Page images
PDF
EPUB
[ocr errors]

was Lord mayor of London, who never disturbed the Nonconforming ministers, or troubled men for religion : and the liberty they enjoyed in London encouraged many preachers through the country.

But the year following, they experienced a very unhappy change. The act against Conventicles was renewed, and made more severe than ever. Several new clauses were inserted : viz. " That the fault of the mittimus should not “ disable it; that all doubtful clauses in the act should be “ interpreted as would most favour the suppression of con“ venticles; that they that fled, or removed their dwelling “ into another county, should be pursued by execution, &c. Hereupon Mr. Baxter was apprehended at Acton, and committed to Clerkenwell prison for six months; and having obtained a Habeas corpus, the same justices, as soon as they heard of his release, made a new mittimus to send him to Newgate : but he kept out of their reach. Dr. Manton, though he had great friends, and mighty promises of fa. vour, was imprisoned in the Gatehouse for six months, for.. preaching in his own house, in the parish where he had been minister, and for coming within five miles of a corporation, not having taken the Oxford oath. All that time the meetings in London were frequently disturbed by bands of soldiers, to the death of some, and the terror of many. This year a most virulent book was published, called Ecclesiastical Policy, written by Samuel Parker, who was afterwards a bishop, and at length became Archbishop of Canterbury. A man of great abilities, who was brought up among the zealous enemies of prelacy; but seeing some weaknesses among them, and being of an eager spirit, was turned with the times into the contrary extreme.

He wrote the most scornfully and rashly, the most profanely and cruelly, against the Nonconformists, of any man that ever assaulted thein. He was first answered by Dr. Owen, and afterwards so handled by the witty and sarcastic Andrew Marvel, that he grew much tamer. See Burnett's History of his own' Times, vol. i. p. 364.

In 1672 the Dutch war began, which made the court think it necessary, to grant an Indulgence to the Dissenters, that there might be peace at home, while there was war abroad. The Declaration bore date March 15. It was now publicly owned “ That there was very little fruit of all those forcible " methods which had been been used, for reducing erring " and dissenting persons, &c. His majesty therefore, by

* virtue

“ virtue of his supreme power in matters ecclesiastical, took ti upon him to suspend all penal laws about them, declaring " that he would grant a convenient number of public meet

ing-places to men of all sorts that did not conforin, pro“ vided they took out licences, &c.This was applauded by some among the Nonconformists, while others feared the consequences : for they well knew, that the toleration was not chiefly for their sakes, but for the Papists; and that they should hold it no longer than their interest would allow it them. However they concluded on a cautious and moderate address of thanks.

The ministers of London were now generally settled in their meeting-houses. The merchants at this time set up a weekly lecture on Tuesday moining at Pinners-hall. Mr. Baxter was chosen one of the preachers. But so ill a spirit was now got among them, that they were much offended at his preaching, particularly for laying so much stress upon union among christians ; so that he set up a lecture by him. „self, which he preached gratis, on Fridays, in Fetter-lane, with great convenience, and a considerable blessing on his labours. He refused any settled place on the Lord's day, and preached only occasionally.

In February, 1673, the parliament met, and voted the king's Declaration illegal ; upon which he promised that it should not be brought into precedent. At length the Commons brought in a bill nem. con. for the ease of Protestant Dissenters; but it went no farther than a second reading, because (as Mr. Coke says) the dead weight of bishops joined with the king and the caballing party against it: so that the Dissenters, having the protection of the king's Declaration taken off, were left to the storm of the severe laws in force against them, which by some country justices, though not by the majority, were rigourously executed. The parliament now entertained great jealousies respecting the prevalence of Popery, and passed an act for preventing danger from Popish recusants, (commonly called the Test-act, and not yet repealed,) by which it was enacted, “That all who “ should be admitted into any office, civil or military, " after the first day of Easter-Term in 1673, should (be“ sides taking the oaths of supremacy and allegiance) pub

licly receive the sacrament, according to the usage of " the church of England, within thrce months after ad“ mittance.”—The parliament met again, October 26, and voted against the duke of York's inarriage with an Italian

Papist,

Papist, akin to the Pope ; and likewise against granting any moré inoney, till they were secured against the danger of Popery and Popish counsellors, and their grievances were re. dressed.

In this session, the earl of Orrery desired Mr. Baxter to draw up terms of union between the Conformists and the Nonconformists, in order to their joint and vigorous opposition to Popery; telling him that Sir T. Osborn the new -Lord-treasurer, Bishop Morley, and several other great men were mightily for it. Mr. Baxter accordingly drew up such proposals as he thought might take in all the Independents, as well as Presbyterians, and gave them to the earl of Orrery; who after some time, returned them, with Bishop Morley's strictures, which fully shewed that all his professions for concord were deceitful; for he would not make the. least abatement, in any thing of moment.

