 1595, which the Church of England had never endorsed, passed into the Irish Articles of 1615. In turn, these influenced the making of the Westminster Confession, which became the principal source of A Declaration of the Faith and Order Owned and practiced in the Congregational Churches in England (1658), or Savoy Declaration. For that matter, the Baptist confession of 1644/46 was more alike than different from Westminster and its companions. Despite the battering that Reformed orthodoxy underwent at the hands of Laudians and, after 1640, from sectaries of various persuasions, these documents suggest that godly clergy in Britain and New England (where a local synod endorsed the Westminster Confession) continued to preach a British version of Reformed orthodoxy.6
This was not always articulated in the same manner, however, or with the same emphases. From day one, the makers of the practical divinity were of different minds about which system of logic was better, some preferring Aristotle’s and others the method of dichotomies introduced by the French Huguenot Peter Ramus. Arminianism in any strict sense of the term was shunned, yet by 1620 a handful of ministers in Britain favored a “hypothetical universalism” that tempered the doctrine of a limited atonement.7 More in private than in public, people were also pondering the relationship between divine sovereignty (p.303) and the effectual call as it was transmitted by the preaching of the Word. Meanwhile, a handful of ministers within the Reformed international were adjusting some aspects of doctrine. The Scottish theologian John Cameron, who taught in Huguenot seminaries in France, was an early advocate of hypothetical universalism. His arguments influenced the Huguenot minister and theologian Moise Amyraut (1596–1664), who, when questioned by the French Reformed church in the 1620s, cloaked himself in quotations from Calvin to keep his critics at bay.8
Before 1640, the British side of this story has been characterized as a “series of debates and disputations, carried on in person or through the exchange of position papers and articles,” although “London’s Antinomian controversy” (c. 1629–33) was a good deal noisier. Aside from this long-running dispute, William Twisse’s objections to John Cotton’s tinkering with predestination (see chap. 4), and an uneasiness with the hypothetical universalism of ministers such as John Preston, the men who taught or preached the practical divinity seem to have tolerated the second thoughts of Richard Sibbes and Ezekiel Culverwell about some of its themes (see chap. 4). On the other hand, the emergence of anti-Calvinism (see chap. 7) was making many people nervous. When Prynne stumbled on the Marian martyr John Bradford’s assertion that “our owne wilfulnesse, sinne, and contemning of Christ, are the causes of Reprobation,” he hastened to gloss it as a reference to a “later work this is only a second cause not first cause which is the will of God.”9 A similar anxiety colored Thomas Hooker’s preface to John Rogers’s The Doctrine of Faith (1626). Hooker urged the book’s readers to interpret what Rogers said about the “means of faith”—specifically, his assertion that “a saving contribution” happened “before” faith—with “a judicious and fair construction,” in which case “it will be found to be beyond exception.” Do “not boggle or start” at a “contradiction” between “sorrow” as a “fruit of faith” and its role as a condition, Hooker advised.10
The challenges that exploded in the 1640s and 1650s were more aggressively articulated and more threatening, especially once it became clear that the Blasphemy Act of 1648 and its successor of 1650 were ineffective. The English Independent John Goodwin did the unthinkable. In the mid-1640s, he began to advocate an Arminian understanding of redemption and a strong version of liberty of conscience. Worse yet, Socinianism acquired its first English advocates. Others who were characterized as “libertines and Antinomians” seized upon a weak point in the practical divinity, its emphasis on law-driven repentance, and promised to liberate the godly by the message of “free grace.” Less noticed, but intriguing from the standpoint of worship and the role of the church as means of grace, Prynne and a few allies began to argue that the Lord’s Supper was a “converting” ordinance, Prynne doing so in 1645 in Foure Serious Questions … concerning Excommunication and Suspension from the Sacrament. Because he favored an inclusive state church supervised (p.304) by the civil state, he employed this argument to dispute the model endorsed by Independents and sectaries. In the 1650s, John Owen and Richard Baxter came to blows over justification, among other matters. In Scotland, Robert Leighton was voicing his doubts about the theological method favored by his colleagues and their reliance on a covenant-centered theology.11
What was so threatening about Socinianism and Antinomianism? Antinomianism as a way of understanding the relationship between grace and the law was nothing new. Martin Luther had encountered it in the publications of his fellow Protestant Johannes Agricola, who insisted that the Gospel made the law and the duties associated with it irrelevant. (Antinomianism derives from the Greek for “against or exempt from the law.”) Although strongly favoring free grace, Luther eventually broke with Agricola. In early seventeenth-century England, a tiny “underground” of godly ministers had resurrected this dispute in response to the emphasis within the practical divinity on the pertinence of the law to the elect and the paradox of assigning “duties” or human endeavor a role alongside the divine decree in the order of salvation. For members of this underground such as John Eaton, another weak point was an emphasis on sanctification as evidence of justification. He insisted that justification—the stage of the golden chain in which the righteousness of Christ was “imputed” to the elect—made those people “free from sin in the sight of God.”12 In the 1640s this argument reemerged, its presence promptly publicized by the London minister John Sedgwick in Antinomianisme Anatomized; Or, A Glasse for the lawlesse, who deny the ruling use of the Morall Law (1643). Mid-decade, the heresiographers were tagging a handful of writers with this term, a group that included the ministers John Saltmarsh, Tobias Crisp, and William Dell.13
These three were all too real to their critics, but the dead or the absent (or the imagined) also colored the polemics aroused by these men and lay sectaries of similar sentiments, especially when London booksellers began to print books by Eaton, Robert Towne, and other members of the “Antinomian” underground of circa 1610–30. Documents from theological controversy in mid-1630s Massachusetts were fuel to this fire once a London bookseller published A Short Story of the Rise, Reigne, and Ruine of the late Antinomians, Familists and Libertines (1644). Here, for the first time, English readers learned of Anne Hutchinson’s “revelations,” the “errours” identified by the synod of 1637, and two monster births, hers and Mary Dyer’s. Soon, the radical bookseller Giles Calvert was publishing other documents that originated in New England.14
Via the Short Story and the publicizing of local examples, a spasm of anxiety about Antinomianism swept through British Protestantism. Detached from precise theological definition and laden with connotations about amoral excess, the term aroused a dismay among the orthodox that Richard Baxter, among others, exploited to the hilt. The actual number of so-called Antinomians was minuscule. But as Thomas Edwards admitted, the more he dramatized the hydra-headed monster of “libertinism” he paired with Antinomianism, the (p.305) more he aided the cause of those who opposed liberty of conscience.15 Exaggerating the presence of Socinianism served the same purpose. This term designated the theological speculations of the late sixteenth-century Italian Protestant Fausto Sozzini (Latinized as Socinius), who found a haven in Poland. Socinius was an advocate of human reason as the means for understanding Scripture and the God it revealed. What made him notorious was the assertion that Christ was not created co-equal with God. A formal statement of this anti-Trinitarianism, the Racovian Catechism (1609 in Latin), circulated in Europe but not, it seems, in Britain despite being dedicated to James I, who ordered it burned. Thereafter, Socinian-related texts trickled into academic settings via the Dutch Arminian Hugo Grotius, among others.16
Noted in fast-day sermons of the early 1640s, this alternative was forcefully denounced by Francis Cheynell, a nonconformist in the 1630s and subsequently a member of the Westminster Assembly, in The Rise, Growth and Danger of Socinianisme (1643). Cheynell continued to search for signs of Socinianism and Arminianism throughout the 1640s. He and his fellow heresy hunters cornered their quarry in 1647 when two English anti-Trinitarians, each a university graduate, went public with their ideas. In Mysteries Discovered (1647), Paul Best, whose “Blasphemous opinions” had already caught the eye of the Westminster Assembly, characterized orthodox doctrine as a species of mystification. Simultaneously, John Biddle published Twelve Arguments …, Wherein the Deity of the Holy Ghost is Clearly and Fully Refuted. Biddle may also have arranged the first English printing (1652) of the Racovian Catechism, the same year in which John Milton in his role as regulator of the press licensed the printing of a Latin version that alarmed the Rump, which ordered it burned; previously, the Long Parliament had treated Biddle’s Twelve Arguments in the same manner. Both men were also threatened with execution.17
Loosely used, “Socinianism” designated a vein of anti-Calvinism that relied on reason as the means of resolving theological disputes. In the 1630s, speculation along these lines flourished in what became known as the Great Tew Circle, a coterie of university-trained ministers and writers that met at the house of Lucas Cary, Lord Falkland, in Great Tew, a village outside Oxford. A royalist who died at the battle of Newbury in 1643, Falkland was described as someone willing to inquire into “controversies” in religion without regard to what any state church, including his own, regarded as orthodox doctrine. In his own words, he preferred “reason” to “infallibility” as the means of arriving at “Truth.” Up to a point, the makers of the practical divinity accepted a role for “reason” in biblical hermeneutics and theological argument. For the Great Tew group, however, the “light of reason” was aligned with a skepticism about the value of grand schemes of theology. In the overheated atmosphere of the 1640s and 1650s, reason also appealed to these men as an alternative to spiritual ecstasy. The name they assigned to ecstatic encounters with the Holy Spirit was “enthusiasm,” or mistaking as God-like what was merely natural and (p.306) therefore a delusion. As well, these men deployed reason to refute the canons of Dordt and especially the doctrine of predestination, which they rejected out of hand.18
William Chillingworth (1602–44), a key figure in the Great Tew community and someone Francis Cheynell targeted in his campaign against Socinianism, laid out the case for a simplified, post-Calvinist Protestantism in The Religion of Protestants: A Safe Way to Salvation (1637). Famous long after his death for insisting that “the Bible, and the Bible only” was the basis of Protestantism, an argument directed at a Catholic theologian he was debating, Chillingworth endorsed free inquiry in matters of religion. Properly used, it would enable the enlightened to separate mere “fancies” from the essentials of the Christian faith on which all reasonable men could agree. These assumptions validated the “right of private judgment,” as contrasted with the coercion he associated with orthodoxy. And, in keeping with Socinianism, Chillingworth and his friends emphasized the ethical aspects of Christianity. In the back-and-forth between conformist and Puritan at mid-century, ministers who, much later, would be characterized as “Anglicans” were voicing a similar understanding of true Christianity as “inward,” peace-promoting, and in harmony with a divinely created order.19
Socinianism in any of its versions was frightening because it threatened the foundations of orthodoxy. Mid-century Antinomianism was frightening because the men who took it up had previously adhered to the practical divinity. Theirs was a critique from inside, as it were, a critique fashioned out of personal and pastoral experience, a close reading of the Bible, and possibly their encounters with Eaton, Luther, Sibbes, and others. Out of their reflections came an alternative understanding of the law, justification, and assurance of salvation.
The testimony of John Saltmarsh, the most widely read of the mid-century English Antinomians, was typical. A parish minister until, by his own account, a twelve-year time of darkness and a “festering conscience” prompted him to shake off the “legal” aspects of the practical divinity, Saltmarsh put his newfound Antinomianism—a designation he repudiated, as did Crisp—on display in a series of books that included Free Grace: Or the flowings of Christs blood freely to sinners (1647) and Sparkles of Glory; Or, Some Beams of the Morning-Star (1647). Tobias Crisp (d. 1643) started out as a conventional preacher of the practical divinity but by 1640 was taking a different path. His objections to what he regarded as a law-bound system were not published until the final year of his life, when a London bookseller brought out Christ Alone Exalted (1643), reprinted in an expanded version in 1691. The layman Henry Denne also weighed in with Seven Arguments to prove, that in the order of working God doth justifie his elect, before they doe actually believe (1643).20
If we can trust what Saltmarsh said of his own spiritual history, he turned against the core premises of the practical divinity not because he encountered (p.307) Luther or Eaton but because its strictures about repentance in response to the law made him feel hopelessly burdened. Somehow, he found his way to a simple argument: Christ did everything for those to whom he imparted grace, taking on the guilt for their sins and assuring them by his presence that they would never suffer a crisis akin to what he himself had endured. Saltmarsh filled out this argument in several ways. He began by setting aside the Old Testament as too “legal.” Contradicting the principle that its core themes of sin, covenant, and the law were included within the covenant of grace, he insisted that a new dispensation of the Holy Spirit was unfolding that made the “law” irrelevant. He and Crisp were also averse to any talk of conditions. As veterans of the practical divinity, both had encountered the rule that the effectual call, or vocation, depended in some way on faith and repentance. Not so, they argued. Christ welcomed everyone to the kingdom, including those who were the worst of sinners and had not prepared themselves to receive the promise. Faith could not be a condition of justification, which was complete in and of itself before faith came along, the doing of Christ without regard to anything in sinners themselves. Another mistake of the practical divinity was the argument that righteousness or sanctification should be used as evidence of justification. The danger in doing so was obvious, the likelihood that sinners would become overly confident and never truly experience the workings of the Holy Spirit.
Saltmarsh reiterated his objections to law-based preaching in a brief letter that Henry Jessey included in The exceeding Riches of Grace Advanced By the Spirit of Grace, in an Empty Nothing Creature, viz. Mris. Sarah Wight (1647). An adolescent girl in a pious family, Wight experienced “terrors … for sinning against light, against God, and against a parent” and descended into “despair,” a condition she eventually overcame thanks to the counseling of visitors such as Jessey and her visionary experiences of a loving Christ. Likening him to a “filling fountaine … never dry” and insisting that “free Grace” and the “Teaching of the Spirit” were enabling her to find new messages in the Bible, she began to counsel others who were suffering from despair. Her advice to a “Gentlewoman” who could not believe she was justified was to ignore “the means” and receive the Christ who truly “sympathizes with sinners.” Summarizing the spiritual freedom Wight attained, Saltmarsh detected “two things very experimentall” in her spiritual history, the first of these a “legall” situation when she had been “in bondage, in blackness, and darkness, and tempest,” and the second, “her more Gospel condition,” when “God … reveales himself in Christ, in his grace and love, [and] the Spirit of the Christian is sweetly … cheered.” Wight was living proof of what it was like to suffer from a misplaced emphasis on the law and, after being liberated from its grip, of encountering the grace provided by a loving Christ.21
This reasoning was nonsense to Samuel Rutherford, whose credentials as a Spirit-centered writer were impeccable. Amid controversy in 1630s Scotland about kneeling at communion, he had counseled someone that “Sanctification (p.308) will settle you most in the truth.” Advice of this kind suited a situation in which outward behavior had become politicized. Now, however, the imperative was to reaffirm the presence of the Spirit and, simultaneously, the importance of a sanctified life. In The Trial and Triumph of Faith (1645), he celebrated the loving Christ who, “fountain”-like, poured out grace on unworthy sinners and, in A Survey of the Spirituall Antichrist (1648), extolled the “pure and immediate assurances that floweth from the witnesse of the Spirit.” Yet in contrast to Crisp and Saltmarsh, he linked free grace with doing or activity. As he remarked in the opening pages of The Trial and Triumph of Faith, “Christ’s love is liberal, but yet it must be sued.” According to another Antinomian-like premise, which he may have come upon in A Short Story, “there can be no closing with Christ, in a promise that hath a qualification or condition expressed.” Realizing that this argument eliminated preparation for salvation, Rutherford replied that “Christ actually calleth and saveth, but those who are … prepared.” As well, he counseled “holy walking” and relying on “duties” as remedies for those moments when the elect felt abandoned by God. His central argument concerned the golden chain. Even though nothing done by way of preparation was “deserving” of God’s favor, the work of redemption unfolded according to a “way” or system in which divine sovereignty or free grace coexisted with conditions that included repentance and faith. Quoting Scripture, he insisted that “we cannot be justified before we believe.”22 In a follow-up assault on Saltmarsh and others of the same persuasion, Rutherford revisited the writings of Eaton and Luther as well as confronting Saltmarsh directly. According to one of the arguments he was disputing, the elect received a “pure and immediate assurance” via the “witnesse of the Spirit.” Not so, he argued, for assurance was always connected to the Word and never exempt from self-doubt.23
Of the many who joined Rutherford in denouncing what they took to be Antinomianism, two examples must suffice. In Prima, The First Things, In reference to the Middle & Last Things: Or, The Doctrine of Regeneration, the New Birth, The very beginning of a Godly life (1650), Isaac Ambrose directed his description of the new birth at anyone who questioned repentance or “preparation” as a prelude to justification. Ambrose acknowledged Tobias Crisp’s objections to “duties” detached in some manner from Christ, but insisted on a “power” from God to perform “gospel-duties,” chief among them “watchfulness.” Just how much duties mattered for him was clear from his insistence on tying the “new birth” to self-examination guided by the Ten Commandments. Unusually, he quoted Thomas Hooker on “preparation” and Shepard’s Sincere Convert (1640) for its description of the preparatory stage Shepard had termed “humiliation.” To explain why free grace was accompanied by conditions, he resorted to the modalities of time or cause-and-effect-like sequences (including the “order of nature”) that mediated the work of redemption. Summarizing this framework, he insisted that “causes which produce an (p.309) effect, though they be in time together, yet are mutually before one another in order of nature in divers respects to their several causalities. Thus a man must have repentance before he have saving and justifying faith; and yet a man must have faith before the work of repentance be perfect in the soul.” Returning to the relationship between repentance and faith a little later in Prima, Ambrose agreed that the law “shewes” the sinner “no remedy.” Yet he insisted that “we abolish not the Law, in ascribing this comfort to the Gospel onely; though it be no cause of it, yet … those doleful terrours, and fears of conscience begotten by the Law … are certain occasions of grace.”24
The most persistent of Saltmarsh’s critics was Thomas Gataker, a well-regarded older minister and theologian who served in the Westminster Assembly. When he realized that Saltmarsh had characterized his version of Reformed orthodoxy as implicitly Antinomian, Gataker responded in pithy books that mocked the “short work” Saltmarsh and others were making of belief (or conversion). Singling out the assertion that justification lifted them out of the category of sinner, Gataker reiterated the commonplace that the elect continued to sin and therefore must repent. He insisted, too, that faith was “required” for justification. As so many others were doing, he painted a picture of moral and spiritual chaos that schemes such as Saltmarsh’s would permit. In a more personal vein, Gataker complained of the insults Saltmarsh rained on people like himself, chief among them the epithet of “legalist.”25
Debate about the relationship between law and grace (or Holy Spirit) flared up anew in the 1690s and again during the evangelical revivals of the eighteenth century. Yet in revolutionary Britain there was reason to hope that these matters had been resolved by the Westminster Confession. When the assembly first met in July 1643, its primary task was to ensure that the taint of Arminianism had been scrubbed from the Thirty-Nine Articles. Before long, the willingness of booksellers to print what had previously circulated in manuscript or been suppressed made it imperative to defend orthodoxy from enemies both old and new. As the Scottish General Assembly of 1647 pointed out after the Confession had been completed, it would be “a speciall means for the more effectuall suppressing of the many dangerous errours and heresies of these times.”26
Of the Confession’s thirty-three chapters, the most explicitly political was the twentieth, “Of Christian Liberty, and Liberty of Conscience,” which affirmed the legitimacy of “lawful power … whether it be civil or ecclesiastical” to preserve the “known principles of Christianity.” Liberty of conscience was contingent, not absolute; anyone who turned “liberty” against “the external peace and order” of the church should be “proceed[ed] against, by the censure of the Church, and by the power of the civil magistrate.” This point made, the substance of the Confession emphasized the sovereignty of God in a manner that disposed of Arminianism. And, in the sections on the effectual call, assurance, and the law, it reaffirmed the classic teachings of the practical divinity.
