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teachings. Very much like Richard Baxter in the period of his earliest religious anxieties, he was much aided by the conversation of a young person, then apparently a true Christian, but afterwards an apostate, who introduced him to the company of others of similar views and feelings with his own.
And now he began to be scoffed at by his neighbors and uncles as a Puritan, but nothing could divert him from his course, or interrupt the progress of the work of God's Spirit within him. Like Christian in his first awakening in the City of Destruction, he was too deeply anxious, saw too clearly the worth, the guilt, and the ruin of his soul, to be turned aside by the jeering of the idle and profane; even though they were of his own household. And very soon, by the unchristian nature of the persecutions raging around him, he and his fellow-disciples of Christ, after sundry years of patient endurance of trial, were led to see by the light of God's Word that the ceremonies imposed upon them were, in such penal imposition, unlawful, and that the tyrannous power of the prelates ought not to be submitted to, being contrary to the freedom of the gospel, compulsorily burdening men's consciences with a profane mixture of persons and things in God's worship. By reading, by discourse, and prayer, they were led to question whether they ought not to form a separate church and society of the faithful, who should keep close to the written word of God as the rule of their worship. They were at length brought to the determination that they both might and ought thus enter into a voluntary church covenant with Christ and with one another, to walk in his ways, whatever it might cost them. And thus was the Pilgrim Church gathered from the counties of York, Lincoln, and Nottingham.
Bradford himself passed through many distresses of mind as to his own duty, but at length, in God's mercy, saw it very clearly, and engaged in it without the least hesitation. “He took up,” says Cotton Mather, “ a very deliberate and understanding resolution," which he cheerfully prosecuted, although the rage of his friends and relatives tried all imaginable ways to reclaim him from his madness. Some lamented him, some derided him, all dissuaded him; but he was no Pliable to be turned back by the Slough, either of importunity or persecution, and the more they vexed him, the more fervent grew his purpose, and the more earnestly and resolutely he persevered. He answered their arguments and reproaches thus: “Were I like to endanger my life, or consume my estate by any ungodly courses, your counsels to me were very seasonable ; but you
know that I have been diligent and provident in my calling, and not only desirous to augment what I have, but also to enjoy it in your company; to part from which will be as great an evil as can befall me. Nevertheless, to keep a good conscience, and walk in such a way as God has prescribed in his word, is a thing which I must prefer before you all, and above life itself. Wherefore, since it is for a good cause that I am like to suffer the disasters which you lay before me, you have no cause to be either angry with me or sorry for me. Yea, I am not only willing to part with everything that is dear to me in this world for this cause, but I am also thankful that God has given me a heart so to do, and will accept me so to suffer for him."
From 1602 to 1606 Bradford remained with the church, a partaker of their afflictions in the gospel, which, towards the end of that period, were many and grievous to be borne. After their division into two congregations the Pilgrim church contrived to elude the malice of their persecutors, by meetings appointed from one place to another, as they could, so that for about a year they succeeded in maintaining worship every Sabbath. But this could not last, and at length, by joint consent, they resolved to flee into Holland. But even this short passage they did not accomplish without the extremest difficulty and hardship, encountering pillage, prisons, and almost death in the way. All the ports and havens in England were shut upon them, so that they were forced to escape secretly, by bribing the sailors, and likewise paying extravagant sums for conveyance.
The first attempt made by Bradford was in company with a large number of the church, who hired a ship at Boston wholly for themselves, and engaged the master to take them at a particular day. After long waiting and large expenses, the mercenary wretch, having laid a plot on shore to betray them, came by night and got them with their goods on board, and then gave them up to the insolence of the catchpole officers, who cast them into open boats, rifled them of their money, books, and goods, hurried them back with much indecency, both men and women, amidst a crowd of gazers and scoffers, into the town, and there threw them all into prison. Seven of them, among whom was Elder Brewster, were kept imprisoned and bound over to the assizes, but the greater part were released, and sent back to their native villages in the space of about a month.
