The Evolution of Early Congregationalism the Stone which the Builders Rejected is Become the Head of the Corner. --Psalm cxviii
CHAPTER I THE EVOLUTION OF EARLY CONGREGATIONALISM The stone which the builders rejected is become the head of the corner. -- Psalm cxviii, 22. The colonists of Plymouth, Massachusetts, Connecticut, and New Haven were grounded in the system which became known as Congregational, and later as Congregationalism. At the outset they differed not at all in creed, and only in some respects in polity, from the great Puritan body in England, out of which they largely came.[a] For more than forty years before their migration to New England there had been in old England two clearly developed forms of Congregationalism, Brownism and Barrowism. The term Congregationalism, with its allied forms Congregational and Congregationalist, would not then have been employed. They did not come into general use until the latter half of the seventeenth century, and were at first limited in usage to defining or referring to the modified church system of New England. The term "Independent" was preferred to designate the somewhat similar polity among the nonconformist churches in old England.[b] Brownism and Barrowism are both included in Dr. Dexter's comprehensive definition of Congregationalism, using the term "to designate that system of thought, faith, and practice, which starting with the dictum that the conditions of church life are revealed in the Bible, and are thence to be evolved by reverent common-sense, assisted but never controlled by all other sources of knowledge; interprets that book as teaching the reality and independent competency of the local church, and the duty of fraternity and co-working between such churches; from these two truths symmetrically developing its entire system of principles, privileges, and obligations." The "independent competency of the local church" is directly opposed to any system of episcopal government within the church, and is diametrically opposed to any control by king, prince, or civil government. Yet this was one of the pivotal dogmas of Browne and of the later Separatists; this, a fundamental doctrine which Barrowe strove to incorporate into a new church system, but into one having sufficient control over its local units to make it acceptable to a people who were accustomed to the autonomy and stability of a church both episcopal and national in character. In order to appreciate the changes in church polity and in the religious temper of the people for which Browne and Barrowe labored, one must survey the field in which they worked and note such preparation as it had received before their advent. It is to be recalled that Henry VIII substituted for submission to the Pope submission to himself as head of a church essentially Romish in ritual, teaching, and authority over his subjects. The religious reformation, as such, came later and by slow evolution through the gradual awakening of the moral and spiritual perceptions of the masses. It came very slowly notwithstanding the fact that the first definite and systematic opposition to the abuses and assumptions of the clergy had arisen long before Henry's reign. As early as 1382, the itinerant preachers, sent out by Wyckliff, were complained of by the clergy and magistrates as teachers of insubordinate and dangerous doctrines. Thenceforward, outcroppings of dissatisfaction with the clergy appear from time to time both in English life and literature. This dissatisfaction was silenced by various acts of Parliament which were passed to enforce conformity and to punish heresy. Their character and intent were the same whether the head of the church wore the papal tiara or the English crown. Two hundred years after Wyckliff, in 1582, laws were still fulminated against "divers false and perverse people of certain new sects," for Protestant England would support but one form of religion as the moral prop of the state. She regarded all innovations as questionable, or wholly evil, and their authors as dangerous men. Chief among the latter was Robert Browne. But before Browne's advent and in the days of Henry the Eighth, there had been a large, respectable, and steadily increasing party whose desire was to remain within the English church, but to purify it from superstitious rites and practices, such as penances, pilgrimages, forced oblations, and votive offerings. They wished also to free the ritual from many customs inherited from the days of Rome's supremacy. It was in this party that the leaven of Protestantism had been working. Luther and Henry, be it remembered, had died within a year of each other. Under the feeble rule of Edward the Sixth, the English reform movement gained rapidly, and, in 1550, upon the refusal of Bishop Hooper to be consecrated in the usual Romish vestments, it began to crystallize in two forms, Separatism and Puritanism.[c] In spite of much opposition, the teachings of Luther, Calvin, and other Continental reformers took root in England, and interested men of widely different classes. They stirred to new activity the scattered and persecuted groups, that, from time to time, had met in secret in London and elsewhere to read the Scriptures and to worship with their elected leaders in some simpler form of service than that prescribed by law. Under Mary's persecution, these Separatists increased, and with other Protestants swelled the roll of martyrs. In her severity, the Queen also drove into exile many able and learned men, who sought shelter in Geneva, Zurich, Basle, and Frankfort, where they were hospitably entertained. Upon their return, there was a marked increase in the Calvinistic tone both of preaching and teaching in the English church and in the university lecture rooms, especially those of Cambridge. Among the most influential teachers was Thomas Cartwright,[d] in 1560-1562, Lady Margaret Professor of Divinity at Cambridge. While having no sympathy with the nonconformist or Separatist of his day, Cartwright accepted the polity and creed of Calvin in its severer form. He became junior-dean of St. John's, major-fellow of Trinity, and a member of the governing-board. In 1565 he went to Ireland to escape the heated controversy of the period which centred in the "Vestiarian" movement. He was recalled in 1569 to his former professorship, and in September, 1571, was forced out of it because, when controversy changed from vestments to polity, he took extreme views of church discipline and repudiated episcopal government.[e] While Cartwright was very pronounced in his views, his desire at first was that the changes in church polity should be brought about by the united action of the Crown and Parliament. Such had been the method of introducing changes under the three sovereigns, Henry, Mary, and Elizabeth. With this brief summary of the reform movements among the masses and in the universities covering the years until Cartwright, through the influence of the ritualistic church party, was expelled from Cambridge, and Robert Browne, as a student there, came under the strong Puritan influence of the university, we pass to a consideration of Brownism. Robert Browne was graduated from Cambridge in 1572, the year after Cartwright's expulsion. The next three years he taught in London and "wholly bent himself to search and find out the matters of the church: as to how it was guided and ordered, and what abuses there were in the ecclesiastical government then used." [2] When the plague broke out in London, Browne went to Cambridge. There, he refused to accept the bishop's license to preach, though urged to do so, because he had come to consider it as contrary to the authority of the Scriptures. Nevertheless, he continued preaching until he was silenced by the prelate. Browne then went to Norwich, preaching there and at Bury St. Edmunds, both of which had been gathering-places for the Separatists. At Norwich, he organized a church. Writing of Browne's labors there in 1580 and 1581, Dr. Dexter says: "Here, following the track which he had been long elaborating, he thoroughly discovered and restated the original Congregational way in all its simplicity and symmetry. And here, by his prompting and under his guidance, was formed the first church in modern days of which I have any knowledge, which was intelligently and one might say philosophically Congregational in its platform and processes; he becoming its pastor." [3] Persecution followed Browne to Norwich, and in order to escape it he, in 1581, migrated with his church to Middelburg, in Zealand. There, for two years, he devoted himself to authorship, wherein he set forth his teachings. His books and pamphlets, which had been proscribed in England, were printed in Middelburg and secretly distributed by his friends and followers at home. But Browne's temperament was not of the kind to hold and mould men together, while his doctrine of equality in church government was too strong food for people who, for generations, had been subservient to a system that demanded only their obedience. His church soon disintegrated. With but a remnant of his following, he returned in 1583 by way of Scotland into England, finding everywhere the strong hand of the government stretched out in persecution. Three years later, after having been imprisoned in noisome cells some thirty times within six years, utterly broken in health, if not weakened also in mind, and never feeling safe from arrest while in his own land, Browne finally sought pardon for his offensive teachings and, obtaining it, reentered the English communion. Though he was given a small parish, he was looked upon as a renegade, and died in poverty about 1631, at an extreme old age. He died while the Pilgrim Separatists were still a struggling colony at Plymouth, repudiating the name of Brownists; before the colonial churches had embodied in their system most of the fundamentals of his; and long before the value of his teachings as to democracy, whether in the church or by extension in the state, had dawned upon mankind.