(p.310) The wording of chapter 3 of the Confession (“Of Gods Eternal Decree”) echoed the response to Arminianism in the Irish Articles of 1615.27 What was said about the timing and substance of the decree was in the same vein: enacted “before the foundation of the World was laid” and the doing of God’s “free grace and love, without any foresight of faith, or good works … or any other thing in the creature, as conditions, or causes moving Him thereunto.” God had also “foreordained all the means” that accompanied the divine decree. On the other hand, the chapter acknowledged that a decree dating from eternity was situated within the time frame of the “effectual call” when the elect would be “called unto faith in Christ … in due season.” According to chapter 5 (“Of Providence”), “second causes” came into play during God’s “ordinary providence” and in the effectual call, when God “maketh use of means.” In Protestant scholasticism, “ordinary” signaled an alternative to an unmediated or “absolute” version of God’s sovereignty; as had been said for decades (see chap. 4), God of His own free will had chosen to implement the divine decree through “means” or instruments instead of interacting with humankind directly.
Several pages later (chap. 7), the Confession reiterated the idiom of covenant and, in a gesture directed against Antinomian hermeneutics, confirmed the presence of the covenant of grace in both testaments, although more fully effective in the New. As well, the chapter specified that the covenant of grace was “dispensed” via “ordinances” that included the “preaching of the Word” and the sacraments.28 The door thus opened to the Word and its place within the golden chain, chapter 10 (“Of Effectual Calling”) cited the two modes of time noted in chapter 3: eternity, when “God … predestinated unto life” the elect before the Fall, and “His appointed and accepted time” when the elect were “drawn to Christ,” an assertion rephrased in chapter 11.3, where justification was represented as the free act of God existing from “all eternity” but also occurring in “due time” when the Holy Spirit “doth … actually apply Christ” to the elect (emphasis added).29
With Arminianism disposed of and space having been made available for preachers of the Word to elicit faith and repentance, the makers of the Confession turned their attention to Antinomian-like themes. In a back-and-forth about justification and preparation (October 1643), members of the Westminster Assembly wrestled with the sequences of the golden chain, one possibility being that “some workes [of preparation] … goe before Justification and repentance” and that “faith [was] in order to conversion.” Or did “vocation” precede justification? There were those—William Twisse among them—who agreed that the “law” was crucial to “preparation for grace” but underscored the importance of characterizing the elect as “merely passive” as this stage was unfolding. On the general point that preparation was not saving, everyone agreed. Yet other members of the assembly insisted that “justification doth follow upon believing.” In the text of the Confession (chap. 11), faith became an (p.311) “instrument” that was “ever accompanied with all other saving graces,” a jab at any severing of the divine decree from moral righteousness. A little later (chap. 14), faith and justification were linked again, with faith described as the process of “accepting, receiving, and resting upon Christ alone for justification.”30 In chapter 16, “good works, done in obedience to Gods commands” become “the fruits and evidences of a true and lively faith,” although the makers of the Confession emphasized that all such fruits were the work of the Holy Spirit.
When the assembly turned to describing assurance (chap. 18), the several layers of the practical divinity became visible: hypocrites can deceive themselves and assurance itself can be “shaken, diminished, and intermitted” and could entail “many difficulties,” yet it was also “infallible,” testified to by “inward evidence” and the “testimony of the Spirit of adoption.” (That faith could be “weak or strong” was acknowledged in chap. 14.) Although God might withdraw and leave the elect in “darkness,” assurance could be regained. All the while, its presence was bound up with “the right use of ordinary means,” a proposition tied to 2 Peter 1:10, “give diligence to make your calling and election sure.” Another antidote to Antinomian-style perfectionism was the assertion in Philippians 2:12 to “work out your salvation with fear and trembling.” The final retort concerned the law (chap. 19), which the Confession endorsed as a means of spurring the elect to humble themselves for sin and regain God’s favor—sin, of course, never having vanished from the lives of the elect. Contrary to what Saltmarsh and others were alleging, repentance was imperative, a point underscored in chapter 15, where it was described as “of such necessity … that none may expect pardon without it.”31
Read end to end, the Confession was a pitch-perfect summary of how divine sovereignty and unconditional election were paired with the mediating aspects of its “application”—in human time via the Word as means of grace and, on the part of the elect themselves, via faith, repentance, and sanctification. The crucial words in this synthesis were the words “actually,” “apply” and “means.” In the Scottish theologian David Dickson’s commentary on the Confession, he pointed out that justification remained abstract until, by the agency of Christ through the Word, it was “applied” to the elect. To the question “Are the elect justified, until the Holy Spirit in due time actually apply Christ to them?” his answer was no—based, in his commentary, on Scripture passages indicating that “none are justified until they believe in Christ.” In his scheme, faith reappeared as the “instrument” of justification and flowed seamlessly into “all other saving graces.”32
With an eye on Antinomians who, in his words, were insisting that repentance “ought not to be preached … seeing it leads us away from Christ, and is many ways hurtful and dangerous,” Dickson tagged it as an “evangelical grace,” which Christ and the apostles “preached … no less than faith.” Where there was faith and (evangelical) repentance, there was also sanctification—an always imperfect sanctification, but nonetheless a Spirit-filled process of “growth (p.312) in grace.” Dickson was emphatic about the irrelevance of “works” to the effectual call. Even so, they remained “fruits and evidences of a true and lively faith” that enabled anyone who “walk[ed] in all good conscience before” Christ to be “certainly assured” of being in a state of grace. He reached back to the Old Testament for verses to validate what he characterized as a “bundle” comprising, on the one hand, Christ’s promise to pardon sinners and, on the other, the “new heart” manifested in faith and sanctification. The minister Adam Martindale summed up this bundle in Divinity-Knots Unloosed (1649): “Saving faith (though it be not a cause) is a fruit of election, for God hath respect to the means, as well as the end, and conjoyneth them in his decree.”33
Whether a synthesis of this kind should be labeled “Calvinism,” as it often is, may seem appropriate if we single out what the Confession said about divine sovereignty, the Atonement, and unmerited grace.34 Yet a more encompassing inventory would include themes and arguments that seem less distinctively Calvinistic. The integrity of the divine decree mattered to the makers of the Confession, but so did heart-centered piety and repentance-driven righteousness. For them, true religion was always affective or inward as well as outward or duty-bound. Pattern, not edicts delivered from afar, was how God worked in the world, a pattern that fused the sovereignty of God with the capacity of humans as “rational creatures” to respond voluntarily to the gospel promise of grace. To anyone who objected that the practical divinity was “legal” or deterministic, the response was straightforward: a space existed in the economy of redemption for the “preparatory” workings of the law and the repentance that God expected of the elect. What seemed “legal”—in particular, repentance under the law as a doorway to faith—was really an aspect of the Gospel.
This “bundle” did not satisfy everyone in mid-century Britain who taught the practical divinity or grew up in its shadow. The ink was barely dry on the text before debate resumed about the workings of redemption, the meaning of the sacraments, and much else. That some of its wording was problematic was signaled in 1658 when the Independents responsible for the Savoy Declaration (see chap. 8) approved the Confession but modified aspects of its wording to eliminate “some erroneous opinions” or provide “clearer explanations.” The covenantal framework of Westminster survived alongside a modest addition, as did what was said about double predestination, God’s “ordinary Providence” and the “Means” or stages—effectual calling, adoption, sanctification and faith—to which, however, the Declaration attached the point that saving faith was always “in the least degree of it” different from “common grace.” More substantial interventions occurred in chapter 15 (“Of Repentance unto Life”) in order to emphasize the role of “saving Repentance” and the need for “constant preaching” of it. This retort to Antinomianism was followed in chapter 20 by another to Arminian-or Socinian-like arguments on behalf of “mens natural abilities.” Perhaps because John Owen was doing battle with Richard (p.313) Baxter, this chapter was revised to underscore the “irresistible work of the holy Ghost” (p. 388).35
Owen’s and Baxter’s dispute dated from 1649, when Baxter questioned Owen’s high Calvinism in his first book, Aphorisms of Justification.36 The two men confronted each other in person in 1654 when Owen and others arranged a meeting of “able and Godly Divines” to clarify the clauses on religion in the Instrument of Government of December 1653. The group included Owen, Stephen Marshall, Francis Cheynell, and Baxter, who was added after James Ussher was unable to attend. As Baxter recalled, Owen wanted a confession of faith to fill out what was meant by “the Christian religion” in article 35 of the Thirty-Nine Articles and “faith in God by Jesus Christ” in article 36. Most of the group agreed with him that the time had come to clarify the boundaries of orthodoxy via a creed. Baxter was the naysayer. In Aphorismes of Justification, he had endorsed the “simplicity” of the gospel message as the best means of achieving “concord” or peace among British Protestants, and in The Saints Everlasting Rest (1650, rev. 1651), he extolled those who avoided the “extreams in the controverted points of Religion.” Now, in 1654, he insisted anew that being too specific on every point of doctrine would fan the flames of discord.37
What made agreement between Baxter and Owen less likely was their mutual distrust. Baxter felt that Owen’s emphasis on divine sovereignty could mutate into Antinomianism. He also distrusted creed-based orthodoxy because it could impede the goal of Christian unity or “concord,” an objective Baxter described in Christian Concord: or the Agreement of the Associated Pastors and Churches of Worcestershire, With Rich. Baxter’s Exposition and Defence of It (1653). Hence his preference for a Bible-centered faith on which everyone could agree, a stance he owed in part to Chillingworth’s The Religion of Protestants.38 On the other hand, Owen had cut his theological teeth as a critic of Arminianism and never stopped emphasizing the sovereignty of God, a sovereignty visible and, at the same time, invisible or mysterious in the work of redemption. In keeping with this understanding of God’s action in the world, he insisted that sinners could not resist the offer of free grace and, in his version of the golden chain, put faith after justification whereas Baxter did the opposite. Once Owen turned to curtailing Antinomianism, he extolled the transformative effects of the Holy Spirit and its bearing on assurance of salvation.39
Despite Baxter’s reputation for being too close to Arminianism,40 he may have been the better witness to the consequences of the practical divinity. His personal history was living proof that its model of religious experience could make people more anxious, not less. As he noted in a retrospective account of his conversion, the journey he followed did not line up with the conventional language of stages—first this, then that—he had encountered in sermon series (p.314) by the likes of Thomas Hooker. In his words, “I could not decisively trace the Workings of the Spirit upon my heart in that method which Mr. Bolton, Mr. Hooker, Mr. Rogers, and other Divines describe! Nor knew the Time of my Conversion.” Yet Baxter was famously evangelical, an aspect of his ministry that explains the enduring appeal of The Saints Everlasting Rest. Asked for advice by someone on what to preach, he responded with a terse summary: “dwell much on the fundamentall truths, about sin, misery, redemption, the nature & way of conversion.”41
His was not an idiosyncratic history, for others who disdained Antinomianism were complaining that too much importance was being given to “duties.” In Robert Blair’s autobiography, the Scottish minister described a season of spiritual strain he attributed to this emphasis and, at a later moment, reminded himself that “the diligent use of the means and ordinances” should not be the “object of our faith.” Someone else who had second thoughts about duties was John Winthrop. Shaken by what he was hearing in mid-1630s Boston about their irrelevance to assurance of salvation, Winthrop wrote a description of his spiritual history from the time he was a schoolboy in England, a history shaped by his quest for a “sure and settled peace.” What he remembered from his youth was the importance of “watchfulness” or, as he noted in retrospect, using “strict observance of all duties” as the doorway to peace. Along the way, he had also absorbed the “doctrine of free justification” and the importance of “love of the brethren” as a sign of inward grace. Possibly the most telling lesson was hearing that “a reprobate might (in appearance) attain to as much as I had done,” a Perkinsian point John Cotton was reiterating in new-world Boston. Taken aback by what his own minister was saying, Winthrop wondered if it were “too late to begin anew.” The heart of the problem was justification. In his words, the “doctrine of free justification lately taught here [in Massachusetts] took me in as drowsy a condition as I had been … these twenty years.” Nonetheless, he concluded the narrative by affirming an experimental awareness of divine love.42
These testimonies make Saltmarsh’s story of despair followed by an awakening to the glories of free grace more understandable, a story amplified in the narratives of two English women who became Baptists, Jane Turner and Anna Trapnel. Each recounted an escape from duty-centered religion in printed books, Turner in Choice Experiences of The kind dealings of God before, in, and after Conversion … Whereunto is added a description of true Experience (1653) and Trapnel in A Legacy for Saints; Being Several Experiences of the dealings of God with Anna Trapnel (1654). Trapnel’s book was one of a series of texts rushed into print by allies who knew of the abuse directed at her by the more orthodox, who feasted on the visionary who saw angels and heard God speaking to her, the Trapnel publicized in The Cry of a Stone (1654). In A Legacy, a more matter-of-fact Trapnel walked her readers through a process of recovery (p.315) from the burdens of the “law.” Early in her spiritual journey, she accepted the argument that the covenant of grace came with conditions. Unable to discern whether she had met these, she “ran from Minister to Minister, from Sermon to Sermon, but … could find no rest.” Fearing she had been “shut out from Christ” and unware of “the witness of the Spirit,” she moved in that direction after realizing that Christ was indifferent to her works, a lesson she absorbed from ministers who “taught … the doctrine of free grace.” From them she also learned that “there is free grace enough, an ocean, to swallow up [or] .. a fountain open for all manner of sins.” Now she understood that the “new Covenant … admits of no condition, nor qualification, nor preparation.” Soon, she was rejoicing in the presence of the seal of the Spirit and simultaneously insisting that the doctrine of free grace never offered “liberty to sin,” a retort to Thomas Edwards and the many others who tagged the message of free grace as a doorway to libertinism.43
According to Turner’s self-description, she owed a “fear” of sin to her family, which also taught her an understanding of “religion” aligned with the Book of Common Prayer. She remembered how, in this phase of her life, she took for granted that “the more I abounded in fasting, book prayer, and … mourning and afflicting my self for sin, the better it was.” She had not yet learned that “truth” must be “seated in the heart,” a lesson Turner absorbed from the preaching of an unnamed minister (seemingly a Puritan) who used “the Law” to convince her of sin. In response, she became “as exact and strict in all my waies (I think I may say) as it was possible for a poor creature to be.” Doing so made her miserable until she came under the influence of people who taught her to depend entirely on a loving Christ. Now she understood that the “old covenant” or “Legal righteousnesse … is a great obstruction to the carrying on, and perfecting” of “conversion.”44
These narratives were akin to what others were saying in the 1640s and the 1650s—for example, Obadiah Holmes in New England and the members of John Rogers’s short-lived congregation in Dublin. None of the people who testified in Dublin were Antinomians in any meaningful sense of that term. On the other hand, most had moved beyond the traditional framework of the practical divinity, which they regarded as ascribing too much importance to “Forms.” According to Thomas Higgins, he had been “formal” to the point of descending into “darkness” and “despair” until a sudden encounter with the Spirit altered his relationship to Christ. Elizabeth Avery had suffered greatly from the deaths of three of her young children, yet was lifted into “full assurance” after “God came in upon my Spirit.” Like Higgins, Humphrey Mills had been an exemplary Christian who spent “three years together wounded for sins, and under a sense of my corruptions … and I followed Sermons, pursuing the means, and was constant in duties … and so precise in all outward formalities” until he realized the insignificance of outward righteousness and (p.316) began to have a more immediate experience of the living Christ. When Rogers himself testified, he remembered being afraid of hell and the devil until the presence of the Spirit filled him with love.45
These stories contradicted the “bundle” so carefully assembled by the makers of the practical divinity and the Westminster Confession, as did the religious histories of the women and men who, in the 1650s, embraced the “inner light” discerned by George Fox.46 To tens of thousands of others, however, this bundle continued to shape their understanding of the “pathway” to salvation. Blair, for one, returned to it after his season of self-doubt, Archibald Johnston never wavered, and Stedman wrested with its prescriptions in England and Massachusetts. Of the many witnesses to the persistence of this model, the most interesting may be John Bunyan. In Grace Abounding to the Chief of Sinners (1666), he recalled how, as a boy and young man, he had ignored the message of “watchfulness” and become something of a rake. Other than the Bible, which he finally began to read, the only books he seems to have owned reached him via his wife’s dowry, two chapbook versions of The Plain Mans Path-way to Heaven and The Practice of Piety. Whether it was hearing sermons, reading the Bible, or learning from the example of godly people he encountered, Bunyan found his way to a sense of himself as “a great and grievous sinner.” Later, he began to practice an “outward reformation” that others likened to a conversion, though in his own eyes he remained a “poor painted hypocrite.” Much later, hearing of the new birth and the effectual call, he was encouraged by Christ’s words “Come to me” and begged him to enact a real conversion. All the while, he had a sense of himself as “more loathsome … than a toad.” Eventually he found his way to “truth”—crucially, that true faith is utterly different from that which is feigned and that Christ was reaching out in love. The more he pondered Scripture and listened to sermons, the more he realized that God’s “severe” ways of dealing with the elect were intermingled with great “kindness and mercy.” Unlike Anna Trapnel and the Quakers, however, the Bunyan of Grace Abounding never achieved “certitude” or allowed the workings of the Holy Spirit to become detached from the Word. As a modern scholar noted, “Comforting feelings are not the final message” of the book.47
Bunyan’s may seem an unusually prolonged quest. Yet it becomes less extreme if we remember that the makers of the practical divinity regarded conversion as lifelong. A “first conversion” was merely the starting point for a process of self-examination and attending to “the means of grace.” For Rutherford, Ambrose, Gataker and the authors of the Westminster Confession, this process was inherently social and outward. Instead of being averse to “Forms,” the pathway to redemption was stuffed with means of grace—the sacraments, the Word as preached, Scripture, catechisms, other holy books, spiritual counsel, the routines of devotion. Churches or congregations of the faithful were also involved as agents of edification. As well, households and especially mothers (p.317) played a role, a point Ambrose emphasized in his summary of “family duties” that included teaching children a catechism and how to practice “watchfulness.” Like his fellow ministers, Ambrose was sanctioning a model of conversion tied to God’s instituted (or institutionalized) presence in the means. Doubt figured in this system, and possibly terror and the challenge of deciphering the many “signs” of Christ’s absence and presence. Above all, however, this was a system.48
Hence, for Ambrose, Rutherford, Dickson, Gataker, and many others, their confidence in the continuity between the means of grace (Word, sermons, devotional practices) and the divine decree or, more succinctly, between justification and sanctification. Baxter incorporated this confidence into Gildas Salvianus, or The Reformed Pastor (1655), a description of how ministry should be practiced. It opened with the traditional argument that all those who took up the role of ministry should have experienced “the work of saving grace” in their “souls.” Just as traditional was the emphasis on providing sinners the “means” of salvation and undertaking their conversion: “The work of conversion is the first and great thing we must drive at; after this we must labour with all our might.” Thereafter, the voice of the pastor enters, a pastor who knows that “many of our flock … are weak.” According to Baxter, this was the “most common condition” in the typical parish, and these, therefore, were the people most in need of the means of grace. Every parish would also include others who had succumbed to “worldliness … [or] drunkenness” or fallen into “scandalous sin.” To them the ideal minister must address strong words that shook “their careless hearts” and prompted them to “repent.” Situations of this kind made it imperative that parishes pursue the work of discipline—even, he admitted, the “stool of repentance” employed in Scotland. Comforting, evangelical, and disciplining at one and the same time, Baxter’s ideal pastor welcomed family government. “The life of religion and the welfare and glory of Church and State, dependenth much on family government and duty.”49
Institution builders who incorporate as many people as possible into the church as means to the end of their conversion or purists who create gathered churches of the already converted and relinquish infant baptism—Baxter was firmly on one side of this dichotomy and Trapnel, Turner, Obadiah Holmes, and John Rogers’s Dublin congregation on the other.50 Baptists such as Holmes and Trapnel or Spirit-centered people such as those in Dublin tied their understanding of church, ministry, and conversion to the dynamic presence of the Holy Spirit. In the near future, the Spirit would enable the faithful few who were truly among the elect to withdraw from the presence of those who were not. Baxter’s was a quite different understanding of sacred time and sacred presence. Word, sacraments, the exercise of catechesis—all were means by which the visible church functioned as an inclusive and disciplining institution. The political implications were obvious. Civil governments should sustain (p.318) a learned state-backed ministry vetted by others who were already ordained. And, instead of allowing sectaries to disrupt the cohesion of family, church, and commonwealth, those connections should be reinforced.
