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Art. IV. The Lives of the Puritans : containing a Biographical
Account of those Divines who distinguished themselves in the Cause of Religious Liberty, from the Reformation under Queen Elizabeth, to the Act of Uniformity, in 1662. By Benjamin Brook, 3 vols. 8vo. pp. xxviii, 1515. Price 11. 16s. Black, London. 1815.
(Concluded from our last Number.) WE avail ourselves of the present occasion to furnish our rea
ders with a concise view of the origin and progress of Religious Liberty in England ; referring them for particulars, to Mr. Brook's Introduction, which fills a hundred pages of the first volume. It is a good summary of ecclesiastical history, for the period which it comprises.
The passions of men sometimes afford the occasions of good, which their principles would never present; and the methods which they employ for the gratification of their sensual or asbitious appetites, are directed by the invisible hand of God, to an end which never entered into their contemplation. This was remarkably the case with Henry the Eighth, whose opposition to the papal power, did not originate in the love of true religion, nor was it intended for the advancement of Freedom. Strongly attached to the Romish Church, and honoured by its head with the title of Defender of the Faith, as a reward of his service in advocating the cause of the Church against Luther, there was no probability that the English Monarch would become an instrument of impairing the pontifical authority, and of delivering kingdoms from its grasp. His passion for Anne Boleyn, however, produced, eventually, in England, effects siunilar to thos which, in other countries, resulted from the religious intrepidit: of the Reformers. Inflamed by passion, and irritated against the supreme Pontiff, who opposed obstacles to its gratification, by hesitating to divorce him from Catharine his queen, he resolved on the adoption of measures, by which bis project of a umion with Anne Boleyn might be accomplished, and his resentment manifested against the Pope. He claimed the supremacy in his own kingdom, and compelled the clergy to suba! to his authority as the head of the Church ; and thus dissolo the connexion wbich had long subsisted between the ecclesiastis of England, and the papal court.
This change of the supremacy was in favour of liberty. though the king maintained it in the most absolute manner. 1 was an innovation on the established usage of ages; it broke the spell of superstition, and divested the authority of the Churrt of that veneration which gave it the air of sanctity. The chans of power, also, was in itself a circumstance which could not tas of affording excitement to the reflections of men ; and as it w made at a time when the Continent was agitated by religious ? troversy ; while the sparks struck by the energy of Wickliffe's doctrines were yet alive ; and when the art of printing was prepared to aid in the diffusion of knowledge; it was an event of great importance in the history of religious freedom. The grounds on which a temporal prince rested his title to spiritual dominion, were sure to be examined by some superior mind, which would pronounce this authority a usurpation, and contest its claims. This assumption of supremacy was resisted by the clergy; but the royal power bowed them to its will. The refusal to acknowledge this authority, was afterwards a character of the Puritans, as it is now of Dissenters; we perceive, however, that before the rise of the Puritans, the principle of resistance to religious dominion in princes, was avowed by the ministers of the Church.
The supremacy of a layman over all ecclesiastical persons and things, is a gross anomaly in a Church which boasts of its supposed apostolical constitution, and contends that bishops are exclusively the order of men to whom Christ has committed its government! Laymen preside in the ecclesiastical courts as the king's judges; and their authority is not only independent on the bishops and clergy, but it may give sentence in opposition to their interests and their will. In the Church of England, even excommunication is not an act of the clergy. The government of the apostolical Churches, was essentially different from the ecclesiastical policy of England. Of whatever excellence, therefore, the Established Chureh may boast, she is not entitled to affix the epithet Apostolical to her designation.
Though Henry discarded the authority of the pontiff, he still retained most of the tenets of the Church of Rome; and while he persecuted and burnt Protestants for denying the real presence, he put Papists to death for refusing to acknowledge his supremacy. In 1539, the Bloody Statute of the Six Articles, was enacted, establishing transubstantiation, communion in one kind, the celibacy of the clergy, vows of chastity, private masses, and auricular confession, and it awarded death as the penalty of their violation. The reading of the Scriptures in the common tongue, which had been conceded, was now prohibited. This haughty monarch was thus trampling, with proud disdain, on the rights of faith and of conscience, when, in 1547, death delivered his subjects from his tyranny.
On the demnise of Henry the supremacy was exercised by the Council, into whose hands the Government was committed by the late king's will, during the minority of Edward the Sixth, his son and successor, then in his tenth year, and was used with comparative moderation ; yet, in some instances, it was exerted with rigour and cruelty, as in the severities towards Middleton, and in the execution of Joan Bocher, which has affixed an intatious religion, and her imperious spirit, were soon displayed; and the first acts of her government in relation to the Church, dissipated the hopes which the friends of enlarged protestantism had cherished.
The “ Act of Uniformity' prescribed an exclusive form of worship, and was so far from giving any relief to the scruples of tender minds, that the observance of the disputed points was rigorously ordained. Tbrough the whole of this reign, the provisions of this act were enforced with unsparing severity.
The • Act of Supremacy' invested Elizabeth with uncontrolled authority in religion, and contained a clause, empowering the Queen, and her successors, as often as they shall think 'meet, and for as long time as they shall please, to exercise under 'her, and them, all manner of spiritual, or ecclesiastical jurisdiction, to visit, reform, redress, order, correct, and amend all errors, heresies, schisms, abuses, contempts, and enormities whatsoever.'
On this was founded the authority of the Court of High Commission--the most terrible and iniquitous of all institutions ever established in this kingdom. Its methods of inquisition,
and of administering oaths, says Hume, were contrary to all 'the most simple ideas of justice and equity.' Into this court many of the best of men were cited, and the commissioners sported themselves in all the insolence of office, and with the most wanton acts of oppression and tyranny. Mr. Brook's volumes supply ample details of the shocking oppressions of this inhuman inquisition.
