An Election Sermon

Preach’d at the Election of the Governour, at Boston in New-England, May 19, 1669


John Davenport (1597-1670) lived a full life by any standard but especially by that of his day. He was active until his last moments. An Oxford man (Magdalen, the Puritan hotbed) he came from some means—his brother was a well-known Catholic royal chaplain and stayed that way. John joined the nonconformist migration to New England and eventually founded New Haven colony with Theophilus Eaton via royal patent. (We forget that spiritual and literal civil wars divide households.) Davenport was a central figure in New England socio-political life for decades culminating in his delivery of the 1669 election sermon after he had taken over the prestigious First Church, Boston pulpit on the death of John Wilson—Davenport died a year later and was buried next to his friend, John Cotton. (Davenport, apparently, also had a hand in publishing the works of John Preston, his one-time mentor.)

For the best treatment of Davenport, read Francis Bremer’s Building a New Jerusalem (2012). (Cotton Mather includes biography of him in the Magnalia along with other New England luminaries.) Bremer’s book is dry at times, but his prose and learning are unmatched by any living scholar of the Puritans. It was Bremer that convinced me—somewhere in a lengthy footnote—to my deep regret, that Stephen Wolfe was right that it was Davenport, not John Cotton, who authored A Discourse About Civil Government in a New Plantation Whose Design is Religion (1663), a seminal text, in my opinion. With that, a deep, year-long feud between myself and Dr. Wolfe was settled.

The election sermon of 1669 (printed in 1670) has, unlike many other sermons of the same genre, remained on the radar of scholars for some time. A nice, readable facsimile is available with a fine editor’s note at the end that provides further context and citations. From said note,

“John Davenport was the last of the first generation of (English-born and -educated) divines to play a major role in New England’s evolution. His death, and the withering away of the opposition to the Half-Way Covenant, marked a changing of the tenor of Puritan culture. This Sermon Preach’d at the Election marked a “last hurrah” for the ‘conservatives,’ or, as he calls them, ‘The good Old Nonconformists.’”

This is a pretty good way to think about Davenport’s position in New England history. By the time of his death in 1670, the New England way was about 20-30 years away from its demise. Like any great thing, vestiges—strong ones even—of that order survived for a long time, but the period of real potency for the Puritan project in America underwent radical, even fatal change. The vision of a godly commonwealth—it should be understood as a political project—according to Puritan intent and preference was a lost cause by the turn of the century.

Davenport’s election sermon broadly conforms to standard style. One reason this sermon has stuck around is probably because of its open appeals to natural law. This was paradigm busting for bad scholars, those of the mid-century with almost no theological acumen, and was sometimes interpreted as either an anomaly or as a harbinger of “Enlightenment” shifts, whatever that means. In fact, there was nothing abnormal about anything Davenport said; it’s just that he said it well. For that reason, he is worth reading. But unfortunately, he is subversive for our own day too. The parallel between bad Puritan scholars of the twentieth century and Evangelical “scholars” today is a sad one. For the latter also seems to lack theological acumen insofar as they are radically detached from the tradition, captive to simple historical-intellectual narratives, and generally allergic to political arrangements that predate the birth of their parents. Let Davenport be called to the front again, then, and again induce consternation.

The text is 2 Samuel 23:3 and the sermon is shorter than most. It covers a lot of ground quickly and the format can sometimes be a pain. Propositions are followed by proofs, followed by reasons, followed by exhortations, and finally, followed by motivations for action, etc. I advise reading this sermon and the Discourse in tandem to grasp Davenport’s position—the standard position—fully. Give especial attention to Davenport’s historical ending (“caveats”) wherein he weaves New England into broader Christian history. Providential history of this kind should make a comeback and, no, you don’t have to be post-millennial to think that.

Per usual, some spelling has been modernized, but other quirks of the period and author have been retained, especially in Scripture quotations, where sensible. Scripture citations have been fully spelled out and reformatted according to modern conventions for accessibility. Liberties with page formatting and text organization have been taken to aid reading but, as we indicated, only so much of that pain can be alleviated. Further commentary can be found in the Forum section.


The God of Israel said, the Rock of Israel spake to me, He that ruleth over men must be just, ruling in the fear of God [2 Samuel 23:3].

These words may be considered two wayes;

1. As holding forth a Prophecy of the Kingdom of the Messiah, who is the Mediator, Surety, and Head of the Covenant of Grace, for his People. In which Covenant David comforted himself whatever decays should befall him, or his house in after-times.

