Quarrel between Henry VIII. and the Pope – Henry assumes the Supremacy of the Church of England – Overthrow of the Monastic System, and partial Reformation – Six Articles – Death of Henry – Accession of Edward VI. – Progress of Reformation – Homilies – Liturgy – Book of Ordination – Hooper’s Opposition to the Ceremonies – Articles – Death of Edward – Accession of Mary – Restoration of Popery – Persecution – Frankfort – Puritans – Death of Mary, and Accession of Elizabeth – Revived Supremacy – Check to Reformation – Ceremonies – Convocation of 1562, with which all Reformation ceased – General view of the Puritan Controversy – Harsh conduct of Parker – The Puritans begin to form a separate Body – Their Opinions – Imprisoned – Parliament attempt to interfere – The Puritans associate for mutual Instruction – Form a Presbytery – The Queen and Grindal – Rise of the Brownists – Whitgift – Increased Severity – Bancroft’s jure divino Prelacy – Martin Mar-Prelate Tracts – Sabbath Controversy – Death of Elizabeth, and Accession of James – Hampton Court Conference – Opinion of the Judges on the Power of the High Commission – Rise of the Independents – The Rook of Sports – Resistance to Political Tyranny – Combination – Death of James, and Accession of Charles – Contests with Parliament – Laud – Contest with Scotland – The Long Parliament – Impeachment of Strafford and Laud – Smectymnuus – The Army Plot – Incident – Irish Massacre – Remonstrance – Protestation of the Bishops – Abolition of the Hierarchy – Intercourse with Scotland – Ordinance calling an Assembly of Divines – Summary.
THE remark has frequently been made, accompanied with expressions of surprise and regret, that no separate historical account of the Westminster Assembly of Divines has yet been written. Every person who has directed his attention to the events of the seventeenth century, whether with regard to their civil or their religious aspect, has felt that it was impossible fully to understand either the one or the other line of study, without taking into view the character of the Westminster Assembly, the purpose for which it met, and the result of its deliberations. Yet, notwithstanding this universally felt necessity, the subject has never received an adequate investigation, and consequently still remains in such obscurity as renders it exposed to every hind of misrepresentation. Some have regarded it as comparatively an isolated event, not very influential on those around it, and serving chiefly to display, in a combined form, the characters of the men and measures of those times; others have viewed it as the abortive attempt of a parcel of narrow-minded and yet ambitious fanatics, serving to reveal their dangerous pretensions, and then, by its failure, exposing them to deserved ridicule. The mere student of civil history will doubtless see little in it to attract his notice, engrossed, as his attention will be, by the schemes of politicians and the din of arms; while, on the other hand, the mere theologian will generally be little disposed to regard any thing about it, except its productions. But the man who penetrates a little deeper into the nature of those unrevealed but powerful influences which move a nation’s mind, and mold its destinies, will be ready to direct his attention more profoundly to the objects and deliberations of an assembly which met at a moment so critical, and was composed of the great master-minds of the age; and the theologian who has learned to view religion as the vital principle of human nature, equally in nations and in the individual man, will not easily admit the weak idea, that such an assembly could have been an isolated event, but will be disposed earnestly to inquire what led to its meeting, and what important consequences followed. And although the subject has not hitherto been investigated with such a view, it may, we trust, be possible to prove, that it was the most important event in the century in which it occurred; and that it has exerted, and in. all probability will yet exert, a far more wide and permanent influence upon both the civil and the religious history of mankind than has generally been even imagined.
Intimately connected as the Westminster Assembly was both with the civil and the religious history of the two kingdoms of England and Scotland, it will be absolutely necessary to give a preliminary outline of the leading events in both countries, from the time of the Reformation till the meeting of the Assembly, in order that a clear conception may be obtained of the cause of its meeting, the circumstances in which it met, and the object which it was intended to accomplish. We shall then be in a fit condition to investigate the proceedings of the Assembly itself, to understand their true character, to mark their direct bearing, and to trace their more remote results.
The circumstances that led to the disagreement between Henry VIII. and the pope are so well known, that it is unnecessary to do more than merely allude to them. Whether Henry actually began to entertain conscientious scruples respecting the lawfulness of his marriage with Katherine of Arragon, his brother Arthur’s widow, before he came enamored of Anne Boleyn, or whether his incipient affection for that lady induced him to devise a method of being released from his wife, is an inquiry of no great moment in itself, except as to its bearing on the character of the monarch. Suffice it to state, that the king consulted the Archbishop of Canterbury, and required him to procure the opinions of the bishops of England on the subject. All, with the exception of Fisher, Bishop of Rochester, declared that in their judgment it was an unlawful marriage. But as a dispensation had been obtained from the pope, before the marriage took place, it became necessary to procure a papal recognition of the intended divorce; which was a matter of no little difficulty, both because such a measure would seem to invalidate a previous papal bull, to the discredit of the doctrine of infallibility, and because there would arise a serious question respecting the legitimacy of the Princess Mary, and offense might be taken by the King of Spain. All these dangers were clearly seen by Cardinal Wolsey; who, accordingly, without venturing directly to oppose the king’s desires, contrived to cause delays, to procure evasive answers, and to protract the proceedings by every method which fear of the issue could prompt and deep craft could devise. At length Cranmer, till then a comparatively unknown man, suggested, that, instead of a long and fruitless negotiation at Rome, it would be better to consult all the learned men and universities of Christendom, to ascertain whether the marriage were unlawful in itself, by virtue of any divine precept; for if that were proved, then it would follow, that the pope’s dispensation could be of no force to make that lawful which God has declared unlawful. When the king heard of this suggestion, 1 he immediately adopted it, sent for Cranmer, received him into favor, and placed such confidence in his honor, integrity, and judgment, that it was never afterwards thoroughly shaken, either by the artifices of enemies, or the varying moods of the capricious sovereign himself.
Cranmer prosecuted the scheme which he had suggested so successfully, that he procured, both from the English universities, and from nearly all the learned men in Europe, answers to the effect, that the king’s marriage was contrary to the law of God. These answers were laid before the Parliament, which met in January 1581, and assented to by both Houses, as also by the Convocation of the Clergy, which was met at the same time. Still the pope had not consented, and the hostility between him and Henry was necessarily increased. by what had taken place regarding the proposed divorce. Henry was not disposed to pause now, till he should. have secured his power over the clergy; and as they were all implicated in some of Wolsey’s proceedings, which had been declared to have involved him in a praemunire, they were held to be amenable to all its penalties. Their danger rendered them submissive, and in the convocation at Canterbury, a petition was agreed upon to be offered to the king, in which he was styled, "The Protector and Supreme Head of the Church and the Clergy of England." Gratified with this title, the king granted a pardon to the clergy; but did not, as they had probably expected, permit it to remain an empty title. In May 1582, he informed the House of Commons that he had learned that all the prelates, at their consecration, swore an oath quite contrary to that which they swore to the crown – so that it seemed they were the pope’s subjects rather than his; referring it to their care to take such order in it that the king might not be deluded. The prorogation of the Parliament prevented the immediate collision between the civil and the ecclesiastical powers, which the investigation of that point would have caused; but it was now abundantly evident on what the king had bent his mind. The question respecting the pope’s supremacy was now the subject of inquiry and discussion throughout the kingdom; and at length it was formally brought before Parliament, and on the 20th of March 1584-5, a bill was passed, abolishing papal supremacy in England, and declaring the king to be the Supreme Head of the Church of England; and in the following June, a circular letter was sent by the king, not only to all the bishops, but also to all the justices of the peace, requiring the universal promulgation of the decree respecting the abolition of the pope’s supremacy and the recognition of his own; and. empowering the civil functionaries to ascertain whether the clergy did their duty sincerely.2
So delighted was King Henry with his title of Supreme Head of the Church, that he caused it to be enacted that it should be for ever joined to the other titles of the crown, and be reckoned one of them; and even caused a seal to be cut for public use in his new ecclesiastical once; and when directing a visitation of the whole clergy of England, dated the 18th of September 1585, added these words – "Under our seal, that we use in ecclesiastical matters, which we have ordered to be hereunto appended." 3
It will be at once seen, that the title of Supreme Head of the Church, and the power in ecclesiastical matters which arose from it, were claimed by Henry, not as the necessary means for promoting reformation, nor from any religious conviction that the pope’s assumption of it was in itself sinful; but solely from the desire of rescuing himself from any control, and for the purpose of possessing, in his own person, the most full and absolute power that could be imagined. And it rendered it at once a matter of utter impossibility for the Church of England to prosecute its own reformation according to the deliberate judgment of its most enlightened members, whatever might be their opinion of the requirements of the Word of God. To this fatal dogma of the king’s supremacy and headship of the Church of England may be directly traced nearly all the corruptions of that Church, and nearly all the subsequent civil calamities of the British Isles. For it would not be difficult to prove, that there can be no security for either civil or religious liberty in any country where the supreme civil and ecclesiastical jurisdictions are both possessed by the same ruling power. It matters little whether the ruling power be ecclesiastical, holding the civil subordinate to it, as does the Papacy; or civil, holding the ecclesiastical subordinate, as in the case of Henry and his successors; for in either case the result is despotism, under which the people must sink into utter degradation, or against which they are provoked, from time to time, to rise in all the dangerous fierceness of revolutionary convulsion. Rut it is enough merely to suggest this view at present; it will demand more particular examination in future stages of our inquiries.
