Stedman and Hutchinson, comps. A Library of American Literature: An Anthology in Eleven Volumes. 1891. Vols. III: Colonial Literature, 16071764
The Heresies of Anne Hutchinson and her Followers
By Thomas Weld (1590?1662)
[Settled over First Church of Roxbury, Mass., 163240. Died in England. Preface to A Short Story of the Rise, Reign, and Ruin of the Antinomiams. 1644.]
AFTER we had escaped the cruel hands of persecuting prelates, and the dangers at sea, and had prettily well outgrown our wilderness troubles in our first plantings in New-England; and when our Commonwealth began to be founded and our churches sweetly settled in peace (God abounding to us in more happy enjoyments than we could have expected), lest we should now grow secure, our wise God, who seldom suffers his own, in this their wearisome pilgrimage, to be long without trouble, sent a new storm after us, which proved the sorest trial that ever befell us since we left our native soil.
Which was this, that some going thither from hence full fraught with many unsound and loose opinions, after a time began to open their packs and freely vent their wares to any that would be their customers. Multitudes of men and women, church members and others, having tasted of their commodities, were eager after them, and were straight infected before they were aware, and some being tainted conveyed the infection to others; and thus that plague first began amongst us, that, had not the wisdom and faithfulness of Him, that watcheth over his vineyard night and day, by the beams of his light and grace cleared and purged the air, certainly we had not been able to have breathed there comfortably much longer.
The opinions (some of them) were such as these; I say, some of them, to give but a taste, for afterwards you shall see a litter of fourscore and eleven of their brats hung up against the sun, besides many new ones of Mistress Hutchinsons; all which they hatched and dandled, as:
Being once acquainted with them, they would strangely labor to insinuate themselves into their affections by loving salutes, humble carriage, kind invitements, friendly visits, and so they would win upon men and steal into their bosoms before they were aware. Yea, as soon as any new-comers (especially men of note, worth, and activity, fit instruments to advance their design) were landed, they would be sure to welcome them, show them all courtesy, and offer them room in their own houses, or of some of their own sect, and so having gotten them into their web, they could easily poison them by degrees. It was rare for any man thus hooked in, to escape their leaven.
Because such men as would seduce others had need be some way eminent, they would appear very humble, holy, and spiritual Christians, and full of Christ. They would deny themselves far, speak excellently, pray with such soul-ravishing expressions and affections, that a stranger that loved goodness could not but love and admire them, and so be the more easily drawn after them; looking upon them as men and women as likely to know the secrets of Christ and bosom-counsels of his Spirit as any other.
And this opinion of them was the more lifted up through the simplicity and weakness of their followers, who would, in admiration of them, tell others that, since the Apostles times, they were persuaded, none ever received so much light from God, as such and such had done, naming their leaders.
As they would lift up themselves, so also their opinions, by gilding them over with specious terms of Free Grace, glorious light, Gospel truths, as holding forth naked Christ: and this took much with simple honest hearts that loved Christ, especially with new converts, who were lately in bondage under sin and wrath, and had newly tasted the sweetness of Free Grace; being now in their first love to Christ, they were exceeding glad to embrace any thing that might further advance Christ and Free Grace; and so drank them in readily.
If they met with Christians that were full of doubts and fears about their conditions (as many tender and godly hearts there were), they would tell them they had never taken a right course for comfort, but had gone on (as they were led) in a legal way of evidencing their good estate by sanctification, and gazing after qualifications in themselves; and would show them from their own experience, that themselves for a long time were befooled even as they are now, in poring upon graces in themselves, and while they did so they never prospered; but were driven to pull all that building down, and lay better and safer foundations in Free Grace; and then would tell them of this Gospel-way we speak of, how they might come to such a settled peace that they might never doubt more, though they should see no grace at all in themselves .
