Page images

ment she would direct. But the requirements of conscience are stronger than a sovereign's threats. They continued to hold their private meetings; and on the 19th of June, 1567, they agreed to have a sermon preached and the communion dispensed at Plumber's Hall, which they engaged for that day.* The day came, and they assembled to worship the God of peace, but their peaceful worship was rudely interrupted by the entrance of the armed officers of the civil power, who seized upon the chief, dispersed the rest, and dragged their victims to prison. Next day they were brought before the bishop of London, and the chief magistrate of the city, charged with the heinous offence of forsaking the Church which persecuted them, and setting up separate assemblies for worship. They defended their conduct ably; but because they would not yield, they were, to the number of twenty-four men and seven women, sent to Bridewell, where they endured the hardships of more than a year's imprisonment.

[1571.] A parliament was held in 1571, in which there were some attempts made to procure a further reformation. One member, Mr. Strickland, proposed to bring in a bill for that purpose, asserting that the Prayer-Book, with some superstitious remains of Popery in the Church, might be altered without any danger to religion. Her majesty was so displeased, that she sent for him to the council, reproved him sharply, and forbade his attendance in Parliament ; but this caused such an alarm in the House of Commons, as a dangerous invasion of their privileges, that she found it convenient to remove her prohibition. An act was passed, ratifying the Thirty-nine Articles, which had been framed by the Convocation of 1562; and one clause in that act admitted the validity of ordination by presbyters alone, without a bishop.t This clause was greatly disliked by the bishops, and has been repeatedly condemned by their successors, but remains still unrepealed. The House of Commons were desirous also that articles of discipline should be framed and enacted; but when this was discountenanced by the bishops, they presented an address to the queen, representing the grievous injuries sustained by the Church and kingdom for want of true and efficient discipline, supplicating her majesty that proper laws might be provided and enacted for the reformation of these abuses. But the queen dissolved the Parliament without answering this supplication.

* Strype's Life of Grindal, pp. 115, and 135, 136.

† In none of the MS. copies of the Thirty-nine Articles, either as passed by the Convocation of 1562, or as ratified by the Parliament of 1571, is the clause in the 20th article to be found, by which the Church of England claims the power “ to decree rites and ceremonies.” It must have been surreptitiously introduced afterwards by some of the Prelatic party, without civil or ecclesiastical authority.See Historical and Critical Essay on the Thirty-nine Articles, pp. 277-279.

Although little was done in the Parliament to relieve the oppressed Puritans, some steps were taken by the Convocation which tended to increase their oppression. A canon of discipline was framed, empowering the bishops to call in all their licences for preaching, and to issue new licences to those only whose qualifications gained their approbation; and among the qualifications specified, subscription to all the points of which the Puritans complained was particularly mentioned. These canons were not sanctioned by royal authority; but the bishops, knowing well the queen's inclinations, did not hesitate to enforce them with great rigor. Numbers of the Puritan divines were immediately deprived of their licences to preach, because they refused to subscribe canons not yet legalized; and it became apparent that a formidable crisis was at hand.

At the very time that the bishops were thus silencing the persons whom they themselves admitted to be the best preachers in the kingdom, the state of religion throughout the country was truly deplorable. Of this Strype, no Puritan, presents the following outline: “ The Churchmen heaped up many benefices upon themselves, and resided upon none, neglecting their cures; many of them alienated their lands, made unreasonable leases, and wastes of their woods; granted reversions and advowsons to their wives and children, or to others for their use. Churches ran greatly into dilapidations and decays; and were kept nasty and filthy, and indecent for God's worship. Among the laity there was little devotion. The Lord's day greatly profaned, and little observed. The common prayers not frequented. Some lived without any service of God at all. Many were mere heathens and atheists. The queen's own court an harbor for epicures and atheists, and a kind of law

less place, because it stood in no parish. Which things made good men fear some sad judgments impending over the nation.

Perceiving that there was no prospect whatever of any further reformation in religious matters proceeding from either the sovereign or the convocation, and lamenting the wretched ignorance and immorality which prevailed in the kingdom, the Puritans now resolved to exert themselves to the utmost of their means and opportunities for their own instruction, and that of their perishing countrymen. And as Dr. Scambler, bishop of Peterborough, was less intolerant than many of his order, the ministers within his diocese, particularly those of Northampton, with his approbation, and that of the mayor of the town, formed an association for promoting the purity of worship and the maintenance of discipline. The regulations of this association were very temperate, involving no departure from any of the established modes of worship, nor any rigid disciplinary arrangements. And as they were aware of the extreme inability to preach instructively, which characterized very many of the clergy, they endeavored also to provide a remedy for this evil

