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The measure here considered, though sanctioned by a synod, and recommended by the General Court, was long agitated, before it was adopted. Indeed, it was never universally adopted. Some of the most eminent ministers, as Mr. Davenport, President Chauncy, and Dr. Increase Mather, opposed it from the first; and the churches in general were more averse to it than their pastors.
The result of the measure, so far as adopted, was precisely what might have been anticipated. Most persons of sober life, when they came to have families, "owned the covenant," and presented their children for baptism; but the number of church members in full communion was small, and was continually diminishing. Baptism was administered to great multitudes; while the Lord's Supper, the other special ordinance of the gospel, was falling into comparative neglect.
Here then was another emergency; and to meet it, another innovation was attempted, which had indeed been agitated long before. It was alleged that the sacrament of the supper is among the appointed means of regeneration; that it is the duty of unconverted persons, regarding themselves as such, to come to this ordinance; and consequently that a profession of piety should not in all cases be required of those who offer themselves for communion in the church. This doctrine was strenuously advocated by Rev. Solomon Stoddard, a distinguished minister of Northampton, who was settled about the year 1670, and who died in 1729. "Mr. Stoddard's principle," says the biographer of the first President Edwards, who was a grandson of Stoddard, "made a great noise in the country, and he was opposed at first, as introducing something contrary to the principles and practice of almost all the churches in New England; and the matter was publicly controverted between him and Dr. Increase Mather of Boston. However, through Mr. Stoddard's great influence over the people at Northampton, it was introduced there; and by degrees it spread very much among ministers and people in that county, and in other parts of New England." *
The operation of this plan was to increase the number of communicants, but to depress still more the vital energies of the church. It was well said by the great Dr. Owen, that "the let
* Works of Edwards, Vol. i. P. 65.
ting go this principle, that particular churches ought to consist of regenerate persons, brought in the great apostasy of the Christian church." There can be no doubt that "the letting go" this radical principle in New England, in connection with the causes previously mentioned, tended directly and eminently to prepare the way for "the great apostasy" here. The churches came to consist very considerably, in many places, of unconverted persons; and not unfrequently of those who so regarded themselves, and came to the Lord's table as a means of regeneration.
And when the door was once opened for persons without piety to enter the church, there was no let or hindrance to their entering the ministry. And between the years 1680 and 1750, it is to be feared that many of this description did enter the ministry. They were grave men; in speculation orthodox, or moderately so; and performed their customary ministerial duties with much regularity; but their preaching was without point, earnestness, and application; their devotional services lacked warmth and unction; their labors were not blessed of the Holy Spirit; their people slumbered; the tone of religious feeling and sentiment was sinking; and godliness seemed fast retiring from the land.
It deserves also to be considered, whether the manner in which, for a century and a half, religious institutions were supported in New England, had not a tendency to hasten that melancholy declension to which we have referred. Without doubt, many advantages resulted from the regular and uniform system of taxation for the support of the gospel, which was then in force; but from the age of Constantine to the present, a religious establishment has never been favorable to the growth of vital piety, and never will be. And the thought has often occurred, whether the tendency of the establishment, for such it was, in New England, was not to induce security and slumber on the part of ministers and churches, and a reliance on the civil arm, rather than on the Lord of hosts.
At the period of which we are now speaking, there were occasional seasons of special awakening; but these were few and insulated. A depravation of morals was much complained of, and frequent attempts were made, in synods and elsewhere, to promote reformation. But the means adopted did not go to the seat of the disease, which continued to rage with increasing violence. The existing state of things was loudly deplored by
many of the aged and more experienced ministers. "Oh!" said they, "the many deadly symptoms, symptoms of death, that are upon our religion! How is religion dying in the churches! And how are the churches themselves languishing and dying, together with religion!" "O New England, New England! Look to it that the glory be not removed from thee! Tremble; for it is going! It is gradually departing! How has the gold become dim, and the most fine gold changed! O that my head. were waters, and my eyes a fountain of tears!"*
So alarming had this declension become in the days of Cotton Mather, as to lead him to declare, that "in forty years more, should it continue to make progress as it had done, convulsions would ensue, in which churches would be gathered out of churches." A prediction which has been strikingly fulfilled.
TRANSLATORS OF THE ENGLISH BIBLE.
THE third company of translators, composed of Oxford divines, met at that famous seat of learning, and was fully equal to any other of these companies in qualifications for their important work. The part assigned to this third division was from the beginning of Isaiah to the end of the Old Testament.
