The Anglican Reformed Church and Her Clergy in the Days of Their Destitution and Suffering during the Great Rebellion in the Seventeenth Century.
Chapter I. Indications of hostility to the Church--Prynne, Bastwick, and Burton--The Long Parliament defends them--Character of the Anti-Church Spirit
IT was an aphorism at once happy, witty, and true, attributed to Dr. Johnson, and very like his vigourous, epigrammatic way, that "the Devil was the first Dissenter"--the first to resist and disobey the divine will the first to seduce others into the same path--the first to foment disorder, disunion, and contention, where God had intended to plant "unity, peace, and concord"--so that those malevolent sectarians, who take so much pains to disturb the peace of the Church, may now know whose [1/2] work they are doing. In conformity with the destructive principles of this evil agitator, who never relaxes in his vocation, the Church of Christ, as it came pure and perfect out of the hands of the Apostles, and when all its members "continued stedfastly in the Apostles doctrine and fellowship," has never been without its enemies. Revilers and persecutors have, in all ages, risen up against her, thus fulfilling the prophetic announcement of her divine Head, that He "came not to send peace on earth but a sword." It is however difficult to say on what occasion the "First Dissenter" has been most triumphant. But it is certain that, for a season, he attained a scourging and persecuting ascendancy in those transactions, which so dishonoured the character of England during the middle of the 17th century, and of which the following pages will endeavour to give some account.
What is known as the Great Rebellion at that period, is a prominent feature, and unfortunately a prominent blot too, in England's history. Its details, as well as its general character, have been recorded and expatiated upon by many writers, both contemporary and subsequent, of great authority and ability. But the peculiar distresses, the [2/3] cruel, unsparing persecution, which befel the Reformed Church of England and her clergy at that calamitous period, seem, in times like the present, when a similar spirit is up and stirring, sufficiently interesting and important to be worthy of being brought more prominently forward, unmixed with any political relations.
With this view the following work has been undertaken, not so much pretending to be an original production, as to compress and methodize into a reasonable and readable shape the heavy prolix narrative of Walker, in his publication, of now 130 years standing, called "An Account of the numbers and sufferings of the Clergy of the Church of England in the late times of the Grand Rebellion," &c. Walker, it is true, wrote his book by way of self-defence, or in reply to certain wild and extravagant statements of Dr. Calamy, in his life of Baxter, in which he would fain make it appear that the treatment, which the loyal and orthodox clergy received at the hands of the Puritanical Faction, was in no degree unreason able or reprehensible. The flagrant falsehood and disingenuousness of this insinuation stirred up Walker's energies, the result of which was his elaborate but ill-written production above-mentioned. [3/4] This however must nevertheless be said in his praise, that with all his wrath and animosity against Puritanism he appears to bestow great pains-taking to ascertain the truth of his statements, in which respect, therefore, there seems to be no reason to distrust him.
However opinions may differ in regard to the expediency, efficiency, and results of the Reformation in the sixteenth century, its history is well known. That it brought some evil with it, as well as good, is unquestionable; nor is this to be any matter of marvel, when we consider the intimate and inseparable association of good and evil in all human undertakings. Pious and holy men can never work in God's cause, or present to Him any sacrifice of honour or praise, but the evil one will be sure to be there too, in order that mischief of some kind more or less may be done. Wherever good men sow wheat, the enemy will never fail to sow tares; or, as is most beautifully written in Job, ch. i. v. 6--"There was a day when the sons of God came to present themselves before the Lord, and Satan came also among them." So it was on the occasion of the Reformation. While the Reformers worked so hard in the cause of God's truth, and [4/5] His Church's purity, the "First Dissenter" sowed the tares of disaffection, opposition, heresy, and schism. The Reformation emancipated the Church from the long-abiding tyranny of the Pope; exposing papal fallacies, idolatries, superstitions, bigotries, and misinterpretations of holy scripture, and restoring the Church to primitive discipline, and apostolical truth. So that we might as reasonably cast our reproaches on the sons of God when they came to present themselves before the Lord, because Satan also came with them, as upon the great Reformation of the Church in the sixteenth century, because it could not ward off many evils, which the evil one had raised up in the midst of it.
Such however was the excitement awakened in the minds of a certain class of religionists of those days--followers chiefly of Calvin and the Geneva school against idolatry and superstition, that they were not content with the mere repudiation or suppression of those base corruptions in the Church, but in the blind fury of their zeal could make no distinction between the abuse and right use of things. They flew off into an opposite extreme. A bitter, incontroulable reaction took place among them, violent oppositions [5/6] most commonly resulting in violent consequences--"Dum vitant stulti vitia, in contraria currunt." [Hor. Sat Lib. 1. 2.] All therefore that the Church had previously maintained--doctrine, discipline, ordinances, usages, rites, ceremonies,--all, in the view of these intemperate zealots, was an indiscriminate mass of corruption. There could be nothing good, said they, which the Papal Church had ever retained. Restoring the Church, therefore, to her primitive purity was what they could not under stand they would have her wholly remodelled. The very order of the ministry, their position in the Church, their vestments even down to the very "skirts of their cloathing," [The surplice was called "a rag of Popery."] the sacraments, the Liturgy, the regulations of public worship, all, notwithstanding the blessed work of the Reformation in these things, were nevertheless, without discrimination, fiercely and rashly proscribed by these phrenetic and wayward spirits, as popish, rotten, and unscriptural. This blind and blundering prejudice was one of those dark clouds, which poured down its tempestuous showers on the stream of the Reformation; thus rendering [6/7] that to be a troubled water, which holy and learned men had been labouring to meliorate and purify; and this same misguided spirit it was, which, breaking out in the 16th, but not getting quite a-head till the middle of the 17th century, at length led to those disastrous deeds against the Reformed Church of England and her clergy, which the following pages will attempt to delineate.