2. As holding forth a Rule for the choice and ordering of Rulers over men. According to this consideration of the words, I purpose to handle them at this time, as best suiting with the present occasion. And so the words hold forth a Rule of Wisdom, whereunto the Lord teacheth his People to apply their hearts, in settling Civil Government according to God’s Ordinance, so as they may expect the presence and blessing of God, through Jesus Christ with them, and upon the Commonwealth.

I shall sum up all in one Doctrinal Conclusion, which shall be this:

That it is the Ordinance of God, in reference to Civil Government in Commonwealths, that some men orderly chosen should rule over other men: and in reference to the qualification of Rulers, that they be just, ruling in the fear of God.

Which is twofold.

1. Concerning the thing; that some men should rule over others.

2. Concerning the qualification of the persons that are to rule; that they be just, ruling in the fear of God. In this way of his Ordinance you see, in my Text, both these are joined together, and noted as the Ordinance of God, in the Trinity of Persons, God the Father said it, who is called the God of Israel, by vertue of his gracious Cove|nant with them: and God the Son spake it, who is styled, the Rock of Israel, for that title is ascribed to Christ the Mediator, and second Person: For they drank of the Spiritual Rock that followed them, and the Rock was Christ.

And they both spake it to David by the third Person, the Holy Spirit, who spake by David (ver. 2). But I shall handle them severally.

1. The first, that in reference to Civil Order in the Commonweal, God hath ordained. That some men; orderly chosen, should rule over other men.

It is not my purpose to discourse of the several Forms of Government, Monarchical, Aristocratical, and Democratical, nor to trouble you with the divers readings of the words, according to the Original, being content to handle them as they are translated, and read in all your Bibles. From whence the Doctrine is collected. And the first thing to be proved, is,

That Power of Civil Rule, by men orderly chosen, is Gods Ordinance.


1. It is from the Light and Law of Nature, and the Law of Nature is God’s Law.

2. The orderly ruling of men over men, in general, is from God, in its root, though voluntary in the manner of coalescing: It being supposed that men be combined in Family-Society, it is necessary that they be joined in a Civil-Society; that union being made, the power of Civil-Government, and of making Laws, followeth naturally, though the manner of union, in a Political Body, is voluntary. That we defend ourselves from violence and wrong, is a consequent of pure Nature: but that we do it by devolving our Power into the hands of Civil Rulers, this seems to be rather positively moral, than natural.

3. Because this special Form of Civil Government of Commonweals, by men orderly chosen, the Scripture ascribes unto God; and also Civil Government, administered by Judges and Magistrates, as Christ spake concerning Pilate, John19:11. Jesus answered, Thou couldst have no power at all against me, except it were given thee from above: and they are said to judge not for man, but for the Lord, 2 Chronicles 19:6. hence they are called Gods, Psalm 82:6-7. as appointed by him, according to Christ’s exposition of those words, John 10:35. If he calleth them Gods, unto whom the Word of God was given. See what the Wisdom of God, which is Jesus Christ, saith in Proverbs 8:15-16. By me Kings reign, and Princes decree justice.


In 1 Peter 2:13-14. Civil Government by Civil Rulers is called a humane Ordinance.


Not to shew that it is a meer humane invention, and no Ordinance of God: for that is contradictory to Romans 13:1. The Powers that be, are ordained of God. verse two. and he that resisteth, resisteth the Ordinance of God.

But it is so called,

1. Because men are the subject recipient of this Power. So, the Syriac expresseth it, Leculhum benai aushe, Obey all sons of men that are in Authority.

2. Because the Choice hereunto is from God by men, Deuteronomy 1:13. Bring you men of Wisdom, and of Understanding, and known among your Tribes, and I will make them Rulers over you.

3. Because humane Concernments are the proper objects of it. If then ye have judgments of things pertaining to this life, set them up which are least esteemed in the Churches [1 Corinthians 6:4].

4. Because the good of humane Societies is the end of it.

Therefore, [Guillaume (i.e., William)] Durandus [1230-1296], in his Book, De Origine Juris, saith well, Civil Power, according to God’s Institution is of God, and according to its acquisition and use, it is of man. And whereas Peter extends this subjection to two sorts of objects; to the King as Supreme, and to other Governors as sent by him, for the punishment of evil doers, and for the praise of them that do well; He therefore establisheth the Ruling Power over men in all sorts of Magistrates, who may be said to be sent by the King, either immediate (as some are sent by express designation of the Person to such an office) or mediately, by his Royal Charter given to Corporations, to choose from among themselves, such as they account fit for such a trust. This is our case, who have by Patent from the King, liberty and power to choose a Governor, and Deputy-Governor, and a limited Number of Assistants, invested with Magistratical Authority over the People.

