Crime and Punishment in America

Public Penance,
page 5 of 6

The Church gave their judgment against him that he was anotorious scandalous sinner, and obstinately impenitent. And when I was proceeding to spread before him his sin and wickedness, he, as tis probable, guessing what was like to follow, turned about to goe out, and being desired and charged to tarry and know what the church had to say, he flung out of doors with an insolent manner though silent.”

A most graphic description of one of these scenes of public abasement and abnegation is given by Governor John Winthrop in his History of New England. The offender, Captain John Underhill, was a brave though blustering soldier, a man of influence throughout New England, a so-called gentleman. And I doubt not that Boston folk tried hard to overlook his transgressions because, “soldiers has their ways.” Winthrop wrote thus:

“Captain Underhill being brought by the blessing of God in this church’s censure of excommunication to remorse for his foul sins, obtained by means of the elders and others of the church of Boston, a safe conduct under the hand of the governor and one of the council to repair to the church. He came at the time of the court of assistants, and upon the lecture day, after sermon, the pastor called him forth and declared the occasion, and then gave him leave to speak; and, indeed, it was a spectacle which caused many weeping eyes, though it afforded matter of much rejoicing to behold the power of the Lord Jesus in his ordinances, when they are dispensed in his own way, holding forth the authority of his regal sceptre in the simplicity of the gospel. He came in his worst clothes, being accustomed to take great pride in his bravery and neatness, without a band, in a foul linen cap pulled close to his eyes, and standing upon a form, he did, with many deep sighs and abundance of tears, lay open his wicked course, his adultery, his hypocrisy, his persecution of God’s people here, and especially his pride, as the root of all which caused God to give him over to his sinful courses, and contempt of magistrates. * * * * * He spake well, save that his blubbering, etc., interrupted him, and all along he discovered a broken and melting heart and gave good exhortations to take heed of such vanities and beginnings of evil as had occasione his fall. And in the end he earnestly and humbly besought the church to have compassion on him and to deliver him out of the hands of Satan.”


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