The connecting link between Brownism and Barrowism, whose similarities and dissimilarities we shall consider together, or rather the connecting link between Robert Browne and Henry Barrowe, was another Cambridge student, John Greenwood. He was graduated in 1581, the year that Browne removed to Middelburg. Greenwood had become so enamored with Separatist doctrines, that within five years of his graduation he was deprived of his benefice, in 1586, and sent to prison. While there, he was visited by his friend, Henry Barrowe, a young London lawyer, who, through the chance words of a London preacher, had been converted from a wild, gay life to one devout and godly. During a visit to Greenwood, Barrowe was arrested and sent to Lambeth Palace for examination. Upon refusing to take the oath required by the bishop, Barrowe was remanded to prison to await further examination. Later, he damaged himself and his cause by an unnecessarily bitter denunciation of his enemies and by a too dogmatic assertion of his own principles. Accordingly, he was sent back to prison, where, together with Greenwood, he awaited trial until March, 1593. Then, upon the distorted testimony of their writings, both men were sentenced as seditious fellows, worthy of death. Though twice reprieved at the seemingly last hour, they were hanged together on April 6, 1593.

Both Greenwood and Barrowe frequently asserted that they never had anything to do with Browne. [4] Yet it is probable that it was Browne's influence which turned Greenwood's puritanical convictions to Separatist principles. Barrowe had been graduated from Clare Hall, Cambridge, in 1569-70; Browne, from Corpus Christi in 1572. The two men, so different in character, probably did not meet in university days, and certainly not later in London, where one went to a life of pleasure and the other to teaching and to the study of the Scriptures. Greenwood, however, had entered Cambridge in 1577-78, and left it in 1581. Thus he was in college during the two years that Browne was preaching in and near Cambridge. It is safe to assume that the young scholar, soon to become a licensed preacher, and overflowing with the Puritan zeal of his college, might be drawn either through curiosity or admiration to hear the erratic and almost fanatic preacher. Later, when Browne's writings were being secretly distributed in England, both Barrowe and Greenwood had come in contact with the London congregations to whom Browne had preached. The fact that many men in England were thinking along the same lines as the Separatists; that Browne had recanted just as Barrowe and Greenwood were thrust into prison; and that they both disapproved in some measure of Browne's teachings, might account for a denial of discipleship. Browne's influence might even have been unrecognized by the men themselves. Be that as it may, during their long imprisonment, both Barrowe and Greenwood, in their teachings, in their public conferences, and in their writings strove to outline a system of church government and discipline, which was very similar to and yet essentially different from Browne's.

