The violent proceedings of the Prelatic party, and the dangerous nature of the principles avowed by them, began to arouse the kingdom to a sense of the danger to which all liberty was exposed; and the Parliament prepared to interpose, and to seek redress of grievances which were becoming intolerable. But the king met all their remonstrances and petitions for redress with the most lofty assertions of his royal prerogative, in the exercise of which he held himself to be accountable to God alone, affirming it to be sedition in a subject to dispute what a king might do in the height of his power. The Parliament repeated the assertion of their own rights, accused the High Commission of illegal and tyrannical conduct, and advocated a more mild and merciful course of procedure towards the Puritans. Offended with the awakening spirit of freedom thus displayed, the king, by the advice of Bancroft, dissolved the Parliament, resolving to govern, if possible, without Parliaments in future. This arbitrary conduct on the part of James aroused, in the mind of England, a deep and vigilant jealousy with regard to their sovereign’s intentions, which rested not till, in the reign of his son, it broke forth in its strength, and overthrew the monarchy.
When the Puritans found, not only no hope of redress, but a constantly increasing severity of treatment, many of them, as has been stated, fled to the Continent, and there continued to discharge their sacred duties as they could find opportunity. Embittered somewhat by the persecution which they had suffered, and constrained to minister in congregations not united in any common body, several of them began to adopt the opinions at first taught by Brown, to the extent, at least, of regarding the Congregational or Independent as the best system of Church government, though not, like him, to the extent of denying the lawfulness of any other. Of these Mr. Henry Jacob was one, who, having fled to Holland, became acquainted with Mr. Robinson, pastor of a Congregational church at Leyden, and embraced his system. Returning to England in the year 1616, Mr. Jacob imparted his views to several others of the suffering Puritans, who, considering that there was now no prospect of a thorough national reformation, resolved to separate themselves entirely from the Church of England, to unite in Church fellowship, and to maintain the ordinances of Christ in what they had come to regard as the purest form. They met, and in the most solemn manner declared their faith, pledged themselves in a mutual covenant to each other and to God, to walk together in all his ordinances, as he had already revealed, or should further reveal them, chose Mr. Jacob to be their pastor, elected deacons, and thus formed the first congregation of English Independents. Such and so small was the beginning of a body which afterwards became so powerful, and influenced so strongly the movements of the revolutionary period. 41
The strongly contrasted tendencies of the two contending parties, Prelatists and Puritans, were rendered. very apparent in the year 1618, by the publication of the king’s Book of Sports. This book was drawn up by Bishop Moreton, at the king’s direction, and dated from Greenwich, May 24, 1618. 42 The pretext for producing such a book was, that the strictness of the Puritans in keeping the Sabbath-day alienated the people, and left them exposed to the temptations of the Jesuits, who took occasion to seduce them back to Popery. To prevent this his majesty proposed, not that the people should be more carefully instructed in religion, but that, after divine service, they should be indulged in such recreations as dancing, archery, leaping, May-games, Whitsunales, morrice-dances, setting up of May-poles, and such like amusements. That the people should meditate on their religious duties, and prepare to practice the instructions given them in God’s Word, did not seem to his majesty at all a desirable matter, – it might have led them to favor Puritanism. Queen Elizabeth disapproved of preaching, lest it should teach the people to think, and perhaps to inquire into matters of State. King James aimed at the same result by making their only leisure day, when they might possibly attempt the dangerous practice of cultivating their minds, a day of mere recreation. The reason is obvious. Thinking men cannot be slaves; and both these sovereigns were desirous of establishing a complete despotism. Religious men must think, and think solemnly and loftily; therefore, to prevent this, religion must give place to giddy mirth, and God’s hallowed day must be profaned by every kind of idle recreation. And what must be said of the High Church party, who lent their aid in this fearful desecration and despotic scheme? Were they the friends of pure and holy religion, of rational improvement, of public freedom?
This Book of Sports, however, was at first ordered to be read merely in the parish churches of Lancashire; but one author asserts that it would have been speedily extended over the kingdom, but for the decisive refusal of Abbot, who had recently succeeded. Bancroft in the archbishopric of Canterbury. But though a partial enforcement of this desecrating production was all that it could, at that time, obtain, its promulgation gave serious ground of dissatisfaction and dread to all the more decidedly pious persons in the kingdom, both Puritans and Churchmen, and tended not a little to confirm the growing jealousy of High Church measures.
The "king-craft," of which James considered himself so great a master, was perpetually leading him astray, and involving him in dangerous political errors, which, blending with the religious struggles that had so long prevailed, both increased the numbers and gave intensity to the feelings of those who regarded with jealousy the arbitrary measures of the Court. In one of his wise speeches the king gave a large explanation of his views with regard to Puritanism; from which it appeared, that he considered all to be Puritans who dared to oppose his absolute prerogative, and to maintain the rights and liberties established by law. 43 At the same time he discountenanced that system of theology generally termed. Calvinism, though he had previously professed to hold it, and had sent divines to the Synod of Dort, where the opposite system, Arminianism, was condemned. But perceiving that the Puritans were Calvinists, he turned the sunshine of his favor towards those of the clergy who had begun to support Arminian tenets. In this manner he most unwisely brought about a combination of two false and dangerous principles on the one side, and of two true and salutary principles on the other; – the combination of despotism in the State and unsound theology in the Church, against the combination of political liberty and religious purity. The alliances formed on both sides were natural, for there is a strong and essential relationship between the component elements of each; and yet this very combination was the cause of many peculiarities in the struggle which afterwards arose, and of the various aspects which it wore, as the one or the other, political or religious, obtained the ascendancy.
The combination thus begun in theory was soon forced into actual existence, when, in 1620, the king, offended with the Parliament for mentioning the subject of grievances instead of bestowing money, commanded them to forbear intermeddling with his government; and upon their recording in their journals a remonstrance and protestation in defense of their ancient and undoubted rights and privileges, he, in a storm of fury, tore out the protestation with his own hand, dissolved the Parliament, and issued a proclamation forbidding his subjects to talk of State affairs. 44 This was despotism undisguised, and the heart of England understood and felt it. The element of resistance to political tyranny began to work in the minds of men, many of whom had but little regarded the sufferings of the Puritans under an equal tyranny of an ecclesiastical kind. But the storm was delayed, partly by the natural timidity of James, who was incapable of boldly executing what he tyrannically conceived, and partly also in consequence of his death, and the pause which naturally ensued at the commencement of a new reign, till its principles should be ascertained.
Charles I, at his ascension to the throne in 1623, found the kingdom in a truly deplorable condition, – on the point of being convulsed with internal dissension, despised by foreign countries, and its treasury totally exhausted. It would have required a wise and prudent king, and sage and able counselors, to have rescued the nation from such imminent and formidable perils. Rut Charles was narrow-minded and obstinate, impatient of advice except when it coincided with his own notions, bigoted in religious matters, entertaining the most despotic ideas of his royal prerogative, and so full of dissimulation, that neither his word nor the most solemn treaties could bind him, as subsequent events amply proved; and his most trusted counselors were his father’s recent courtier-race of sycophants and oppressors. His marriage to Henrietta, daughter of the French king, and a zealous Papist, caused an additional ground of jealousy, lest persons of that religious persuasion should obtain undue and pernicious influence; and many events tended to strengthen that apprehension. Instead of relaxing the severe and persecuting measures under which the Puritans had so long groaned, Charles, instigated by Laud, Bishop of London, afterwards Archbishop of Canterbury, continued to oppress that body of excellent men with increasing severity.
A contest arose between Charles and his first Parliament, chiefly on account of their remonstrances respecting the dangerous increase of Popery, and their determination to proceed with the impeachment of his favorite, the profligate Duke of Buckingham. To stop these measures, the king suddenly dissolved the Parliament; and as he had not obtained the supplies which he desired, he proceeded to raise money by forced loans, ship-money, and other arbitrary and illegal exactions.45 These violent encroachments upon liberty and property increased the spirit of disaffection which was already strong, compelling all who valued freedom to perceive that some decided stud must be made, unless they were prepared to sink into the degradation of utter slavery.
