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The Antinomian Controversy (University)

by Roland Marchand
Topic(s): Religion, 17th Century New England

Table of Contents


One of the most enduring myths in American history is the belief that the Puritans fled to America in search of religious liberty. Unfortunately, this belief is at best only a half truth, The Puritans were strict religious people who believed in a sovereign God, who all men were to obey. To better serve their God, and to create a more godly society, the Puritans removed from England to the wilderness surrounding Massachusetts Bay. There they hoped to covenant among themselves and with God in order to create a religious and civil society based on the Bible and dedicated to worshipping God in the "correct" manner. According to Puritan theory, God would bless and protect his chosen people as long as everyone kept God's commandments, but should anyone in the society stray, the covenant would be broken and the entire community would suffer.

Thus the main purpose of the colony was religious: To establish a society based on the Bible. In order to do this the civil and religious authorities worked together to insure an ordered and saintly community. The main job of the civil authorities, the governor and his assistants and the deputies to the General Court, was to maintain domestic peace in the colony, to keep the laws, and, in the event of transgressions, to mete out punishments. The role of the clergy was that of spiritual adviser and final arbiter of God's will. In this interlocking system, any political problem that threatened the stability of the colony was also a religious problem, and anything religious that threatened the covenant was inherently political. Given such a system manned by religious zealots, any minor religious differences could easily be blown into a major crisis that could split the colony. Such a crisis was the Antinomian controversy in 1636-1637.

The term "antinomian" literally means "one who is against the law" (anti = against, nomos = the law) and was used by the orthodox Puritans as a slanderous term against Anne Hutchinson's followers. The main theological dispute between the antinomians and the orthodox Puritans revolved around the question of sanctification. As good Calvinists, the Puritans believed in predestination -- that a person was chosen at birth either to receive God's grace of eternal life or to suffer the fiery torment of the pit. Grace was a gift from God that could not be earned by good works on earth. This idea was termed the "covenant of grace" and stood in contrast to a theory, not held by Puritans, that God's grace could be earned through good actions. This was called the "covenant of works." According to the Puritans, a person could never really know for sure if he or she were among God's elect. Such doubt could lead to severe psychological problems for ttie intensely religious, but even more important, some way had to be found to differentiate betwean those who were saved ("justified") and those who were damned since the Puritan church was based on the idea that only the saved could be true church members and take communion. Working on the theory that only the elect could lead a saintly life, the Puritans accepted outward appearance and action as criteria for acceptance into church membership ("sanctification"). Most Puritan ministers were quick to point out that though sanctification was based on earthly works, these works could not earn salvation. But for some Puritans, such as Anne Hutchinson, such ideas smacked of the "covenant of works." Hutchinson and her followers believed that until a person had had a direct religious experience with God, he or she could not know if they were saved, Thus, for Hutchinson, an inner experience replaced the outward appearance used by Puritan ministers to judge the saintliness of their flocks. One ramification directly followed from Hutchinson's position. If a person knew he or she were saved, then outward appearance and conformity withlaws were not necessary. Hence the term "antinomian."

The cast of characters in the antinomian controversy includes many people. The following are the most important. Anne Hutchinson was the leader of the antinomians. She followed her minister, John Cotton, from England to Boston. Cotton was the second minister of the Boston congregation and he preached a covenant of grace that strongly appealed to Mrs. Hutchinson. The first minister of the Boston Congregation was Mr. Wilson, a stoutly orthodox puritan. The antipathy between Mr. Wilson and Mrs. Hutchinson was apparently quite mutual. Mr. Wheelwright was a minister and brother-in-law of Mrs. Hutchinson. Wheelwright also preached a strong covenant of grace. John Winthrop was a founding member of the Massachusetts Bay Company, a former governor of the colony, a member of the Boston congregation, and an orthodox puritan who sided with Wilson.


From the following documents write a brief interpretative history of the antinomian controversy in Massachusetts. Assume that you are an historian writing a general history of America and that you have at most five pages (1,200 - 1,500 words) to devote to the antinomian controversy, which you have decided to describe because you believe it to be representative of many aspects of Puritan society and thought. Your task, then, is to use the antinomian controversy as a magnifying lens to examine Puritan society. Yet, at the same time you must relate the sequence and causation of events described in the documents succinctly and readably so that your reader will understand what actually did occur. Since you are writing this for publication in your history of America, you must make every word count and your writing style should be as polished as you can possibly make it. Consider yourself bound not to examine any secondary books describing the antinomian controversy until you have written your final draft.

Investigation Questions

In analyzing the documents you might consider some of the following questions. They are merely suggestions and you should feel free to ask your own. Do not feel you have to answer them all and do not go out of your way or interrupt your narrative simply to answer one of the questions.

  • What was Winthrop's view of society? What kind of man was he?
  • How did the concept of the covenant effect the General Court's dealings with the problem of disunity in the colony and the "troublemakers" who caused it?
  • What did the General Court fear? Were there political problems in the colony before the controversy? How did they affect the political division of the colony?
  • Where were the majority of Mrs. Hutchinson's supporters located? Where were Winthrop's? Is this difference important? Why didn't the Boston congregation want Governor Vane to resign? Why was the General Court election of 1637 held in Newtown rather than in Boston? What was the purpose of the law passed by the General Court on May 17, 1637?
  • Was Wheelwright guilty of a seditious speech? Was the General Court too lenient or too harsh to those who signed the petition? Was Mrs. Hutchinson's sex important in the case? Did the court act too harshly with Mrs. Hutchinson? What was the court trying to do?
  • How did the idea of revelations threaten the entire Puritan conception of their society and its purpose? What did it do to the role of the ministers?.
  • The term antinomian literally means "one who is against the law." Does this describe Anne Hutchinson or her supporters?