Thus it happened that in the last decade of the sixteenth century two forms of Congregationalism had developed, Brownism and Barrowism. Neither Browne nor Barrowe felt any need, as did their later followers, to demonstrate their doctrinal soundness, because in all matters of creed they "were in full doctrinal sympathy with the predominantly Calvinistic views of the English Established Church from which they had come out."

"Browne, first of all English writers, set forth the Anabaptist doctrine that the civil ruler had no control over the spiritual affairs of the church and that State and Church were separate realms." [5] In the beginning, Browne's foremost wish was not to establish a new church system or polity, but to encourage the spiritual life of the believer. To this end he desired separation from the English church, which, like all other state churches, included all baptized persons, not excommunicate, whether faithful or not to their baptismal or confirmation vows to lead godly lives. [6] Moreover, as Browne did not believe that the magistrates should have power to coerce men's consciences, teaching, as he did, that the mingling of church offices and civil offices was anti-Christian,[7] he was unwilling to wait for a reformation to be brought about by the changing laws of the state.[8] He further advocated such equality of power [9] among the members of the church that in its government a democracy resulted, and this theory, pushed to a logical conclusion, implied that a democratic form of civil government was also the best.[f] Browne roughly draughted a government for the church with pastors, teachers, elders, deacons, and widows. He insisted, however, that these officers did not stand between Christ and the ordinary believer, "though they haue the grace and office of teaching and guiding.... Because eurie one of the church is made Kinge, and Priest and a Prophet, under Christ, to vpholde and further the kingdom of God."

Browne and Barrowe both made the Bible their guide in all matters of church life. From its text they deduced the definition of a true church as, "A company of faithful people gathered by the Word unto Christ and submitting themselves in all things;" of a Christian, as one who had made a "willing covenant with God, and thereby did live a godly and Christian life."[10] This covenanting together of Christians constituted a church. From their interpretation of the New Testament, Browne and Barrowe held that this covenanting included repentance for sin, a profession of faith, and a promise of obedience. Moreover, to their minds, primitive Christianity had insisted upon a public, personal narration of each covenanter's regenerative experience. From sacred writ they derived their church organization also.[ll] Their pastors were for exhorting or "edifying by all comfortable words and promises in the Scriptures, to work in our hearts the estimate of our duties with love and zeal thereunto." Their teachers were for teaching or "delivering the grounds of Religion and meaning of the Scriptures and confirming the same." Both officers were to administer baptism and the Lord's supper, or "the Seals of the Covenant." The elders included both pastors and teachers and also "Ruling Elders," all of whom were for "oversight, counsel, and redressing things amiss," but the ruling elders were to give special attention to the public order and government of the church. According to both Browne and Barrowe, these officers were to be the mouthpiece of the church in the admission, censure, dismissal, or readmission of members. They were to prepare matters to be brought before the church for action. They were also to adjust matters, when possible, so as to avoid overburdening the church or its pastor and teacher with trivial business. In matters spiritual, they were to unite with the pastor and teacher in keeping watch over the lives of the people, that they be of good character and godly reputation.

Browne taught that the church had power which it shared with its officers as fellow-Christians, but which lifted it above them and their office. It lay with the church to elect them. It lay with the church to censure them. Barrowe also maintained that the church was "above its institutions, above its officers," [12] and that every officer was responsible to the church and liable to its censure as well as indebted to it for his election and office. But he further maintained that the members of the church should render meek and submissive, faithful and loving obedience to their chosen elders. Barrowe thus taught that guidance in religious matters should be left in the hands of those to whom by election it had been delegated. The elders were to be men of discernment, able to judge "between cause and cause, plea and plea," to redress evil, and to see that both the people and their officers[g] did their full duty in accordance with the laws of God and the ordinances of the church. Barrowe had seen the confusion and disintegration of Browne's church, and he planned by thus introducing the Calvinistic theory of eldership to avoid the pitfalls into which the Brownists had plunged while practicing their new-found principle of religious equality. Barrowe hoped by his system to secure the independence of the local churches and also to avoid the repellent attitude of a nation that was as yet unprepared to welcome any trend towards democracy.[h] Having devised this system of compromise, Barrowe made a futile attempt to interest Cartwright, but the latter regarded the reformer as too heretical. Yet Cartwright himself, tired of waiting for the better day when his desired reforms should be brought about through the operation of Parliamentary laws, was attempting in Warwickshire and Northamptonshire to test his system of Presbyterianism.

