網頁圖片
PDF
ePub 版

here, under their freedom and the stress of circumstance, so different a form and method of religious administration and discipline.

Cotton was equally a power here in Church and State, which, indeed, largely through his influence, were one. He was emphatically what is called a political minister and preacher. He was the clerical head of the Puritan Commonwealth. A very suggestive matter here presents itself for brief reference. Much has been written, alike in banter and in a caustic vein, about the assumption and exercise of an overawing clerical authority by the body of men in New England of which Cotton was so conspicuous a representative. They dictated, overrode, withstood opposition in civil affairs; they brought it about that magistrates exercised only a secondary and subordinate jurisdiction; they proposed or overruled legislation. It is indeed true that they did all this. But the grounds on which this power was temporarily conceded to them must be candidly recognised. It was not in the main from any personal prestige, or any official arrogance or assumption. The basis of the Puritan Commonwealth, as of the Church, was the Bible ; and the Puritan ministry derived its whole authority in civil affairs from their learning and skill in opening 'the Scriptures, -a common rule for them and for the people—a tribunal to which the people could compel them to defer. The meeting-house was also the court-room. We touch here a point which has scarcely found due recognition in all that has been uttered on this fruitful theme for censure and satire. The broadest possible distirction must be drawn between the basis and method of the influence exercised by the original Puritan ministry of New England upon the one hand, and, upon the other, everything associated with the sway of a priesthood and with spiritual, ghostly despotism. Whatever else they were, Cotton and his brother divines were not priests; they assumed and employed no such mediatorial official functions, conferred by "holy orders,' as those claimed boldly by the Roman Catholic clergy and occasionally advanced by Episcopal ministers. They repudiated everything suggested by or associated with that, to them, hateful title or office. Stern and searching as was the rule exercised by our original ministers in New England, not a single instance can be designated in which any one of them, on any occasion, demanded private confession or pronounced absolution, or personally enforced any measure of church discipline except backed by, and as the mouth-piece of, the covenanted fellowship to whose watch and ward the individual had committed himself. The spectacle would have been a unique one of a Puritan Church member seeking absolution from his minister, or dreading his threat of exclusion from heaven. As the Puritans read the Gospel sentences in which the Head of the Church committed to his immediate Apostles the power to bind and loose,' to grant or deny forgiveness of sins, they considered the prerogative to be strictly limited to those on whom it was conferred, to be exercised as strictly within the bounds set by the Giver. They never claimed that the awful prerogative was in those terms transmitted to them as preachers and pastors. Their shrewd English good sense would have withheld them from appropriating to themselves the pledge in the same sentence, that if they ate any deadly thing, it should not burt them.' Not venturing to try the experiment, they were content to restrict their office to the functions of teaching and the pastorate. They had no system of exactions and fees for distinctive priestly services baptisms, marriages, funerals, and masses for the dead. In Church discipline the minister was but one of the brethren. He could not put a subject of it under probation, excommunicate him, or deprive him of any Christian privilege. He was not even a minister except for the service of the individual congregation which asked the service of him. Instead of relying upon an Apostolic succession, he reverted to the commission of the Master. Great as were the sway and the prestige of the New England Puritan ministers, they had but two supports, neither of them priestly, official, or functionary. One of these was his personal character, pure, blameless, demanding respect and confidence. The other was ability to certify and demonstrate by the Scriptures all that he taught or required. Those to whom he ministered accepted literally the august sentence of St. Paul, that each Christian man represented to himself and for himself the two highest functions of a self-ruler in civil and sacred affairs-he was himself a king and a priest unto God.'

The ministry of Cotton furnishes an admirable illustration of what has been said, both in the office which Winthrop assigns him as * Teacher of the Congregation of Boston,' and as a power in civil affairs. If ever he had regarded himself as a “priest,' he left that character behind bim on the other side of the ocean. He became here one of the brethren. He was like them, clerical or lay, a husband and a father, living an open life of neighbourliness and friendliness with those around him; not austere, not assuming; beloved for his virtues, esteemed for his fidelity, and deferred to for his skill in opening 'the Scriptures. It was simply and solely on this last-named quality that all his influence in civil affairs and over the legislative administration of the colony proceeded, because the magistrates and freemen deferred to the rule of the Scriptures as the fundamental authority. So, when per