Controversy and Continuity in New England
On the other side of the Atlantic, argument about theology was occurring in New England. One focus of debate was liberty of conscience, which Roger Williams was advocating and John Cotton contesting, with others joining in during the 1640s and early 1650s. The well-read entrepreneur and magistrate William Pynchon, who founded the town of Springfield, was a pillar of the establishment until copies arrived from London of The Meritorious Price of Our Redemption, Iustification, &c (1650) and his fellow magistrates learned that he questioned the customary understanding of Christ’s suffering on the cross. The government ordered the book burned, and Pynchon agreed to meet with a group of ministers who tried to persuade him to recant. Delaying a response to their arguments, he transferred his property in Springfield to a son and returned to England, where he continued to write and publish. About the same time (1650–51) another well-educated layman, Thomas Stoughton of Windsor, Connecticut, was contesting the time frame of the Sunday Sabbath with nearby ministers, doing so in a manuscript that was never printed. Among the ministers themselves, the trade in manuscripts was substantial. The longest-running example of this process may be the correspondence between Cotton and Peter Bulkeley, which they carried on for fifteen years.51
The bright light of international publicity touched two of these local debates, the Williams-Cotton exchanges and, because of its repercussions in England, the Antinomian controversy of 1636–37. Not immediately, however, for none of the documents arising out of this event reached English readers until the 1640s, when a London bookseller printed a collection of texts assembled by someone who remains unidentified. No author’s name appeared on the title page of Antinomians and Familists Condemned By the Synod of Elders in New-England, with the Proceedings of the Magistrates against them, And their Apology for the same (late 1643–early 1644) or on the sequel, a reissue of the same sheets to which a “To the Reader” and “Preface” signed by Thomas Weld was added alongside a new title. Back in London on colony business, Weld had come upon the initial printing and decided it needed “order and sense.” With Weld identified but still without an author, the book reappeared as A Short Story of the Rise, reign, and ruine of the Antinomians, Familists & Libertines, that infected the Churches of New-England (1644).
Documents uncovered in the mid-twentieth century made it possible to date the rupture between Cotton and his colleagues to the spring or midsummer of 1636, when Thomas Shepard warned the older minister that laypeople in his Boston congregation were voicing “Familist”-like motifs. The allusion to (p.319) laypeople was something of a ruse, for it was Cotton’s own words that troubled Shepard and his allies. Hoping to clarify any differences, in December a group of ministers gave him sixteen questions to answer. The first of these concerned “the Seal of the Spirit” or “witness of the Spirit,” which Cotton was endorsing as the only Christ-or grace-centered source of assurance. The most significant was the thirteenth question, which raised the possibility of using “sanctification” as evidence of the work of grace. In the longest of his responses, Cotton accepted it as a “concurrent sign” alongside others, but not when there was “no other ground or evidence,” by which he meant the “seale” or “witness of the Spirit.” Were the Spirit absent, sanctification turned into a “work” that preceded faith. Thereafter, as Shepard remembered, the “principal … seed of all the rest” was whether someone could “take any evidence of God’s special grace and love toward him by the sight of any graces or conditional evangelical promises to faith or sanctification.” Or was assurance of a wholly different kind, known to the elect via an “immediate revelation in an absolute promise”? Cotton was disputing the first and advocating the second; his colleagues were defending the first and cautioning against the second.52
How Cotton reached the point of distrusting sanctification as evidence of justification and therefore a valid means of assurance remains unclear. In his English ministry, he had reiterated the fusion of repentance, duties, watchfulness, conditions, and divine sovereignty typified by the practical divinity and, in one set of his English sermons, listed some forty signs that laypeople could consult if they were anxious about assurance. He had also criticized John Eaton and others he deemed “Familists.” Only in a few places do modern readers of these older sermons discern themes that anticipate the Cotton who was beginning to question certain aspects of the practical divinity.53 Like Thomas Goodwin, however, he may have encountered a more Spirit-centered understanding of conversion in the early 1630s and found it to his liking. Or perhaps he was dismayed by the indecision of the “old non-conformists” as a crisis of conscience loomed in the early 1630s. Did he wonder if some of them were hypocrites and, once he arrived in Massachusetts, begin to second-guess the evidence people were using to qualify for membership? What is certain is that a spiritual deadness he discerned among the colonists seemed akin to hypocrisy. As he noted in a sermon preached in 1636 in Salem, “when Christians come into this Country, though they have been marvelous eminent in our native Countrey, they canot pray fervently, nor hear the word with profit, nor receive the seals with comfort: they wonder what is become of their old prayers,” a situation he attributed to their confidence in “holy duties” as a basis of assurance.54
Once Cotton started down the path of criticizing duties, it led him to the golden chain. His version emphasized the covenant of grace and the activity of the Holy Spirit. In a sermon series on the covenant, he extolled its “marvelous freedom”—marvelous because God offered it to sinners “without the foresight (p.320) of Faith, or Works.” Unlike his fellow ministers, he assigned faith (to which he attached the adjective “passive”) a place after “union” with Christ. Doing so eliminated any possibility of regarding faith or righteousness as “conditions” of justification. Turning to assurance of salvation, he dismissed the value of “sanctification” as the “first evidence of Justification.” Not only was it “many times dark to a sincere Christian,” sanctification could easily slide into “rank popery” or a “covenant of works,” a phrase he attached to the practical syllogism. The Christ-centered alternative was the “witnesse” or “seale of the Spirit” that “reveal[s] Gods thoughts of love … in a free promise of grace.” Somewhat grudgingly, Cotton acknowledged that the Spirit did not always do so immediately. But he never mentioned “the means” (that is, the Word) except as a minor player in the work of redemption. Responding to a list of questions he was handed in the summer of 1637, he reiterated that “wee doe not know by any other meanes [than the seal of the Spirit], that we are the Children of God.”55
How it happened that the younger minister John Wheelwright (c. 1592–1679) shared Cotton’s point of view remains unclear. In his fast-day sermon of January 1637, Wheelwright divided the colonists into two groups, the many who were “legall” and the few or “little flock” genuinely touched by the Spirit. At that moment, he had severed “knowledge” of justification from “worke” of any kind (that is, sanctification) and characterized the “dutyes … pressed” on people as “Burthens.” From England, where he returned after a period of exile on the borders of Massachusetts, he revisited the controversy in A Brief, and Plain Apology (1658). What he reported of his thinking in 1636–37 overlapped with what Cotton had been saying: “union” with Christ occurred prior to faith and sanctification could not be used as “the first evidence” of justification. Indeed, any evidence antedating “union”—for example, the repentance that meant so much to Hooker and Shepard—he regarded as “legal,” the epithet he used in his incendiary fast-day sermon of January 1637 and, if Thomas Weld can be trusted, the master word in the rhetoric of the people who backed Hutchinson and Cotton. In summary, he accused his fellow ministers of abusing the golden chain, for they “beg[in at] workes” and “end at Christ & free grace: I teach … to begin at Christ & f[aith] & to end at workes.”56
The person most responsible for this rhetoric was probably Anne Hutchinson.57 The daughter of Francis Marbury, who fell afoul of the bishops in 1578 for his nonconformity (see chap. 2), and, as her practice of holding private meetings indicates, someone well-versed in the repertoire of the Puritan movement, Hutchinson arrived in Boston in 1634 with her husband William and their large family. Her entry to the church was delayed for a few months, possibly because of her reputation as a prophetess or because she approved the Separatist-style argument that ministers who accepted ordination at the hands of a bishop were agents of the Antichrist.58 Already inclined to question the legitimacy of the ministers in Massachusetts, she went much further down this road by reiterating Cotton’s assertion that they were preaching a “covenant of (p.321) works.” What she meant by this insult was their willingness to endorse sanctification (or, as she said, mere “duties”) as evidence of justification. Hutchinson shared her complaints with women awaiting childbirth, and probably did so as well in the weekly meetings some sixty or seventy women were attending in her Boston home. What churches were accepting as evidence of being a visible saint troubled her, and it seems likely that this disdain lies behind two of the errors listed by the synod of 1637: no. 31, “Such as see any grace of God in themselves, before they have the assurance of Gods love sealed to them are not to be received members of Churches,” and its companion, no. 24, “The Church in admitting members is not to looke to holinesse of life, or Testimony of the same.”59 Because so few of her own words have survived, historians must depend on what Cotton said about her in 1637 and again in the mid-1640s. In his judgment, she was doing “much good in our Town” because of her forthrightness about sanctification and had become the “means” by which “many of the women (and by them their husbands) were convinced, that they had gone on in a Covenant of Works … and were brought to enquire more seriously after the Lord Jesus Christ.” By way of endorsement, Cotton added that “all this was well … and suited with the publike Ministery, which had gone along in the same way.”60
Testifying before the General Court in November 1637, Hutchinson justified her ministry to women by citing Joel 2:28, “I will pour out my spirit on all flesh; your sons and your daughters shall prophesy.” To everyone’s astonishment, the following day she evoked a spiritual disarray she had suffered in England, a disarray that brought her to the verge of “Atheisme.” Its source was a typically Puritan situation: “much troubled at the constitution of the Churches there [in England], so farre, as I was ready to have joined to the Separation.” Unable to discern true ministers from false, she was rescued from uncertainty by an “immediate voice”—to her, the voice of God—that resolved this predicament. “Ever since,” she told the court, “I have been confident of what he hath revealed unto me.” To assert such “Revelations” was too much for the government, which ordered her banished.61
Two months earlier, the synod of 1637 busied itself laying out the theological alternative. Its bare bones had been outlined in the Sixteene Questions of Serious and Necessary Consequence (1644) and, after Cotton answered them, in the “Elders Reply,” to which the synod added “Confutations” of eighty-two “errours.” Assurance of salvation was front and center in their response. To Cotton’s insinuation that relying on repentance and duties compromised the principle of free grace, they insisted that “conditions” had a legitimate place in the work of redemption, citing, among other Scriptures, Matthew 11:28, “Come unto me, all ye that labor and are heavy laden”; and Mark 1:15, “Repent ye and believe.” To error 70, which tagged “Frequency or length of holy duties or trouble of conscience for neglect thereof” as a “Covenant of workes,” the response was more references to Scripture, one of them (1 Cor. 13:58) glossed to validate (p.322) the rule that Christians are “commanded to abound always in the worke of the Lord, that is, holy duties.”62 This tick-tack-toe gave way to more substantial issues in other parts of the synod’s conclusions. Three were especially important: the relationship between faith and justification and, in turn, the relationship between justification and sanctification; the role of repentance in the economy of redemption; and the integrity of the golden chain. Quoting several “unsavoury speeches,” which it added to the list of eighty-two errors, the synod rejected the first of these—“To say that we are justified by faith is an unsafe speech”—as at odds with “the constant language” of the Bible and the line St. Paul had drawn between law-based righteousness and the righteousness associated with faith. To the argument that it was a “fundamentall and soule-damning errour to make sanctification an evidence of justification” (error 72; see also errors 45, 60, 77 and the second “unsavoury speech”), the ministers fell back on 2 Peter 1:10. No ground was yielded when it came to repentance. Had King David not admitted his sinfulness and the Gospels tied faith and grace together? And, in response to assertions that anyone who doubted was in serious trouble, they repeated the truism that faith and doubt were always intermingled.63 The most important of these responses concerned the golden chain. Shepard and his colleagues reiterated the traditional argument that God had designed the order of salvation St. Paul identified in Romans 8:29–30. In doing so, He inserted “bands and ligaments and meanes” into the process of redemption. Hence the possibility of using sanctification, which was situated near the end of the chain, as evidence of justification. As well, faith and righteousness were intrinsically connected.64
The pastoral aspects of the give-and-take of 1636–37 and the nuanced meaning of assurance deserve more attention than they usually receive in modern scholarship. Beginning with the Sixteene Questions, Shepard and his colleagues foregrounded the situation of those of “weak faith.” How were such people to be reassured about their relationship with Christ if their spiritual ups and downs were dismissed as irrelevant? And what if they missed out on the “immediate Witness of the Spirit” that Cotton regarded as the basis of assurance? When it came to hypocrisy, the ministers were also wrestling with the challenge of differentiating hypocrite from visible saint; as Shepard remarked in mid-1636, “we have been generally mistaken in most men and in great professors.” Yet in general, they were less dismissive. Their most interesting argument was to attach sanctification to “love” and, more specifically, to “love of the brethren” (1 John 3:14) made possible by the presence of the Holy Spirit. John Winthrop had evoked this same love in his “Charitie Discourse” of 1630 as the most telling quality of the believers. Now, the ministers evoked it anew as a capacity of the saints and only of the saints, centered in the heart. As well, it was a capacity present in the “weake” as well as in the most robust of the saints. As Abram van Engen has pointed out in his telling exegesis of this argument, the ministers acknowledged that “comfort” (i.e., assurance) was experienced (p.323) in different ways. In their eyes, the “witness of the Spirit” was possible but also apt to be deceiving. Love and the duties that flowed from it were more apparent and therefore more reliable.65
Real or imagined, Antinomianism in New England subsided in the aftermath of the controversy once Cotton backed down and Wheelwright and Hutchinson left the colony.66 Thereafter, it was the English version that drew local ministers into debating Saltmarsh and others. From his home in Concord, Bulkeley reassured the “weake Saints of God” that the “comfort” they received from “fruits” was valid evidence of being included in the covenant of grace. In 1652, the printing office in new-world Cambridge published Richard Mather’s commentary on the relationship between faith and justification, The Summe of Certain Sermons on Genes. 15.6. Once he established that faith was not a “work” and that Catholics and Arminians got things wrong, he evoked Romans 8:30 as the basis for arguing that justification came after “vocation, or effectuall calling” and was therefore “after faith because faith is wrought in vocation” (p. 13). In John Norton’s tediously scholastic The Orthodox Evangelist, or, a Treatise Wherein many Great Evangelical Truths … Are … cleared, and confirmed (1654), he argued that, although justification was both “absolutely, and actually procured before Faith,” it did not occur until the elect “doe beleeve.”67
Thomas Shepard had absorbed scholastic language from his teachers at Cambridge and, in the sermon series published as The Sound Believer (1645), he employed some of this terminology to explain how Christ’s righteousness was imputed to sinners, and did so again in Theses Sabbaticae (1649), where he addressed John Saltmarsh directly.68 The back-and-forth of 1636–37 and documents dating from the early 1640s show us another Shepard, a spiritual seeker painfully tested during his version of the pilgrim’s journey. From Preston and Thomas Hooker, who had been his mentors at Cambridge and remained important to him after he became a lecturer in the village of Earls Colne, he acquired the principle that repentance must precede faith and faith the stage of justification. Only if this sequence were observed would faith be rooted in an honesty about the helplessness of sinners to earn grace for themselves. As the title page of The Sound Believer signaled, the sinner was utterly dependent on “the work of Christ’s spirit in reconciling” him or her with God. In the early 1640s, Shepard reminded himself of this point in a journal entry that captures one of the paradoxes of his spirituality: “I saw if I laid the evidence of my salvation on my works that it would be various and uncertain … and yet on the other side I saw that if I did not walk holily in all things before God I should not, I could not, have assurance of any good estate, so that here I was at some stand.”69
