Preface to Early Piety
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In 1711 a group of ministers published a collection of sermons titled Early Piety. Increase Mather wrote the preface, which was later quoted in The Christian History, by the minister and historian Thomas Prince. In his preface, Mather answers the question, "What did our forefathers come into this wilderness for?"
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I am now in the eighty-third year of my age; and having had an opportunity to converse with the first planters of this country, and having been for sixty-five years a preacher of the Gospel; I cannot but be in a disposition of those ancient men who had seen the foundation of the first house, and wept with a loud voice to see what a change the work of the temple had upon it. I wish it were no other than the weakness of Horace’s old man, the Laudator Temporis Acti, when I complain there is a grievous decay of piety in the land, and a leaving the first love, and that the beauties of holiness are not to be seen as once they were; and the very interest of New England seems to be changed from a religious to a worldly one. Oh! that my head were waters, and mine eyes a fountain of tears.” And in a sermon in the aforementioned book, on Early Piety, he further writes, “The children of New England are or once were for the most part the children of godly men. What did our forefathers come into this wilderness for? not to gain estates, as men do now, but for religion, and that they might leave their children in a hopeful way of being truly religious. There was a famous man that preached before one of the greatest assemblies that ever was preached unto, seventy years ago; and he told them, I have lived in a county seven years, and all that time I never heard one profane oath, and all that time I never did see a man drunk in that land. Where was that country? It was New England! But ah degenerate New England, what art thou come to at this day? how are those sins become common in thee, that once were not so much as heard of in this land!”
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