During the interval which elapsed before the calling of the next Parliament, the clergy were employed to inculcate with all possible earnestness the doctrines of passive obedience and non-resistance, and to prove that the absolute submission of subjects to the royal will and, pleasure, was authoritatively taught in the Holy Scriptures. Eagerly did the courtly divines comply with these directions, vieing with each other who should most strenuously promote the cause of despotism. In this glorious strife Sibthorp and Manwaring were peculiarly distinguished, broadly asserting that the king is not bound to observe the laws of the realm, – that the authority of Parliament is not necessary for the imposing of taxes, – and that those who refuse obedience transgress the laws of God, insult the king’s supreme authority, and are guilty of impiety, disloyalty, and rebellion. When the Parliament again met in 1628, they proceeded against Manwaring for inculcating tenets destructive of the laws and liberties of the kingdom, and sentenced him to fine and imprisonment till he should make his submission. He submitted accordingly; but the king soon afterwards rewarded his services in the cause of tyranny, by raising him first to a deanery, and subsequently to the bishopric of St. David’s. The other advocates of passive obedience also received promotion; and the nation was constrained to perceive what were the principles by which the king intended to govern. The controversy between High Churchmen and Puritans, which had so long divided the kingdom, was thus forced to assume the character of one in defense of civil liberty. For it was clearly seen, that the High Church party, who had all along enjoyed exclusively the favor of the reigning monarch, were willing to procure and perpetuate that favor by supporting the royal prerogative in its most arbitrary pretensions, sacrificing without scruple equally the rights of conscience and the civil liberties of the kingdom.
The contest continued in both its converging lines. On the one hand, the king strove to obtain supplies without redressing grievances, employing already that dissimulation which afterwards caused his ruin, and assenting to a bill, or petition of right, the provisions of which he never fulfilled. On the other, Laud, who, on the death of Buckingham, obtained an undivided ascendancy over Charles, prohibited doctrinal controversy respecting the Arminian tenets, and commanded the suppression of afternoon lectures, which were generally conducted by those Puritan divines who could not conform to the reading of the Liturgy in the forenoon service. This cunning prelate was well aware, that controversy on important doctrinal subjects cultivates the power of thought, and that lecturing cultivates knowledge; he knew also, that men who have been trained to think, and whose minds have acquired a store of sound religious knowledge, are incapable of becoming the slaves of either tyranny or superstition. And as the full development of his measures required the people of England to become superstitious slaves, it was necessary to suppress every thing which had a counteracting tendency. The same sort of instinctive perception of the readiest method of promoting mental and moral degradation led Laud to persuade the king to revive the Book of Sports. This was accordingly done in the year 1633, in the name of that sovereign whom the Church of England still delights to style "The Martyr," though it would not be easy to tell of what cause he was the martyr, unless it were of prelatic profanity, superstition, and despotism. It was not over one county that the Book of Sports was now to be set up, in opposition to the Word of God; the bishops were directed to enforce the publication of it from the pulpit through all the parish churches of their respective dioceses. This caused great distress of mind to all the pious clergymen. Some refused to read it, and were suspended in consequence; others read it, and immediately after having done so, read also the Fourth Commandment, "Remember the Sabbath-day to keep it holy;" adding, "This is the law of God, the other is the, injunction of man." And notwithstanding the employment of both power and guile, the people generally refused to turn God’s appointed times of holy rest into periods of heathen saturnalia.
In the meantime, the tide of political conflict was advancing broad. and deep. And as it had been caused at first by the course of persecution on account of religion, when the Parliament sought from time to time to interpose in behalf of the suffering Puritans, it continued to retain its religious character. Very strong and earnest language was used by several of the leading members of the House of Commons, condemning equally the Arminian doctrines and the tyrannical proceedings of the Prelatic party; and with similar directness and energy did they assail the illegal methods adopted by the king to raise money, and the oppressive conduct of the persons employed in that service. The king finding the Commons determined to defend their religious and civil liberties, and to refuse subsidies till the grievances of which they complained should be redressed, sent them orders to adjourn. This arbitrary command they refused to obey, till they should have prepared a remonstrance against the levying of tonnage and poundage, and, accordingly, proceeded to frame their remonstrance and protestation. This document declared, in substance, that whosoever should introduce innovations in religion, or advise taking of tonnage and poundage not yet granted by Parliament, or submit to such illegal impositions, should be held as betrayers of, and enemies to, the liberties of England. 46 The Speaker refused, to put these propositions to the vote, and attempted to leave the chair; but he was forced back to it, and held there till they were read and carried by acclamation. The Commons then adjourned; and four of the leading members, Eliot, Hollis, Valentine, and Cariton, were committed to the Tower, where Eliot was detained till he died, the others being released upon payment of heavy fines. Charles having now learned that the Parliament would not submit to be made a passive instrument in his hands to accomplish what he might please, determined to assume the whole powers of the Legislature, disregarding the form, as well as violating the spirit of the constitution, and realizing the absolute despotism so fervently advocated by his sycophantic clergy. He ventured even to avow his desperate intention by a proclamation, in which he forbade the very mention of another Parliament. He had yet to learn, that to shut up a strong feeling in the heart, is to increase its suppressed strength, and to give it entire possession of the inner being.
As if for the very purpose of imparting additional intensity to the growing indignation of the kingdom, Laud, now Archbishop of Canterbury, proceeded with equal eagerness in imposing fresh ceremonies of the most absurd character upon the Church, and in the indiction of excessive cruelties upon the Puritans. These Popish ceremonies drove numbers into nonconformity; and the barbarities perpetrated upon those who dared to complain or to refuse compliance, provoked the nation almost beyond endurance. Alexander Leighton was condemned to have his ears cut off, and his nose slit, to be branded on the cheek, to stand in that condition in the pillory, and then to be east into prison till he should pay a fine utterly beyond his means, – a sentence equivalent to perpetual imprisonment. Burton, Bastwick, 47 and Prynne suffered similar cruelties. And great numbers were reduced to entire destitution, because they dared to write or speak against Laud’s popish ceremonies, or against the prelatic system of Church government. Numbers forsook the country, and retired some to the Netherlands, others to the settlements recently formed in America. Never, probably, was there a period in which the principles of religious and civil liberty, and the feelings of human nature, were more shocked and outraged. But a course of crime is also a course of infatuation. At the very time when the cruel tortures of these wronged and oppressed sufferers were awakening the most intense sympathy in the nation, the king adopted a measure which roused a corresponding degree of political indignation. Finding it difficult to procure supplies as readily as his necessities required, he devised the plan of assessing not only the maritime, but also the inland counties for sums of money, for the ostensible purpose of building ships of war. This tax, as even Clarendon admits, was intended not only for the support of the navy, but "for a spring and magazine that should have no bottom, and for an everlasting supply for all occasions." This was clearly perceived, and immediately opposed by the bold and wise assertors of national liberty. The celebrated Hampden refused to pay his share of the tax, and determined to bring the legality of levying such an impost to a public trial. About the close of the year 1639, the cause was tried before the twelve judges in the Exchequer Chamber. The judges hesitated. They perceived clearly that the law was in favor of Hampden; but they held their situations during the royal pleasure, and seven decided that the tax was legal, while one doubted, and four condemned it. 48 His majesty gained the decision; but Hampden and freedom gained the cause, in the strong feeling which was roused throughout the entire kingdom.
Another act of infatuation speedily followed. For a time the suffering Puritans alone had sought refuge from oppression in a voluntary exile; but now the defenders of civil liberty began to adopt the same course. At length even Hampden, and his cousin, Oliver Cromwell, discouraged with their long and hitherto fruitless struggle, resolved also to seek in the New World that liberty which seemed to have forsaken its ancient English home. 49 But an order was published, forbidding any to leave the kingdom without permission from the privy council. They remained, returned to the field of danger and of duty, and resumed a contest which: presented now no medium between complete freedom and absolute slavery, – no retreat, no cessation, no alternative but victory or death. Thus, by this act of despotic infatuation, Charles gave to his most formidable antagonists the terrible energies of desperate necessity, and sealed his own dark and, hapless doom.
There was still another element introduced about this time, as if to render the dreadful combination perfect for evil. Although Laud did not attempt to deny the king’s supremacy in all matters ecclesiastical, yet the principle first promulgated by Bancroft – the divine authority of the Episcopal order – had, taken possession of his narrow and restless mind, and impelled him to endeavor partially to realize it, though its full and ultimate bearing lay far beyond his reach even to imagine. He not only drew the half of the chancery business into the hands of persons nominated to their offices by the prelates, but also prevailed upon the king to allow the bishops to hold their ecclesiastical courts in their own names, and by their own seals, without the king’s letters patent under the Great Seal. This was a direct infringement of the royal prerogative; and to this he succeeded in adding another as glaring, namely, the power of the bishops to frame new articles of visitation, without the king’s authority, and to administer an oath of inquiry concerning them. 50 In this manner the prelates became possessed of extensive jurisdiction, both civil and ecclesiastical, not only independent of Crown and Parliament, but based upon the assumption of a divine right, which rendered them entirely irresponsible, and beyond the control of human law. Had not the spirit of liberty, civil and religious, been at that time vigilant and strong, these prelatic usurpations must have soon reduced England to a state of the most abject slavery. And although the fearful recoil caused the death of both the wily prelate and the misled king, it is greatly to be feared that the Laudean principle is not yet dead, though it has long been dormant, – that it may yet awake in portentous strength, – and that it may put forth a power, and give rise to a struggle, of tremendous magnitude, before it be itself destroyed.