"All zeal for reform, which gives offence
To peace and charity, is mere pretence." COWPER.
Among those who, in the reign of Charles 1st, took a conspicuous and turbulent part in the dark fanaticism of the day, was one William Prynne, a man of no mean abilities and education, but of principles rancorously hostile to the Reformed and Apostolical Church a system which he seems to have viewed with an eye of bitter and insatiable hatred. No word of vituperation against it did he think too coarse or acrimonious; no measures within his reach, which might be likely to tend to its demolition, did he spare to deal out. And as he--to use the language of good old Hooker--"as he that goeth about to persuade a multitude that they are not so well governed as they might [7/8] be, shall never want for hearers," so it was with Prynne. He had many associates, more or less able, in his merciless crusade against the Church. Many, who admired his restless and untameable energies; and many, whose ignorance and worldly circumstances laid them too open to the machinations of such ambitious and mischief-loving persons. Prynne gave utterance to his malignity against the Reformed Church by several publications. At length, by one in particular, called "Histrio Mastix"--ostensibly, "a scourge of theatres," but in fact, a most foul and libellous invective against the Monarch and Royal Family, as well as against the Church and the prelacy, this scurrilous and wrong-headed man--"adeo sermonis amari"--drew down upon himself the vindictive arm of the law. He was prosecuted by the then Attorney-General, convicted, and condemned to the Tower, suffering subsequently many other and much greater severities. But we shall see, by-and-bye, that however merited was this infliction, yet it soon afterwards turned out to be rather a feeder than a quencher of that fierce uncompromising hatred against the Church, which was gaining such high ground among the people.
There were also two other persons, John [8/9] Bastwick and Henry Burton, who, though not so distinguished as Prynne for learning and intellect, were yet equally so for restless and rancorous enmity against the hierarchy. Bastwick was a physician, and the language he employs in some of his publications against the prelacy can hardly be surpassed, in its scurrility and blasphemy, by any other writer. Henry Burton was--proh dolor!--a clergyman of the Church of England. Disappointed ambition exasperated this hot-brained fanatic, and he joined with Prynne and Bastwick in all their furious ravings and their insolent calumnies against the Church. On reading even the titles of some of their effusions, one can not but be amused, in these days of more courtly taste, with their quaint inventions, whilst one is also disgusted with the teeth-gnashing ribaldry of their language. At length however, popular as they were--and Prynne immensely so--with the general multitude, the penalties of the law were inflicted upon them. Heavy fines, long imprisonment, and even bodily tortures were their lot. Prynne was condemned to the pillory, and to have his ears cut off, a sentence severe enough in itself, but hardly too severe for the foulness [9/10] and mischief of his offences. He underwent it with firmness; nor were these rebellious spirits indeed to be so easily put down. They all bore their ills exultingly, and with a buoyancy of heart worthy of a better cause.
Fanaticism, however, and Church hatred were now assuming a bolder front and more rampant head than ever. What at first were mere symptoms of disaffection to Church and State, were now growing up into actual demonstration and practical display. the "Long Parliament," as it was called, first commenced its sittings in November 1640; an assembly which, as we shall see, from beginning to end "breathed out" (like the yet unconverted Saul) "threatenings and slaughter" against the Church of God. Such was the excess of popular frenzy that, no sooner did this Parliament meet, than petitions from all quarters came pouring in for what they called redress of grievances, not in State only, but, as it was alleged, in Church also. So turbulent, indeed, and rancorous were the people on this occasion, that it might almost seem as if all England was in the highest fever of fanaticism. Not that the Church had lost her friends, or had become less [10/11] worthy of their countenance,--for we find by Collier, [Church History, Vol. II., p. 822.] that a vast host of them were yet remaining,--but that the uncatholic spirit of dissent and schism, and the satanic spirit of "confusion in the Church," had at length been permitted to gain a commanding ascendancy in the nation, and even in the Parliament, where we generally look for the nation's wisdom. This spirit seemed now, for a time, to be carrying all before it; the parliament also, by degrees not slow or uncertain, giving obvious encouragement to it. Some, it is true, even in that restless assembly, were yet found ready enough to stand by the fortunes of the persecuted and vituperated Church, and even among those who, in their hearts, wished her downfall, there were at first some who, in the true spirit of serpent-wisdom, were disposed to reserve their more active opposition, till matters should become more ripe for display and realization. Therefore, as Lord Clarendon has expressed it, "all the rudeness and rashness of the party was, as yet, abroad, without any visible countenance or approbation from the Parliament, and except the receiving of petitions, all seemed chaste within those walls."
