Page images

the Lord Jesus Christ, the supernatural agency of the Spirit in renewing the hearts of sinners, justification by faith alone, divine sovereignty, personal election without any fore-sight of worthiness in the creature, perseverance in holiness unto the end, and the eternal punishment of the wicked as well as happiness of the righteous; these and the other kindred doctrines were prominent articles in all their confessions of faith. They had none of that critical acumen, which is now so dexterously employed, by some of their descendants, to explain away the most positive declarations of the Scriptures ; none of that daring which would pluck the crown from the head of Jesus; and none of that charity, which would present the right hand of christian fellowship indifferently, to him who adores Immanuel as God over all blessed forever, and to him who would degrade the eternal Savior, to the rank of mere manhood.

Secondly. In discipline, the founders of the New England churches were strictly congregational. They denied the authority of Archbishops, Bishops, and all such ecclesiastical tribunals, as exercised a coercive power in England and Scotland; but they admitted the right and expediency of consociating for mutual edification and advice.

Thirdly. The religion of our puritan fathers did not consist in mere abstract doctrinal propositions and modes of church government. It was eminently spiritual and practical. It was a religion of the heart, as well as the head. The essence of it was, that · holiness without which no man shall see the Lord' that love which is the fulfilling of the law.' They were men of prayer, and they were strong in faith.' They knew what it was to wrestle with the Angel of the covenant'and to prevail.'

They were peculiarly attentive, both to the smiles and frowns of providence. Public dangers and distresses, such as exposure to enemies, unfruitful seasons, the destructive rage of the elements, the ravages of insects, and all the more private afflictions and disappointments which they experienced, were regarded by them as the rebukes and judgments of a boly God, and as calling for public and private humiliation. Accordingly; they kept a great many solemn fasts, and received extraordinary answers to the prayers which, on such occasions, they offered up to him who was able to save.

No people, I believe, ever set a greater value upon the institutions of the gospel, or more conscientiously regarded its holy precepts. There was no sacrifice which they were not ready to make, to secure for themselves and their families, the regular administration of divine ordinan

Their first care, when they landed upon these shores, and afterwards in extending their settlements was, to organize churches, settle ministers, and build meeting-houses. And so highly did they prize religious instruction, that in some instances, even while their congregations were small and feeble, they supported both a pastor and a teacher at the same time. This was the case at Salem, Hartford, and New Haven.

Nor did they think it enough, merely to secure the talents and labors of the public teachers of piety, religion, and morality. They attended punctually upor, the preaching of the word. They were none of your fairweather, or half-day worshippers. They were not like too many of their descendants, whose week-day fortitude stands unquestioned, amid the war of elements, under the scorching blaze of summer, and the driving inclemencies of winter ; but when the sabbath comes, are so terri


fied by every cloud, and have such a dread of panting and shivering, that they cannot venture abroad. No. Our ancestors were none of these. They thought if it was the duty of ministers to preach, it must be the duty of the people to hear; and that if they were able to pursue their secular business through the week, they could, ordinarily, have no excuse, for absenting themselves from public worship on the sabbath. Indeed, in their strict and conscientious observance of holy time, as enjoined in the fourth commandment, they have left us an example worthy of themselves; and one which, at the same time, most solemnly reproves our degeneracy. In addition to what I have already said on this point, the following facts may serve as a general exemplification,

Notwithstanding the season was so far advanced, when the pilgrims whose landing we this day commemorate, arrived in the harbor of Cape Cod, and they knew not where to begin a settlement, they recalled their exploring parties, and all spent the first sabbath in appropriate religious duties on board the ship. In like manner, when four weeks later, Plymouth harbor was discovered by a party from the ship, and they found themselves overtaken by the sabbath on Clark's Island, they rested according to the commandment, and spent the day in worshipping the God who had hitherto preserved them, and on whom they depended for all future blessings. I well know, in what light these facts will be regarded by many, in this degenerate age : but surely no enlightened christian can ever regret, that the pilgrims had the most sacred regard for the sabbath, and other divine institutions. A lower tone of religious principle and example, must have had a pernicious influence upon many generations and would have divested them of their highest claims, to the reverence and grati

tude of the unborn millions, who will commemorate their exalted piety.

To the religious education of their children, as well as to the duties of the first table,' the early settlers of New Englaud paid great and constant attention. They gave · line upon line, and precept upon precept.' They instructed, warned, exhorted, and reproved, with singular fidelity; and in a word, made it their grand object, not to lay up riches for their offspring, but to bring them up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord.'

Fourthly. Next to the advancement of pure and undefiled religion in their own souls, and in the communities to which they belonged, the promotion of sound learning in public seminaries, and of general education among the people, were objects which lay nearest their hearts. In proof of this, it is only necessary to trace the history of our higher literary institutions and common schools, as exbibited in their respective charters, in the public acts for their encouragement, and in the private munificence by which they were early supported and endowed. Whoever may think it worth with his trouble, to look into the colonial laws of New England, will find the broad basis of our whole system of education, carefully laid by our wise and provident ancestors. Nor,

Fifthly, Were they unmindful, as the same venerable codes abundantly testify, of any measure that was necessary to guard the interests of morality in the community. They held in the utmost abhorrence, and bore the most decided testimony against profane swearing, drunkenness, tavern-haunting, gambling, wantonness, idleness, and vagrancy: and their pious exertions to preserve their children, from the destructive influence of immorality, in whatever shape it might appear, were crowned with a di

vine blessing. Those loathsome and ruinous vices, which have since ' come in like a flood' upon the land, were hardly known among them for two or three generations.

And now, in finishing this hasty sketch of the New England worthies, in her first and golden age, I must not fail to mention, that they were the steady friends, the active promoters, and the fearless champions of civil liberty. While they acknowledged the supremacy of the crown, they guarded the inalienable rights of the colonies, with consummate wisdom and prudence ; plead their cause from time to time, with distinguished ability ; and resisted every arbitrary encroachment upon their chartered privileges, with a firmness which has never been surpassed, and can never be too much admired. In truth, the patriots and heroes of later times, the Adamses, the Warrens, the Trumbulls and their associates, who achieved the independence of New England, only finished what their equally gallant grandsires had more than begun. While, therefore, we annually commemorate the heroism and perils of the men of '76, let us not forget, that we are even more indebted to the fathers, who counselled and prayed and acted for us, a century before Washington and Adams were born. In the management of public affairs, our ancestors remembered that they were acting for posterity; and it is very observable that in appointments to office, they not only, in general, gave their votes for the best men, but very rarely changed their candidates ; so that if a governor or an assistant, was found competent to the duties of his station, and continued to discharge them with fidelity, he was almost sure of being reelected for many years in succession. This policy is still pursued, to a great extent, by our southern brethren, especially in tbeir elec

« PreviousContinue »