A STATED Meeting of the Society was held, at the invitation of Mr. Francis R. Hart, at No. 474 Beacon Street, Boston, on Thursday, February 28, at three o’clock in the afternoon, the President, Samuel Eliot Morison, in the chair.
The records of the last Stated Meeting were read and approved.
The Corresponding Secretary announced the death of the Hon. William Cushing Wait, an Honorary Member, on January 28, 1935, and of Charles Evans, a Corresponding Member, on February 8, 1935.
The Corresponding Secretary reported that letters had been received from Dr. Reginald Fitz accepting Resident Membership; from Mr. John Stewart Bryan accepting Corresponding Membership; and from Mr. James Bryant Conant, the Hon. William Cushing Wait, and Sir Charles Harding Firth accepting Honorary Membership in the Society.
Mr. Frank Wilson Cheney Hersey, of Cambridge, was elected a Resident Member of the Society.
Mr. Perry Miller read the following paper:
The Marrow of Puritan Divinity
WE invariably think of the original settlers of New England as “Calvinists.” So indeed they were, if we mean that in general terms they conceived of man and the universe much as did John Calvin. But when we call them Calvinists, we are apt to imply that they were so close in time and temperament to the author of the Institutes that they carried to America his thought and system inviolate, and to suppose that their intellectual life consisted only in reiterating this volume. Yet students of technical theology have long since realized that Calvinism was in the process of modification by the year 1630. There had come to be numerous departures from or developments within the pristine creed, and “Calvinism” in the seventeenth century covered almost as many shades of opinion as does “socialism” in the twentieth. The New England leaders did not stem directly from Calvin;685 they learned the Calvinist theology only after it had been improved, embellished, and in many respects transformed by a host of hard-thinking expounders and critics. The system had been thoroughly gone over by Dutchmen and Scotchmen, and nothing ever left the hands of these shrewd peoples precisely as it came to them; furthermore, for seventy years or more English theologians had been mulling it over, tinkering and remodelling, rearranging emphases, and, in the course of adapting it to Anglo-Saxon requirements, generally blurring its Gallic clarity and incisiveness.
Much of this adaptation was necessitated because, to a later and more critical generation, there were many conundrums which Calvin, and all the first Reformers for that matter, had not answered in sufficient detail. He had left too many loopholes, too many openings for Papist disputants to thrust in embarrassing questions. His object had been to compose a sublime synthesis of theology; he sketched out the main design, the architectural framework, in broad and free strokes. He did not fill in details, he did not pretend to solve the metaphysical riddles inherent in the doctrine. He wrote in the heyday of Protestant faith and crusading zeal, and it is not too much to say that he was so carried along by the ecstasy of belief that an assertion of the true doctrine was for him sufficient in and for itself. There was no need then for elaborate props and buttresses, for cautious logic and fine-spun argumentation.
Hence the history of Reformed thought in the late sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries reveals the poignant inability of Calvin’s disciples to bear up under the exaction he had laid upon them. He demanded that they contemplate, with steady, unblinking resolution, the absolute, incomprehensible, and transcendent sovereignty of God; he required men to stare fixedly and without relief into the very center of the blazing sun of glory. God is not to be understood but to be adored. This supreme and awful essence can never be delineated in such a way that He seems even momentarily to take on any shape, contour, or feature recognizable in the terms of human discourse, nor may His activities be subjected to the laws of human reason or natural plausibility. He is simply the sum of all perfections, that being who is at one and the same time the embodiment of perfect goodness and justice, perfect power and mercy, absolute righteousness and knowledge. Of course, man will never understand how these qualities in unmitigated fullness exist side by side in one being without conflict or inconsistency; though man were to speculate and argue to the end of time, he can never conceivably reconcile plenary forgiveness with implacable righteousness. Calvin said that it is not man’s function to attempt such speculation. Man has only to discover the specific laws, the positive injunctions which God has laid down in His written word, to take God’s statements as recorded, and to accept them through faith. “To desire any other knowledge of predestination than what is unfolded in the word of God, indicates as great folly, as a wish to walk through unpassable roads, or to see in the dark.”686 There does not have to be any necessary or discernible reason for these decrees, they do not have to form any comprehensive and consistent system; Calvin may with titanic effort marshal them in the form of a coherent logical pattern, but each individual item rests, in the final analysis, not upon the logic of its place in the system, but upon the specific and arbitrary enactment of God. The object of our faith, as far as His personal character is concerned, is an utter blank to human comprehension; He is a realm of mystery, in whom we are sure that all dilemmas and contradictions are ultimately resolved, though just how, we shall never in this world even remotely fathom.
It is of the essence of this theology that God, the force, the power, the life of the universe, remains to men hidden, unknowable, unpredictable. He is the ultimate secret, the awful mystery. God’s nature “is capable properly of no definition,” so that all that one can say is that “God is an incomprehensible, first, and absolute Being.”687 He cannot be approached directly; man cannot stand face to face with Him, “for in doing so, what do we else but draw neere to God, as the stubble or the waxe should draw neer to the fire?… He is a consuming fire to the sonnes of men, if they come to him immediately.”688 The English Puritans may be called Calvinists primarily because they held this central conception, though the thought is older in Christian history than Calvin, and they did not necessarily come to it only under Calvin’s own tuition. “Now, sayth the Lord, my thoughts go beyond your thought as much as the distance is betweene heaven and earth.”689 William Ames, whose Medulla Sacrae Theologiae was the standard text-book of theology in New England, lays it down at the very beginning that “what God is, none can perfectly define, but that hath the Logicke of God himselfe,”690 and argues that therefore our observance of His will can never be based upon God’s “secret will,” but only upon His explicitly revealed command.691 William Perkins, from whom Ames and English Puritans in, general drew a great share of their inspiration, asserted squarely once and for all that even the virtues of reasonableness or justice, as human beings conceive them, could not be predicated of God, for God’s will “it selfe is an absolute rule both of justice and reason”; and that nothing could therefore be reasonable and just intrinsically, “but it is first of all willed by God, and thereupon becomes reasonable and iust.”692 The glory of God no man or angel shall know, preached Thomas Shepard; “their cockle shell can never comprehend this sea”; we can only apprehend Him by knowing that we cannot comprehend Him at all, “as we admire the luster of the sun the more in that it is so great we can not behold it.”693
This system of thought rests, in the final analysis, upon something that cannot really be systematized at all, upon an unchained force, an incalculable essence. For the period of Protestant beginnings, for the years of pure faith and battle with Babylon, this doctrine, as Calvin expressed it, was entirely adequate. It took the mind off speculation, economized energies that might have been dissipated in fruitless questionings, simplified the intellectual life, and concentrated attention on action. The warriors of the Lord were certain that in the innermost being of God all the cosmic enigmas which the Scholastics had argued and debated to the point of exhaustion were settled, that they need not bother with ultimate truth in the metaphysical sense, because in faith and revelation they had clear and explicit truth once and for all. But by the beginning of the seventeenth century Protestant schools and lectureships had been established; the warfare with Rome had become a matter of debate as well as of arms, and logic had become as important a weapon as the sword. Calvinism could no longer remain the relatively simple dogmatism of its founder. It needed amplification, it required concise explication, syllogistic proof, intellectual as well as spiritual focus. It needed, in short, the one thing which, at bottom, it could not admit—a rationale. The difference between Calvin and the so-called Calvinists of the early seventeenth century cannot be more vividly illustrated than by a comparison of the Institutes with such a representative book as Ames’s Medulla (1623). Where the Institutes has the majestic sweep of untrammeled confidence, the Medulla, though no less confident, is meticulously made up of heads and subheads, objections and answers, argument and demonstration. The preface admits that some readers may condemn the author’s care for “Method, and Logicall form” as being “curious and troublesome,” but such persons would “remove the art of understanding, judgement, and memory from those things, which doe almost onely deserve to bee understood, known, and committed to memory.”694 Even if the specific doctrines of Calvinism were unchanged at the time of the migration to New England, they were already removed from pure Calvinism by the difference of tone and of method. It was no longer a question of blocking in the outlines; it was a question of filling in chinks and gaps, of intellectualizing the faith, of exonerating it from the charge of despotic dogmatism, of adding demonstration to assertion—of making it capable of being “understood, known, and committed to memory.”
The history of theology in this period indicates that the process of development was accomplished in many guises. Learned doctors wrote gigantic tomes on the Trinity or the Incarnation, and soon were creating for Protestantism a literature of apologetics that rivalled the Scholastic, not only in bulk, but in subtlety, ingenuity, and logic-chopping. For our purposes it is possible to distinguish three important issues which particularly occupied the attention of Dutch and English Calvinists. These are not the only points of controversy or development, but they may be said to be the major preoccupations in the theology of early New England. Calvinism had already by 1630 been subjected to attack for what seemed to Catholic, Lutheran, and Anglican critics its tendency toward self-righteousness at the expense of morality; in spite of Calvin’s insistence that the elect person must strive to subject himself to the moral law—“Away, then,” he cried, “with such corrupt and sacrilegious perversions of the whole order of election”695—there was always the danger that the doctrine of predestination would lead in practice to the attitude: “If I am elected, I am elected, there is nothing I can do about it.” If man must wait upon God for grace, and grace is irrespective of works, simple folk might very well ask, why worry about works at all? Calvinist preachers were often able to answer this question only with a mere assertion. Calvin simply brushed aside all objection and roundly declared: “Man, being taught that he has nothing good left in his possession, and being surrounded on every side with the most miserable necessity, should, nevertheless, be instructed to aspire to the good of which he is destitute.”696 Perkins taught that the will of man before it receives grace is impotent and in the reception is purely passive: “by it selfe it can neither beginne that conuersion, or any other inward and sound obedience due to Gods law”;697 he distinctly said that God’s predestination is regardless of any quality or merit in the individual, and that man can achieve any sort of obedience only after being elected. Ames restated this doctrine; yet at whatever cost to consistency, he had to assert that though without faith man can do nothing acceptable to God, he still has to perform certain duties because the duties “are in themselves good.”698 The divines were acutely conscious that this was demanding what their own theory had made impossible, and they were struggling to find some possible grounds for proving the necessity of “works” without curtailing the absolute freedom of God to choose and reject regardless of man’s achievement.
Along with this problem came another which Calvin had not completely resolved, that of individual assurance, of when and how a man might reach some working conviction that he was of the regenerate. The decrees of election and reprobation were, according to Calvin, inscrutable secrets locked deep in the fastness of the transcendent Will:
Let them remember that when they inquire into predestination, they penetrate the inmost recesses of Divine wisdom, where the careless and confident intruder will obtain no satisfaction to his curiosity, but will enter a labyrinth from which he will find no way to depart. For it is unreasonable that man should scrutinize with impunity those things which the Lord has determined to be hidden in himself; and investigate, even from eternity, that sublimity of wisdom which God would have us to adore and not comprehend, to promote our admiration of his glory.699
This was sufficient for men of 1550, but men of 1600 wished to ascertain something more definite about their own predicament. The curve of religious intensity was beginning to droop, and preachers knew that a more precise form of stimulation had to be invoked to arrest the decline; men wished to know what there was in it for them, they could not forever be incited to faith or persuaded to obey if some tangible reward could not be placed before them. Yet to say roundly that all the elect would be immediately satisfied by God of their promotion was to say that God was bound to satisfy human curiosity. The theologians could only rest in another inconsistency that was becoming exceedingly glaring in the light of a more minute analysis. Assurance is sealed to all believers, said Ames, yet the perceiving of it “is not always present to all”;700 this uncertainty, he was forced to admit, is a detriment to “that consolation and peace which Christ hath left to believers.”701
In both these discussions the attempt to arrive at bases for certainty led directly to the fundamental problem: no grounds for moral obligation or individual assurance could be devised as long as God was held to act in ways that utterly disregarded human necessities or human logic. In order to know that God will unquestionably save him under such and such circumstances, man must know that God is in reality the sort of being who would, or even who will have to, abide by these conditions, and none other. He must ascertain the whys and wherefores of the divine activity. In some fashion the transcendent God had to be chained, made less inscrutable, less mysterious, less unpredictable—He had to be made, again, understandable in human terms. If the sway of the moral law over men were to be maintained, men must know what part it played in their gaining assurance of salvation; if men were to know the conditions upon which they could found an assurance, they must be convinced that God would be bound by those conditions, that He would not at any moment ride roughshod over them, act suddenly from an abrupt whimsy or from caprice, that salvation was not the irrational bestowal of favor according to the passing mood of a lawless tyrant.
The endeavor to give laws for God’s behavior was attended with apparently insuperable obstacles, for it was clear that such principles as men might formulate would be derived from reason or from nature, and Calvin had made short work of all rational and natural knowledge in the opening chapters of the Institutes. Not only does God transcend reason and nature, but the corruption of the universe which followed the sin of Adam has vitiated whatever of value once existed in them. Reason was originally endowed with an inherent knowledge of God, which is now hopelessly extinguished by ignorance and wickedness; the knowledge of God may be conspicuous in the formation of the world, but we cannot see it or profit by it. We may still have the light of nature and the light of reason, but we have them in vain. “Some sparks, indeed, are kindled, but smothered before they have emitted any great degree of light.”702 Ames went as far as he dared toward bringing order into God’s character by saying that since God is obviously perfect, He must be perfectly rational; that in His mind must preëxist a plan of the world as the plan of a house preëxists in the mind of an architect; that God does not work rashly, “but with greatest perfection of reason.”703 But we can never in our discourse attain to that reason. The principles of other arts may be polished and perfected “by sense, observation, experience, and induction,” but the principles of theology must be revealed to us, and “how ever they may be brought to perfection by study and industry, yet they are not in us from Nature.”704 Divinity may utilize “Intelligence, Science, Sapience, Art or Prudence,” but it cannot be the product of these natural faculties, but only of “divine revelation and institution.”705 Knowledge and rational conviction may be prized by the theologian, and may be preached by him as much as doctrine, but in the final analysis he must declare that reason is not faith, that it is not necessary to justification, and that in itself it cannot produce the effects of grace.706 He may also study nature and natural philosophy, but his knowledge will always be vain and useless; his faculties are too corrupted to observe correctly; nature is under God’s providence, and God’s ways are past finding out; and, finally, the works of nature “are all subject to corruption.”707
Here, then, was the task which seventeenth-century Calvinists faced: the task of bringing God to time and to reason, of justifying His ways to man in conceptions meaningful to the intellect, of caging and confining the transcendent Force, the inexpressible and unfathomable Being, by the laws of ethics, and of doing this somehow without losing the sense of the hidden God, without reducing the Divinity to a mechanism, without depriving Him of unpredictability, absolute power, fearfulness, and mystery. In the final analysis this task came down to ascertaining the reliability of human reason and the trustworthiness of human experience as measurements of the divine character—in short, to the problem of human comprehension of this mysterious thing which we today call the universe.