Almost the first public use made by the king of his acknowledged supremacy in religion, was to send Cranmer, now Archbishop of Canterbury, on a visitation of the monasteries throughout the kingdom. It was no difficult matter to convict these popish institutions of such crimes and abominations as are not fit to be mentioned, "equal," says Burnet, "to any that were in Sodom;" so that their suppression was but the sweeping away of a great moral nuisance, too loathsome any longer to be endured. It served, at the same time, as a measure by which the king’s coffers were replenished, some of his favorites enriched, and the better part of the nation gratified by the removal of a system of enormities which had been long regarded with extreme detestation. About the same time, it was resolved that the Bible should be translated into English, and published for the instruction of the community; though this was strenuously resisted by a large proportion of the clergy, and carried only by the influence of Cranmer and the queen. The fall of the queen, which took place soon after, threatened to retard the progress of reformation, and the pope attempted a reconciliation with the king. But Henry had no inclination to subject himself again to papal control; and, following Cranmer’s advice, he proceeded to make further changes. In the year 1586, the Convocation were induced to agree to certain articles of religion, which were accordingly promulgated on the royal authority. In these articles, the standards of faith were declared to be, – the Bible, the Apostolic, Nicene, and Athanasian Creeds, and the decrees of the first four general Councils, without regard to tradition or the decrees of the Church; and the doctrine of justification was declared to "signify remission of sins, and acceptation into the favor of God, that is to say, a perfect renovation in Christ;" but auricular confession was held to be, necessary, the corporal presence of Christ in the sacrament was maintained, doing reverence to images and praying to saints were approved of, and various other corruptions and mere ceremonial observances were left untouched. This limited reformation 4 gave little satisfaction to any, one party thinking it too much, and the other too little; yet it tended to encourage those who wished reform, with the hope that what was thus begun would be gradually and thoroughly accomplished.
In the year 1588, the English translation of the Bible was published, and injunctions were given to all the clergy to procure these Bibles, one for each church, and to encourage all persons to peruse them; condemning, at the same time, the worship of images, and permitting the prayers to saints to be omitted. But while the Reformers were rejoicing in this apparently rapid progress of the good work, their hopes were suddenly cast to the ground and their prospects darkened. The very next year, the king, on the pretext of putting an end to controversies in religion, required a committee to be appointed for the purpose of drawing up articles of agreement, to which all might consent. The committee could not agree, and the subject was brought before the House of Lords by the Duke of Norfolk, who named six articles for discussion. Notwithstanding the opposition of Cranmer, these articles were passed, and all the kingdom commanded to receive them, the penalty of opposition being imprisonment, forfeiture of property, or death as heretics. They contained the following tenets: – The real presence in the sacrament, communion in one kind only, the celibacy of the priesthood, that vows of chastity made by either sex should be observed, that private masses should be continued, and that auricular confession was necessary, and should be retained in the Church. 5 By this act it was rendered abundantly evident, that little of Popery had been removed. but the name; or rather, that England had obtained, instead of an ecclesiastical, a royal pope. Yet, with remarkable inconsistency, or at least want of penetration, the king very soon after consented to an act permitting private persons to purchase Bibles, and keep them in their own possession. The short-sighted despot did not perceive that the private use of the Scriptures would soon teach his people the right of private judgment also in matters of religion, which all his boasted supremacy would not long be able to control.
The fall of Cromwell, caused in a great measure by the intrigues of the popish party, allowed them to regain considerable ascendancy, and retarded the progress of reformation, though it still continued slowly to gain ground. An attempt was made by the popish bishops to procure the suppression of the Bible, on the ostensible ground of its being an inaccurate translation. This, however, they did not obtain; but an act was made "about religion," the effect of which was to empower the king to confirm, rescind, or change any act, or any provision in any act, that treated of religion. A more complete and arbitrary supremacy in all matters of religion, than was now possessed by Henry, it is almost impossible to imagine. And the effect was correspondent to the cause; for the king, guided alone by his own fierce and capricious will, was almost equally hostile to both parties, popish and reforming, indicting the extreme penalty of death upon either with indiscriminate severity. But the death of the king rescued the nation from intolerable oppression, and gave opportunity for the more earnest and successful prosecution of the great work of reformation under his young and amiable successor.
No sooner had a suitable arrangement of civil affairs been effected by the regency, than Cranmer, supported by the Protector Somerset, and countenanced by the young king, Edward VI., resumed the important duty of prosecuting the reformation of the Church. By an act of the preceding reign, the proclamation of the king, or of his counselors if under age, was of sufficient authority to enable them to proceed, as if by act of Parliament, in cases not otherwise provided for, so as not to encroach on the just liberties of the subject, or to interfere with other acts or proclamations. They accordingly sent out visitors over England, which was for that purpose divided into six circuits. The duty of those visitors was to inquire into all Church matters, to redress all wrongs, and remove all abuses, and particularly to ascertain the sufficiency or insufficiency of the clergy throughout the country. Along with these visitors, they sent the most eminent preachers that could be found, to communicate sound and full instruction in the true principles of religion to both clergy and people. And to remedy the deplorable ignorance which everywhere prevailed among the clergy, some were appointed to compile homilies, explanatory of the most important doctrines and duties of Christianity. Several of these homilies contain very clear and forcible statements and, elucidations of sacred truth, others are less valuable, and some are, not a little erroneous in several respects. They were, however, well fitted to meet the necessities of an ignorant clergy and an uninstructed people; but it could scarcely have been dreamed by Cranmer, that the method devised by him for the remedy of a disease would be retained for its perpetuation, – that because he provided sermons and prayers for those who could neither preach nor pray, that would come to be regarded as a precedent of force enough to prevent learned and pious men from preparing sermons and prayers for themselves.
The next reforming step was an act permitting the communion to be received in both kinds. Then followed another, prohibiting private masses. A catechism was soon afterwards prepared by Cranmer. And proceeding to investigate the offices, or ritual of the Church, it was at length determined that a new Liturgy should be prepared, as the best method of getting quit of the superstitions by which that in present use was disfigured. This Liturgy was conarmed by act of Parliament, in the year 1548-49, and its use commanded on the ultimate penalty of imprisonment for life. About the same time, there were several severe proceedings 6 against Anabaptists and other sectaries, one of whom, Joan of Kent, was condemned to the stake; but the mild and gentle young king could not be induced to sign the warrant for her execution without the urgent persuasions of Cranmer himself, who, in this instance, as also in those of Lambert, and Anne Askew, in the preceding reign, forgot the spirit of that gentle and gracious religion of which he was so eminent a teacher and reformer. 7
The Book of Ordinations was next made and ratified, which had a strong tendency to give a character of axed rigidity to the Church of England. The evil consequence of undue strictness in matters of mere form and ceremony was soon apparent, when Hooper refused to be consecrated as a bishop in the episcopal vestments. This simpleminded and sincere Reformer condemned these vestments as human inventions, brought in by tradition or custom, and not suitable to the simplicity of the Christian religion. Few 8 impartial persons will doubt that he was perfectly in the right, both in point of fact and in propriety of feeling; for no one can deny the human origin of such matters, and few will regard them as conferring dignity on the gospel, so glorious in its divine simplicity. Rut he was to learn one direct consequence of the sovereign’s supremacy, namely, that there was to be an order of the clergy decked, with courtly adornments, and in that respect at least "conformed to the world," contrary to the apostolic precept. A great and widespread controversy arose on this subject. Correspondence was held with foreign churches and divines, with the view of ascertaining their opinion respecting the lawfulness of obeying the civil magistrate’s order to use such vestments in the worship of God. Various opinions were given, many of the best and wisest men being extremely grieved that dangerous disputes should arise about matters not in their own nature of vital importance. Bucer recommended compliance; but wished these vestments disused, as connected with superstition, and a more complete reformation established. At length a compromise was effected. Hooper was required to wear the Episcopal vestments when he was consecrated, and when he preached before the king, or in a cathedral; but was permitted to lay them aside on other occasions. This slight matter was a sufficient indication, that the reformation was to be stopped whenever it had reached as far as the king and court thought proper; and that those who wished for further reformation, and aimed at again realizing primitive simplicity and purity, would be constrained to pause, and painfully to submit to what they could not remedy. It might have been regarded. as of little consequence what vestments were worn in public worship; but it was a matter of grave and serious import to find, that conscientious feelings in affairs of religion were to be overborne by the dictate of the civil magistrate. From this time forward there began to be a party in England who longed for a more complete reformation than had been or could be obtained, although it was not till a considerably later period that this party attracted public attention under a distinctive name.
In the year 1552, the alterations which had been made in the Book of Common Prayer by the reformers during the course of the preceding year, were ratified by act of Parliament, and ordered to be universally employed, under the penalties by which the previous Liturgy had been enforced. In the same year the Articles of Religion were prepared, chiefly by Cranmer and Ridley, and published by the king’s authority, a short time before his lamented death. A book was also drawn up for giving rules to the 9 ecclesiastical courts in all matters of government and discipline; but this was never ratified, as the king’s decease took place before it was fully prepared. This was, perhaps, the greatest misfortune that befell the Church of England in consequence of the premature death of Edward, as it was thereby left totally without government or discipline, such as, though limited by the acknowledged regal supremacy, might yet have been, in the first instance, administered by its own courts. Hence it became impossible for the Church of England to exercise any direct influence in checking immorality, reforming abuses, or even in preserving its own most sacred ordinances from profanation. Even Burnet laments its want of the power to exercise discipline, and suggests the desirableness that the power of excommunication might yet be brought into the Church.10 Such, however, was the inevitable consequence of making the king the Supreme Head of the Church, rendering it necessarily impossible for the Church to reform itself beyond what he or his state advisers might choose to permit.
The truth of this was immediately made apparent on the accession of queen Mary, in the year 1553. An early act of her sovereignty was the issuing of a proclamation, in which she declared her adherence to the religion that she had professed from her infancy, disclaiming the intention of compelling her subjects, till public order should be taken in the matter by common consent; and, in the meantime, straitly charging that none should preach, or expound Scripture, or print any books or plays, without her special license. The deprived popish bishops were speedily restored to their sees, and the reformed bishops, some sent to prison at once, and others thrust out of the House of Lords, because they refused to reverence the mass at its opening. The laws passed by King Edward concerning religion were repealed; and a negotiation commenced for procuring a reconciliation with the pope. The mass was everywhere resumed, the laws against heresy revived, and every step taken for bringing the nation once more under the degrading thralldom of Popery, with all possible expedition. All this was done directly by the authority of the Queen, as Supreme Head of the Church of England; for this title she took care to retain and enforce at the commencement of her reign, though it was afterwards disused. Indeed, she could not so readily have accomplished her purpose without the power which this title was admitted to confer; so fatally was it productive of evil, so soon had it ceased to be available for good, even when held by the pious Edward.
