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Invisible Saints: The ‘Judgment of Charity’ in the Early New England Churches

  • Baird Tipson (a1)

Extract

Few early New England practices troubled European observers more than the attempt to restrict church membership to the regenerate. The requirement that each prospective church member give a “relation” of his experience of grace, a public declaration “of God's manner of working upon [his] soul,” won quick notoriety. In his list of sixteen questions designed to embarass the Independent party, for instance, the Dutch minister William Apollonius began by raising the issue of the qualifications of church members. “Is no one to be admitted into the communion of the external visible church,” he demanded, “unless he is endowed with the real internal holiness of regeneration and with justifying faith in Christ? Must such a person undergo a strict examination…?” Robert Baillie suggested that prospective members' obligation “to show to the whole congregation convincing signs of their regeneration” was the “capital and fundamental difference” between his position and that of the New Englanders. He and his fellow Scot Samuel Rutherford were convinced that by requiring such a test, the New England churches had so seriously deviated from traditional Christian practice that they had aligned themselves with the sectarians.

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1. A Platform of Church Discipline… Agreed Upon by the Elders… in the Synoā of Cambridge, ch. 12 in The Creeds and Platforms of Congregationalism, ed., Williston Walker (Boston, 1960), p. 223; Norton, John, Responsio ad totam quaestionum syllogen a Guilelmo Apollonio propositam (London, 1648),trans. Horton, Douglas, The Answer to the Whole Set of Questions of the Celebrated Mr. William Apollonius (Cambridge, Massachusetts, 1958), pp. x–xii, 25; Baillie, Robert, A Dissuasive from the Errors of the Time (London, 1645), pp. 155, and 154174 throughout; Rutherford, Samuel, The Due Right of Presybteries (London, 1644), pp. 251267. I have modernized spelling and punctuation in these and subsequent citations.

2. Walker, , Creeds, pp. 205, 222. “Rational” charity appears to mean charity with some rationale behind it, as opposed to purely impulsive charity (compare: beyond a “reasonable” doubt).

3. Summa Theologiae, 2a 2ae, qu. 60, a. 4; “ubi non apparent manifesta indicia de malitia alicuius, debemus eum ut bonum habere, in meliorem partem interpretando quod dubium est… unusquisque debet niti ad hoc quod de rebus iudicet secundum quod sunt… ad hoc potius tendere debemus in tali iudicio quod hominem iudicemus bonum, nisi manifesta ratio in contrarium appareat.”

4. De Conscientia (Amsterdam, 1630), bk. 5, ch. 15, 13–15: “dubia de rebus secundum momenta rationum debent aestimari, sine inclinatione in alterutram partem. Dubia de personis, in eis quae pertinent ad earum bonum vel malum existimationem, absolute sunt interpretando in meliorem partem… ut sic erga ilium [proximum] nos geramus, in communibus officiis, ac si esset probus, cum de contrario nobis non constat. Hoc est iudicium charitatis.” Compare chs. 7 and 54. Norton refers to these passages in Answer, pp. 34, 39–40.

5. Dc Correptione et Gratia, 15, 46, in Patrologia Latina, emop. J. P. Migne, 44:944 ”Nescientes enim quis pertineant ad praedestinatorium numerum, quis non pertinent: sic affici debcmus charitatis affectu, ut omnes velimus salvos fieri. Hoc quippe fit, cum singulos quosque, ut occurrerint cum quibus id agere valeamus, ad hoc conamur adducere, ut justificati ex fide pacem habeant ad Deum⃜”

6. De Servo Arbitrio, Weimarer Ausgabe, 18: 651–652: “Sanctos eos dico et habeo …canone charitatis, non canone fidei. Hoc est, charitas, quae omnia optima de quovis cogitat nec est suspicax omniaque credit ac praesumit de proximis bona, sanctum vocat quemlibet baptisatum… Fides vero nullum vocat sanctum nisi divino judicio deelaratum… Ideo cum omnes debeamus haberi invicem sancti iure charitatis, nullus tamen debet sanctus decerni iure fidei…”

7. Johannis Calvini Opera Sclecta (Munich, 19281936), 1:89: “Quanquam autem, fidei certitudine agnosci a nobis electi non possunt… debent quodam charitatis iudicio proelectis ac ecclesiae membris haberi omnes, qui et fidei confessione et vitae exemplo et sacramentorurn participatione eundem nobiscum Deum ac Christum profitentur; ctiamsi aliquid imperfectionis in eorurn moribus resideat… ac de iis bene sperandum…”

8. Ibid., 5:13 (Institutes, 4. 1. 8): “quoniam fidei certitudo necessaria non erat, quoddam charitatis iudicium eius loco substituit: quo pro Ecclesiae membris agnoscamus qui et fidei confessione etc.”