DOCUMENT #1: Christian Charity, A Model Thereof

In 1630, while still at sea, John Winthrop delivered his speech, "A Model of Christian Charity" which described the type of society that the purtians desired to create in the wilderness. It is important to understand both the model and the concept of the covenant articulated by Winthrop at the end of the speech, for without an understanding of puritan social theory, the reactions to the antinomian threat are largely meaningless.

Christian Charity

A Model Thereof

God Almighty in his most holy and wise providence hath so disposed of the condition of mankind as in all times some must be rich, some poor, some high and eminent in power and dignity, others mean and in subjection. . . 3. Reason: Thirdly, that every man might have need of other, and from hence they might be all knit more nearly together in the bond of brotherly affection. . . . Fourthly, All the parts of this body being thus united are made so contiguous in a special relation as they must needs partake of each other's strength and infirmity, joy, sorrow, weal and woe... In such cases as this the care of the public must oversway all private respects, by which not only conscience, but mere civil polity doth bind us... Thus stands the cause between God and us. We are entered into covenant with Him for this work; we have taken out a commission. The Lord hath given us leave to draw our own articles. We have professed to enterprise these actions upon these and these ends. We have hereupon besought Him of favor and blessing. Now if the Lord shall please to hear us, and bring us in peace to the place we desire, then hath he ratified this covenant and sealed our comission, and will expect a strict performance of the articles contained in it. But if we shall neglect the observation of these articles, which are the ends we have propounded, and dissembling with our God shall fall to embrace this present world and prosecute our carnal intentions--seeking great things for ourself and our posterity--the Lord will surely break out in wrath against us, be revenged of such a perjured people, and make us know the price of the breach of such a covenant... If our hearts shall turn away so that we will not obey, but shall be seduced and worship other gods, our pleasures and profits, and serve them, it is propounded to us this day, we shall surely perish out of the good land-whither we pass over this vast sea to possess it. in Alden T. Vaughan (ed.) , The Puritan Tradition in America 1620- 1730 (Columbia., S.C., 1972), pp. 139-146.

DOCUMENT #2 How the people in Christ's Churches are to behave themselves.

Johnson Wonder-Working Providence. Johnson was a Puritan minister who wrote a history of the New England Plantation in which he attempted to show the specific signs of God's favor (Wonder working providence) in the development of the colony. Though Johnson was a contemporary of Anne Hutchinson, the book was written some ten years after the antinomian controversy.

Chap. IV.

How the people in Christ's Churches are to behave themselves.

Now you his People, who are picked out by his providence to pass this Western Ocean for this honorable service, beware you call not weak ones to office in this honorable army, nor novices, lest they be lifted up with pride.

Yea, such will be the fantastic madness of some (if you make not heed) that silly women laden with diverse lusts, will be held in higher esteem with them, then those honored of Christ, indued with power and authority from him to Preach. Abuse not the free and full liberty Christ hath given you in making choice of your own officers, and consent in admitting into his Churches, and casting out such Members as walk disorderly.

DOCUMENT #3 Thomas Hutchinson, History of Massachusetts Bay.

Thomas Hutchinson was the last royal governor of the colony of Massachusetts before the revolution as well as being an historian. The great grandson of Anne Hutchinson, he nevertheless, wrote a fair and non biased history.

It appears, by the demands just mentioned, that some of the nobility and principle commoners, of that day, had what appears, at this day, to be very strange apprehensions of the relation they should stand in to Great Britain, after their removal to America. Many of the proposals were such, as imply that they thought themselves at full liberty, without any charter from the crown, to establish such sort of government as they thought proper, and to form a new state as fully to all intents and purposes as if they had been in a state of nature, and were making their first entrance into civil society.

DOCUMENT #4 Hutchinson - History of Massachusetts Bay.

In the year 1634, they thought proper to give their governor (John Winthrop) some respite, Mr. Dudley being chosen in his stead, and Roger Ludlow deputy governor

Mr. Haynes, who had lately come over, was chosen to the place of assistant. The governor and assistants kept the powers of government, both legislative and executive, very much in their hands the first three years. The people began to grow uneasy, and the number of freemen being greatly multiplied, an alteration of the constitution seems to have been agreed upon or fallen into by a general consent of the towns; for at a general court for elections in l634, twenty four of the principal inhabitants appeared as the representatives of the body of freemen, and, before they proceeded to the election of magistrates, the people asserted their right to a greater share in the government than had hitherto been allowed them, and resolved.

That none but the general court had power to make and establish laws, or to elect and appoint officers, as governor, deputy governor, assistants . . . that none but the general court hath power to raise monies and taxes, and to dispose of lands, viz. to give and confirm properties.

DOCUMENT #5 letter written by Israel Stoughton to his brother in England

In 1634, Governor Winthrop was voted out of office. He was succeeded by Mr. Haynes. The following year, 1636, Sir Henry Vane, an admirer of Anne Hutchinson, was elected Governor. The following two paragraphs from a letter written by Israel Stoughton to his brother in England reveal the extent of the rift existing in the colony.