But it is quite unnecessary to relate the events that successively followed, and to sketch even the outlines of the fierce persecution which characterized the reign of a queen so well known by the fearfully emphatic title of "The Bloody Mary." Life alone was wanting to her to have completely overthrown the Reformation in England, and to have placed again the kingdom beneath the Romish yoke. And it deserves to be carefully remarked, that this dread consummation was so nearly accomplished almost entirely by two conjunct influences – by the queen’s ecclesiastical supremacy, and by the wealth and consequent power of the prelates. The tendency of the latter element had been foreseen by some, as appears from a letter written to the Protector Somerset by Sir Philip Hobby; in which, after suggesting the wisdom of appointing the godly bishops an honest and competent living, and taking from them the rest of those worldly possessions and dignities which tend to prevent the right discharge of their office, he adds, "The Papists say, They doubt not but my lords the bishops, being a great number of stout and well learned men, will well enough weigh against their adversaries, and maintain still their whole estate; which coming to pass, they have good hope that in time these princely pillars will well enough resist this fury, and bring all things again into the old. order." 11 This shrewd prediction was well-nigh fulfilled in "Bloody Mary’s" days; an approximation was made towards it again under the management of Laud; and it is possible that a similar peril may once more arise.
Reference has been already made to the opposition which Hooper offered to the Episcopal vestments, and other unimportant and superstitious ceremonies, as probably exhibiting the very origin of what afterwards became the great Puritan party in England. Another event must also be mentioned, which certainly very much increased, and has by many been thought to have first caused, that unpropitious schism. During the persecution in the reign of Mary, many Protestants, both lay and clerical, sought safety by right to the Continent. Of these a considerable body took up their residence at Frankfort, while others went to Strasburg, Zurich, and Basle. The Frankfort exiles at first entered into communion with a congregation of French Protestants, on the agreement that they should subscribe the French Confession of Faith, and not insist upon retaining the forms and ceremonies of the English Liturgy. For a time all went on in peace and harmony, under three pastors, chosen by the congregation, of whom John Knox was one; but the English having invited some of their countrymen at Strasburg and Zurich to come and join them, they replied, that they could not do so unless they would conform strictly and entirely to the religious service appointed by King Edward. The Frankfort congregation refused to do so; stating, that if the Strasburgh divines had no other views but to reduce the congregation to King Edward’s form, and to establish Popish ceremonies, they had better stay away. The Frankfort brethren consulted Calvin, and other leading continental reformers, who all censured the English Liturgy, thought it more becoming godly ministers of Christ to aim at something better and purer, and expressed surprise that they were so fond of "Popish dregs." The controversy might probably have gone no further, but for the inopportune arrival at Frankfort of Dr. Cox, who had been tutor to King Edward, and possessed great influence among his countrymen. He at once broke through the whole previous agreement, interrupted the usual service, by answering aloud after the minister, and, by private intriguing, got the majority to consent to his aggressive innovations. The injured party applied to the magistrates, who gave order that the original agreement should be observed, threatening to shut up the place of worship if this command were disobeyed. With a baseness which has few equals, Cox and his party went privately to the magistrates, and accused Knox of treason against the Emperor of Germany, his son Philip, and queen Mary of England; founding this charge on some expressions in his small treatise, entitled "Admonition to England." The magistrates were in great perplexity; for though they utterly disapproved of the conduct of Cox and the informers, they were afraid to offend the emperor’s council. In this dilemma they advised John Knox to withdraw from Frankfort, for his own safety, and for the sake of peace. He consented, and withdrew amidst the complaints and tears of his attached friends. Following up his disgraceful victory, Cox falsely represented to the magistrates that the English Liturgy was now universally acceptable to the congregation, and procured an order for its unlimited use. He then abrogated the code of discipline, procured the appointment of a bishop, and rejoiced in having now "the face of an English Church." Thus, by intolerance, treachery, and despotism, they succeeded in overthrowing a Church whose scriptural simplicity and purity they might have rejoiced to imitate, and in setting up human inventions, in which pride and selfishness might glory; giving, likewise, an ominous intimation of the spirit likely to prevail in such a Church as theirs, should, it regain the ascendancy, and become established in England. For in this instance they had not to plead, as in the case of Hooper, respect for the civil authority by which vestments and ceremonies were enjoined, the Frankfort magistrates having actually discountenanced them; but it was with them as it ever is when man mingles his own devices with God’s appointments, – to his own vain fancies he clings with desperate and fierce tenacity, while he lays hold weakly and loosely on the unchanging laws and principles of divine revelation.12
Elizabeth, upon her accession to the throne, found herself in a situation of considerable difficulty, – threatened, with foreign wars, and her subjects divided, anxious, and alarmed on the all-important subject of religion. Her wisest counselors advised her first to settle the relations of the country with foreign states, and then to proceed with what religious reformation might be necessary. There was also another reason for this course: Elizabeth, on her accession to the throne, sent intimation of that event to the pope, and waited an answer from Rome before declaring her purposes with regard to religion. That answer declared her illegitimate, and commanded her to abandon the throne, and submit to the will of the Roman pontiff. This insolence determined her to the support of the Protestant cause. To prevent disputes in the meantime, a proclamation was issued, prohibiting all preaching, and requiring that nothing should be done in public worship but the reading of the Gospel and Epistle for the day, the Lord’s Prayer, the Creed, and. the Ten Commandments, till proper arrangements should be made and further instructions given. Parliament met in January 1559 and proceeded with alacrity to the discharge of its duties. The Act of Supremacy, which had fallen into abeyance during the latter period of Mary’s reign, was reenacted, restoring to the Crown complete supremacy in all causes, civil and ecclesiastical, as it had been in the times of Henry VIII and Edward VI. 13 To this bill several others were annexed, reviving various acts of the reign of Henry, and repealing those of Mary; so that, by this one enactment, the external policy of the Church was restored to almost the very same condition in which it had been at the death of King Edward. One proviso in this act, added for the purpose of enabling the queen to execute her supremacy, empowered such persons as should be commissioned by her majesty to reform and order ecclesiastical matters. This gave rise to the Court of High Commission, by which afterwards so many acts of cruelty and despotism were perpetrated, both in England and in Scotland; especially in the latter country, when Prelacy was forced upon it by the treacherous tyranny of King James.
Some of the reformed divines were next appointed to revise King Edward’s Liturgy, and to see whether any such changes could be made in it as would tend to render it more likely to include some whose opinions were yet short of a thorough reformation. In particular, it was proposed to have the language of the communion service so modified that it might not necessarily exclude the belief of the corporal presence. After several alterations, all leaning rather to Popery than to Protestantism, had been made, the revised Book of Common Prayer was ratified by act of Parliament, and uniformity in worship according to it enjoined. The Popish bishops refused to take the oath of supremacy, and were, in consequence, deprived of their offices and powers. This enabled the queen to supply their places with men better affected to reformation; which was accordingly done, though not without difficulty, the very best men being reluctant to undertake situations of such responsibility, and many being decidedly opposed to the ceremonies, rites, and vestments which were required, and which they regarded as remnants of superstition, and inconsistent with Christian simplicity.
The reforming divines soon became aware that in these points they had to encounter her majesty’s opposition. The queen was naturally vain, and therefore fond of pomp and magnificence in every thing; nor did her reverence for religion teach her to abstain from presuming to seek the gratification of her personal tastes and prejudices in matters too sacred for mortal creature to tamper with. It was with great difficulty that they prevailed with her to insert in her injunctions a command for the removal of all images out of churches; but they could not induce her to abandon the use of a crucifix in her own chapel.
The controversy concerning vestments, and rites, and ceremonies continued, with increased asperity, on both sides. All the court divines, as they may be termed, headed by Archbishop Parker, supported the queen’s desire for retaining as much show and pomp in religious matters as might be possible; while Jewell, Grindal, Sampson, Fox the martyrologist, and all the most distinguished for piety and liberal-mindedness, did their utmost to procure a more complete reformation; and for this purpose maintained a close correspondence with the most eminent of the continental reformers. 14 Jewell, in particular, exerted himself to the utmost against these vain frivolities. "Some," said he, "were so much set on the matter of the habits, as if the Christian religion consisted in garments; but we," added he, "are not called to the consultations concerning that scenical apparel; he could set no value on these fopperies. Some were crying up a golden mediocrity; he was afraid it would prove a leaden one."15 In short, it is not too much to say, that all the best, wisest, and most pious and learned. divines of the Church of England – all the true reformers – longed and strove for a more complete reformation, lamented that it continued but a half-reformed Church, and were the real forefathers of the Puritans. 16
In the beginning of the year 1502, a meeting of the Convocation was held, in which the subject of further reformation was vigorously discussed on both sides. Some alterations were made in the articles of religion, originally drawn up in King Edward’s reign. These were at first forty-two in number; but by remitting some and combining others, they were reduced to the thirty-nine which have ever since formed the standard of faith in the Church of England. It cannot be said that they were in all respects improved by these alterations, as any one may see by comparing them. But when it was proposed that there should be some alterations in the Prayer-Book, a very warm debate ensued. Six alterations were proposed, to the following purport: – The abrogation of all holidays, except Sabbaths, and those relating to Christ, – that in prayer the minister should turn his face to the people, so that they might hear and be edified, – that the ceremony of the cross in baptism might be omitted, – that the sick and aged might not be compelled to kneel at the communion, – that the partial use of the surplice might be sufficient, – and that the use of organs be laid aside. 17 The main argument used against these proposed improvements was, that they were contrary to the Rook of Common Prayer, which was ratified by act of Parliament, so that no alteration of any thing contained in that book could be permitted. When the vote came to be taken on these propositions, forty-three voted for them, and. thirty-five against; but when the proxies were counted, the balance was turned; the final state of the vote being fifty-eight for, and fifty-nine against. Thus it was determined, by the majority of a single vote, and that the proxy of an absent person, who did. not hear the reasoning, that the Prayer-Book should remain unimproved, that there should be no further reformation, that there should be no relief granted to those whose conscience felt aggrieved by the admixture of human inventions in the worship of God, so that the Church of England was thenceforth to remain, like one of her own grand cathedrals, a stately mass of petrified religion.