This was a paradox he brought with him to Massachusetts and revisited in a long-running sermon series on the parable of the ten virgins, which he began to preach in June 1636. According to the parable (Matt. 25:1–13), five of the ten virgins who went out to meet the bridegroom had no oil in their lamps. (p.324) Shepard interpreted these five as hypocrites whose identity would be exposed when Christ returned in judgment. For him, this question had an immediate significance. When Anne Hutchinson and Wheelwright began to rail against the presence of hypocrites in local congregations, Shepard was supervising the admission of people to the congregation he had founded in February 1636. That his standards for being a visible saint were high was signaled in mid-1636 by his objections to the “relations” being made by laypeople in Roxbury, where a church was about to be founded. A year or two later, the Cambridge congregation admitted the university-educated Nathaniel Eaton after he made an exemplary “relation” and, because of his family connections and Cambridge training, was named head of Harvard College. Before long, Shepard learned that Eaton was the wrong man for this post. Hypocrites had wormed their way into the most “virgin” of churches!70
As well as pressures of this kind on his ministry, Shepard was faced with the challenge of supporting everyone who suffered “fears on fears” about assurance of salvation while simultaneously arousing the people in Cambridge from a “deadness” he, like Cotton, was discerning. From his vantage, the source of this deadness was the acute difference between the situation of the godly in England and New England. Speaking to his congregation, he pointed out that “When you went many miles to hear, and had scarce bread at home, O, you thought, if once you had such liberties; but when they are made yours, now what fruit? Doth not plenty of means make thy soul slight means?” Another way of making this point was to cite the spiritual benefits of persecution; it kept people on their toes, but in persecution-free Massachusetts, zeal was slipping away.71
Being a pastor who comforts but also chastises was a role Shepard aspired to practice. The pastor who comforts had already been evoked in the back-and-forth initiated in December 1636, for the questions he and his colleagues handed to Cotton emphasized the plight of people “put to sad doubts of their own Estate.” Shepard may have penned this part of the “Elders Reply,” for he used almost the same language in chapter 9 of the sermon series, which opens with an “exhortation 1. To quicken all those doubting, drooping, yet sincere hearts that much question the love of Christ to them” (p. 77). Several sentences later, he blamed Satan’s “wiles” for this situation, a Satan active “here” (that is, in Massachusetts), a not-so-indirect allusion to Hutchinson’s attempts to undermine the common wisdom about assurance of salvation. As was customary among preachers of the practical divinity in England, Shepard acknowledged that “very few living Christians have any settled comfortable evidence of God’s eternal love to them in his Son, and hence many sad events follow.” This may sound abstract, but Shepard was directing these words at people he addresses as “you.” Throughout this long passage, he reiterated his concern for those who “rest in uncertain hopes,” characterizing theirs as “one of the most dangerous” situations a follower of Christ could tumble into.72
(p.325) In these same pages, Shepard detailed the antidote to uncertainty. Comfort lay in acknowledging the presence of a “tender-hearted” and loving Christ who reaches out to those who suffer and offers everyone the opportunity to accept the gospel promise. “Never any came to him that he cast way,” Shepard asserted, citing Matthew 8:17 (“He bore our infirmities”). Telling, too, for those who doubted their spiritual well-being, was the Christ who sympathized with those who suffer from the “miseries” of sin. Allusions of this kind come thick and fast in the sermon series—to the Christ who seeks the “lost sheep,” who pities the plight of sinners and “mourn[s] for the hardness of their hearts,” who “seek[s] out” those who “reject” the offer of grace no matter how many times this happens. As the literary historian Michael Colacurcio has pointed out, the “parable sermons” continually evoke the “real love” Christ has for sinners, a phrase complemented by allusions to his “fervent, vehement, earnest love,” “constant and continual” love, dwelling “with thee as a man must dwell with his wife,” and “rejoic[ing] in thee … as a bridegroom does over the bride,” all of them underscoring the thesis that “the Lord draws a soul by cords of love” and craves everyone’s salvation.73
Shepard wrote these words at a moment when John Cotton was recommending an “immediate witnesse of the Spirit” as the surest source of comfort. Returning to the practical divinity, he reclaimed the traditional argument that the pathway to Christ began with repentance. Why? Because the “law” remained in force for sinners, the law that sinners were always and everywhere disobeying. Hence the imperative of preparation understood as a means of transforming self-esteem into emptiness. He turned this imperative on its head by emphasizing the commitment of the true saints to sanctification—in one sense, a law-driven, duty-bound sanctification; but in another, a process rooted in their “hearts” and accompanied by an inward spiritual sense that no hypocrite could feign. He summed up this argument by emphasizing the importance of using the “means” to the fullest possible extent. This was why the parable of the ten virgins was so instructive, for it dramatized the benefit of being “prepared.” The great danger was “sloth.” In effect, Shepard reclaimed a place for duties not as meritorious but as integral to preparation and, in the aftermath of justification, to the sanctified life.
That this message deadened the presence of the Spirit, as Hutchinson and the English Antinomians of the 1620s had suggested, is contradicted by the texture of the journal Shepard was keeping at the outset of the 1640s. On almost every page, he recorded the shifting temper of his heart or inner self. All too often, it was “dead,” “dark,” “unbelieving,” or “self-seeking.” Every time this happened, Shepard learned anew the lesson that “Legal duties … can never give peace.” Alongside statements of this kind, he put his objections to Christians who would “like … to have joy and peace always but think their condition woeful if they be left to temptations, fears, and wrestlings.” His was a different calculus: the “poor Christian lamenting his wants is the most sincere.” (p.326) And, it would seem, the most acceptable to God, for Shepard could turn from self-abasement to praising the God who “melted my heart.”74 For him, the lived experience associated with the practical divinity combined moments of spiritual absence and self-doubt with moments of extraordinary joy from feeling close to Christ.
The Christ who reaches out in tenderness to those who are of drooping spirits, the God (speaking through the minister) who demands constant self-searching and sanctions moral behavior as a valid sign of true godliness, a Christ (or God) who withdraws his presence when zeal gives way to deadness—a scenario Shepard described in the parable sermons—a package of this kind may epitomize the “paradoxes” of Puritan divinity. When we turn back to the relations, they too seem paradoxical if we narrow our reading of them to assurance, yes or no? On the contrary, the people who testified in the Cambridge meetinghouse described themselves as beset by ups and downs and, as Alice Stedman reported in her narrative, constantly wanting “signs” they could use to discern their relationship with Christ. In line with what Shepard was saying in the parable sermons, they learned the lesson—central to the practical divinity—that using the “means” was immensely important as an aspect of everyday righteousness and as an avenue to a joyous relationship with Christ. This was a lesson Christopher Cane took to heart: “Hearing … it was good to persist in the means,” he “resolved to do [so].” On the other hand, by itself this practice did not guarantee some sort of spiritual rapture. After Mary Angier arrived in the colony, “every sermon made her worse and like a block under all means and thought God had left her to a hard hart.” Or, if a minister was emphasizing the gospel promise, people “could not lay hold of it,” which was Jane Holmes’s experience. The paradigmatic testimony may be that of Edward Hall, who told the congregation that the “Lord let him see he was Christless and built upon false foundations and by this text [John 3] he saw himself no new creature but only a mended man.” These words may echo Antinomian rhetoric, but it was probably Shepard’s voice that accounts for Hall’s response to John 5:40: “And here he saw how freely Christ was offered … and so was stirred up with more vehemency to seek Christ.” Like others, however, the outcome for him was fear as well as its opposite: “And he found his worldliness and this bred many fears of whether ever any work of Christ in him was in truth, and that he was one that might fall short of Christ.”75
As Shepard told his congregation time and again, nothing was “easie” about the way to salvation. The dark side of “deadness” was a sinner’s unwillingness to embark on the pilgrim’s journey or, as Shepard put it in his response to Saltmarsh, an unwillngness to acknowledge the imperative of repentance in response to the law. Yet to end the story here would be a misreading of Shepard’s message and his ministry and, for that matter, a misreading of the practical divinity. For several decades, the men who adhered to this system had acknowledged (p.327) the plight of the many who felt that God had abandoned them.76 Shepard himself struggled with absence and its twin, an unwillingness to “learn the bitterness of sin.” Relying in part on prayer and strenuous self-examination to remedy these situations, he was sustained by communion with his fellow saints in Cambridge. In the parable sermons, as in what he said in February 1636 when he and others brought the congregation into being, he idealized the church as a community bound together in love. This was no idle ethic. In everyday practice, church members in Cambridge addressed each other as “brother” and “sister” and, when the economic crisis of 1639–40 hit the town, created a local charity to assist neighbors who had descended into poverty or become disabled. When the scope of baptism was being debated (see below, sec. 3), Shepard sided with those who wanted to incorporate the next generation. Baptism was immensely significant to him as a token and instrument of family continuity. Almost certainly, he was catechizing every young person in Cambridge; as he noted in his journal at the beginning of the 1640s, his “heart … was much enlarged to set upon catechizing.” Although he decried the townspeople’s obsession with stray pigs and their craving for more land, he continued to celebrate the visible church as “almost like heaven.” His high hopes for love-based edification alter the meaning of the Cambridge relations, as does the fact that no one who applied for membership seems to have been turned down. Anxiety did not disappear after someone crossed the threshold between world and church. Nonetheless, being part of a loving community was, for Shepard, in keeping with l John 3:14.77
Continuity and Change in New England, 1640–1660
The currents of revolution and counterrevolution that swept through England, Scotland, and Ireland in the 1640s and 1650s were felt in Virginia, Maryland (where a Protestant majority engaged in “petty civil war” with the colony’s Catholic proprietor), Bermuda, and the Caribbean.78 The four orthodox colonies in New England were the exception. Never party to the Solemn League and Covenant, the Westminster Assembly, and the execution of Charles I, their governments remained intact, with two post-1660 exceptions: a charter for Connecticut (1663) that brought New Haven Colony into its jurisdiction and, in 1685, the revocation of the Massachusetts charter. The main beneficiary of the Long Parliament was Rhode Island, which secured a charter of its own in 1644 and a second in 1653. When war broke out between England and the Netherlands in 1652, soldiers arrived in Boston and plans were broached to attack New Netherland. Welcomed by the governments in Connecticut and New Haven, this project threatened the commercial interests of Massachusetts and, after sharp debate, the New England Confederation, which the governments of the four orthodox colonies had organized in May (p.328) 1643, did not support the venture. In the mid-1650s, Cromwell dangled his “western design” to upend the Spanish empire in front of the colonists, a gesture that irritated the leadership in Massachusetts. Otherwise, the authority of the Protectorate in New England was not seriously exercised.79
On the other hand, the scuffling between Independents and Presbyterians in mid-1640s England implicated the Congregational Way, which Presbyterians cited as an example of what was wrong with a Separatist-like system. For Robert Baillie, Samuel Rutherford, and others, A Short Story of the Rise, Reigne, and Ruine of the Late Antinomians demonstrated the shortcomings of John Cotton. In the 1650s, Baptists and Quakers wrote and published self-justifying narratives of how badly they had been treated in Massachusetts. From the more conservative circle of Dr. Robert Child, who visited Massachusetts in the mid-1640s, came accusations that the government was ignoring English law, and from Roger Williams came more complaints about religious conformity. (The friendship that sprang up between Williams and Baillie, who milked the colonist for gossip he could retell, is among the more curious aspects of the 1640s.) Fending off these critics became a minor industry in the 1640s and 1650s, with Edward Winslow, the sometime governor of Plymouth, doing what he could in London to contradict the self-justifying narratives of Child and the religious radical Samuel Gorton. Once John Eliot began to evangelize among Native Americans (see below), Winslow publicized this project in a series of tracts known as the Eliot Tracts. The benefits were significant. As one of John Winthrop’s sons reported from England in 1649, “The conversion of the Indians with you maks New England very Famous, and Mr. Winslow is Labouring hard For you.”80
Overall, the good news outweighed the bad. The several colonial governments were well on the road to stability and, although squabbling—much of it about boundaries between towns and colonies and, within towns, about transferring land to the next generation or allowing some families to organize their own church and town—was constant. So were efforts to sustain “mutual love” and when it came to initial grants of land, something akin to equality.81 No one in Britain noticed how the structures of government in New England were evolving or what was being done to reform the legal system. In both respects, the colonists were well ahead of their times. By 1640, the four orthodox colonies were sharing a structure of government that, by European standards, was remarkably democratic. Elections took place annually, with governors, magistrates, and deputies serving a single year before facing the voters again—or, as was the rule in Connecticut, governors waiting at least a year before they could be reelected. Assemblies or “courts” met annually or semiannually. Everywhere, the category of “freemen” (those allowed to vote in colonial affairs) included more than half of the adult men, and in town meetings, which decided how land would be distributed, every adult householder was usually able to participate, although not in Massachusetts until 1647. The political culture of (p.329) Rhode Island was singular in being so hostile to centralized authority and so affirming of the terms “democratical” and “democracy.” As was said in 1641 by the townsmen in Portsmouth and Newport, they were governed by “a Democracie or Popular Government that is to say It is in the Powre of the Body of freemen … or major Part of them to make or Constitute Just Lawes.” Not, perhaps, in the same way or with the same enthusiasm, the colonists living elsewhere had acknowledged the same principle.82
Just as telling was the fact that every adult (male, female, freeman, nonfreeman) could petition a colonial government for redress of some grievance. Petitions on behalf of someone who had slipped into poverty or was otherwise in need of aid were routinely approved, as were petitions to ease or cancel fines for some misdeed. Longer term, stability was abetted by the practice of allowing adult males and, in some respects, most women certain privileges. In his Discourse (1637–38; see chap. 7), John Davenport had specified that, when land was being allocated, non–church members should receive the same share as members of a gathered congregation, a policy favored everywhere. In a statement (1645) responding to Robert Child, who claimed to represent the men left out of church membership, the Massachusetts government underscored the rights or privileges common to everyone: “They [nonfreemen] think it well, that justice is equally administred to them with the freemen; that they have equall share with them in all towne lotts, commons, &c. that they have like libertie of access to the church assemblies … as also like freedome of trade and commerce.” This list could also have included the fair apportioning of taxes, in contrast to what usually happened in England.83
The good news included the economy. When immigration abruptly ceased in 1639–40, the influx of money newcomers brought with them also ceased. Overnight, the colonists were unable to import much by way of clothes, food, tools, and the like. Overnight as well, deflation ended a boom in prices for cattle, labor, and other necessities. Doubts emerged about the region’s economic future,84 and a handful of people decamped to the north shore of Long Island and present-day Delaware. By mid-decade, this crisis was abating as markets emerged in Spain, Portugal, the adjacent Madeira (or Wine) Islands, and the Sugar Islands in the Caribbean for dried fish, horses, foodstuffs, and timber. With boats needed for a coastal trade and longer voyages and plenty of inexpensive timber on hand, shipwrights began to ply their craft. The fur trade had a brief run, and investors from England financed an iron mill in Saugus, Massachusetts, but the Sugar Islands were the main reason why in 1651 the lay historian Edward Johnson celebrated the ways in which “the Lord [hath] been pleased to turn one of the most hideous, boundless, and unknown wildernesses in the world in an instant, as ’twere” to a “mart for merchants” who traded with many parts of an Atlantic economy. By this time, Boston was on its way to becoming a metropolis with two churches, a town library, and a town “house” where merchants met to do business.85
(p.330) Prosperity and the absence of epidemics abetted a startling increase in the population. Overall, the colonists were healthier than their counterparts in England, a blessing they owed to clean water, the nutritional benefits of corn, and the low density of settlement. The best news may have been the disappearance of the bubonic plague. With more children surviving into adulthood, the age ratio of the population began to tilt toward people who had grown up in New England. The downside to this demography was the troubles it caused within older towns about the distribution of land.