At length the king reached the turning point of his will and reckless course. Instigated by his evil genius, Laud, he strove to impose upon the Presbyterian Church and people of Scotland the whole mass of prelatic rites and ceremonies, for the sake of which he had already driven England to the extreme point of endurance. But that point had been long previously reached in Scotland, and the attempt provoked an instantaneous and determined resistance. A large portion of the nobility, nearly all the middle classes, the whole of the ministers, and almost the entire body of the people, united in a solemn national covenant in defense of their religious liberties, resolved to peril life, and all that life holds dearest, rather than submit to the threatened violation of conscience. The king raised an army to subdue them by force, but shrunk from the perilous encounter, and framed an evasive truce. This abortive attempt exhausted his treasury, and compelled, him reluctantly to call a Parliament, from which he hoped to procure supplies. The Parliament met on the 13th of April 1640, after an interval of twelve years; but the spirit of liberty was now stronger in the bosom of its members than it had formerly been, and still less disposed to prostrate itself before the royal prerogative. His majesty demanded supplies, and promised then to grant time to take their grievances into consideration. The Commons began with applying for the redress of grievances, and. refused to proceed with the grant of a subsidy till these should be redressed. Disappointed and enraged, the king dissolved the Parliament, and threw the leading members into prison. But as his need of money was urgent, he commenced exacting it more oppressively than ever, by forced loans, by ship-money, by granting monopolies, and by every artifice which want could suggest and tyranny employ. And, as if conscious that Episcopacy was the cause of the sovereign’s distress, the Convocation which met at the same time, continued sitting after the dissolution of the Parliament, contrary to law and custom, and granted a considerable sum of money to his majesty, to enable him to prosecute the "Episcopal war." This appeared a dangerous precedent, fraught with peril to the liberties of the kingdom, since, on the one hand, the king could augment the revenues of the clergy, and on the other, they could replenish his coffers, be his purposes what they might, without legislative authority, and thereby give him the means of completing his despotic encroachments. Seventeen canons were also published by this Convocation, in the sixth of which all clergymen are required to take an oath, expressing approbation of the doctrine, discipline, and government of the Church of England, one clause of which says, "Nor will I ever give my consent to alter the government of this Church, by archbishops, bishops, deans, archdeacons, etc., as it stands now established." 51 From this clause it obtained the name of " the et cetera oath ," and became an additional element of strife between the Prelatists and the Puritans, driving many ministers into the latter body, because they could not consent to swear adherence to they knew not what.
Charles having again obtained a sufficient sum of money to enable him to maintain an army, broke off all pacific relations with his Scottish subjects, and marched northwards to subdue them by force. Rut they were not unprepared for such an event. The long course of intriguing dissimulation which they had detected and baffled, during the previous stages of their transactions with his majesty, had led them to the conclusion, that he would observe the terms of the most solemn treaty no longer than till he could violate them with safety. They had therefore retained their military officers in pay, and were in a condition to raise an army at a moment’s notice. There had been also begun a private correspondence between them and the leading English patriots; and they had received assurance, that if they should advance into England itself, they would be welcomed as deliverers. They accordingly crossed the border, defeated a strong party which opposed their passage of the Tyne at Newburn, took possession of Newcastle, and advanced into England. Alarmed with their progress, and finding it impossible to raise and maintain a sufficient force to resist them, in the disaffected state of his English subjects, the king appointed commissioners to treat with the Scots at Ripon. This led to a cessation of hostilities for two months, commencing October the 26th, during which the Scottish army were to be maintained at his majesty’s expense; the remaining negotiations for peace were transferred from Ripon to London.
It had again become necessary to call a Parliament, for the adjustment of the important matters in dispute; and great exertions were made on both sides in the election of members. But the heart of England was now fairly warmed, and its strong spirit roused. By far the majority of the elections were decided in favor of the defenders of liberty; and as all knew that the crisis had come, all were thoroughly prepared for the struggle. In that Parliament was collected not only the flower of living Englishmen, but it may be fearlessly said, that no age or nation has ever produced men of greater eminence, in abilities and character, than were the leaders of that celebrated assembly. To mention the names of Pym, Hampden, Cromwell, Selden, is to mention men of almost unequaled. distinction, in sagacity, patriotism, strength of mind, and extent of learning; and those who held but a secondary position, were, nevertheless, men who were possessed of talents and energy enough to have earned high renown in any period less prodigal of human power. Such was that House of Commons, afterwards so famous under the name of the Long Parliament.
Scarcely had this Parliament met, on the 3d of November 1640, when ample proof was given that its members were fully aware of the great task they had to perform. They appointed four committees to conduct with rapidity the important matters before them: for religious grievances, – for the affairs of Scotland and Ireland, – for civil grievances, – concerning Popery and Popish plots. In these committees affairs were prepared for full discussion in the House, so that there might be neither loss of time nor mismanagement. 52 And as religious grievances had long been felt, and had led to the greater part of the civil oppression which had roused the kingdom, the Parliament took these immediately into consideration. The canons of the late Convocation were declared to be illegal, and not binding; and sharp animadversions were made respecting Laud, as their chief author. This led to the framing of an impeachment against him, as engaged in the treasonable design of subverting the religion and laws of his country. The complaint of the Scottish commissioners against Laud, as the real author of all the commotions which had taken place in Scotland, formed a large and heavy portion of the charge which led to the impeachment of the unfortunate archbishop. An accusation, consisting of fourteen articles, was drawn up, presented to the House of Lords, and. the charge being sustained, he was committed to the Tower.
About the same time, or rather a few days before it, the Earl of Strafford, Lord Lieutenant of Ireland, was also impeached, and committed to the Tower. The letters and dispatches which passed between Laud and Strafford clearly prove that they were the prime instigators of all the tyrannical measures which had characterized the government of Charles for the preceding twelve years, – at which time Strafford (then Mr. Wentworth) deserted the patriotic party, and, like all apostates, became the most bitter enemy of the cause which he had forsaken. The very term employed by Laud, as distinctive of himself and his measures – "Thorough – shows clearly the character of the keen, relentless spirit and despotic temper which filled his narrow mind. And the haughty, dark, and arrogant nature of Strafford, – conscious of great abilities, full of ambitious designs, and utterly unscrupulous with regard to the measures by which they should be carried into effect, – rendered him in every respect a dangerous man, particularly as the confidential adviser and favorite minister of a monarch who himself aimed at despotism. It was not strange that the Commons of England thought it necessary to remove such men from his majesty’s councils, as a preliminary step towards the recovery of the nation’s liberties. The result of these impeachments is well known; but as several important transactions intervened, these must first be narrated.
Redress was granted to several of those who had suffered, under prelatic tyranny. Prynne, Burton, and Bastwick were released from their imprisonment in the Channel Islands, and conducted through London in a sort of triumphal procession. Alexander Leighton was also released from prison, and appointed keeper of Lambeth Palace. Several bishops and other clerical dignitaries were accused of illegal and oppressive conduct, and felt some portion of the weight of retributive justice. And so strong was the indignation which, long suppressed, now burst forth with proportionally greater vehemence, that some difficulty was experienced in restraining the people from inflicting upon their oppressors what Bacon terms "wild justice."
The flood-gates were now opened, the popular mind began to rush forth, and it required both great strength and great dexterity to guide it into a safe channel. It had been part of the Laudean policy to prevent all public discussion respecting the high pretensions of Prelacy; but freedom of discussion was now procured, and the press began to pour forth treatises of every kind and size, in which not only were the abuses of Prelacy fully stated, but also the Prelatic form of Church government itself was strenuously assailed. Bishop Hall wrote in defense of Episcopacy, and was answered by a celebrated treatise, under the title of "Smectymnuus," a word formed from the initial letters of the names of its authors, — Stephen Marshall, Edmund Calamy, Thomas Young, Matthew Newcomen, and William Spurstowe. Even the mighty Milton employed his pen in this keen literary warfare; and it is no rash matter to assert, that in learning, talent, genius, and strength of argument, the Puritan writers immeasurably surpassed their antagonists, and produced an impression on the public mind so deep and strong that it decided the controversy, so far as Prelatic Church government was concerned, even at its beginning.