A Book of Discipline was also prepared by the same Convocation. Whether it was the reformation of the ecclesiastical laws proposed formerly by Cranmer, does not appear; but it did not receive the approbation of the House of Lords, and sunk into complete oblivion. Perhaps the reason why it received so little countenance in high quarters, is explained in a letter from Cox, now Bishop of Ely, to Gualter of Zurich: "When I consider the sins that do everywhere abound, and the neglect and contempt of the Word of God, I am struck with horror, and. tremble to think what God, will do with us. We have some discipline among us with relation to men’s lives, such as it is; but if any man would, go about to persuade our nobility to submit their necks to that yoke, he may as well venture to pull the hair out of a lion’s beard." 18 Several other points tending towards reformation were also proposed, but in vain; nothing more could be accomplished; so that it may be fairly said, that with the Convocation of 1562 ended the reformation of the Church of England, before much more than half its work had been done. And it will be admitted by all who are sufficiently acquainted with the condition of the people throughout the country districts of the kingdom, that the reformation proper of the English nation is yet to begin.
From the time of the Convocation in 1502, the disagreement between the court divines and those who wished for further reformation, became gradually more and more decided. It may be expedient briefly to examine the views entertained by these two great opposing parties. The main question on which they were divided may be thus stated: Whether it were lawful and expedient to retain in the external aspect of religion a close resemblance to what had prevailed in the times of Popery, or not? The court divines argued, that this process would lead the people more easily to the reception of the real doctrinal changes, when they saw outward appearances so little altered, so that this method seemed to be recommended by expediency. The reformers replied, that this tended to perpetuate in the people their inclination to their former superstitions, led them to think there was, after all, little difference between the reformed and the papal Churches, and consequently, that if it made them quit Popery the more readily at present, it would leave them at least equally ready to return to it should an opportunity offer; and for this reason they thought it best to leave as few traces of Popery remaining as possible. It was urged, by the court party, that every sovereign had authority to correct all abuses of doctrine and worship within his own dominions: this, they asserted, was the true meaning of the Act of Supremacy, and consequently the source of the reformation in England. The true reformers admitted the Act of Supremacy, in the sense of the queen’s explanation given in the injunctions; but could not admit that the conscience and the religion of the whole nation were subject to the arbitrary disposal of the sovereign. The court party recognized the Church of Rome as a true Church, though corrupt in some points of doctrine and government; and this view it was thought necessary to maintain, for without this the English bishops could not trace their succession from the apostles. But the decided reformers affirmed the pope to be antichrist, and. the Church of Rome to be no true Church; nor would they risk the validity of their ordinations on the idea of a succession through such a channel. Neither party denied that the Rible was a perfect rule of faith; but the court party did not admit it to be a standard of Church government and discipline, asserting that it had been left to the judgment of the civil magistrate in Christian countries, to accommodate the government of the Church to the policy of the state. The reformers maintained the Scriptures to be the standard of Church government and discipline, as well as doctrine; to the extent, at the very least, that nothing should be imposed. as necessary which was not expressly contained in, or derived from, them by necessary consequence; adding, that if any discretionary power in minor matters were necessary, it must be vested, not in the civil magistrate, but in the spiritual office bearers of the Church itself. The court reformers held that the practice of the primitive Church for the four or five earliest centuries was a proper standard of Church government and discipline, even better suited to the dignity of a national establishment than the times of the apostles; and, that, therefore, nothing more was needed than merely to remove the more modern innovations of Popery. The true reformers wished to keep close to the Scripture model, and to admit neither office bearers, ceremonies, nor ordinances, but such as were therein appointed or sanctioned. The court party affirmed, that things in their own nature indifferent, such as rites, ceremonies, and vestments, might be appointed and made necessary by the command of the civil magistrate; and that then it was the bounden duty of all subjects to obey. But the reformers maintained, that what Christ had left indifferent no human laws ought to make necessary; and besides, that such rites and ceremonies as had been abused. to idolatry, and tended to lead men back to Popery and superstition, were no longer indifferent, but were to be rejected as unlawful. Finally, the court party held that there must be a standard of uniformity, which standard was the queen’s supremacy, and the laws of the land. The reformers regarded the Bible as the only standard, but thought compliance was due to the decrees of provincial and national synods, which might be approved and enforced by civil authority. In this point, the view entertained by the reformers might have been carried to the extent of oppression; but it never could have been very direct and immediate, and was subject to so many checks, that it amounted to little more than a remote possibility. At the same time, it is perfectly evident that the true principles of religious liberty and toleration were not understood by either party; and it may be fairly questioned, whether, even in the present day, these principles are rightly understood.
Such is a brief outline of the direct cause of the conflict between the court party of the English reformers, and their brethren who desired a more complete reformation, and of the leading arguments used on both sides. It cannot fail to strike every attentive reader, that precisely the same conflict is again renewed, both in England and Scotland, and in all its leading principles. So close indeed is the resemblance, that it is difficult to peruse the writings of those times without insensibly beginning to think we are reading some of the controversial works of the present day. And, perhaps, in order to arrive at a full understanding of the real nature and bearing of the present controversies, no better plan could. be devised than to prosecute a careful study of the writings of the court divines, and the Puritans of the Elizabethan age.
But to resume. It seems to have been expected by the court party that the proceedings of the Convocation, and the acts of Parliament, injunctions, and proclamations, would, speedily produce an entire conformity. In this expectation they were disappointed. The regular parochial clergy, both in town and country, not only disliked. the vestments themselves, but perceived that, in general, the people bore towards these relics of a persecuting and oppressive system at least an equal aversion. Some, indeed, wore them occasionally, in obedience to the law, but more frequently officiated without them; and although the bishops, most of whom, though at first opposed, had become reconciled to the "scenic apparel," cited such persons into their courts, and admonished them, yet this had little effect, as they had not yet proceeded to suspension and deprivation. At length, information of these irregularities was given to the queen. Her majesty was highly displeased, especially on the ground that so little regard was paid to her laws, and gave strict command to the Archbishop of Canterbury, "to take effectual methods that an exact order and uniformity be maintained in all external rites and ceremonies, as by law and good usages are provided for." 19
This severe and peremptory command immediately roused the bishops to activity, and, in particular, stimulated Archbishop Parker to such a degree of fierce and unrelenting sternness, as seemed completely contrary to all his former life and character. He did his utmost to urge forward Grindal, Bishop of London, to compel the ministers within his diocese to conform, though he well knew that the opinions of that pious prelate were not only averse from every thing like oppression, but were opposed, in particular, to the sacerdotal vestments. Parker framed some articles to enforce the habits, and requested the queen to give them the authority of her sanction. But the pride of Elizabeth could not endure that a subject should frame articles to enforce her decrees, and, instead of ratifying them, she issued a proclamation, requiring immediate uniformity in the habits, on pain of prohibition from preaching, and. deprivation from office.
And now the storm burst forth in earnest. The whole ministers of London were summoned to Lambeth, and the question put to them, Whether they would conform to the apparel established by law, and subscribe their admission on the spot? Those who should refuse were to be suspended immediately, and after three months deprived of their livings. Threats, persuasions, and the dread of poverty, induced sixty-one out of one hundred to subscribe; thirty-seven absolutely refused, and were immediately suspended, – and those thirty-seven, as their oppressor admitted, were the best and ablest preachers in the city. 20 Many churches were at once shut up, the ruling party disregarding the loss of religious privileges to the congregations, in their zeal to enforce conformity in matters which they themselves admitted to be in their own nature indifferent. After a short interval, many of the most pious and able men were ejected from the churches, and cast upon the world in a state of utter destitution, even forbid to preach to others that Gospel which had been to their own souls glad tidings of great joy. Surely it had been a strange and a portentous thing to see such men as Miles Coverdale, the translator of the Bible, in his feeble but most venerable age, and Fox, the martyrologist, whose writings had done so much for the overthrow of Popery, and, the support of the reformed faith, driven from their homes and weeping rocks, and exposed to reproach and poverty, because they would not consent to disfigure their persons with the gaudy vestments characteristic of Romish superstition. In vain did the oppressed Puritans, – for we may now fairly use that distinctive appellation, – apply to the Earl of Leicester, the Earl of Bedford, and such other noblemen as were known to be favorable to them, imploring these distinguished men to do their utmost to procure some mitigation of such oppressive measures. No mitigation could be obtained. To conform or to suffer were the only alternatives; and they nobly chose the latter rather than violate conscience.
These severe measures adopted by the court party, and prosecuted with such unrelenting rigor against their better brethren, attracted the attention of the reformed churches in other countries. The continental divines wrote frequently to England on the subject, but without effect. The Church of Scotland, which had. been reformed. and reorganized on a truly scriptural model, by the blessing of God on the strenuous exertions of John Knox, also addressed an earnest and, affectionate remonstrance to the English prelates, imploring them to treat their faithful and suffering brethren with greater tenderness, disapproving, at the same time, of their preposterous attachment to the superstitious trappings of Rome. 21 But all was in vain: brotherly kindness and Christian charity must equally be sacrificed to gratify the queen’s taste for idle pageantry, and to cover the mean and self-condemned compliance of her courtly prelates. The ejected Puritan ministers found extreme difficulty in obtaining opportunities for preaching; and some remained entirely silent. Many pamphlets, were, however, written by them, which tended to keep alive and spread their opinions, and which were eagerly read by the people. This drew from the Star Chamber a decree, strictly prohibiting the publication of all such writings, under heavy penalties.
Thus, commanded to conform even against the dictates of conscience, ejected from their churches and forbidden to preach anywhere else, and deprived of the liberty of the press, the Puritans were driven to that extreme point where endurance ceases and active resistance begins. Accordingly, they met, and gravely and solemnly deliberated, Whether it were not now both lawful and necessary to separate from the Established Church? After much earnest consultation, they came to the solemn and important conclusion, That since they could not have the word of God preached, nor the sacraments administered, without "idolatrous gear," as they termed the vestments and ceremonies, and since there had been a separate congregation in London, and another in Geneva, in Queen Mary’s time, in which there was a book and order of preaching, administration of sacraments and discipline, free from the superstitions of the English service, it was their duty, in the present circumstances, to separate from the public churches, and to assemble, as they had opportunity, in private houses or elsewhere, to worship God in a manner that might not offend. against the light of their consciences. 22 This most important event took place in the summer of the year 1500, and from that time onward the Puritan party may be regarded as forming a body distinct from the Church of England, although they were the true successors of the first and greatest reforming fathers of that Church.