The Arminian movement in Holland (and the “Arminian” theology in the Church of England) represented one Calvinist attempt to supply a reasonable explanation of the relation of God to man. But Arminians went too far; they jeopardized the foundations of Calvinism, and were stigmatized as heretics at the Synod of Dort. In the seventeenth century Arminianism stood as a ghastly warning to all Calvinists. It was an admonition to stay well inside the structure of the creed, whatever redecorations they undertook. The orthodox soon perceived that the basic error in Arminianism was not any one of its “five points” formulated at Dort, but its exaltation of the human reason and consequently its reconstruction of God after the human image. William Ames said that grace, as conceived by the Arminians, “may be the effect of a good dinner sometimes”;708 and Thomas Shepard pointed out that by their putting into the unregenerate will and the natural reason an ability to undertake moral duties and to work out assurance without the impetus of grace, they became no better than heathen philosophers and Roman Stoics.
… I heard an Arminian once say, If faith will not work it, then set reason a-work, and we know how men have been kings and lords over their own passions by improving reason, and from some experience of the power of nature men have come to write large volumes in defence of it; and … the Arminians, though they ascribe somewhat to grace, … yet, indeed, they lay the main stress of the work upon a man’s own will, and the royalty and sovereignty of that liberty.709
The Arminians yielded too far to the pressure for construing theology in a more rational fashion and so succumbed to the temptation of smuggling too much human freedom into the ethics of predestination. A more promising, if less spectacular, mode of satisfying these importunities without falling into heresy was suggested in the work of the great Cambridge theologian, William Perkins, fellow of Christ College, who died in 1602. Anyone who reads much in the writings of early New Englanders learns that Perkins was a towering figure in Puritan eyes. Nor were English and American divines alone in their veneration for him. His works were translated into many languages and circulated in all Reformed communities; he was one of the outstanding pulpit orators of the day, and the seventeenth century, Catholic as well as Protestant, ranked him with Calvin. He was one of the first to smell out the Arminian heresy710—“a new devised doctrine of Predestination,” he called it—and his works were assailed by Arminius as being the very citadel of the doctrine he opposed. As I read Perkins today, it seems to me that the secret of his fame is primarily the fact that he was a superb popularizer. His books were eminently practical in character. He was typically English in that he was bored by too intricate speculation on a purely theoretical plane, and that he wanted results. Thomas Fuller hit him off with his customary facility when he said that Perkins “brought the schools into the pulpit, and, unshelling their controversies out of their hard school-terms, made thereof plain and wholesome meat for his people.”711 I cannot find that in making wholesome meat out of controversy Perkins added any new doctrines to theology; he is in every respect a meticulously sound and orthodox Calvinist. What he did contribute was an energetic evangelical emphasis; he set out to arouse and inflame his hearers. Consequently, one of his constant refrains was that the minutest, most microscopic element of faith in the soul is sufficient to be accounted the work of God’s spirit. Man can start the labor of regeneration as soon as he begins to feel the merest desire to be saved. Instead of conceiving of grace as some cataclysmic, soul-transforming experience, he whittles it down almost, but not quite, to the vanishing point; he says that it is a tiny seed planted in the soul, that it is up to the soul to water and cultivate it, to nourish it into growth.712
This idea was palliative; it lessened the area of human inability and gave the preacher a prod for use on those already, though not too obviously, regenerate. In Perkins’s works appear also the rudiments of another idea, which he did not stress particularly, but which in the hands of his students was to be enormously extended. He occasionally speaks of the relationship between God and man as resting on “the Covenant of Grace,” and defines this as God’s “contract with man, concerning the obtaining of life eternall, upon a certaine condition.”713 He uses the covenant to reinforce his doctrine of the duty that man owes to God of cultivating the slightest seed of grace that he may receive.
The most eminent of Perkins’s many disciples was Dr. William Ames, who in 1610 was so prominent a Puritan that he found it advisable to flee to Holland, where he became professor of theology at the University of Franeker. He was the friend and often the master of many of the New England divines, and I have elsewhere claimed for him that he, more than any other one individual, is the father of the New England church polity.714 Like Perkins, Ames was an orthodox Calvinist. His was a more logical and disciplined mind than that of his teacher, and his great works, the Medulla Sacrae Theologiae (1623) and De Conscientia (1630), became important text-books on the Continent, in England, and in New England because of their compact systematization of theology. There is very little difference between his thought and Perkins’s, except that he accords much more space to the covenant. He sets forth its nature more elaborately, sharply distinguishes the Covenants of Works and of Grace, and provides an outline of the history of the Covenant of Grace from the time, not of Christ, but of Abraham.715
In 1622, John Preston became Master of Emmanuel College, Cambridge. Preston was the statesman, the politician among Puritan divines. He was that Puritan upon whom the Duke of Buckingham showered his favor while fondly endeavoring to delude the Puritans into rallying about his very un-Puritanical banner. Preston had been converted in 1611 by a sermon of John Cotton, and was a close friend of Cotton, Davenport, and Hooker; his works, like those of Perkins, were a mainstay of New England libraries. Like Perkins, he was a magnificent preacher, but he was so active a man that he published little before his death in 1628. His works were issued posthumously, one of the editors being John Davenport. Thomas Goodwin, later the great Independent leader, was another editor, and in the preface to one volume says that Preston spent his living thoughts and breath “in unfolding and applying, the most proper and peculiar Characters of Grace, which is Gods Image; whereby Beleevers came to be assured, that God is their God, and they in covenant with him.”716 This passage reveals the great contribution of Preston to the development of Calvinist thought, for in the elaborate exegesis which Preston devoted to unfolding and expounding the philosophy of the covenant, which he held to be “one of the main points in Divinitie,”717 he contrived the seeming solution of the problems which then beset his colleagues. His greatest work on this subject (though all his many books deal with it to some extent) was entitled The New Covenantor The Saints Portion (London, 1629). This work is prerequisite to an understanding of thought and theology in seventeenth-century New England.
Another friend of Preston, probably his closest, was Richard Sibbes, preacher at Gray’s Inn from 1617 until his death in 1635, and Master of St. Catherine’s Hall, Cambridge, from 1626. He, too, was an editor of Preston’s work; it was to a sermon of his that John Cotton owed his own conversion, and Davenport and Goodwin edited many volumes of Sibbes’s writings after 1635. Throughout these writings the covenant is expounded and all the theology reshaped in the light of this doctrine. One of the fascinating aspects of the history of this idea is the intimate connection that seems to exist among most of its exponents; they form a group bound together by personal ties, and the completed theology is the work of all rather than of any one man. Sibbes was associated with Gouge in the “feofees” scheme; he was the friend and correspondent of Bishop Ussher. He edited a work of John Ball, and one of his students at St. Catherine’s was William Strong, who died in 1654, and whose treatise Of the Covenant was prepared for the press by Sibbes’s friend Lady Elizabeth Rich in 1678. In the work of all these authors the covenant plays a conspicuous part. Furthermore, this group seems to coincide frequently with the coherent group who formulated the peculiar philosophy of Non-Separating Congregationalism.718 They were students or friends of Ames, whose works they quote frequently. Sibbes owed his conversion to a sermon of Paul Baynes, and he edited Baynes’s Exposition of Ephesians. There are many ascertainable relations of almost all the school with one or more of the New England divines; their works were read in New England, and Perkins, Ames, Preston, and Sibbes are clearly the most quoted, most respected, and most influential of contemporary authors in the writings and sermons of early Massachusetts. Sibbes revealed his awareness of the great migration in the year 1630 when he said in The Bruised Reed: “The gospel’s course hath hitherto been as that of the sun, from east to west, and so in God’s time may proceed yet further west.”719 Both in the works of all these men, including Cotton, Hooker, Shepard, and Bulkley, and in their lives there is evidence for asserting that they constituted a particular school, that they worked out a special and peculiar version of theology which has a marked individuality and which differentiates them considerably from the followers of unadulterated Calvinism. And the central conception in their thought is the elaborated doctrine of the covenant.720
The word “covenant” as it appears in the Bible presents for the modern scholar a variety of meanings. Possibly suspecting or intuitively sensing these confusions, Luther and Calvin made hardly any mention of the covenant, and the great confessions of sixteenth-century Protestantism avoided it entirely. But with Preston and his friends the word seemed to suggest one simple connotation: a bargain, a contract, a mutual agreement, a document binding upon both signatories, drawn up in the presence of witnesses and sealed by a notary public. Taking “covenant” to mean only this sort of commitment under oath, Preston proceeded, with an audacity which must have caused John Calvin to turn in his grave, to make it the foundation for the whole history and structure of Christian theology. He says:
… we will labour to open to you now more clearely, and distinctly, this Couenant; though a difficult thing it is, to deliuer to you cleerely what it is, and those that belong to it; yet you must know it, for it is the ground of all you hope for, it is that that euery man is built vpon, you haue no other ground but this, God hath made a Couenant with you, and you are in Couenant with him.…721
For all the members of this school, the doctrine of the covenant becomes the scaffolding and the framework for the whole edifice of theology; it is the essence of the programme of salvation. As Peter Bulkley phrases it, “Whatsoever salvation and deliverance God gives unto his people, his setting them free from this misery, he doth it by vertue of, and according to his Covenant.”722
The theology of the Covenant of Grace, invested with such importance by these authors, proceeds upon a theory of history. It holds that man has not only been in relation to God as creature to creator, subject to lord, but more definitely through a succession of explicit agreements or contracts, as between two partners in a business enterprise. God entered into such a bond with man as soon as He created him. He stipulated that if Adam performed certain things He would pledge Himself to reward Adam and Adam’s posterity with eternal life. In order that man might know what was required of him, Adam was given specific injunctions in the form of the moral law. In addition, the law was implanted in his heart, built into his very being, so that he might perform his duties naturally and instinctively. The original Covenant of Works, therefore, is the Law of Nature, that which uncorrupted man would naturally know and by which he would naturally regulate his life. Of course, Adam failed to keep this covenant, and by breaking the bond incurred the just penalties. But God did not rest there. Beginning with Abraham, He made a new covenant, and the seventeenth chapter of Genesis, which describes the new bargain, becomes thereby the basic text for the school. The new covenant is just as much an agreement as its predecessor, stipulating terms on both sides to which the contracting parties are bound.
… these words containe the Covenant on both sides, sayth the Lord, this is the Covenant that I will make on my part, I will be thy God … you shall haue all things in me that your hearts can desire: The Covenant againe, that I require on your part, is, that you be perfect with me, that you be upright, that you be without hypocrisie.…723
It has pleased the great God to enter into a treaty and covenant of agreement with us his poor creatures, the articles of which agreement are here comprised. God, for his part, undertakes to convey all that concerns our happiness, upon our receiving of them, by believing on him. Every one in particular that recites these articles from a spirit of faith makes good this condition.724
Furthermore, in form at least, a bargain between two persons with duties on both sides is an arrangement between equals.
… he takes Abraham as a friend for ever, and Abraham takes God as his friend for ever; and this league of friendship implyes not only preservation of affection, but it requires a kinde of secret communication one to another, and a doing one for another.725
In the Covenant of Grace, God, observing the form, contracts with man as with a peer. But since the Fall man is actually unable to fulfil the law or to do anything on his own initiative. Therefore God demands of him now not a deed but a belief, a simple faith in Christ the mediator. And on His own side, God voluntarily undertakes, not only to save those who believe, but to supply the power of belief, to provide the grace that will make possible man’s fulfilling the terms of this new and easier covenant. “In the Covenant of works a man is left to himselfe, to stand by his own strength; But in the Covenant of grace, God undertakes for us, to keep us through faith.”726 Man has only to pledge that, when it is given him, he will avail himself of the assistance which makes belief possible. If he can believe, he has fulfilled the compact; God then must redeem him and glorify him.
The covenant which God made with Abraham is the Covenant of Grace, the same in which we are now bound. The only difference is that Abraham was required to believe that Christ would come to be mediator for the covenant and compensate God for the failure of Adam; since Christ we have merely to believe that He has come and that He is the “surety” for the new covenant. But from Abraham to Peter Bulkley the covenant between God and man is one and the same. “We are the children of Abraham; and therefore we are under Abrahams covenant.”727 This arrangement between the two is not simply a promise on God’s part, it is a definite commitment. These authors, in fact, practically do away with the conception of God as merely promising, and substitute a legal theory of God’s delivering to man a signed and sealed bond. “It is impertinent to put a difference betweene the promise and the Covenant.… The promise of God and his Covenant … are ordinarily put one for another.”728 The covenant therefore, is the only method by which God deals with man at all. Salvation is not conveyed by simple election, influence, promise, or choice; it comes only through the covenant and only to those who are in the covenant with God.