Was there room within the “Congregational Way” for the immigrants’ children and the burgeoning number of that generation’s children? And did ongoing conflict between Presbyterians and Congregationalists in 1640s England illuminate any weaknesses in the “Congregational Way”? In 1643, a synod-like meeting had addressed the complaints of a few “presbyterian”-minded ministers about the empowering of laypeople but made no changes in the rules of circa 1636. Children were another matter, for congregations were beginning to vary in how baptism was administered. Knowing that Presbyterians in England were attacking Independents for allowing congregations to be formed out of (or within) existing parishes and knowing, too, of local “differences of opinion & practice of one church from another,” a group of ministers in Massachusetts petitioned the General Court in May 1646 to summon a synod that would articulate the principles of the New England system. In and of itself, the possibility that the government would do so aroused laypeople in Boston and Salem to defend the autonomy of each gathered church. In response, the government withheld an official order and merely expressed its “desire” that churches in the colony meet and agree upon a “forme of government & discipline.” A large majority of churches dispatched ministers and lay delegates to the synod, which completed its work in 1648 on a document published by the local printer as A Platform of Church Discipline Gathered Out of the Word of God (1649). Known almost immediately as the Cambridge Platform, it was not endorsed by any of the colonial governments, leaving local churches free to say yea or nay to its provisions.86
For purists or the more apocalyptically minded, the Cambridge Platform was pleasing because it preserved several of the principles put into practice in the mid-1630s: churches as gathered and autonomous, ministers and laypeople sharing the power of the keys, church and state collaborating within the contours of two-kingdoms theory. Yet in tone and modestly in substance, the text also reflected the countercurrents of the late 1630s (see chap. 7). At that moment, the leadership in Massachusetts had been anxious about Separatist-like tendencies and the ramifications of the Antinomian controversy. Echoes of the controversy lingered into the mid-1640s, which was also when the ministers in New England learned of “sectaries” who were denying the authority of learned ministers and questioning Reformed orthodoxy. In the wake of a successful synod in 1637 and on edge about threats of various kinds to their system, the (p.331) authors of the platform endorsed (in chap. 15) “the communion of Churches one with another” and, in chapter 16 (“Of Synods”), asserted that “Magistrates have power to call a Synod,” a statement seemingly contradicted by the assertion that “the constituting of a Synod, is a church act.” The platform also allowed ministers of one congregation to administer the sacraments in another.87
More significant were the steps taken to strengthen the authority of ministerial “office,” which critics of the Congregational Way had persistently described as insufficient. One way of doing so was to put ordination in the hands of the clergy. Initially and, in some congregations well beyond 1640, laymen in local churches performed this rite.88 But as described in the Cambridge Platform, the laying on of hands was confined to ministers. Simultaneously, the platform revisited the balancing of lay and clerical authority. In The Keyes of the Kingdom (1644), Cotton had made the case for a “binding power … proper and peculiar” to the clergy. At the synod, everyone seems to have agreed on providing ministers with a “negative voice” (in modern parlance, a veto) they could use to block lay members from deciding church policy, a provision validated by the concept of an “office-power” intrinsic to the very being of ministry. As some in England were quick to recognize—famously, John Owen, but also Thomas Edwards and some of the Scottish Presbyterians—the Keyes and other gestures were dampening down the daring structure of the “Congregational Way.”89
In other chapters, the synod revisited the relationship between church and state. The back-and-forth between Cotton and Roger Williams made its way into the text via the argument that the civil magistrate was limited to punishing “such things as are acted by the outward man,” a rule consistent with Cotton’s argument that “private” opinions were beyond the reach of the civil state. But the platform endorsed the argument—overturned by Erastians in England and rejected by Williams on other grounds—that godly kings in the Old Testament had their modern counterparts in magistrates who accepted the “duty … to take care of matters of religion.” Otherwise, tradition prevailed, with two-kingdoms principles reaffirmed in chapter 17 of the platform. Complaints about the Massachusetts law of 1636 that empowered magistrates and neighboring churches to supervise the founding of new congregations may be responsible for the insistence that local people could “gather themselves into Church state” without “the consent of [the] Magistrate.”90
Where demography and debates in England left their mark was in in the wording of the two chapters (3 and 12) on church membership. On the one hand, the Cambridge Platform reiterated the rule that candidates for membership must be “Saints by calling” who were “examined” beforehand about their “Repentance from sin, & faith in Jesus” (chap. 12, secs. 1–2). It also reiterated the imperative to “receive none to the Seales [sacraments], but visible saints.” In what was said about the rules for becoming a church member, the emphasis (p.332) fell on making “a personal & publick confession, & declaring of Gods manner of working upon the soul,” or, as noted elsewhere, of “shew[ing] repentance from sinn, faith unfaigned; & effectual call.” To these statements on behalf of purity, the platform added a recommendation that congregations accept “the weakest measure of faith,” a proposal backed up by the assertion that weakness, “if sincere,” would do. In chapter 3, congregations were advised to avoid “severity of examination” and practice “charitable discretion” or “the judgment of charity” in evaluating someone, advice coupled with the wisdom that hypocrites would inevitably become members. As a sop to those who hesitated to testify about their “spiritual estate” in the presence of the congregation, the platform (sec. 12.4) authorized the possibility of doing so privately, a procedure that may been especially useful to women. These adjustments left untouched the ministers’ objections to the practice—endorsed, it seemed, by British Presbyterians—of allowing the unworthy to become church members and participate in the sacraments.91
These rules did not alter the restraints on who could be baptized. These had been questioned as early as 1634, when a grandfather in Massachusetts asked Cotton and the lay leaders of the Boston congregation if a church would baptize his grandchildren should the child’s parents not be “full” members, that is, not admitted as visible saints. In principle, the answer was no, a rule Richard Mather defended in 1639, when he argued that “such Children whose father and Mother were neither of them Believers, and sanctified, are … not faederally holy, but uncleane … And therefore we baptize them not.” At that moment, Mather was minimizing the significance of “federal” holiness, the name for the covenantal situation of children who were baptized. Nonetheless, a handful of congregations were beginning to baptize children who did not have a parent or grandparent in full communion, possibly in response to complaints about official policy; as a correspondent of Winthrop’s pointed out in 1640, he would have emigrated but for the fact that people of “good judgment and conversation” were being excluded, as were “ther young Children” from baptism. Children were the sticking point given this man’s assumption that “Christ would not have such forbidden to be brought to him.” And, as the Massachusetts General Court acknowledged in May 1646, congregations were becoming open to the possibility of baptizing children born to parents who had been members of churches in England.92
By the time the synod met for its final session in 1648, Mather had decided that continuity along family lines was more important than purity. His draft of the platform included a paragraph justifying the baptism of children whose parents were “not found fit for the Lords Supper” but were free of “scandalls,” that is, people who were baptized as infants themselves but never became “full” members. To justify his proposition, he argued that, like their parents, children were included in the “federal” covenant of Genesis 17:7 that God made with Abraham and his “seed” to a “thousand generations.” Mather’s point was simple. (p.333) This ever-extending covenant that enabled Sarah to bear children was a means of grace, a point defended at length in Peter Bulkeley’s The Gospel Covenant (1651) and affirmed by Cotton, who argued in a book published after his death that “the same Covenant which God made with the National Church of Israel and their Seed, It is the very same (for substance) … which the Lord maketh with any Congregationall Church and our Seed.” Debate broke out and, although Mather’s proposal was supported by the majority, any final decision was postponed.93
Time was on the side of those who wanted to modify the rules of c. 1636. With Baptist tracts trickling into the colonies, other ministers hastened to endorse the significance of Genesis 17:7. Why baptism was so meaningful to these men is suggested by Shepard’s remarks on its importance in The Sincere Convert (1645). There, he likened God’s “esteem” for the “poorest and most feeble believer” to a father’s “double care of his children,” adding that “God loves you as sons, as a father doth his sons.” Baptism became an expression of this love and a means of ensuring that anyone included within the covenant would “be the Lord’s forever.” When he reflected on the importance of his own son’s baptism, he used words that sound as though they were spoken during the ritual: “God gave thee the ordinance of baptism whereby God is become thy God … that whenever thou shalt return to God, he will undoubtedly receive thee—and this is a most high and happy privilege.” Mather reiterated these expectations in sermons addressed to his congregation in Dorchester, appealing to parents to do everything they could by way of instruction and counsel for their “poor children … to save their soules” and imagining the emotions of parents who hear “their children cry out against” anyone who refused to endorse the sacrament. For Mather and probably for some (not all) of his parishioners, having children baptized became a test of parental love. That others agreed with him is indicated by a letter (1647) from Henry Smith, the minister in Wethersfield, Connecticut, who reported that “our thoughts here are that the promise made to the Seed of Confederates, Gen. 17, takes in all Children of Confederating Parents.” By the early 1650s, others were openly advocating that the churches repair their “sinful neglect” of those who had not been baptized. In Ipswich, the congregation voted in 1653 to baptize the children of the “adult children” on the condition that these adults “take the [congregation’s] covenant solemnly before our Assembly.”94
With conflict erupting in congregations and towns about which policy to adopt, the Connecticut government arranged for ministers of three colonies to convene in 1657 and debate twenty-one questions, the most important of them being the theological status of “children of confederate [i.e., covenanted] Parents.” Signaling in advance its own preference, the government asked “whether federal holiness or covenant interest be not the proper ground of Baptisme,” to which the response was a vigorous yes: “Infants … grown up to years of discretion” who “own the Covenant they made with the Parents” and (p.334) were “not scandalous” could have their children baptized, coupled with a more tentative no to the possibility that “all children of whatever years or conditions” should be included and hesitation when it came to “adopted Children and bond servants.”95 The case for a seamless transmission of spiritual benefits via infant baptism and parents’ nurture of their children was reiterated at a synod that met in Massachusetts in 1662. But the synod drew the line at access to the Lord’s Supper by reaffirming that “full membership” was required of anyone who approached the table. Even so, this policy was regarded by some laypeople and a few ministers as an “innovation” that undermined the purity so precious to the immigrants of circa 1635. In New Haven, an aging John Davenport lashed out against any weakening of that purity, as did Increase Mather until he swung around to the other side.96
As congregations began to include more children alongside their parents, the parochial congregationalism of circa 1640—churches limited to visible saints, but every household expected to attend weekly services (a rule reaffirmed in Massachusetts in 1644) and presumably all children catechized—was turning into a family-centered system. Not always easily and certainly not all at once, families and church membership were being aligned. Women were crucial to this process, women with children or looking ahead to motherhood who renewed their baptismal covenants earlier than men, a pattern apparent as early as 1640 and, by the 1660s visible almost everywhere. Taking for granted the spiritual benefits of being included within the covenant of Genesis 17:7, these women wanted their children to remain (or become) “an holy seed.”97
The 1640s saw the beginnings of another version of outreach or incorporation, the project of converting Native Americans to Christianity. The Massachusetts Bay Company had cited this project as one of its “Reasons” for founding the new colony and alluded to it in the company’s seal, which depicted a Native American uttering the Macedonian cry (Acts 16:9), “Come over and save us.” Nothing happened along these lines in the 1620s and 1630s. The delays were due in part to an uneasiness about the colonists’ safety, an uneasiness the “pilgrims” of Plymouth acquired from travelers’ reports describing Native peoples as “cruel, barbarous and most treacherous” and the news that reached them of the Native uprising in Virginia in 1622. As the historian Jenny Hale Pulsipher has pointed out, the policy in Plymouth was to recognize the authority of local sachems or chiefs in various treaties. Neither side in these transactions could afford to be aggressive, the colonists because they were outnumbered and the Native Americans because the tribes closest to Plymouth and the coastal settlements in Massachusetts had suffered huge losses from epidemics caused by European-based diseases. Nor were the Indians armed with muskets, which they eventually acquired despite attempts to control the trade in weapons. Peace was preferable to war, a rule the governments of Massachusetts and Connecticut broke in 1636–37 when armed parties were sent south to beat back the Pequot who controlled much of the coastline in Connecticut (p.335) and were threatening nearby tribes and towns along the Connecticut River. Skirmishes of various kinds culminated in an assault in 1637 on a Pequot “fort” near present-day New London. Subsequently, another force attacked the Pequot who retreated to the vicinity of New Haven.98 In the 1640s and beyond, Massachusetts and its neighbors were drawn into a struggle between the Narragansett and the Mohegan whose sachem, the long-lived Uncas, professed to be a friend of the colonists. Intertribal conflict of various kinds persisted in eastern Connecticut, as did tensions between Natives and the colonists who were founding towns such as New London. Rumor often outran reality and peace became fragile, preserved in part because the New England Confederation was not always able to agree on which “Indian plot” was for real.99
The evangelism that sprang into life in 1646 was the doing of John Eliot, the minister in Roxbury. Once underway, he nurtured this project for the rest of his long life. The hurdles were many, one of them the task of learning the local version of Algonquin and turning it into a written language and another, persuading would-be converts to adopt a “civilized” way of life: men instead of women laboring in gardens and fields, marriages based on English rules, men cutting off their long braids, and much else. Theologically, Eliot shunned the Catholic practice of baptizing Natives in a wholesale manner. Instead, conversions had to be voluntary—that is, never coerced. In the early going, Eliot hoped that an “affective” model of conversion, that is, the Native Americans’ encounter with the colonists, would persuade some of them to become Christians. As he remarked in Tears of Repentance (1653), “the Godly Counsels, and Examples” the Indians “have had in all our Christian Families, have been of great use, both to prepare them for the Gospel, and also to further the Lords work in them.”100 To abet the twin goals of converting and civilizing local people and realizing, too, that proximity to the colonists was not in the best interests of the Native Americans, Eliot persuaded the Massachusetts government to establish a series of “praying towns” on land donated to the Indians, land affirmed in 1652 as theirs by “just right.”101 In Natick, the first of these (1651), he aspired to create a Native-led church. To this end, he arranged a public exercise in 1653 at which several men described their conversions to Christianity. To Eliot’s dismay, these testimonies failed to persuade the other ministers on hand that his “converts” were ready for such a step. Finally (1659), Eliot arranged for a small group of Native men to become members of his Roxbury church.102
Eliot’s project acquired fresh support after the Rump Parliament enacted a bill creating the Society for Propagation of the Gospel in New England, or New England Company (June 1649) and authorized it to collect contributions on behalf of the mission, which it did with some success. Eliot began to be paid, and young Native American men were recruited as potential missionaries. A handful enrolled at Harvard, although Caleb Cheeshahteaumuck of Martha’s Vineyard, the only member of this group to complete his studies, died of (p.336) tuberculosis a year after his 1665 graduation. By the close of the 1650s, the New England Company was also financing the translation of the Bible into Algonquin. A second printer and printing press arrived in Cambridge and, by 1661, the New Testament had been printed, followed in 1663 by the Old Testament. Gradually, Eliot and his co-translators added catechisms, a primer, and devotional books such as Lewis Bayley’s The Practice of Piety. Elsewhere, Christianity was being introduced to Native Americans who lived on Martha’s Vineyard, an island near the Massachusetts coast that became the property of Thomas Mayhew in 1643. After he moved there, his son Thomas (1618–57), although not an ordained minister, began to teach the principles of Christianity to some of the Natives. Among the earliest of the converts was Hiacoomes, who persevered in his new faith despite being threatened by local healers (“powwows”) and, in the aftermath of a severe epidemic he and his family survived, began to preach. His son Joel was admitted to Harvard and would have graduated in 1665 but died a few months earlier. By 1671, enough Native Christians were on hand to allow a church to be formed, with Hiacoomes ordained as its minister.103
One other challenge during these decades was posed by the presence, real or imagined, of people who rejected Reformed orthodoxy. Tested in 1636–37 by local “Antinomians” and tested in a different way by Roger Williams, the colonists’ commitment to orthodoxy was buffeted in the 1640s by the emergence of arguments for toleration or liberty of conscience in England. When news reached Independents in England of “persecution” in Massachusetts, some of them wrote to Winthrop, Cotton, and others to protest colonial practice.104 In point of fact, dissent within New England after 1640 was not widespread because so many of the more radical colonists had moved to Rhode Island or, like the Baptist Hansard Knollys, returned to England.105 Of those who remained, the most bothersome was probably Samuel Gorton (1592–1677), a self-educated lay preacher and former clothier in London who arrived in New England in 1637 and quickly made himself unwelcome in several places. Disdaining orthodoxy, the instituted means of grace (which he regarded as “but men’s inventions”) and “magistracy,” Gorton provoked the leadership of Massachusetts into arresting him and his followers in 1643 and bringing them to Boston, where they were briefly imprisoned. For a moment it seemed possible that the government would order Gorton executed as a blasphemer. The “greatest number of the deputies [in the General Court] dissenting,” a vote to this effect did not pass. After being released, Gorton and some of his admirers went to England, where they publicized their treatment, secured a safe conduct from the Commissioners for Plantations, returned to New England, and settled on the fringes of Rhode Island.106