Along with the literary warfare, another method of assault, not less formidable, was employed. Petitions were poured into the House of Commons from every part of the country, signed by almost incredible numbers, against the hierarchy; some desiring its reformation, others praying that the whole system might be destroyed. Of the latter kind, that which attracted chief attention was one from the city of London, signed by about fifteen thousand persons, and generally termed "The Root and Branch Petition," on account of an expression which occurs in its prayer, viz., "That the said government, with all its dependencies, roots and branches, may be abolished." Counter-petitions were also brought forward in defense of the hierarchy, scarcely, if at all, less numerous. Debates arose in consequence, and very strong language was employed by several members, condemnatory of the oppressive conduct of the hierarchy. Bills were also introduced, chiefly with the view of taking away legislative authority from the bishops, by relieving them from the discharge of civil duties in the Upper House; but the House of Lords rejected these measures, and, after a protracted struggle, there seemed to be no prospect of getting that grievance remedied.
A difficulty of a legal nature occurred in the trial of Strafford. Although his accusation specified matters of the most arbitrary and oppressive character, yet it was not clear that they fell within the express terms of statute-definition of high treason. The charge was therefore so altered as to enable the Commons to proceed with a bill of attainder, which passed that House, and was brought before the Lords. There seemed to be great probability that it would be lost in that House, when an event occurred which changed the whole aspect of affairs, so far as that was pacific. A plot was formed by some leading officers in the army and the courtiers, to bring the army to London, in order to overawe the Parliament, rescue Strafford, and take possession of the metropolis. This plot was discovered, traced out, publicly stated to Parliament by Mr. Pym, on the 2d May 1641, and immediately the conspirators absconded, – some even seeking safety by fleeing to France.53 The effect was like a lightning-Hash, – sudden and fatal. It revealed to the community their own peril, and the nature of the measures which the king was capable of pursuing; and thus it drove them to the conclusion that his word or treaty could not be trusted, and that the only method of securing their own safety consisted in depriving him of all power to injure them. Numerous and tumultuary mobs assembled around the Houses of Parliament, rending the air with cries of "Justice! Justice!" In this state of public agitation the peers passed the bill of attainder.
Another important measure passed at the same perilous moment. The king was anxious that the Scottish army should return to Scotland, being well aware that its presence in England was a source of great strength to the patriots, paralyzing, at the same time, his own military preparations. He repeatedly urged Parliament to relieve the country from the oppressive burden of maintaining these two armies, the Scottish and his own. The House of Commons had already borrowed large sums for the payment of the current expenses; and a still larger sum would be required for the completion of the transaction. But when the plot against the Parliament was detected, the citizens of London, who had hitherto advanced the necessary supplies on Parliamentary security, refused to contribute any more on a security which appeared to be so precarious. Public credit being thus overthrown, the only expedient for its recovery which presented itself was, to secure the continuation of the Parliament till these troubles should terminate. A bill was framed for this purpose, enacting, "That this present Parliament shall not be adjourned, prorogued, or dissolved, without their own consent." This bill passed both Houses with very slight opposition, and received. the royal assent by commission, along with the bill of attainder against the Earl of Strafford. 54 It would seem that the detection of the plot against the Parliament had completely stunned the king and his advisers, so that, in their guilty confusion, they were incapable of perceiving the vast import of such a concession, which rendered the Parliament completely independent of, and coordinate with, the king during its own pleasure.
Yet another step was taken, of scarcely less importance. Mr. Pym moved, that both Houses might join in some bond of defense, for the security of their liberties and of the Protestant religion. A protestation was accordingly framed, almost identical in principle with the National Covenant of Scotland, though somewhat different in form, and less minute in detail. 55
The protestation was as follows: – "I, A. B., do, in the presence of Almighty God, promise, vow, and protest to maintain and defend, as far as lawfully I may, with my life, power, and estate, the true Reformed Protestant Religion, expressed in the doctrine of the Church of England, against all Popery and Popish innovation within this realm, contrary to the said doctrine; and according to the duty of my allegiance, I will maintain and defend his majesty’s royal person, honor, and estate: Also the power and privileges of Parliament, the lawful rights and liberties of the subjects, and every person that shall make this protestation, in whatsoever he shall do in the lawful pursuance of the same; and to my power, as far as lawfully I may, I will oppose, and by all good ways and means endeavor to bring condign punishment on all such as shall by force, practice, counsels, plots, conspiracies, or otherwise, do any thing to the contrary in the present protestation contained: And further, that I shall, in all just and honorable ways, endeavor to preserve the union and peace betwixt the three kingdoms of England, Scotland, and Ireland; and neither for hope, fear, or any other respects, shall relinquish this promise, vow, and protestation."
This protestation was subscribed by the whole House of Commons on the 3d of May, and next day by all the Peers present in Parliament, except two; it was then printed, and sent to every part of the kingdom, to be taken by the whole nation; and when it was opposed, the Commons passed a resolution, declaring, "That whosoever would not take the protestation was unfit to bear once in the Church or Commonwealth." To this course of procedure the king offered no opposition; and let it be observed, that the English House of Commons acted a much more arbitrary part, in the enforcing of this protestation, than had been done in Scotland with regard to the National Covenant: and as this took place more than two full years before the Solemn League and Covenant between the two kingdoms was even thought of, and was done by a House of Commons all nominally Episcopalians, it proves that it is directly contrary to fact and truth, to ascribe the severe measures of the Long Parliament to Presbyterian intolerance.
Events of great moment now followed each other with startling rapidity. A bill was passed abolishing the Court of High Commission; and another, putting an end to the Star-Chamber. Both these bills were signed by the king; and thus the main engines of oppression were destroyed. Acquiring fresh confidence by success, the House of Commons resumed their proceedings against the bishops, and actually prepared articles of impeachment. The king, perceiving that he was waging an unsuccessful warfare, changed his course, and suddenly intimated to the Parliament that he intended to pay a visit to Scotland, to complete the pacification with that country. The long-pending treaty was concluded and ratified, and his majesty journeyed to his native country with such expedition as to show that some important measures were in his mind. The leading Parliamentary politicians penetrated his design, – which indeed was sufficiently apparent. He had felt the strength of that support which the presence in England of the Scottish army gave to the patriotic party; and he justly imagined, that if he could not only detach the Scots from the English Parliament, but gain them to himself, he would then be able to reduce his refractory subjects to his own terms. The king’s absence necessarily led to the adjournment of the Parliament; but its chief committees continued to meet, and a small committee was formed. to accompany his majesty to Scotland. 56 The secret purpose of this committee was, to give to the leading Scottish statesmen such private information as should put them on their guard against the arts of royal dissimulation which might be practiced. For this the Scottish leaders were already prepared by their own painful experience, and although the king exerted himself to the utmost to give satisfaction to them, and bestowed honors on the chief of the Covenanters, yet he could not remove their suspicions, – still less induce them to pledge themselves for the support of his intentions.
Not only were his majesty’s expectations disappointed, but additional cause was given to his people to watch all his movements with increasing jealousy. Before the king’s arrival in Scotland, the Earl of Montrose had been detected forming a conspiracy to betray the Covenanters, even while acting as one of their commissioners at Ripon. For this, and other similar matters, he had been imprisoned in Edinburgh Castle. Even in his confinement he found means of corresponding with his associates, and, through them, with the king; and a plot was formed, of which there is strong reason to believe the king to have been aware, to seize Argyle and Hamilton, and either put them to death, or hurry them on board a frigate which lay in Leith roads, and having thus struck terror into the Covenanters, to put the army into the hands of the king, at the head of which his majesty might return and overpower his refractory Parliament in England. 57 The discovery of this plot excited a sudden and strong commotion; but the king endeavored to cause it to be regarded as entirely a groundless alarm, and redoubled his efforts to give all possible satisfaction to the Covenanters. This event, known by the name of "The Incident," sunk deep into men’s minds, and led them to entertain the belief, that the king was capable of conniving at any measure, however dark and bloody, provided that it could promote his progress towards absolute despotism. The fearful outburst of Popish fury, termed the Irish Massacre, taking place at the same time, gave to all these suspicions the most dark and dreadful aspect, and filled the heart of both England and Scotland with intense horror and alarm. And although it may be difficult to prove that Charles directly instigated the Irish Papists to this insurrection, or anticipated the terrific deeds that were done, yet it would be still more difficult to acquit him of knowing that it was intended, and of conniving at it, with the expectation of turning it to his own advantage, by means of the armed forces which would be placed under his command. 58
Such was the state of matters, and such the agitated temper of the kingdom, when Charles returned to London, again to resume his contest with the Parliament, now roused to a pitch of almost desperate determination. A committee had been appointed, a considerable time before, "to draw out of all the grievances of the nation such a remonstrance as might be a faithful and lively representation to his majesty of the deplorable state of the kingdom." This remonstrance, consisting of two hundred and six articles, 59 was read in the House of Commons on the 22d of November 1641. It had to encounter a very strong opposition; and after a debate which lasted from three in the afternoon till three in the morning, it was carried by a majority of 11, the votes being 159 to 148. Within a few days after the remonstrance had, been presented to his majesty, and before he had returned an answer, it was printed and dispersed all over the kingdom. By this step, certainly defective in courtesy, the Parliament fairly took their ground, threw themselves and their cause upon the principle and intelligence of the kingdom, and thenceforward the struggle was one between the sovereign and the nation.
