So many fathers (probably more than will admit it) harbor visions of their sons following in their footsteps. Sometimes those dreams come true, though rarely without some territorial friction. Just look at the Mathers—three generations of ministers who maintained a virtual dynasty over New England Puritanism for nearly a century.

The eldest, Richard Mather (1596-1669), came to Christ at age 18, when, in the words of his grandson, "the good Spirit of God healed his broken heart, by pouring thereinto the evangelical consolations of 'His great and good promises.'" A few years later, he was ordained an Anglican minister, but with Puritan convictions: he remained a firm Calvinist, and he kept clear of high church ceremonies. These stances became increasingly unpopular after 1630, and he lost his position in 1634. The next year he and his family sailed for Massachusetts, which had already become a gathering place for nonconformists.

Richard greatly influenced several key developments in the new colony. He persuaded his congregation in Dorchester (just south of Boston) to require applicants for church membership to provide a convincing account of their conversion, for he believed in a church composed of "visible saints." Second, he composed the bulk of the Cambridge Platform of Church Government, which offered a detailed description of, and biblical justifications for, the practices and government of New England churches. Richard later argued for a modification to the platform, allowing baptized non-members (i.e. adults baptized as infants who had not experienced Christian conversion as adults) to bring their infants for baptism. Eventually adopted in nearly all New England churches, this was derisively ...

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