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to Robinson to know his opinion, the church may have celebrated the sacrament of the Lord's Supper under guidance of Mr. Brewster as their elder. But neither they nor he could feel satisfied without his sanction as to such a course, and the expression of Robinson's opinion seems to have decided the matter. They seem after that to have remained without the administration of the sacraments, until they had an ordained minister with them. It was a needless deprivation, self-imposed, since the same power and right, vested in them by the Lord Jesus, of choosing and ordaining their own minister, would have authorized them to appoint their elder to the business of administering the sacraments. And indeed, if they were so situated as to be deprived of the assistance or guidance of either pastor or elder, they could have appointed their deacon for that service, or one of their own members; for nowhere in the Word of God is the authority, propriety, or edifying power of the sacraments restricted to the circumstance of ordination in the person or persons presiding at their administration. Of the Lord's Supper especially it must be acknowledged that it is a commemorative ordinance belonging to the church, and in their power and right to celebrate either with or without an ordained minister, as they see fit. It is for other and higher purposes mainly that elders are required of the Lord Jesus to be appointed in every church, and not because without them the Lord's Supper could not be celebrated.
Nevertheless, Robinson's opinion was very explicit against Elder Brewster having any authority to administer the sacrament, and perhaps he would have thought it still more unbecoming, if not actually unlawful, for any church to enjoy the sacraments, or celebrate the Lord's Supper, without an ordained minister to break the bread. And we .conclude, that mainly in consequence of this opinion and advice, Mr. Brewster did not and would not assume any function supposed by their pastor to belong exclusively to
the Elders appointed to teach and exhort, and labor in the word and doctrine. For the same reason the church also quietly waited, denying themselves one of their greatest privileges and enjoyments in the Gospel.
They even suffered in the estimation of some, in consequence of this, and their adversaries in England made it an occasion of slander ; as also they did the freedom with which the brethren of the church were accustomed to exhort one another in their worshipping assemblies. They accused the church as being not only independent, but disorderly, and disaffected towards the ministry, whereas it was one of their greatest trials that they had to remain so long without a settled Pastor. “I find,” says Mr.John Cotton, writing in 1760, " that the want of Sacraments was equally objected against them by adversaries in England." To which they sent this answer, verbatim, as recorded in the church records, namely: “The more is our grief that our Pastor is kept from us, by whom we might enjoy them; for we used to have the Lord's Supper every Sabbath, and Baptism as often as there was occasion of children to baptize.'”
In Mr. Cushman's letter to the colony on the part of the friendly adventurers, given in Gov. Bradford's Letter Book, and dated Dec. 18, 1624, he says: “Let your practices and course in religion in the church be made complete and full. Let all that fear God amongst you join themselves thereunto without delay. And let all the ordinances of God be used completely in the church without longer waiting upon uncertainties, or keeping the gap open for opposites. ” This would seem to intimate, that in Mr. Cushman's opinion, as well as that of others, the church ought to have celebrated the Sacrament of the Lord's Supper, although without an ordained pastor.
And we should have judged it not likely, that with a man like Mr. Brewster as their spiritual guide, though not ordained their Pastor, the church of the Pilgrims, at Plymouth, would have passed three or four years without the administration of the Sacramental ordinance. It is somewhat singular, and not of a piece with the largeness and scriptural freedom of his views generally, that Robinson should have insisted so strongly upon the distinction and even opposition between the offices of the ruling and teaching Elder on this point. Inasmuch as they had but one Pastor in the church at Leyden, and one Elder, it is unquestionable that Mr. Brewster was regarded occasionally, even there, as a teacher, but there the question as to his authority alone to administer the Sacraments had never come up; he was simply the assistant of the Pastor.
In the Ecclesiastical History of Massachusetts, published by Dr. Elliot, in the Historical Collections of the Society, it is said that the pastoral care of the Church was offered to Mr. Brewster, but that he was too modest to accept of it. He was indeed a man of genuine and delightful modesty and humility; but we incline to think it was mainly the opinion of Robinson, with the feeling of assurance the Pastor had of soon joining them himself, that prevented him.