The persecution of the Puritans, at length compelled their separation from the National Church. In 1566, many of the Puritans held a consultation, in which they resolved,' • Thul since they could not have the word.of God preached, nor thescraments administered in the National Church, without the impesition of offensive articles; and since there had been a separate congregation in Queen Mary's time, it was their duty to bresh off from the public churches, and to asseinble as they had oppor'tunity, in private houses, or elsewhere, to worship God, in 1 'manner that might not offend their consciences. This is to date of Separation.
The Puritans proceeded farther. On the 20th of Novem 1572, several of the leading men among them, assembne at Wandsworth, on the banks of the Thames, and formen themselves into a distinct society, on the presbyterian mod After repeated attempts to obtain relief from the impositions under which they suffered, they resolved, in one of their assemblies in 1586, to introduce a reformation in the best manner there could, independently on the ruling powers; and to this te solution upwards of five hundred Divines subscribed.
The principle of separation was carried much farther by to Brownists, who received that appellation from their founder, Robert Brown, in 1581. They denied the Church of England to be a true Church, and separated themselves entirely from her communion. They maintained, that each congregation was a Church, and competent in all respects to choose its ministers, and to manage its own affairs; and were, in this respect, the precursors of the Independents.
Many of the Brownists were great sufferers for nonconforunity, and some of their ministers were put to death. The cases of Greenwood, Barrow, and Perry, which are detailed by Mr. Brook in the former part of his second volume, are very interesting and affecting, and their execution affixed an indelible disgrace on the Queen, Archbishop Whitgift, and the High Commission. Greenwood and Barrow, gave such testimonies, at the place of execution, of their unfeigned piety towards God, and of their loyalty to the Queen, and prayed so earnestly for her prosperity, that on their behaviour being reported to her by. Dr. Raynolds, she expressed concern at having consented to their execution. When she inquired of the Earl of Cumberland, what kind of end they made, he replied, “A very godly * end, and prayed for your Majesty.' It was the detestable practice of Whitgilt, and his associates in persecution, to attribute disaffection to the state to such as opposed only ecclesiastical assumptions; a practice which is not yet wholly discarded. But the Brownists were criminals only as they were Nonconformists.
The Brownists entertained more correct notions of religious liberty, than any of the early Nonconformists. They insisted that religion, in all its principles and practice, was completely independent on civil authority. Though these sentiments are the only ones which can be supported, they were so novel at this time, as to offend the great hody of the Puritans, who employed the pens of their leading men to write against then. Through the whole of Elizabeth's reign, the cause of liberty made great progress.
The impediments which were raised against it, by the despotic authority of the Queen, and by the cruelties of her ecclesiastics, only encouraged and imboldened its supporters; and in the voluntary association of religious persons, to worship God according to their consciences, in opposition to human power, it attained a glorious triumph.
In 1603, the pedantic James succeeded Elizabeth; and as the degrading opinions which he had expressed of the English Church were well known, the Puritans flattered themselves with such alterations as would admit of their comprehension. With this expectation they presented a petition to him, signed by upwards of a thousand Ministers who sought the reforma: tion of the Church. But the Hampton Court Conference soon taught the Puritans what they had really to expect from this monarch, whose character was a compound of despicable meanness, and gross hypocrisy, and who ruled by a system which he, not improperly, denominated kingcraft. Conformity to all the royal demands, or the alternative of suffering, was prepared for them. Your party shall conform, or I will hurry them
out of the land, or else I do worse,' said the King to Dr. Raynolds, the principal advocate of the Puritans in this mock conference; and he kept liis word.
For the edification of all who perceive the ter:dencies of dissent to destroy independent feelings in its ministers, and the manly freedom which establishments produce in the clergy, ne introduce a notice of the behaviour of the highest dignitaries of the Church to this contemptible monarch. Bishop Bancroit “falling on his knees before the king, on this occasion, and with
bis cyes raised to him, said, “ 1 protest my heart melteth for “joy, that Almighty God, of his singular mercy, has given us “such a king, as since Christ's time hath not been;" and Whit'gilt exclaimed ; “ Undoubtedly your Majesty speaks by the “special assistance of God's spirit.” »
In Bancroft, James found a suitable successor to Whitgift, and a proper instrument of his own tyranny. Dlany of the Puritans again sought refuge from persecution, abroad. Among others, Ilenry Jacob, who had given great offence to the late queen, by the sentiments which he published on the Article of Christ's descent into Hell, removed to Holland, where he had some debates with the more rigid Brownists ou the question – Is the Church of England a true Church? which he affirmed, and which they denied. At Leyden, he embraced the opinions of John Robinson, on Church Government, and returning to England, in 1616, he communicated with his friends on the propriety of forming separate congregations on the model of the Leyden Society. The result of their deliberations the formation, in the above year, of the first Independent or Congregational Church in England.
In 16:25, Charles the First was proclaimed king of England. After the example of his predecessors, he continued the persecutions against the Puritans, who felt the severities of the Council Table, the Star Chamber, and the High Commission, now in the plenitude of their power. The clergy preached the doctrines of passive obedience and non-resistance, with debasing servility; and Dr. Manwaring, a royal favourite, opeuls maintained that, “The king is not bound to observe the laws of
the realm, concerning the subjects' rights and liberties, but that his royal will and pleasure, in imposing taxes, without consent of parliament, doth oblige the subjects' conscience on pain of eternal damnation.' Laud, first made bishop of London,