Now followed the General Court in May which continued two days for the whole body, and is not yet ended (though prorogued) for magistrates and committees. This General Court, one Mr. Haynes was chosen governor, a very godly man of Mr. Hooker's charge.

Captain Endecott is left out partly for his business in the cross, and partly for other matters. So also our Mr. Ludlow is now no magistrate, though within six days before it was most probable that he would be chosen governor (for we desire to change year by year the governorship, but the assistants more rarely,yet sometimes lest it be esteemed hereditary). Now he is neither governor nor assistant; so did Divine Providence dispose it. And I question whether he will ever be magistrate more, for many have taken great offense at him. The causes I forbear to relate, but they are both wise and godly men that are offended, and not many much such.

And to tell you the truth (for it is like you may hear of it from others), Mr. Winthrop had very many hands against him for being either governor (which some attempted) or assistant. That cause it is likely they know best that put in blanks. I suppose they were not his enemies nor none of the most simple. He hath lost much of that applause that he hath had (for indeed he was highly magnified) and I heard some say that put in blanks not simply because they would not have him magistrate, but because they would admonish him thereby to look a little more circumspectly to himself. . .

DOCUMENT #6 Hutchinson, History of Massachusetts Bay.

There came over with Mr. Cotton, or about the same time, Mr. Hutchinson, and his family who had lived at Alford in the neighborhood of Boston [England]. Mr. Hutchison had a good estate and was of good reputation. His wife, as Mr. Cotton, says, "was well beloved and all the faithful embraced her conference and blessed God for her fruitful discourses." After she came to New England, she was treated with respect, and much more notice was taken of her by Mr. Cotton and other principal persons, and particularly by Mr. Vane the governor. Her husband served in the general court, several elections, as a representative for Boston, until he was excused at the desire of the church. So much respect seems to have increased her natural vanity. Countenanced and encouraged by Mr. Vane and Mr. Cotton, she advanced doctrine and opinions which involved the colony in disputes and contentions; and being improved, to civil as well as religious purposes, had like to have produced ruin both to church and state. The vigilance of some, of whom Mr. Winthrop was the chief, prevented, and turned the ruin from the country upon herself and many of her family and particular friends Mr. Wheelwright, a zealous minister, of character for learning and piety, was her brother-in-law and firmly attached to her, and finally suffered with her.

DOCUMENT #7 Records of the General Court--25 May, 1636.

Henry Vane, Esq., was chosen Governor for this year ensuing, and till a new be chosen, and did take an oath to his place belonging in the presence of the court.

DOCUMENT #8 John Winthrop - Journal.

The governor, Mr. Vane, a wise and godly gentleman, held, with Mr. Cotton and many others, the indwelling of the person of the Holy Ghost in a believer, and went so far beyond the rest as to maintain a personal union with the Holy Ghost; but. the deputy Winthrop, with the pastor and divers others, denied both; and the question proceeded so far by disputation, (in writing, for the peace sake of the church, which all were tender of)...

DOCUMENT #9 Thomas Welde Account

The following is part of an after-the-fact account (1644) of the Anne Hutchinson affair that was written by Thomas Welde and published in London, probably aimed at English readers.

After we had escaped the cruel hands of persecuting prelates and the dangers of the sea, and had pretty well outgrown our wilderness troubles in our.. first plantings in New England... 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 vend 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 begun amongst us....

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 Hutchinson's double weekly lecture, which she kept,under a pretense 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 of the church there, so that it was winked at for a time (though afterward reproved by the Assembly and called into Court) but it held so long, until she had spread her leaven so far that had not providence prevented, it had proved the cancer of our peace and ruin of our comforts.

By all these means and cunning slights 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 all the parts of the country around about.

These opinions being thus spread and grown to their full ripeness and latitude through the nimbleness and activity of their fomenters, begun 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 the 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 defense of them, even as the apple of their own eye.

DOCUMENT #10 John Winthrop Journal--October 1636  

One Mrs. Hutchinson, a member of the church of Boston, a woman of a ready wit and bold spirit, brought over with her two dangerous errors: 1. That the person of the Holy Ghost dwells in a justified [i.e. saved] person. 2. That no sanctification [i.e. being considered saintly or saved on the basis of outward appearance and action] can help to evidence to us our justification -- From these two grew many branches; and, 1. our union with the Holy Ghost, so as a Christian remains dead to every spiritual action, and hath no gifts nor graces, other than such as are in hypocrites, nor any other sanctification but the Holy Ghost himself.

There joined with her in these opinions a brother of hers, one Mr. Wheelwright a silenced minister sometimes in England. The other ministers in the bay, hearing of these things, came to Boston at the time of the General Court [Oct. 1636] and entered conference in private with them, to the end they might know the certainty of these things; that if need were, they might write to the Church of Boston about them, to prevent (if it were possible) the dangers, which seemed hereby to hang over that and the rest of the churches. At this conference, Mr. Cotton was present, and gave satisfaction to them, so as he agreed with them all in the point of sanctification, and so did Mr. Wheelwright; so as they all did hold, that sanctification did help to evidence justification. The same he had delivered plainly in public, diverse times; but, for the indwelling of the person of the Holy Ghost, he held that still, as some others of the ministers did, but not union with the person of the Holy Ghost, (as Mrs. Hutchinson and others did), so as to amount to a personal union.