It would be a great mistake to suppose, that the only subject in dispute between the Puritans and their antagonists was that respecting clerical vestments. That formed, indeed, a very prominent point in the controversy, because it was so apparent, and so easily brought under the terms of a royal proclamation. But there were many, and these still more important matters, which they wished to have reformed. Of these, the most prominent were the following. They regarded the assumed superiority of bishops over presbyters, as a higher order, and the claim, on their part, of the sole right of ordination, discipline, and government, as unscriptural in itself, and tending both to secularize them, and to produce an intolerable despotism. Along with this, they complained of the whole array of cathedral practices as of the same character, and equally unwarranted. They lamented the want of discipline, in consequence of which it was impossible to maintain the purity of the most sacred. ordinances. Regarding set forms of prayer as properly intended to meet the necessities of a time of ignorance, they did not dispute their lawfulness, while they wished a greater liberty in prayer, where such help was not required; and. they disapproved also of too many repetitions, of responses, and of several exceptionable expressions, particularly in the marriage and funeral services. They disapproved of the reading of the apocryphal books in the church; and while they regarded the homilies as in themselves valuable, they held that no man should be ordained to the ministry who was not himself able to preach, and to expound the Scriptures. While they complained of pluralities, non-residence, and an unpreaching clergy, they viewed these as caused chief by patronage exercised by the queen, bishops, and. lay-patrons, and held that it ought to be abolished, and ministers to be appointed by the election of the people. They condemned, on the one hand, the keeping of church-festivals and saints’ days, and on the other, the open and vagrant violation of the Lord’s day, as equally contrary to Scripture. Cathedral worship, chanted prayers, and instrumental music, they also condemned, as tending rather to amuse than to edify. And they declared their great reluctance to comply with certain rites and ceremonies which were strictly enjoined, and which they regarded as superstitious or unmeaning, such as the sign of the cross in baptism, baptism by midwives, the exclusion of parents and the employment of godfathers and godmothers, the rite of confirmation, kneeling at the communion, as implying transubstantiation, bowing at the name of Jesus, the ring in marriage, and certain foolish words used in the ceremony, and the wearing of the surplice and other ceremonies used in divine service.
When so many, and such important topics were all equally in dispute, and not the slightest redress could be obtained, but conformity in every particular was enforced with the most oppressive and unrelaxing rigor, it was not strange that the persecuted Puritans should determine to separate themselves from a Church which they regarded as but half reformed, and which sternly refused to advance to a more pure and perfect reformation, according, not to the will of princes, but to the Word of God. And the time may come, when the Church of England will bitterly bewail the insane conduct of those who, in that reforming period, took up and pursued a course which crushed the life-spring out of its heart, and swathed up the cold and paralyzed remains, to lie in state, a decent but a dead formality.
The chief leaders of the separation, according to Fuller, were the Rev. Messrs Colman, Button, Halingham, Benson, White, Rowland, and Hawkins, all of whom held benefices within the diocese of London. No sooner was the queen informed that the Puritans had begun to form separate assemblies for worship, than she commanded her commissioners to take effectual measures to keep the laity to their parish churches; and to let them know, that if they frequented conventicles, or broke the ecclesiastical laws, they should, for the first offense, be deprived of the freedom of the city, and then abide what further punishment she would direct. But the requirements of conscience are stronger than a sovereign’s threats. They continued to hold their private meetings; and, on the 10th of June 1507, they agreed to have a sermon preached and the communion dispensed at Plumbers’ Hall, which they engaged for that day. 23 The day came, and they assembled to worship the God of peace, but their peaceful worship was rudely interrupted by the entrance of the armed officers of the civil power, who seized upon the chief, dispersed the rest, and dragged their victims to prison. Next day they were brought before the Bishop of London, and the chief magistrate of the city, charged with the heinous offense of forsaking the Church which persecuted them, and setting up separate assemblies for worship. They defended their conduct ably; but because they would not yield, they were, to the number of twenty-four men and seven women, sent to Bridewell, where they endured the hardships of more than a year’s imprisonment.
A parliament was held in 1571, in which there were some attempts made to procure a further reformation. One member, Mr. Strickland, proposed to bring in a bill for that purpose, asserting that the Prayer-Book, with some superstitious remains of Popery in the Church, might be altered without any danger to religion. Her majesty was so displeased, that she sent for him to the council, reproved him sharply, and forbade his attendance in Parliament; but this caused such an alarm in the House of Commons, as a dangerous invasion of their privileges, that she found it convenient to remove her prohibition. An act was passed, ratifying the Thirty-nine Articles, which had been framed by the Convocation of 1562; and one clause in that act admitted the validity of ordination by presbyters alone, without a bishop. 24 This clause was greatly disliked by the bishops, and has been repeatedly condemned by their successors, but remains still unrepealed. The House of Commons were desirous also that articles of discipline should be framed and enacted; but when this was discountenanced by the bishops, they presented an address to the queen, representing the grievous injuries sustained by the Church and kingdom for want of true and efficient discipline, supplicating her majesty that proper laws might be provided and enacted for the reformation of these abuses. But the queen dissolved the Parliament without answering this supplication.
Although little was done in the Parliament to relieve the oppressed Puritans, some steps were taken by the Convocation which tended to increase their oppression. A canon of discipline was framed, empowering the bishops to call in all their licenses for preaching, and to issue new licenses to those only whose qualifications gained their approbation; and among the qualifications specified, subscription to all the points of which the Puritans complained was particularly mentioned. These canons were not sanctioned by royal authority; but the bishops, knowing well the queen’s inclinations, did not hesitate to enforce them with great rigor. Numbers of the Puritan divines were immediately deprived of their licenses to preach, because they refused to subscribe canons not yet legalized; and it became apparent that a formidable crisis was at hand.
At the very time that the bishops were thus silencing the persons whom they themselves admitted to be the best preachers in the kingdom, the state of religion throughout the country was truly deplorable. Of this Strype, no Puritan, presents the following outline: – "The churchmen heaped up many benefices upon themselves, and resided upon none, neglecting their cures; many of them alienated their lands, made unreasonable leases, and wastes of their woods; granted reversions and advowsons to their wives and children, or to others for their use. Churches ran greatly into dilapidations and decays; and were kept nasty and filthy, and indecent for God’s worship. Among the laity there was little devotion. The Lord’s day greatly profaned, and little observed. The common prayers not frequented. Some lived without any service of God at all. Many were mere heathens and atheists. The queen’s own court an harbor for epicures and atheists, and a kind of lawless place, because it stood in no parish. Which things made good men fear some sad judgments impending over the nation." 25
Perceiving that there was no prospect whatever of any further reformation in religious matters proceeding from either the sovereign or the convocation, and lamenting the wretched ignorance and immorality which prevailed in the kingdom, the Puritans now resolved to exert themselves to the utmost of their means and opportunities for their own instruction, and that of their perishing countrymen. And as Dr. Scambler, Bishop of Peterborough, was less intolerant than many of his order, the ministers within his diocese, particularly those of Northampton, with his approbation and that of the mayor of the town, formed an association for promoting the purity of worship and the maintenance of discipline. The regulations of this association were very temperate, involving no departure from any of the established modes of worship, nor any rigid disciplinary arrangements. And as they were aware of the extreme inability to preach instructively, which characterized very many of the clergy, they endeavored also to provide a remedy for this evil. For this purpose they instituted what they termed "prophesyings," taking the designation from 1 Corinthians 14: 31, "Ye may all prophesy one by one, that all may learn, and all may be comforted." In these prophesyings one presided, and a text previously selected was explained by one of the ministers to whom it had been assigned. After his exposition, each in turn gave his view of the passage; and the whole exercise was summed up by the president or moderator for the day, who concluded by exhorting all to persevere in the discharge of their sacred duties. 26 This scheme, it is evident, was admirably calculated to increase the scriptural knowledge, and promote the usefulness of the clergymen who engaged in it; and it deserved the cordial approbation of all who were desirous to promote the religious welfare of the community. But it was regarded with jealousy by the bishops, and ere long encountered the keen hostility of Elizabeth herself.
When the Parliament met in 1572, an attempt was made by the House of Commons to mitigate the sufferings of the Puritans, and they passed two bills for that purpose. This gave such offense to the queen, that she sharply reproved them for interfering in such matters, and commanded them to deliver up the bills. One of the members boldly complained of this conduct, as trenching upon the liberty of Parliament, and for his boldness was sent to the Tower. The Puritans, who had reason to expect some countenance from the Parliament, prepared a full statement of their grievances and. their desires, in a treatise entitled, "An Admonition to the Parliament." But while the Parliament was not permitted to grant any redress, the authors of the Admonition were cast into prison, and treated with great severity. Whitgift was appointed to answer the Admonition, and Cartwright answered Whitgift, which led to a lengthened controversy between these learned and able men. Each, and still more eagerly the partisans of each, claimed the victory; but the controversy did not terminate with the writings of these antagonists, nor is it yet terminated. It is waged in the present day with equal keenness, and not inferior ability; it may be added, with no novelty in its leading principles, and very little in its arguments. Cartwright maintained, that the Scriptures were not only the sole standard of doctrine, but also of discipline and government, and that the Church of Christ in all ages was to be regulated by them. Whitgift held, that the Scriptures were a rule of faith; but not designed to be a standard of discipline and government, – that this was changeable, and might be adapted to the civil government of any country, – and that the times of the apostles could not be the best model, but rather the first four centuries of the Church, during which she had reached a matured development. In what do these views essentially differ from the advocates and opponents of Patristic theology in the present day? Till men agree in some leading principles by which any great controversy must be ruled, it is vain to expect that it can ever be brought to a satisfactory conclusion; yet those who appeal to Scripture authority alone, must surely be held to – be following the most proper and authoritative method in discussions of that nature.