My Text saith, He that Ruleth over men, whether as Supreme or Subordinate, as being sent by him upon the Peoples choice, must be just, ruling in the fear of the Lord: Therefore we must distinguish between Family-Rulers, and Commonwealth-Rulers: Family-Rulers, viz. Husbands and Parents, are the Ordinance of God, without designation of the Persons thereunto, by Commission from the King, or Election of the People: but it is not so with Rulers of the Commonwealth: For the designation of these, or those, to be Civil Rulers, leaving out others, is from God, by the Peoples free Choice, at least by the Suffrages of the major part of them, wherein the rest must acquiesce:

I. This Power of Rulers of the Common-wealth is derived from the Peoples free Choice (therefore it is said in the Doctrine, being orderly chosen) for the Power of Government, is originally in the People, and that Three Wayes:

Radically and virtually, as in the first Subject. For these Reasons.

1. Because, if living Creatures have radically in them a power of self-preservation, to defend themselves from violence and wrongs; men united in Societies, being reasonable Creatures, must have that power in a more reasonable and honorable way, to put this power into the hands of Civil

Rulers; nor doth a Community, in choosing Civil Rulers, surrender so much their right and liberty to their Rulers, as their Power, both Active to do, and Passive to suffer unjust violence, so as the People shall not have Moral Power to do, or avenge injuries, proprio marte [“on his own authority”], without punishment.

2. Because, if men United in a Civil Society, may give Magistratical Power to such and such, leaving out others; (then this Power was in this united Society; but it was not in them formally (for then all should be Rulers) therefore this Power was in them only virtually; for Nemo dat quod non habet, None can give that which they have not either formally, or virtually in themselves.

Communicatively, By way of free Donation; the People giving to this or that man, and not to others, the Ruling Power over them.

For, 1. In regular actings of the creature, God is the first Agent; there are not two several and distinct actings, one of God, another of the People: but in one and the same action, God, by the Peoples suffrages, makes such an one Governor, or Magistrate, and not another.

2. God regulateth his People exercising their Power, in choosing such and such, and not others, to Rule over them; therefore, they have Power from God’s Ordinance to do it: for none can regulate a Non Ens, nor will God by his Word regulate unwarrantable actions, as he doth this. Exodus 18:21. Moreover, provide thou among all the People men of courage, fearing God, men dealing truly, hating covetousness; and appoint such over them, to be Rulers over thousands, Rulers over hundreds. &c. Deuteronomy 1:16-17. And I charged your Judges, that same time, saying, Hear the Controversies between your Brethren, and judge righteously between every Man and his Brother, and the Stranger that is with him; ye shall have no respect of persons in judgment, but shall hear the small as well as the great; ye shall not fear the face of man, for the judgement is Gods, &c.

Limitively; For the People so give Magistratical Power unto some, as that still they retain in themselves these Three Acts,

1. That they may measure out so much Civil Power, as God in his Word alloweth to them, and no more, nor less.

2. That they may set bounds and banks to the exercise of that Power, so as it may not be exuberant, above the Laws, and due Rights and Liberties of the People.

3. That they give it out conditionally, upon this or that condition; so as, if the condition be violated, they may resume their power of choosing another.

Thus, you see the first part of God’s Ordinance, concerning Civil Rule and Government in Commonwealths, by some orderly chosen hereunto.

II. The second part of God’s Ordinance in this matter, followeth, which is concerning the qualifications of such Rulers over men.

That, as to the qualifications of Rulers over other men, it is God’s Ordinance, that they be just, ruling in the fear of the Lord.