. For this purpose they instituted what they termed "prophesyings," taking the designation from 1 Cor. xiv. 31, “Ye may all prophesy one by one, that all may learn, and all may be comforted.” In these prophesyings one presided, and a text previously selected was explained by one of the ministers to whom it had been assigned. After his exposition, each in turn gave his view of the passage ; and the whole exercise was summed up by the president or moderator for the day, who concluded by exhorting all to persevere in the discharge of their sacred duties. This scheme, it is evident, was admirably calcu. lated to increase the scriptural knowledge, and promote the usefulness of the clergymen who engaged in it; and it deserved the cordial approbation of all who were desirous to promote the religious welfare of the community. But it was regarded with jealousy by the bishops, and ere long encountered the keen hostility of Elizabeth herself.

[1572.] When the Parliament met in 1572, an attempt

* Strype's Life of Parker, p. 395. | Strype's Life of Grindal, pp. 175, 176.

was made by the House of Commons to mitigate the sufferings of the Puritans, and they passed two bills for that purpose This gave such offence to the queen, that she sharply reproved them for interfering in such matters, and commanded them to deliver up the bills. One of the members boldly complained of this conduct, as trenching upon the liberty of Parliament, and for his boldness was sent to the Tower. The Puritans, who had reason to expect some countenance from the Parliament, prepared a full statement of their grievances and their desires, in a treatise entitled " An Admonition to the Parliament.” But while the Par. liament was not permitted to grant any redress, the authors of the Admonition were cast into prison, and treated with great severity. Whitgift was appointed to answer the Admonition, and Cartwright answered Whitgift, which led to a lengthened controversy between these learned and able men. Each, and still more eagerly the partisans of each, claimed the victory; but the controversy did not terminate with the writings of these antagonists, nor is it yet terminated. It is waged in the present day with equal keenness, and not inferior ability ; it may be added, with no novelty in its leading principles, and very little in its arguments. Cartwright maintained that the Scriptures were not only the sole standard of doctrine, but also of discipline and government, and that the Church of Christ in all ages was to be regulated by them. Whitgift held, that the Scriptures were a rule of faith; but not designed to be a standard of discipline and government—that this was changeable, and might be adapted to the civil government of any country—and that the times of the apostles could not be the best model, but rather the first four centuries of the Church, during which she had reached a mature development. In what do these views essentially differ from the advocates and opponents of Patristic theology in the present day? Till men agree in some leading principles by which any great controversy must be ruled, it is vain to expect that it can ever be brought to a satisfactory conclusion; yet those who appeal to Scripture authority alone, must surely be held to be following the most proper and authoritative method in discussions of that nature.

All hope of legislative assistance in prosecuting further the queen

reformation being cut off by the queen's arbitrary procedure, the Puritans resolved to take another step still more daring and decisive than any on which they had previously ventured. Several of the ministers of London and its vicinity met together and determined to form themselves into a presbytery, to be held at Wandsworth, a village on the banks of the Thames, about five miles from the city. On the 20th of November, 1572, about fifteen ministers met, eleven elders were chosen to form members of the body ; their offices were described in a register, entitled, “ The Orders of Wandsworth ;;' and this was the first fully constituted Presbyterian Church in England.* The intel. ligence of this event soon reached the bishops; the Court of High Commission took the alarm;

issued a proclamation for enforcing the Act of Uniformity; but the Presbytery of Wandsworth for a time eluded the fury of their enemies, and other presbyteries were formed in neighboring counties.

There was now little possibility of reconciliation between the High Church and the Puritan parties; for the unbending determination of the former not to grant the slightest relief to the sufferings of their brethren, nor the least accommodation to their aggrieved consciences, had driven them from mere non-conformity into the adoption of a different form of Church polity, possessing in itself the elements of perpetuity and growth. Puritanism had thenceforward not only a vital principle, but also systematic organization, enabling it to live on, and increase in spite of any amount of persecution ; for a system dies not with the individuals that held it, but draws into itself the fresh life of succeeding generations.

Having thus traced the rise of Puritanism, and seen its systematic organization, it will not be necessary to follow its progress so minutely in what remains of this introductory outline. We shall content ourselves with touching briefly on the main events which mark the growing development of the leading principles characteristic of the two contending parties.

The sufferings of the Puritans continued unabated during the remainder of the life of Archbishop Parker; many of them being silenced, imprisoned, banished, and other

• Neal, vol. i. p. 198; Collier, vol. ii. p. 541.

« PreviousContinue »