All hope of legislative assistance in prosecuting further reformation being cut off by the queen’s arbitrary procedure, the Puritans resolved to take another step, still more daring and decisive than any on which they had previously ventured. Several of the ministers of London and its vicinity met together and determined to form themselves into a presbytery, to be held at Wandsworth, a village on the banks of the Thames, about five miles from the city. On the 20th of November 1572, about fifteen ministers met, eleven elders were chosen to form members of the body; their offices were described in a register, entitled, "The Orders of Wandsworth;" and this was the first fully constituted Presbyterian Church in England. 27 The intelligence of this event soon reached the bishops; the Court of High Commission took alarm; the queen issued a proclamation for enforcing the Act of Uniformity; but the Presbytery of Wandsworth for a time eluded the fury of their enemies, and other presbyteries were formed in neighboring counties.
There was now little possibility of reconciliation between the High Church and the Puritan parties; for the unbending determination of the former not to grant the slightest relief to the sufferings of their brethren, nor the least accommodation to their aggrieved consciences, had driven them from mere nonconformity into the adoption of a different form of Church polity, possessing in itself the elements of perpetuity and growth. Puritanism had thenceforward not only a vital principle, but also systematic organization, enabling it to live on, and increase in spite of any amount of persecution; for a system dies not with the individuals that held it, but draws into itself the fresh life of succeeding generations.
Having thus traced the rise of Puritanism, and seen its systematic organization, it will not be necessary to follow its progress so minutely in what remains of this introductory outline. We shall content ourselves with touching briefly on the main events which mark the growing development of the leading principles characteristic of the two contending parties.
The sufferings of the Puritans continued unabated during the remainder of the life of Archbishop Parker; many of them being silenced, imprisoned, banished, and otherwise oppressed by that relentless prelate. In vain did the House of Commons, and several influential noblemen, repeatedly interpose in their behalf; they were detested by the queen, and Parker was ready to gratify her majesty without scruple, and to any extent. In particular, he strove to suppress the "prophesyings," declaring that they were nests of Puritanism; and by his complaints he succeeded. in directing against them the vengeance of the despotic sovereign. He did not, however, live to direct the storm which he had raised, but died in May 1570, and was succeeded by Grindal.
Grindal, aware of the opposition to the exercises or prophesyings which had. been raised by his predecessor, attempted to regulate them so that no offense might be taken, or at least that they might be the more easily defended. But the queen had formed her resolution, from which she could not be moved by the most respectful and elaborate arguments, and the most humble entreaties of the afflicted archbishop. She "declared herself offended at the numbers of preachers, and also at the exercises, and warned him to redress both, urging that it was good for the Church to have few preachers, and that three or four might suffice for a county ; and that the reading of the homilies to the people was enough. In short, she required him to do these two things, – to abridge the number of preachers, and to put down the religious exercises." 28 This peremptory command both grieved and alarmed Grindal, who knew the excessive ignorance which prevailed both among the preachers and the people, and was anxious to promote whatever tended to the increase of religious knowledge and purity. He wrote to her majesty a long and earnest letter, entering fully into the subject, pleading the importance of preaching as the divinely appointed method of communicating religious instruction to the people, – showing how admirably these exercises were fitted to improve the ministers who joined in them, and consequently to qualify them for the discharge of their chief function; and after imploring her not to suppress so valuable an institution, and stating his readiness to resign his office if that were her pleasure, declared that he could not, without offense to the majesty of God, send out injunctions for suppressing the exercises. To this solemn appeal the queen’s answer was – an order for the imprisonment of Grindal in his house, and his suspension from his function for six months; and an immediate suppression of the prophesyings by the authority of a royal proclamation. Such were the fruits of the Crown’s ecclesiastical supremacy, when possessed by a despotic monarch. It may be added, that Grindal had the firmness to maintain his integrity for eight years, during which his suspension continued, and his archiepiscopal functions were generally performed by a commission; but at length he yielded so far as to suppress the exercises within his own jurisdiction, though he would not issue injunctions to that effect to the bishops. Unhappily it was not necessary; they were in general but too ready to obey the arbitrary commands of their haughty and despotic sovereign.
A few years afterwards another development of regal and prelatic tyranny appeared, in an act passed by the Parliament of 1580, prohibiting the publication of books or pamphlets assailing the opinions of the Prelates, and defending those of the Puritans. In the same session of Parliament another act was passed, one portion of which empowered the infliction of heavy fines and imprisonment upon those who absented themselves from "church, chapel, or other place where common prayer is said, according to the Act of Uniformity." The apparatus of persecution was now nearly complete; and the pernicious character of the Crown’s ecclesiastical supremacy was sufficiently evident in at least its main aspect, although it subsequently reached a far more terrible degree of persecuting intolerance. These harsh and oppressive measures had, however, as might have been expected, an effect the very reverse of that which their authors intended. Some of timid and wavering minds might be terrified and subdued; but the bolder and more high-principled men became only the more determined in proportion to the severity and intolerance of the treatment which they had to encounter. In their indignation they began to entertain feelings and opinions from which they would have shrunk, had they not been driven to extremities. Ceasing to complain of Popish vestments and ceremonies, and to supplicate a further reformation, some began to question whether the Church of England ought to be regarded as a true Church, and her ministers true Christian ministers. They not only renounced communion with her in her forms of prayer and her ceremonies, but also in the dispensation of word and ordinance.
The leader of these men of extreme views was Robert Brown, a person who held a charge in the diocese of Norwich, whose family connections gave him considerable influence, and procured him protection, he being nearly related to Lord Treasurer Cecil. Brown appears to have been a man of hot and impetuous temper; rash and variable, except when opposed, and then headstrong and overbearing. Throwing himself headlong into the Puritan controversy, he traversed the country from place to place, pouring out the most fierce and bitter invectives against the whole Prelatic party, and also against all who could not concur with him in the rude violence of his mode of warfare. After repeated imprisonments, and many attempts to form a new party, he at last partially succeeded in collecting a small body of like-minded adherents; but was soon afterwards compelled to leave the kingdom, and to withdraw to Holland with a portion of his followers. There he formed a Church according to his own fancy; but it was soon torn to pieces with internal dissension, and Brown returned again to England, and exhibiting one of those recoils by no means rare with men of vehement temperament, he renounced his principles of separation, conformed to that worship which he had so violently assailed, and became rector of a parish in Northamptonshire. The remainder of his life was by no means distinguished by correctness of deportment, or purity of manners; and at length he terminated his unhonored days in the county jail, in the eighty-first year of his age. 29 From this person the first form of what has since been termed the Independent, or Congregational system of Church government, appears to have had its origin, the great majority of the Puritans either retaining their connection with the Church of England in a species of constrained half-conformity, or associating on the Presbyterian model. Brown not only renounced communion with the Church of England, but also with all others of the reformed Churches who would not adopt the model which he had constructed. The main principles of that model were, that every church ought to be confined within a single congregation; that its government should be the most complete democracy; and. that there was no distinction in point of order between the office bearers and the ordinary members, so that a vote of the congregation was enough to constitute any man an office-bearer, and to entitle him to preach and to administer the sacraments. Those who adopted these opinions, and formed Congregational Churches on the same model, were at first termed Brownists, and were regarded by the main body of the Puritans with nearly as much dislike as they were by the Prelatists.
In stating that the Independent, or Congregational system of Church government may be said to have originated with Robert Brown, it is not meant that those who at present adhere to that form of ecclesiastical polity are Brownists, as that term was applied at first; but merely that Brown appears to have been the first who actually, in the formation of a Church, embodied that idea, and that too in a much more rigid and repulsive form than it subsequently assumed, when again taken up and reconstructed by wiser and better men. Rut it is of importance to mark beginnings, especially when these teach lessons of great practical value. One of these may be here very easily learned. The extreme pertinacity with which the queen and her obsequious servants the bishops strove to enforce entire conformity, produced an antagonist principle, whose very essence was direct antipathy to their eager wish, rendering it for ever impossible that their purpose could be accomplished. Another remark may be made: the system devised by Brown was, in its first appearance, altogether as intolerant, both in principle and in practice, as that of its opponent, Prelacy; but in the stern strife which afterwards ensued between these equally intolerant antagonists, they so far neutralized each other, as to give occasion to the gradual, though even yet incomplete, development of the great principle of religious toleration, – a principle utterly unknown to any party at the time, even while its rainbow-form was beginning to bend its gentle radiance across the thunder-gloom of their contention.
The death of Archbishop Grindal gave the queen an opportunity of promoting to that influential station which he had held, a person more according to her own mind, who would feel no compunction in proceeding to extremities against the Puritans. Her choice was easily made. Whitgift had already distinguished himself by his controversial writings against Cartwright, and was well prepared to enforce by power what he had failed to accomplish by argument. Scarcely was Whitgift placed in his seat of power, when he began to show how that power would be used. He drew up and published three articles, requiring that none be permitted to preach, or execute any part of the ecclesiastical function, unless he should subscribe them. These articles were to the following effect: – 1 st, The queen’s supremacy over all persons, and in all causes, civil and ecclesiastical. 2 d, That the Rook of Common Prayer and of Ordination contained nothing contrary to the Word of God; and that they will use it, and no other. 3 d, Implicit subscription of the Thirty-nine Articles. 30 The Puritans would readily have acknowledged the queen’s supremacy over all persons, and in all causes civil, but not in causes ecclesiastical; the second article they could not subscribe; the third they were ready to subscribe with little difficulty. But they were all rigidly enforced; and in a short time several hundred of the best ministers in England were suspended for not subscribing. Not thinking even this sufficient, Whitgift applied to the queen to institute a new High Commission, that he might be enabled to wield a direct and irresistible power. She readily consented, and even gave to it an additional element of despotism, empowering the commissioners to impose an oath ex officio, – by means of which persons accused were bound, on their oath, to answer questions against themselves, and thus become their own accusers, or to be punished, by fine or imprisonment, for refusing to take such an oath, or to criminate themselves. The prelatic inquisition was now complete in its apparatus, and Whitgift was well qualified to act as the grand inquisitor.
The work of oppression went on now rapidly. Mercy to preachers or people there was none. Elizabeth’s wisest statesmen stood aghast, when they beheld the desolating effect of Whitgift’s measures; but they interposed in vain. Cecil, Burleigh, and Walsingham, had less influence with the queen than Whitgift; because their advice was but accordant with the dictates of prudence and Christianity, – his with those of vanity and despotism. When Parliament met, the House of Commons attempted to stem the tide of persecution; and having received several petitions from the Puritans, they prepared various bills to abridge the power of the bishops, to reform abuses, and to promote discipline. But, with considerable dexterity, Whitgift suggested to the queen, that if the Parliament were to pass any such measures, they could not be repealed by any other authority; whereas, whatsoever she should herself, or by the convocation, enact, her own authority could at any time repeal. 31 Elizabeth welcomed the suggestion. She reprimanded the Commons for interfering with ecclesiastical matters, which was touching her prerogative, and they were compelled, to yield.
