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commonwealths."* The town was also the Church. Afterwards, when other settlements were made, churches were formed to make them, and then by acts of incorporation they became towns. Even the ministers were settled by the towns in town meetings, and the salary was established and annually voted. Thus it is true that to the independent churches is to be traced the origin of those independent communities, which assumed the name of towns; in the independent churches, indeed, is the germ of all our liberties, both civil and religious.
Mr. Baylies has remarked that the system of town-governments is neither known in England, nor does it prevail in the Southern States. “ Those who are strangers to our customs are surprised to find the whole of New England divided into a vast number of little democratic republics, which have full power to do all those things which most essentially concern the comforts, happiness, and wants of the people. Under the government of these little republics, society is trained in habits of order, and the whole people acquire a practical knowledge of legislation within their own sphere. To this mode of government may be attributed that sober and reflecting character, almost peculiar to the people of New England, and their general knowledge of politics and legislation. Many distinguished orators and statesmen have made their first essays in town meetings.”
Truly it was a process of God's guidance with our fathers, which we can never enough admire, in which he wrought out, by their gradual experience, the frame and model, the statutes and habits, of a free, well-ordered, selfgoverned, Christian State. This was not speculation on government, either ecclesiastical or civil, by men's theories, but action, by the light of God's Word, under the leadings of God's Providence. It was neither Milton, nor Algernon Sidney, nor Hooker, nor Bacon, teaching how a Chris
Baylies' Hist. Memoir of Plymouth, 240, 241, 256.
tian freedom might be man's possibility and privilege ; it was God revealing it in actual possession.
They were humble, unostentatious, obscure men, most of them, whom God chose as his instruments in this demonstration; men schooled in self-denial, prepared by a baptism in hardship and suffering; men of calm resolution, unrepining endurance, and cheerful trust in God. These men, and not the speculative philosophers of Church and State despotisms, were the instruments of God in opening and demonstrating to the world the truths essential to the world's peace, on which only the world's welfare could rest, by the working of which alone the world's kingdoms could be conducted to the enjoyment of an indestructible liberty. And not the Courts of regal, or representative, or hierarchical grandeur ; not the parliaments, or diets, or consulting assemblages of kingdoms a thousand years old; nor yet the applauded public stage of great cities, nor palace halls beneath the shadow of grand cathedrals, nor the magnificent cathedrals themselves, were the places which God chose for these last and grandest “ births of time,” for the suggestion or the demonstration of these simple, yet mighty truths; but the shadows of the primeval forest, log-huts in the wilderness, rough unbuilded hamlets of poor, wasted, dying men; conventicles, wigwams, and Town-meetings.
The opening of these truths was to be from point to point, not all at once, as a flood of supernatural light, but disciplinary, providential. And the experimental demonstration of these truths was to be as gradual as the growth of a vigorous, free, Christian State, in perfect religious liberty, beneath their light and influence. As a child
passes from discipline to discipline, from school to school, from lower to higher masters and branches of knowledge, so from step to step God led on our Fathers. He led them so naturally, that at that time they could no more see the great end to which he was bringing them, or the expected and intended
consummation of light, than a being ignorant of the material processes of our world, who should be placed for the first time where he could watch the dawning of the day, could measure the stealthy imperceptible steps of the morning, or predict the glorious appearance of the sun. Indeed, at the time, they were often so overwhelmed with difficulties, and absorbed in the questions of this day's and the morrow's preservation, that as to God's providence and intentions, or their own discoveries of his future will, they were like men lost in catacombs, and feeling their way in almost total darkness. Nevertheless, they were coming to discoveries which were to renew the face of the earth ; they were working out problems, by the solution of which the world was to be brought from its abode with the dead into the light of the living. Problems they were, upon the solution of which they could merely enter, merely take the first steps, while other generations would be requisite to complete them ; but the right entrance was essential, a beginning in and from God's Word; and had not the first steps been steps in God, the after-progress would have been from intricacy to intricacy, instead of opening into perfect day. It is one of the most instructive things in the world, to watch the beginnings and utter shipwreck and failure of several other enterprises, side by side with that of our Pilgrim Fathers, but not, like that, conducted with a supreme regard to God's glory, in obedience to God's Word, and in entire dependence on God's providence and grace.
GOVERNOR BRADFORD'S LETTER BOOK.
It was an incomparable and most grievous carelessness that suffered the precious manuscript of Governor Bradford's Letter Book to be lost. The only remnant saved is to be found in the volume of the Massachusetts Historical Collections for 1794, having been accidentally discovered in a grocer's shop in Halifax. It begins on the 339th page, the whole 338 preceding pages being lost irrecoverably. Into this work Governor Bradford seems to have systematically copied the whole of his correspondence relating to the affairs of the colony, interspersing and connecting it with remarks illustrative, and of the deepest interest, so that the whole formed an invaluable history.
The first document in it is a letter to Bradford, Allerton, and Winslow, and the rest of the colony through them, written doubtless by Mr. Sherley, but signed by eight among the Adventurers, who were of a good spirit, if the temper of the letter were theirs collectively, as it surely was of some severally. The letter is dated April 7, 1624. Of the man Weston it speaks in the following terms:
“ It is a dangerous case, when a man groweth naught in prosperity, and worse in adversity; and what can the end of all this be, but more and more misery? And for con
clusion with him, you may show him what we have wrote about him; and if that satisfy him not, but that he shall still follow his mad and malicious practices against you, warn him out of your precincts, and let it be upon his peril to set foot thereon; it being indeed no reason that a whole plantation should be disturbed or indamaged by the frantic humors of any one man whatsoever."
There are the following admirable Christian counsels set down in this letter, and worthy to be extracted and read.
“ Let it not offend you that we wish you to look to yourselves, as first, that you walk close with God, being frequent and fervent in prayer, instruction, and doctrine, both openly and privately. Secondly, that you instruct and bring up your young ones in the knowledge and fear of God, restraining them from idleness and profanation of the Sabbath. Thirdly, that you freely and readily entertain any honest men into your church estate and society, though with great infirmities and difference of judgment; taking heed of too great strictness and singularity even in that particular. Fourthly, that there be fervent love and close cleaving together among you that are fearers of God, without secret whispering or undermining one of another, and without contempt or neglect of such as are weak and helpless, if honest, amongst you. This do, and in all things be humble, cheerful, and thankful; that if you cannot grow rich in this world, yet you may be rich in grace; and if you can send us no other treasure, yet let all that visit you bring from you the fame of honesty, religion, and godliness,
, which we trust shall comfort us more than all else you can send us in this world.”
It was comforting to the Pilgrims to know that there were some men of this spirit of piety still standing by them
among the Adventurers ; and it was good to receive such counsels, for it made the colonists see and feel how the eyes of the world were upon them.