This divine was president in his company; a station which shews how high he ranked among his brethren, who knew him, though but little relating to his personal character and history, has come down to our times. The offices which Dr. Harding filled were such as to confirm the opinion that his learning and piety entitled him to the position he occupied in this venerable society of scholars. At the time of his appointment to the duty of aiding in the Bible translation, he had been Royal Professor of Hebrew in the university for more than thirteen years. The holding of such a chair at a period when the study of sacred literature was pursued by thousands with a zeal which rose into a passion, is a fair intimation, that Dr. Harding was the man for
See Prince's Chris. History, Vol. i. Pp. 66–99.
the post he occupied. When commissioned by the King to take part in this version of the Scriptures, Dr. Harding was also President of Magdalen College. The share which he, with his brethren, performed was, perhaps, the most difficult portion of the work. The skill and beauty with which they accomplished it, may serve as a fair solution of the problem, "How, two languages being given, the nearest approximation may be made in the second, to the expression of ideas already conveyed through the medium of the first?"
This famous divine, though he died in the course of the good work, deserves especial mention, because it was by his means that the work itself was undertaken. He was born in Penhawes, in Devonshire, in the year 1549. He entered the University at the age of thirteen, and spent all his days in that seat of learning. Though he at first entered Merton College, he was chiefly bred at Corpus Christi, of which he became a Fellow in 1566, at the marvellously early age of seventeen. Six years later, he was made Greek Lecturer in his college, which was proud of the early ripeness of his learning.
About this time occurred one of the most singular events in the history of religious controversy. John Reynolds was a zealous papist. IIis brother William, who was his fellow-student, was equally zealous in protestantism. Each, in his fraternal anxiety for the salvation of a brother's soul, labored for the conversion of the other; and each of them succeeded. As the result of long conference and disputation, William became an inveterate papist, and so lived and died; while John became a decided protestant of the puritan stamp, and continued all his days a vigorous champion of the Reformation. From this time, he was a most able and successful preacher of God's word. Having very greatly distinguished himself as a debater, in the theological discussions, or "divinity-acts," of the University, he was drawn into the popish controversy. Being determined to explore the whole field, and make himself master of the subject, he devoted himself to the study of the Scriptures in the original tongues, and read all the Greek and Latin fathers, and all the ancient records of the Church. Nor did this flood of reading roll out
of his capacious mind as fast as it poured in. It is stated that "his memory was little less than miraculous. He could readily turn to every material passage, in every leaf, page, column and paragraph of the numerous and voluminous books he had read." He came to be styled "the very treasury of erudition ;" and was spoken of as "a living library, and a third university."
About the year 1578, John Hart, a popish zealot, challenged all the learned men in the nation to public debate. At the solicitation of one of Queen Elizabeth's privy counsellors, Mr. Reynolds encountered him. After several combats, the Romish champion owned himself driven from the field. An account of the conferences, subscribed by both parties, was afterwards published, and widely circulated. It added greatly to the reputation of Mr. Reynolds, who soon after took his degrees in divinity, and was appointed by the Queen to be Royal Professor of Divinity in the University. At this time, the celebrated Cardinal Bellarmine, the Goliah of the Philistines at Rome, was professor of theology in the English Seminary at that city. And as he delivered his popish doctrine, it was taken down in writing, and regularly sent to Dr. Reynolds, who, from time to time, publicly confuted it at Oxford. Thus Bellarmine's books were answered, even before they were printed.
It is said that Reynolds's professorship was founded by the royal bounty for the express purpose of strengthening the Church of England against the Church of Rome, and of widening the breach between them; and that Dr. Reynolds was first placed in the chair, for this very purpose, because of his strenuous opposition to the corruptions of Rome. The "Oxford divines," at that period, were of a very different stamp from their Puseyite successors in our day. And yet, even at Oxford, there are still faithful witnesses for the truth. Dr. Hampden, whose recent appointment to the bishopric of Hereford has raised such a storm of opposition from the Romanizing prelates and clergy, was for many years a worthy successor of Dr. Reynolds, in that chair which was founded for maintaining the Church of England against the usurpations of Rome.
Yet even so long ago, there were Puseyites there; as there have been ever since, though designated by other names. The first reformers of the English Church held, as archbishop Whately does now, that the primitive church government was of VOL. II.