Bradford was now eighteen years of age, elastic, and full of the courage and hope of youth amidst all these difficulties. The next spring, in 1608, they made another attempt, and hired a Dutchman at Hull to take them over; but on the appointed day, by the time a single boat-load of the men had been got on board (the bark being grounded, and so delayed, in which the women and children were placed, with the goods to be conveyed to the ship), the whole country was out in pursuit of them, horse and foot, as against a foreign invasion. When the Dutch captain saw that, he swore his country's oath, weighed anchor and made sail instantly, without any regard to the distress of the poor men thus separated from their wives and children, or of the poor women and children thus left unprotected on the shore. Meantime a tremendous storm arose of fourteen days' endurance, in which they were driven even to the coast of Norway; neither sun, moon, nor stars were
visible for seven days; but at length, by the mercy of God, after imminent peril of foundering, they reached port in safety. There also the women and children whom they had left behind them, after being driven about from one constable to another, in endurance of much distress and suffering, were at length permitted to join them; and the rest of their brethren, after great storms of opposition, and “notable passages of trouble in wanderings and travels by sea and by land, got over at last, some at one time and some at another, and met together again with no small rejoicing.”
But here they were, in the midst of a strange city, at Amsterdam, unacquainted at first with the trades and traffic by which the country doth subsist, having been used only to “a plain country life, and the innocent trade of husbandry." Their perplexities and trialş must have been very great. Bradford betook himself at once to learning the art of working or dyeing in silks. Then at the end of two years, so soon as his age permitted him to do it, when the church had removed to Leyden, he converted his estate in England into ready money and set up for himself. But in his business he met with disappointments and losses, which he received as God's checks and chastisements, because he had, in the midst of worldly cares, “suffered his inward piety to fall into certain decays;" the consumption of his estate, Cotton Mather tells, he thought came to prevent a consumption in his virtue.
When the Pilgrim Church was translated from Leyden to Plymouth, Bradford was 32 years of age. Both with his estate, what there was of it remaining, and his personal activity, he must have been of the most invaluable service amidst all the business, harassments, and difficulties of their preparation for the voyage. He had been married in England, and had at least one child living. Notwithstanding the sickness and disadvantages of his childhood, and the various changes, interruptions, and adventures of his life, he had acquired an excellent education, especially in the languages. He was master of the Dutch tongue, almost as his vernacular dialect; the French was familiar to him ; the Latin and Greek he had learned thoroughly ; but above all he most diligently studied the Hebrew, because, as he said, he would see with his own eyes the ancient oracles of God in their native beauty. He had mingled much with men of various classes, habits, opinions, and pursuits, and had learned to bear with the prejudices of his neighbors, and to avoid the spirit of obstinacy and intolerance, especially in indifferent things, while yet he held firmly, without the least abatement, to the truth. His experience in Amsterdam and Leyden, as well as the admirable instructions and example of his Pastor, had taught him much heavenly wisdom, and he could discern and note the evil tendencies and extremes, not only of intolerant superstition and formalism in the church party, but of unnecessary
and uncharitable rigidness in his own.
He gives a curious illustration of the manners and prejudices of his own times and native region in England. Ile
says he was in the company of a godly man who had been long time a prisoner at Norwich for Christ's sake, but was set at liberty by Judge Cooke. After going into the country and visiting his friends, this man was returning to pass over into the Low Countries by ship at Yarmouth, and there desired Mr. Bradford and some others to go with him to the house of an ancient woman in the city, who had been very kind and helpful to him in his sufferings. The eyes of the good woman were dim and almost blind with age, but she knew the voice of her friend, and made him very welcome, and those who were with him. After some time of their entertainment, when they were ready to depart, she came to her old guest, and felt of his band at the neck-cloth, and perceiving it was something stiffened with starch, she was much displeased, and reproved him very sharply, fearing God would not prosper his journey. Poor