The trial of the bishops, who had been impeached as authors of the nation’s grievances, came next. The bishops attempted to stay the proceedings by entering a demurrer. Great and dangerous tumults arose in consequence of the position taken by the prelates; and they, alarmed, and considering themselves exposed to personal danger, determined to abstain from going to the House of Lords, and drew up a protestation against whatsoever should be done by Parliament in their absence, as null, and of no effect. 60 Their greatest enemies could not have suggested to them a more self-destructive course. They were immediately accused of acting in a manner destructive of Parliaments, and assuming a negative voice in the Legislature, possessed by the king alone; and a new impeachment being framed on this ground, ten of them were sent to the Tower.
These proceedings exasperated the king to such a degree, that he immediately resolved to retaliate; and sent the attorney-general to the House of Commons to impeach of high treason five of the leading members, namely, Lord Kimbolton, Sir Arthur Hazelrigge, Denzill Hollis, John Pym, John Hampden, and William Stroud. The Commons not having ordered them into custody, the king himself went to the House next day (January 4th) to seize them, attended by a crowd of armed men. They had received notice of his intention and withdrawn, so that when he placed himself in the Speaker’s chair, and looked around him he perceived that this violent and unconstitutional attempt was abortive. 61 The most intense excitement arose, Parliament adjourned for a week, the citizens of London protected the five members, and offered to raise the trained bands for the protection of Parliament itself. In vain did the king attempt to overawe them by fortifying Whitehall, and placing artillerymen in the Tower. They were equally resolute, and prepared to bear back force by force if necessary. In this great moment, when every measure was surcharged with peril, the king’s infatuation again prevailed; and instead of remaining either to amend his error, or to confront the danger, he forsook Whitehall on the 10th of January, removing first to Hampton Court, then to Windsor, and soon afterwards to York, leaving all the elements of strife, which his despotic proceedings had aroused, to combine and rush onward in a torrent of irresistible might.
Very soon after his majesty’s departure from London, the bill to remove the bishops from the House of Lords, that they might not "be entangled with secular jurisdiction," was again brought forward, passed by a large majority on the 6th of February, and on the 14th of the same month obtained the royal signature by commission.
But the intentions of the king soon began to display their hostile aspect too evidently to be any longer misunderstood. From York he made a rapid movement upon Hull, at the head of a considerable body of cavalry, on the 23d of April, for the purpose of seizing upon that important town, and taking possession of its magazines. Sir John Hotham refused to admit him with more than twelve attendants, having been appointed to his situation as governor by the Parliament, to whom he was responsible for its custody; and the king, in his disappointment and anger, declared him a traitor. 62 Several manifestoes passed between the king and the Parliament, both on account of this event, and with regard to the command of the militia; but the progress of negotiation, instead of producing an agreement rendered the breach wider and wider, preparatory for an entire disruption. Considerable numbers of both Houses forsook the Parliament and joined the king; an army was formed, and Hull was invested in regular form. To meet this hostile movement, the two Houses, on the 12th of July, resolved that an army should be raised for the defense of the king and Parliament, and gave the command to the Earl of Essex. On the 9th of August, the king proclaimed Essex and his adherents traitors; and also declared both Houses guilty of high treason, forbidding all his subjects to yield obedience to them. The Parliament, on the other hand, proclaimed all who should join the king’s army traitors against the Parliament and the kingdom. In another proclamation, the king summoned all his faithful subjects to repair to him at Nottingham, where, on the 22d day of August 1642, he caused his standard to be erected in a field adjoining the castle wall. Few complied with this warlike summons; but the standard was erected amid the gathering gloom and the rising gusts of a commencing tempest, which, ere evening, increased to a perfect hurricane, and dashed to the earth the royal banner,63 as if ominous of the fierce storm of civil war then bursting on the land, and the disgrace and ruin that awaited the royal cause.
It had for some time been clearly perceived by the Parliament that war was inevitable, especially after the king’s attempt upon Hull; and they accordingly began to make all necessary preparations. The friendly countenance and support of Scotland was of the utmost importance, and this, therefore, they resolved to secure. Twice had the Council of Scotland attempted to mediate between the king and the Parliament, first in the beginning of the year, and again in May; but though the Parliament accepted their mediation, it was rejected by the king in a peremptory tone, commanding them to be content with their own settlement, and not to intermeddle with the affairs of another nation. The English Parliament, understanding that the General Assembly was to meet in Edinburgh about the end of July, addressed a letter to that body, stating the perilous aspect of affairs, and expressing their desire to avoid a civil war, and yet to promote reformation in both Church and State. The assembly’s answer, dated 3d August, expresses sympathy with the sufferings and dangers of England, recommends unity of religion, "That in all his majesty’s dominions there might be one Confession of Faith, one Directory of Worship, one public Catechism, and one form of Church government," accusing the prelatical hierarchy of being the great impediment against obtaining that desirable result. A letter from a number of English divines was addressed to the same Assembly, in which, after expressing gratitude for previous advices, they state, "That the desire of the most godly and considerable part amongst us is, that the Presbyterian government, which hath just and evident foundation, both in the Word of God and religious reason, may be established amongst us, and that (according to your intimation) we may agree in one Confession of Faith, one Directory of Worship, one public Catechism and form of government."64 From these expressions it is evident that both the English Parliament and the Puritan divines were perfectly aware of the views entertained by the Scottish Parliament and Assembly; and yet did not hesitate to seek assistance, and to assent to the idea of a uniformity in religious worship, which Scotland regarded as an indispensable condition.
Nor does it appear that the English Parliament entertained any reluctance to procure Scottish aid on such terms. For, in the month of September, a bill was passed through the House of Commons, and on the 10th of that month through the House of Lords, entitled "An Act for the utter abolishing and taking away of all archbishops, bishops, their chancellors and commissaries," etc., – ordaining, that after the 5th of November 1648, there shall be no archbishop, etc., including the whole array of dignitaries and cathedral functionaries, and that all their titles, jurisdictions, and offices, "shall cease, determine, and become absolutely void;" that their possessions should return to the king; that the property of cathedrals should be vested in trustees, who should give a stipend to their late possessors, and out of the remainder support preaching ministers, both in towns, and through the country where required." 65 Thus was the English hierarchy overthrown by a Parliament which even Clarendon admits to have been composed of men favorably disposed to Episcopacy; and this overthrow took place at a time when the Parliament had not resolved to what form of Church government a legal ratification should be given, a whole year being allowed to elapse before the act of abolition should take effect, to allow ample time for the deliberations of an assembly of divines which they intended to call together for that purpose. And so far was the Scottish General Assembly from attempting to force England to adopt the Presbyterian form of Church government, that they abstained from framing a Confession of Faith and Directory for themselves, till it should be seen what England would do, that the matter might not be foreclosed, but the Church of Scotland left at liberty to adopt the same general system, if it should prove such as to gain their approbation. Even at an earlier period, in the very commencement of the negotiations between the English Parliament and the Scottish Church and people, the latter had strongly advocated a uniformity of religious worship in the three kingdoms, and at the same time had as strongly disclaimed the idea of presuming to dictate to England in so grave and important a matter. Yet this accusation is constantly urged against the Church of Scotland by her adversaries, in ignorance, it may be hoped, of the real facts of the case; although it is not denied that the Scottish Church naturally cherished the expectation that any thorough religious reform in England would produce a Church more resembling the other Protestant Churches than it had been under its wealthy and political hierarchy.