9. For the distinction between God's two wills see Heppe, Heinrich, Die Dogmatik der evangelisch-reformierten Kirche, ed. Bizer, Ernst (Neukirchen, 1958), p. 50.

10. Zanchi, , Opera Omnia (Geneva, 1619), 8:270, cited by Moltmann, Jürgen, Prädestination und Perseveranz: Geschichte uαnd Bedeutung der reformierten Lehre ”de perseverantia sanctorum” (Neukirehen, 1961), pp. 8788: ”De modo, quo quis fieri possit de sui aut proximi praedestinatione ad vitam et salutem certus… Alia est quaestio: quomodo possit quisque de sui electione certus fieri; et alia: quomodo possit de electione proximi. Certe de electione et salute proximi non possumus fieri certi, nisi ab affectis, iisque externis, quae saepe fallunt, cum non videamus interna: ac proinde neque vera potest esse haec certitudo⃜ Haee certe persuasio et certitudo [de sui electione] non est a posteriori seu ab effectis, sed a priori, hoe est a causis. Deinde confirmandam esse hane certitudinem seu fidem ab effectis divinae electionis, divinaeque erga nos amoris, quae in nobis cernimus et sentimus.” I am indebted to Moltmann's book for several references to the iudicium charitatis.

11. Hall, Basil, “Calvin against the Calvinists,” Proceedings of the Huguenot Society of London 20 (1962): 284301, esp. 289; compare Institutes, 4. 1. 1.

12. Norton, , Answer, pp. 3940.

13. Hooker, , A Survey of the Sum of Church Discipline (London, 1648), 1:1415.

14. Shepard, and Allin, , A Defense of the Answer… Made Unto the Nine Questions (London, 1645), pp. 189190.

15. Norton, , Answer, pp. 31, 35.

16. “Edward Hall's Confession,” printed in Paige, Lucius R., History of Cambridge, Massachusetts, 1630–1877 (Cambridge, 1877), pp. 252253, the first in a series of fifty relations dating from Shepard's ministry (The New England Historic Genealogical Society promises to print the full series shortly.); “The relation of Mr. Collins” along with other relations from the 1650s in The Diary of Michael Wigglesworth 1653–1657, ed. Edmund Morgan (New York, 1965), pp. 107125. John Winthrop's “relation,” though apparently unofficial, is a member of the same species; see Winthrop Papers, 5 vols. (Boston, 19291947), 3:338344. See also the relations contained in The Notebook of the Reverend John Fiske, 1644–1675, ed. Robert Pope, Publications of the Colonial Society of Massachusetts, vol. 47 (Boston: Colonial Society of Massachusetts, 1974).

17. Norton, , Answer, pp. 35, 36.

18. Morgan, Edmund, Visible Saints: The History of a Puritan Idea (New York. 1963), pp. 93105, and Hall, David, The Faithful Shepherd: A History of the New England Ministry in the Seventeenth Century (Chapel Hill, 1972), pp. 9697, stress Cotton's initiative.

19. The best theological account of the controversy. Stoever, William B. 's “The Covenant of Works in Puritan Theology: The Antinomian Crisis in New England” (Ph. D. diss., Yale University, 1970), reveals Cotton's' sectarianiom. Stoever' interpretation is well summarized in his “Nature. Grace and John Cotton: The Theological Dimension in the New England Antinomian Controversy,” Church History 44 (1975): 2233.

20. Cotton, , The Way of the Churches of Christ in New England (London, 1645), p. 57; idem., Of the Holiness of Church Members (London, 1650), p. 85.

