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The convocation did nothing but present an humble petition to the queen, to take off the archbishop's sequestration, which her majesty was not pleased to grant.
This summer Aylmer bishop of London, held a visitation of his clergy, at the convocation-house of St. Paul's, and obliged them to subscribe the following articles ; 1. Exactly to keep to the Book of Common Prayer and sacraments. 2. To wear the surplice in all their ministrations. 3. Not add or diminish any thing in reading divine service.----He then made the following inquiries, 1. Whether all that had cure of souls administered the sacraments in person? 2. Whether they observed the ceremonies to be used in baptism and marriage ? 3. Whether the youth were catechised ? 4. Whether their ministers read the homilies ? 5. Whether any of them called others that did not preach by ill names, as dumb dogs? Those who did not subscribe, and answer the interrogatories to his lordship’s satisfaction, were immediately suspended and silenced.
But these violent measures, instead of reconciling the Puritans to the church, drove them farther from it. Men who act upon principles * will not easily be beaten from them with the artillery of canons, injunctions, subscriptions, fines, imprisonments, &c. much less will they esteem a church that fights with such weapons. Multitudes were by these methods carried off to a total separation, and so far prejudiced, as not to allow the church of England to be a true church, nor her ministers true ministers; they renounced all' communion with her, not only in the prayers and ceremonies, but in hearing the word and the sacraments. These were the people called Brownists,t from one Robert Brown, a preacher in the diocess of Norwich, descended of an ancient and honourable family in Rutlandshire, and nearly related to the lord-treasurer Cecil; he was educated in Corpus Christi college, Cambridge, and preached sometimes in Bene't-church, where the vebemence of his delivery gained him reputation with the people. He was first a school
To do so is highly virtavus and praise worthy. It is the support of integrity, and constitutes excellence of character: yet, in this instance, bishop Warbarton could allow himself to degrade and make a jest of it. “ It is just the same (says he) with men who act upon passion and prejudice, for the poet says truly,
Obstinacy's ne'er so stiff
As when 'tis in a wrong belief."-Ed. + With them commenced the third period of Puritanism. The increasing severity of the bishops inflamed, instead of subduing, tbe spirits of the Nonconformisls, and drove them to a greater distance froin the establishment.--Ed.
master, then a lecturer at Islington; but being a fiery, hotheaded young man, he went about the countries, inveighing against the discipline and ceremonies of the church, and exhorting the people by no means to comply with them. He was first taken notice of by the bishop of Norwich, who committed him to the custody of the sheriff of the county in the year 1580, but upon acknowledgment of his offence he was released. In the year 1582, he published a book called “The life and manners of true Christians; to which is prefixed, a treatise of reformation without tarrying for any; and of the wickedness of those preachers who will not reform themselves and their charge, because they will tarry till the magistrate command and compel them.” For this he was sent for again into custody, and upon examination confessed himself the author, but denied that he was acquainted with the publication, of the book; whereupon he was dismissed a second time at the intercession of the lordtreasurer, and sent home to his father, with whom he continued four years; after which he travelled up and down the countries in company with his assistant Richard Harrison, preaching against bishops, ceremonies, ecclesiastical courts, ordaining of ministers, &c. for which, as he afterward boasted, he had been committed to thirty-two prisons,
in some of which he could not see his hand at noon. day. At length he gathered a separate congregation of his own principles; but the queen and her bishops watching them narrowly, they were quickly forced to leave the kingdom. Several of his friends embarked with their effects for Holland ; and having obtained leave of the magistrates to worship God in their own way, settled at Middleburgh in Zealand. Here Mr. Brown formed a church according to his own model: but when this handful of people were delivered from the bishops their oppressors, they crumbled into parties among themselves, insomuch that Brown, being weary of his office, returned into England in the year 1589, and having renounced his principles of separation, became rector of Achurch in Northamptonshire: here he lived an idle and dissolute life, according to Fuller,* far from that Sabbatarian strictness that his followers aspired after. He had a wife, with whom he did not live for many years, and a church in which he never preached; at length, being poor
* B. 10.p. 263.
and proud, and very passionate, he struck the constable of his parish for demanding a rate of him; and being beloved by nobody, the. officer summoned him before sir Roland St. John, a neighbouring justice of peace, who committed him to Northampton-jail ; the decrepit old man, not being able to walk, was carried thither upon a feather-bed in a cart, where he fell sick and died, in the year 1630, and in the eighty-first year of his age.