DOCUMENT #11 Winthrop - Journal - Nov. 1636.

Some of the church of Boston, being of the opinion of Mrs. Hutchison, had labored to have Mr. Wheelwright to be called to be a teacher there. It was prepounded the last Lord's day, and was moved again this day for resolution. One of the church stood up and said, he could, not consent, etc. [ed. note. This was almost certainly John Winthrop]. His reason was, because the church being well furnished already with able ministers, whose spirits they knew, and whose labors God had blessed in much love and sweet peace, he thought it not fit (no necessity urging) to put the welfare of the church to the least hazard, as he feared they should do, by calling in one, whose spirit they knew not, and one who seemed to dissent in judgment and, instanced in two points, which he delivered in a late exercise there; 1. That a believer was more than a creature. 2. That the person of the Holy Ghost and a believer were united. Hereupon the governor [Vane] spake, that he marvelled at this, seeing Mr. Cotton had lately approved his doctrine. To this Mr. Cotton answered, that he did not remember the first, and desired Mr. Wheelwright to explain his meaning. He denied not the points, but showed upon what occasion he delivered them. Whereupon, there being an endeavor to make a reconciliation, the first replied, and though he thought reverendly of his godliness and abilities, so as he could be content to live under such a ministry; yet, seeing he was apt to raise doubtful disputation, he could not consent to choose him to that place. Whereupon the church gave way, that he might be called to a new church, to be gathered at Mount Whoolston, and Braintree. [ed. note. Winthrop carried the day because the church membership had to unanimously agree to a new minister.]

DOCUMENT #12 From Winthrop's Journal Dec. 7, 1636

On Dec. 7, 1636, Vane, worried that he was the source of the growing disunity in the colony, seized upon letters from England detailing personal financial problems as an excuse to step down as governor. But when some of the members of the Court urged him to stay, he relented. From Winthrop's Journal.

The governor broke forth in tears, and professed, that howsoever the causes propounded for his departure were such as did concern the utter ruin of his outward estate, yet he would rather have hazarded all, then have gone from them at this time, if something else had not pressed him more, viz. the inevitable danger he saw of God's judgments to come upon us for these differences and dissensions, which he saw amongst us, and the scandalous imputations brought upon himself, as if he should be the cause of all. . . Upon this the Court consented silently to his departure...

These things thus passed, diverse members of the congregation of Boston met together, and agreed that they did not apprehend the necessity of the governor's departure upon the reasons alleged, and sent some of them to declare the same to the Court; whereupon the governor expressed himself to be an obedient child to the church, and therefore, notwithstanding the license of the Court, yet, without the leave of the church he durst not go away.

DOCUMENT #13 Johnson, Wonder Working Providence - Chap. XLII

Of sad effects of the pitiful and erronious Doctrines breached by the Sectaries.

The number of these infectious persons increasing now, having drawn a great party on their side, and some considerable persons, they grew bold, and dare question the sound and wholesome truths in publick by the Ministers of Christ. . . The fogs of error increasing, the bright beames of the glorious Gospel of our Lord Christ in the Mouth of his Ministers could not be discerned through this thick mist by many, and that sweet refreshing warmth that was formerly felt from the spirits influence was now turned (in these Erronists) to a hot inflamation of their owne conceited Revelations, ulcerating and bringing less then frenzy or madness to the patient, the Congregation of the people of God began to be forsaken, and the weaker Sex prevailed so far, that they set up a Priest of their own Profession and Sex...

Oh yee New England Men and Women, who hath bewitched you that you should not obey the truth? . . . Thus the poor people of Christ, who kept close to the ancient truths, environed with many straits, having expended their Estates to voyage far through perillous Seas, that their eyes might behold their Teachers and that they might enjoy the protection of a godly Civil Government, began to deem themselves in a more dolorous condition that when they were in the Commissaries Court, and Prelates Prisons. The hideous waves in which their brittle Barques were sometimes covered, as they passed hither, were nothing so terrible in the apprehension of some as was this flood of errors violently beating against the banks of Church and Civil Government.

DOCUMENT #14 The Autobiography of Thomas Shepard

Shepard was a Puritan minister who arrived in Boston in Oct. 1635 only to discover the increasing disunity in the colony. In his Autobiography he briefly relates the history of the antinomian controversy.

No sooner were we thus set down and entered into church fellowship; but the Lord exercised us and the whole country with the opinion of Familists; begun by Mrs. Hutchinson, raised up to a great height by Mr. Vane, too suddenly chosen governor and maintained too obscurely by Mr. Cotton, and propigated too boldly by members of Boston, and some in other churches by means of which divisions by those opinions, the ancient and received truth came to be darkened, . . . the principal opinion and seed of all the rest was this, viz., that a christian should not take any evidence of God's special grace and love towards him by the sight of any graces or conditional evangelical promises to faith or sanctification in way of ratiociniation; for this was evidence and so a way of works. . . This division in the church began to trouble the commonwealth. Mr. Wheelwright a man of bold and stiff conceit of his own worth and light preached a seditious sermon, stirring up all sorts against those that preached a covenant of works, meaning all the elders in the country. . .