God conveys his salvation by way of covenant, and he doth it to those onely that are in covenant with him … this covenant must every soule enter into, every particular soul must enter into a particular covenant with God; out of this way there is no life.…729
This legalized version of Biblical history may at first sight seem to offer nothing toward a solution of the problems of Calvinism. It may even appear an unnecessarily complicated posing of the same issues, for the grace which gives salvation even in the covenant comes only from God and is at His disposing. But in the hands of these expert dialecticians the account leads to gratifying conclusions. In their view it succeeded in reconciling all contradictions, smoothing out all inconsistencies, securing a basis for moral obligation and for assurance of salvation while yet not subtracting from God’s absolute power or imposing upon Him any limitations prescribed by merely human requirements.
Because a definition of the divine nature must be preliminary to deductions concerning assurance and morality, the problems enumerated may be considered in reverse order. The first effect of the doctrine was to remove the practical difficulty of conceiving of the Deity as a definite character. He might still remain in essence anything or everything, incomprehensible and transcendent. That no longer need concern mankind, for in His contacts with man He has, voluntarily, of His own sovereign will and choice, consented to be bound and delimited by a specific programme. He has promised to abide by certain procedures comprehensible to the human intellect. He has not, it is true, sacrificed His sovereignty by so doing; He has not been compelled by any force of reason or necessity. He has merely consented willingly to conform in certain respects to stated methods. For all ordinary purposes He has transformed Himself in the covenant into a God vastly different from the inscrutable Divinity of pure Calvinism. He has become a God chained—by His own consent, it is true, but nevertheless a God restricted and circumscribed—a God who can be counted upon, a God who can be lived with. Man can always know where God is and what He intends. Thus Preston represents the Almighty speaking as He lays down the terms of the covenant:
… I will not onely tell thee what I am able to doe, I will not onely expresse to thee in generall, that I will deale well with thee, that I haue a willingnesse and ability to recompence thee, if thou walke before mee and serue me, and bee perfect; but I am willing to enter into Couenant with thee, that is, I will binde my selfe, I will ingage my selfe, I will enter into bond, as it were, I will not bee at liberty any more, but I am willing euen to make a Couenant, a compact and agreement with thee.730
If God speaks to us thus, we then have His own authorization for ceasing to be concerned about His hidden character, His essence, and instead are warranted in assuming that in our experience we will find Him abiding by definite regulations. He will no longer do all the unimaginable things that He can do, but He “will do all things which he hath promised to doe,”731 because the covenant is a mutual bond, and by consenting to it God has committed Himself—“by which God binds us to himselfe, as well as he binds himselfe to us.…”732 He is no longer an unpredictable fury that strikes like the lightning without warning or reason—at any rate not in the business of salvation. John Cotton said, professing that he spoke with all reverence, that since the establishment of the covenant, God has become “muffled” as though with a cloak, so that “he cannot strike as he would, … he is so compassed about with his nature and property, and Covenant, that he hath no liberty to strike….”733
As soon as the theologians of this school had explained what a covenant involved, they realized that they had come upon an invaluable opportunity to present the hitherto stern Deity in a new light. The very feet that God allows Himself to become committed to His creature must be in itself some indication of His essential disposition. Hence, if God condescends to treat with fallen man as with an equal, God must be a kindly and solicitous being:
… how great a mercie it is, that the glorious God of Heauen and Earth should be willing to enter into Couenant, that he should be willing to indent with vs, as it were, that he should be willing to make himselfe a debtor to vs. If we consider it, it is an exceeding great mercie, when wee thinke thus with our selues, he is in heauen, and wee are on earth; hee the glorious God, we dust and ashes; he the Creator, and we but creatures; and yet he is willing to enter into Couenant, which implyes a kinde of equality betweene vs.…734
We need no longer torture ourselves trying to imagine a being made up at once of both justice and mercy, because in stooping to the covenant the Lord has shown that His mercy takes command of His justice. He is bearing in mind the frailties and desires of man, He is endeavoring to bind His will and His requirements to suit man’s abilities. He tried the Covenant of Works with Adam, and it failed; He knew, says Preston, that it would fail if He tried it again. “There was no other way to make mankinde partaker of the Couenant of Grace, but onely by faith.”735 He is not aiming directly at His own glory, regardless of man’s suffering, but is exerting Himself to secure man’s happiness at the same time; His commandments to men “are for their good, and not for his profit.”736 “He stoops to all conditions of men,” says Sibbes. “It is a most sweet sign of God’s great love, that he will stoop so low as to make a covenant with us.”737 In the same terms the New England ministers expatiated upon God’s mercy and condescension as proved by the existence of the covenant. He might easily have dealt with men “without binding himselfe in the bond of Covenant,” said Thomas Shepard, “but the Lords heart is so full of love … that it cannot be contained so long within the bounds of secrecy.…”738 Therefore Shepard rhapsodized upon the covenant thus:
Oh the depth of Gods grace herein … that when he [man] deserves nothing else but separation from God, and to be driven up and downe the world, as a Vagabond, or as dryed leaves, fallen from our God, that yet the Almighty God cannot be content with it, but must make himselfe to us, and us to himselfe more sure and neer then ever before!739
Naturally the burden of these reflections was that man should respond in kind: seeing God no longer harsh and cruel, but full of compassion, man’s heart “melts toward the Lord, it relents, it comes to be a soft heart, that is easie and tractable.”740
Certainly the implacable mystery celebrated in the Institutes has been materially transformed by the time He appears as the God of the covenant. He may still be essentially unknowable, but He has told enough about Himself, and betrayed enough of His character, so that He is not an utter blank. His eternal purposes are still “sealed secrets,” but in the covenant He has given us more than a glimpse of their direction. “In Gods Covenant and promise we see with open face Gods secret purpose for time past. Gods purposes toward his people being as it were nothing else but promises concealed, & Gods promises in the Covenant being nothing else but his purposes revealed.…”741
Some of the deductions which followed these premises carry us still further from the conventional notion of the Puritan Jehovah. For one thing, the terms of the contract are decidedly reasonable. God has not only limited Himself to specific propositions, but to propositions that approve themselves to the intellect. “All the Commandments of God, are grounded upon cleare reason, if we were able to finde it out.”742 By propounding the covenant He has enabled us to find out the clear reason for salvation or reprobation. We do not have to do with “a confused God,” Cotton says, one “that vanisheth away in a general imagination, but God distinctly considered,” and it is as such that “the Lord giveth himself to Abraham and his seed.”743 Upon this basis these theologians thought that they could avoid the inconveniences of resting reason and justice upon the fiat of His arbitrary will. An eloquent section in Shepard’s Theses Sabbaticae is devoted to proving that the particular laws which God has established are also the very laws of reason. Though by virtue of His absolute sovereignty God might have promulgated any laws He chose, those which He has voluntarily invested with moral significance are exactly the same laws which reason finds ethical, precisely as the terms to which He has voluntarily consented in the covenant are humanly understandable ones. “It is his will and good pleasure to make all laws that are moral to be first good in themselves for all men, before he will impose them upon all men.” Goodness is consequently discoverable by right reason; the goodness of a moral law “is nothing else but that comely suitableness and meetness in the thing commanded unto human nature as rational, or unto man as rational, and consequently unto every man.”744 Theoretically God is above and beyond all morality as we formulate it; yet by committing Himself to the covenant God has sanctioned as His law not just any absurdity, but things which are in their own nature suitable, good, and fitting. The difficulty of reconciling God’s will with reason vanishes in this interpretation; reasonable justice and His sovereign power of enactment “may kiss each other, and are not to be opposed one to another.”745
A God who conforms thus cheerfully to reasonable terms must obviously be all-excellent, “and therefore reasonable, he must have the most excellent faculties,”746 and would therefore be such a one as would endeavor also to abide by reason in the ordering and governing of nature. Probably no other tenet reveals so clearly how earnestly these writers were striving to bring Calvinism into harmony with the temper of the seventeenth century. They made their gesture of obedience to the unconfined Deity of Calvinism. They prefaced their remarks with the statement that He always could interrupt the normal course of nature if He wished to, but they said that a God who voluntarily consented to a covenant would generally, as a matter of choice, prefer to work through the prevailing rules. The realm of natural law, the field of scientific study, and the conception of mathematical principle presented few terrors to this variety of Calvinist.747 Preston declares: “God alters no Law of nature”; nature is not to be feared, it is “to be observed and regarded.”748 One and all, they insisted that God’s dignity as ruler of the material universe is not curtailed if He be held to operate whenever possible through secondary causes rather than through miracles. He will appear even more admirable if He accomplishes His will by conspiring with nature, governing not the events themselves but the causes of events, without interrupting or jarring the normal processes. “We must know, God’s manner of guiding things is without prejudice to the proper working of the things themselves. He guideth them sweetly according to the instincts he hath put into them.”749 He may come to the aid of His people by direct interposition in moments of crisis, as in the passing of the Red Sea; more often He will contrive that assistance come by guiding the natural causes,750 and when He has arranged “a course of means, we must not expect that God should alter his ordinary course of providence for us.”751
Dr. Ames defined the Law of Nature as “that order in naturall things … common to all things of the very nature of things.”752 Preston stressed still more the inviolability of this order, and on such matters could quote Aristotle as easily as could Thomas Aquinas: “Nature, it cannot be altered againe, for that is the property of Nature, it still stickes by us, and will not be changed, but, as Aristotle observes, throw a stone up a thousand times, it will returne againe, because it is the nature of it to returne.”753 Ames was willing to carry his veneration for law almost to the point of relinquishing miracles. He replies to the “atheist” theory of pure mechanism, not by stressing Biblical marvels, but by insisting that there is more religious inspiration in the daily operations of Providence than in special acts, and that God’s power is better demonstrated by His controlling nature without going contrary to it than in turning its course: “The things that are ordinary amongst us, wherein there is no such swarving, but they are constant in their course, doth not God guide them and dispose of them as he pleaseth?”754 So in the government of man, God does not boot him about like a football, but leads him by persuasion and demonstration: “As God hath made man a free agent, so he guides him, and preserves that free manner of working which is agreeable to man’s nature.”755 Even in dispensing grace, God does not thrust it abruptly or rudely into the soul. He does not act upon man with unnatural violence, but conveys grace along the ordinary channels; He contrives that it come to man in the regular course of events.
… for he doth in the worke of grace, as he doth in the worke of nature.… God carries all things to their end, by giving them a nature suitable to that end. An Archer makes an impression vpon an Arrow, but it is a violent impression; God carries every thing to that end, to which he hath appointed it; but with this difference, that he makes not a violent impression, … & therefore he doth it not by an onely immediate hand of his owne, as we doe, but he causeth the Creature to goe on of it selfe, to this or to that purpose, to this or that end. And so he doth in the worke of grace; he doth not carry a man on to the wayes of righteousnesse, leaving him in the state of nature, taking him as he is, but he takes away that heart of his, and imprints the habits of grace in it, & he changeth a mans heart, so that he is carried willingly to the wayes of God, as the Creature is carried by a naturall instinct to its owne place, or to the thing it desires.756
Normally the instruments by which He engenders faith in an individual are the sermons of ministers and the sacraments of the church. These ordinances, it should be noted, are not in themselves the causes of faith, they are simply the “means.” Though God is at perfect liberty to summon a man by a direct call, in the vast majority of cases He will work upon him through these secondary causes. When the sound of the preacher’s voice comes to the ear, and the sense of his words to the mind, then by that means the Spirit comes into the soul, “either to convert thee, or to confound thee.”757 The physical impressions are not to be confused with grace itself. Nevertheless they are almost always the indispensable vehicles of grace: “… they are meanes to convey grace, mercy and comfort from Christ to our Soules. Though they are not meat, yet they are as dishes that bring the meat.… These are the conduits to convey this water of life.…”758 Therefore Cotton expressed the theory of sermonizing in New England when he said: “While we are thus speaking to you, God many times conveys such a spirit of grace into us, as gives us power to receive Christ.… The word that we speake conveyes spirit and life unto … [you].”759 The grace of God is still theoretically free as the wind to blow where it listeth, but in most instances it is channelized in a sequence of causes that are understandable on a natural—we might almost say, in the jargon of today—“behavioristic” plane.
The historical theory of the Covenant of Grace, its progressive unfolding from Abraham to the Christian era, permitted these theologians to add the final touches to their portrait of the divine character. God did not simply present the covenant point-blank to fallen man, but introduced it by degrees, unfolding it gradually as men could be educated up to it. The beginnings of this conception are to be found in Ames, and it was probably his chief contribution to the system. He said that though from the time of Abraham there has been one and the same covenant, “yet the manner … of administring this new Covenant, hath not alwayes beene one and the same, but divers according to the ages in which the Church hath been gathered.”760 While other writers in the school sometimes drew up charts of the stages different from Ames’s,761 all agreed that God has allowed the covenant to grow with time. He first administered it through conscience, then through the prophets and ceremonies, now through Christ, preaching of the Word, and the sacraments. He has done this, the writers agreed, out of solicitous consideration for man’s limitations; had the whole thing been enunciated to Abraham, it would have put too great a strain upon his faith, already overburdened as it was in the effort to believe that Sarah would conceive. “Dr. Ames saith well,” Bulkley wrote, “the Church was then considered … Partly as an heire, and partly as an infant.…”762 By the long period of tuition in the covenant in its Old Testament form, the Church was educated up to grasping it clearly and distinctly.