To the list of church officers already enumerated, both reformers added deacons and widows. The deacons were to attend to the church finances and all temporal cares, and, in their visiting of the sick and afflicted, they were to be aided by the widows. The latter office, however, soon fell into disuse, for it was difficult to find women of satisfactory character, attainments, and physical ability, since, in order to avoid scandal or censoriousness, those filling the office had to be of advanced years.[i]

With respect to the relation of the churches among themselves, Browne and Barrowe each insisted upon the integral independence and self-governing powers of the local units. Both approved of the "sisterly advice" of neighboring churches in matters of mutual interest. Both held that in matters of great weight, synods, or councils of all the churches should be summoned; that the delegates to such bodies should advise and bring the wisdom of their united experience to questions affecting the welfare of all the churches, and also, when in consultation upon serious cases, that any one church should lay before them. Browne insisted that delegates to synods should be both ministerial and lay, while Barrowe leaned to the conviction that they should be chosen only from among the church officers. Both reformers limited the power of synods, maintaining that they should be consultative and advisory only. [13] Their decisions were not to be binding upon the churches as were those of the Presbyterian synods,[j] whose authority both reformers regarded as a violation of Gospel rule. The church system, outlined by these two men, became, in time, the organization of the churches of Plymouth, Massachusetts, Connecticut, and New Haven. The character of their polity fluctuated, as we shall see, leaning sometimes more to Barrowism and sometimes, or in some respects, emphasizing the greater democracy which Browne taught. In England, and because of the pressure of circumstances among English exiles and colonists, Barrowe's teachings at first gained the stronger hold and kept it for many years. Moreover, as Barrowe's almost immediate followers embraced them, there was no objection to the customary union of church and state. And furthermore, if only the state would uphold this peculiar polity, it might even insist upon the payment of contributions, which both Browne and Barrowe had distinctly stated were to be voluntary and were to be the only support of their churches. Though Barrowism was more welcomed, eventually -- yet not until long after the colonial period -- Brownism triumphed, and it predominates in the Congregationalism of to-day.

The immediate spread of Barrowism was due to the poor Separatists of London. Doubtless among them were many who in the preceding years had listened to Browne and had begun to look up to him as their Luther. While Barrowe and Greenwood were in prison, many of these Separatists had gone to hear them preach and had studied their writings. During the autumn of 1592, there had been some relaxation in the severity exercised toward the prisoners, and Greenwood was allowed occasionally to be out of jail under bail. He associated himself with these Separatists, who, according to Dr. Dexter, had organized a church about five years before, and who at once elected Greenwood to the office of teacher. Dr. John Brown, writing later than Dr. Dexter, claims this London church as the parent of English Congregationalism. To make good the claim, he traces the history of the church by means of references in Bradford's History, Fox's "Book of Martyrs," and in recently discovered state papers to its existence as a Separate church under Elizabeth, when, as early as 1571, its pastor, Richard Fitz, had died in prison. Dr. Brown believes he can still farther trace its origin to Queen Mary's reign, when a Mr. Rough, its pastor, suffered martyrdom, and one Cuthbert Sympson was deacon. [l4] After the death of Greenwood and Barrowe, this London congregation was sore pressed. Their pastor, Francis Johnson, having been thrown into prison, they began to make their way secretly to Amsterdam. There Johnson joined them in 1597, soon after his release. To this London-Amsterdam church were gathered Separatist exiles from all parts of England, for converts were increasing,[k] especially in the rural districts of the north, notwithstanding the fact that persecution followed hard upon conversion.

The policy of Elizabeth during the earlier years of her reign was one of forbearance towards inoffensive Catholics and of toleration towards all Protestants. Caring nothing for religion as such, her aim was to secure peace and to increase the stability of her realm. This she did by crushing malcontent Catholics, by balancing the factions of Protestantism, and by holding in check the extremists, whether High-Churchmen or the ultra-Puritan followers of Cartwright. She had forced on the contending factions a sort of armed truce and silenced the violent antagonism of pulpit against pulpit by licensing preachers. The Acts of Supremacy and of Uniformity placed all ecclesiastical jurisdiction, as well as all legislative power, in the hands of the state. They outlined a system of church doctrine and discipline from which no variation was legally permitted. Notwithstanding the enforced outward conformity, the Bible was left open to the masses to study, and private discussion and polemic writing were unrestrained. The main principles of the Reformation were accepted, even while Elizabeth resisted the sweeping reforms which the strong Calvinistic faction of the Puritan party would have made in the ceremonial of the English church. This she did notwithstanding the fact that about the time Thomas Cartwright, through the influence of the ritualists under Whitgift, had been driven from Cambridge, Parliament had refused to bind the clergy to the Three Articles on Supremacy, on the form of Church government, and on the power of the Church to ordain rites and ceremonies. Parliament had even suggested a reform of the liturgy by omitting from it those ceremonies most obnoxious to the Puritan party.[l] That representative assembly had but reflected the desire of all moderate statesmen, as well as of the Puritans. But, in the twelve years between Cartwright's dismissal from Cambridge and Browne's preaching there without a license, a great change took place, altering the sentiment of the nation. All but extremists drew back when Cartwright pushed his Presbyterian notions to the point of asserting that the only power which the state rightfully held over religion was to see that the decrees of the churches were executed and their contemners punished, or when this reformer still further asserted that the power and authority of the church was derived from the Gospel and consequently was above Queen or Parliament. Cartwright claimed for his church an infallibility and control of its members far above the claims of Rome, and, tired of waiting for a purification of existing conditions by legislative acts, he had, as has been said, boldly organized, in accordance with his system, the clergy of Warwickshire and Northamptonshire. The local churches were treated as self-governing units, but were controlled by a series of authoritative Classes and Synods. Having done this, Cartwright called for the establishment of Presbyterianism as the national church and for the vigorous suppression of Episcopacy, Separatism, and all variations from his standard. As he thus struck at the national church, at the Queen's supremacy, and, seemingly to many Englishmen, at the very roots of civil government and security, there was a sudden halt in the reform movement. The impetus which would have probably brought about all the changes that the great body of Puritans desired was arrested. Richard Hooker's "Ecclesiastical Polity" swept the ground from under Thomas Cartwright's "Admonition to Parliament." Hooker's broad and philosophic reasoning showed that no one system of church-government was immutable; that all were temporary; and that not upon any man's interpretation of Scripture, or upon that of any group of men alone, could the divine ordering of the world, of the church or of the state, be based. Such order depended upon moral relations, upon social and political institutions, and changed with times and nations.