DOCUMENT #15 Winthrop’s Journal, January 19, 1637.

A general fast was kept in all the churches. The occasion was, the miserable estate of the churches in Germany; the calamities upon our native country, the bishops making havock in the churches, putting down the faithful ministers, and advancing popish ceremonies and doctrines; the plague raging exceedingly, and famines and sword threatening them; the dangers of those at Connecticut, and of ourselves, also, by the Indians; and the dissensions in our churches.

DOCUMENT #16 Selections from John Wheelwright's "A Fast-Day Sermon!'

Though Wheelwright had not been accepted as second minister of the Boston Congregation (see Document #11), he was nevertheless present in the audience for Boston's observation of the General Fast day ordered by the Court (Jan. 19, 1637). John Cotton asked Wheelwright to give a brief guest sermon, from which the following selections are taken.

Either Christ is present with his people or else absent from his people; if he be present with his people then they have no cause to fast; therefore it must be his absence that is the true cause of fasting...those under a covenant of works, maketh them travel under the burden of that Covenant, and so maketh the Lord absent himself from them, and then Christ cometh to depart from them. . . What is the course we must take? . . . we must turn unto the Lord, and then he will turn all into a right frame. . . those that do not know the Lord Jesus, they are usually given most unto fasting, not that I condemn fasting by any means; but this is it, many times those that are the least acquainted with the Lord Jesus are given the most of all to fasting... If we would have the Lord Jesus Christ to be abundantly present with us, we must all of us prepare for battle and come out against the enemies of the Lord, and if we do not strive, those under a covenant of works will prevail... Objection: It may be objected that there will be little hope of victory for the servants of God, because the children of God are but few, and those that are enemies to the Lord and truth are many?

Answer: True, I must confess and acknowledge the saints of God are few, they are but of a little flock, and those that are enemies to the lord, not only Paganish, but Antichristian, and those that run under a covenant of works are very strong: but be not afraid, the battle is not yours but Gods.

Objection: It will be objected that diverse of those who are opposite to the ways of grace and free covenant of grace, they are wondrous holy people, therefore it should seem to be a very uncharitable thing in the servants of God to condemn such, as if so be they were enemies to the Lord and his truth, while they are so exceedingly holy and strict in their way.

Answer: Brethern, those under a covenant of works, the more holy they are, the greater enemies they are to Christ... It maketh no matter how seemingly holy men be, according to the Law; if they do not know the work of grace and ways of God, they are such as trust to their own righteousness, they shall die sayth the Lord...

Objection: This will cause a combustion in the Church and commonwealth, may be objected.

Answer: I must confess and acknowledge it will do so, but what then? did not Christ come to send fire upon the earth. . .

DOCUMENT #17 Winthrop "A Short Story"

Sedition doth properly signify a going aside to make a party... Now in our present case, did not Mr. Wheelwright make sides when he proclaimed all to be under a Covenant of works, who did not follow him (step by step) in his description of the Covenant of Grace? did he not make himself a party on the other side, by often using these and the like words, We, us? Did he not labor to heat the minds of the people, and to make them fierce against those of that side, which he opposed... a mind inflamed with indignation (among some people), would have been more apt to have drawn swords by the authority of the examples he held forth for their encouragement...

DOCUMENT #18 Records of the General Court of Massachusetts.

9 March, 1637

It was concluded by the court that Mr. Wheelwright was guilty of contempt and sedition.

DOCUMENT #19 Hutchinson, The History of Massachusetts Bay.

Towards the end of the year [1636] religious heats became more violent, and the civil affairs more sensibly affecited them. The people of Boston, in general, were in favor of Mr. Vane the governor, the rest of the towns, in general, for Mr. Winthrop. At a session of the court in March, it was moved that the court of elections for 1637 should not be held in Boston but in Newton (Cambridge). Nothing could be more mortifying to the governor... It was carried for removal.

The more immediate occasion of the court's resentment against Boston, was a petition signed by a great number of the principal inhabitants of that town...

At the opening of elections for 1637, which was not done until one a clock, (May 17th) a petition was again offered, from many of the town of Boston, which the governor, Mr. Vane, would have had read, but Mr. Winthrop, the deputy governor opposed it as being out of order; this being the day, by charter for elections... Mr. Winthrop was chosen governor,... and Mr. Vane and his friends of the same persuasion left out of the magistracy.

DOCUMENT #20 Law passed by the General Court May 17, 1637. Records of the General Court of Massachusetts.

It is ordered that no town or person shall receive any stranger, resorting hither with intent to reside in this jurisdiction, nor shall allow any lot or habitation to any, or entertain any such above three weeks, except such person shall have allowance under the hands of some one of the council, or of two other of the magistrates, upon pain that every town that shall give or sell any lot or habitation, to any such, not so allowed, shall forfeit 100 pounds for every offence, and every persons receiving any such, for longer time than is here expressed shall forfeit for every offence 40 pounds; and for every month after such person shall there continue 20 pounds; provided, that if any inhabitant shall not consent to the entertainment of any such person, and shall give notice thereof to any of the magistrates within one month after, such inhabitant shall not be liable to any part of this penalty.

