« ForrigeFortsæt »
During the fifteenth century, there were a number of persons in England who denied the necessity of water baptism, and held “that Christian people were sufficiently baptized in the blood of Christ, and needed no water; and that the sacrament of baptism with water, used in the church, is but a light matter, and of small effect.” Some of these suffered death by fire, for adherence to their principles; and for a long period afterwards, those who en. tertained similar views, were the objects of severe persecution. In the sixteenth century, the Society of Baptists or Anabaptists took its rise. They objected to infant baptism as unauthorized by Scripture, and rebaptized those adults whom they considered as believers and admitted to the privileges of their communion. Besides their peculiar views on this subject, some of them held war to be inconsistent with Christianity, and doubted the lawfulness of oaths under the gospel dispensation. They also insisted that the gospel ought to be free, and denied the right of tithes or other compulsory maintenance for its ministers. They were generally persons of great seriousness of mind and strictness of deportment, searching the Scriptures diligently; and being wearied with the ceremonies and impositions of men, were desirous to practice that form of religion only, which they believed to be sanctioned by our Lord and his apostles.
Their views of the Christian ministry did not make it essential, that those who took part therein, should prepare for it by the acquisition of learning ; but gave liberty for any to speak a word, either in doctrine or exhortation, who believed themselves called thereto and qualified by the gift of the Holy Spirit. Some were zealously opposed to a hireling ministry, declaiming against it in their preaching, by which they subjected themselves to severe sufferings. Many of this persuasion were imprisoned during the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, and patiently endured their confinement, showing by their steadfastness under suffering, that they were actuated by motives sincerely conscientious. Of this class was the pious John Bunyan, whose imprisonment lasted nearly twelve years.
The first Presbyterian church established in England, was in 1572. It consisted of Puritans, (then so called) who, among other things, dissented from the government of the church by bishops, &c., conceiving that by pastors and presbyters or elders, to be more consistent with Holy Scripture. They agreed with the Independents, in denying the divine right of the bishops to order and direct the congregation ; but instead of leaving each distinct, with absolute control over its own members and officers, they associated several churches in one synod, and a number of these again united in forming a general assembly, which is the supreme ecclesiastical body.
This society. comprised a much larger number of members than either of the others we have mentioned; and the part they acted in the revolution which drove Charles I. from the throne, and finally brought him to the scaffold, as well as in the affairs of government during the interregnum, rendered them sufficiently conspicuous.
The persecutions they endured, while the reins of government were in the hands of the Church party, we should suppose would have taught them moderation and charity towards the conscientious dissent of others; but no sooner were they placed in the seat of power, than they began to contend for uniformity in faith and practice; the moloch of Christendom, to which many of her choicest sons had been wantonly sacrificed.
So fierce was their opposition to toleration, that after a long conference of a Committee of Parliament, for the purpose of making some agreement, by which the Independents might be accommodated in their views of church government, the scheme was necessarily abandoned; because the Presbyterians refused to concede anything. They who but lately had contended against the divine right of the bishops, were now urgent to make all yield to the divine right of presbytery. The ministers of Sion College pronounced toleration sa root of gall and bitterness ;” others of the sect declaimed against it, as contrary to godliness-opening a door to libertinism and profanity, and that it ought to be rejected
soul-poison.” Liberty of conscience was declared to be the nourisher of all heresies and schisins, and most of the sermons preached before the House of Commons, while the question was under debate, breathed the spirit of persecution, and incited the ruling powers to draw the sword against such as would not con, form. The Presbyterians little thought that their own arguments would quickly be used against themselves, and the severity they had exercised upon others, returned with full measure into their own bosoms. This was lamentably the case after the restoration, when the Church of England having regained her power, exercised it with so little mercy, in the vain attempt to force men's consciences into a conformity with her prescriptions.
We have now noticed the principal sects which existed at the time our Society arose, and to whom the reader will find allusion made in the writings of Friends. They were all strenuously opposed to the Roman Catholic church; and while King James I. and his son Charles I., were both suspected of favouring that religion, as well as some of the dignitaries of the Episcopal church; the dissenters availed themselves of every opportunity to show their dislike to it. This contributed not a little to alienate their affections from the throne, and to widen the breach to which their persecution had given rise.
The violation of their natural and civil rights; the disregard of their often-repeated and respectful petitions, and the frequent breach of promises solemnly made, tended to make the Puritans suspicious of James, and induced them to watch with the most jealous eye, every encroachment of the crown. The house of Stuart were remarkable for arrogant and arbitrary assumption, , in virtue of their prerogative. However the exigency of the occasions may extenuate some of their acts, there are others, which deserve no milder appellations than tyranny and oppression. Against these, the dissenters inveighed with boldness and vehemence, and, as is usually the case, the cry of oppression rallied to their side a host of partisans, until at length the king had lost the affections of a large portion of his subjects. Instead of pacifying them by some concessions, and soothing their incensed feel. ings by gentleness and clemency, measures still more harsh and offensive were pursued towards them.
They were punished as factious schismatics—as enemies to the king and government, and inciters of the people to rebellionwere fined, whipped, maimed, imprisoned and banished—enduring almost every species of hardship and suffering which cruelty could suggest. It were no wonder, if men who had felt so severely the abuses of regal power, should be in favour of a form of government, by which it could be restrained within more just and reasonable limits, and the rights of the subject be more effectually secured.