… the nature of man is so exceeding opposite to the doctrine of Christ and the Gospel, that if it had not been long framed by the tutoring of many hundred yeers by the Law, it had never been convinced of the necessitie of salvation by Christ, and the Gospel.763
The effect of this theory was to introduce an element of historical relativity into the absolute dogmatism of original Calvinism. God is seen deliberately refraining from putting His decisions fully into effect until man can cope with them and profit by them. He is not so much a mail-clad seigneur as a skillful teacher, and He contrives on every hand that men may be brought to truth, not by compulsion, but by conviction. For these reasons theologians of this complexion were eagerly disposed to prize knowledge, logic, metaphysics, and history. They were prepared to go as far as their age could go in the study of Biblical history and commentary, for truth to them resided in the history as well as in the doctrine. Preston confesses that intellectual persuasion and historical research are not in themselves sufficient for absolute faith in the Scriptures unless God also “infuseth an inward light by his Spirit to worke this faith.” Yet even so he holds that sufficient testimonies exist in the Scriptures “to give evidence of themselves.”764 Knowledge is not to be despised because faith also is necessary: “Wisedome is the best of all vaine things under the Sunne.”765 Knowledge and faith must go hand in hand:
I deny not but a man may haue much knowledge, and want Grace; but, on the other side, looke how much Grace a man hath, so much knowledge he must haue of necessity.… You cannot haue more Grace than you haue knowledge.…766
It is a significant indication of the bent of his mind that Preston argues for the reliability of Scripture because heathen histories corroborate Old Testament chronology.767
To describe this theology as “rationalism” would be very much to overstate the case; before the triumph of Newtonian science reason did not have the rigid connotation it was later to carry. Preston drew back from out-and-out mechanism, and he never doubted that even where God was steering events by the rudder of causation, He was charting the course according to His own pleasure. But in this way of thought appears an entering wedge of what must be called, if not rationalism, then reasonableness. It is a philosophy that put a high valuation upon intellect. Its tendency is invariably in the direction of harmonizing theology with natural, comprehensible processes. The authors were prepared to welcome the scientific advance of the century with open arms, until some of their successors in the next century were to realize too late that they had let the wooden horse of rationalism into the Trojan citadel of theology. But thus early there were few misgivings; the Puritans were so secure in their faith that they could with perfect serenity make it as understandable as possible. If we today insist upon supposing that their philosophy was an absolute authoritarianism, we ought to be very much disconcerted by their continual appeals to experience and reason, appeals which, from our point of view, imply assumptions altogether at variance with those of the creed. John Winthrop, in his manuscript debate with Vane in 1637, took it as axiomatic that man is a reasonable creature, and his statement of political theory in these papers owes more to logic than to the Word of God.768 Thomas Hooker constantly reinforced a dogma by such statements as that it “hath reason and common sense to put it beyond gainsaying,” or that to deny it “is to go against the experience of all ages, the common sense of all men”; and Samuel Stone eulogized his colleague because “He made truth appear by light of reason.”769 Professor Morison has found that Elnathan Chauncy, while an undergraduate at Harvard in the 1660’s, copied into his commonplace book the remark, “Truth and the rational soule are twins.” According to the conventional notions of New England Calvinism this would seem to be somewhat startling. In view, however, of the disposition of the covenant theology, this truism was as appropriate to young Chauncy’s background as some admonition concerning the integration of complexes might be to the undergraduate of today. Such passages make it increasingly clear that our notions of the Puritan philosophy, derived in the main from a casual acquaintance with “Calvinism,” are in need of drastic reconsideration.
Setting forth from the nature of God as defined by the covenant, these theologians enjoyed clear sailing to the haven of assurance. The Covenant of Grace defines the conditions by which heaven is obtained, and he who fulfils the conditions has an incontestable title to glorification, exactly as he who pays the advertised price owns his freehold. God may continue to choose the elect in the impenetrable fastness of His will, but according to the covenant He has agreed to give the individual discernible grounds for His decision; He is bound to bestow salvation only upon those who achieve the qualifications, and, conversely, those who acquire the qualifications are absolutely certain of their salvation:
… if thou beleeue, it is certaine then, thou art within the Couenant…. If thou canst finde this now, that thou art able to take Iesus Christ, to take him as a Lord and Sauiour, thou art able to beleeue all the Couenant of Grace, thou art by that put into the Couenant.770
And to be really in the covenant is to be through with all doubts and misgivings: “If ever thou art in covenant with God, and hast this seale in thy soule, that there is a change wrought in thee by the covenant, then thy election is sure.”771 The union with God is not torturing uncertainty, it is not a ravishing of the surprised soul by irresistible grace, unexpected and undeserved; it is a definite legal status, based on a quid pro quo, an “if I believe” necessitating a “you have to save me.” God’s will is originally free to pick and choose in any fashion, but once the covenant is drawn up, He no longer acts without a reason, He does not appear to man as a brutal or capricious tyrant. He is bound by certain commitments, He is compelled to play the game of salvation according to ascertained rules.
… God comes and sayes; For my owne sake will I do thus and thus unto you in an absolute promise; here is a ground for the faith of adherence to cleave unto.… There be also conditionall promises, (He that believeth shall be saved) by meanes of which (we having the experience and feeling of such grace in our selves) we grow to an assurance that we are of those that he will shew that free grace upon.772
The contract between God and man, once entered into, signed by both parties and sealed, as it were, in the presence of witnesses, is ever afterwards binding. This exceedingly legal basis furnishes the guarantee, not only for the assurance of the saints, but even for their perseverance. In the covenant, says Hooker, the soul “is inseparably knit to Christ”;773 though you falter in action and fall short of holiness, if you have once become a member of the covenant, the covenant “doth remain sure and firm,” said John Cotton. “If we be hemm’d in within this Covenant, we cannot break out.”774
Thus bound by His own commitment, God must live up to His word. If you do your part, He must, willy-nilly, do His. As Bulkley says, “He hath passed over those things by covenant, and he cannot be a covenant breaker”; hence, “we might have the more strong consolation, assuring ourselves of the fulfilling of his gracious promise towards us.”775 Pursuing this logic, these men broached one of their most daring ideas: if a man can prove that he has faith, he has then done his part and can hold God to account, hale Him into court and force Him to give what has become the man’s just and legal due: “You may sue him of his own bond written and sealed, and he cannot deny it.”776
… when faith hath once gotten a promise, be sure that thou keepe thy hold, pleade hard with the Lord, and tell him it is a part of his Couenant, and it is impossible that he should deny thee … when thou art on a sure ground, take no denyall, though the Lord may defer long, yet he will doe it, he cannot chuse; for it is a part of his Couenant.777
We do not surrender ourselves to God without getting something in return: “we require this back againe of God, that as we give up our selves a sacrifice to him, so that the Lord Jesus Christ might be imputed unto us.”778 If we are in the covenant, “we are then out of danger, wee need not to fear.”779 Considering what the background of Protestant thought had been, what ruthless determination had been postulated behind the predestinating Divinity, one might well feel that Preston comments upon this conception of salvation with an understatement that is almost comic: “This is a very comfortable doctrine, if it be well considered.”780
The covenant theory admitted into the official theology many ideas that bade fair to undermine it entirely, and this idea, that man can by fulfilling terms extort salvation from God, might well seem the most incongruous. But at the moment the authors were confident that they had skillfully incorporated the new device into the old orthodoxy. Their account does not deny that God and God alone elects or rejects according to His mere pleasure; the grace which enables us to fulfil the covenant still comes from above, and only God knows whether we have it or not. But in practical life the dogmatic rigors of absolute predestination are materially softened. A juridical relationship is slyly substituted for the divine decree. Men cannot trace the private thought of God, but since God has agreed to manifest what He thinks concerning certain persons in an explicit bond, the individual has a way of knowing that much of the divine determination: “Now we can never know the things which are given unto us of God, but by knowing of the covenant which conveys all the blessings which God doth impart unto his people.…”781 Stating the theory of predestination within this frame shifts the point of view from that maintained by Calvin. We no longer contemplate the decrees in the abstract, as though they were relentlessly grinding cosmic forces, crushing or exalting souls without regard for virtue or excellence; instead we are free to concentrate our attention upon what immediately concerns us. We do not have to ask whether God be ours; we need ask only whether we be God’s. Sibbes presented this reversal in emphasis most clearly, though it can be found consciously recognized in the works of all the covenant theologians. A man has no grounds, he says, to trouble himself about God’s election as it exists in God’s own mind. “It is not my duty to look to God’s secret counsel, but to his open offer, invitation, and command, and thereupon to adventure my soul.”782 To commence from the unfathomable election in the mind of God and endeavor then to discover if it pertains to oneself is the wrong procedure; one should begin with oneself, one’s own response to God’s proffered covenant, and argue from the degree of one’s success in fulfilling it the fact of one’s being chosen.
Some are much troubled, because they proceed by a false method and order in judging their estates. They will begin with election, which is the highest step of the ladder; whereas they should begin from a work of grace wrought within their hearts…. Otherwise it is as great folly as in removing of a pile of wood, to begin at the lowest first, and so, besides the needless trouble, to be in danger to have the rest to fall upon our heads.783
In fact, Sibbes carried this argument so far that he can actually tell men to reach out for the covenant, to promise to abide by it, to take it upon themselves, before they have had any recognizable experience of regeneration. If they can succeed, they can very probably secure faith, not only by prayer and fasting, but by demanding that God reward them according to His bond.
The way, therefore, will be to put this into the condition of your promise now, and prayer after. Lord, I have promised this; but thou knowest I cannot perform the promise I have made, and the condition thou requirest, of myself. But in the covenant of grace, thou hast said that thou wilt make good the condition … If we come with sincere hearts, and with resolution to please God, we may look for all the promises of God. All that he hath promised he is ready to perform, if we in faith can allege the promise.…784
The covenant made it possible to argue that while God elects whom He pleases, He is pleased to elect those who catch Him in His plighted word, and that it is up to fallen man to do so. The subtle casuistry of this dialectic is altogether obvious. Yet the spectacle of these men struggling in the coils of their doctrine, desperately striving on the one hand to maintain the subordination of humanity to God without unduly abasing human values, and on the other hand to vaunt the powers of the human intellect without losing the sense of divine transcendence, vividly recreates what might be called the central problem of the seventeenth century as it was confronted by the Puritan mind.
These considerations as to the grounds of assurance paved the way for the supreme triumph of the school—the establishment of a code of ethics and of moral obligation. In two respects they could achieve this end: first, by partial rehabilitation of natural man, and second, by incorporating moral effort into the terms of the covenant. For in this theory man as well as God is no longer left in precisely the state decreed by original Calvinism. God is seen condescending to behave by reason because in man there exists at least a potential rationality. Calvin himself had admitted that in depraved man lingered some remnants of the divine image in which Adam had been created, but, as we have seen, he held them too feeble to be of any use. The Federal theologians also held that these remains, in the form of natural reason or “the light of nature,” were exceedingly unreliable, but they rescued them from the rubbish heap where Calvin had cast them. Perkins remained fairly close to Calvin on this question, but in Ames there are signs of the development. While repeating the usual dictum upon the deterioration of human nature, he points out that in all men some knowledge of truth is written in the heart, that a rudimentary inclination to goodness is found in the will, so that men pursue at least “shadowes” of virtue, and that we can learn enough from contemplating the natural universe to conclude, without the aid of revelation, that God exists and is to be worshipped.785 In the work of Preston the importance of these “remains” is considerably accentuated. This achievement was greeted with hosannas by some of his contemporaries, one of his editors boasting that while his Life Eternall emblazons the glory of the Divine Essence, at the same time it delineates “the most noble dispositions of the Divine Nature in us, which are the prints and imitations of those his attributes.”786 Preston’s sermons frequently remind his hearers that the soul, though fallen, “is the Image of the Essence of God,” that it possesses both understanding (which in these discussions is used synonymously with “reason”) and will, so that man “understands all things, and wils whatsoever he pleaseth.”787 The speculative faculty he defines as “that by which we know and judge aright concerning God and morall vertues,” and its decisions are corroborated by the natural conscience and an innate inclination in the will:
There is in naturall men not onely a light to know that this is good, or not good, and a Conscience to dictate; this you must doe, or not doe, but there is even an Inclination in the will and affections, whereby men are provoked to doe good, and to oppose the Evill. And therefore the proposition is true, that naturall men have some truths, because they have this Inclination remaining, even in the worst of them.788
As a matter of fact, Preston comes startlingly close to agreeing at times with Lord Herbert of Cherbury; all that the De Veritate says man may know by the unassisted use of reason the Puritan author would admit; he differs from the father of English Deism only in feeling that these conclusions are not quite enough in themselves for a religious man to live by.
… when such a man knowes there is an almighty power, by his naturall wit, hee is able to deduce, if there be a God, I must behave my selfe well towards him, I must feare him as God, I must be affected to him as God, I must worship him with all reverence as God; but the most ignorant man confesses there is a God, no Nation denyes it.…789
Even when he insists that something more is necessary to man than the deductions of natural wit, Preston does not view them as antagonistic to faith. Imperfect as they are, they do not run contrary to supernatural illumination. Within the sphere of demonstration, for instance, the evidence of the senses is sound, Calvin to the contrary notwithstanding:
Of all demonstrations of reason that we have to prove things, nothing is so firme as that which is taken from sense: to prove the fire is hot, we feele it hot, or honey to be sweet, when we taste it to be sweet: There is no reason in the world makes it so firme as sense: As it is true in these cases, so it is an undoubted truth in Divinity, that in all matters of sense, sense is a competent judge.790
Faith may be above reason but since reason comes as directly from God as does revelation, there can be no conflict between them:
But, you will say, faith is beyond sense and reason, it is true, it is beyond both, but it is not contrary to both; faith teacheth nothing contrary to reason, for sense and reason are Gods workes as well as grace, now one worke of God doth not destroy another.791
Seen in this light, the imperfections of the human mind are not so much a vitiation resulting from sin, as simply the limitations under which a finite being inevitably labors. Confined in time and space, we cannot conceivably “see all the wheeles, that are in every businesse” or if we do see them, we are “not able to turne euery wheele.”792 In these purely physical terms Preston occasionally interprets original sin, and ideas of this sort can be matched in all the writings upon the covenant. Sibbes declares that “the soul of man, being an understanding essence, will not be satisfied and settled without sound reason”;793 and Thomas Hooker defines man as “a living creature indued with a reasonable soul.”794 Thomas Shepard interpreted the Law of Nature as “all that which is agreeable and suitable to natural reason, and that from a natural innate equity in the thing,” and taught that it is made known “either by divine instruction or human wisdom.”795 If rightly managed, the results of research, logic, and demonstration will therefore coincide with the teaching of Scripture, and should be held in almost as great esteem by Christians.