DOCUMENT #21 Excerpt from Winthrop's "A Defence of an Order of Court made in the Year 1637"

3. If we are bound to keep off whatsoever appears to tend to our ruin or damage, then may we lawfully refuse to receive such whose dispositions suit not with ours and whose society (we know) will be hurtful to us, and therefore it is lawful to take knowledge of all men before we receive them.

4. The churches take liberty (as lawfully they may) to-receive or reject at their discretion; yea particular towns make orders to the like effect; why then should the commonweal be denied the like liberty and the whole more restrained than any part?

DOCUMENT #22 Winthrop "A Short Story"

The proceeding of the General Court held at Newtown [Cambridge] in the Massachusetts in New England, Nov. 2, 1637. Against Mr. Wheelwright and other erroneous and seditious persons for their disturbances of the public peace.

Although the Assembly of the Churches had confuted and condemned most of the new opinions which were sprung up amongst us, and Mr. Cotton had in public view consented with the rest, yet the leaders in those erroneous ways would not give in but boasted of, and that difference was still as wide as before.... some of the messengers of the Church of Boston, had contemptuously withdrawn themselves from the general Assembly with professed dislike of their proceedings, and many evidences broke forth of their discontented and turbulent spirits, it was conceived by the magistrates and others of the Country that the means which had been used, proving ineffectual, the case was now desperate, and the last remedy was to be applied, and that without further delay, lest it should be attempted too late, when fitter opportunity might be offered for their advantage, as they had boasted, and did certainly expect upon the return of the chief supporters, who by a special providence were now absent from them: And for this end the general Court being assembled in the ordinary course, it was determined to begin with these troublers of our peace, and to suppress them by civil authority, whereunto there was a fair occasion offered upon a seditious writing, which had been delivered into the Court in March, when Mr. Wheelwright was convicted of sedition.

DOCUMENT #23 A Remonstrance or Petition

The following petition was sent by members of the Boston Congregation to the General Court following the meeting of the General Court on March 9, 1637.

A Remonstrance or Petition

We whose names are under written (have diligently observed this honored Courts proceedings against our dear and reverend brother in Christ, Mr. Wheelwright, now under censure of the Court for the truth of Christ) we do humbly beseech this honorable Court to accept this Remonstrance and Petition of ours, in all due submission tendered to your Worships.

For first, whereas our beloved Brother Mr. Wheelwright is censured for contempt, by the greater part of this honored Court, we desire for your worships to consider the sincere intention of our Brother to promote your end in the day of Fast, for Whereas we do perceive your principal intention the day of Fast looked chiefly at the public peace of the Churches, our Reverend Brother did to his best strength, and as the Lord assisted him, labor to promote your end...

Secondly, whereas our dear Brother is censured of sedition; we beseech your worships to consider, that either the person condemned must be culpable of some seditious act, or his doctrine must be seditious, or his doctrine must breed sedition in the hearts of his hearers. It hath not stirred up sedition in us not so much as by accident; we have not drawn the sword, as sometimes Peter did rashly, neither have we rescued our innocent Brother, as sometimes the Israelites did Jonathan, and yet they did not seditiously. The Covenant of free Grace held forth by our Brother, hath taught us rather to be humble suppliants to your worships ...

Further we beseech you consider the danger of meddling against the Prophets of God, Psal. 105. 14.15., for what you do unto them, the Lord Jesus takes as done to himself...

And thus have we made known our griefs and desires to your Worships, and leave them upon record with the Lord and with you, knowing that if it should receive repulse from you, with the Lord we shall find grace.

DOCUMENT #24 Excerpted sentences of the antinomians made by the General Court on Nov. 2, 1637.

Records of the General Court of Massachusetts.

Mr. John Wheelwright, being formerly convicted of contempt and sedition, and now justifying himself and his former practise, being to the disturbance of the civil peace, he is by the Court disfranchized and banished, having 14 days to settle his affairs, if within that time he depart not the patent, he promises to render himself to Mr. Staughton, at his house, to be kept till he be disposed of.

Mr. John Coggeshall, being convicted for disturbing the public peace was disfranchized and enjoined not to speak anything to disturb the public peace, on pain of banishment.

Mr. William Aspinwall being convicted for having his hand to a petition or remonstrance, being a seditious libel, and justifying the same, for which and for his insolent and turbulent carriage, he is disfranchized and banished, putting in sureties for his departure before the end of the first month next ensuing.

Sergeant Boston, being convicted for having his hand to the seditious libel called a remonstrance or petition, is disfranchized, fined 20 pounds, and discharged from bearing any public office.

Sergeant Hutchinson being convicted for having his hand to the seditious libel, justifying the same, and using contemptuous speeches, the Court did disfranchize him, fine him in 40 pounds, put him from office, and commit him during the pleasure of the Court.

Richard Gridley being convicted for having his hand to the seditious writing, or libel, and not acknowledging a fault, is disfranchized.

Thomas Marshall being convicted for having his hand to the said seditious writing, and justifying the same, is also disfranchized....

William Larnet acknowledged his fault in subscribing the seditious writing, and desiring his name crossed out, it was yeiled him, and crossed.

Ralph Mousall acknowledged his sin in subscribing the seditious writing, and desired to have his hand crossed out, which was yeiled him.

Ezechiell Richardson, Richard Sprague, Edward Carington, Thomas Edward, Benjamin Hubbard, William Baker, Edward Mellows, and William Frothingham, did all acknowledge their sin and desire the same, and it was yeiled them that their hands should be crossed out.