Apart from Gorton, the main threat in the mid-1640s were Baptists, who were, as heresiographers such as Thomas Edwards described them, as dangerous to moral and political order as early sixteenth-century Anabaptists in Germany (p.337) had been. Swayed by this image at a moment when local Baptists were few and far between, the Massachusetts government enacted a law in 1644 denouncing them as “infectors of persons” with “errors or heresies” and authorizing their banishment. It was not to everyone’s liking, for the government received a petition in which its signers argued that “such as differ from us only in judgment, in point of baptism or some other points of lesse consequence,” could live “peaceably” in the colony. About the same time (1645), the Plymouth General Court received a petition urging it to “allow and maintaine full and free tollerance of religion to all men that would preserve the Civill peace, and submit unto Government,” a petition the leaders of the colony squashed.107
Aware of these laws but hearing of Baptists in a Massachusetts town, three Baptists in Rhode Island ventured north in 1651. Arrested soon after they arrived, two of the three paid a fine and departed. Obadiah Holmes refused to do so and was publicly whipped, a martyr-like experience he and his fellow Baptists publicized in Ill-Newes from New-England; Or, a Narrative of New-Englands Persecution (1652). When news of his treatment reached John Owen and others in England, they immediately wrote to denounce how Holmes had been treated, a step anticipated by Thomas Goodwin and another ten ministers, who criticized the anti-Baptist law of 1644. Simultaneously, John Winthrop’s son Stephen reported from England that “here is great Complaint against us for our severitye against Anabaptist it doth discourage any people from coming to us for feare they should be banished if they discent from us in opinion.”108
Beginning with Cotton’s response to Roger Williams, the ministers who argued on behalf of uniformity articulated the benefits of orthodoxy in treatises and letters. At hand was an argument dating from the earliest centuries of Christianity, the assumption that orthodox doctrine was the doorway to salvation, the corollary being that heresy was equivalent to soul murder. Just as conventional was the ministers’ insistence that the voice of conscience condemned the heretic or blasphemer; far from being free or at liberty, conscience was how God enforced obedience to divine law. As Cotton insisted in The Bloody Tenent, Washed, And made white (1647), anyone who was punished for violating “Fundamentalls” was not “punished for his Conscience, but for sinning against his owne Conscience.” Cotton and his colleagues also differentiated opinions held in private from those made public; the latter were dangerous but not the former, which the state would never attempt to punish. And as Cotton complained in a response to Richard Saltonstall, a former colonist, and others, Protestants of various kinds were being tolerated in Massachusetts. Here, he pointed out in 1651,“wee have tolerated in our churches some Anabaptists some Antinomians, and some Seekers, and do so still to this day”, adding that “we have here Presbyterian churches as well as congregationall” and denying that “uniformity” was “required.” As though he were recycling Oliver Cromwell, he also endorsed “unity in the foundation of religion” but not in “superstructures.”109
(p.338) This unity did not include the Quakers. Their “invasion” commenced in 1656 when two Quaker women arrived in Massachusetts after having been in the Caribbean. Imprisoned, then banished, they triggered an extraordinary sense of alarm about a “cursed sect of heretickes … who take upon them to be imediatlie sent of God, & infallibly assisted by the Spirit … to speake & write blasphemous opinions,” language used to justify the first of the laws (May 1657) enacted to protect the colony from people already known for the troubles they had been causing in “our native land.” The easiest means of doing so was to punish the captain of any ship who carried Quakers to Boston and, should members of the sect turn up, to clap them into prison and have them “severely whipt.” Books, too, were banned, and anyone who converted would be fined and possibly imprisoned. When these rules proved ineffective, the government voted to execute anyone who returned after being banished and told that, if they did so, the penalty was death. Martyrdom (which is how Quakers in England regarded the outcome) was inevitable, and three men and a woman (Mary Dyer, who had gone to Rhode Island with Anne Hutchinson in 1638) were executed in 1660–61.110
No one else was executed for blasphemy or heresy in New England, although Quakers paid a heavy price in 1660s England and again in the 1680s England, when some four hundred of them died from the consequences of being imprisoned. There as well, Baptists—famously, John Bunyan—were imprisoned for long periods. Compared with post-1660 deaths and imprisonments in England and how Catholics had been treated in England before 1610, when dozens of priests were being executed, the response to dissent in New England was tempered. So was the response to accusations of witchcraft. The earliest event to approximate a “witch-hunt” happened in Hartford in 1661–62 when an elderly woman confessed to covenanting with the Devil and implicated several others. Previously, the handful of women and, more rarely, men who were accused of being witches had not implicated others, and some responded by filing suit for defamation. A minister as well-regarded as John Davenport came to the defense of Elizabeth Goodman in New Haven, and in 1654, Thomas Thacher, the minister in Weymouth, Massachusetts, reassured others in the town and colony that a woman noted for “threatening … the judgements of God” was not a witch but someone he characterized as “very unlikely … to have known confederacy with divills.” In all, ten persons, nine of them women, were executed before 1660, three in Massachusetts and the others in Connecticut.111
The outcry in England about the colonists’ indifference to toleration had a larger significance. In the 1630s, the immigrant generation had regarded itself as being in the forefront of the quest for something akin to a perfect reformation. Nowhere else were “human inventions” so fully eliminated and the “primitive” perfection of biblical example so rigorously acknowledged. By the mid-1640s, however, the beat had moved on. Now it was England where “Sion” (p.339) seemed likely to emerge, the scenario Thomas Goodwin had envisioned in A Glimpse of Sions Glory, reiterated in dozens of fast-day sermons (see chap. 8) and, in the early days of Cromwell’s regime, by English Independents. Impossible to ignore in New England, this situation was acknowledged by the Springfield magistrate William Pynchon after news reached him of the Solemn League and Covenant (1643). In a letter to Winthrop, he reported having “bless[ed] god to see that strict and godly covenant … It is the high way of god for their deliverance. I hope it is now the day of Antichrists great overthrow at Armageddon.” John Davenport made the same point in a letter to his former patroness Mary Vere. Addressing her in 1647, he evoked a God who “shaketh heaven, earth, and seases, and all hearts” as prelude to “settl[ing] the Kingdom of our Lord Jesus Christ, and bowe all nations under his scepter.” England, not New England, was where a “light … is now discovered” that would transform how the church was governed. The advent of Cromwell was another sign that England (or Britain) was where the struggle against idolatry was coming to a climax. For anyone who remembered John Cotton’s prediction that “about the time 1655, there will be … a blow given to” the Antichrist, the Protector seemed destined to advance the kingdom. Cotton implied as much in a letter (1651) extolling him as a servant of God who was “working many and great deliverances for his people” and urging him to meditate on Revelation 17:14: “these shall make war with the Lamb, and the Lamb shall overcome them, for he is Lord of lords, and King of kings.” John Eliot was just as effusive in Tears of Repentance (1653), where he described Cromwell as the person God had “raised and improved … to overthrow Antichrist, and to accomplish, in part, the Prophesies and Promises of the Churches Deliverance from … Bondage.”112
Was Massachusetts (or orthodox New England) still favored by divine providence? Winthrop believed that it was, as did the authors of New Englands First Fruits, but others were dismayed by the reverse immigration that began in earnest in the 1640s, a process prompted by the economic crisis of 1639–40 and the political situation in revolutionary England. By the end of the 1650s, a third of the ministers who arrived in the 1630s had returned. The young men who earned an MA at Harvard College left as well, lured to England and Ireland by the promise of well-paid positions as clergy.113 To those who remained, this exodus was wrenching. “Why do so many come away thence” was a question people in England itself were beginning to ask as early as 1642 or 1643, a question the authors of New Englands First Fruits incorporated into a description of Harvard College and a newly formed alliance with a few Native American communities. A few years later, the same question troubled Pynchon, who wrote to Winthrop in 1646 that “the pillars of the land seeme to tremble.” Its significance was underscored a year later when Samuel Symonds, a magistrate in Salem, reported that “the irregular departure of some causeth a deeper search of heart wherefore god hath brought his elect here.”114
(p.340) The dismay was accompanied by a familiar lament: decline or “declension” was occurring. Anxieties about decline figured in John Robinson’s farewell to the people departing on the Mayflower and in Winthrop’s “Charitie Discourse” of 1630. Like Robinson before him, Winthrop wanted to forestall the self-interest that seemed certin to reemerge. Hence the closing passage in which he evoked the image of the covenanted colony as a “city upon a hill” as reason for guarding against decline, a possibility he emphasized by citing Old Testament jeremiads. All too soon, the implicit covenant of 1630 was giving way to the self-interest he discerned in the exodus of circa 1635–36 of people to Connecticut. William Bradford felt the same way when families in quest of “a great deal of ground [land]” abandoned Plymouth at the beginning of the 1630s and set up towns along the coast. From his perspective, the moral cost of doing so were high, what with “Christian and comfortable fellowship” giving way to “many divisions.”115
Fast days had already appeared in the ritual calendar of the colonists, although sometimes misfiring, as happened with John Wheelwright’s fiery sermon of January 1637 (see chap. 7). When inflation struck the colony two years later, congregations in Massachusetts were summoned in April 1639 to repent “oppression, atheism, excess, superfluity, idleness,” and other “troubles.” The economic crisis prompted Thomas Hooker to propose that congregations in Massachusetts “make a privy search what have been the courses and sinful carriages,” citing “pride and idleness, excess in apparel, building, diet … toleration and connivance at extortion and oppression.”116 By the mid-1640s, the government was wrestling with a surge in “unlawful tiplinge & excesse of drunkenness” linked, in part, to unlicensed selling of “spirits” at a moment when church discipline was faltering. More fast days followed, as did more laments mandated by a ritual process every British Protestant would have recognized. Gradually, the blame for decline was assigned to the “rising generation,” a narrative that reached something of a climax in the itemizing of declension in The Necessity of Reformation (1679). Within the chronological framework of this book, the rhetorical climax may have been two poems by Michael Wigglesworth (1631–1705), the first of these an evocation of Christ’s coming in judgment, The Day of Doom (1662), and another of the same date, “God’s Controversy with new-England, Written in the time of the great drought.” Among his complaints was that “hypocrites” were being admitted to the Lord’s Supper, an accusation as old as the Puritan movement that the debate over baptismal policy was revitalizing.117
When Charles II returned to the throne in 1660, many of the colonists responded to his presence and, in the mid-1660s, to the arrival of commissioners bearing orders of various kinds, by reaffirming the special significance of their homeland. In petitions to the General Court urging it to remain firmly behind the systems put in place in the 1630s and 1640s, laymen gathered together in town after town to endorse the practice of “liberty.” From the outset of colonization, (p.341) liberty had signified being able to worship in the right manner. It meant this still in the 1660s. Yet the ninety-one men in Hadley, Massachusetts, who signed that town’s petition wanted liberty of a more expansive kind. As expressed in the petition, it included “the right from God and man to chuse our own governors, make and live under our own laws.” In their eyes, therefore, liberty was at once religious, political, and social. Citing a familiar distinction between slavery and freedom that was a commonplace in Continental humanism, they described themselves as “freemen and not slaves,” the difference being that freemen possessed “liberties and privileges.” To this assertion they added another that looked back to the Protestation of 1641 and the National Covenant of 1638: “Our privileges herein as Christians in regard of the kingdom, name, glory of our God, is far more precious than our lives.”118
Religion and politics coalesced anew in the Hadley petition, this time on behalf of an identity rooted in the Puritan past but also in three decades of colonial experience with self-governance in towns, congregations, and colonies. Going forward, the language of the petition would become a legacy to future generations as significant as the covenant of Genesis 17:7 and, if conflict between colony and empire intensified, potentially akin to the Scottish National Covenant of 1638 in its importance.119
(2.) Obadiah Holmes, “Last Will & Testimony,” printed in Edwin S. Gaustad, ed., Baptist Piety: The Last Will & Testimony of Obadiah Holmes (New York: Arno, 1980), 72–82.
(3.) David Parnham, Heretics Within: Anthony Wotton, John Goodwin, and the Orthodox Divines (Brighton: Sussex Academic, 2014); Theodore Dwight Bozeman, The Precisionist Strain Disciplinary Religion and Antinomian Backlash in Puritanism to 1638 (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2004), chap. 10; David R. Como, Blown by the Spirit: Puritanism and the Emergence of an Antinomian Underground in Pre-Civil War England (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2004); Dewey D. Wallace Jr., Puritans and (p.479) Predestination: Grace in English Protestant Theology, 1525–1695 (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1982), 114–16.
(4.) See, e.g., Arnold Hunt, The Art of Hearing English Preachers and Their Audiences, 1590–1640 (Cambridge: Cambridge University, 2010), chap. 7, and Leif Dixon, Practical Predestinarians in England, c. 1590–1640 (Burlington: Ashgate, 2013). John Coffey summarizes the difficulties of defining orthodoxy at midcentury in “A ticklish business: Defining heresy and orthodoxy in the Puritan revolution,” in Heresy, Literature, and Politics in Early Modern English Culture, ed. David Loewenstein and John Marshall (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2006), 108–36.
(5.) Ball’s Short Catechisme containing the Principles of Religion (c. 1615) was frequently reprinted in the seventeenth century. My assessment stems in part from reading Alexander F. Mitchell, ed., Catechisms of the Second Reformation (London, 1886). See also Douglas F. Kelly, “The Westminster Shorter Catechism,” in To Glorify and Enjoy God: A Commemoration of the 350th Anniversary of the Westminster Assembly, ed. John L. Carson and David W. Hall (Edinburgh: Banner of Truth Trust, 1994), chap. 5.
(6.) The history of the Savoy Declaration may be followed in Walker, Creeds and Platforms, chap. 12; and Crawford Gribben,John Owen and English Puritanism: Experiences of Defeat (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2016), 197–99. See also Sarah Mortimer, Reason and Religion in the English Revolution: The Challenge of Socinianism (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2010) 196–200 and 221–26, for the bearing of Socinianism on John Owen’s agenda.
(7.) This tweaking of high Calvinism was favored by some of the English delegates to the Synod of Dordt, as Anthony Milton points out in Catholic and Reformed: The Roman and Protestant Churches in English Protestant Thought, 1600–1640 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1995), 420. See also Jonathan D. Moore, English Hypothetical Universalism: John Preston and the Softening of Reformed Theology (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2007).
(8.) Wallace, Puritans and Predestination, 133; Brian G. Armstrong, Calvinism and the Amyraut Heresy: Protestant Scholasticism and Humanism in Seventeenth-Century France (Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1969), chap. 1 and passim.
(9.) Peter Lake, “Puritanism, Familism, and Heresy in Early Stuart England: The Case of John Etherington Revisited,” in Loewenstein and Marshall, Heresy, Literature, and Politics, 82–107 (quotation, p. 93); Prynne, Anti-Arminianisme, 28.
(10.) Thomas Hooker: Writings in England and Holland, 1626–1633, ed. George H. Williams et al. (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1975), 144–45. The letters passing back and forth between James Ussher and his many correspondents record several disputes and discussions both private and public. The Correspondence of James Ussher, 1600–1656, ed. Elizabethanne Boran, 3 vols. (Dublin: Irish Manuscripts Commission, 2015). The best brief survey of opinion in the 1630s and 1640s is Wallace, Puritans and Predestination, chaps. 3–4.
(11.) Ann Hughes, “The Pulpit Guarded: Confrontations between Orthodox and Radicals in Revolutionary England,” in John Bunyan and His England, 1628–88, ed. Anne Laurence, W. R. Owens, and Stuart Sim (London: Hambledon, 1990), 31–50; John Coffey, John Goodwin and the Puritan Revolution: Religion and Intellectual Change in Seventeenth-Century England (Woodbridge: Boydell, 2006), chaps. 7-9; Phil Kilroy, “Radical Religion in Ireland, 1641–1660,” in Ireland from Independence to Occupation, 1641–1660, ed. Jane H. Ohlmeyer (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1995), chap. 10; E. Brooks Holifield, The Covenant Sealed: The Development of Puritan Sacramental Theology in Old and New England, 1570–1720 (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1974), chap 4. See also Parnham, Heretics (p.480) Within, chaps. 3–4; Gribben, John Owen; Crawford Gribben, “Robert Leighton, Edinburgh Theology and the Collapse of the Presbyterian Consensus,” in Enforcing the Reformation in Ireland and Scotland, 1550–1700, ed. Elizabethanne Boran and Crawford Gribben (Aldershot: Ashgate, 2006), chap. 6.
(12.) T. D. Bozeman, “The Glory of the ‘Third Time’: John Eaton as Contra-Puritan,” JEH 47 (1996): 638–54; Como, Blown by the Spirit, chap. 6; Michael P. Winship, Making Heretics: Militant Protestantism and Free Grace in Massachusetts, 1636–1641 (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2002), 264 n. 30. As Tim Cooper has pointed out, Eaton and Robert Towne, another member of the Antinomian “underground,” continued to endorse a certain role for the law. Cooper, Fear and Polemic in Seventeenth-Century England Richard Baxter and Antinomianism (Aldershot: Ashgate, 2001), 22–24.
(13.) Christopher Hill surveys the emergence of these writers in “Antinomianism in 17th-century England” and “Dr. Tobias Crisp, 1600–43,” reprinted in The Collected Essays of Christopher Hill, Vol. 2: Religion and Politics in 17th Century England (Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press, 1986). J. C. Davis has identified Antinomian motifs in the speculations of some of the Levellers. Davis, “The Levellers and Christianity,” in Politics, Religion, and the English Civil War, ed. Brian Manning (London: Edward Arnold, 1973), chap. 6.
(14.) Robert Baillie depended heavily on A Short Story for the stories he incorporated into A Dissuasive against the Errours of the Time (1645), and Thomas Edwards cited it in Gangraena, as did Ephraim Pagitt in Heresiography (1645); cf. Hughes, Gangraena, 83 n. 91; Edwards, Gangraena, 1: 3. Other texts emerging from the controversy are printed in Hall, AC; unprinted texts are described in Hall, Ways of Writing: The Practice and Politics of Text-Making in Seventeenth-Century New England (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2008), chap. 2, where I also contextualize the Short Story.
