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A History of American Christianity by Bacon

At the point of time which we have assumed 1730


so called, fell with the revocation

of the charter by James II. It had stood for nearly fifty years--long enough to accomplish the main end of that Nationalist principle which the Puritans, notwithstanding their fraternizing with the Pilgrim Separatists, had never let go. The organization of the church throughout New England, excepting Rhode Island, had gone forward in even step with the advance of population. Two rules had with these colonists the force of axioms: first, that it was the duty of every town, as a Christian community, to sustain the town church; secondly, that it was the duty of every citizen of the town to contribute to this end according to his ability. The breaking up of the town church by schisms and the shirking of individual duty on the ground of dissent were alike discountenanced, sometimes by severely intolerant measures. The ultimate collision of these principles with the sturdy individualism that had been accepted from the Separatists of Plymouth was inevitable. It came when the "standing order" encountered the Baptist and the Quaker conscience. It came again when the missionaries of the English established church, with singular unconsciousness of the humor of the situation, pleaded the sacred right of dissenting and the essential injustice of compelling dissenters to support the parish church.[129:1] The protest may have been illogical, but it was made effective by "arguments of weight," backed by all the force of the British government. The exclusiveness of the New England theocracies,
already relaxed in its application to other sects, was thenceforth at an end. The severity of church establishment in New England was so far mitigated as at last to put an actual premium on dissent. Holding still that every citizen is bound to aid in maintaining the institutions of public worship, it relieved any one of his assessment for the support of the parish church upon his filing a certificate that he was contributing to the support of another congregation, thus providing that any disaffection to the church of the town must be organized and active. It was the very euthanasia of establishment. But the state-church and church-state did not cease to be until they had accomplished that for New England which has never been accomplished elsewhere in America--the dividing of the settled regions into definite parishes, each with its church and its learned minister. The democratic autonomy of each church was jealously guarded, and yet they were all knit together by terms of loose confederation into a vital system. The impracticable notion of a threefold ministry in each church, consisting of pastor, teacher, and ruling elder, failed long before the first generation had passed; but, with this exception, it may justly be said that the noble ideal of the Puritan fathers of New England of a Christian state in the New World, "wherein dwelleth righteousness," was, at the end of a hundred years from their planting, realized with a completeness not common to such prophetic dreams.

So solid and vital, at the point of time which we have assumed (1730), seemed the cohesion of the "standing order" in New England, that only two inconsiderable defections are visible to the historian.

The tendency toward Baptist principles early disclosed itself among the colonists. The example of Roger Williams was followed by less notable instances; the shameful intolerance with which some of these were treated shows how formidable this tendency seemed to those in authority. But a more startling defection appeared about the year 1650, when President Dunster of Harvard College, a man most honorable and lovable, signified his adoption of the Baptist tenets. The treatment of him was ungenerous, and for a time the petty persecutions that followed served rather to discredit the clergy than really to hinder the spread of Baptist principles. In the year 1718 the Baptist church of Boston received fraternal recognition from the foremost representatives of the Congregational clergy of Boston, with a public confession of the wrong that they had done.[130:1] It is surprising to find, after all this agitation and sowing of "the seed of the church," that in all New England outside of Rhode Island there are in 1730 only six Baptist churches, including (an honorable item) two Indian churches on the islands of Martha's Vineyard and Nantucket.[131:1]


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