A Corrupt Tree
By Beth, May 18 2018 06:48PM
This post was actually a response I gave on a discussion board at my seminary. The other student (I call him "Jack" on this post) had written a summary of some of the writings he had read by Cotton Mather. Mather was a American preacher and theologian who was heavily implicated in the Salem Witch trials.
There were a couple of other points that were very interesting to me. First was the heavy reliance on Scripture. It is unfortunate the lack of actual Scripture in many sermons today. The heavy reliance on scripture in this sermon was refreshing and inspiring. The second was the heavy leaning into holiness theology with statements like, “There is No Life in the Faith, which is not Productive to an Holy Life” and “This is that Holiness, without which no man shall see the Lord”.
I went back and read some more about Cotton Mather's involvement in the Salem Witch Trials -- it seems it was extensive!
In hindsight, that period of time is a shameful blemish on American history. Mather seemed to be heavily involved in what we now know to be brutish and unjust condemnation and execution of many innocents.
Now, here's the tricky part -- and it raises the same question that the Church has struggled with since its inception and continues to struggle with today:
How can someone who preaches well, reasons well, knows Scripture well, seems to live a "holy" lifestyle, etc....be entrenched so squarely in evil doings?
How are we, as the Body of Christ, to accurately discern who truly is or isn't following God?
From where I stand, it seems that, though Mather wrote eloquently and defended Scripture and holy living adequately, the only accurate judgment of his faith can be his life and his works...his "fruits." And based on those, Jack, well...either he was grossly affected by that "little leaven" of self-righteousness and legalism that affects "the whole lump" -- or he was, himself, the source of the leaven. Either way, it's not looking good for him.
Here is a witness account I found repeatedly in my research:
Mather is haunted in history by the account given in Robert Calef's book More Wonders of the Invisible World (1700) of his conduct at the hanging of former Salem minister George Burroughs. Calef reported that Burroughs recited a perfect rendition of the Lord's Prayer while on the gallows, something Mather himself thought impossible for anyone guilty of an alliance with the devil. The crowd was so moved that some wanted to prevent the execution. Mather, mounted on his horse, proclaimed that Burroughs was no ordained minister, and that the "Devil has often been transformed into an Angel of Light." With those words, under the tearful gaze of an ambivalent crowd the George Burroughs was hanged.
The writer goes on to say:
Perry Miller describes Cotton's later years as a time of intense regret and remorse about the trials. He points out that Cotton's diary paints a picture of a man "panicky lest the Lord take revenge upon his family 'for [Mather's] not appearing with Vigor enough to stop the proceedings of the Judges'". Clearly Cotton could not see his outside of his own world of expectations, reputations, and contradictions.
http://salem.lib.virginia.edu/people/c_mather.html (Links to an external site.)
It seemed, even in the end, that it was all about Mather. His concern was for himself and his family...not for the persecuted victims and their families.
This is eerily reminiscent of what I see in American Christendom today -- Church leaders who keep sexual abuse allegations under wraps, for instance, to "preserve the reputation of the church" or its leaders. Pastors who emphasize how great their past preaching was or the tremendous impact their ministry made when they are faced with those who accuse them of immorality and abuses of power. It is always about them. When caught, they cry for themselves, they complain about the pain this is causing their families -- not the lives and families of their victims.
I wonder, if Christians would make a more dedicated practice of honestly evaluating the actual "fruits" of their leaders and fellow believers -- and genuinely holding themselves and others accountable for their actions -- if we wouldn't have a much more solidly grounded Church today.
Actually...is there any room to wonder?
Matthew 7:16 Ye shall know them by their fruits. Do men gather grapes of thorns, or figs of thistles?
Matthew 7:17 Even so every good tree bringeth forth good fruit; but a corrupt tree bringeth forth evil fruit.
Matthew 7:18 A good tree cannot bring forth evil fruit, neither can a corrupt tree bring forth good fruit.
Matthew 7:19 Every tree that bringeth not forth good fruit is hewn down, and cast into the fire.
Matthew 7:20 Wherefore by their fruits ye shall know them.
Beth, I've learned so much from you in the last few years.
You have a beautiful site with wonderful insight and wisdom from God's Word.
I'm so thankful for your Bible Study and your website.
God bless you, my friend!
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