IN submitting to the public a new edition of this excellent treatise on Congregationalism, it seems necessary to say something of its learned author, of the circumstances in which it originally appeared, and of the occasion for its republication.
Our limits will not allow the insertion of an extensive Biography, but only of a few of the prominent events in his history. We refer our readers, who desire a more full account of him, to his life by Norton and Mather.
John Cotton was born Dec.4, 1585, in Derby in England. At thirteen years of age, he entered college at Cambridge, where his distinguished scholarship secured for him, soon after his graduation, the office of lecturer in the University. While he officiated in this capacity, the Spirit or God subdued his pride, and brought his talents and acquisitions into the service of Christ and the Church.
His first sermon, after his conversion, on the duty of repentance, is said to have been a most powerful production, and was honored as the instrument of salvation to some of his fellow students. In the twenty-eighth year of his age he was settled over the established church of Boston in Lincolnshire, where for more than twenty years he was eminently useful and popular, both as a preacher and an instructer of candidates for the gospel ministry.
At length, he was disturbed by the intolerance of the court, and his scruples about conforming to its unrighteous requirements met with insolence and revenge; and for the enormous crime of not kneeling at the sacrament, he was summoned before the Court of High Commission, from which he sought refuge by flight. He came to this country, in company with his personal friends Thomas Hooker and Samuel Stone, in 1633, and soon after his arrival was ordained teacher of the first church in Boston, and colleague with the Rev. John Wilson, who had been the pastor of the church from its organization in 1630. Such was his influence in establishing the order of the churches, and so extensive was his usefulness, that he has been styled the patriarch of New England.
His desire to quell the disorders which his parishioner, Ann Hutchinson, had introduced, and which other heretics had perpetuated, extended and multiplied, and also to systematize and defend Congregationalism, induced him to prepare the present volume. He consigned it to Mr. Thomas Goodwin, his former friend and associate at Cambridge, an eminent scholar and divine, who is said to have been in scriptis in re theologica quamplurimis orbi notus, and who was then pastor of a church in London. He, and Mr. Philip Nye, formerly of Oxford University, but at that time minister of Kimbolton, in Huntingdonshire, both members of the Westminster Assembly, Dissenters and Congregationalists, prepared the introduction which is here published in connection with the Keys, to show the general harmony of opinion among Congregationalists of that day, both in England and America.
Throughout the volume, we have studiously preserved the ancient spelling, punctuation and style, as a curiosity, and from a conviction that our readers would desire to see those ancient worthies in their Puritanic dress and armor. If public patronage afford suitable encouragement, and this volume produces and increases a tendency in the pastors and members of our churches to |ask for the old paths, where is the good way, and| to |walk therein,| we shall be abundantly rewarded for our labor, and may be encouraged to issue other reprints and original works of a similar character.
BOSTON, May 24, 1843.