The death of Mary Queen of Scots crushed the Catholic party, and the defeat of the Armada left Elizabeth free to turn her attention to the phases of the Protestant movement in her own realm. While Browne was preaching in Norwich, the Queen raised Whitgift to the See of Canterbury. He was the bitter opponent of all nonconformity, and immediately the persecution both of Separatists and of Puritans became severe. Elizabeth, sure at last of her throne and of her position as head of the Protestant cause in Europe, gave her minister a free hand. She demanded rigid conformity, but wisely forbore to revive many of the customs which the Puritans had succeeded in rendering obsolete. Notwithstanding such modifications, the English liturgy had been so slightly altered that, "Pius the Fifth did see so little variation in it from the Latin service that had been formerly used in that Kingdom that he would have ratified it by his authority, if the Queen would have so received it."[m] Elizabeth now forbade all preaching, teaching, and catechising in private houses, and refused to recognize lay or Presbyterian ordination. Ministers who could no longer accept episcopal ordination, or subscribe to the Thirty-nine Articles, or approve the Book of Common Prayer and conform to its liturgy were silenced and deprived of their salaries. In default of witnesses, charges against them were proved by their own testimony under oath, whereby they were made to incriminate themselves. The censorship of the press was made stringent, printing was restricted to London and to the two universities, and all printers had to be licensed. Furthermore, all publications, even pamphlets, had to receive the approval of the Primate or of the Bishop of London. In addition, the Queen established the Ecclesiastical Commission of forty-four members, which became a permanent court where all authority virtually centred in the hands of the archbishops. English law had not as yet defined the powers and limitations of the Protestant clergy. Consequently, this Commission assumed almost unlimited powers and cared little for its own precedents. Its very existence undid a large part of the work of the Reformation, and the successive Archbishops of Canterbury, Parker, Whitgift, Bancroft, Abbott, and Laud, claimed greater and more despotic authority than any papal primate since the days of Augustine. The Commission passed upon all opinions or acts which it held to be contrary to the Acts of Supremacy and Uniformity. It altered or amended the Statutes of Schools and Colleges; it claimed the right of deprivation of clergy and held them at its mercy; it passed from decisions upon heresy, schism, or nonconformity to judgment and sentence upon incest and similar crimes. It could fine and imprison at will, and employ any measures for securing information or calling witnesses. The result was that all nonconformists and all Puritans drew closer together under trial. Another result was that the Bible was studied more earnestly in private, and that there was a public eager to read the religious books and pamphlets published abroad and cautiously circulated in England. Though the Presbyterians were confined to the nonconformist clergy and to a comparatively small number among them, they were rising in importance, and were accorded sympathetic recognition as a section of the Puritan party. This party, as a whole, continued to increase its membership. The Separatists also increased, for, as of old, the blood of the martyrs became the seed of the church.

The hope that times would mend when James ascended the throne was soon abandoned. As he had been trained in Scotch Presbyterianism, the Presbyterians believed that he would grant them some favor, while the Puritans looked for some conciliatory measures. Eight hundred Puritan ministers, a tenth of all the clergy, signed the "Millenary Petition," asking that the practices which they most abhorred, such as the sign of the cross in baptism, the use of the surplice, the giving of the ring at marriage, and the kneeling during the communion service, should be done away with. The petition was not Presbyterian, but was strictly Puritan in tone. It asked for no change in the government or organization of the church. It did ask for a reform in the ecclesiastical courts, and it demanded provision for the training of godly ministers. James replied to the petition by promising a conference of prelates and of Puritan ministers to consider their demands; but at the conference it was found that he had summpned it only to air the theological knowledge upon which he so greatly prided himself. His answer to the petition was that he would have "one doctrine, one religion, in substance and in ceremony," and of the remonstrants he added, "I will make them conform or I will harry them out of the land." The harrying began. The recently organized Separatist church at Gainsborough-on-Trent endured persecution for four years, and then emigrated with its pastor, John Smyth, M.A., of Christ's College, Cambridge. It found refuge in Amsterdam by the side of the London-Amsterdam church and its pastor, Francis Johnson, who had been Smyth's tutor in college days. The next year, after more of the King's harrying, the future colonists of Plymouth, the Separatist Church of Scrooby, an offshoot of the Gainsborough church, attempted to flee over seas to Holland. The magistrates would not give them leave to go, and to emigrate without permission had been counted a crime since the reign of Richard II. Their first attempt to leave the country was defeated and their leaders imprisoned. During their second attempt, after a large number of their men had reached the ship with many of their household goods, and while their wives and children were waiting to embark, those on the beach were surprised and arrested, and their goods confiscated. Public opinion forbade sending helpless women and children to prison for no other offense than agreeing with and wishing to join their husbands and fathers. Consequently the magistrates let their prisoners go, but made no provision for them. Helpless and destitute, they were taken in and cared for by the people of the countryside, and sheltered until their men returned. The latter had suffered shipwreck, because the Dutch captain had attempted to sail away when he saw the approach of the English officers. When the church had once more raised sufficient funds for the emigration, the magistrates gave them a contemptuous permission to depart, "glad to be rid of them at any price." So, in 1608, they also joined the English exiles in Amsterdam. The rank injustice and cruelty of their treatment, together with their patience and forbearance under their sufferings, drew people's attention to the character and worth of the pious "pilgrims" and Separatists whom James was constantly driving forth from England.