Soon after this, some leading men in the House of Commons, drew up a bill for accommodation, to take off oaths, subscriptions, 'aud declarations, except the oaths of allegiance and supremacy, and subscriptions to the doctrine of the church of England, according to the 13th of Eliz. but shewing it to the same bishop he defeated the design. However, that he might seem to be in earnest in so often professing a peaceable disposition, he furthered an act to remit the assent and consent, and the renunciation of the Covenant. But when other bishops were against even this shew of abatement, he told thein openly in the house, “ That had it been *. only to abate à ceremony, he would not have spoken for " it: but he knew that they were bound to the same “ things still, by other clauses or obligations, if these were 56 repealed.” • His majesty soon afterwards called the bishops together to consider what was to be done for securing religion, &c. After various consultations with the ministers of state, they advised him to recal his licences, and put the laws against the Nonconformists in execution. This was done by a proclamation (A. D. 1674,) declaring the licences long since void, and requiring the execution of the laws against Papists and Conventicles. No sooner was the proclamation published, but special informers were set at work to promote the execution.

Another session of parliament approaching, Bishop Mor.. ley and Bishop Ward appearing apprehensive of the danger of Popery, seemed very forward for some abatements, which

might take in the Nonconformists, and mentioned their de. sign to many. At length Dr. Tillotson and Dr. Stillingfleet desired a meeting with Dr. Manton, Dr. Bates, Mr. Pool, and Mr. Baxter, in order to consider of an accommodation, and said they had the encouragement of several Lords both spiritual and temporal. Mr. Baxter at first met the two doctors alone; and having considered various plans, they at length fixed on one in which they agreed. This being communicated to the Nonconformists, was satisfactory to them: but when they laid it before the bishops there was an end of the treaty.

The informers in the city went on, but met with many discouragements. The aldermen were not fond of them, and often got out of the way, when they knew of their coming; and some denied them their warrants.' Strowd and Marshal became general informers ; but were soon fallen upon by their creditors, and generally hated. The latter died in the compter. One that had sworn against Mr. Baxter, hearing three ministers pray and preach soon after at Rother. hithe, his heart was so melted that he professed repentance, and left his former companions. Another, meeting Mr. Baxter in the street, promised him that he would meddle no

more.

Keting the informer, being in prison for debt, wrote to Mr. Baxter to interpose for his deliverance, telling him, he verily believed that God had sent this affliction, as a punishment for giving him so much trouble; and earnestly desired him to pray to God to forgive him. About this time (A.D. 1676,) twelve or thirteen of the bishops dining with Sir Nath. Hern, sheriff of London, discoursed with him about putting the laws against the Dissenters in execution; when he told them, “That they could not trade with their neigh“" bours one day, and send them to gaol the next.”—The following session of parliament, the duke of Buckingham made a notable speech against persecution, and desired the consent of the Lords to bring in a bill for the ease of his majesty's Protestant subjects in matters of religion; but while he was preparing it, the parliament was prorogued.

In 1678, the Popish plot broke out, which exceedingly alarmed the whole nation. The House of Commons, after many warm debates, came to this resolution; “ That there “ hath been, and is, an execrable and hellish design, con

« trived and carried on by Popish recusants, for assassinating “ and murdering the king, for subverting the government,

* and for destroying the Protestant religion by law esta• blished.” Most of their time was spent about this plot, for which many suffered.

At length, January 14, 1679, this parliament (which so long complied with the court in all their desires) being awakened by a sense of the common danger, was suddenly dissolved. This occasioned a ferment in all parts of the country. It was generally esteemed the common concern in the next election, to choose firm Protestants, who should heartily apply themselves to make provision for the common security. The new parliament first sat on the 6th of March following, and began where the last left off, but were soon prorogued to August 14; and before that time, were dissolved by proclamation, and another called to sit at Westminster in October following. When they assembled, they were adjourned till January 26, by which time a new plot was discovered by Dangerfeld, which the Papists had contrived to lay upon the Dissenters. They were afterwards adjourned several times till October 30, when they proceeded to business. Finding no other way to keep Popery out of the nation, than by excluding the duke of York from the succession to the crown, they brought in a bill for this purpose. On November 11, it passed the House of Commons; on the 15th it was carried up to the House of Lords by the brave lord Russel, and on the second reading, it was thrown out, by a majority of thirty, of whom fourteen were bishops. This House of Commons had before them a bill* for a Comprehension, and another for an Indulgence: both of them were read twice, and were before the committee.

But finding this would not go down, a bill was prepared purely for exempting his majesty's protestant subjects, dissenting from the church of England, from the penalties imposed upon the Papists by the act of 35 Eliz. It passed the Commons, and was agreed to by the Lords ; but when the king came to the house to pass the bills, thi was taken from the table, and never heard of any more. Many leading men in the House of Commons spoke in favour of the Dissenters, but they had not tiine to bring things to maturity. The king was dissatisfied with their proceedings; his great want was money, and they were resolved to give none, unless he

The heads of the bill for uniting his majesty's Protestant subjects may be secn in Calamy's life of Baxter, p. 350---352.

would

« PreviousContinue »