Sunday, July 5, 2020

Magnalia Christi Americana

Four generations of New England Puritan scholars and pastors from one eminent English family describes the Mather lineage in Boston, Massachusetts, between the years of 1596 and 1785. Richard Mather (1596–1669) helped to produce the first collection for congregational singing found in the New World, The Bay Psalm Book. Increase Mather (1639–1723), Richard’s son, attained the position of president at Harvard College for sixteen years before resigning in 1701. Cotton Mather (1663–1728), Richard’s grandson, is perhaps the best known of the Mather family because of his triumphant historical analysis of the Gospel’s advance into the New England wilderness: Magnalia Christi Americana, or, in English, Great Works of Christ in America. Samuel Mather (1706–1785), Richard’s great-grandson, the least known of the family, followed in his forebearing footsteps as a clergyman of great learning and achievement.

In most American households the Mathers are unknown. Current text books on colonial American history mention, if any, only Cotton Mather. His name is mentioned only to scorn him as a wicked, witch-hunting, puritanical fundamentalist to be disdained and exorcized from the annals of a “politically correct” revision of the American epoch.

Starting with Richard Mather’s 1635 arrival in Massachusetts Bay Colony, then stretching 150 years until 1785 when Samuel Mather died at age 79, there was an uninterrupted line of ministry to hungering hearts, born out of a godly heritage. There must have been theologizing over many an evening’s dinner, daily chores, and the practical application of faith to life during the mundane necessities of life throughout the lives of these men of stature.

Is it presumption to contemplate faithfulness in passing on Gospel truths from one generation to the next? The Mathers fought against an increasing number of manifestly unconverted people found within the walls of the churches. Their zeal was not so much for evangelization as it was for purification—for a community of visible saints known by the harmony of faith and practice. The application from their pulpits was for godly living flowing from a life of faith. This life was patterned by these pious pastors in the church, world, and home. The Mathers were very familiar with Moses’ instruction to the Israelites in Deuteronomy 6. They saw themselves as the faithful Israel entering a promised land. The words “These commandments that I give you today are to be upon your hearts. Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up” (6:6–7) were taken with utmost sincerity and literalness as speaking about their experimental, covenantal experience. 

The Puritan education from cradle to grave was centered on the Scriptures and the application there from to all of life. They saw that the covenant relationship between God and man was perpetuated by God working in ordinary familial ways. God would preserve a people for Himself. They understood that God’s Spirit works through the Word of God. If the Word of God is operative in Christian families as they read, discuss, attend the assembly, and pray, God may bestow saving grace to those within the household. Salvation is the unconditional work of God alone, who often establishes and uses the most ordinary means to bring this to pass.

Let us all be quick to tell our children and our children’s children about the wondrous things God has done. Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. Let us place them under all the means of grace at our disposal. Tell your children about the gracious covenants of God. By God’s sovereign grace, let us fan their flickering flames of faith into raging infernos for God’s glory.

This weekend, as many of us celebrate Independence Day, remember not so much of America but the great works of Christ in America, the salvation He provides to all who believe.