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THE ADVENT OF THE PURITANS.
(See the Engraving )
BY REV. F. C. WOODWORTH.
That was a great event in the world's history, though at the time it seemed unimportant enough, when a clumsy-looking vessel, called the Mayflower, found its way into the harbor of Plymouth, on the eastern shore of Massachusetts, and when a company of devout men and women landed from that vessel and offered up their first prayer in this new world. It was the first scene of a great drama, or better, perhaps, the prologue of a grand epic poem. Two hundred and thirty years ago, amid the frosts and snows of a New England winter, those pilgrims began their career on this side of the Atlantic. Why came they here? Adventurers to foreign climes are usually stimulated by hopes of pecuniary gain. The multitudes who, from our Eastern States, are now pushing forward toward the West; who, not content with the territory legitimately within the boundaries of our Union, are, by different routes, long and dangerous, wending their way to California, are in pursuit of gold, or its equivalent. Was it for this that those stera-hearted Puritans hazarded so much? Was it for this that they contributed so much, though, at the time, so unconsciously, to the formation of a new and mighty empire ? Nothing of the kind. Whatever else we may affirm or deny. concerning them, we are forced to admit that they came here for no other reason than to find an asylum where they might worship God as they chose—where no one would come between them and their Creator, and dictate to them the particular mode to be observed in their devotions. Such a privilege they had not in the fatherland. They were there hunted down, by the most tyrannical and unjust persecution.
Are the outlines of the previous history of the Puritans familiar to you, reader ? It is a history worth studying. To the philososher, no less than to the devout Christian, it is interesting and instructive. “I will make these men conform," said the weak, false, bigoted, narrow-minded, arrogant James, in the celebrated conference at Hampton Court, “I will make them conform, or I will hurry them out of the land, or else worse.” He was as good as his word, as Daniel Neale somewhat humorously said of him. As for making them conform, the orthodox king found it hard work—too hard, indeed, for even the sagacity of his majesty. They preferred to be hurried out of the land. And so they fled, some of them, to Holland, and formed churches there. There was a little flock enjoying the ministrations of one John Robinson, and dwelling in that part of England where Nottinghamshire, Lincolnshire, and Yorkshire border on each other. This Robinson was a man of large-hearted benevolence and uncommon purity of life, and he imparted, it would seem, a good share of this spirit to the people for whom he labored. He could not endure the intolerance of James's reign. His companions could not endure it. Many of them, with Mr. Robinson himself, and others accustomed to ministerial labor, were among the number of those who emigrated to Holland. Some idea of the excellent spirit of these men may be gathered from the language uttered by Mr. Robinson, and in the sentiment of which, we may rationally conclude, the emigrants generally coincided. “Our faith is not negative,” he says, “nor consists in the condemning of others, and wiping their names out of the head-roll of churches; but in the edifying of ourselves. Neither require we of any of ours, in the confession of their faith, that they either renounce or in word contest with the Church of England." The aim of these men, and of the Puritan emigrants generally, was the “edifying of themselves” in the faith of Christ. They were adventurers, but neither money nor sordid, selfish policy had anything to do with attracting them away from old England.
Eight years rolled away, and various circumstances contributed to excite in the minds of these exiles an inquiry for another home; one where they could more perfectly than in Holland accomplish the end they had in view when they left their native country. They thought of America, and the more they thought of it, the more they were inclined to visit it. “It was a great thought,'
says one-this of planting a colony on these transatlantic shores“the seed of a great empire, which was thrown out by the man, whoever he was, that first suggested to his companions the daring enterprise. I should like to know the spot on which it was expressed, and to have a picture of the rest of the exiles at the moment of hearing it.” They were well aware of the sufferings and perils to which they would be exposed in the new world. “We shall be liable to famine,” they said-poor men! What a commentary is here on their persecutions in England and the strength of their religious principle!“We shall be liable to famine, and nakedness, and want; and those who escape these evils, will be in danger of the savages, who are cruel and barbarous, not being content to kill, but delighting to torment in the most bloody manner; flaying men alive with the shells of fishes; cutting off the joints by piecemeal, broiling them on coals, and eating collops of their flesh in their very sight.”