The sword was now unsheathed; and for a period the more harmless war of negotiations and manifestoes was abandoned, and a sterner conflict waged. Several battles were fought, some with doubtful success, and in others to the disadvantage of the Parliament. When the approach of winter led to a partial cessation of hostilities, proposals were again made for peace, and commissioners were sent from the Parliament to Oxford to endeavor to frame a treaty. The Scottish Council sent commissioners also. And hopes were for some time entertained, that the king would consent to such terms as might restore peace to the kingdom without the absolute surrender of its liberties. But it was discovered that his majesty was busily engaged in framing a double plot; – one part of which had for its object the seizure of London; the other, that Montrose should raise the Highlands of Scotland, while the Irish army should invade the western parts of that kingdom, and, having subdued the Covenanters, march to the assistance of the king against his English Parliament. The discovery of these plots, the contumelious treatment sustained by the Scottish commissioners, and the manifest duplicity of the king himself, caused the treaty to be broken off, and both parties prepared to resume the conflict in the field. Again the king’s troops were repeatedly successful, and the Parliament were constrained to make redoubled exertions to maintain their ground. For the same reason, they were the more anxious to enter into a close treaty with Scotland, and appointed commissioners to attend the Scottish Convention of Estates, and General Assembly, which were to meet in the beginning of August 1648.
Before that period the Parliament had been endeavoring to advance in what they felt to be of primary importance, – the reformation of religion. By the act of September 10, 1642, it had been ordained that the prelatic form of Church government should be abolished from and after the 5th of November 1643; and it had also been determined that an assembly of divines should be held, to complete the necessary reformation. In the meantime, enactments were passed for the better observance of the Lord’s Day, – the suppression of the "Book of Sports," – the keeping of monthly fasts and lectures, – the removal of all superstitious monuments and ornaments out of churches, – and for the trial of scandalous and inefficient ministers, as well as for granting some support to those of the Puritan ministers who had been ejected in former times for nonconformity, or had recently suffered from the ravages of the king’s army. One of the articles in the grand remonstrance of December 1641, had expressed the desire of the Parliament that there might be "a general synod of the most grave, pious, learned, and judicious divines of this island, assisted with some from foreign parts professing the same religion with us, who may consider of all things necessary for the peace and good government of the Church; and to represent the result of their consultations, to be allowed and confirmed, and to receive the stamp of authority." During the treaty of Oxford, a bill of the same purport was presented, and rejected by his majesty. And when at length convinced that the king would make no concessions in behalf of civil and religious liberty, the Parliament resolved that they would delay no longer, but turn the bill into an Ordinance, and convene the Assembly by their own authority. This important Ordinance is dated June 12, 1648, and is as follows: –
"An Ordinance of the Lords and Commons in Parliament, for the calling of an Assembly of learned and godly Divines, and others, to be consulted with by the Parliament, for the settling of the Government and Liturgy of the Church of England, and for vindicating and clearing of the Doctrine of the said Church from false aspersions and interpretations." "Whereas, amongst the infinite blessings of Almighty God upon this nation, none is, or can be, more dear unto us than the purity of our religion; and for that, as yet many things remain, in the Liturgy, discipline, and government of the Church, which do necessarily require a further and more perfect reformation than yet hath been attained: And whereas it hath been declared and resolved by the Lords and Commons assembled in Parliament, that the present Church government, by archbishops, bishops, their chancellors, commissaries, deans, deans and chapters, archdeacons, and other ecclesiastical officers, depending upon the hierarchy, is evil, and justly offensive and burdensome to the kingdom, a great impediment to reformation and growth of religion, and very prejudicial to the state and government of this kingdom; and that therefore they are resolved that the same shall be taken away, and that such a government shall be settled in the Church as may be most agreeable to God’s Holy Word, and most apt to procure and preserve the peace of the Church at home, and nearer agreement with the Church of Scotland and other reformed Churches abroad: And for the better effecting hereof, and for the vindicating and clearing of the doctrine of the Church of England from all false calumnies and aspersions, it is thought fit and necessary to call an Assembly of learned, godly, and judicious divines, to consul" and advise of such matters and things, touching the premises, as shall be proposed unto them by both or either of the Houses of Parliament, and to give their advice and counsel therein to both or either of the said Houses, when, and as often as, they shall be thereunto required:
"Be it therefore ordained, by the Lords and Commons in this present Parliament assembled, that all and every the persons hereafter in this ordinance named, that is to say," [Here follow the names] "and such other persons as shall be nominated and appointed by both Houses of Parliament, or as many of them as shall not be letted by sickness, or other necessary impediment, shall meet and assemble, and are hereby required and enjoined, upon summons signed by the clerks of both Houses of Parliament, left at their several respective dwellings, to meet and assemble at Westminster, in the chapel called King Henry the Seventh’s Chapel, on the first day of July, in the year of our Lord one thousand six hundred and forty-three; and after the first meeting, being at least of the number of forty; shall from time to time sit, and be removed from place to place; and also, that the said Assembly shall be dissolved in such manner as by both Houses of Parliament shall be directed. And the said persons, or so many of them as shall be so assembled or sit, shall have power and authority, and are hereby likewise enjoined, from time to time during this present Parliament, or until further order be taken by both the said Houses, to confer and treat among themselves of such matters and things, touching and concerning the Liturgy, discipline, and government of the Church of England, or the vindicating and clearing of the doctrine of the same from all false aspersions and misconstructions, as shall be proposed to them by both or either of the said Houses of Parliament, and no other; and to deliver their opinions and advices of or touching the matters aforesaid, as shall be most agreeable to the Word of God, to both or either of the said Houses, from time to time, in such manner and sort as by both or either of the said Houses of Parliament shall be required, and the same not to divulge, by printing, writing, or otherwise, without the consent of both or either House of Parliament.
"And be it further ordained, by the authority aforesaid, that William Twisse, Doctor in Divinity, shall sit in the chair, as prolocutor of the said Assembly; and if he happen to die, or be letted by sickness, or other necessary impediment, then such other person to be appointed in his place as shall be agreed on by both the said Houses of Parliament. And in case any difference of opinion shall happen amongst any of the said persons so assembled, touching any of the matters that shall be proposed to them, as aforesaid, that then they shall represent the same, together with the reasons thereof, to both or either the said Houses respectively, to the end such further direction may be given therein as shall be requisite in that behalf. And be it further ordained, by the authority aforesaid, that for the charges and expense of the said divines, and every of them, in attending the said service, there shall be allowed unto every of them that shall so attend the sum of four shillings for every day, at the charges of the Commonwealth, at such time, and in such manner, as by both Houses of Parliament shall be appointed. And be it further ordained, that all and every the said divines, so as aforesaid required and enjoined to meet and assemble, shall be freed and acquitted of and from every offense, forfeiture, penalty, loss, or damage, which shall or may arise or grow by reason of any non-residence or absence of them, or any of them, from his or their, or any of their, church, churches, or cures, for or in respect of the said attendance upon the said service, any law or statute of non-residence, or other law or statute enjoining their attendance upon their respective ministries or charges, to the contrary thereof notwithstanding. And if any of the persons before named shall happen to die before the said Assembly shall be dissolved by order of both Houses of Parliament, then such other person or persons shall be nominated and placed in the room and stead of such person or persons so dying, as by both the said Houses shall be thought fit and agreed upon: And every such person or persons so to be named, shall have the like power and authority, freedom and acquittal, to all intents and purposes, and also all such wages and allowances for the said service, during the time of his or their attendance, as to any other of the said persons in this ordinance named is by this ordinance limited and appointed. Provided always, that this ordinance, or any thing therein contained, shall not give unto the persons aforesaid, or any of them, nor shall they in this Assembly assume to exercise, any jurisdiction, power, or authority ecclesiastical whatsoever, or any other power than is herein particularly expressed." 66
Such was the Ordinance calling together the famous Westminster Assembly of Divines; and while that Ordinance is immediately before the reader, it may be expedient to direct his attention to some of its peculiarities. About nine months had elapsed since the passing of the bill for abolishing the hierarchical form of Church government, during all which period there was no form of Church government in England at all. It was impossible, therefore, that the Assembly could meet in any ordinary form, either as a Convocation, according to the Prelatic system; or by the votes of the ministers, according to the Presbyterian system; but it was of necessity called by the Parliament, who nominated all the members themselves, for the purpose of obtaining their advice respecting the further reformation which should take place, and the organized form which should be assumed by the Church of England. For though the Prelatic system had been abolished, yet the Parliament did not imagine that the Church had therefore ceased to exist, as the language of the Ordinance proves. Let it be observed also, that one object in view by the Parliament in calling this Assembly, was for the express purpose of procuring a "nearer agreement with the Church of Scotland, and other reformed Churches abroad;" so that, as there were no other kinds of national Churches but the Episcopalian and the Presbyterian, it must have been the intention of the English Parliament to bring their Church nearer to the Presbyterian system, if not to adopt that system entirely. It is therefore equally calumnious and absurd to accuse the Church of Scotland of attempting to constrain the English Parliament in its intended ecclesiastical reform, for the purpose of getting the Presbyterian polity introduced. The Parliament had to choose, – to retain the Prelatic system, with all the tyranny and oppression which had become absolutely intolerable, – to adopt the Presbyterian, to which the Puritan ministers were already predisposed, – or to have no national Church at all, with the imminent peril of national anarchy. And let this also be observed, that the long intermixture of civil and ecclesiastical jurisdictions in England, while it had given to the Parliament a very just dread of permitting ecclesiastical persons to possess civil jurisdiction, had both familiarized them with the idea, contained in the sovereign’s ecclesiastical supremacy, of a blended jurisdiction, and had driven them to entertain the conviction that civil rulers ought to rule in ecclesiastical causes equally as in their own peculiar province. Even the fact that there was at the time no legal form of Church government in the kingdom, and that consequently there could be no assembly of divines without being called by Parliament, led to the infusion of an Erastian taint into the very calling together of that Assembly, and the framing of the regulations limiting and directing its deliberations.