The Puritans, thus driven from all legislative remedy, yet regarded it as their duty, in their character of Christian teachers, to exert themselves to the utmost for their own improvement, and for the instruction and reformation of the ignorant and neglected people. They accordingly formed a Book of Discipline, for their own direction in the discharge of their ministerial and pastoral duties; and this book was subscribed by above five hundred of the most eminently pious and faithful ministers in the kingdom. 32 This body was far too numerous and important to be easily or wantonly crushed; and yet, as Neal informs us, it constituted, in reality, but a small portion of those over whom the terrors of suspension at that period hung, amounting to not less than a third part of the ministers of England.
A. new principle was now promulgated, for the support of prelatic power, of a more formidable nature than any that had hitherto appeared, and destined to produce the most disastrous results. Dr. Bancroft, the archbishop’s chaplain, in a sermon which he preached at Paul’s Cross, January 12, 1588, maintained that bishops were a distinct order from priests or presbyters, and had authority over them jure divino, and directly from God. 33 This bold assertion created an immense ferment throughout the kingdom. The Puritans saw well, that, if acted upon, this principle would increase their oppression to an incalculable degree, inasmuch as it must subject them to an accusation of heresy, in addition to that of resistance to the queen’s supremacy. The greater part of even the Prelatic party themselves were startled with the novelty of the doctrine; for none of the English reformers had ever regarded the order of bishops as any thing else but a human institution, appointed for the more orderly government of the Church, and they were not prepared at once to condemn as heretical all Churches where that institution did not exist. Whitgift himself, perceiving the use which might be made of such a tenet, said, that the Doctor’s sermon had, done much good, – though, for his own part, he rather wished, than believed it to be true. On the other hand, the legal assertors of the queen’s supremacy assailed this theory, as subversive of her majesty’s prerogative; for, as they reasoned, if the bishops are not undergovernors to her majesty of the clergy, but superior governors over their brethren, by God’s ordinance, it will then follow that her majesty is not supreme governor over her clergy. Bancroft answered, that this inference was not; a necessary consequence of his doctrine; because the sovereign’s authority may, and very often does, corroborate that which is primarily from the law of God. This evasive reply seems to have satisfied the queen, aided, perhaps, by her own knowledge of its direct purpose, and of the character of her bishops, who longed for the extirpation of Puritanism, but had no desire to encounter her leonine wrath. The terrific power of this despotic principle did not, indeed, appear till after the lapse of two generations, – when, wielded by Laud, it convulsed the kingdom, and overthrew the monarchy. Its portentous reappearance in modern times may well excite alarm; embodying, as it does, the very essence of despotism, civil and religious, and possessing an energy that nothing human can control without a struggle, wide, wasting, and deadly, – too fearful even to be imagined.
The struggle assumed a less serious aspect for a short time, in consequence of the publication of the famous Martin Mar-Prelate Tracts. Some of the Puritan party had procured a printing-press, – the liberty of the press having been taken away previously, – and commenced a series of pamphlets, containing attacks of wit, ridicule, mockery, and keen vituperation, against the bishops and their supporters. Many of these tracts displayed very considerable power of sarcasm and invective; and as they were written intentionally for the mass of the nation, they were composed in a style not merely plain, but affectedly rude and vulgar. They were not, however, to be despised. Amidst much coarse vituperation, they contained statements of facts which could not be disputed, set forth with such home-thrusting vigor, as caused every direct and strong-aimed blow to tell upon the assailed prelates. Great was the indignation and dismay of the bishops and their friends, and every exertion was made to detect and seize the hidden armory of this unseen assailant. For a considerable time these efforts were unsuccessful, and the Prelatic party were constrained to attempt their own defense in literary warfare. But although they displayed considerable talent and activity in this attempt, they were not able to match their unknown antagonists, whose writings produced a deep and wide-spread. impression on the public mind. At length the Martin Mar-Prelate press was seized, with several unfinished tracts, and that aspect of the struggle terminated, but not till the Prelatic cause had sustained very considerable injury.
In the year 1501 the Parliament again met, and the House of Commons once more attempted to rescue the suffering Puritans, by instituting an inquiry into the conduct of the High Commission, in imposing oaths and subscriptions not sanctioned by law. The queen was highly incensed, commanded them not to meddle with matters of state or causes ecclesiastical, and threw several of the members, and even the attorney-general, into prison. The Parliament, with a tameness unworthy of the spirit of free-born Englishmen, not merely yielded, but passed an act for the suppression of conventicles, by which was meant all religious meetings, except such as the queen and the bishops were pleased to permit, on pain of perpetual banishment. The principle of this act was of the most despotic nature, converting any difference from the religion of the sovereign into a crime against the State, and rendering the mere want of conformity equivalent to a proof of direct opposition. Great numbers were subjected to the most grievous sufferings through this enactment. Some went into voluntary exile, to escape the horrors of imprisonment; some endured a lengthened captivity, and then were banished; and some, chiefly of the Brownists, were condemned to death, and on the scaffold declared their loyalty to their sovereign, while they ceased not to testify against the tyranny of the prelates.
The controversy between the High Churchmen and the Puritans obtained the full development of all its main principles in the year 1505. At this time Dr. Bound published a treatise on the Sabbath; in which he maintained its perpetual sanctity, as a day of rest equally from business and recreation, that it might be devoted wholly to the worship of God. 34 All the Puritans assented to this doctrine, while the Prelatists accused it as both an undue restraint of Christian liberty and an improper exalting of the Sabbath above the other festivals appointed by the Church. About the same time, a controversy arose in Cambridge respecting those doctrinal points which form the leading distinctions between the Arminian and the Calvinistic systems of theology. Till this period there had existed no doubt in the minds of any of the English divines that the Thirty-nine Articles were decidedly and intentionally Calvinistic. Indeed they could have no other opinion; because they were perfectly aware how much influence the writings of Calvin exercised over the minds of those by whom these Articles were framed. After the controversy had prevailed in the university a short time, an appeal was made to Whitgift, who, with the aid of other learned divines, prepared nine propositions, commonly called the Lambeth Articles, to which all the scholars in the university were strictly enjoined to conform their judgments. 35 These Lambeth Articles were more strictly Calvinistic than Calvin himself would have desired; and certainly prove that, in its early period, the Church of England was any thing but Arminian, whatever it may have since become. But though Whitgift was himself still a thorough Calvinist, considerable numbers of the Prelatic party were veering towards Arminianism; so that, partly on that account, and partly on account of their more strict observance of the Sabbath sanctity, the Puritans were now led to a more important field of conflict than that on which they had hitherto striven against their antagonists; and instead of contending about vestments and ceremonies, they now strove respecting great and important doctrines, and began to be termed Doctrinal Puritans. This led to two directly opposite results. It caused the Prelatists to swerve more and more widely from those doctrines which the Puritans maintained; and it impelled the Puritans to prosecute a profound study of those points, which had thus become the elements of controversy. This may account for the remarkable power and accuracy with which the Puritan divines of that and the succeeding generation state and explain the most solemn and profound truths of the Christian revelation.
At length what may be termed a cessation of hostilities ensued. The queen was now evidently sinking under the infirmities of age, and both parties began to speculate upon the probable measures which might be adopted by her successor, James VI of Scotland. The Puritans hoped that his Presbyterian education might predispose him to be favorable to their views; and the Prelatic party were unwilling to exasperate, by continued severity, those who might possibly, ere long, be the ruling body in the Church. Both parties paused, at least in action; but there is no reason to suppose that their feelings of mutual jealousy and dislike were abated. Nor was it consistent with the usual policy, or king-craft of James, to declare his sentiments and intentions, but rather to hold out plausible grounds of expectation to both parties, – thereby to secure the support of both, or at least to disarm the direct hostility of either.
Queen Elizabeth died on the 24th day of March 1608, in the seventieth year of her age, and forty-fifth of her reign. In the following month, James left his native land, commencing his journey to London to take possession of the English throne, to which he was now the direct heir. On his progress southward, the Puritan ministers availed themselves of the opportunity to lay before him what is commonly termed the Millenary Petition. This name it did not receive because it was signed by one thousand ministers, for the actual number was seven hundred and fifty; but because, in the preamble, it is said by the petitioners, "That they, to the number of more than a thousand ministers, groaned under the burden of human rites and ceremonies, and cast themselves at his majesty’s feet for relief." That their number was not overstated is evident from the fact, that the petition was subscribed by the ministers of no more than twenty-five counties, chiefly those of the northern, westland, and midland parts of the kingdom; so that probably not more than one-half of the Puritan ministers had an opportunity of signing their millenary petition. 36
On the other hand, the Prelatic party were at least equally strenuous in their endeavors to secure his majesty’s favor; and, as might be expected from their practiced courtier arts and ready obsequiousness, were more successful. But as James had given a friendly reception to both parties, and as he was vain of his own acquirements in theology, and of his skill in polemical discussions, which he wished to exhibit to his new subjects, he thought proper to appoint a conference between the two parties, to be conducted in his own presence, as anal judge in all such matters. This gave occasion to the famous Hampton Court Conference, an account of which was afterwards published by Dr. Barlow, dean of Chester, one of the disputants on the Prelatic side. The Puritans complained that Barlow gave a partial account of this conference, representing the Prelatic arguments in the best manner of which they could admit, and weakening and abridging those of the opposite party. Even from the outline given by Fuller and Collier this is evident; and yet so futile are the arguments of the king and the prelates, that one is ashamed to read them, as reproduced by their own historians. In Barlow’s own treatise, which is now lying before me, the mean and abject servility of manner, and the gross and fulsome flattery of language, employed by the prelates towards James, are such as to cause the cheek of every person of generous and manly nature to burn with indignant scorn. A very brief account of this conference is all that can be given here.