This was an appalling picture, indeed. Yet these good men determined, after much deliberation and prayer, that America was the place to which the finger of God pointed them. A part of the company in Holland determined upon the voyage. The farewell address of their pastor, Mr. Robinson, was touching in the extreme. It was decided that he should remain behind for a time, and that Mr. Brewster should accompany the emigrants, as their spiritual teacher. How much of the spirit of Paul is exhibited in these words from the parting address of Robinson :
Brethren, we are now to part asunder, and the Lord knoweth whether ever I shall live to see your faces again. But whether the Lord hath appointed it or not, I charge you before God and his blessed angels, to follow me no farther than I have followed Christ. If God should reveal anything to you by any other instrument of his, be as ready to receive it as ever you were to receive any truth by my ministry; for I am very confident the Lord hath more truth and light yet to break forth out of his holy word.” The godly man accompanied the adventurers to the shore, at Delft Haven, where they were to embark for a wilderness across the Atlantic. Then he kneeled down and prayed with them all. They separated—the pastor to resume his hum
ble labors in Leyden—the rest to commence their perilous voyage toward the new world. Robinson's heart was with these pilgrims. Though circumstances seemed then to prevent his going with them, he intended soon to follow them. His Master, however, had another mission for him to perform. He never left Holland, till angels came and convoyed him to heaven.
Many were the hardships and trials of this company of pilgrims, while on their way to this continent. They landed on the twenty-second day of December, '1620. How admirably does that inimitable lay of Mrs. Hemans portray the advent of that little band of truth-lovers, and how just, and noble, and generous is her estimate of the motives which brought them hither.
“The breaking waves dashed high
On a stern and rock-bound coast;
Their giant branches toss'd.
The hills and waters o'er,
On the wild New England shore.
They, the true-hearted came;
And the trumpet, that sings of fame;
In silence and in fear-
With their hymns of lofty cheer.
And the stars heard, and the sea !
To the anthems of the free !
From his nest by the white wave's foam,
This was their welcome home!" It is true, every word of it, and from my inmost soul I thank the bard for those utterances. It is true, and so are the closing lines of this beautiful ballad :
• They left unstained what there they found
Freedom to worship God.”
The institutions they erected and handed down to us have excited the wonder, and, to some extent, the admiration of mankind, ever since. They had their faults, doubtless—they were not perfect men-but there were among them some of the noblest spirits the world ever knew. There is no need of this eulogy, however. Their good sense, their powers of discrimination, their integrity, the inflexibleness of their moral principle, their kind and fraternal spirit, and most of all, their deep, active, whole-hearted piety, are mirrored in the legacy they left us—the institutions which have made our land the freest and happiest of all lands.
“ TIMES change, and we change with them.” Nothing is truer, though, peradventure, nothing is staler. Ours is a different age from the past. The same agencies, political, social, moral, that were most effective twenty years ago, cease to be thus effective now. He who expects to accomplish the same results now, by the same or similar agencies, reckons without his host. He is doomed to disappointment. He will find, anon, that the world has run away from him. The genius of this age, so marked everywhere with the lines of free and bold thinking; so controlled by the impulse of the press ; so pervaded by the activity of steam and electricity, demands that different intellectual and moral machinery be set in motion, and kept in motion, in the social sphere, from that which worked well, and was perhaps the best accessible, a score of years ago. The same lever that then overturned error and confusion, and set up truth and order in the family constitution, is or may be almost powerless now. Nor is this at all strange or wonderful. It is impossible that society should stand still. It has no atiant state. Its wheels are continually turning round. They turn, too, as really, as constantly, as swiftly, whether we perceive their motion or not. Nothing, then, is more natural, than that, in this march of society, be it forward or back