n 1636, Anne Hutchinson, the wife of one of Boston’s leading citizens, was charged with heresy and banished from Massachusetts Colony. A woman of learning and great religious conviction, Hutchinson challenged the Puritan clergy and asserted her view of the “Covenant of Grace” – that moral conduct and piety should not be the primary qualifications for “visible sanctification.”
Her preachings were unjustly labeled “antinomianism” by the Puritans – a heresy – since the Christian leaders of that day held to a strong “Covenant of Works” teaching which dictated the need for outward signs of God’s grace. The question of “works versus grace” is a very old one; it goes on forever in a certain type of mind. Both are true doctrines, however, the “Covenant of Grace” is true in a higher sense.
Anne Hutchinson’s teaching can be summed up in a simple phrase which she taught the women who met in her home: “As I do understand it, laws, commands, rules and edicts are for those who have not the light which makes plain the pathway. He who has God’s grace in his heart cannot go astray.”
Actually, what Anne Hutchinson was preaching was not antithetical to what the Puritans believed at all. What began as quibbling over fine points of Christian doctrine ended as a confrontation over the role of authority in the colony. Threatened by meetings she held in her Boston home, the clergy charged Hutchinson with blasphemy. An outspoken female in a male hierarchy, Hutchinson had little hope that many would speak in her defense, and she was being tried by the General Court.
After being sentenced, she went with her family to what is now Rhode Island. Several years later she moved to New York where she and some of her family were massacred by Indians. One of her descendants, Thomas Hutchinson, later became governor of Massachusetts.
Anne Hutchinson pioneered the principles of civil liberty and religious freedom which were written into the Constitution of the United States. The spirit of Anne Hutchinson, the first woman preacher and fearless defender of freedom in New England, survived her persecution and death and it survives even until this day.
See also: The Boston Awakening