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NEW HAVEN HISTORICAL DISCOURSES.
1. A Historical Discourse, delivered, by request, before the
citizens of New Haven, April 25, 1838. By JAMES L.
KINGSLEY. pp. 115. 2. Thirteen Historical Discourses on the completion of two
hundred years from the beginning of the First Church in New Haven. By LEONARD Bacon, Pastor of the First Church in New Haven. Svo. pp. 400. New Haven. Durrie & Peck. 1839.
There is a moral interest, amounting almost to sublimity, connected with the close of a century in a nation's history. It is an epoch peculiarly fitted to furnish activity to the mind of man, endowed, as it is, with “large discourse and looking before and after.” It marks the lapse of a mighty period in human affairs. Shorter intervals are often insufficient for the passions and prejudices of men to die away, or for the issues and results of enterprises and achievements fully to develop themselves. But through the vista of a century, the historian may look impartially at the progress of society, and the Christian moralist may contemplate the ampler fulfilment of the designs of Providence, and trace, in the varying fortunes of the past, the wisdom and goodness of the s Divinity that shapes the ends” alike of individuals and of nations.
Among the stated festivals which Roman history has recorded, none could have combined the elements of a deeper interest, and none were celebrated with more of pomp and pride than the Secular Games, with which the closing days of a departing century were filled. As the time for their celebration drew nigh, heralds were sent forth, in every direction, to invite the Roman world to come up to a festival which none had ever seen, and none could hope to see again. The pursuits of pleasure and of business were suspended, and for three days and three nights the people of Rome assembled in the Campus Martius, on the banks of the Tiber, and celebrated the worship of the guardian deities of the state. The most costly sacrifices were offered upon the altars of the gods, and chosen virgins and chaste young men (virgines lectas puerosque castos) were appointed to chant their praises in the temples. The authority that led to the institution of these games and gave them their impressive sanctions, though professing to come to the Romans from the oracle of their ancient Sybil, may yet be traced to a principle of human nature, that leads us back to reflect on the past, and recognize the hand of him who has bestowed its good and arrested its evil.
The importance of such commemorations, especially among our own people, cannot be estimated too highly. Hurried and eager as the American people ever are, in the pursuit of present objects, they can give but little time to the recollection of the past, and are prone to forget the solemn lessons even of their own history. Let these lessons be often repeated. Let the close of every century, in the progress alike of states, and towns, and churches, be honored with appropriate rites. Let its history be recounted to the people, and the names of their fathers mentioned with reverence, and solemn anthems be sung to the praise of him who watched over their early trials and struggles, and planted in the wilderness these hallowed institutions of liberty and religion. Especially may we here be permitted to urge upon the churches of our own denomination in New England, the importance of commemorating these epochs of their history. It was here, in New England, that Baptists first began to assert those principles of spiritual freedom, which they have ever since so fearlessly maintained. Here their battles have been fought, and their victories have been won. From hence have gone forth those who have promulgated the principles we cherish, all over our own rising land, upon the islands of the sea, and to the remotest nations of the earth. Here, too, still remain our oldest churches, whose yet unwritten histories may be found to contain so many lessons of union, and gratitude, and faith. One,* at least, of these ancient churches (and we now remember only one) has already passed the close of the second century of its existence. A few others have almost reached the same impressive period, while very many are within the last score of their first hundred years. We hope these eras, when they shall arrive, will not be suffered to pass by without some suitable notice. The pastor who places upon enduring record, a sketch of the progress of his parish through the changes of a century, not only erects a monument to the goodness of Providence, but furnishes for the future historian important materials for the history of the denomination, and for the history of the Christian church in America. The humble offerings thus presented, of names identified with retiring virtue and long-suffering piety, the muse of history does not despise. She records them on enduring tablets,
* The First Church in Providence, was founded in the spring of 1639. In consequence of the absence of its pastor, the public commemoration of the second centennial anniversary in the history of this venerable church was delayed till autumn. It has, within a few weeks, been celebrated with appropriate rites. May the spirit which has characterized it through the centuries it has passed, still attend its progress through the century it is just now commencing.