The disputes between the Puritans and the Church party, which had been carried on with no little acrimony, during the reigns of Elizabeth and James I., increased in violence under Charles, and began to assume the most serious aspect, threatening to destroy the peace of the nation. The Puritans had augmented in num. bers and importance, and the flagrant outrages committed upon them, produced commiseration in the minds of many, who yet were sincere in their attachment to the religion of the Church. So little regard was had to law or equity in the treatment of them, that their cause gradually became identified with the preservation of the constitution and laws of the country. To be a Puritan, was synonymous with an opponent of ecclesiastical do. mination; of the tyranny and encroachments of royalty, under the convenient plea of prerogative; and to be the advocate of the rights and liberties of the subject
. In this way politics and religion became blended, and afterward it was the policy of each party to maintain the connexion.
Beside the matters originally contested, new sources of dissatisfaction and other subjects of dispute, became involved in the controversy.
Many of the clergy of the establishment had become corrupt and licentious—they seldom preached-neglected their congregations and places of worship, and were engaged in practices, not only unbecoming the sacred character, but, in some cases, even scandalously immoral. They encouraged, rather than repressed the licentiousness of the times; and seemed much more addicted to mirth and amusements, than to the duties of the ministerial office. Their example, and that of the court, had a demoralizing effect on others, especially the lower orders of society.
In order to counteract the opinion that the reformed religion was severe and strict in its requisitions, James published, in 1618, a royal declaration, drawn up by one of the Episcopal bishops, stating, that “for his good poople's recreation, his majesty's pleasure was, that after the end of Divine service, they should not be disturbed, letted, or discouraged from any lawful recreations, such as dancing, either of men or women, archery for men, leaping, vaulting, or any such harmless recreations; nor having May games, whitsonales, or morrice dances, or setting up of May poles, or other sports therewith used, so as the same may be had in due and convenient time, without impediment or let of Divine service.”
This was a source of great offence to the Puritans; and when the declaration was republished by Charles, and directed to be read in all the churches, many of the ministers refused to comply.
The license given by the indulgence, produced the results which might reasonably have been anticipated. The sports degenerated into noisy and tumultuous revels, with tippling, quar. rels and sometimes even murder. These disorders grew to such a height, that the justices, in some counties, petitioned the judges of the courts to suppress them, which they did. But Archbishop Laud, then primate of England, summoned the judges before the king and council, for invading the Episcopal jurisdiction. A sharp reprimand and an order to revoke the prohibition, was the result. The archbishop taking the matter into his own hands, was informed by the bishop of Bath and Wells, within whose diocese the prohibition had been enforced, that the restoration of the wakes and revels, &c. would be very acceptable to the gentry, clergy and common people; in proof of which, he had procured the signatures of seventy-two clergymen; and believed, if he had sent for an hundred more, he could have had the consent of them all. It was determined to continue them, and the king forbade the justices interfering with the people. It may readily be supposed, that such proceedings would have a powerful influence in promoting licentiousness; when, in addition to the command of their king, the ministers of religion joined in encour. aging practices, to which the depraved inclinations of the human
heart alone, furnished strong excitement. We may safely rank this among the causes, which contributed to promote the immorality and corruption which so lamentably overspread the nation, and gave rise to the close and sharp reproof, which our early Friends so often found it their duty to administer.
The few parliaments which James and Charles assembled, evinced a disposition to apply some remedy to the religious dissensions and grievances which distracted the nation. This was an interference so little agreeable to the crown, that they were speedily prorogued, and a long period suffered to elapse before another was called, which gave rise to the suspicion, that the monarch intended to govern by prerogative only, and without the intervention of a parliament.
The condition of the nation when Charles came to the throne, was melancholy indeed. It was torn by internal dissensions; and the affections of a large portion of the people alienated from the king, by oppression and injustice. The encroachments of the crown-the continued encouragement given to Papists, the un. mitigated persecution of the Puritans, and of such as had the magnanimity and courage to resist the arbitrary measures of the court and its minions, together with the failure of some of his military enterprises, tended to increase the murmurs, and to rouse the spirit of those, who regarded the liberties and the religion of the country. Influenced by mistaken notions of royal prerogative, and misguided by his counsellors, Charles, instead of softening the spirits of the Puritans by some concessions, proceeded to still greater lengths, until the minds of many of his subjects were prepared for any change which promised to restore to them their civil and religious rights. From this state of things, it was but a short step to open warfare, and accordingly the nation was soon involved in a civil war, which resulted in bringing Charles to the scaffold, and setting up a new form of government. Numerous negotiations for a settlement of the religious differences took place, but neither the king nor the parliament being willing to accede to the terms proposed by the other, in 1642 they appeal. ed to the sword to settle a controversy, which had hitherto been managed only by words. During the course of the war, which continued with various success for several years, the king was often reduced to great extremities, and at last falling into the hands of the parliament, he was brought to trial before his avowed enemies, and condemned to be beheaded as a traitor. This cruel sentence was carried into execution early in 1648.
It was in 1646, during the prevalence of the civil and religious commotions, that GEORGE Fox commenced his labours as a minister of the Gospel, being then in the 23rd year of his age. After the death of the king, the nation was without any legal