(15.) Edwards, Gangraena, 16-17; Cooper, Fear and Polemic, intro., chap. 1; see esp. pp. 113–14. As Cooper points out, pairing Antinomian and “Libertine” was incorrect but effective polemically. The term itself had come into use in sixteenth-century Lutheran circles when debate erupted about the relationship between law and gospel. Luther’s affirmations of free grace became something of an icon to the Antinomian “underground” of c. 1620, even though he repudiated the more extreme views of fellow Lutherans. This chapter does not include the “mystics” or “spiritual” writers who emerged during this period, one of them Henry Vane Jr., whose theology is described in David Parnham, “Politics Spun Out of Theology and Prophecy: Sir Henry Vane on the Spiritual Environment of Public Power,” History of Political Thought 22 (2001): 53–83, and more fully in Sir Henry Vane, Theologian: A Study in Seventeenth-Century Religious and Political Discourse (Madison, NJ: Fairleigh Dickinson University Press, 1997), where (p. 12) Vane is described as presenting “himself as a ‘witness’ of light, as a spiritualist, as one dispensing advanced wisdoms in the epistemological setting of an imminent and apocalyptic age of the Spirit,” a role others were claiming in this period. See also Nigel Smith, Perfection Proclaimed: Language and Literature in English Radical Religion, 1640–1660 (Oxford: Clarendon, 1989).
(17.) Dixhoorn, Minutes, 3: 614; Nigel Smith, “‘And if God was one of us’: Paul Best, John Biddle, and anti-Trinitarian heresy in seventeenth-century England,” in Loewenstein and Marshall, Heresy, Literature, and Politics, 160–84; Hughes, Gangraena, 159–64; Paul C. H. Lim, Mystery Unveiled: The Crisis of the Trinity in Early Modern England (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2012), chap. 1, pt. 2:174–81, and passim. The response of Parliament is summarized in W. K. Jordan, The Development of Religious Toleration in England, Vol. 3: 1640–1660 (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1938), 88–91.
(p.481) (18.) Sarah Hutton, “Iconisms, Enthusiasm and Origen: Henry More Reads the Bible,” in Scripture and Scholarship in Early Modern England, ed. Ariel Hessaye and Nicholas Keene (Aldershot: Ashgate, 2006), 192–207. In Puritans and Predestination, 120–28, Wallace describes “Anglican” Arminians of the 1640s and 1650s whose anti-Calvinism resembled that of the Great Pew Circle. See also Adrian Johns, “The Physiology of Reading and the Anatomy of Enthusiasm,” in Religio Medici: Medicine and Religion in Seventeenth-Century England, ed. Ole Peter Grell and Andrew Cunningham (Aldershot: Scholars, 1996), 136–70; and Ronald A. Knox, Enthusiasm: A Chapter in the History of Religion, With Special Reference to the Seventeenth and Eighteenth Centuries (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1950), chap. 8.
(19.) McLachlan, Socinianism, chap. 5; Mortimer, Reason and Religion, chap. 3, noting (p. 75) that Chillingworth described himself as a Trinitarian; J. Sears McGee, The Godly Man in Stuart England: Anglicans, Puritans, and the Two Tables, 1620–1670 (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1976), chap. 4. In From Puritanism to the Age of Reason: A Study of Changes in Religious Thought within the Church of England, 1660–1700 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1950), G. R. Cragg pursues these tendencies beyond 1660.
(20.) David Parnham, “John Saltmarsh and the Mystery of Redemption,” Harvard Theological Review 104 (2011): 265–98; David Parnham, “The Dismantling of ‘High Presumption’: Tobias Crisp Dismantles the Puritan Ordo Salutis,”JEH 56 (2005): 50–74. See also Leo Solt, Saints in Arms: Puritanism and Democracy in Cromwell’s Army (Stanford: Stanford University Press 1959), chap. 2.
(21.) Henry Jessey, Exceeding Riches of grace, advanced by the spirit of grace (London, 1647), reprinted in A Company of Women Preachers: Baptist Prophetesses in Seventeenth-Century England, A Reader, ed. Curtis W. Freeman (Waco, TX: Baylor University Press, 2011), 173, 174, 186, 189, 204, 207, 209–10, sig. a2r–v.
(22.) Letters of Samuel Rutherford, ed. Andrew Bonar (Edinburgh: Banner of Truth Trust, 1984), 194; Samuel Rutherford, The Trial and Triumph of Faith (1645; repr., Carlisle, PA: Banner of Truth Trust, 2001), 102, 23–25, 91–93, 102, 110, 174–75; Rutherford, A Survey of the Spiritual Antichrist (1648), 238.
(23.) Rutherford, ibid., 237–38. In Ane Catechisme (included in Mitchell, Catechisms of the Second Reformation), Rutherford responded to the question “What is the condition of the covenant?” by citing “saving and true faith.” This answer prompted an imaginary respondent to ask, “But wee must pay the duetie of faith, and therefore it seemeth the covenant is not free?” to which Rutherford answered, “Yea, for all that it is most free, for our Lord payeth for us and maketh us believe.” Insisting at another moment that sinners can do nothing before they are “made new creatures,” he also endorsed “preparation” under the law (pp. 174, 178, 200–201).
(24.) [Isaac Ambrose], The Complete Works of that Eminent Minister of Gods Word Mr. Isaac Ambrose (1674), 41, 15, 88–90, 95–114.
(25.) Wallace, Puritans and Predestination, 135; Thomas Gataker, Shadowes without Substance, or Pretended new Lights … In way of Rejoynder unto Mr John Saltmarsh (1646), 13, 18, 20; Gataker, Antinomianism Discovered and Confuted: And Free-Grace As it is held forth in Gods Word … maintained (1652).
(26.) Peterkin, Records of the Kirk, 475. The debates and negotiations out of which it emerged are described in Benjamin B. Warfield, The Westminster Assembly and Its Work (New York: Oxford University Press, 1932), chap. 2; and Chad B. Van Dixhoorn, “Reforming the Reformation: Theological Debate at the Westminster Assembly, 1643–1652” (PhD thesis, Cambridge University, 2004).
(27.) Warfield, Westminster Assembly, 160. Warfield describes in detail the making of (p.482) chapter 3 of the Confession (ibid., chap. 2), indicating continuities and differences from the Lambeth and Irish Articles, a Westminster committee report, and the final wording of this chapter, a table he borrowed from E. Tyrell Green, The Thirty-Nine Articles and the Age of the Reformation (London: Wells Gardner, Darton, 1896). In chapter 3, Warfield covered the doctrine of “holy Scripture”; and in chapter 5, the doctrine of “inspiration.”
(28.) Again, an idiom that some ministers endorsed and others questioned. See, e.g., Carl R. Trueman, John Owen: Reformed Catholic Renaissance Man (Aldershot: Ashgate, 2007), chap. 3.
(29.) The distinction between two orders of time is described more fully in Donald Sinnema, “God’s Temporal Decree and Its Temporal Execution: The Role of This Distinction in Theodore Beza’s Theology,” in Mack P. Holt, ed., Adaptations of Calvinism in Reformation Europe: Essays in Honour of Brian G. Armstrong (Aldershot: Ashgate, 2007), 55–78.
(30.) Light is shed on the relationship between faith and justification by what was said by members of the Westminster Assembly when it was deciding to approve or modify the statement, “in general apprehension, faith goes before justification” (Dixhoorn, Minutes 2: [Oct 43], 172–78), a debate entangled in explanations of how “preparatory works” differed from those that occur after faith and the relationship between justification, which in the abstract was God’s doing, and its “actual” unfolding in human time.
(31.) All quotations taken from The Confession of Faith and Larger and Shorter Catechisms (Glasgow: Free Presbyterian Church of Scotland, 1976).
(32.) Dickson, Truths Victory over Error: A Commentary on the Westminster Confession of Faith, trans. and ed. John R. De Witt (Edinburgh: Banner of Truth Trust, 2007), 71, 82–83, 113-14.
(34.) The Confession may also be read as a retort to hypothetical universalism, for it implies that the scope of the Atonement is limited to the elect (chap. 11) and does not use the words “sufficient” and “efficient.” During the assembly itself, Edmund Calamy argued on behalf of that terminology. Calamy, quoted in Alan C. Clifford, Atonement and Justification: English Evangelical Theology, 1640–1790, An Evaluation (Oxford: Clarendon, 1990), 75.
(35.) Walker, Creeds and Platforms, chap. 12. For these changes, see also Gribben, John Owen, 197–99. Although committed to a strong doctrine of the Holy Spirit, Owen objected to how it was being employed by radical Spiritists, for which see Sinclair B. Ferguson, “John Owen and the doctrine of the Holy Spirit,” in John Owen—The Man and His Theology, ed. Robert W. Oliver (Phillipsburg, NJ: Evangelical, 2002), 101–29.
(37.) Paul Chang-Ha Lim, In Pursuit of Purity, Unity, and Liberty: Richard Baxter’s Puritan Ecclesiology in Its Seventeenth-Century Context (Leiden: Brill, 2004), chap. 5.
(38.) Ibid., noting, among other texts, Baxter’s Confession of Faith (1655), where he questioned Owen’s understanding of the Atonement. As Lim points out (chap. 6), the statement of doctrine Baxter included in Christian Concord struck several contemporaries as inadequately Trinitarian. See also N. H. Keeble, “‘Take heed of being too forward in imposing on others’: Orthodoxy and heresy in the Baxterian tradition,” in Loewenstein and Marshall, eds., Heresy, Literature, and Politics, 282–305, an essay of great value for carrying the story toward to the end of the seventeenth century.
(44.) Turner, Choice Experiences, reprinted in Freeman, Company of Women Preachers, 319, 323, 333, and passim. Hansard Knollys, who spent a few years in New England before returning to his homeland, where he became a Baptist and Fifth Monarchist, narrated a similar transition from being a “formal Professor, a legal performer of Holy Duties” and living “a Life of Works, and not of Faith” to a life directed by the Holy Spirit, a story told in The life and death of … Mr Hansard Knollys (1692).
(45.) John H. Taylor, “Some Seventeenth-Century Testimonies,” Transactions of the Congregational Historical Society 16 (1949–51), 64–77; John Rogers, Ohel or Beth-Shemesh (1653), 393–94, 402–7, 410.
(46.) A telling example because it narrates so fully the practices and experiences associated with the practical divinity is Norman Penney, ed., Experiences in the Life of Mary Pennington (written by herself) (Philadelphia: Biddle, 1910).
(47.) John Bunyan, Grace Abounding and The Life and Death of Mr Badman, ed. G. B. Harrison (London: Everyman’s Library, 1979), 12, 14–15, 225, 28, 30, 48; Roger Pooley, “Grace Abounding and the New Sense of the Self,” in John Bunyan and His England, 1628–1688, ed. Anne Laurence, W. R. Owen, and Stuart Sim (London: Hambledon, 1990), 105–14 (quotation, p. 109); Richard L. Greaves, John Bunyan (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1969), chap. 3, noting, among other matters, Bunyan’s insistence on linking faith and justification. Roger Sharrock points out that when Bunyan revised Grace Abounding, he added more “mystical” moments. Sharrock, “Spiritual Autobiography: Bunyan’s Grace Abounding,” in Laurence, Owen, and Sim, John Bunyan and His England, 100–101.
(49.) Baxter, The Reformed Pastor, ed. Hugh Martin (London: SMC, 1956), 28, 51, 53–54, 56–57, 61, 64.
(51.) David M. Powers, Damnable Heresy: William Pynchon, the Indians, and the First Book Banned (and Burned) in Boston (Eugene, OR: Wipf and Stock, 2015), chaps. 11, 12, 15. At the urging of the government, John Norton replied to Pynchon in the London-printed A Discussion of that Great Point in Divinity, The Sufferings of Christ (1653). For Stoughton, see Winthrop Papers 6:113–30, and for other disputes recorded in manuscripts, David D. Hall, “Scribal Publication in Seventeenth-Century New England: An Introduction and a Checklist,” Proceedings of the American Antiquarian Society 116 (2006): 29–80; Hall, “Scribal Publication in New England: A Second Checklist,” in ibid., 118 (2008): 267–96; Sargent Bush Jr., “After Coming Over: John Cotton, Peter Bulkeley, and Learned Discourse in the Wilderness,” Studies in the Literary Imagination 27 (1994): 7–22.
(52.) Hall, AC, 46–59 (the initial questions, with Cotton’s answers; the “Elders Reply” and Cottons’ “Rejoynder” follow, 60–151); God’s Plot: The Paradoxes of Puritan Piety, Being the Autobiography and Journal of Thomas Shepard, ed. Michael McGiffert (Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press, 1972), 65. See also Stoever, “Fair and Easie Way,” 52–53, and Winthrop Papers 3:324–26 (a statement by the Boston congregation, c. December 1636). That assurance of salvation and how it was validated lay at the heart of the controversy was established by Stoever, “Faire and Easie Way,” 169–74 and passim; and suggested in Hall, AC, 11–19. That Cotton was an authentic Calvinist, whereas the “legal” ministers were seeking a theological means of controlling lay behavior and stumbled on “preparation,” is argued (p.484) in Perry G. E. Miller, “‘Preparation for Salvation’ in Seventeenth-Century New England,” Journal of the History of Ideas 4 (1943): 259–86. The critiques include Stoever, “Faire and Easie Way,” app.: Preparation for Salvation; Tipson, Hartford Puritanism, chap. 10; and Abram van Engen, Sympathetic Puritans: Calvinist Fellow Feeling in Early New England (New York: Oxford University Press, 2015), chap. 2. That the “witness of the Spirit” was open to various interpretations is noted in Geoffrey F. Nuttall, The Holy Spirit in Puritan Faith and Experience (Oxford: Blackwell, 1946), chap. 3. See also Stoever, “Faire and Easie Way,” 120–22.
(53.) Bozeman, Precisionist Strain, chap. 11 (the most trustworthy reading of the early sermons). For overviews that vary in their emphasis, see ibid., chaps. 12–13; David Parnham, “John Cotton Reconsidered: Law and Grace in Two Worlds,” JEH 64 (2013): 296–34; Winship, Making Heretics; Stoever, “Faire and Easie Way,” chap. 3; and Michael J. Colacurcio, Godly Letters: The Literature of the American Puritans (Notre Dame, IN: University of Notre Dame Press, 2006), chap. 7. Misleading or erroneous scholarship is noted in Tipson, Hartford Puritanism, chap. 1. The “antinomian element” in Anthony Wotton’s doctrine of justification, the musings of John Preston, and John Goodwin’s sermons of the 1630s—focused, like Cotton’s, on differentiating the covenant of grace from the covenant of works and denying the necessity of preparation—may be pertinent. Parnham, Heretics Within, chap. 6 (esp. pp. 185–88).
(55.) Cotton, A Treatise of the Covenant of Grace, As it is dispensed to the Elect Seed, effectually unto Salvation: Being the Substance of divers Sermons preached upon Act. 7.8 (London, 1671), 11, 36–37, 19–20, 31, 19; Hall, AC, 36, 176–77, 181–83, 402–5, 128–30, 49. In his response to Robert Baillie, he acknowledged that during the synod he withdrew his objections to certain arguments, and he admitted that some in his congregation had been voicing “Erroneous and Hereticall opinions,” which he should have been quicker to correct. He also tried to put some distance between himself and Anne Hutchinson. Ibid., 407, 425, 408–9, 413–14. Whether he really changed his mind about assurance and the golden chain remains unclear.
(56.) Philip Gura, A Glimpse of Sion’s Glory Puritan Radicalism in New England, 1620–1660 (Middletown, CT: Wesleyan University Press, 1984), 61; Hall, AC, 160–62; Sargent Bush Jr., “Wheelwright’s Forgotten ‘Apology’: The Last Word in the Antinomian Controversy,” NEQ 64 (1991): 22–45; Winship, Making Heretics, 90–91; chap. 6 (detailing the struggle within the General Court to pursue Wheelwright for “sedition” or for “heresy”). Cotton revisited the 1637 sermon in a letter of 1640; see Sargent Bush Jr., “‘Revising what we have done amisse’: John Cotton and John Wheelwright, 1640,” WMQ, 3rd ser. 45 (1988), 733–50.
(57.) Ill-informed appropriations of Hutchinson abound. The exceptions include Amanda Porterfield, Female Piety in Puritan New England The Emergence of Religious Humanism (New York: Oxford University Press, 1982), chap. 3.
(60.) Ibid., 263, 316, 371, 412. The Short Story includes a summary of theological opinions attributed to her, one of them her assertion that the injunction to “worke out our salvation with feare” was “spoken onely to such, as are under a Covenant of works” (pp. 301–3). The ministers charged with questioning her in the run-up to her church trial prepared another list (pp. 351–52).
(61.) Hall, AC, 271, 337–38. Cotton was not as startled as others were to hear her say these things. See also George Selement, “John Cotton’s Hidden Antinomianism: His Sermon on Revelation 4:1–2,” NEHGR 129 (12975): 278–94.
(65.) Albro, Works of Shepard, 1: cxxix; Van Engen, Sympathetic Puritans, chap. 2. The central importance of “love” in Puritan discourse had previously been noted by J. Sears McGee, The Godly Man in Stuart England: Anglicans, Puritans, and the Two Tables, 1620–1670 (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1976), and Charles L. Cohen, God’s Caress: The Psychology of Puritan Religious Experience (New York: Oxford University Press, 1986), without, however, tying this concept to the debates of 1636–37 or to l John 3:14. Cotton dismissed this argument (Hall, AC, 183), as did Tobias Crisp.
(67.) Peter Bulkeley, The Gospel-Covenant; or, The Covenant of Grace Opened (1651), 98–99 and passim; Norton, Orthodox Evangelist, 318. Another local response worth noting was voiced by Henry Dunster in his relation to the Cambridge church. Familiar with the synod of 1637 and its contexts, he insisted that there are no “revelations without the word” and no doorway to Christ except through the “ordinances.” Obedience, which he translated into “holy” walking, was central to being a true Christian; anyone who “saith he hath faith and hath no obedience” (that is, repudiated the law) should not be allowed into a congregation. On this point he was emphatic: a “life in Christian obedience,” or “sanctification,” was an intrinsic part of the pathway to eternal life. Shepard, Confessions, 160–61.