1. They must be just.

They are to be termed just, in the sense of this Text, whose wills are sanctified and inclined by the Spirit of God, to perform to men whatsoever is due to them according to the Rules of the Word. 1. The principal and efficient hereof, is the sanctifying Spirit: therefore, it is said, the fruit of the Spirit is in all goodness and righteousness, and truth. 2. The proper subject recipient of this gift of Grace, is the sanctified will, into which it puts a bent and inclination unto righteousness. For the faculties of the Soul are not by nature bent to that which is good, but contrary; Genesis 4. But unto Cain and his Offering he had no regard, wherefore Cain was exceeding wroth, and his countenance fell down. There may be light in the understanding, shewing what is good, but that which inclineth to good must be in the will, Romans 7:18-22. For to will is present with me, but I find no means to perform that which is good: for I delight in the Law of God concerning the inner-man. He is truly just, who acteth justly out of love to Righteousness; unjust men may do just actions, upon other motives, as Absolom pretended, 2 Samuel 15:4. O that I were made Judge in the Land, that every man which hath any matter of Controversy might come to me, that I might do him right. And the unjust Judge acted in Luke 18. 4:5. Though I neither fear God, nor love man, yet because this Widow troubleth me, I will do her right. 3. The effect of it is the performance of whatsoever is due to men. Hence Children doing their duties to their Parents, is said to be just, Ephesians 6:1. Children obey your Parents in the Lord, for this is right. And of Servants to their Masters is said to be just and equal, Colossians 4:1. And all things due to men are performed by living righteously, Titus 2:12. Teaching us, that denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly, righteously, and godly in this present world. 4. The Rule is, not man’s corrupt Reasons and Affections, but the Scripture. Michah 6:8. He hath shewed thee, O man, what is good; and what doth the Lord require of thee but to do Justice, and Judgment, and to walk humbly with thy God. 2 Timothy 3:16. All Scripture is given by inspiration from God, and is profitable for Doctrine, for Reproof, for Correction, for Instruction in Righteousness.

Thus, Rulers over men must be just, 1. In their personal Conversation, else that may be applied to them in Romans 2. 1:3. Therefore thou art inexcusable, O man, whosoever thou art that condemnest, for in that thou condemnest another thou condemnest thy self, for thou that condemnest dost the same things; and thinkest thou this, O man, that condemnest them which do such things, and dost the same things, that thou shalt escape the judgment of God? 2. In their administration of Justice and Judgment towards all men impartially, and promised, Psalm 72:2. Then shall he judge thy People in righteousness, and thy Poor with equity. This God required, Exodus 18:21. Moreover, provide thou among all the People, men of courage, fearing God, men dealing truly, hating covetousness &c. And Job practiced, Job 29:14. and Samuel pleaded, when the People would alter the frame of Civil Government, 1 Samuel 12:3. Behold, here I am, bear record of me, before the Lord and before his Anointed; whose Ox have I taken? or whose Ass have I taken? or of whose hand have I received any bribe, to blind mine eyes therewith, &c. to the sixth verse. Wherein he showed, 1. His Integrity, in that he adjured them before the Lord. 2. His Modesty, 1, In that he speaks only negatively, that he had done them no wrong, though he could have spoken positively of much good they had received by his Government. 2, In that he mentioned the lesser things, Oxen, and Asses, implying, that much less had he wronged them in greater things.

2. They must Rule in the fear of God; Which contains in it all matters of Religion contained in the first Table of the Law, whereof the filial, reverential, obediential fear of God is the sum and foundation and head-points; Ecclesiastes 12:13.

Let us hear the end of all: Fear God, and keep his Commandments, for this is the whole duty of man. Proverbs 7. The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge: The fear of God is a sanctifying gift of Grace, wrought by the Holy Ghost in the hearts of the Elect, proceeding from a right knowledge of God, whence they exalt him above all, and are inclined to the obedience of his revealed will in all things. 1. The fountain hereof is sanctifying Grace; therefore, I call it a gift of Grace; Let us have grace, whereby we may so serve God, &c. 2. The principal efficient hereof is the Holy Ghost, Isaiah 11:2. And the Spirit of the Lord shall rest upon him.3. The subject recipient of it is the heart of the Elect, Jeremiah 32:40. And I will make an everlasting Covenant with them, that I will never turn away from them to do them good, but I will put my fear in their hearts, that they shall not depart from me. 4. The rise of it is from a right knowledge of God, Jeremiah 22:15-16. Did not thy Father eat, and drink, and prosper, when he executed Judgment and Justice, when he judged the cause of the afflicted, and Poor, he prospered: was not this because he knew me, saith the Lord. 1. In his Sovereignty, Jeremiah 10:6. 2. In his Immensity, Isaiah 40:15, &c. Behold the Nations are as a drop of a bucket, and are counted as the dust of the balance, &c. 3. In his Omnipresence, Psalm 130:7. Whither shall I go from thy Spirit? or, whither shall I flee from thy presence? 4. In his Justice; It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God, Hosea 3:5. 1 Samuel 12:24. 5. The property of it is, 1. To exalt God above all, as the highest object of our submission. Proverbs 22:4. By humility and the fear of the Lord, are riches, honor, and life. 2. Affiance, Psalm 147:11. But the Lord delighteth in them that fear him. 3. Love, Deuteronomy 10:12. And now Israel, what doth the Lord thy God require of thee, but to fear the Lord thy God, and to serve him, and love him.

