The New England Mind: The Seventeenth Century

By Perry Miller | Go to book overview

CHAPTER XII
THE PLAIN STYLE

There is a story concerning the conversion of John Cotton that was wellknown in the seventeenth century and was frequently retold in New England. Before his heart was humbled, when he was one of the great lights of learning at Cambridge, he preached to large audiences "after the mode of the University at that time, which was to stuffe and fill their Sermons with as much Quotation and citing of Authors as might possibly be," but once the sense of sin came upon him he went into the pulpit for a public lecture and spoke "after the plain & profitable way, by raysing of Doctrines, with propounding the Reasons and Uses of the same." The scholars, who "came generally with great expectation to heare a more then ordinary learned Sermon from him that was so famous throughout the University," were aghast, and perceiving his bent, "sate them downe in great discontent, pulling their hats over their eyes, thereby to expresse their dislike of the Sermon." Puritans were never troubled over the disapprobation of the critical, for those who thus rudely stopped their ears against the voice of a faithful preacher were sealing their own damnation, while those who listened were putting themselves in the path of a predestined election, as was proved in at least one instance at this very lecture, for John Preston, the future Master of Emmanuel, was present and pulled his hat over his eyes with the other scholars, but in spite of himself he heard, and immediately "was so affected, that he was made to stand up againe, and change his posture, and attend to what was spoken, in another manner than he and the rest had done." In this fashion the sermon worked upon those for whom God had ordained it a means, and hence there was a fundamental tenet in Puritanism that the learned manner of speaking, the discourse stuffed with quotations and "gingling" with rhetoric, could never become such an instrument of voca-

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The New England Mind: The Seventeenth Century
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Foreword vii
  • Contents *
  • Book I - Religion and Learning 1
  • Chapter I - The Augustinian Strain of Piety 3
  • Chapter II - The Practice of Piety 35
  • Chapter III - The Intellectual Character 64
  • Chapter IV - The Intellectual Heritage 89
  • Book II - Cosmology 109
  • Chapter V - The Instrument of Reason 111
  • Chapter VI - Knowledge 154
  • Chapter VII - The Uses of Reason 181
  • Chapter VIII - Nature 207
  • Book III - Anthropology 237
  • Chapter IX 239
  • Chapter X - The Means of Conversion 280
  • Chapter XI - Rhetoric 300
  • Chapter XII - The Plain Style 331
  • Book IV - Sociology 363
  • Chapter XIII - The Covenant of Grace 365
  • Chapter XIV - The Social Covenant 398
  • Chapter XV - The Church Covenant 432
  • Chapter XVI - God's Controversy with New England 463
  • Appendix A - The Literature of Ramus' Logic in Europe 493
  • Appendix B - The Federal School of Theology 502
  • Notes 507
  • Index 525
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