DOCUMENT #25 The examination of Mrs. Ann Hutchinson at the Court of Newtown, Nov. 6, 1637.

Having disfranchized those antinomians who had signed the petition concerning Wheelwright, the General Court turned to deal with the original instigator of dissension within the colony, Mrs. Anne Hutchinson. Yet, since Mrs. Hutchinson had not been guilty of an overt act of sedition, such as signing a petition, the General Court had to find broader, more general, grounds on which to try her, Most of the trial was taken up with doctrinal dispute, which has been largely left out of the following excerpts.

Mr. Winthrop, governor: Mrs. Hutchinson, you are called here as one of those that have troubled the peace of the commonwealth and the churches here; you are known to be a woman that hath had a great share in the promoting and divulging of those opinions that are cause of this trouble, and to be nearly joined not only in affinity and affection with some of those the court had taken notice of and passed censure upon, but you have spoken diverse things as we have been informed very prejudicial to the honor of the churches and ministers thereof....

Mrs. Hutchinson: I am called here to answer before you but I hear no things laid to my charge....

Gov.: Why for your doings, this you did: harbor and countenance those that are parties in this faction that you have heard of.

Mrs. H.: That's a matter of conscience, Sir.

Gov.: Your conscience you must keep or it must be kept for you...

Gov.: Your opinions being known to be different from the word of God may seduce many simple souls that resort unto you, besides that the occasion which hath come of late hath come from none but such as have frequented your meetings . . . we see that any should have authority to set up any other exercises besides what authority hath already set up and so what hurt comes of this you will be guilty of and we for suffering you. . . .

Dep. Gov. (Thomas Dudley): I would go a little higher with Mrs. Hutchinson. About three years ago we were all in peace. Mrs. Hutchinson from that time she came hath made a disturbance, and some that came over with her in the ship did inform me what she was as soon as she landed... Now it appears by this woman’s meeting that Mrs. Hutchinson hath so forestalled the minds of many by their resort to her meeting that now she hath a potent party in the country...

ed. note. Finding the foregoing path of prosecution to be merely speculation and not proof of a crime, the General Court tried a new tack and tried to prove that Mrs. Hutchinson had slandered all the ministers of the colony except Mr. Wheelwright and Mr. Cotton. Several ministers were brought forth to prove this, but when Mrs. Hutchinson desired that they swear an oath they demurred.

Mr. Weld: She said ... that Mr. Cotton did preach a covenant of grace and we a covenant of works. And this I remember she said we could not preach a covenent of grace because we were not sealed, and we were not able ministers of the new testament. . .

Mr. Phillips: ... Then I asked her of myself (being she spoke rashly of them all) because she never heard me at all. She likewise said that we were not able ministers of the new testament. . .

Mr. Shepard: Now I remember that she said that we were not able ministers of the new testament. . .

Rev. Mr. Cotton, the court desires that you declare what you do remember of the conference which was at that time and is now in question.

Mr. Cotton: ... I must say that I did not find her saying they were under a covenant of works, nor that she said they did preach a covenant of works.... Now that she said you could not preach a covenant of grace I do not remember such a thing. . .

ed. note. At this point in the trial, though the evidence was weighted against her, the General Court had not entirely proved its case since Cotton maintained that Mrs. Hutchinson had not slandered the ministers. But, as it occurred, the Court did not have to prove its point, for Mrs. Hutchinson broke down.

Dep. Gov.: They affirm that Mrs. Hutchinson did say they were not able ministers of the new testament.

Mr. Cotton: I do not remember it.

Mrs. H.: If you please to give me leave I shall give you ground of what I know to be true. I bless the lord; He hath let me see which was the clear ministry and which the wrong.... Now if you do condemn me for speaking what in my conscience I know to be true, I must commit myself unto the Lord.

Mr. Newel: How do you know that that was the spirit?

Mrs. H.: How did Abraham know that it was God that bid him offer his son, being a breach of the sixth commandment?

Dep. Gov.: By an immediate voice.

Mrs. H.: So to me by an immediate revelation.

Dep. Gov.: How! an immediate revelation?

Mrs. H.: By the voice of his own spirit in my soul . . . You have power over my body but the Lord Jesus Christ hath power over my body and soul, and assure yourselves this much, you do as much as in you lies to put the Lord Jesus Christ from you, and if you go on in this course you will bring a curse upon you and your posterity, and the mouth of the Lord hath spoken it. . . .

Gov.: The case is altered and will not stand with us now, but I see a marvellous providence of God to bring things to this pass that they are. We have been harkening about the trial of this thing and now the mercy of God by a providence hath answered our desires and made her to lay open herself and the ground of all these disturbances to be revelations,... and that is the means by which she hath very much abused the country that they shall look for revelations and are not bound to the ministry of the word, but God will teach them by immediate revelations and this hath been the ground of all these tumoults and troubles, and I would that those were all cut off from us that trouble us, for this is the thing that hath been the root of all the mischief.

Court: We all consent with you.

Gov.: The court hath already declared themselves satisfied concerning the things you hear, and concerning the troublesomeness of her spirit and the danger of her course amongst us, which is not to be suffered. Therefore if it be the mind of the court that Mrs. Hutchinson for these things that appear before us is unfit for our society, and if it be the mind of the court that she shall be banished out of our liberties and imprisoned till she be send away, let them hold up their hands.