If traces of the image of God are still to be found in the soul, they should even more clearly be manifested in the material universe, where all can decipher them if they will. “The heavens are the worke of his hands, and they declare it, and every man understands their language.”796 “When a man lookes on the great volume of the world, there those things which God will have known, are written in capital letters.”797 Quite apart from faith, therefore, there are two important sources of truth to which man has immediate access: himself and his experience of the world. Hence, secular knowledge—science, history, eloquence, wisdom (purely natural wisdom) is doubly important for these Puritans; for knowledge is not only useful, it is a part of theology. Of course, the writers are always careful to stipulate, we must have Scripture to supplement the discovery of God in nature and providence, but having made that concession, they go on valiantly to exonerate the study of nature from the charge of obscuring the religious goal, and confidently press it into the service of theology. They insist that we can reach God through science as well as through revelation:
For, though I said before, that Divinity was revealed by the Holy Ghost, yet there is this difference in the points of Theologie: Some truths are wholly revealed, and have no foot-steps in the creatures, no prints in the creation, or in the works of God, to discerne them by, and such are all the mysteries of the Gospell, and of the Trinitie: other truths there are, that have some vestigia, some characters stamped upon the creature, whereby wee may discerne them, and such is this which we now have in hand, that, There is a God.798
“The workes of Nature are not in vaine,”799 and it behooves us to study them with as much care and precision as the Bible:
Can we, when we behold the stately theater of heaven and earth, conclude other but that the finger, arms, and wisdom of God hath been here, although we see him not that is invisible, and although we know not the time when he began to build? Every creature in heaven and earth is a loud preacher of this truth. Who set those candles, those torches of heaven, on the table? Who hung out those lanterns in heaven to enlighten a dark world?… Who taught the birds to build their nests, and the bees to set up and order their commonwealth?800
Shepard pronounced a flat condemnation upon those who would cast the Law of Nature from the domain of theology merely because it is not so perfect today as at the Creation; these, he said, “do unwarily pull down one of the strongest bulwarks.”801
The theologians were treading on dangerous ground at this point; they were perilously close to talking Arminianism. But in their own opinion they were still safe. They were carrying the frontiers of reason to the very boundaries of faith, yet they were not allowing them to encroach. They were careful to point out that regeneration cannot come by the intellect without the inspiration of grace, at the same time adding that the road to grace is also the highway of knowledge. They denied that faith imparts any new doctrines or enlarges the scope of the understanding; the doctrine, as such, can be grasped by anyone. “They may be enlightened to understand all the truths of God; there is no Truth we deliver to you, but an unregenerate man may understand it wholly, and distinctly, and may come to some measure of approbation.”802 Consequently, though by understanding alone no man may achieve salvation, any man does by nature learn so much of God’s law that he cannot plead ignorance as an excuse for not obeying it. Here was indeed a triumph in the justifying of God’s ways to man! Natural knowledge, such as all men can attain, cannot make a man holy, but it can at least render him inexcusable, and God is exculpated from the charge of injustice in His condemnations. An individual may not be able to deliver himself from the bondage of sin, but in the meantime he can be held personally responsible for doing what the light of nature teaches him is wrong.
… It is true, a man hath not power to performe these, but yet withall, I say, he hath power to doe those things, upon the neglect of which, God denyes him ability to beleeve and repent: So that, it is true, though a man cannot beleeve and repent, and neverthelesse for this is condemned; yet withall take this with you, there be many precedent Acts, which a man hath in his liberty to doe, or not to doe, by which he tyes God, and deserves this Iustly, that God should leave him to himselfe, and deny him ability of beleeving and repenting.…803
Because man still has reason, and reason is not utterly decayed, he has the power to recognize the good, to know when he sins, and to desire a better life. By thus reasserting a distinct validity for the natural reason, the Federal theologians took a long stride forward, entailing an obligation upon natural man to aspire toward moral perfection.
But when a reasonable creature lookes on a thing as Eligible or non Eligible, and not only so, but is able to reason on both sides, is able to see arguments for both, that makes it differ from Spontaneity, when there is no outer impediment, when you may take or refuse it, when you have Arguments to reason, and see the commodity and discommodity of it, your will is now free, so that I may truly affirme every man hath a free-will to doe that, for the not doing of which he is condemned.…804
In accordance with their disposition to enlarge the sphere and opportunities of natural reason, the authors redefined, or rather redescribed the nature of grace itself. They did not forget that grace is an influx from the supernatural, but they preferred to concentrate upon its practical operations in the individual, and to conceive of it, not as a flash of supernal light that blinded the recipient, but as a reinvigoration of slumbering capacities already existing in the unregenerate soul. As in the ruins of a palace, so runs one of their favorite metaphors, the materials still exist, but the “order” is taken away, grace reestablishes the order by rebuilding with the same materials.805 Or as another image has it, natural promptings, passions, and desires are like the wind; holiness is the rudder. “So Nature, the strength of nature, affections, or whatsoever they be, are like the wind to drive the ship, thou mayst retaine them, only godliness must sit at the Sterne.”806 Grace, once infused into the soul, becomes itself “natural,” just as when a man has learned to play a lute, the instrument becomes second nature to him; “so is this, it is planted in the heart, as the senses are, it is infused into the Soule, and then we exercise the operations of it; so that it is another Nature, it is just as the thing that is naturall.”807 Hence the faith preached in early New England was not the violent convulsion of the camp-meeting, but the exercise, under divine guidance, of reason and virtue. Thomas Hooker conceived that “the main principall cause of faith is rather an assisting power working upon, than any inward principall put into the soule to worke of its self.”808 In this description, faith emerges, not as prostration on the road to Damascus, but as reason elevated. It enables us to see existing truths exactly as a telescope reveals new stars:
… and therefore they are said to be revealed, not because they were not before, as if the revealing of them gave a being unto them; but, even as a new light in the night discovers to us that which we did not see before, and as a prospective glasse reveales to the eye, that which we could not see before, and by its own power, the eye could not reach unto.…809
Faith does not require acquiescence in irrationalities, but empowers us to believe thoroughly in that which we can also accept intellectually. Faith is not intoxication, it is education.
… Faith addeth to the eye of reason, and raiseth it higher; for the understanding is conversant, as about things of reason, so also about things of Faith; for they are propounded to the understanding, only they are above it, and must have faith to reveale them…. as one that hath dimme eyes, he can see better with the help of spectacles: even so doth the eye of reason, by a supernaturall faith infused. So that all the things which wee beleeve, have a credibilitie and entity in them, and they are the objects of the understanding; but we cannot finde them out, without some supernatural help.810
Consequently, once more, “faith teacheth nothing contrary to sense and reason.”811 Preston appears the most audacious of the school in this intellectualizing of grace, but his friends in New England were not far behind him. Shepard, for example, declared that God does not work upon believers as upon blocks, propelling them by an “immediate” act, because believers are rational creatures and therefore capable of acting as rational creatures. Grace is the renewal of God’s image in them, “like to the same image which they had in the first creation, which gave man some liberty and power to act according to the will of Him that created him.”812 Hooker said that after grace has done its work and removed the obstructions of sin, “now Conscience is in commission and hath his scope, & the coast is now clear that reason may be heard.”813 According to this theology, the regenerate life is the life of reason.
This line of argument indicates a predisposition in the minds of early New England theologians to minimize the power of original sin, so that by pointing out the advantages which all men inherently possess, they could at least hold the unregenerate responsible for their own damnation. As far as we have followed them at this point, their conclusions concerning what remains of God’s image in man since the Fall resulted simply from their strong bent toward making the most of what reasonable elements they could find in the original doctrine of Calvin, and thus far did not necessarily involve the covenant theory. But from the theory they were able to derive an ingenious support for their contentions, to construct a theoretical basis for maintaining that the image of God in man was not so hopelessly debauched as Calvin had imagined. For by conceiving the relationship between man and God as a contract, the sin of Adam appeared in a new light. Adam in his disobedience had broken a bond, had violated a lease. The punishment which he received as a consequence was not deterioration so much as it was the infliction of a judicial sentence; it was expulsion for non-payment, it was not inherent pollution. It was just such a disability as a man would suffer who was under sentence for embezzlement or defalcation. Adam had stood as the agent, the representative of all men, the “federal” head of the race. When he, as the spokesman for man in the covenant, broke it and incurred the penalty for disobedience, it was imputed to his constituents as a legal responsibility, not as an inherent disease. These writers did not openly deny that all men were by birth partners in Adam’s guilt, as Augustine had said and Calvin814 had repeated after him, but they were very much inclined to give lip-service to this historic theory of transmission and then concentrate upon their own version of legal imputation. Both theories at once are outlined by Ames,815 and amplified by Preston, who argues that men are corrupted first because they come from Adam’s loins, but secondly and more importantly because they, as the heirs of Adam, have imputed to them the blame for breach of covenant.
There being a compact and covenant betweene God and him, that if Adam stood, all his seed should stand with him; but if he fell, then that all that were borne of him should by vertue of that covenant, compact, or agreement have his sinne imputed to them, and so should be corrupted, as hee was, and die the death.816
Hooker in turn preached the double doctrine that men inherit a fallen nature from Adam but also incur the legal penalty for his failure as their agent: “Adam in innocencie represented all mankind, he stood (as a Parliament man doth for the whole country) for all that should be born of him.”817 Shepard taught that this was justice itself, “it being just, that as if he standing, all had stood, by imputation of his righteousness, so he falling, all should fall, by the imputation of his sin.”818 Original sin in this version becomes something like the poverty and disgrace a young man might suffer if his father were executed for treason and the estate confiscated. Such an explanation for the persistence of original sin seemed to these lawyerlike theologians more intelligent, more in keeping with the manners of a God who dealt with men through legal covenants. Man is born owing God a debt; his creditor compounds with him, making a new agreement out of consideration for his bankrupt state. When man fulfils the new and easier terms, the debt is cancelled. Though the debt is a serious hindrance to man’s freedom of action, it is not an utterly crushing burden, and it does not entirely obliterate the qualities of reason and intelligence he possessed before he acquired it. So something of these qualities remains in him, enough to make him inexcusable for a neglect of God’s law, enough to leave him no defence if he fails in moral effort, particularly since God in the covenant has condescended to deal with him by appealing to precisely these qualities and ordering the scheme of salvation in just such a fashion as he can understand by virtue of them.819
Thus the Federal theory, freeing man from the absolute moral impotence of the strict doctrine, first made possible an enlargement of his innate capacities. Secondly, it provided a logical device for immediately enlisting these capacities in the service of morality, even before they had been further invigorated by divine grace. It had been with these considerations in mind that God framed the covenant precisely as He did, and thereby demonstrated His cleverness by devising a scheme to insure the continuation of moral obligation even in a covenant of forgiveness. He did not discard the Covenant of Works after Adam’s fall; He included it within the Covenant of Grace. “For the Morall Law, the Law of the ten Commandments, we are dead also to the covenant of that law, though not to the command of it.”820 But in this arrangement it exists no longer as a command, the literal fulfilment of which is required of man, but as a description of the goal of conduct toward which the saint incessantly strives. The Law, which no man can perfectly fulfil any more, exists as a “schoole-master”; it teaches us what we should do, whether we can or no, and as soon as we realize that we cannot, we flee to Christ for the assistance of grace. And since Christ has satisfied God by fulfilling the Law, there is no necessity that we do it also. It is only necessary that we attempt it. God’s agreement in the second covenant is that if a man will believe, he will receive the grace enabling him to approximate a holy life, but his failure to reach perfection will not be held against him. “We ought not to thinke, because we are not exact in keeping all the Commandements of God … that therefore God rejects vs.…”821 The regeneration of any man, as long as he is in the body, will be imperfect at best. It will manifest itself in a perpetual struggle to an unattainable end, and according to the Covenant of Grace God will accept the intention and the effort for the deed.
… there will bee impuritie in the heart wherein there is faith, but yet where there is faith, there is a continuall purging out of impuritie, as it manifesteth it selfe You may conceive it by a similtude, if a pot be boyling upon the fire, there will a scum arise, but yet they that are good house-wives, and cleanly, and neat, they watch it, and as the scum riseth up, they take it off and throw it away, happily more scum will arise, but still as it riseth they scum it off.822
The demand made upon benighted human nature in the Covenant of Grace is not exorbitant, and demonstrates again how solicitous God appears as He is pictured by this school. It is indeed a little surprising to the modern student to find how large a part of Puritan sermons was devoted to proving to people that they need not be weighed down with too great a sense of sin. The ministers seem to have been fully aware that the stark predestination of early Calvinism was too often driving sincere Christians to distraction, and that it needed to be softened, humanized. Hence they said again and again that there need be very little difference between the performances of a saint and the acts of a sinner; the difference will be in the aims and aspirations of the saint and in the sincerity of his effort. The proof of election will be in the trying, not the achieving. “God accepts at our hands a willing minde, and of childe-like indeavours; if we come with childe-like service, God will spare us; a father will accept the poor indeavours of his childe for the thing it selfe.”823
Yet while our endeavors will be satisfactory though poor, they must still be real endeavors. Since the conception of grace in this theory is not so much that of rapture as of the reawakening of dormant powers, grace is by definition the beginning of a moral life. It is a strengthening of the remains of the Law that still exist in the natural heart, in unregenerate reason, and in conscience. Saints are not able to do all they should, “yet this they doe .… they carry a constant purpose of heart to doe it.… They never come to give over striving to doe it.”824 The regenerate, by the very fact of being regenerate, exert themselves to become sanctified:
… by the same faith whereby we receive Christ to dwell in us, we receive the holy Spirit also, to work from Christ and through Christ, all that power of godlinesse which a Christian life holds forth, and from that day forward….825
Conversely, it follows as night the day that sanctification is a very handy evidence of justification, and that we may even receive grace first in the form of a moral ability before we have any inward experience of regeneration.826 God’s predestination is of course absolute, Hepicks and chooses without regard to merit. But in the covenant He has consented to bestow His favor upon those who fulfil the conditions, and to guarantee to those who do so the assurance of their salvation. In this devious fashion the Puritans avoided the Arminian heresy of conditional election, but gained almost all that the Arminians sought by preaching a “conditional” covenant, which entailed the obligations of morality as thoroughly as did the erroneous doctrine, and yet did not bind the Lord to attend upon human performance.827 “Though God’s grace do all,” said Sibbes, “yet we must give our consent,”828 and Thomas Shepard wrote:
God hath so linked together the blessing of the Covenant (which is his to give) with the duty and way of it (which is ours to walk in) that we cannot with comfort expect the one, but it will work in us a carefull endeavour of the other.829
Peter Bulkley reveals what the New England divines thought this version had gained over that of primitive Calvinism when he explains that if God simply predestined without imposing conditions, morality would fall to the ground, nothing would be required of men one way or another; but in the covenant our endeavors are made, not the cause, but the sine qua non of a heavenly future: “But hereby he would teach us, that when he makes with us a Covenant of Grace and mercy, he doth not then leave us at liberty to live as we list; but he binds us by Covenant to himselfe….”830 The legalistic tone of the thought is illustrated by Cotton’s comparison of the conditions attached to the covenant to those of becoming “a free man of a Corporation,” which are, he says, apprenticeship or purchase. Into the corporation of the godly there is no admission by purchase, and consequently all who hope for grace must serve an apprenticeship in learning the trade of godliness.