(68.) Ostensibly a defense of the “morality of the Sabbath,” the Treatise also covers “the great controversy whether the law be a rule of life to a believer” and revisits the relationship between justification and sanctification, the place of “duties” in the work of redemption, and “how the gospel requires doing.” Among other assertions, Shepard insists that “believers are rational creatures … and therefore have some inherent power … to act.” Albro, Works of Shepard, 3: 96–97, 241, 247.
(70.) Albro, Works of Shepard, 1: cxxvii–cxxx; 2:19.
(73.) Ibid., 40–49, 84, 85; Colacurcio, Godly Letters, 375. In chap. 5, Colacurcio describes Shepard’s “Activivist Calvinism” as manifested in two earlier sermon series. Winship describes a more legalistic Shepard in Making Heretics.
(76.) See, e.g., John Goodwin, Certain Select Cases Resolved: Specially tending to the comfort of Believers (1651).
(78.) Charles M. Andrews, The Colonial Period of American History: The Settlements II (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1936), chap. 8.
(79.) See in general, Francis J. Bremer, Puritan Crisis: New England and the English Civil Wars, 1630–1670 (New York: Garland, 1989); James O’Toole, “New England Reactions to the English Civil Wars,” NEHGR 129 (1975): 238–49; and Timothy J. Sehr, Colony and Commonwealth: Massachusetts Bay, 1649–1660 (New York: Garland, 1989), chaps. 1, 4. In 1645, a Parliamentary committee told the government in Bermuda to allow a limited version (p.486) of toleration, but never addressed any of the orthodox colonies in New England in the same manner.
(80.) Winthrop Papers 5:356. Winslow’s efforts are briefly described in Hall, Worlds of Wonder, chap. 2. See also his letter to Winthrop (June 1646) warning him to be “better prepared … to stave off prejudice,” created by petitions to the Committee on Plantations in the Long Parliament. Winthrop Papers, 5: 87.
(81.) Disputes lie at the heart of Sumner Chilton Powell, Puritan Village: The Formation of a New England Town (Middletown, CT: Wesleyan University Press, 1967). On the other hand, the founders of Woburn, Massachusetts in the early 1640s were intentionally ethical, as were those of Lancaster, practices too commonly ignored by historians. Cf. Hall, ARP, chap. 2.
(84.) Doubts acknowledged with unusual frankness in New Englands First Fruits (1643), 24–26.
(85.) Winthrop Papers 5:42–45; Bernard Bailyn, The New England Merchants in the Seventeenth Century (Cambridge, MA.: Harvard University Press, 1955); Edward Johnson, The Wonder-Working Providence of Sions Savior in New England, ed. J. Franklin Jameson (New York: Scribners, 1910), 209–12; Sehr, Colony and Commonwealth, chap. 5. Bailyn’s thesis of hostility between merchants and the “traditionalism” of the ministers and their allies among the magistrates is revisited in Louise A. Breen, Transgressing the Bounds: Subversive Enterprises among the Puritan Elite in Massachusetts, 1630–1690 (New York: Oxford University Press, 2001). For an alternative, see Mark E. Peterson, The Price of Redemption: The Spiritual Economy of Puritan New England (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 1997); and Mark A. Valerie’s subtle reading of “Providence in the Life of John Hull: Puritanism and Commerce in Massachusetts Bay, 1650–1680,” Proceedings of the American Antiquarian Society, n.s., 118 (2008): 55–116.
(89.) John Cotton, The Keyes of the Kingdome (1644), repr. in Ziff, John Cotton, 75; Hall, FS, 112–13; Walker, Creeds and Platforms, 220; Edwards, Antapologia, 294; Bremer, Congregational Communion, chap. 7. Whether these rules altered congregational governance is questioned by James F. Cooper, Tenacious of Their Liberties: The Congregationalists in Colonial America (New York: Oxford University Press, 1999), 83.
(90.) Walker, Creeds and Platforms, 236–37. B. R. Burg places the wording of this chapter in the context of ministerial anxieties about interference by the magistrate in church affairs, or “erastianism.” Richard Mather of Dorchester (Lexington: University Press of Kentucky, 1976), chap. 5. Ongoing scuffles are described in Hall, FS, chap. 6.
(91.) Walker, Creeds and Platforms, 198, 205–6, 221–23; Baird Tipson, “Invisible Saints: The ‘Judgment of Charity’ in the Early New England Churches,” Church History 44 (1975): 460–71; Thomas Shepard and John Allin, A Defence of the Answer to the Nine Questions (1648), sig. D1v–D2r. Like their fellow Independents in England, Shepard and Allin also rejected the concept of a universal visible church. One way of viewing the phrasing about charity is to revisit the figure of the hypocrite that been disparaged by Hutchinson and Cotton in the 1630s. Partly in response to English critics, Cotton alleged that he and his fellow ministers would “rather 99 Hypocrites should perish through presumption, then one humble (p.487) soul belonging to Christ, should sinke under discouragement or despaire.” Cotton, The Way of the Churches of Christ in New-England (1645; written earlier), 58. In the same section (pp. 56–58), Cotton defended the importance of requiring more than mere “externall profession” of prospective members since, in his words, they should be “saints by calling,” but simultaneously endorsed admitting those of “weak faith.”
(92.) Increase Mather, The First Principles of New-England Concerning the Subject of Baptisme & Communion of Churches (Cambridge, MA, 1675), 2–3; [Mather], Church-Government, 22; Winthrop Papers, 4:211 The same correspondent observed that “rather would I live with breade and water … then … not being admitted in to the Congregation.” He also suggested allowing grandparents as “the seede unto whome the Covenant apprerteine.”
(93.) Burg, Richard Mather, 110; Bulkeley, Gospel-Covenant, pt. 2, esp. 154–59; John Cotton, Certain Queries Tending to accommodation and communion of Presbyterian & Congregationall Churches (1654), 13. See also Bush, Correspondence, 405. In mid-1645, John Winthrop wrote out a summary of reasons for preserving infant baptism (emphasizing Gen. 17), probably in response to Baptist statements but an intriguing sign of theological currents to which Mather was also responding. Winthrop Papers 5: 32.
(94.) Albro, Works of Shepard, 1:2; McGiffert, God’s Plot, 35; Mather, A Farewel Exhortation (Cambridge, MA, 1657), 9–10; Mather, First Principles, 24–26; Walker, Creeds and Platforms, 256. See also Albro, Works of Shepard, 3:522–24, 536. Increase Mather was responding to accusations that the new policy was an “invention.” His critics could cite his father Richard and John Cotton’s assertions of c. 1643 against the new policy, an embarrassing circumstance Mather circumvented by complaining that Cotton’s Way of the Churches was a corrupt text.
(95.) Public Records of the Colony of Connecticut, ed. J. Hammond Trumbull, 2 vols. (Hartford, 1850), 2:54–55; Walker, Creeds and Platforms, 291–93. Extracts from the “result” of this synod, A Disputation Concerning Church-Members and their Children in Answer to 21 Questions (1659), are included in Walker, Creeds and Platforms, chap. 11. Paul R. Lucas covers this and related issues on a regional basis in Valley of Discord Church and Society along the Connecticut River, 1636–1725 (Hanover, NH: University Press of New England, 1976), chaps. 2–4.
(96.) Walker, Creeds and Platforms, chap. 11, where the relevant publications and manuscripts are listed. Theological reasons for and against are described in Holifield, Covenant Sealed, chaps. 5–6. The fullest survey of how congregations responded is Robert G. Pope, The Half-Way Covenant: Church Membership in Puritan New England (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1969).
(97.) Mary McManus Ramsbottom, “Religious Society and the Family in Charlestown, Massachusetts, 1630 to 1740” (PhD, Yale University, 1987), a close reading of church records in the service of the argument (p. 88) that “church affiliation was fundamentally a social act and a family concern”); Bulkeley, Gospel-Covenant, 162. For more details on this process and its theological contexts, see Ann S. Brown and David D. Hall, “Family Strategies and Church Membership: Baptism and the Lord’s Supper in early New England,” in Lived Religion in America: Toward a History of Practice, ed. David D. Hall (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1997), 47–82, and the literature cited in the notes. See also Katherine Gerbner, “Beyond the ‘Halfway Covenant’: Church Membership, Extended Baptism, and Outreach in Cambridge, Massachusetts, 1656–1667,” NEQ 85 (2012): 281–301. The mature version of this system is beautifully described in Douglas L. Winiarski, Darkness Falls on the Land of Light: Experiencing Religious Awakenings in Eighteenth-Century New England (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2017), pt. 1.
(p.488) (98.) Bradford, Plymouth Plantation, 26 (alluding as well to cannibalism); Jenny Hale Pulsipher, Subjects unto the Same King: Indians, English, and the Contest for Authority in Colonial New England (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2005), intro., chap. 1. In American Passage: The Communications Frontier in Early New England (Cambridge, MA.: Harvard University Press, 2013), chapter 1, Katherine Grandjean describes the circumstances that led to the “Pequot War”; and in chapter 3, interactions with New Netherland and inter-tribal disputes of the 1640s and 1650s. The epidemics are described in Neal Salisbury, Manitou and Providence: Indians, Europeans, and the Making of New England, 1500–1643 (New York: Oxford University Press, 1984). William Bradford complained about Dutch incursions in Connecticut in the 1630s; see, e.g., Bradford, Plymouth Plantation, 257–60.
(99.) Situations noted in Winthrop Papers 5:19–20, 101, 111, 534, and other places in this and the subsequent volume of Winthrop Papers. The larger story is narrated from the colonists’ perspective in Alden Vaughn, New England Frontier: Puritans and Indians, 1620–1675 (Boston: Little, Brown, 1965). The history of the New England Confederation is reappraised in Neal F. Dugre, “Repairing the Breach: Puritan Expansion, Commonwealth Formation, and the Origins of the United Colonies of New England, 1630–1643,” NEQ 91 (2018): 382–417. Factors bearing on its activities and colonial diplomacy are described (with special attention to the French in Canada) in Laurie Henneton, “‘Fear of Popish Leagues’: Religious Identities and the Conduct of Frontier Diplomacy in Mid-17th Century Northeastern America,” NEQ 91 (2018), 356–83.
(100.) Michael P. Clark, ed., The Eliot Tracts (Westport, CT: Praeger, 2003), 259. The authoritative study of Eliot’s agenda as a missionary (up to 1675) is Richard W. Cogley, John Eliot’s Mission to the Indians before King Philip’s War (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1999). See also Charles L. Cohen, “Conversion among Puritans and Amerindians: A Theological and Cultural Perspective,” in Puritanism: Transatlantic Perspectives on a Seventeenth-Century Anglo-American Faith, ed. Francis J. Bremer (Boston: Massachusetts Historical Society, 1993), 233–56; William Kellaway, The New England Company, 1649–1776: A Missionary Society to the American Indians (London: Longmans, 1961), and William S. Simmons, “Conversion from Indian to Puritan,” NEQ 52 (1979): 197–218. In Dry Bones and Indian Sermons: Praying Indians in Colonial America (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 2004), Kristina Bross ably explicates the politico-international aspects of the missionary project.
(101.) Recs. MBC 3:281; the ordinance to this effect also included the provision that Indians who “come amongst the English, to inhabite in any of theire plantations” and do so “civilly & orderly” would have the same access to town lands as anyone else. As well, the statute endorsed the Indians’ ability to sue the colonists in civil courts (ibid., 281–82; see also 386). Simultaneously, the government was attempting to limit the sale of alcohol to Native Americans (ibid., 308).
(103.) David J. Silverman, Faith and Boundaries: Colonists, Christianity, and Community among the Wampanoag Indians of Martha’s Vineyard, 1600–1871 (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2005). Hiacoomes’s spiritual history was narrated in Experience Mayhew, Indian Converts; or, Some Account of the Lives and Dying Speeches of a considerable Number of the Christianized Indians of Martha’s Vineyard (1727), 1–12.
(104.) Responses sampled in Sehr, Colony and Commonwealth, 30–32. Simultaneously some of the ministers in New England were lamenting the explosion of theological diversity in England and the apparent paralysis of the government and orthodox clergy. Thomas (p.489) Shepard wrote in this fashion to Hugh Peter in 1645. “Thomas Shepard to Hugh Peter,” American Historical Review 4 (1898): 105–7.
(107.) Winthrop, Journal, 517; Recs. MBC 2:85; Hall, ARP, 123. The authoritative account of Baptists and how they were treated before 1660 is William G. McLoughlin, New England Dissent, 1630–1833: The Baptists and the Separation of Church and State, vol. 1 (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1971), chaps. 1–2, noting, as well, the common ground both sides occupied (p. 28).
(109.) Cotton, The Bloody Tenent, Washed, And Made White (1647), 8; Bush, Correspondence, 496–504. Earlier, in 1645, the Massachusetts government had insisted in response to English criticism that “such as differ from us only in judgment, in point of baptism or some other points of lesser consequence, and live peaceably amongst us … have no cause to complaine,” noting that the law had not been employed against them. [Hutchinson], Collection of Original Papers, 216. Colonial responses to criticism coming from England are described in Gura, Glimpse of Sion’s Glory, chap. 8; and Perry Miller, Orthodoxy in Massachusetts, 1630–1650 (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1933), chap. 8. The trope of “persecution” is reviewed and discounted by Alan S. Rowe, “The Problem of Toleration in Early Massachusetts,” Journal of Religious History 42 (2018): 200–221. Theological contexts and the politics that emerged around toleration in early Massachusetts are carefully described in Andrew R. Murphy, Conscience and Community: Revisiting Toleration and Religious Dissent in Early Modern England and America (University Park: Pennsylvania State University Press, 2001), chaps. 1–2.
(110.) Recs. MBC 3:415–16; Carla Pestana, “The City upon a Hill under Siege: The Puritan Reception of the Quaker Threat to Massachusetts Bay,” NEQ 56 (1985): 323–53; and Gura, Glimpse of Sions Glory, chap. 5. Why Quakers (or “Friends”) were regarded in England and the colonies as so menacing is suggested in Rosemary Moore, The Light in Their Consciences: Early Quakers in Britain, 1646–1666 (University Park: Pennsylvania State University Press, 2000), chap. 7.
(111.) Winthrop Papers, 6:353; see also Frederick Freeman, The History of Cape Cod, 2 vols. (Boston, 1858), 1:199 (a woman ordered to apologize publicly for calling another woman a witch). Every pre-1660 case is included in David D. Hall, Witch-Hunting in Seventeenth-Century New England: A Documentary History, 1638–1692 (Boston: Northeastern University Press, 1991); for initiatives on the part of the accused, see the case involving Winifred Holman and her daughter (1659–60) in Cambridge, which included their suit for defamation and strong support from church members. Two or possibly three of the women executed before 1660 had been accused of infanticide. Assertions that women were unfairly treated within the legal system are discounted in Cornelia Hughes Dayton, “Was There a Calvinist Type of Patriarchy? New Haven Colony Records Reconsidered in the Early Modern Context,” in The Many Legalities of Early America, ed. Christopher L. Tomlin and Bruce H. Mann (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2001), 337–56.
(112.) Letters of John Davenport, Puritan Divine, ed. Isabel MacBeath Calder (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1937), 82; Bush, Correspondence, 459–61; Clark, Eliot Tracts, 263. Cotton’s prophecy (written c. 1640 as a warning against decline!) appears in An Exposition upon the Thirteenth Chapter of the Revelation (1656), 93.
(113.) For details, see Susan Hardman Moore, Pilgrims: New World Settlers and the Call of Home (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2007); and Moore, Abandoning America: Life-stories from Early New England (Woodbridge: Boydell Press, 2013).
(p.490) (114.) New Englands First Fruits, 26; Winthrop Papers, 5:115, 126. Whether the colonists could sustain a viable identity as martyrs is a question Adrian Chastain Weimer addresses in Martyrs Mirror: Persecution and Holiness in Early New England (New York: Oxford University Press, 2011).
(116.) W. DeLoss Love, Fast and Thanksgiving Days of New England (Boston, 1895), 127; Albro, Works of Shepard, 1, cxlii–cxliv. Church discipline faltered and civil courts took over much of the work of policing social behavior.
(117.) Both are included in The Poems of Michael Wigglesworth, ed. Ronald A. Bosco (Lanham, MD: University Press of America, 1989) (quotation, p. 29). See also David Powers, Good and Comfortable Words: The Coded Sermon Notes of John Pynchon and the Frontier Preaching Ministry of George Moxon (Eugene, OR; Wipf and Stock, 2017), 27–28 (complaints dating from 1649). The amplitude and contexts of “declension” are described in Hall, FS, chaps. 8 and 10; and the misbehavior of “youth” may be sampled in Recs. MBC, 3:316–17, 353. That the colonists were alarmed by the possibility of succumbing to “Indianness” is described in John Canup, Out of the Wilderness: The Emergence of an American Identity in Colonial New England (Middletown, CT: Wesleyan University Press, 1990).
(118.) Sylvester Judd, History of Hadley (Hadley, MA, 1905), 73–75. Adrian Chastain Weimer has uncovered many more manuscript petitions dating from 1664–65 and describes them in “‘Our precious liberties and privillidges’: The Restoration of Charles II and the 1664–1665 Petition Campaign in Massachusetts-Bay,” NEQ (forthcoming, 2019).
(119.) In Toward Democracy: The Struggle for Self-Rule in European and American Thought (New York: Oxford, 2016), James Kloppenberg assigns a special significance to the making of town and colony governments (Rhode-Island’s in particular) in early New England in the larger story he tells.