Having now arrived at the actual calling of the Westminster Assembly of Divines, it may be expedient, before proceeding to relate its deliberations, to give a very brief outline of the leading topics contained in the history and character of the Church of Scotland, so far as it is necessary that these should be known, in order to obtain a full understanding of the subject.
The Reformation in Scotland began and was carried on in a manner the direct reverse of that which took place in England. In the latter country it began in royal caprice or passion, – was at the first rendered subservient to the arbitrary will of a despotic monarch, through the pernicious element of his ecclesiastical supremacy, – was checked and turned awry by that element, and in the struggle between those who wished a further and more complete reformation and the courtly and prelatic rulers of the Church, it ended in a civil and religious despotism too heavy and cruel to be any longer endured. In Scotland it was entirely an ecclesiastical movement from the very beginning. Patrick Hamilton, the noble and youthful friend of Luther and Melancthon, learned the doctrines of the reformed faith, and taught them to his countrymen, till his testimony was sealed with the blood of martyrdom. Wishart gave an additional impulse to the sacred. cause, equally by his teaching and his death. Several of the Popish priesthood were converted, and aided in converting others. John Knox caught up the same testimony; and though, by the commanding power of his genius, and the unconquerable energy of his character, he caused the voice of religious reformation to be heard throughout the kingdom equally by prince and peasant, in the palace and the cottage, still it was simply and essentially a religious reformation, taking its form and impress directly from the Word of God alone, and encountering at every step the formidable opposition of civil powers and political intrigues, instead of receiving from them its bias and its external aspect. Relieving that God’s Word contained the only authoritative direction for doing God’s work, the Scottish reformers made their sole appeal "to the law and to the testimony;" and though they respected the great continental reformers, they sought the principles of doctrine, discipline, and Church government, from no foreign model, but from the Holy Scriptures alone. Thus it was that the Church of Scotland framed its Confession of Faith and its First Book of Discipline, and met in its first General Assembly for its own government, seven years before it had even received the sanction of the Legislature. Its first General Assembly was held in 1560, – the first act of Parliament recognizing it as the National Church was passed in 1567. From its origin it had to encounter the world’s opposition; in its growth it received little or nothing of a worldly intermixture; and when it reached somewhat of matured form, it still stood opposed to the world’s corrupting influence.
But a few years elapsed till the rapacity and the overbearing force of the nobility began to pillage and assail the Scottish Church; and where direct power could not prevail, fraud and dissimulation were employed. The first attempt against the free Presbyterian Church of Scotland, was that of Regent Morton, who devised the well known scheme of tulchan bishops, that by their instrumentality he might at once seize its revenues and corrupt its courts. When King James assumed the reins of government he followed a similar course, with less energy, but greater cunning, and with unwearied pertinacity. His theory of government was absolute despotism; and he had sagacity enough to perceive, that where the civil and ecclesiastical jurisdictions were distinct, his theory could not possibly be realized. And as the Church of Scotland was equally opposed to either aspect of his theory, refusing to intermeddle with civil affairs herself, and refusing to permit civil rulers to intermeddle with matters of a spiritual character, the wily tyrant saw the necessity of subverting the Presbyterian form of Church government, and establishing Prelacy in its stead; well aware that he would easily acquire an influence over titled and wealthy clergy at Court, which he could never obtain over a free General Assembly. But neither force nor treachery could succeed till after he ascended the English throne; when, by means of the combined power of English wealth and English influence, he so far changed the government of the Scottish Church as to procure the appointment of bishops, the half submission to certain rites and ceremonies, and the partial suppression of General Assemblies. Still a considerable portion of the nobility, the greater part of the ministers, and by far the majority of the people, remained Presbyterians in principle, and bore an insurmountable dislike to Prelacy. James had foresight enough to see that it would be hazardous to proceed farther; and refused to comply with the solicitations of Laud, who was eager to impose the whole of his beloved Episcopalian forms on the Church of Scotland.
When Charles I ascended the throne, he found England in a state of discontent swelling towards insurrection, in consequence of the long course of tyranny, civil and religious, which it had uneasily endured. Unfortunately for him and for the kingdom, he had imbibed all his father’s despotic notions of the absolute and irresponsible nature of the royal prerogative; and to little less than his father’s dissimulation and insincerity, he added far greater strength of mind, and strength, or rather obstinacy of purpose. Yielding himself entirely to the counsels of Laud, and of his beautiful but imperious and relentless queen, he not only refused to mitigate the sufferings of the English Puritans, but resolved to complete what his father had begun, and to bring the Scottish Church into an entire conformity with that of England. A Book of Canons, and a Liturgy, were framed by the Scottish bishops, chiefly by Maxwell, bishop of Ross, revised by Laud, and sent to Scotland to be at once adopted and used, without even the formality of having them laid before any Scottish civil or ecclesiastical court. The free spirit of Scotland was roused by this mingled insult and tyranny. At first a sudden tumult broke out, and rendered the scheme abortive; and then followed a wide, deep, and steady determination to wrench asunder the despotic yoke of Prelacy, and to restore to Scotland, in all its original purity and freedom, her own dearly purchased and beloved Presbyterian Church. Pledging themselves in a sacred National Covenant, the noblest, the wisest, and the best of Scotland’s sons and daughters prepared to encounter every peril, and to sacrifice all that life holds dear, rather than yield up their most precious birthright and inheritance, – their religious liberty. Provoked to see so bold and firm a front of resistance shown to his despotic designs in the poorest and least populous part of his dominions, Charles raised an army and marched against his hitherto unconquered Scottish subjects. He was met on the border by an equal array of that high-hearted and intelligent class of men, the Scottish peasantry, who have no parallel in any land, trained as they are from infancy to know, to love, and to fear God, and fearing Him, to have no other fear. The king could, in bitterness, mock their poverty, but he shrunk from the encounter with men who knew better how to die in what they believed to be the cause of sacred truth and liberty, than how to yield. He framed an evasive peace, and returned to England, purposing to conciliate the Parliament so far that he might obtain the means of overwhelming Scotland by a new army too mighty for that small kingdom to resist.
But the English Parliament had, with deep interest, marked the power of high principles in the triumph of the Scottish people; and refused to gratify their despotic sovereign, perceiving well that the overthrow of that free country would be speedily followed by the loss of their own remaining liberties. A secret, but a constant intercourse, was begun and carried on between the English Parliament and the Scottish Covenanters, for their mutual support in defending their civil and religious liberties against the aggressions of the king. And when Charles again raised an army for the prosecution of the bellum Episcopale, the "Episcopal war," the Scottish Covenanters no longer acted only on the defensive, but boldly entered England, declaring, at the same time, their pacific intentions, their friendship towards England, their loyalty to the king, and their desire only to procure the removal from his majesty’s councils of those persons who were plotting the overthrow of religious and civil liberty in both countries. Charles again was constrained to recoil from their firm front, and to recommence a treaty of pacification, first at Ripon, and then at London. The Scottish commissioners experienced the most friendly treatment in London; and the preaching of the ministers, who were empowered to treat for the Church, while in the metropolis, attracted crowds, and appears to have produced a deep and favorable impression respecting both themselves and their cause, as even the bitter and contumelious language of Clarendon sufficiently proves.