Meanwhile, both in England and on the continent, the Separatists held fast to the principles of their leaders, of which the cardinal ones were a church wherein membership was not by birthright, but by "conversion;" over which magistrates or government should have no control; in which each congregation constituted an independent unit, coequal with all others; and with which the state should have nothing more to do than to see that members respected the decrees of the church and were obedient to its discipline.

On the continent, the Separatists elaborated these fundamentals and developed detailed and systematic expression of them. Such were the "True Description out of the Word of God of the Visible Church" of the London-Amsterdam church, put forth in 1589, and in which Barrowe himself outlined his system; the "True Confession," issued by the same church about ten years later; "The Points of Difference," some fourteen in number, in which the London-Amsterdam church set forth wherein it differed from the English church; and the "Seven Articles," signed by John Robinson and William Brewster. This last document the exiled Scrooby church sent from Leyden to the English Council of State in 1617, with the hope of convincing King James that if allowed to go to America under the Virginia patent, and to worship there in their own fashion, they would be desirable colonists and law-abiding subjects. The "True Confession"[n] sets forth the nature, powers, order, and officers of the church. It limits the sacraments to the members, and baptism to their children. It insists upon the wisdom of churches seeking advice from one another, and of their use of certificates of membership so as to guard against the admission of strangers coming from other churches, and possibly of unworthy character. In the definition of eldership, the "True Confession" passes out of the haze in which Barrowe's "True Description" left the conflicting powers of the eldership, and of the church. It plainly asserts that the elders have the power of guidance and also of control, should members attempt to censure them or to interfere in matters beyond their knowledge. This platform also insists that magistrates should uphold the church which it defines, because it is the one true church, and that they should oppose all others as anti-Christian. [15] In the "Points of Difference," stress is again laid upon the covenant-nature of the church, upon its voluntary support, upon the right of election of officers, and upon the abolishment of "Popish Canons, Courts, Classes, Customs or any human inventions," including the Popish liturgy, the Book of Common Prayer, and "all Monuments of Idolatry in garments or in other things, and all Temples, Chapels, etc." Many of the Puritans desired these same changes. Many favored a polity giving the local churches some degree of choice in the election of their officers. If the "Points of Difference" aimed to lay bare the errors of Episcopacy and of Presbyterianism as well as to demonstrate the superior merits of the new aspirant for the status of a national church, the "Seven Articles" [16] aimed to minimize differences in church usage by omitting mention of them when possible and by emphasizing agreement. The evident advance along the line of a more authoritative eldership had developed out of the experience of the first two English churches in Amsterdam. John Robinson and his followers had held more closely to Robert Browne's standard of Congregationalism, for Robinson maintained that the government of the church should be vested in its membership rather than in its eldership alone. In order to maintain this principle in greater purity, Robinson withdrew his fold from their first resting-place in Amsterdam to Leyden. Richard Clyfton, who had been pastor of the church in Scrooby, remained in Amsterdam, partly because he felt too old to migrate again, and partly because he leaned to Francis Johnson's more aristocratic theories of church government. These divergent views caused trouble in the Amsterdam churches, and Robinson wished to be far enough away to be out of the vortex of doctrinal eddies. For eleven years his people lived a peaceful and exemplary church life in Leyden, and it was chiefly their longing to rear their children in an English home and under English influences that made them anxious to emigrate to America. As the years passed, Robinson sympathized more with the Barrowistic standards of other churches and came also to regard more leniently the English Established Church as one having true religion under corrupt forms and ceremonies, and accordingly one with which he could hold a limited fellowship. This was a step in the approachment of Separatist and Puritan, and Robinson was a most influential writer. Of necessity, his work was largely controversial, but he wrote from the standpoint of defense, and rarely departed from a broad and kindly spirit. In the "Seven Articles" Robinson admits the royal supremacy in so far as to countenance a passive obedience. His teaching had the greatest influence in shaping the religious life of the first and second generation of New Englanders.