They commonly labored to work first upon women, being (as they conceived) the weaker to resist, the more flexible, tender and ready to yield; and if once they could wind in them, they hoped by them, as by an Eve, to catch their husbands also, which indeed often proved too true amongst us there.
As soon as they had thus wrought in themselves, and a good conceit of their opinions, by all these ways of subtlety, into the hearts of people, nextly, they strongly endeavored with all the craft they could, to undermine the good opinion of their ministers and their doctrine, and to work them clean out of their affections, telling them they were sorry that their teachers had so misled them, and trained them up under a covenant of works, and that themselves never having been taught of God, it is no wonder they did no better teach them the truth, and how they may sit till doomsday under their legal sermons and never see light; and withal sometimes casting aspersions on their persons and practice, as well as their doctrine, to bring them quite out of esteem with them. And this they did so effectually, that many declined the hearing of them, though they were members of their churches, and others that did hear were so filled with prejudice that they profited not, but studied how to object against them and censure their doctrine, which (while they stood right) were wont to make their hearts to melt and tremble.
Yea, some that had been begotten to Christ by some of their faithful labors in this land, for whom they could have laid down their lives, and not being able to bear their absence followed after them thither to New-England to enjoy their labors; yet these falling acquainted with those seducers, were suddenly so altered in their affections towards those their spiritual fathers, that they would neither hear them nor willingly come in their company, professing they had never received any good from them.
They would not, till they knew men well, open the whole mystery of their new religion to them, but this was ever their method, to drop a little at once into their followers as they were capable, and never would administer their physic, till they had first given good preparatives to make it work, and then stronger and stronger potions, as they found the patient able to bear.
They would in company now and then let fall some of their most plausible errors, as a bait let down to catch withal. Now if any began to nibble at the bait, they would angle still and never give over till they had caught them; but if any should espy the naked hook, and so see their danger, and profess against the opinions, then you should have them fairly retreat, and say, Nay, mistake me not, for I do mean even as you do, you and I are both of one mind in substance, and differ only in words. By this kind of Jesuitical dealing, they did not only keep their credit with them, as men that held nothing but the truth; but gained this also, viz., that when afterwards they should hear those men taxed for holding errors, they would be ready to defend them, and say, out of their simplicity of heart, Such men hold nothing but truth, for I myself once judged of them even as you do, but when I heard them explain themselves, they and I were both one. By this Machiavelian policy, these deluders were reputed sound in their judgments and so were able to do the more hurt, and were longer undetected.
What men they saw eminent in the country and of most esteem in the hearts of the people, they would be sure still to father their opinions upon them and say, I hold nothing but what I had from such and such a man, whereas their judgments and expressions also were in truth, far differing from theirs upon point of trial; but if it came to pass that they were brought face to face to make it good (as sometimes they have been), they would wind out with some evasion or other, or else say, I understood him so. For it was so frequent with them to have many dark shadows and colors to cover their opinions and expressions withal, that it was a wonderful hard matter to take them tardy, or to know the bottom of what they said or sealed.
But the last and worst of all, which most suddenly diffused the venom of these opinions into the very veins and vitals of the people in the country, was Mistress Hutchinsons double weekly-lecture, which she kept under a pretence of repeating sermons, to which resorted sundry of Boston and other towns about, to the number of fifty, sixty, or eighty at once; where, after she had repeated the sermon, she would make her comment upon it, vent her mischievous opinions as she pleased, and wreathed the Scriptures to her own purpose; where the custom was for her scholars to propound questions, and she (gravely sitting in the chair) did make answers thereunto. The great respect she had at first in the hearts of all, and her profitable and sober carriage of matters, for a time, made this her practice less suspected by the godly magistrates and elders of the church there, so that it was winked at for a time (though afterward reproved by the assembly, and called into a court); but it held so long, until she had spread her leaven so far, that had not Providence prevented, it had proved the canker of our peace and ruin of our comforts.
By all these means and cunning sleights they used, it came about that those errors were so soon conveyed before we were aware, not only into the church of Boston, where most of these seducers lived, but also into almost all the parts of the country round about.