All but three.

Gov.: Mrs. Hutchinson, the sentence of the court you hear is that you are banished from out of our Jurisdiction as being a woman not fit for our society, and are to be imprisoned till the court shall send you away.

Mrs. H.: I desire to know wherefore I am banished?

Gov.: Say no more, the court knows wherefore and is satisfied.

DOCUMENT #26 Records of the General Court of Massachusetts, Nov. 20, 1637.

Whereas the opinions and revelations of Mr. Wheelwright and Mrs. Hutchinson have seduced and led into dangerous errors many of the people here in New England, insomuch as there is cause of suspicion that they, as others in Germany, in former times, may, upon some revelation, make some sudden eruption upon those what differ from them in judgment, for prevention whereof it is ordered, that all those whose names are under written shall (upon warning given or left at their dwelling houses) before the 30th day of this month of November, deliver in at Mr. Canes house, at Boston, all such guns, pistols, swords, powder, shot, and match as they shall be owners of, or, have in their custody, upon pain of ten pounds for every default to be made thereof; which arms are to be kept by Mr. Cane ti11 this Court shall take further order therein. Also, it is ordered, upon like penalty of ten pounds, that no man who is to render the arms by this order shall buy or borrow any guns, swords, pistols, powder, shot, or match, until this court shall take further order therein.

DOCUMENT #27 Winthrop "A Short Story"

Mistress Hutchinson being banished and confined, till the season of the year might be fit, and safe for her departure, she thought it now needless to conceal herself any longer, neither would Satan lose the opportunity of making choice of so fit an instrument, so long as any hope remained to attain his mischievous end in darkening the saving truth of the Lord Jesus, and disturbing the peace of his Churches. . . . whereupon the Church sent for her to appear upon a lecture day, being the fifteenth of the first month.

DOCUMENT #28 From congregation meeting march 15 and 22, 1638

On two lecture days, March 15 and March 22, 1638, the Boston congregation met to decide whether Mrs. Hutchinson should be excommunicated from the church. The discussion centered on doctrinal points such as whether or not the original body would rise on the day of judgment. For the most part, such religious discussion has been left out of the following extracts.

Mrs. Hutchinson: As my sin hath been open, so I think it needful to acknowledge how I first came to fall into these errors. Instead of looking upon myself I looked at men... I spoke rashly and unadvisedly. I do not allow the slighting of ministers, nor of the scriptures, nor anything that is set up by God: if Mr. Shepard doth conceive that I had any of these things in my mind, then he is deceaved. It was never in my heart to slight any man, but only that man should be kept in his own place and not set in the room of God.

Brother Wilson: I must say this and if I did not say so much I could not satisfy my own conscience herein, for whereas you say that the cause of root of these errors was your slightings and disrespect of the magistrates and your unreverent carriage to them,... I fear and believe there was another and greater cause, and that is the slighting of God's faithful ministers and condemning and crying down them as nobodies, and whereas you say that one cause, was the setting up of men in the room of God, Yet I think it was to set up yourself in the Room of God above others, that you might be extolled and admired and followed...

Mr. Peters: I would commend this to your consideration [Hutchinson's] that you have stept out of place, you have been a husband rather than a wife, and a preacher than a hearer; and a magistrate than a subject, and so you have thought to carry all things in Church and Commonwealth....

Brother Wilson: I cannot but reverence and adore the wise hand of God in this thing, and cannot but acknowledge that the Lord is just in leaving our sister to pride and lying, and out of his spirit to fall into errors and diverse and unsound judgments, and I look upon her as a dangerous instrument of the devil, raised by Satan amongst us to raise up divisions and contentions and to take away hearts and affections one from another. Therefore we should sin against God if we should not put away from us so Evil a Woman, guilty of such foul Evils. Therefore if the Church be of another mind let them express themselves, if she may not be separated from the Congregation to the Lord.

Question: I desire to be satisfied in this how the Church may proceed to excommunication, when the scripture says he that confesseth and forsaketh sin shall have mercy, and whether we should not bear with patience the contrary minded.

Mr. Cotton: Confession of sin there is meant withall the aggrivation of it... which yet hath not appeared to us, and by bearing with the contrary minded, is meant of those that are without [the church]...

Brother Wilson: For my part, if the church proceeds, I think it is and it should be for her errors in opinion as well as for point of practise, for though she hath made some show of repentance yet it does not seem to be cordial and sincere... The church consenting to it we will now proceed to Excommunication.

Forasmuch as you, Mrs. Hutchinson, have highly transgressed and offended, and forasmuch as you have so many ways troubled the church with your errors and have drawn away many a poor soul and have upheld your revelation: and forasmuch as you have made alie, etc. Therefore in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ and in the name of the Church I do not only pronounce you worthy to be cast out, but I do cast you out and in the name of Christ I do deliver you up to Satan, that you may learn no more to blaspheme, to seduce, to lie, and I do account you from this time forth to be a heathan and a Publican and so to be held of all the Bretheren and Sisters of this Congregation, and of others: therefore I command you in the name of Christ Jesus and of this Church as a leper to withdraw yourself out of this Congregation; that as formerly you have despised and condemned the Holy Ordinances of God, and turned your backs on them, so you may now have no part in them nor benefit by them.