Belknap also says that Brewster “never could be persuaded to administer the sacraments, or take on him the pastoral office; though it had been stipulated before their departure from Holland, that those who first went should be an absolute Church of themselves, as well as those who stayed; and it was one of their principles that the brethren who elected, had the power of ordaining to office. Had his diffidence permitted him to exercise the pastoral office, he would have had more influence, and kept intruders at a
Dr. Elliot, in his biographical notice of Brewster, likewise repeats that he would not accept the office of pastor, but preached to the people who came over with him to Plymouth, and performed most part of a minister's duty.
Belknap's American Biography, Vol. ii. 257, 266.
The Church were benefited by his labors, and would have been happy if he had consented to administer the ordinances, for he was wise, learned, and prudent."
Elliot says that he was born in the year 1560.* Other authorities say 1564 ; indeed, Gov. Bradford's computation makes it nearly or quite certain that this must be the right date. He lived and labored till the middle of the seventeenth century.
In most of the churches in New England, within little more than fifty years from that time, the distinction between teaching and ruling Elders had almost entirely ceased. But in the confession of faith by the churches, in 1680, it is declared that the Sacrament of the Lord's Supper may not be dispensed by any but by a minister of the word lawfully called ; and the Cambridge Platform of 1649 recognises the ruling elder's office as distinct from the office of pastor and teacher.
Elder Brewster was really the stated and habitual teacher of the Pilgrim Church at Plymouth, until about the year 1629, when, after several disappointments, they once more had a settled Pastor. “ When the church had no other minister," says Governor Bradford," he taught twice every Sabbath, and that both powerfully and profitably, to the great contentment of the hearers, and their comfortable edification. Yea, many were brought to God by his ministry. He did more in their behalf in a year, than many, that have their hundreds a year, do in all their lives.” This is written with reference particularly to the fact that in his office as Elder, Mr. Brewster received no emolument for his ministerial services. Yea, he could say with Paul, yourselves know that these hands have ministered to my necessities. But this all the Pilgrims had to be able to say, and he was one of the foremost in energy and disinterestedness. “He was no way unwilling,” says Governor Bradford,“ to take his part and bear his burden with the
* Elliot's Biog. Dict. 86.
rest, living many times without bread or corn many months together, having many times nothing but fish, and often wanting that also ; and drank nothing but water for many years together, yea, until within five or six years of his death. And yet he lived, by the blessing of God, in health until very old age: and besides that, would labor with his hands in the fields as long as he was able.”
It is evident from Governor Bradford's account, that they could not easily have got a better Pastor, unless they had had Mr. Robinson himself; also, that they really looked to Elder Brewster as their Pastor in Robinson's place. “In teaching,” says the Governor," he was very stirring, and moving the affections ; also very plain and distinct in what he taught; by which means he became the more profitable to the hearers. He had a singular good gift in prayer, both public and private, in ripping up the heart and conscience before God, in the humble confession of sin, and begging the mercies of God in Christ for the pardon thereof. He always thought it were better for ministers to pray oftener, and divide their prayers, than to be long and tedious in the same ; except upon solemn and special occasions, as on days of humiliation and the like. For the government of the Church, which was most proper to his office, he was careful to preserve good order in the same, and to preserve purity, both in the doctrine and communion of the same, and to suppress any error or contention that might begin to arise amongst them; and accordingly God gave good success to his endeavors herein, all his days, and he saw the fruit of his labors in that behalf.”
Now we repeat the question, where could the Pilgrim Church have found a better Pastor than is here described in the character so beautifully drawn of Elder Brewster, by one who knew him so thoroughly and intimately as Governor Bradford ? It is not so surprising that with such a man for their Elder, they felt that they could very safely