The Separatists who remained in England devoted themselves to the discussion of particular topics rather than to platforms of faith and discipline. Many of the writers were men who, like the pastors of two of the exiled churches, were at first ministers in good standing in the English church; but, later, had allowed their Puritan tendencies to outrun the bounds of that party and to become convictions that the Bible commanded their separation from the Establishment as witnesses to the corruptions it countenanced. Poring over the Bible story, they had become enamored with the simplicity of the Gospel age.

From the days of Elizabeth, the English nation became more and more a people of one book, and that book the Bible. As, deeply dyed with Calvinism, they read over and over its sacred pages, they became a serious, sombre, purposeful -- and almost fanatic people. The faults and extravagances of the Puritan party and of the later Commonwealth do not at this time concern us. It is with their purposefulness, their determination to make the church a home of vigorous and visible righteousness, and to preserve their ecclesiastical and civil liberties from the encroachment of Stuart pretensions, that we have to do. More and more, as has been said, the Puritan was coming to the conviction that the best way to reform the church would be to substitute some restrictive policy for her all-embracing membership, or, at least, to supplement it by such measures of local church discipline as should practically exclude the unregenerate and the immoral. Again, the Church of England could be arraigned as a politico-ecclesiastical institution, and in the pages of the Bible, King James's theory of the divine right of kings and bishops found no support. It was obnoxious alike to Separatist and Puritan, and James's Puritan subjects had the sympathy of more than three fourths of the squires and burgesses in the king's first Parliament of 1604, while the Separatists counted some twenty thousand converts in his realm. The Puritan opposition was a formidable one to provoke. Yet "the wisest fool in Christendom" jeered at its clergy and scolded its representatives in Parliament for daring to warn him, in their reply to his boasted divine right of kings, that

Your majesty would be misinformed if any man should deliver that the Kings of England have any absolute power in themselves either to alter religion, or to make any laws concerning the same, otherwise than as in temporal causes, by consent of Parliament.

It was the extravagant claims for himself and his bishops, coupled with his lawless overriding of justice and his profligate use of the national wealth, that undermined the king's throne and prepared the downfall of the House of Stuart. Notwithstanding the remonstrance of Parliament, James's insistence upon his divine right, by very force of reiteration, whether his own or that of the clergy who favored royalty, won a growing recognition from a conservative people. For his king as the political head of the nation, the Puritan had all the Englishman's half-idolatrous reverence, until James's own acts outraged justice and substituted contempt.

The self-restraint for which every Separatist, every Puritan, strove, was characteristic of the great reform party. They asked only for ecclesiastical betterment, for the reform of the ecclesiastical courts, for provision for a godly ministry, and for the suppression of "Popish usages." These requests of the "Millenary Petition" were, after the Guy Fawkes plot, urged with all the intensity of a people who, as they looked abroad upon the feeble and warring Protestantism of Europe, and at home upon the attempt to revive Romanism, believed themselves the sole hope and savior of the Protestant cause. Persecution had created a small measure of tolerance throughout all nonconformist bodies. Fear of the revival of Catholicism, the renewed attempt to enforce the Three Articles, the dismissal from their parishes of three hundred Puritan ministers, and the hand and glove policy of the king and his bishops, welded together the variants in the Puritan party. The desire for personal righteousness, for morality in church and state, which had seized upon the masses in the nation, stood aghast at the profligacy of the king and his courtiers. Reason seemed to cry aloud for reform, preferably for a reform that should be free from every trace of the old hypocrisies, but which should be strong within the old episcopal system which had endured for centuries and which still kept its hold upon the vast majority of the people. And to this idea of reform the great Puritan party clung, until the exactions of the Stuarts, their suppression of both religious and civil rights, forced upon it a civil war and the formation of the Commonwealth. As a preliminary training of the men of the Puritan armies and of the Commonwealth, and for their great contest, all the years of Bible study, of controversial writing, of individual suffering, were needed. These brought forth the necessary moral earnestness, the mental acumen, the enduring strength. These qualities, though most noticeable in the leaders, were well-nigh universal traits. Every common soldier felt himself the equal of his officer as a soldier of God, a defender of the faith, and a necessary builder of Christ's new kingdom upon earth. To this growing sense of democracy, to this sense of personal responsibility and self-sacrifice, the teaching, the writings, and the sufferings of the oppressed Separatists, as well as those of the persecuted Puritans, had contributed.

When, in 1620, James I permitted the Pilgrims of Leyden to emigrate, they planted in Plymouth of New England the first American Congregational church and erected there the first American commonwealth. The influence of this Separatist church upon New England religious life belongs to another chapter. Here it is only necessary to repeat that its members differed not at all in creed, only in polity, from the English established church out of which they had originally come. With the English Puritan they were one in faith, while they differed little from him in theories of church government, though much in practice. In America, the Plymouth colonists at once set up the same church polity as in Leyden, one from which, as has been shown, many of the English Puritans would have borrowed the features of a converted or covenant membership and of local self-government, or at least some measure of it. Eight years were to elapse before the great Puritan exodus began. In those eight years both parties, through the discipline of time, were to be brought still nearer to a common standard of church life. When the vanguard of the Puritans reached the Massachusetts shore, the Plymouth church stood ready to extend the right hand of fellowship. How it did so, and how it impressed itself upon the church life in the three colonies of Massachusetts, New Haven, and Connecticut, is a part of the story of the earliest period of colonial Congregationalism.


