Page images
PDF
EPUB
[ocr errors]

In those days the wisdom of universal toleration was always and only perceived by the weaker party; and the Independents were then weak, and therefore, until they gained power, declared themselves in favour of tolerance (Cf. I. ii. 1009 and note). Their leaders were Dr. T. Goodwin, Philip Nye, Jeremiah Burrows, William Bridge, and Dr. Sidrach Simpson, who are known as “The Five Dissenting Brethren.' There were also in the assembly Erastians, who renounced church discipline altogether, and made the pastoral office persuasive only; and the four Scottish ministers, Alexander Henderson, George Gillespie, Samuel Rutherford, and Robert Baillie, this last the writer of the well-known Letters and Journals which have remained one of the authorities for the history.

It will readily appear from the above facts that the chief danger to the Assembly was comprized in the questions appertaining to church discipline and government. So it was seen clearly enough in the Assembly itself; and after the early retirement of the Episcopalian members, the struggle did not at once commence though the field was left clear. The dangerous questions of government and discipline were postponed. The Covenant passed the General Assembly in August, 1643, and Parliament enjoined the taking of it on all persons over the age of eighteen. Meantime, the Committees of Religion' of the House of Commons were hard at work, and in that work at least the Assembly could have its share without any great fear of doctrinal difficulties. The chief of these Committees were the Committee for Scandalous Ministers,' and the Committee for Plundered Ministers,' the titles being conferred of

6

6

[ocr errors]
[ocr errors]

course from the Parliamentary point of view, and the latter being known naturally enough to tho Royalists as the Committee for Plundering Ministers.' In fact, in those times it may be said with not so very great unfairness, that a minister who did not belong to my particular party was a “scandalous minister'in my eyes, and if my party was in power he stood a fair chance of becoming a plundered minister' in his own. These two Committees were at first separately appointed. As early as 1640, a Committee of the whole House of Commons had been formed to consider the scandalous immoralities of the clergy,' and as complaints poured in faster than they could be dealt with, this Committee had to be subdivided, and in November of the same year the Sub-committee was appointed to take means to replace the 'scandalous ministers' by 'preaching ministers.' This was the Committee for Scandalous Ministers, and not even this could do the work fast enough, and it had to be again subdivided. The • Committee for Plundered Ministers' was first appointed in 1642, to devise means for the relief of the Puritan clergy who had been driven out of their cures by the King's forces; and since the simplest way to provide for these was obviously to substitute them for the 'malignant' clergy, this Committee for Plundered Ministers had really the same work to do as the former Committee for Scandalous Ministers, with the additional power of putting a nominee of their own in the room of the displaced malignant. Henceforth therefore these two Committees were virtually united, and remained so to the end of the Long Parliament. In this work the Assembly of Divines had to assist; and early in 1643 they ap

[ocr errors]
[ocr errors]

6

pointed a Committee of their own number to examine and approve such of the clergy as applied for the sequestered livings. This was the Committee of Divines for Examination,' and is the best known of the committees of the Assembly. The above are the committees of which we hear so much in Hudibras, together with the more local committees appointed for the management of the parliamentary affairs in particular districts, and which seem to have, perhaps unavoidably, carried things with so high a hand.

The unanimity of the Assembly, however, was not to last very long. The same autumn that saw the amalgamation of the two Committees for Ministers witnessed also an order, sent from Parliament to the Assembly, that they should proceed to draw up the scheme of Church Discipline and Directory of Public Worship. This was the signal for the breaking out of the strife which is burlesqued in Hudibras. In the January of the next year, 1644, the Presbyterian form of government appearing to be pretty certainly in favour with the majority of the Assembly, the five Dissenting Brethren' above named published a protest which they called an 'Apologetical Narration,' and submitted it to the Houses of Parliament. This gave great offence to their opponents both in the Assembly and out of it, as it was considered to be an attempt to take an unfair advantage in the course of a yet undecided dispute. Answers to the • Narration' poured forth from all quarters, and the strife spread from Westminster over the country. The one hope of keeping the perce in the Assembly lay in procrastination, which only put off the evil day. In May the Directory for Public Worship was again proceeded with, but only to bring on to the carpet

the long-dreaded discussion as to the Lord's Supper, on which any approach to agreement was hopeless. The questions as to Ordination and Church Government were as bad. The dispute as to ordination brought out the differences between the Presbyterians and Independents into strong relief. Briefly, the Presbyterians were in favour of church rule by the church as a whole; the Independents maintaining that it should be in the hands of the separate congregations. So on this question of ordination, to the motion that 'preaching Presbyters only should ordain,'the Independents offered a stubborn resistance, protesting that not even the necessity the church was in to provide herself somehow with ministers could justify the ordination by “Ministers of this City,' unless there had been previous election by some church; meaning by 'church,' some 'congregation.' At length it was carried after ten days of debate, • that no single congregation that can conveniently associate itself with others should assume to itself the sole right of Ordination.' But the greatest strife of all arose in 1645, when the form and regulation of Church Government actually came under discussion. Presbyterians and Independents agreed that there is a certain form of Church Government laid down in the New Testament which is of Divine institution.' But this was the end of the concord. When it was moved from the Presbyterian side that the Scripture holds forth that many particular congregations may, and by Divine institution ought, to be under one Presbyterial government,' the Independents resisted it for fifteen days, and for fifteen days more maintained in their turn the Divine institution of a scheme of Church Government by individual

6

[ocr errors]
[ocr errors]

6

congregations. The question was fought by the most minute enquiries into the constitution of the primitive church at Jerusalem; the Independents maintaining that it was not larger than could meet 'in one place' (Acts i. 15; ii. 1; ii. 46; v. 12; v. 14); the Presbyterians insisting on the other hand that the church was made up of more congregations than one, as appeared from their different languages (Acts ii. and vi.), and that these separate congregations are nevertheless called one church (Acts viii. 1). On similar grounds and by similar methods was argued the question as to Synods, of which we hear much in Iludibras. The appeal of the Church at Antioch to the Church at Jerusalem (Acts xv. 2) was the chief authority for the central scheme of Presbyterian government-the subordination of synods; whilst the Independents declared the authority to be inapplicable, inasmuch as the appeal quoted was only for advice, and not for a decision such as a superior court would accord to an inferior. The Presbyterian view prevailed in both cases in the Assembly. But in the Parliament the combined Erastian and Independent influences succeeded in expunging the doctrine of the Jus Divinum from the form in which the recommendation of the Assembly was finally adopted, so that it should read thus: That it is lawful and agreeable to the Word of God that the Church be governed by Congregational, Classical, and Synodical Assemblies.' It was in vain that the Presbyterians petitioned the Parliament and agitated outside, the Commons stood firm in their refusal to admit of the Divine institution of the synodical government. [Cf. Hudibras, I. iii. 1085 sq.]

The struggle over the question of Church

6

« PreviousContinue »