And God is thus exalted, 1. Which his word prevaileth above all other words, Isaiah 66:2. To him will I look, even to him that is of an humble and contrite spirit, and trembleth at my word. Acts 5:28-29. Did not we straitly command you, that you should not teach in this Name? Then Peter and the Apostles answered and said, We ought rather to obey God than Men. 2. When the Omnipresence of God, causeth us to approve ourselves, and wayes, to him. Genesis 17:1. I am God all sufficient, walk before me, and be thou upright. Job 1:5. He sanctified his Sons, and offered burnt Offerings; for Job thought, It may be my Sons have sinned, and blasphemed God in their hearts. Ecclesiastes 8:12. Though a sinner do evil an hundred times, and God prolong his dayes, yet I know it shall be well with them that fear the Lord, &c. 3. When the fear of God overcometh all carnal fears. Daniel 3:16-18. Shadrach, Meshach, & Abednego, answered and said to the King, O Nebuchadnezzar, we are not careful to answer thee in this matter; behold, the God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace, & he will deliver us out of thine hand, O King: but if not, be it known unto thee, O King, that we will not serve thy God, nor worship the golden Image which thou hast set up. Hebrews 11:27.

Hence follows, 1. A firm cleaving to God, in the obedience of Faith, Deuteronomy 10:20. Thou shalt fear the Lord thy God, thou shalt serve him, and cleave to him. Thus, they must fear God in their persons.

2. In their Families, Psalm 101:2. I will do wisely in the perfect way till thou comest to me, I will walk in the uprightness of my heart, in the middest of mine house. Now therefore fear the Lord and serve him in uprightness and in truth and put away the gods which your Fathers served beyond the stood, and in Egypt, and serve ye the Lord.

3. They must exercise it in their Civil Government in the Common-wealth, Psalm 2:10-11. Be wise now therefore ye Kings, be learned ye Judges of the Earth; serve the Lord in fear, and rejoice in trembling, Psalm 27:5.

III. These two, Justice and the fear of God, must be conjoined by God’s Ordinance in Rulers over men, if they would have his presence, assistance, and blessing with them in their public Administrations.

Reason 1.

From the order of the conjunction of Justice with the fear of God, which is as of the Effect with the Cause; therefore the fear of God is first to be exercised, and Justice is to be regulated by it. The Scripture plentifully shews what a strong and powerful influence and efficacy, the true fear of God exerteth in reference to all Moral duties among men; Moderation in Joseph, who would not abuse his public Authority unto private revenge, giving this for his Reason, I fear God, Genesis 50: 19-20. Mercy with the Midwives preserving the Male-Infants, Exodus 1:21. Justice in Judges against Usury and Oppression, Nehemiah 5:9. and his different carriage from former Governors, in easing the People of burthensome Charges, what he could, Psalm 14:15. against the profaning of the Temple, and of the Sabbath, and neglect of the Priests and Levites, and the Marriages of strange Wives, (Chapter 13).

Reason 2.

From the great Trust committed to Civil Rulers,

1. To do Justice, according to Scripture-Rules, 2 Chronicles 19:6-7.

2. To see that others do justly towards one another; for he is the Minister of God for thy good, &c.

3. To protect men in every good way. 1 Timothy 2:2. Pray for Kings, and for all that are in Authority, that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life, in all godliness and honesty.

4. To uphold the Churches walking in the order of the Gospel. Isaiah 49:23. Kings shall be thy nursing Fathers, and Queens thy nursing Mothers, &c.

5. Their End should be to exalt Christ in dispensing his Government in Text, Psalm 2:10-11 and 72:1-18.

Exhortation. 1.

To the Freemen, who are entrusted by the Community, to choose Magistrates by their suffrages, to follow the counsel of Jethro to Moses, Exodus 18:21. Moreover, provide thou among all the People, men of courage, men fearing God, having covetousness, &c. as Moses did [Exodus 18:25]. which also Moses gave to the Tribes, Deuteronomy 1:13.

Motive. 1.