These opinions being thus spread, and grown to their full ripeness and latitude, through the nimbleness and activity of their fomenters, began now to lift up their heads full high, to stare us in the face, and to confront all that opposed them.
And that which added vigor and boldness to them was this, that now by this time they had some of all sorts, and quality, in all places to defend and patronize them; some of the magistrates, some gentlemen, some scholars and men of learning, some burgesses of our general court, some of our captains and soldiers, some chief men in towns, and some men eminent for religion, parts, and wit. So that wheresoever the case of the opinions came in agitation, there wanted not patrons to stand up to plead for them, and if any of the opinionists were complained of in the courts for their misdemeanors, or brought before the churches for conviction or censure, still, some or other of that party would not only suspend giving their vote against them, but would labor to justify them, side with them and protest against any sentence that should pass upon them, and so be ready, not only to harden the delinquent against all means of conviction, but to raise a mutiny, if the major part should carry it against them. So in town-meetings, military-trainings and all other societies, yea, almost in every family, it was hard, if that some or other were not ready to rise up in defence of them, even as of the apple of their own eye.
Now, oh their boldness, pride, insolency, alienations from their old and dearest friends, the disturbances, divisions, contentions they raised amongst us, both in Church and State, and in families, setting division betwixt husband and wife!
Now they must be pointed at, as it were with the finger, and reproached by name, Such a church officer is an ignorant man, and knows not Christ; such an one is under a covenant of works; such a pastor is a proud man, and would make a good persecutor; such a teacher is grossly popish; so that through these reproaches occasion was given to men to abhor the offerings of the Lord.
Now, after our sermons were ended at our public lectures, you might have seen half a dozen pistols discharged at the face of the preacher, (I mean) so many objections made by the opinionists in the open assembly against our doctrine delivered, if it suited not their new fancies, to the marvellous weakening of holy truths delivered (what in them lay) in the hearts of all the weaker sort; and this done not once and away, but from day to day after our sermons; yea, they would come when they heard a minister was upon such a point as was like to strike at their opinions, with a purpose to oppose him to his face.
Now you might have seen many of the opinionists rising up, and contemptuously turning their backs upon the faithful pastors of that church, and going forth from the assembly when he began to pray or preach.
They said moreover what they would do against us (biting their words in) when such and such opportunities should be offered to them, as they daily expected. Insomuch that we had great cause to have feared the extremity of danger from them, in case power had been in their hands.
Now you might have heard one of them preaching a most dangerous sermon in a great assembly; when he divided the whole country into two ranks, some (that were of his opinion) under a covenant of grace, and those were friends to Christ; others under a covenant of works, whom they might know by this, if they evidence their good estate by their sanctification: those were (said he) enemies to Christ, Herods, Pilates, scribes and Pharisees, yea, antichrists; and advised all under a covenant of grace to look upon them as such, and did, with great zeal, stimulate them to deal with them as they would with such. And withal alleging the story of Moses that killed the Egyptian, barely left it so. I mention not this or any thing in the least degree to reflect upon this man, or any others; for God hath long since opened his eyes (I hope), but to show what racket these opinions did make there, and will anywhere else where they get an head.
Now might you have seen open contempt cast upon the face of the whole general court in subtle words to this very effect, That the magistrates were Ahabs, Amaziahs, scribes and Pharisees, enemies to Christ, led by Satan, that old enemy of Free Grace, and that it were better a millstone were hung about their necks, and they were drowned in the sea, than they should censure one of their judgment, which they were now about to do.
Another of them you might have seen so audaciously insolent and high-flown in spirit and speech, that she bade the court of magistrates (when they were about to censure her for her pernicious carriage) take heed what they did to her, for she knew by an infallible revelation, that for this act which they were about to pass against her, God would ruin them, their posterity, and that whole Commonwealth.