plexing and contested questions were referred by the court, as often they were, to the judgment of the reverend elders,' it was precisely as when, in our own day, our legislature and executive ask the advice of counsel learned in the law. Cotton brought with him from his old parish and established here a Thursday Lecture.' It was a marked occasion in our early days. Magistrates and people from a wide neighbourhood assembled. It was made mercate day. The scholars were let off from their tasks. Condemned criminals were executed upon it, having first been taken to the meeting-house to hear the lecture. The secularity of the day enabled Cotton to enlarge the compass of his preaching to secular subjects; but his range, his advice, and his precedents were to be none the less conformed to what he could show was the rule of Scripture.' And his hearers kept a sharp watch upon him, following his references by means of Bibles in their hands, and often taking notes, of which many are extant. Cotton seems also to have introduced, in 1634, the custom, perpetuated to this day, of preaching a sermon on the annual election of governor and magistrates. On the first such occasion, meeting a temporary popular restlessness against the permanency of office-holding, he showed, of course from the Scriptures, that a magistrate ought not to be turned into the condition of a private man without just cause. In the same year the influence of Cotton was largely instrumental in securing Boston Common to posterity. The people had chosen a committee composed

of the inferior sort, leaving off the magistrates, for the division of the town lands, for fear that the rich would be favoured against the poor, The magistrates resented this, and a new election was ordered. In preparation for this, Cotton showed, in a sermon, that among the Israelites,' elders and magistrates were the proper persons' for sharing in the adjustment of such matters. So the Common was saved. Again, in 1644, a sharp contention arose between he magistrates and the represetatives of the people whether the magistrates, as a Standing Council, had power, in the recess of the General Court, to act in all necessary cases arising for which there is no express law provided, there to be guided by the Word of God, till the Court gives particular rules. This question was referred for consideration to the elders.' The answer, given through Cotton, was “Yes.'

Thus the influence of the early ministers of New England in secular and civil, as well as in religious affairs, divested of all ghostly and priestly functions, was simply that of men furnished with the best learning of their time, blameless, faithful, and exemplary in character and life, and skill in opening the Scriptures,' under the rule of which they and the people made up “a godly commonwealth. That there were ministers in the immediately subsequent generations who, through their official character, were stern, dictatorial, arbitrary—though never priestly—in their parishes is undeniable. But what, in general, the sum and method and fruits of their influence were, the household purity, the domestic fidelity, the family discipline, the industry, thrift, and steadily increasing prosperity of the scattered settlements of the Bay and its sister colonies may be asked to testify. Any one who is well read in New England history can appreciate the mission of the four Johns--John Wilson, John Cotton, John Norton, and John Davenport—and their brethren in the wilderness. It would be invidious to set in contrast with them and their ministry those who, with the order of the priesthood, held similar contemporary relations in the colonies of Virginia and Maryland, where the Established Church had authority. Let the candid pages of Blair, Hawks, Chace, Perry, and other Episcopal historians be examined for information on this matter.

INTERNATIONAL REVIEW.

V.—THE DIVINE SONSHIP OF THE FOURTH

GOSPEL

AN ESSAY, BY E. ILLINGWORTH. Read at Doncaster before the Ministers' Association of the Hull District. It is said that St. John wrote his Gospel for the double purpose of arresting the errors of Gnosticism and of placing on a firm basis the dogma of the Divine Incarnation. If by Simon Magus Gnosticism was originated, by Cerinthus it was considerably developed. Cerinthus was a contemporary of St. John and a resident in the same town. His leading tenets were not many. The visible world had been made, not by the Supreme God, but by a Demiurgus, an ancient emanation, which, having degenerated, it was necessary to control by the Eon, Christ. Jesus was naturally and entirely the son of Joseph and Mary: the Eon descended on Him at His baptism, and left Him at His apprehension.

During the latter half of the first century Ephesus was one of the most highly-favoured of cities. There, for the space of about three years, the greatest of Apostles had set forth Christian doctrine; and as he was leaving Asia under a strong impression that he should never return, when about thirty miles off he sent for the Ephesian Elders, and, in language of the uttermost tenderness, solemnity, and dignity, he gave to them his final charge, commanding them to take heed to themselves and to all the flock over which the Holy Ghost had made them bishops. Afterwards St. John, the most contemplative, the most philosophic, and the only surviving one of the original twelve, took the oversight of this favoured Church. On his being summoned to Rome as one of the impious,' on his being cast into a cauldron of boiling oil and coming out unscathed, on his banishment to the lonely, desolate Isle of Patmos, on his fleeing from the bath in an almost nude condition when the noted heretic Cerinthus entered, and on the reiteration of his brief sermon, Love one another,' we need not dwell.

The doctrine of the Divine Incarnation has been rejected by almost all great heresiarchs. The Jewish authorities, the Scribes, Pharisees, and Saducees, not only rejected the doctrine, but they caused the Master to be put to death for asserting it. As they were the first great sinners, they have suffered most and suffered longest, as a consequence. Amidst indescribable cruelties Jerusalem had been destroyed ; of the

« 上一頁繼續 »