“To guard them, and immortalize her trust.” The valuable works, which we have placed at the head of this article, both owe their origin to one of the centennial anniversaries, the importance of whose commemoration we have been aiming to set forth. The Discourse of Professor Kingsley was delivered at the request of the authorities of New Haven, at the close of the second century since the settlement of that city. And the volume of Mr. Bacon contains thirteen historical discourses, preached to the First Congregational Church in New Haven, at about the same period. They both go over nearly the same ground, though Mr. Kingsley, from the very nature of the occasion for which his Discourse was prepared, was less at liberty to enter into minute details and sketches of individual character. He, however, has narrated, in a concise and highly interesting oration, the settlement and progress of the town, and this with the historic accuracy and confidence of one who has profoundly studied the scattered memorials of the early colonial times. He has pointed out the excellences and defects of the institutions of the Puritans, and with a well-sustained eloquence, has claimed for the fathers of New England the meed of praise which they deserve. The Discourses of Mr. Bacon have for their object, more particularly, to set forth the history of the church and society of which he is pastor. They present a full and clear view of the causes and the objects of the settlement at Quinnipiac, or New Haven, and narrate what may be called the ecclesiastical history of the town,--the succession of its early pastors, and the individual characters of the principal pioneers in its religious affairs, interspersed with much valuable information respecting the customs of the Puritans, in matters of church government and public worship.
The settlement at Quinnipiac was commenced about the 25th of April, 1638; eighteen years after the settlement of Plymouth, and eight years after that of Boston. The men who came thus to the wilderness of Connecticut, like most of the other emigrants to New England, had for their object not the acquisition of wealth, not the gratification of a thirst for applause, nor any other of the ordinary inducements which have so often led men forth amidst peril and discouragements, to the founding of new states. They came, that here, beyond the rule of bishops and of synods, they might" practise church reformation," and revive in their characters and their worship, the spirit of pure religion, almost quenched amidst the heartless ceremonies and corrupted doctrines of the age. It is this which constitutes the peculiarity in the aims of the Puritans, and gives a religious character to the origin of New England. On the arrival of the little colony at the place of its destination, the first aim of the planters was to lay the foundations of their state. “In this,” says Mr. Bacon, " they proceeded with great deliberation." They began, indeed, very soon after their arrival, by forming, at the close of their first day of fasting and prayer, a “plantation covenant,” in which they solemnly pledged themselves to each other and to God, “that, as in matters that concern the gathering and ordering of a church, so likewise, in all public offices, which concern civil order, as choice of magistrates and officers, making and repealing laws, dividing allotments of inheritances, and all things of like nature," they would be governed “by those rules which the Scripture holds forth.” Under this general compact, with no specific provisions of legislation, the colonists passed the first year of their settlement, maintaining peace with each other, by the elevated and united spirit which they cherished, and peace with the natives around them, by adhering, on all occasions, to the principles of honesty and fair-dealing in their negotiations and intercourse.
The wisdom of the fathers of New Haven is strikingly manifest, in their thus delaying to settle the specific provisions of their constitution. They were well aware how imperfectly, at the beginning of the colony, they could be prepared for a measure so important. The government of England, which they had left behind them, was no model for them. They had felt the severities of its iniquitous administration, and had come forth across the sea, without its chartered protection, and having almost thrown off their allegiance to its sovereignty,-anxious only to escape the reach of its persecuting arm. They could not anticipate the exigences to which they might be exposed, and hence they knew not the laws that would best conduce to the prosperity of their infant state, and accomplish the objects for which they had left their country and their homes. At length, however, after a period of about fourteen months, which they had spent in gathering wisdom by careful observation of their social condition, and by frequent prayers for heavenly instruction, on the twenty-fourth of April, 1639, the planters of the colony again assembled to determine what“mould and form of commonwealth” they should adopt, for securing “the peace and peaceable enjoyment of all Christ's ordinances in the church." At this assembly, which was held “in Mr. Newman's barn,” and which, in accordance with the customs of the Puritans, was opened with prayer, and a sermon from their minister, Mr. Davenport, it was established as the “ foundation-work” of the government, that the right of voting and of holding offices should be restricted to church members alone.
This principle of government, adopted by the people of New Haven, and before them, by the citizens of Massachusetts, seems to have been taken, unaltered, save in form, from the constitution of England. It is a principle, whose inadequacy and liability to abuse are now clearly seen; yet its soundness went unquestioned by most of the profoundest minds of that age. The shrewd sagacity and independent spirit of Roger Williams led him to reject it, and the persecutions which were visited upon his devoted head, by the people of Massachusetts, drove him forth to plant the settlement at Providence, on the basis of entire “ freedom in religious concernments." With this exception, however, the principle of connection between religious faith and civil immunities, seems to have been