Wednesday, October 26

The Fundamental Orders

On this day in 1633, the little Puritan and Pilgrim congregation at Newton, in the fledgling Massachusetts Bay Colony—since renamed Cambridge—held a day of fasting and prayer at the end of which they chose Thomas Hooker as their pastor. Hooker had only arrived in the colony the previous month, but his zeal for the doctrines of grace and his pastoral qualifications had been amply demonstrated in years of difficult service in England.

Born in 1586 in Leicestershire, Hooker studied theology at Cambridge University and became a popular lecturer and an able assistant to the rector of the parish church in Chalmsford. Though Hooker accepted the most of the doctrines of the Church of England, he did not believe its liturgy or ecclesiology was Biblical—in other words, he was a dissenter when it came to worship and church government. Accordingly, in 1630 he came under the discipline of Archbishop Laud—a fierce persecutor of nonconformity. When he was summoned to appear before the dreaded High Commission, Hooker fled to Holland where he preached to exiled Puritans in both Delft and Rotterdam. He became an assistant to the renowned theologian, William Ames and wrote a pamphlet entitled, A Fresh Suit against Human Ceremonies in God's Worship.

In 1633, Hooker, along with the Puritan preachers John Cotton and Samuel Stone, fled to America aboard the Griffen. When the three prominent men arrived in Boston in September, several Puritans quipped that they now had "Cotton for their clothing, Hooker for their fishing, and Stone for their building." It was not surprising that the Newton congregation so quickly chose Hooker as their pastor.

In Massachusetts, however, Hooker began to question the form of government established by the Massachusetts Bay Colony. He questioned the validity of a church covenant forming the basis for a civil government. Hooker did not believe that participation in the government should be limited to church members. Rather, he asserted that all civil government should be based on voluntary submission to some kind of civil covenant, just as the churches were established on a covenant in spiritual things. The foundation of government, he thought, lay in the free choice of the people, who were to choose public officials according to God's will and law. Hooker's views on government were much more democratic than those espoused by the leaders of the Massachusetts Colony.

Because of these differences, Hooker peacefully left Massachusetts with a number of members from his Newton congregation and established the town of Hartford in Connecticut. In 1638, three of the Connecticut towns met to form a government. In a sermon preached to the General Court at that time, Hooker maintained that the foundation of government authority is "laid in the free consent of the people, that the choice of public magistrates belongs unto the people by God's own allowance." The text from which Mr. Hooker derived his sermon was Deuteronomy 1:13, "Take you wise men, and understanding, and known among your tribes, and I will make them rulers over you."
The resulting government which was formed, The Fundamental Orders of Connecticut, was the first written Constitution in America.


Mike W. said...

Would you happen to have a transcript of the sermon to the General Court that you could post?


gileskirk said...


I've got a copy of the sermon--in a book. I don't have a digital version.