By a little taste of a few passages instead of multitudes here presented, you may see what an height they were grown unto in a short time, and what a spirit of pride, insolency, contempt of authority, division, sedition they were acted by. It was a wonder of mercy that they had not set our Commonwealth and churches on a fire, and consumed us all therein.
They being mounted to this height, and carried with such a strong hand (as you have heard), and seeing a spirit of pride, subtlety, malice, and contempt of all men that were not of their minds, breathing in them (our hearts sadded, and our spirits tired), we sighed and groaned to Heaven, we humbled our souls by prayer and fasting, that the Lord would find out and bless some means and ways for the cure of this sore, and deliver his truth and ourselves from this heavy bondage. Which (when his own time was come) He hearkened unto, and in infinite mercy looked upon our sorrows, and did, in a wonderful manner, beyond all expectation, free us by these means following:
He stirred up all the ministers spirits in the country to preach against those errors and practices, that so much pestered the country, to inform, to confute, to rebuke, etc., thereby to cure those that were diseased already, and to give antidotes to the rest, to preserve them from infection, and though this ordinance went not without its appointed effect in the latter respect, yet we found it not so effectual for the driving away of this infection, as we desired, for they (most of them) hardened their faces, and bent their wits how to oppose and confirm themselves in their way.
We spent much time and strength in conference with them, sometimes in private before the elders only, sometimes in our public congregations for all comers; many, very many, hours and half days together we spent therein to see if any means might prevail. We gave them free leave, with all lenity and patience, to lay down what they could say for their opinions, and answered them, from point to point, and then brought clear arguments from evident Scriptures against them, and put them to answer us even until they were oftentimes brought to be either silent, or driven to deny common principles, or shuffle off plain Scripture; and yet (such was their pride and hardness of heart) that they would not yield to the truth, but did tell us they would take time to consider of our arguments, and in mean space meeting with some of their abettors, strengthened themselves again in their old way, that when we dealt with them next time we found them further off than before, so that our hopes began to languish of reducing them by private means.
Then we had an assembly of all the ministers and learned men in the whole country, which held for three weeks together, at Cambridge (then called New-Town), Mr. Hooker, and Mr. Bulkley (alias Buckley) being chosen moderators, or prolocutors, the magistrates sitting present all that time as hearers, and speakers also, when they saw fit. A liberty also was given to any of the country to come in and hear (it being appointed, in great part, for the satisfaction of the people) and a place was appointed for all the opinionists to come in and take liberty of speech (only due order observed) as much as any of ourselves had, and as freely.
The first week we spent in confuting the loose opinions that we gathered up in the country . The other fortnight we spent in a plain syllogistical dispute (ad vulgus as much as might be), gathered up nine of the chiefest points (on which the rest depended) and disputed of them all in order, pro and con. In the forenoons we framed our arguments, and in the afternoons produced them in public, and next day the adversary gave in their answers, and produced also their arguments on the same questions; then we answered them and replied also upon them the next day . God was much present with his servants, truth began to get ground and the adverse party to be at a stand; but after discourse amongst themselves still they hardened one another. Yet the work of the assembly (through Gods blessing) gained much on the hearers that were indifferent, to strengthen them, and on many wavering, to settle them; the error of the opinions and wilfulness of their maintainers laid stark naked.
Then after this mean was tried, and the magistrates saw that neither our preaching, conference, nor yet our assembly meeting did effect the cure, but that still, after conference had together, the leaders put such life into the rest, that they all went on in their former course, not only to disturb the churches, but miserably interrupt the civil peace, and that they threw contempt both upon courts and churches, and began now to raise sedition amongst us, to the endangering the Commonwealth. Hereupon for these grounds named (and not for their opinions, as themselves falsely reported, and as our godly magistrates have been much traduced here in England), for these reasons, I say, being civil disturbances, the magistrate convents them, and censures them; some were disfranchised, others fined, the incurable amongst them banished.