If we give our selves to be bound to this service, if we come to God, submit our selves to him in all things, to do with us as hee pleaseth, and as shall seem good in his sight, submitting our selves to be ruled and squared by him in all things, hee shall have our whole hearts to do with us what he will; here is the Covenant made up between God and a good Christian.831
Armed by this logic at every point, the theologians were prepared to concentrate their attack upon the question of passivity. They were equipped to counteract the danger of lassitude which threatened to result from the fatalistic doctrine of predestination. They could show that men are responsible for a great deal, even though God alone bestows grace, and in more ways than one they could prove that a sinner brings reprobation upon himself. All those who live within the hearing of Christian doctrine—particularly of covenant doctrine—are offered the opportunity of taking up the covenant, because to them its terms are made clear. An offer of the covenant from God includes also an offer of enabling grace, because God is under obligation to supply grace when He presents the contract to men. Therefore, when the covenant is presented, through the sermon of a minister, to a particular individual, and the individual does not then and there embrace it, or attempt to embrace it, then he must be resisting it. Though faith comes from God, yet because it is not forced upon any, but is presented through reasonable inducements, and is conveyed by “means,” by sermons, and by sacraments, men have of themselves the power to turn their backs upon it, to refuse to be convinced by the most unanswerable demonstrations, to sneer at the minister, and to pay no attention to the sermon. Thereafter the onus is entirely on their own shoulders:
Take heede of refusing the acceptable time … Beloued, there is a certaine acceptable time, when God offers Grace, and after that hee offers it no more … there are certaine secret times, that God reserues to himselfe, that none knowes but himselfe, and when that time is past ouer, he offers it no more.832
The covenant theory, then, was an extremely strategic device for the arousing of human activity: it permitted divine grace to be conceived as an opportunity to strike a bargain, a chance to make an important move, an occasion that comes at a specific moment in time through the agency of the ministry. If an individual does not close the deal when he has the chance, he certainly cannot blame God because it gets away from him. “The Lord is a suitor to many a man,” said Shepard, “that never gives himself to him.”833 The heathen, indeed, might have some grounds for complaint, but not those who live under a ministry, because to them the preaching of the Word is ipso facto the presentation of the covenant.
… they that live under such meanes, that are ever learning, and never come to the knowledge of the Truth, and so have brought a sottishnesse on themselves, they are inexcusable, because themselves are the cause of their not profiting, as a man that is drunke, though he is not able to understand the commands of his Master, yet because he was the first author of the drunkennesse, (which caused such sottishnesse), he is inexcuseable…. So … God requires no more of any man, than either he doth know, or might have knowne.834
Of course, God must give the faith; but by these agencies He is, as a matter of fact, giving it, and giving it thus out of respect for the intelligence of men. “Hee will not doe it without us, because wee are reasonable men and women, and God affords us meanes.”835 Consequently, the duty of any man in a Christian community is to use the means to the end for which they are intended:
… howsoever God promiseth to enable his people to doe all he commandeth, yet this shutteth not out their endeavour. His promise of enabling them is upon this supposition, that they doe indeavour in the use of the meanes he shall appoint them. The Lord in promising doth not meane that they should be idle, and look that he should doe all; but his promising includeth their endeavouring, and upon their endeavouring in the use of the meanes that God hath appointed, he hath promised to enable them to doe what he hath commanded.836
Hooker says that if persons have lived under a “powerful ministry” a half-dozen years or so and have not profited there from, “It is no absolute conclusion, but … it is a shrewd suspicion, I say, that God will send them downe to hell.”837 Consequently, it behooves us all not to lie back until the Lord comes to us, but to exert ourselves at once in accordance with the instructions of our pastor.
On these grounds the school carried on Perkins’s tendency to reduce the actual intrusion of grace to a very minute point. They not only insisted that the tiniest particle is sufficient to start a man on the road to salvation, they even argued that before any faith is generated, a man can at least “prepare” himself for it. He can put himself in an attitude of receptivity, can resolve with himself not to turn down the covenant when it seems to be offered to him.838 God may decree, but a man must find out whether the decree applies to himself; “the kingdom of heaven is taken with violence.”839 “You must not thinke to goe to heaven on a feather-bed; if you will be Christs disciplcs, you must take up his crosse, and it will make you sweat.”840 If any man excuse himself by the sophistry that Christ must work for him and that he cannot under his own power “bring forth fruit to him,” that man despises Christ’s honor, and in that act rejects the Covenant of Grace.841
In this respect, as in others, the covenant doctrine did not intend to depart from essential Calvinism; it did not openly inculcate free-will. But by conceiving of grace as the readiness of God to join in covenant with any man who does not actively refuse Him, this theory declared in effect that God has taken the initiative, that man can have only himself to blame if he does not accede to the divine proposal. This was indeed a marvellous stratagem for getting around a thorny difficulty in theology, a hazard which Calvin had simply taken in stride by asserting roundly that though God elects or rejects according to His pleasure, the responsibility for damnation is man’s own. The generation of Peter Bulkley could no longer accept so brusque or unsophisticated an account as this. They were under greater compulsion to clear God of the charge of arbitrary condemnation and to place the responsibility for success or failure squarely on human shoulders. The result was the conception, not of conditional election, but of conditional covenant, according to which the absolute decree of God is defended, and yet the necessity of activity by man is asserted:
The Lord doth not absolutely promise life unto any; he doth not say to any soule, I will save you and bring you to life, though you continue impenitent & unbelieving; but commands and works us to repent and believe, and then promises that in the way of faith and repentance, he will save us. He prescribes a way of life for us to walk in, that so wee may obtaine the salvation which he hath promised.…842
The covenant involved ethics in the very stuff of grace itself:
… we must for our part assent unto the Covenant, not onely accepting the promise of it, but also submit to the duty required in it; or else there is no Covenant established betwixt God and us; we must as well accept of the condition as of the promise, if we will be in Covenant with God.843
The final outcome of the intricate system was a shamelessly pragmatic injunction. It permitted the minister to inform his congregation that if any man can fulfil the covenant, he is elected. The way for him to find out is to try and see: “Therefore goe on boldly, God hath promised to heare you, hee cannot deny you.”844 Whatever the differences among the various writers, there is a marvellous unanimity among them on the ultimate moral: “The way to grow in any grace is the exercise of that grace,” said Preston.845 “It is not so much the having of grace, as grace in exercise, that preserves the soul,” said Sibbes.846 And John Cotton said in Boston: “If thou hast but a thirsty soule, and longest for grace under sense of thine owne droughtinesse, then God will not deny the holy Ghost to them that aske him.”847
The conclusion toward which the doctrine of the covenant shapes is always the practical one that activity is the essence of a Christian life, that deeds are not merely the concomitants of faith, but can even be in themselves the beginning of faith. Some kind of revision of Calvinism seemed absolutely inevitable if the doctrine of justification by faith were not to eventuate in a complete disregard of moral performance. The covenant theology was the form that that revision took among this particular group of thinkers. It was the preliminary to their proving that faith without performance is an impossibility, a contradiction in terms, and that that which must be performed is the moral law, the law which reason and common sense know to be good in itself. In dogmatic Calvinism morality could exist only as a series of divine commands. It had no other basis, and to Calvin it needed no other. The covenant theology is a recognition on the part of a subsequent generation that this basis was inadequate, that it reduced morality to an arbitrary fiat, that it presented no inducement to men other than the whip and lash of an angry God. Consequently, in New England morality was first of all the specific terms of a compact between God and man, and rested, therefore, not upon mere injunction but upon a mutual covenant in which man plays the positive rôle of a coöperator with the Lord. In the second place morality was also that which can be considered good and just.
This conception was of tremendous value to the leaders of Massachusetts, not only in the realm of faith and personal conduct, but just as much in the realm of politics and society. The sphere of moral conduct includes more than such matters as individual honesty or chastity; it includes participation in the corporate organization and the regulation of men in the body politic. The covenant theology becomes, therefore, the theoretical foundation both for metaphysics and for the State and the Church in New England. An exhaustive study of the social theory would lead too far afield for the purposes of this paper, but a brief indication of the connection between it and the theology will demonstrate that without understanding this background we shall misread even such a familiar classic as Winthrop’s speech of 1645 on liberty. That address is not what it is most often described as being—an expression of pure Calvinism. All that strictly Calvinistic political theory needs to contain is in the fourth book of the Institutes. It amounts in effect to the mandate that men must submit to magistrates because God orders them to submit, to the assertion that the power of the governor is of God, never of the people. But Winthrop outlines a much more subtle conception in his account, and by invoking the covenant theory secures the sway of morality in the State in precisely the same fashion in which the theologians secured it in the religious life. He distinguishes between the liberty all men have in the state of nature, the liberty to do anything they wish, which generally means something bad, and the liberty men exercise in society:
The other kind of liberty I call civil or federal, it may also be termed moral, in reference to the covenant between God and man, in the moral law, and the politic covenants and constitutions, amongst men themselves. This liberty is the proper end and object of authority, and cannot subsist without it; and it is a liberty to that only which is good, just, and honest.848
I do not believe that the real connotation of Winthrop’s words has been altogether recognized in modern accounts. He is saying that just as the covenant between God and man is a coming to terms, and as the validity of that which is by its nature good, just, and honest rests not upon its intrinsic quality but upon its being agreed to by the contractors, so also in the State, the rule of law rests upon a similar agreement among the participants. The covenant theory cannot claim for that which is inherently good the force of a cosmic law, because the universe and man are corrupted; it cannot identify the good completely with the thought of God, because God transcends all systematic formulations. But being arrived at by compact, the good then acquires the power to compel obedience from those who have covenanted to observe it, be they gods or men. The personal covenant of the soul with God is impaled on the same axis as the social, like a small circle within a larger. Before entering into both the personal and social covenants men have a liberty to go their own gait; afterwards they have renounced their liberty to do anything but that which has been agreed upon. The mutual consenting involved in a covenant, says Hooker, is the “sement” which solders together all societies, political or ecclesiastical; “for there is no man constrained to enter into such a condition, unlesse he will: and he that will enter, must also willingly binde and ingage himself to each member of that society to promote the good of the whole, or else a member actually he is not.”849 The implanting of grace, being by definition an acceptance of the covenant, produces by the same token a people prepared and ready to be disciplined in a holy society. “The same Spirit quickneth us unto holy duties; so that … the Spirit sanctifying draweth us into an holy Confederacy to serve God in family, Church, & Common-wealth.”850 Peter Bulkley illustrates the paralleling of the social and political covenants which is characteristic of New England theory by insisting that he who accepts the covenant must obey its terms, exactly “as in a Common-wealth or Kingdome, none hath the benefit of the Law, but those that subject themselves to the Law: none have the protection of authority, but those that obey it….”851 Since grace takes the form of enabling men to embrace the covenant, the regenerate automatically obey the law of God both in personal life and in social relations:
… Where the Lord sets himselfe over a people, he frames them unto a willing and voluntary subjection unto him, that they desire nothing more then to be under his government .… when the Lord is in Covenant with a people, they follow him not forcedly, but as farre as they are sanctified by grace, they submit willingly to his regiment.852
The covenant upon which a Congregational church was founded was viewed by the theologians in the same light as the political compact. It was held to be a miniature edition of the divine covenant. The saints come together and formally agree to carry out in ecclesiastical life the obligations to which they stand individually bound by their covenant with God. The duties and requirements are those determined in the Covenant of Grace. The church compact is the agreement of the people in a body to constitute an institution which will facilitate the achievement of these ends. “The rule bindes such to the duties of their places and relations, yet it is certain, it requires that they should first freely ingage themselves in such covenants, and then be carefull to fulfill such duties.”853 The creation of a church by the saints is necessary, furthermore, because the church makes possible the machinery of “means.” The argument from the covenant, therefore, clinched the theoretical justification for the existence of a formal ecclesiastical order, for the dispensing of sacraments, and for the application of such regulatory measures as censure and excommunication, while at the same time protecting the liberty of God to enter into covenant with anyone He chose, inside or outside the church. Yet as long as it seemed that God would normally work through the regular means, He would therefore generally dispense grace through the ordinances of the church. Consequently the children of the saints should be baptized as a means toward their conversion, and should be taken into the church covenant:
The Covenant of Grace is to be considered, either according to the benefits of saving grace given in it, or according to the means of grace offered…. [The church covenant] is not the Covenant of the Gospel in the first sense; but it is within the verge, and contained within the compasse of the Covenant in the second sense.854
In this distinction between the covenant as faith and the covenant as the provision of means for the engendering of faith were contained the seeds of the difficulties which later produced the Half-Way Covenant. But in the first decades of New England history no difficulties were anticipated because the theologians were so supremely confident that grace would almost inevitably accompany the means. “God delights in us, when we are in his Covenant, his Covenant reacheth to his Church, and wee being members of that Church: Hence it comes to passe, that we partake of all the pleasant springs of Gods love.”855
Thus the sign of true faith is not only a desire on the part of the regenerate individual to fulfil the moral law, but it is also a determination to join in the setting up of the one and only polity which Christ has outlined in Scripture. For this reason New England was settled: “When faith is stirring, it longs and desires much after the strongest, purest, and liveliest Ministery, and every Ordinance in the greatest purity.”856
I have not attempted in this account of the covenant theology to give more than a rapid survey; the summary of each point could easily be amplified, and revealing quotations multiplied indefinitely. But in even as compressed a treatment as this, the bent of the thought becomes clear. In every position there is a remarkable consistency of tone, a resolute determination to solve the riddles of Calvinist theology, as far as may be possible by the ingenuity of man or the subterfuges of metaphysics, in a reasonable, comprehensible fashion, and yet at the same time to preserve, in form at least, the essential structure of Calvinism. To understand why these men should have been driven by this urgency, it is necessary to remember what was taking place in the intellectual life of Europe at the time, in science, in politics, in the work of Bacon, of Descartes, and of Hobbes. Within the limits of their particular theology, within the framework of their creed, these Puritans were responding to the same impulses as their philosophical contemporaries. They were seeking to understand, to draw up explicable laws, to form clear and distinct ideas, to bring order and logic into the universe. They could not interpret it as extension and movement as did Descartes. They could not reduce it to atoms as did Hobbes. They could not deify its natural construction as did the Newtonians. But oddly enough they could take many steps in the same direction once they had seized upon their fundamental discovery that God has voluntarily engaged Himself to regular, ascertainable procedures. The rest followed surely and easily from this premise: the validity of reason in man, the regularity of secondary causes in nature, the harmony of knowledge and faith, the coincidence of the arbitrary with inherent goodness, the intimate connection between grace and the incitements that generate grace, the necessity for moral responsibility and activity. Everywhere along the line the method of the divine dispensation, while authorized only by God and remaining under His constant control, is actually synchronized with a completely scientific account. God works grace in the soul, not by compulsion, but by persuasion and reasonable inducements, by the sermon of the minister which penetrates the sinner’s mind. Was the real cause God working through the sermon, or was it the sermon itself? The authors had no hesitancy in saying that the sermon was simply the efficient cause and that God was the final cause, but they were delighted to find that God’s activity could take the form of a natural stimulus. This seemed to make religion doubly secure and to enhance it by the addition of comprehensibility.