The choice of good Rulers will be a sign and pledge of Gods intendment to bless their Government and his People thereby. For when God gives Rulers, whom he intends to make a blessing to his People, they shall be such as are blessed of him in Christ for the good of that People, Isaiah 1:25-26. Then I will turn mine hand upon thee, and burn out thy dross, till it be pure, and take away all thy tin; and I will restore thy Judges as at the first, and thy Counsellors as at the beginning. If this be neglected, the Government will not be blessed, and the welfare of the People will be ruined. But if Christ bless the Governors, he shall be our peace, whatsoever Enemies come against us, or rise up among us: And he shall be our peace, when Asher shall come into our Land, &c. he will raise seven Shepherds, and eight principal Men, that shall be our Relief. But you have no Instance in Scripture, that ever God was with a People to bless them, in a course of special Providence, when they that feared not God, were their Rulers, by their own consent and choice: Let Christ therefore have the preeminence in all things, and in your choice of Rulers for the Commonwealth; and in order thereunto, see that they whom you choose to be Rulers, be men interested personally in Christ: For when they that are called to Ruling Power, cease to exert it in subserviency to the Kingdom of Christ, there will be an end of New-England’s Glory, and Happiness, and Safety.

Motive. 2.

You must submit to their Authority, and perform all duties to them, whom you have chosen to be your Rulers, whether they be good or bad, by virtue of the Relation between them and you; So Wives to their Husbands, though Unbelievers, 1 Corinthians 7:13. And Servants to their Masters though forward, 1 Peter 2:18. Therefore as this should Caution Women and Young men to beware of choosing bad Husbands, and Masters; so, and much more, it should Caution you in your choosing public Rulers, if you mind the public or private good of yours.

Motive. 3.

If men unjust, and that fear not God, be chosen Rulers of the Commonwealth, all the People are in danger of being punished by the wrath of God for the sins of their Rulers; Bad men being in public place, will give bad counsel to corrupt Religion, Ezekiel 11:1-2. Jaazaniah and Pelatiah, Princes of the People, are said to be the men that imagine mischief, and devise wicked counsel in the City; the end will be ruin. See when the men of Shechem chose a bramble, Abimelech, to be their Ruler, see Judges 9:2,14-15, 23, 52-53. The sins of Jeroboam, and of those that succeeded him, their corrupting Religion, ruined not only their own Families, but also all Israel, which was threatened, 1 Kings 14:15. For the Lord shall smite Israel as when a Reed is shaken in the Water, and he shall weed Israel out of this good Land, which he gave to their Fathers, and shall scatter them beyond the River, because they have made groves, provoking the Lord to anger. The same befell Judah for the sins of Manasseh, Jeremiah 15:4. And for the sins of other Rulers, by corrupting Religion, and unrighteous dealings, whereof the Prophets complained.

Exhortation. 2.

To those, who by the consent of the Freemen, are according to Gods Ordinance, to be invested with Magistratical Power and Authority, to observe Moses his Charge to the Judges, Deuteronomy 1:16-17. And I charged your Judges that same time, saying, Hear the Controversies between your Brethren, and judge righteously, &c. and Jehoshaphat’s. 2 Chronicles 19:9-10. Be wise therefore ye Rulers, and consider that your Life, and all our Good, your Prosperity and Protection lies, not in this or that Politick design, or whatsoever else under the Sun, but alone in Gods gracious Presence with you, Psalm 4:6-7. Oh! provoke him not to depart from us, but seek the continuance of his presence with us, and fix your thoughts on the things which tend to assure Gods special providential Presence with us. The things incumbent on you, in order hereunto, are such as respect either Persons or Things; my desire is to speak in love to the Truth and Peace.

1. For Persons: Provide for the Protection, Encouragement, and Liberty of all those whom God owneth to be his People, that fear him; take care that they be not trodden under foot, nor swallowed up, nor exposed to the rage and contempt of men; only for those that walk orderly, and peaceably, not offensively to one or other, or to the Church of God; though they differ from others in their Apprehensions and Persuasions, though misguided; yet are willing to receive Light in Gods way and time: These are to God as the Apple of his Eye, and let their Safety be also to you. Be not ready to receive ill reports against them. Jeremiah 20:10. Report say they, and we will report, &c. Psalm 15:3. nor receiveth a false report against his neighbor, 1 Timothy 1:19.

2. For Things: They are either the things of God, or the things of Men: 1. For the things of God; the public Profession and Practice of Religion, which is in great danger by two extremes; misguided Zeal, and Formality: Let the Honorable Court therefore approve themselves to Rule in the fear of God, by their personal knowing, embracing, and obeying the Gospel of Christ; and by their protecting the Churches that are orderly gathered, and walk according to Gospel-Rules, from the violence and injuries of their opposers, remembering that dreadful threatening, Isaiah 60:12. For the Nation and the Kingdom, that will not serve thee, shall perish, &c.