21. Cotton, , Holiness, pp. 4142.

22. Baillie, , Dissuasive, pp. 168; Rutherford, , Due Right, p. 264.

23. Cotton, , Holiness, p. 39.

24. Baillie, , Dissuasive, pp. 160161; Cotton, , Holiness, p. 43.

25. Hall, , Faithful Shepherd, pp. 97101.

26. For example, Luther, , Smalcald Articles (1537), 3, 12, Weimarer Ausgabe, 50:250: “Denn es weyss, Gott Lob, eyn Kind von VII jaren, Was die kirche sey. Nemlieh, die heyligen gleubigen und die schefflin, die yres Hirten stymme hören”; or Calvin, , Geneva Confession, art. 18, in Corpus Reformatorum, C. O., 22: 9293, where he speaks of “compaignies des fideles… desquelles assomblees une chacune est appellee Eglise.

27. Morgan, , Visible Saints, pp. 63, 112.

28. Stearns, Raymond and Brawner, David, “New England Church ‘Relations’ and Continuity in Early Congregational History,” Proceedings of the American Antiquarian Society 75 (1965): 1345, especially 29, 36.

29. Robinson, John, Works, 3 vols. (London, 1851), 2:486, 333.

30. On oligopistia see Perkins, William, Works, 3 vols. (Cambridge, 16161618), 1:80, 637644; Ames, William, De Conscicntia, bk. 2, eh. 6.

31. Cotton, , Way of the Churches, p. 58.

32. As do Stearns, and Brawner, , “Church Relations.” p. 28.

33. Morgan, , Visible Saints, pp. 105110; Hall, , Faithful Shepherd, pp. 9698.

34. Morgan, , Visible Saints, pp. 74, 113.

35. Rogers, Richard, Seven Treatises (London. 1610 [1st ed. 1603]), p. 1; compare treatise, William Perkins', A Case of Conscience, the Greatest That Ever Was: How a Man May Know Whether He Be the Child of God or No, in Works, 1: 421438. I have argued the critical importance of the need for assurance in Puritan conversion theory and practice in “The Development of a Puritan Understanding of Conversion” (Ph. D. diss., Yale University, 1972).

36. Fenner, Dudley, Sacra Theologia (n.p., 1589 [1st ed. 1585]), 49b: “vocatio duplex est … prima est qua tum reprobi, tum electi, communi ratione, ad externam societatem ecclesiae tanquam concives adducuntur⃜ Electorum propria, est qua ad electionem perducuntur… Electio, est separatio eorum a mundo ut sint in Christo veri concives et oikoioi Dei.”

37. Of course the seating arrangements often served to set the saints visibly apart.

38. Perkins, , Works. 1:71, 547548.

39. Ibid., p. 72. For a thorough study of Puritan sacramental theology which stresses the tension between election and sacramental assurance, see Holifield, E. Brooks, The Covenant Sealed: The Development of Puritan Sacramental Theology in Old and New England (New Haven, 1974).

40. The phrase is Hooker's;, Thomas see The Poor Doubting Christian Drawn to Christ (London, 1629); Thomas Shepard's Journal, newly edited by McGiffert, Michael in God's Plot: The Paradoxes of Puritan Piety: Being the Autobiography and Journal of Thomas Shepard (n.p.: University of Massachusetts, 1972), records Shepard 's doubts concerning his election.

41. For example, Schmidt, Martin and Jannasch, Wilhelm, eds., Das Zeitalter des Pietismus (Bremen, 1965), p. xix: “Der Gemeinschaftsgedanke wurde dem individuellen Heilsbedürfnis nachgeorduet.”

42. Stearns, and Brawner, , “Church Relations,” p. 35.

43. See Nuttall, Geoffrey, Visible Saints: The Congregational Way, 1640–1660 (Oxford, 1957), especially pp. 111116.

44. The Answer of the Elders and Other Messengers of the Churches, Assembled at Boston in the Year 1662, to the Questions Propounded to Them by Order of the Honoured General Court, in Walker, , Creeds, pp. 313, 314.

45. Mitchel, Jonathan, “An Answer to the Apologetical Preface,” attached to A Defense of the Answer and Arguments of the Synod (Boston, 1664), p. 40. I owe this reference to Brooks Graehner.

46. Edwards, Jonathan, An Humble Inquiry into the Rules of the Word of God, Concerning the Qualifications Requisite to a Complete Standing and Full Communion in the Visible Christian Church, in The Great Awakening, ed. Heimert, Alan and Miller, Perry (Indianapolis, 1967), pp. 430432.

47. Williams, Solomon, The True State of the Question Concerning the Qualifications Necessary to Lawful Communion, in Heimert and Miller, Awakening, p. 437.

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