The place appointed for this conference was the drawing-room at Hampton Court. On the High Church side the disputants were – the Archbishop of Canterbury, Whitgift; bishops, – Bancroft of London, Matthew of Durham, Bilson of Winchester, Babington of Worcester, Rudd of St. David’s, Watson of Chichester, Robinson of Carlisle, and Dove of Peterborough; deans, – Andrews of the Chapel, Overal of St. Paul’s, Barlow of Chester, and Bridges of Salisbury; and Dr. Field and Dr. King. On the part of the Puritans there were only four ministers, – Dr. Reynolds and Dr. Sparks, professors of divinity in Oxford; and Mr. Chadderton and Mr. Knewstubbs of Cambridge. The first day was a conference between the king and the prelates, in which his majesty praised the Church of England, and expressed his wish for satisfaction on a few points in the Prayer-Book, respecting excommunication, and about providing ministers for Ireland. By this an opportunity was given to the king and the prelates to form a mutual understanding before they encountered their opponents. On the second day, Dr. Reynolds stated, in the name of the Puritans, and in the briefest possible form, the points on which the controversy chief turned, humbly requesting, –
1. That the doctrine of the Church might be preserved in purity, according to God’s Word.
2. That good pastors might be planted in all churches, to preach the same.
3. That the Church government might be sincerely ministered, according to God’s Word.
4. That the Book of Common Prayer might be fitted to more increase of piety." 37
Had these points been fairly discussed, the whole controversy might have been investigated, and some approximation might have been made towards an agreement, or at least a pacific arrangement, between the contending parties. But the king interrupted, reviled, and stormed; the courtiers laughed and mocked; and the prelates, by insinuations, interruptions, flatteries addressed to the king, and sneers directed against the Puritans, succeeded in preventing such a discussion as would have brought out the great principles of the controversy, and in assisting to overbear the Puritans with insult and ridicule. The king repeated his favorite maxim, – "No bishop, no king;" and, at the close of the day, asked Dr. Reynolds if he had any thing else to offer. He, perceiving the futility of continuing such a discussion, answered, "No more, please your majesty." "Then," said the king, "if this be all your party have to say, I will make them conform, or I will harrie (spoil) them out of the land, or else do worse."
The greater part of the third day’s conference was occupied by the king and the prelates in matters relating to the High Commission, the oath ex officio, and the slight alterations proposed in the Prayer-Book. Of all these the king expressed his approbation; and then the Puritan divines were again called in to this mock conference. They now knew that no alterations such as they had desired would be obtained; and, therefore, they contented themselves with supplicating some concessions in point of conformity, in behalf of those ministers who could not in conscience submit to the rites and ceremonies of the Church. The king sternly declared that they must conform, and that quickly too, or they should hear of it. Thus ended the Hampton Court Conference, "which," says Dr. Warner, "convinced the Puritans that they were mistaken in depending on the king’s protection; which convinced the king that they were not to be won by a few insignificant concessions; and which, if it did not convince the privy council and the bishops that they had got a Solomon for their king, yet they spoke of him as though it did." 38 Even this does not fully express the extravagant strain of adulation in which they spoke. The Archbishop of Canterbury (Whitgift)" said that undoubtedly his majesty spake by the special assistance of God’s Spirit." Bancroft, Bishop of London, "upon his knee protested, that his heart melted within him with joy, and made haste to acknowledge to Almighty God the singular mercy we have received at his hands, in giving us such a king, as since Christ his time the like he thought hath not been." 39 Little wonder that the vain and pedantic monarch was delighted with his bishops.
In the Convocation which met in 1604, Bancroft presided, Whitgift having died a short time previously. Soon after they met, Bancroft laid before them a Book of Canons, collected out of the articles, injunctions, and synodical acts passed in the reigns of Edward and Elizabeth, to the number of one hundred and forty-one. To these canons both Houses of Convocation assented, and they were ratified by the king’s letters patent, but not confirmed by act of Parliament, so that, though binding on the clergy, they have not the force of statute laws. Of these canons, about three dozen are expressly directed against the Puritan opinions, rendering their junction with the Church impossible without sacrifice of conscience; and one of them requires that no person be ordained, or suffered to preach or catechize, unless he first subscribe willingly, and ex animo, the three articles already mentioned as Whitgift’s articles.
Bancroft was promoted to the archbishopric of Canterbury, vacant by Whitgift’s decease, and immediately proved how well qualified he was to discharge the function of grand inquisitor. He enforced subscription to canons and articles with the utmost rigor, silencing or deposing those Puritan ministers who refused to comply. Considerable numbers were thus reduced to the greatest distress, and some were driven into foreign countries to escape from persecution in their own. And that the archbishop’s persecuting zeal might obtain as full a sanction as could be given to it by a partial and one-sided process, the king summoned the twelve judges to the Star-Chamber, and, in answer to three interrogative propositions, obtained as their legal opinion, That the king, having the supreme ecclesiastical power, could, without Parliament, make orders and constitutions for Church government; that the High Commission might enforce them, ex officio, without libel; and that subjects might not frame petitions for relief without being guilty of an offense finable at discretion, and very near to treason and felony. 40
This strange opinion ascribed to the king power in ecclesiastical matters of the most arbitrary and despotic kind, without limitation or redress; and as the enforcement of it necessarily required the exercise of civil power in the indiction of punishment, it deprived one large class of subjects of all liberty, civil and sacred, and if allowed in one class, might naturally introduce an equal exercise of despotism over every other. This may be regarded as perhaps the first distinct intimation to the kingdom at large of the peril in which civil liberty was placed by the arbitrary proceedings of the sovereign and the prelates in religious affairs; and it is not undeserving of notice, that it was founded on the opinion of civil judges, who, in their interpretation of law, were the subverters of the constitution, and the destroyers of both civil and religious liberty.
By means of the authority thus acquired, the prelates urged on their persecuting career with double eagerness and severity; and the Puritans became, in consequence, so much the more determined in their adherence to their principles. Not merely suffering, but calumny of the grossest kind, was their portion; and ambitious churchmen found that the readiest road to preferment in the Church was to pour forth violent invectives and dark aspersions against the detested Puritans. As an answer to these reproaches, and to vindicate their character, the Puritans published a treatise entitled "English Puritanism," which Dr. Ames (better known by his Latinized name, Amesius) translated into Latin for the information of foreign Churches. It contains a very full and impartial statement of the peculiar opinions of the much calumniated Puritans; and ought to be enough to vindicate them in the judgment of every candid and intelligent person..
[Chapter 1 contd. in next section]
1 Burnet’s History of the Reformation, vol. 1. p. 125.
2 Burnet’s Hist. Ref., vol. 3 p. 144.
3 Burnet’s Hist. Ref., vol. 3 p. 151.
4 Burnet’s Hist. Ref., vol. 1 pp. 333-338.
5 Burnet’s Hist. Ref., vol. 1 pp. 400, 401.
6 Burnet’s Hist. Ref., vol. 2 pp. 116, 127.
7 Ibid., vol. 2 p. 179.
8 Ibid., vol. 2 p. 245, et seq.
9 Burnet’s Hist. Ref., vol. 3 pp. 808, 810.
10 Ibid., vol. 2 p. 326.
11 Burnet’s Hist. Ref., vol. 3 p, 280.
12 M’Crie’s Life of Knox, pp, 86, 87; Neale’s History of the Puritans, vol. 1 pp. 76-82.
13 In the queen’s injunctions, subsequently issued, an explanation was given of the oath of supremacy; in which her majesty declared that she did not pretend to any authority for the ministering of divine service in the Church, and that all that she claimed was that which at all times belonged to the imperial crown of England; – that she had the sovereignty and rule over all manner of persons, under God, so that no foreign power had rule over them. If the oath of supremacy had implied no more than the plain meaning of these words, it would scarcely have been disputed by any; but it would have been ineffectual for the purpose for which it was intended, and it would not have sanctioned much that was done under its authority.
14 The leading men of the first race of Puritans were, Bishops Jewell, Grindal, Horn, Sandys, Pilkington, Parkhurst, and Guest; also Miles Coverdale, Fox, Dr. Humphreys, Mr. Sampson, and many others of scarcely inferior reputation. Even Parker at Grat opposed the Episcopal vestments, and was consecrated without them.
15 Burnet’s Hist. Ref., vol. 3 p. 424.
16 In proof of this, see Life of Knox, Note R.
17 Burnet, vol. 3 p. 443.
18 Burnet’s Hist. Ref., vol. 3 p. 464.
19 Strype’s Life of Parker, p. 155.
20 Strype’s Life of Parker, p. 215.
21 M’Crie’s Life of Knox, p. 295.
22 Strype’s Life of Parker, p, 241.
23 Strype’s Life of Grindal, pp. 115, and 135, 136.
24 In none of the MSS copies of the Thirty-nine Articles, either as passed by the Convocation of 1562, or as ratted by the Parliament of 1571, is the clause in the 20th article to be found, by which the Church of England claims the power "to decree rites and ceremonies." It must have been surreptitiously introduced afterwards by some of the Prelatic party, without civil or ecclesiastical authority. – See Historical and Critical Essays on the Thirty-nine Articles, pp. 277-279.
25 Strype’s Life of Parker, p. 395.
26 Strype’s Life of Grindal, pp. 175, 176.
27 Neal, vol. 1 p. 198; Collier, vol. 2 p. 541.
28 Strype’s Life of Grindal, p. 221.
29 Neal, vol. 1 pp. 245-247; Fuller, vol. 3 pp. 61-65.
30 Neal, vol. 1 pp. 260-263; Fuller, vol. 3 p. 68.
31 Life of Whitgift, p. 198.
32 Neal, vol. 1 pp. 314, 315.
33 Life of Whitgift, p. 292; Collier, vol. 2 p. 609; Neal, vol 1 pp. 321-323.
34 Fuller, vol. 3 pp. 143-146.
35 Fuller, vol. 3 pp. 147-150.
36 Fuller, vol. 3 p. 172; Collier, vol. 2 p. 672; Neal, vol. 1 pp. 871, 392.
37 Hampton Court Conference, p. 23.
38 Ecclesiastical History, vol. 3 p. 482.
39 Hampton Court Conference, pp. 93, 94.
40 Neal, vol. 1 pp. 416, 417.