Caveats and History

I shall add a few Caveats. 1. Take heed of various management of matters of Religion, to the advantage of the present postures and condition of your Civil Affairs. The things of Christ should be as Josephs Sheaf, to which all other should bow. When they are made to cringe and bend to men’s Policies, they are no longer the things of Christ: All Gods Truths are Eternal and Unchangeable by men: Give them all at once the sovereignty of your Souls, and have not the least thought of making them bend to serve your worldly ends, but cleave to the Truth of the Precepts, and live by the Truth of the Promises; for performance whereof, the God of Truth hath engaged his All sufficiency. 2. Take heed and beware that you deprive not any Instituted Christian Church, walking according to Gospel Rules, of the Power and Pri|viledges which Christ hath purchased for them by his precious blood, and given unto them, Matthew 16:19. God calls Civil Rulers to protect and preserve such Churches; if he hath given them liberty, and you subject them to bondage; if he hath given them power in their proper concernments within themselves, and you countenance and uphold others to exercise power over the Churches, in such things to whom Christ never gave such power; you will have a sad reckoning. Remember Jephthah’s Argument, against the encroachments of the Ammonites upon the Rights of Israel, Judges 11:14. 3. Avoid carefully imposing upon the Churches anything that Christ hath not put upon them, viz. 1. Men’s Opinions, especially when they are such as prevailed in an hour of Temptation, though consented to by the major part of a Topical Synod, yet disliked by some of themselves, and by other godly Ministers, both in this Country, and in other Countries, so that they are things Controverted and under Dispute. Impose not such things upon Churches, lest Contentions arise in the Churches about Opinions, which are no part of the Faith once given to the Saints, for which we are called to contend earnestly, Jude 3:2. A standing Council, for which we find no warrant in the New-Testament, nor Example in the Primitive Churches, nor in Succeeding Ages, for some hundred years after Christ. Nor is it safe for the Churches, which are thereby subjected under an undue Power out of the Church, which under a pretense—of helping the Church with their Light, bereave them of their Power; in re propria [i.e., right of enjoyment or use of one’s own property], binding them to rest in their Decisions, and to practice accordingly.

As for occasional Councils, two extremes must be avoided. 1. A total rejecting Councils: For, when the need of any Church requireth such helps, through want of Light, or of consent within itself, in weighty and difficult questions, it is their Liberty, and Prudence, and Duty, voluntarily to seek help from others chosen by that Church, being approved for their Orthodoxy, and Faithfulness to Christ, and to his Cause, and Interest; And when their Counsel is given, it is the Duty of the said Church to try it by the Scripture; and if it be found to agree with the Oracles of God, to acquiesce in it, else not; according to that Rule, 1 Thessalonians 5:21. 2. A preferring the Judgment of a Council when it suits? with men’s own minds, wills, and ends, above any Light for the contrary, though it he held forth from the Word of God, so as to rest in what the Council saith, without considering whether it be according to the holy Mind and Will of God, declared in the Scriptures. This is an abuse of Councils, which hath sharpened the Pens of Godly Learned men in their Writings against it, not only against Popish Councils, which bind People to receive their Superstitious Devices and Impositions, as matters of Faith; but against other Councils, which have too peremptorily and absolutely obtruded their own Determinations without Scripture-proof. Hence Luther affirmed of the first general Council at Nice (which was accounted the best) That he understood not that the Holy Ghost speak in it; and that the Canons and Articles thereof, were but Hay, and Straw, and Stubble. And Beza (in his Preface to the New-Testament) saith, That such was the folly, ignorance, and ambition of many Bishops, in the best times, that you would have supposed the Devil to have been President in their Assemblies.

And, long before these, Nazianzen complained, That he never saw good end of any, and resolved never to come at them more; yet he lived under the good Emperor Theodosius. When Councils seek to please themselves and other men, more then to serve Christ, their Conclusions will be answerable to their scope. Hence the German Interim was agreed upon by sundry Ministers to please the Emperor, but other Orthodox Ministers dissented, and wrote against it. The Synod in England, under the Prelacy, published Superstitious Ceremonies; against which many godly learned Ministers wrote, and were silenced; who are, to this day, called, The good Old Nonconformists: The late Reverend Teacher, to reestablish a Church, published a Catechism for the Children of it, wherein he taught them concerning the Power of Councils; that the Question is carried to the Council, but the Cause still remaineth in and with the Church. This shall suffice, for the present, to have been spoken to the Care that the Honorable Court is to Exercise about the things of God. The next things to be spoken to briefly, are the things of men; they are righteous Administrations of Justice in matters of this Life.