Yet there is a caution to be observed before we rest in this conclusion. By marshalling from the works of Cotton and Hooker passages which deal only with the covenant and its implications, an impression could easily be created that New England thought had ceased to have any affinities with Calvinism, that there was really no difference between the Puritans of the covenant school and the rational theologians of the century who, like John Smith listening to the Arminians at Dort, had bidden Calvin good-night. To imply that there is an essential unanimity between Preston and Chillingworth, Cotton and Whichcote, would be to misread the whole history of Puritanism. For reasonable as this system was, coherent and uniform as was its cosmology, sequential as was its theory of causation, in the final analysis the basis of every contention, the goal of every proposition, was still the transcendent, omnipotent Divinity.
The achievement of this theology was that it did everything that could be done to confine the unconfinable God in human terms. It transformed the revealed Word from an exaction arbitrarily imposed by a conqueror into a treaty of mutual obligation. But it never forgot that at the long last God is not to be fathomed, understood, or described with absolute certainty. Such certainty as we do have is temporary, the result of an agreement, of God’s having consented to be bound in the main by such and such conditions, of His condescending for the moment to speak the language of men. There is no absolute guarantee that all His manifestations will appear within the scope of the covenant. The essence of Calvinism and the essence of Puritanism is the hidden God, the unknowable, the unpredictable. In this sense the Puritans were indeed Calvinists. They hedged the undiscoverable Essence about with a much more elaborate frame than did Calvin. They muffled it and cloaked it (to borrow Cotton’s phrase), they cabined it and circumscribed it up to a point; and though the point was for beyond anything Calvin would have allowed, there was still a limit beyond which even the Federal theologians could not go. They could not say that natural law was immutable and eternal, though they might say it was generally reliable. They might say that God’s justice was for all intents and purposes the same as human justice, but they could not say that it was invariably the same. Always they had to leave a loophole, they had to be wary and circumspect; for behind the panorama of the world, behind the covenant and behind the Scriptures there loomed an inconceivable being about whom no man could confidently predict anything, who might day in and day out deal with man in stated forms and then suddenly strike without warning and scatter the world into bits. There was no telling with unqualified certitude what He might do; there was only the rule of thumb, the working agreement that by and large He would save and reject according to reason and justice as we understand the words. For ordinary purposes this was enough; we could feel fairly secure, we need not be too distraught. But the Puritan, as long as he remained a Puritan, could never banish entirely from his mind the sense of something mysterious and terrible, of something that leaped when least expected, something that upset all regularizations and defied all logic, something behind appearances that could not be tamed and brought to heel by men. The covenant thought kept this divine liberty at several removes, placed it on a theoretical plane, robbed it of much of its terror, but it could not do away with it entirely.
The respects in which these men, for all their efforts at intellectualization, remained essentially Puritans may perhaps appear if we briefly compare the Puritan reasonableness of John Preston with the Anglican reasonableness of Jeremy Taylor. In the Ductor Dubitantium Taylor’s exposition of the Law of Nature and his determination of the segment of it that is also moral law are so very close to the pronouncements of Preston and Thomas Shepard that at first sight there seems to be no philosophical conflict between them. But for Taylor the conclusions reached by right reason, the dictates of justice, and the ideals of goodness cannot be invested with divine sanction merely because God, out of sovereign pleasure, elected to give them a binding force when He might just as well have enacted rules contrary to all human expectations. Taylor denies that it is even remotely possible that there remain a hidden God, outside and above reason. God is reason. There cannot be one justice on earth and another in heaven:
… how can we understand Him so, but by the measures of justice? and how shall we know that, if there be two justices, one that we know, and one that we know not, one contrary to another? If they be contrary, they are not justice; for justice can be no more opposed by justice, than truth to truth: if they be not contrary, then that which we understand to be just in us is just in God, and that which is just once is just for ever in the same case and circumstances.…857
The measure of all virtue must be the same for God as for us. God cannot have a secret will distinct from his revealed one. He does not commit Himself to any rules simply through choice; the rules in themselves must be good, and God must inevitably, inescapably, instinctively follow them and no others. There can be no such thing as an offer of the covenant, an invitation to all men, and yet a secret withholding of grace without which man cannot respond. Taylor satirizes the Puritan position with telling irony; the Puritan, as he portrays him, is forced to cry:
… It is true, O God, that Thou dost call us, but dost never intend we should come, that Thy open will is loving and plausible, but Thy secret will is cruel, decretory, and destructive to us whom Thou hast reprobated; that Thy open will is ineffective, but Thy secret will only is operative, and productive of a material event, and therefore although we are taught to say, Thou art just, and true in all Thy sayings; yet certainly it is not that justice which Thou has commanded us to imitate and practise, it is not that sincerity which we can safely use to one another, and therefore either we men are not just when we think we are, or else Thou art not just who doest and speakest contrary things, or else there are two contrary things which may be called justice.858
For Preston and the Puritan theologians of the covenant it was enough that God had consented to reason and had made an effort to fit His will to the requirements of abstract justice. They would not dogmatize further about His essence, and they felt that no man had a right to. They would expound the laws of reason and the laws of nature step by step with Taylor, they would extol justice and virtue as much as he, but they would not affirm that these human constructions, these intellectual values, were necessarily part and parcel of the cosmos. God’s will coincides roughly with such conceptions, but not always exactly. The universe is almost always regular and orderly, but there is the one chance in a million, the one inexplicable accident, the one fact that will not fit into any scheme. There is every so often the apparently good man who cannot be saved or the hopeless wretch who is lifted from the gutter to glory in spite of all that we think appropriate. “If he take pleasure to breathe in a man, there is nothing can hinder him, it will blow upon the most noysome dunghill in any place, and be never a whit the more defiled.”859 In a Christian community the machinery of conversion is set up, the covenant proposed, the terms made explicit, the means set in order, and yet in spite of all the best intentions this or that individual may never be able to join the covenant. And there is no explaining why, except that it is God’s pleasure to withhold the ability from that particular man. Even the godly, after they have become partakers of the covenant, will not dwell in happiness and comfort. Their existence, as much as that of other men, will be hard and full of anguish:
It will be a vaine thing for men to think to escape scot-free from afflictions, and yet live a godly and an holy life; it never fell out otherwise, but as sure as thou art sprinkled with the water of Baptisme, so sure thou shalt be drenched in affliction.860
It is this sense of the exceptional that always can happen, of the incomprehensible, of the margin of human error in grasping ultimate truth, that perpetually exists in the back of the Puritan’s mind; all his attempts at expounding proceed upon the recognition that all exposition is bound to fail of complete explanation:
… there is something of the Essence of God, that may not bee inquired into,…. Looke not for a full knowledge of him, but onely for a small degree of it…. We should learne from hence, not to be searching and prying into the counsels of God; as to inquire why so many are damned, and so few saved; how the infallibilitie of Gods will and the libertie of mans will can stand together These, and all other such, we must be content to be ignorant of; for he doth not reveale himself fully in this life … We should be content to let God alone, not to inquire into all his actions, into the ground and reason of all his works … We should doe thus, stand upon the shore, (as it were) and behold his infinite Essence … and goe no further; as a man that stands upon the sea-shore, and sees the vastnesse of the sea, but dares goe no further, for if he goes into the deepe, he is drowned: You may looke into Gods Essence, and see and admire it; but to thinke that thou couldest comprehend God is as if a man should think to hold the whole sea in the hollow of his hand.…861
The Puritan wished to bring his theology into harmony with science and reason wherever they might be made to coincide, but he could never lose his hunger for the inward exultation that came from a union with God which, though it might be brought about by natural causes, was yet something supernatural, something different from the causes, something which was bestowed only at the pleasure of God. Faith adds no new doctrine, teaches us no new facts, is not an addition to the contents of the mind. It is a glow of inspiration that quickens knowledge, and for that reason is all the more valuable and indispensable:
There is indeed a common faith, which the others may have, and thou mayest have, but the strong faith ariseth from the Spirit, God dispenseth it where he pleaseth; this infused faith is not gotten by strength of argument, or perspicuitie of the understanding; it is not brought in by custome, but God doth worke it; it is not all the antecedent preparation that will doe it, but God must first worke it, and then you are able to beleeve these principles of faith, and able to beleeve them to the purpose.862
Morality and God’s decree may, as we have seen Shepard saying, kiss each other and agree, but the Puritan could never forget that the agreement comes of God’s own choice, and Shepard must add that the agreement is not always perfect, that the will of God remains superior to the demands of human equity. “When they [moral precepts] are called perpetual and unchangeable, we must understand them in respect of God’s ordinary dispensation; for he who is the great Lawgiver may, and doth sometimes extraordinarily dispense with moral laws.”863 The Puritan temperament is nowhere so well illustrated as in the contrast between the tenor of these passages and the tendency of the Puritan metaphysic. As far as possible Puritans would explain, draw diagrams, plot the course of God’s will, and generalize upon His character. But it would be the end of Puritanism if they ever succeeded completely in penetrating the ultimate secret, if they could reach the point of saying that thus and so is not simply the way God does behave, but the way in which He must behave for these and those reasons. If the covenant theology is, as I think it is, a characteristic product of the Puritan mind, then we are perhaps justified in describing Puritanism as a willingness to follow nature and reason as far as possible, but not completely; for though Puritanism will use reason and enjoy nature, it can never overcome a fundamental distrust. As Hooker says upon a chapter from the Gospel according to John:
For there be some depths in some passages of the verse which are fitter to be admired, than comprehended, and exceed the reach, and discovery of the most Judicious Interpreter, that I can look into, and indeed, seem to be reserved for another world, when the fruition of the good here mentioned will prove the best interpretation. We will study to be wise unto sobriety.864
To be wise unto sobriety was the purpose of this theology, to elucidate the laws of God’s universe, but to keep a wary eye upon the unpredictability, the mystery of God. The evidence of subsequent history, both in England and in New England, would seem to be that it failed. Eventually the ideas which it introduced into the creed, reinforced by the triumph of Newtonian physics, displaced the theology in the estimation of such men as Charles Chauncy. The moral of this episode in the story is, I think, that the Calvinism to which the Puritans were ostensibly dedicated was already in the process of far-reaching modification at the hands of English theologians before it was transported to Massachusetts. The men who directed the intellectual life of seventeenth-century New England left Cambridge and London when their tradition was in the first flush of transformation. They did not depart until into that tradition, under the guise of a doctrine of covenants made by God with man, there had been injected many ideas which derived, not from theology and revelation, but from law, from the study of nature, from the principles of reason and common sense. As time went on, the incompatibility of these ideas with the official confession was bound to become more apparent. Seen in this light, the development of rationalism in eighteenth-century New England is not a phenomenon produced entirely by the stimulation of imported ideas. The intellectual life of American Puritans in the seventeenth century was by no means so sparse and monotonous as it has sometimes been accused of being. The pristine doctrine was not rigorous, iron-clad, and inflexible; it had in it the elements of complexity, the seeds of future growth, making for diversity and contradiction. That period which is sometimes spoken of as the “glacial age” was not an era of intellectual dearth and philosophical sterility, but one of slow progression toward the ultimate separation of the diverse attitudes which had somehow been awkwardly and unwittingly put together in the covenant theology of Ames, Preston, and Sibbes. It was, therefore, no accident, no violent break in the course of New England thought, that John Wise should shift the grounds for defending Congregationalism from the Bible to the laws of reason and nature and to the character of the social compact. It is also not surprising to find that when Jonathan Edwards came to feel that rationalism and ethics had stifled the doctrine of God’s sovereignty and dethroned the doctrine of grace, he threw over the whole covenant scheme, repudiated the conception of transmission of sin by judicial imputation, declared God unfettered by any agreement or obligation, made grace irresistible, and annihilated the natural ability of man. It was Jonathan Edwards who went back to the doctrine from which the tradition had started; went back, not to what the first generation of New Englanders had held, but to Calvin, and who became, therefore, the first consistent and authentic Calvinist in New England.