The revolt of Mr. Brown broke up his congregation at Middleburgh, but was far from destroying the seeds of separation that he had sown in several parts of England; his followers increased, and made a considerable figure towards the latter end of this reign; and because some of his principles were adopted and improved by a considerable body of Puritans in the next age, I shall here give an account of them,
The Brownists did not differ from the church of England in any articles of faith; but were very rigid and narrow. in points of discipline. They denied the church of England to be a true church, and her ministers to be rightly ordained. They maintained the discipline of the church of England to be Popish and antichristian, and all her ordinances and sacraments invalid. Hence they forbade their people to join with them in prayer, in hearing, or in any part of public worship; nay, they not only renounced communion with the church of England, but with all other reformed churches, except such as should be of their own model. *
They apprehended, according to Scripture, that every church ought to be confined within the limits of a single congregation; and that the government should be democratical. When a church was to be gathered, such as desired to be members made a confession of their faith in the presence of each other, and signed a covenant, obliging themselves to walk together in the order of the gospel, according to certain rules and agreements therein contained.
The whole power of admitting and excluding members, with the deciding of all controversies, was in the brotherhood. Their church-officers, for preaching the word and taking care of the poor, were chosen from among themselves, and separated to their several offices by fasting and prayer, and imposition of the hands of some of the brethren. They did not allow the priesthood to be a distinct order,
or to give a man an indelible character; but as the vote of the brotherhood made him an officer, and gave him authority to preach and administer the sacraments among them; so the same power could discharge him from his office, and reduce him to the state of a private member.
When the number of communicants was larger than could meet in one place, the church divided, and chose new officers from among themselves as before, living together as sister-churches, and giving each other the right hand of fellowship, or the privilege of communion with either. One church might not exercise jurisdiction or authority over another, but each might give the other counsel, advice, or admonition, if they walked disorderly, or abandoned the capital truths of religion; and if the offending church did not receive the admonition, the others were to withdraw, and publicly disown them as a church of Christ. The powers of their church-officers were confined within the narrow limits of their own society; the pastor of one church might not administer the sacrament of baptism or the Lord's supper to any but those of his own communion and their immediate children. They declared against all prescribed forms of prayer. Any lay-brother had the liberty of prophesying, or giving a word of exhortation, in their churchassemblies; and it was usual after sermon, for some of the members to ask questions, and confer with each other upon the doctrines that had been delivered; but as for churchcensures, they were for an entire separation of the ecclesiastical and civil sword. In short, every church, or society of Christians meeting in one place, was, according to the Brownists, a body corporate, having full power within itself to admit and exclude members, to choose and ordain officers; and, when the good of the society required it, to depose them, without being accountable to classes, convocations, synods, councils, or any jurisdiction whatsoever.
Some of their reasons for withdrawing from the church are not easily answered: they alleged, that the laws of the realm, and the queen's injunctions, had made several unwarrantable additions to the institutions of Christ. That there were several gross errors in the church-service. That these additions and errors were imposed and made nécessary to communion. That if persecution for conscience' sake was the mark of a false church, they could not believe the
church of England to be a true one. They apprehended farther, that the constitution of the hierarchy was too bad to be mended; that the very pillars of it were rotten, and that the structure must be begun anew. Since therefore all Christians are obliged to preserve the ordinances of Christ pure and undefiled, they resolved to lay a new foundation, and keep as near as they could to the primitive pattern, though it were with the hazard of all that was dear to them in the world.
This scheme of the Brownists seems to be formed upon the practice of the apostolical churches, before the gifts of inspiration and prophecy were ceased, and is therefore hardly practicable in these latter ages, wherein the infirmities and passions of private persons too often take place of their gifts and graces. Accordingly they were involved in frequent quarrels and divisions; but their chief crime was their uncharitableness, in unchurching the whole Christian world, and breaking off all manner of communion in hearing the word, in public prayer, and in the administration of the sacraments, not only with the church of England, but with all foreign reformed churches, which, though less pure, ought certainly to be owned as churches of Christ.
The heads of the Brownists were, Mr. Brown himself, and his companion Mr. Harrison, together with Mr. Tyler, Copping, Thacker, and others, who were now in prison for spreading his books; the two last being afterward put to death for it. The bishop of Norwich used them cruelly, and was highly displeased with those that shewed them any countenance. When the prisoner above mentioned, with Mr. Handson and some others, complained to the justices at their quarter-sessions of their long and illegal imprisonment, their worships were pleased to move the bishops in their favour; with which his lordship was so dissatisfied, that he drew up twelve articles of impeachment against the justices themselves, and caused them to be summoned before the
queen and council to answer for their misdemeanours. In the articles they are charged with countenancing Copping, Tyler, and other disorderly clergymen. They are accused of contempt of his lordship’s jurisdiction, in refusing to admit divers ministers whom he had ordained, because they were ignorant, and could only read; and for removing
* Strype's Ann. vol. 3. p. 20.