These wheels also you are to set going. 1. If upon revisal of your Body of Laws any one be found to be unjust and oppressing, let it be expunged, and altered; And for those that are good, provide for good execution. 2. Let the sovereign Dictates of Nature, be constantly tended by you, which Christ notes to be the sum of all Moral Duties, in the two Tables, Quod tibi furi non vis, alteri ne faeceris, Matthew 7:12.[1] Would you enjoy peace and liberty in Professing and Practicing according to the Rules of the Word, as you are persuaded; let others also that fear God, and walk orderly and justly, and peaceably with them, enjoy the like Peace and Civil Liberties, lest other Rulers be encouraged by your Example, to measure to us again, with what measure we mete unto others, they accounting, as we do them.

This is threatened in Matthew 7:2. I shall conclude with a brief reminding you of the first beginning of this Colony of the Massachusetts, which I have the better advantage, and more special engagement to do; being one of them, by whom the Patent, which you enjoy, was procured; and to whom it was committed, by King Charles the first, and His Majesties most Honorable Privy Council. My Name was not mentioned in the Patent, because I desired it might be left out, lest the then Bishop of London, who was of the Privy Council, should have an ill eye upon me for my appearing so far in that work, whereunto he was opposite: but in expenses for any Helps to promo[t]e the Work, in the first beginnings of it, I bore my part, merely for the service of Christ, and for the help of his People, I not knowing that ever I should remove unto these parts, by virtue of that Patent. When it was obtained, and committed to us, we were made a Corporation for New-England, and accordingly acted, in sundry Meetings, and chose Mr. [John] Endicott to be the first Governor, and sent him hither; and for his encouragement, we gave him an House at Salem, which was built for the use of the Corporation in London; and he carried with him two Ministers. The next year the Corporation in London, understanding that honorable Mr. [John] Winthrop, inclined to remove himself and family to New-England chose him to be Governor, who came to Boston, and with him we sent the Patent, to prevent future inconveniencies; and God blessed it to that end, as it appeared soon afterward. In the first General Court, after his Arrival, the Civil Order was settled in a Select Company of Free Planters, such as were accounted most fit to manage public Trust, to Christ’s Ends; these choose a Governor, and Deputy-Governor, and a limited number of Assistants, invested with Magistratical Power, and Deputies from the respective Plantations, according to the Patent, which gave liberty to order Civil Affairs, as they found best. Churches also were gathered in a Congregational way, and walked therein, according to the Rules of the Gospel, with much peace and consent among themselves, which that now blessed Servant of Christ, Mr. John Cotton, the first Teacher to this Church, so approved, that he wrote unto me, being then in Holland, to encourage my coming to New-England, that the Order of the Churches and of the Commonwealth was so settled, by common Consent; that it brought to his mind, the New Heaven and New Earth, wherein dwells Righteousness, advising me to come hither free from Engagements to others.

But Satan, in a short time, stir’d up Strifes and Dissentions, to the great disturbance of the Churches and of the Country, which God at last mercifully quieted; not hath the Gospel come unto you empty handed, out hath brought unto you in its right-hand, Spiritual Good Things, through Jesus Christ, with Eternal Salvation to those that believe in him; And in its less hand, Riches, and Honor, with Protection and Deliverances from Enemies of all sorts. Now therefore take heed and beware, that the Lord may not have just cause to complain of us, as he did of those in Jeremiah 2:21 and Revelation 2:4. lest you lose by Gods punishing Justice, what you received from his free Mercy, lest he remove the golden Candle-sticks, and the burning and shining Lights in them, as he hath already done many eminent Lights; and wo to them from whom the Gospel is removed, for their abusing it, and the Messengers of it. Would you yet fee good dayes, and enjoy good things as in times past? They the counsel that the Spirit gave to the Church at Ephesus, Revelation 2:5. And to the Angel of the Church in Sardis, Revelation 3:2-3. And take the course that Jehoshaphat took, and was blessed therein, and all Judah with him. 2 Chronicles 17:3. The Lord was with Jehoshaphat, because he walked in the first wayes of his Father David: And see that your fruitfulness in good, answereth the cost & pains that God hath been at with you in his Vineyard, lest the Lord be provoked to deal with us, as he did with his ancient Vineyard, Isaiah 5. from the first to the eighth verse.


Image Credit: Landing Troops, 1770, Paul Revere.

[1] See Thomas Hobbes, “This is that Law of the Gospell; “Whatsoever you require that others should do to you, that do ye to them.” And that Law of all men, ‘Quod tibi feiri non vis, alteri ne feceris.’” Leviathan, 1.14.5.

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John Davenport

John Davenport

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