The Reverend Henry Wilder Foote read a paper on “Was Jeremiah Dummer a Painter of Portraits?”865
Mr. Robert F. Seybolt presented by title the following note:
The Ministers at the Town Meetings in Colonial Boston
AT a meeting on February 27, 1701/2, the selectmen of Boston voted that “Mr Cotton Mather is to be desired to be present to begin the Town meeting one [sic] the 9th of March next.” In the more usual phrase of later records, he was to be invited “to open the Meeting with Prayer.” This record in the selectmen’s minutes is the earliest official reference to such a practice. The custom may, however, have been established at the first town meeting.866 If so, it is rather remarkable that in the minutes of some two hundred earlier town meetings, covering a period of sixty-eight years, the recorders and clerks were consistent in their omission of reference to the prayer. As a matter of fact, it was not until March 8, 1724/25, that the town clerk used the phrase “after prayer,” which appears in the minutes of many town meetings in the eighteenth century. Before that date, invitations only were recorded; and the town meeting minutes will not permit one to say whether they were accepted.
A complete list of those clergymen who were invited and of those who officiated is worthy of reproduction:867
- Eliphalet Adams (Brattle Street)
- Inv., April 6, 1703, for April 12, 1703868
- Samuel Blair (Old South)
- May 4, 1768
- Penuel Bowen (New South)
- March 13, 1769; May 7, 1771869
- Mather Byles (Hollis Street)
- March 8, 1735/36; November 25, 1740; March 9, 1740/41; March 10, 1745/46; May 14, 1746;870 May 15, 1759; May 10, 1763
- Charles Chauncy (First Church)
- March 11, 1727/28; May 8, 1734; May 2, 1739;871 March 14, 1742/43; March 11, 1754; March 8, 1762; March 10, 1766; May 8, 1770; May 6, 1772
- Samuel Checkley, Sr. (New South)
- Samuel Checkley, Jr. (Old North)
- May 10, 1748; May 15, 1753 (perhaps Samuel Checkley, Sr.); May 11, 1756; May 13, 1760; March 11, 1765; September 27, 1765 (perhaps Samuel Checkley, Sr.)
- Benjamin Colman (Brattle Street)
- Samuel Cooper (Brattle Street)
- March 14, 1747/48; May 12, 1752; March 8, 1756; May 15, 1764; March 14, 1768; September 12, 1768; March 12, 1770; May 13, 1774; May 13, 1775
- William Cooper (Brattle Street)
- May 8, 1727; May 9, 1733; September 21, 1733; September 13, 1737; March 13, 1737/38; June 16, 1741; May 31, 1742
- Andrew Eliot (New North)
- May 4, 1743; March 9, 1751/52; May 16, 1755; March 10, 1760; March 12, 1764; May 8, 1767; March 14, 1774
- Thomas Foxcroft (First Church)
- November 3, 1727; March 9, 1729/30; March 11, 1733/34
- Joshua Gee (Old North)
- December 27, 1727; January 20, 1730/31; March 10, 1734/35
- Ellis Gray (New Brick)
- May 8, 1741; May 12, 1747; December 26, 1748
- William Hooper (West Church)
- December 10, 1739; March 10, 1739/40
- John Hunt (Old South)
- March 9, 1772876
- John Lathrop (Old North)
- May 5, 1769; May 10, 1774
- Cotton Mather (Old North)
- Increase Mather (Old North)
- Inv., April 25, 1715, for May 17, 1715
- Samuel Mather (Old North; later, North Bennet Street)
- May 7, 1735; May 7, 1740; March 9, 1746/47; May 14, 1751; May 15, 1754; March 12, 1759; March 14, 1763; March 9, 1767; March 5, 1771; May 5, 1773; September 25, 1774
- Jonathan Mathew (West Church)
- May 9, 1747
- Ebenezer Pemberton, Sr. (Old South)
- Inv., January 7, 1702/3, for January 18, 1702/3; April 29, 1709;879 inv., May 6, 1712, for May 14, 1712; inv., February 22, 1713/14, for March 8, 1713/14; inv., April 24, 1716, for May 8, 1716
- Ebenezer Pemberton, Jr. (New Brick)
- March 10, 1755; May 16, 1758; May 11, 1762; June 6, 1764;880 May 6, 1766; June 6, 1770; March 8, 1773
- Thomas Prince (Old South)
- October 7, 1726; May 6, 1729; May 31, 1731; April 5, 1737; March 12, 1743/44; March 12, 1749/50: May 10, 1757
- Joseph Sewall (Old South)
- Inv., February 21, 1714/15, for March 14., 1714/15; inv., June 5, 1716, for June 12, 1716; June 7, 1726; September 30, 1728; May 5, 1731; March 14, 1736/37; March 8, 1741/42; September 13, 1742; August 5, 1743; September 22, 1746; March 13, 1748/49; March 12, 1753; March 14, 1757; March 9, 1761; February 20, 1764; May 14, 1765
- Peter Thacher (New North)
- May 3, 1726; May 14, 1728; March 13, 1731/32; April 28, 1736
- Benjamin Wadsworth (First Church)
- Inv., May 8, 1702, for May 12, 1702; May 9, 1711;881 May 5, 1725
- John Webb (New North)
- March 13, 1726/27; September 14, 1731; May 3, 1737; May 11, 1742; March 25, 1745
- William Welsteed (New Brick)
- March 29, 1728; May 10, 1732; March 12, 1738/39; May 4, 1744; March 11, 1750/51
It will be noted that all the ministers who were invited, and all who opened the town meetings with prayer were Congregationalists. On one occasion only did the town even remotely risk listening to a minister who was not of this denomination. Providence willed otherwise, however. At the meeting of May 13, 1774, it was “Voted, That this Meeting be opened with Prayer, & that the following Gentlemen … be a Com̄ittee to wait upon Dr Cooper to acquaint him that it is the Desire of the Town, that he would open this Meeting with Prayer; & in Case he should not be readily found, that they then invite Dr Chauncy, or any other Minister they shall think proper to perform that Service.” Although he had “just returned fatigued from a Journey … Prayer was made by the revd Dr Cooper agreeable to the Request of the Town.” The tradition remained unbroken until March 7, 1786, when the selectmen voted to invite Samuel Stillman, pastor of the First Baptist Church, to pray at the meeting of March 13, 1786.882
This is an interesting vestige of an orthodoxy which had long since broken down. In March 1724/25, Boston had one Baptist church, two Episcopalian churches, one French Protestant church, and a Friends meeting-house, in addition to the Congregational churches. The Presbyterian Church was established in 1730; Trinity Church (the third Episcopalian), in 1734;883 and the Second Baptist Church, in 1743.
The Editor, on behalf of Mr. Fulmer Mood, presented by tide the following note:
Bartholomew Gosnold and Gosnold’s Bay in Virginia
IT is well known that scattered about the globe are many place names which record the names of Elizabethan merchants, nobles, and navigators who took part directly or vicariously in the work of expansion: Hakluyt Foreland, Elizabeth Islands, Sanderson’s Hope, Davis Strait, Baffin Land, Gilbert and Smith Sounds, Hudson River, Hudson’s Touches. The navigator working his way along some distant coast remembered his financial backer in London, and, when he came upon a striking natural feature worthy of being singled out for flattering mention, would ultimately affix his patron’s name to it. Bartholomew Gosnold, whose exploration of the New England coast in the summer of 1602 needs no comment, was not unmindful of this current practice. In the course of his voyage he did honor to several of his contemporaries. Martha’s Vineyard and the Elizabeth Islands owe their names to him. Nor did the commander forget himself, as is evidenced by Gosnold’s Island at the mouth of Buzzard’s Bay. These, and the name Cape Cod, also conferred by Gosnold, have lasted till the present. Others of his naming have, however, faded from the maps: Tucker’s Terror, Point Gilbert,884 and Dover Cliffs.
Gosnold’s reputation is so bound up with the history of New England that it may come as a surprise to learn that, for a time at least, his name was also attached to a feature on the Virginia coast, Gosnold’s Bay. But this toponym on the Chesapeake proved to be less permanent than that of the island in New England waters called by his name. Once, therefore, has cartography served Gosnold poorly. The graceless mapmakers have done him less than justice, and this is unfortunate, for he played a good rôle in the foundation of Jamestown, acted as a worthy, esteemed councillor for the infant colony, and commended himself to his fellow-colonists so well by reason of his gifts of leadership, that the struggling pioneers on this first of English frontiers agreed that they could ill afford to spare him when he grew sick and died.
At the very outset of the history of the settlement, Gosnold gave proof of his sound judgment and of his respect for the carefully weighed conclusions of the London Company’s leaders at home. When the fleet bearing the earliest colonists entered the Chesapeake—he was in command of the God Speed and vice-admiral of the expedition—counsel was taken by the principal men as to the site of the projected fort and town. The Company’s instructions were precise: they were to select a site which would be capable of good defense, and which would be elevated enough and sufficiently watered to insure good sanitation. Though Edward-Maria Wingfield, now president of the Council, threw his weight in favor of what came later to be Jamestown, Gosnold opposed him.885 Wingfield had his way, and a few months later, when the fever season came on, Gosnold was one of those who paid in full for the president’s unwisdom. George Percy relates that when Gosnold was buried, the guns were fired to honor his passing.886 This tribute from the quarrelsome pioneers attests as eloquently to his worth as do the rank of vice-admiral and the councillor’s dignity conferred upon him by the Company at home.887
Captain John Smith, who had been brought into contact with Gosnold about 1604 when both were working hard to forward the movement for colonial expansion,888 enriched still further the record of Gosnold’s distinction in his Map of Virginia (1612).889 The “Gosnolds baye” of this chart is proof that Gosnold’s Virginia contemporaries would not willingly let his name disappear from that new land with whose fortunes he had cast in his own. This body of water is a small bight on the Chesapeake between the James and the Pamunkey rivers. Why the navigator’s name should have been attached to this bay is probably a mystery that will find no speedy solution. Perhaps, to hazard conjectures, it was that in this locality he possessed a camp, or that here he died that sultry August. Whatever be the reason for the choice, it is plain that to this inconsiderable distinction Gosnold had the best of titles, not only because of his sound leadership and his good repute among the colonists, but also because of his critical services as an explorer and an advocate of English expansion.890
The Editor presented by title the following note by Mr. Howard M. Chapin:
Colonial Military Flags
IN two recent articles891 I discussed the flags of the military companies of colonial New England and pointed out that those in use by the militia of seventeenth-century New England were designed and used in accordance with the English military practice under Charles I and Cromwell.
The flags carried by military companies in Cromwell’s time were called “colours.” From the point of view of flags, the regiment was the unit, although in fact the regiment as such had no colors. Those carried by the first company, which was in those days commanded by the colonel, might, however, be considered as regimental colors, for the color of the field of the first company’s flag (and its device if any) served as the motive or basis for the design of the flags or colors of the other companies in the regiment. If, for instance, the first company’s flag (or colonel’s flag, as it was also called) was red, the flags of all the other companies in that regiment had red fields; if the colonel’s flag was blue, the other companies’ flags would have blue fields. Similarly, the device, if any, on the field of the colonel’s flag was carried over into the flags of the other companies.
The flags of the different companies—second (lieutenant-colonel’s), third (major’s), fourth (first captain’s), fifth (second captain’s), and so on—were differentiated according to a well-regulated system: in the lieutenant-colonel’s flag was added a canton with the cross in it; the major’s flag was like the lieutenant-colonel’s with the addition of a flame; the first captain’s had a ball instead of the flame; the second captain’s had two balls, and so on (except that when the colonel’s flag bore a device, the balls on the captains’ flags were usually replaced by the device repeated to the requisite number).
The regiments were often designated by the color of the field in the flag: the “red” regiment, the “blue” regiment, or the “white” regiment. Although this usage was discontinued in the English army upon its reorganization in 1661, it was retained by the “guards” in England and by the militia in New England.
Mr. Francis B. Culver, in his The Maryland State Flag and Colonial County Colors (Baltimore, 1934, p. 29), shows that this usage of Cromwell’s time was retained in Maryland as late as 1694. He writes:
In October, 1694, colors were assigned to Horse, Foot and Dragoons in the several counties of Maryland as follows: St. Mary’s, red; Kent, blue; Anne Arundel, whites Calvert, yellow; Charles, orange; Baltimore, green; Talbot, purple; Somerset, the Union or Jack Flag; Dorchester, buff; Cecil, crimson (Md. Arch., xx. 154). In August, 1695, to Prince George’s County, the St. George’s Cross, “a red cross in a white field,” was assigned (id., 281).
It has been suggested that these “colors” may have been merely cockades, rosettes, arm-bands, ribbons, or similar decorative paraphernalia; but the fact that to Somerset County (because it was then “the only marine county”) the Union or Jack Flag was assigned, appears to justify the opinion that the term “colors” here applies to “flags.” Thus, to each of the counties of Maryland, eleven in number prior to the year 1706, there was assigned a separate and distinguishing county flag under the régime of the royal governors.
These flags were not county territorial flags, but county regimental “colors,” as military flags were then called, and were designed and doubtless used in accordance with the practice of Cromwell’s time, as recorded and described by Venn and by Milne. These colors doubtless served as the flag of the colonel’s company and as the basis for the company flags in these various Maryland regiments.