Wednesday, September 13, 2017

Robinson's Farewell by Cotton Mather

[The church was Cotton Mather’s central concern. He devoted himself to its pastorate with fanatic zeal and terrifying energy, and tried to relate to it all his activities and interests. His conception of the duty of a minister was all-embracing. Not content with visiting the sick, helping the impoverished, chastising backsliders, and preaching spiritual values and the nature of piety, he felt he must regulate the conduct of his flock in every aspect of life. He strove to discover and teach new means of serving God and new ways of proving the boundless extent of divine power. Since, as Mather saw it, the entire universe and the whole history of mankind revealed his power, there was virtually no limit to the range of education he must provide. This meant constant writing of sermons, daily reading and memorizing of the Bible and its commentators, studying history and science, and feverish searching for effective means of instruction. And, of course, he tried day by day to assess his shortcomings and spent hours fasting and praying for divine forgiveness.]

Book  I Antiquities  Chapter III

. . . . Some little controversies likewise have now and then arisen among them in the administration of their discipline; but synods then regularly called, have usually and presently put into joint all that was apprehended out. Their chief hazard and symptom of degeneracy, is in the verification of that old observation, religio peperit divitias, & filia devoravit matrem: religion brought forth prosperity, and the daughter destroyed the mother.  Though one would expect, that as they grew in their estates, they would grow in the payment of quit-rents unto God who gives them the power to get wealth, by more liberally supporting their ministers and ordinances among them; the most likely way to save them from the most miserable apostasy; the neglect whereof in some former years, began for a while to be punished with a sore famine of the Word; nevertheless, there is danger lest the enchantments of this world make them forget their errand in the wilderness: And some woeful villages in the skirts of the colony, beginning to live without the means of grace among them, are still more ominous intimations of the danger. May the God of New England preserve them from so great a death!

Going now to take my leave of this little Colony (Plymouth), that I may converse for a while with her younger sisters, which yet have outstripped her in growth exceedingly, and so will now draw all the streams of her affairs into their channels, I shall repeat the counsel which their faithful John Robinson gave the first planters of the colony, at their parting from him in Holland. Said he, [to this purpose.]

“Brethren, we are now quickly to part from one another; and whether I may ever live to see your faces on earth any more, the God of Heaven only knows. But whatever the Lord have appointed that or no, I charge you before God, and before his blessed angels, that you follow me no further than you have seen me follow the Lord Jesus Christ.

If God reveal any thing to you by any other instrument of his, be as ready to receive it, as ever you were to receive any truth by my ministry; for I an verily persuaded, I am very confident the Lord hath more truth yet to break forth out of his Holy Word. For my part, I cannot sufficiently bewail the condition of the reformed churches, who have come to a period  (full stop) in Religion; and will go at present no further than the instruments of their first reformation. The Lutherans can’t be drawn to go beyond what Luther saw: whatever part of his will our God good has imparted and revealed unto Calvin, they will rather die than embrace it. And the Calvinists, you see, stick fast where they were left by that great man of God, who yet saw not all things.

This is a misery much to be lamented; for though they were burning and shining lights in their time, yet the penetrated not into the whole counsel of God; but were they now living, they would be as willing to embrace further light, as that which they first received. I beseech you to remember it; it is an article of your church-covenant, that you will be willing  to receive whatever truth shall be made known unto you from the written Word of God. Remember that, and every other article of your most sacred covenant. But I must herewithal exhort you to take heed what you receive as truth; examine it, consider it, compare it with the other scripture of truth, before you do receive it. For it is not possible the Christian world should come so lately out of such thick anti-christian darkness, and that perfection of knowledge should break forth at once. I must also advise you to abandon, avoid and shake off the name of Brownist*: it is a mere nick-name, and a brand for the making of religion, and the professors of Religion, odious unto the Christian world. Unto this end, I should be extremely glad, if some Godly minister would go with you, or come to you, before you can have my company. For there is no difference between the unconformable ministers of England and you, when they come to the practice of evangelical ordinances out of the kingdom. And I would wish you by all means to close with the Godly people of England; study union with them in all things, wherein you can have it without sin, rather than in the least measure to affect a division or separation from them.  Neither would I have you loath to take another pastor besides my self; in as much as a flock that has two shepherds is thus not endangered, but secured.”

So adding some other things of great consequence, he concluded most affectionately, commending his departing flock unto the grace of God, which now I also do the offspring of that holy flock.

*The Brownists were English Dissenters or early Separatists from the Church of England. They were named after Robert Browne, who was born at Tolethorpe Hall in Rutland, England, in the 1550s. A majority of the Separatists aboard the Mayflower in 1620 were Brownists, and indeed the Pilgrims were known for 200 years as the Brownist Emigration(Wikipedia).

An ecclesiastical reformer, he  first asserted the inalienable right of the church to effect necessary reforms without the authorization or permission of the civil magistrate.  A couple of his followers were hanged for distributing literature to that effect in 1583. Brown was induced to make a qualified submission to the established order in 1585 ( Britannica, 1911)