[a] "Our pious Ancestors transported themselves with regard unto Church Order and Discipline, not with respect to the Fundamentals in Doctrine." -- Richard Mather, Attestation to the Ratio Disciplina, p.10.

"The issue on which the Pilgrims and Puritans alike left sweet fields and comfortable homes and settled ways of the land of their birth for this raw wilderness, was primarily an issue of politics rather than of the substance of religious life." -- G. L. Walker, Some Aspects of Religious Life in New England, p.19.

[b] "After the 17th century 'Independent' was chiefly used in England, while 'Congregational' was decidedly preferred in New England, where the 'consociation' of the churches formed a more important feature of the system." "Congregational" first appeared in manuscript in 1639, in print in 1642. "Congregationalist" appeared in 1692, and "Congregationalism," not until 1716. -- J. Murray, A New English Dict. on Hist. Principles.

[c] Separatism is commonly said to date from the year 1554. About 1564, the other branch of the reform party was nicknamed "Puritan." -- G. L. Walker, History of the First Church in Hartford, p.6.

[d] Another noted preacher who left an indelible impression upon several early New England ministers was William Perkins, who was in discourse "strenuous, searching, and ultra-Calvinistic." He was a Cambridge man, filling the positions of Professor of Divinity, Master of Trinity, and Chancellor of the University. -- G. L. Walker, Some Aspects of the Religious Life in New England, p.14.

[e] Cartwright in 1574, the year of its publication, translated Travers's Ecclesiasticae Disciplinae et Anglicanae Ecclesiae ab illa Aberrationis, plena e verbo Dei & dilucida Explicatio, and made it the basis of a practical attempt to introduce the Presbyterian system into England. More than five hundred of the clergy seconded his attempt, subscribing to the principles that (1) there can be only one right form of church government, but one church order and one form of church, namely, that described in the Scriptures; (2) that every local church should have a presbytery of elders to direct its affairs; and (3) that every church should obey the combined opinion of all the churches in fellowship with it. In this declaration lay a blow at the Queen's supremacy. -- H. M. Dexter, Congregationalism as seen in Lit. p.55.

[f] "Browne's polity was essentially, though unintentionally, democratic, and that gives it a closer resemblance in some features to the purely democratic Congregationalism of the present century, than to the more aristocratic, one might almost say semi-Presbyterianized, Congregationalism of Barrowe and the founders of New England. His picture of the covenant relation of men in the church, under the immediate sovereignty of God, he extended to the state; and it led him as directly, and probably as unintentionally, to democracy in the one field as in the other. His theory implied that all governors should rule by the will of the governed, and made the basis of the state on its human side essentially a compact." -- W. Walker, Creeds and Platforms, pp.15, 16. See also H. M. Dexter, Congregationalism as seen in Lit., pp.96-107; 235-39; 351; R. Browne, Book which Sheweth, Def., 51.

[g] Barrowe wrote, "Though there be communion in the Church, yet is there no equality." This is in strong contrast to Browne's, "Every one of the church is made King and Priest and Prophet under Christ to uphold and further the kingdom of God." Barrowe continues, "The Church of Christ is to obey and submit unto her leaders.... The Church knoweth how to give reverence unto her leaders." In his True Description there is a hazy attempt to define how far the membership of the church may judge its elders. This authority of the elders was defined more clearly and elaborated by Barrowe's followers in their True Confession, published in Amsterdam in 1596-98. -- H. Barrowe, A True Description; Discovery of False Churches, p.188; A Plain Refutation of Mr. Gifford, p.129 (ed. of 1605).

[h] "Traces of this (Barrowe's) innovation on apostolic Congregationalism have been aptly characterized as a Presbyterian heart within a Congregational body, and are seen long after the denomination grew to be a power in New England." -- A. E. Dunning, Congregationalists in America, p.61.

[i] Barrowe says, "over sixty."

[j] The first English Presbytery was organized in 1572. Among its organizers, there was the seeming determination to treat the Episcopal system as a mere legal appendage. -- F. J. Powicke, Henry Barrowe, p.139.

[k] At the height of its prosperity this church contained about three hundred communicants, with representatives from twenty-nine English counties. Among them was one John Bolton, who had been a member of Mr. Fitz's church in 1571. At the beginning of James the First's reign, 1603, Separatist converts numbered 20,000 souls in England.

[l] "The wish for a reform in the Liturgy, the dislike of superstitious usages, of the use of the surplice, the sign of the cross in baptism, the gift of the ring in marriage, the posture of kneeling at the Lord's Supper, was shared by a large number of the clergy and laity alike. At the opening of Elizabeth's reign almost all the higher churchmen but Parker were opposed to them, and a motion for their abolition in Convocation was lost but by a single vote." -- J. R. Green, Short History of the English People, p.459.

[m] John Davenport, in his Answer to the Letter of Many Ministers in Old England, p.3.

[n] Its full title is "A True Confession of the Faith and Humble Acknowledgement of the Allegeance which wee his Majestes Subjects falsely called Brownists, doo hould towards God and yeild his Majestie and all others that are over us in the Lord."

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