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In the early settlement of this commonwealth, the clergy were called to bear their full proportion in the labors and responsibilities of government. In cases of difficulty or doubt, so many of them as could conveniently assemble were usually summoned by the courts or magistrates to give their opinion and advice. In addition to these smaller and more frequent assemblies, the whole body of the clergy, with their delegates, were in several instances convened, to determine questions of higher and more general importance. These larger meetings were denominated synods. The first of the kind recorded in our history was held, by order of the general court, in 1637, for determining the controversy occasioned by the adherents of the celebrated Mrs. Hutchinson. In 1642, and in 1644, the clergy of the commonwealth were called together, in the first instance to settle questions concerning the government, and in the second to reconcile differences between the deputies and magistrates. In 1643 there was a general meeting, for the purpose of correcting some of the churches, who were thought to favor the disa cipline of the Presbyterians.
It was in 1646, that measures were first taken for calling and constituting the synod at Cambridge, by which the Platform was proposed and adopted. To this time, the principal directory, next to the Bible, in the ecclesiastical affairs of the country, had been Mr. Cotton's Book of the Keys. But many “began to think it now high time to draw up some platform of discipline and church government, which might be as a foundation for many generations to come. Especially was this judged to be very necessary, as the way wherein they had hitherto walked began to be called in question, whether it were of the right stamp, and agreeable to the pattern in the Mount. For this end, a bill was presented to the general court in 1646, for calling a synod to consider of the matter. The magistrates passed the bill," but owing to scruples among some of the deputies, the law did not take effect; and the proposed synod was called rather“ by way of motion to the churches, than by express command.”
When the time for the meeting of the synod drew near, the matter, says Gov. Winthrop," was propounded to the churches. The order was sent to the churches within this jurisdiction ; and to the churches in other jurisdictions," that is, in Plymouth and Connecticut, a letter was sent withal.” It was near winter, however, before the synod could convene, so that but few of the ministers invited from the other colonies were able to be present. On this account, the meeting continued but fourteen days, when it was adjourned to the 8th of June, 1647. At the time appointed, the synod came together, according to adjournment; but, owing to prevailing sickness and mortality, they were obliged to adjourn to the following year.
On the 15th of August, 1648, the synod again met according to adjournment. At the opening of the session, the Rev. Mr. Allen, first minister of Dedham, preached. “The synod now went on comfortably," and completed the work assigned them" in less than fourteen days." As to a confession of faith, instead of framing one themselves," they wholly agreed with that which had then Jately been set forth" by the assembly of divines at Westminster. The Platform of Discipline they drew, says Gov. Winthrop, "according to the general practice of the churches.”
Of the names of the individuals composing this venerable synod, history does not particularly inform us. We know in the general that it consisted of the clergy of Massachusetts, with as many ministers as could be collected from the three other New England colonies; nearly all of whom were emigrants from England, and among the very first settlers of this country. Messrs. Hubbard and Higginson, who personally remembered them, describe them in the following terms: They were men of great renown in the nation from whence the Laudian persecution exiled them. Their learning, their holiness, their gravity, struck all men that knew them with admiration. They were Timothies in their houses, Chrysostoms in their pulpits, and Augustines in their disputations."
The most eminent among them were Messrs. Wilson and Cotton of Boston, Norton of Ipswich, Elliot of Roxbury, Shepard of Cambridge, Mather of Dorchester, Allen of Dedham, Rogers of Rowley, and Partridge of Duxbury. The excellent Mr. Hooker was not in their number, having in the year previous been called to his eternal rest. The composing or penning of the Platform has usually been attributed to the Rev. Richard Mather of Dorchester. When the business of the synod was finished, the session closed “ with singing the song of Moses and the Lamb, recorded in the fifteenth chapter of the Revelation.”
The Platform having been prepared and adopted in the synod, was next “ to be presented to the churches, and to the general government, for their consideration and acceptance in the Lord. This was done in October, 1648. Some objections were made against some part thereof, by some of the deputies of the court, in the name of the churches and freemen they belonged unto, which being answered by some of the elders, to whom it was left against the next sessions of the court, they then thankfully accepted thereof, and declared their approbation of the said Platform of Discipline, as being, for the substance thereof, what they had hitherto practised in their churches, and did believe to be according to the word of God.”
The Platform thus received, in Massachusetts, the sanction of law. Indeed it was adopted and in force in all the New England colonies, until superseded in Connecticut by the Saybrook Platform in 1708. Dr. Trumbull, speaking of the Cambridge Platform, says, “This, with the ecclesiastical laws, formed the religious constitution of the colonies."
The following quotations will show the estimation in which the Platform was held, in the years directly following its adoption.
Rev. Mr. Norton, in his election sermon, preached May 22, 1661, says,
" Take care that the order of the gospel may have a free passage in the churches ; I mean that our practice may effectually answer our doctrine, in that book entitled, the Platform of Church Discipline." And in his last sermon, preached April 2, 1663, he
“Remember that we have the pattern in the mount, I mean we have the scripture as a rule, and you have the Platform of Church Discipline given to you in way of counsel, as the confession of our faith to this way of church government : you know in what manner it was that which, for the substance of it, owns the cause congregational: if any are departed from it let them look to it.”
Rev. Urian Oakes, President of Harvard College, in his election sermon preached May 7, 1673, declares himself as follows, “I beg that we may keep the king's highway, the way that Christ himself hath cast up for
and that our worthy predecessors have travelled in before us, the way that hath been stated, not in the private models
of some fanciful and conceited men, but in the Platform of Church Discipline ; the truest understanding of these things is from the Platform deduced out of the word of God.”
At a synod holden in Boston, September 10, 1679, of which the Rev. Increase Mather was moderator, “it was put to vote, whether the assembly did approve of The Platform of Church Discipline? And both elders and brethren did unanimously lift up their hands in the affirmative, not one appearing when the vote was propounded, in the negative, but it jointly passed in these words, ‘ A synod of the churches in the province of the Massachusetts, being called by the honored General Court to convene at Boston, the 10th of September, 1679, having read and considered the Platform of Church Discipline, agreed upon by the synod assembled at Cambridge, 1648, do unanimously approve of the said Platform, for the substance of it, desiring that the churches may continue stedfast in the order of the gospel, according to what is therein declared from the word of God.'
This synod held a second session, May 12, 1680, for the purpose of considering and adopting a confession of faith. Whereupon it was “unanimously agreed that a confession of faith, accordinto that which was drawn up by the ministers and messengers of the Congregational churches who met at the Savoy in London (being for the most part the same with the Westminster confession) should be compiled—which, being publicly read and examined, was approved and adopted.” This confession is printed in the latter part of the present volume. The reason why our fathers preferred to adopt, in the former instance the Westminster confession, and now for substance the Savoy confession, rather than prepare a separate formula for themselves, was, as they inform us, that by agreeing in the very " words of those reverend assem