The king perceiving that the presence of the Scottish commissioners in London tended to confirm their intimacy and influence with the Parliament, at length hastily concluded the treaty of pacification, and set out for Scotland, with the avowed intention of completely terminating all the necessary transactions with the civil and ecclesiastical authorities of that kingdom; but, as afterwards appeared, with the deep design of maturing the embryo plots of Scottish conspirators, and the intended insurrection of the Irish Papists. The intrigues of Montrose, the dark event termed "The Incident," the sudden outburst of the Irish Massacre, and the king’s attempt, after his return, to seize the five members of the English Parliament, have all been already related briefly, and need not be here retraced. Suffice it to say, that, while considered separately, they were sufficiently startling, when viewed in the light of the king’s previous conduct, and as they occurred in the order of time, they gave to all who valued religious and civil liberty in both England and Scotland a fearful impression of the terrible deeds which the king could do or sanction for the recovery of his shaken power, and the establishing of his desired absolute despotism. They saw with deep regret, that they had to deal with a sovereign who regarded treaties but as a species of diplomatic warfare, in which parties strive to overreach each other, and by whom the most solemn stipulations would be observed no longer than till his safety would permit, or his interest induce, him to break them. It became, therefore, imperatively necessary for the English Parliament and the Scottish Covenanters, that is, the Scottish nation, to enter into some common bond of union, by means of which they might prevent the danger of being deceived, divided, and overpowered by their unscrupulous antagonist, and both countries reduced to slavery and degradation.
In devising this common bond, there was some difference of opinion between the English Parliament and the Scottish Covenanters, though a difference rather of accident than of essence, arising out of the different points of view from which they contemplated the common object. In England, the long course of oppression pursued by Elizabeth, James, and Charles, fell chiefly on the Puritans, who never, at any time, had formed a majority in the nation; and it was not till spiritual despotism began to produce civil tyranny, as it always does, that England fairly awoke. For that reason the main aspect of the struggle in England was one in behalf of civil liberty; and, consequently, what they chiefly wished to form with Scotland was a civil league. On the other hand, the contest had from the first, in Scotland, been of a religious character, the king attempting to overthrow the religious liberties of the vast majority, and to place a religious despotism in the hands of a very small minority. And although civil liberty was also assailed inevitably, yet the primary and main object of attack was religion; so that when the people of Scotland united to defend their sacred rights and privileges, their bond was almost entirely of a religious character, as is proved from the tenor of the National Covenant. And as it had been by means of English influence that the Church of Scotland had been overpowered, the statesmen and divines of Scotland were fully convinced that they could not safely enter into any close alliance with England, unless their great enemy Prelacy were first abolished, and that no secure and lasting intimacy could be maintained between the two countries if there were not at least a close approximation towards uniformity in religious worship, discipline, and government. This idea the Scottish commissioners strenuously, yet most delicately, pressed upon the notice of the English Parliament so early as the beginning of the year 1641; and in this they were supported by nearly all the Puritan ministers, those only excepted who had adopted the Congregational system. What Scotland chiefly wished, therefore, was to enter into a religious covenant with the English Parliament. This, then, was the difference produced by these different circumstances. England wished for a civil league with Scotland for the preservation of their mutual civil liberties, but was willing that it should have also a religious aspect and influence. Scotland desired a religious covenant for the preservation of their mutual religious liberties, but was willing that it should have also a civil aspect and influence. And neither country wished to dictate to the other in either subject, but to leave national inclinations and peculiarities untouched. It is evident, that in these circumstances a union could be formed; but it is as evident, that in directness and sacredness of purpose, the superiority was on the side of Scotland; and also, that hers must be the greatest danger, from the certainty that thus leagued together she must share the fortunes of her mightier neighbor.
If the reader has at all attended to the facts stated, and the principles evolved in the preceding introductory pages, he must have perceived their extreme importance in themselves, and also the light which they throw on the subject to which he is now to direct his concentrated attention. In the earliest ages of Christianity, the civil power everywhere was hostile, because it was pagan, that is, idolatrous. When the civil power became avowedly Christian, it did so at a time when all the principles of Popery were already in existence, and wanted but a favorable opportunity for obtaining ascendancy. This opportunity was furnished by the ignorance of the barbarian overthrowers of the Roman empire; and thus Popery arose into full power. One of its distinctive features was its assumption of supremacy in all matters, both civil and ecclesiastical. The fatal effect of this blending of jurisdictions was not at once apparent; but it led to absolute despotism and its counterpart, absolute slavery. At the Reformation, an attempt was generally made to separate the two jurisdictions, the civil and the ecclesiastical; but the importance of the idea was not fully appreciated, and the attempt was but partially successful.
In England, in particular, the sovereign, seizing upon the power formerly possessed by the pope, assumed both jurisdictions, and became head of the Church as well as head of the State. The pernicious consequences were soon apparent, – in the unsteady and fluctuating progress of religious reformation, – in the new forms of persecution, – in the complete stop put to further advancement in purity and truth, – and in the rapid growth of despotism, civil and religious.
These consequences advanced steadily, though with varying rapidity, during the reigns of Elizabeth, James, and Charles I, till they produced the absolute necessity of resistance, unless men were willing to submit to the entire loss of natural, national, and religious liberty. For though we have but touched the main points of the events of those reigns, it must be evident to every intelligent person, that there was not a single thing in which a human being could claim liberty to act, as a man, as a responsible and free agent, and as a member of the Christian Church, which was not directly and violently assailed by the prelates, under the authority of the sovereign’s ecclesiastical supremacy. And as man can never be entitled to denude himself, or to suffer others to wrest from him his essential characteristics of a responsible and religious being, it had become a sacred duty to assert and defend his natural, national, and religious rights and responsibilities.
Further, when Prelacy, at first avowedly a human invention, arrogated a divine right, it assumed an aspect that could no longer be endured. Men may, in certain circumstances, abstain from asserting their natural rights; but when an attempt is made to abolish these rights even in God’s name, it becomes a duty which they owe to God himself, to prevent the perpetration of a grievous wrong, so wrought as to involve a violation of His glorious and holy character and attributes. It was, therefore, a holy deed, to resist that form of prelatic tyranny; for it was a vindication of the King Eternal from a despotism usurped as if by his authority.
And let it be well observed, that the awfully pernicious character here ascribed to the assumed divine right of Prelacy, cannot be charged against Presbytery, when it, too, claims to be of divine right. Because, while it asserts that Christ, the only supreme Head and King of the Church, has appointed a government and office bearers in his spiritual kingdom, it recognizes equally the religious rights and responsibilities of the people, the free subjects of that kingdom, whose right to liberty of conscience is also a divine right. Nor can it ever become a Popery, by usurping civil authority, and exercising a spiritual and civil despotism; because it owns and teaches the divine right of the civil magistrate in his own department as also and equally an ordinance of God. But upon this subject it is needless to dwell at present; it will come more fully before us as we proceed in tracing the discussions of the Westminster Assembly.
[End of Chapter 1]
CHAPTER 1 (contd.)
41 Neal, vol. 1 pp. 461, 462.
42 Fuller, vol. 3 pp. 270-273.
43 Rapin, vol. 2 pp. 192, 193.
44 Rapin, vol. 2 p. 212.
45 Rushworth, vol. 1 p. 192; Whitelocke, p. 2.
46 Rushworth, vol. 1 p. 659, et seq.
47 In passing sentence on Bastwick, the bishops denied that they held their jurisdiction from the king. – Whitelocke, p. 22.
48 Whitelocke, p. 24.
49 Neal, vol. 1 p. 618.
50 Neal, vol. 1 pp. 584, 585.
51 Neal, vol. 1 p. 630.
52 Whitlocke, p. 36.
53 Whitelocke, p. 43.
54 Whitelocke, p. 43.
55 Ibid.; Rushworth, vol. 4 p. 241.
56 The committee were, the Earl of Bedford, Lord Howard, Sir Philip Stapleton, Sir William Armyne, Mr. Hampden, and Mr. Fiennes.
57 Baillie’e Letters, vol. 1 p. 392; Brodie’s British Empire, vol. 3 pp. 150-155.
58 The perusal of "A Declaration of the Commons," etc., July 25, 1642, would prove to any impartial reader that there was such a plot between the queen and the Irish Papists, and that the king knew of it.
59 Rushworth, vol. iv. pp. 438-451; Whitelocke, p. 49.
60 Whitelocke, p. 51.
61 Whitelocke, p. 50.
62 Rushworth, vol. 4 p. 567.
63 Clarendon, vol. 2 p. 720.
64 Acts of Assembly, 1642.
65 Neal, vol. 2 pp. 150, 151.
66 Rushworth, vol. 5 pp. 337-339.