 Now, what, after all, were these "grievances" in the Church, against which so much clamour was raised, and so many virulent petitions were levelled? Her discipline, it is true, whereby things ecclesiastical and ritual were all to he done "decently and in order," was called a "grievance," by those who hated controul, how ever wholesome and reasonable, and who preferred rather to abide by their own inventions, than by the hallowed prescriptions of the Church. Uniformity of worship also, and of faith, whereby was sought to be upheld that apostolical rule and principle, "glorifying God with one mouth and one mind," and "all speaking the same thing, and having no divisions among them"--this too was called a "grievance." The government of the Church by Bishops, however Apostolical and Catholic that system might be, was nevertheless, by these new-fashioned and ultra-godly Reformers, called a "grievance"--the Bishops were held up to public scorn as the great abettors of Popery, the prevailing "vox populi" being, "Down with Anti-Christ and Bishops." The Liturgy again, although now by the blessed working of the Reformation restored to primitive purity and apostolical truth, and divested of all Popish [12/13] corruptions, was called a "grievance"--many insulting and blasphemous names being also applied to it, without any reserve or qualification. The position of the communion table, the distinct and very fit separation of it from the other parts of the Church, and the mode, now made so consistent with a catholic spirit, in which the Eucharist itself was administered, was altogether called a "grievance." Even the very robes of the officiating minister, however modest, venerable, and becoming the sacred office, were, in these times of sectarian frenzy and blindness, voted to be "grievances," heavy enough to be thought legitimate objects of national hatred, and even of parliamentary interference. So that, in fact, every thing truly catholic, every thing episcopal, every thing liturgical, every thing primitive, every thing apostolical, and which might be calculated to sustain in all her primitive purity and exaltation, the One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church, became now the object, not merely of popular derision and enmity, but of even senatorial proscription and tyranny. The popular fury, out of doors, maliciously magnifying these things into intolerable enormities, soon worked its way to the inner chambers of Parliament; and before [13/14] many months of its first session had elapsed, the temper of the House, especially the Commons, towards the Church, was no longer equivocal.
Three things are noted by Clarendon as forming, what he calls, "the first malignity of the Parliament against the Church," viz.--1st, the appointment of a Committee of Religion; 2nd, the favourable reception given to a "Remonstrance" presented by certain ordained but fanatical clergymen themselves against the Church; 3rd, the equally favorable reception given by the Commons to a most intemperate petition presented by Alderman Pennington for the total abolition of episcopacy. a "Committee of Religion" convened by political laymen, seems an anomalous thing, whilst the object of it might also seem to have some claims to respect and consideration; but it unfortunately became soon evident, that this Committee was not formed with any real view to deal fairly and justly with the Church as the dispenser and interpreter of religious truth, but merely to afford the greater but more unsuspected facility of opposing and oppressing her interests, and advancing those of her enemies. Collier, [Church History, Part II., Book 9.] indeed, tells us, that "the [14/15] greatest part of this Committee being Calvinists, either in doctrine or discipline, tis no wonder to find them remonstrate against Church matters." The results of the operations of this Committee, and the cautious duplicity with which they were conducted, are sufficient testimony of this fact. They worked, it is true, under the mask of religious zeal and "there is no mask" (says Sancroft, in allusion to these Puritans) "so well becomes rebellion, as the mask of religion"--but it was a zeal, which gave too ready an encouragement to all that was hostile to the Church and the Reformation, and all that was friendly to the wishes of schismatics and dissenters. The most flagrant wickedness, indeed, is sometimes called "godly zeal," when conscience is governed by passion instead of the love of truth. It was this Committee which received with so much complacency the undutiful and mischievous remonstrance of the fanatical clergy; and which gave so much encouragement to Pennington's petition. It was also this Committee which, with a wary affectation of good to the Church, expressed a "wish" that Parliament should remove the Bishops from the House of Lords, and from any office in secular affairs. The Committee, in fact, partook too [15/16] plentifully of the uncatholic and destructive spirit which now seemed to rule the whole nation; and therefore we may not wonder that the "wish" about the removal of the Bishops from the House of Lords, "should he received" (as Clarendon says) "in the House of Commons with a visible countenance and approbation of many, who were neither of the same principles nor purposes."
Whilst all this, however, left but little room for doubting "which way the wind was blowing" in this notable Parliament in regard to Church matters, another omen occurred, which declared this disposition no less explicitly, but still more publicly and excitingly. A morbid sentiment of what was then called "godliness," mixed up with this growing enmity to the Church and the monarchy, had raised a popular cry of commiseration and sympathy towards those three convicted, and justly convicted delinquents whose names we have already mentioned, and who were now undergoing their due course of punishment, viz., exile and imprisonment. Parliament was pressed, invoked, besieged with petitions in their favour. They were pourtrayed as martyrs to the cause of religious truth and popular rights; and it was alleged, that they had been unmercifully and [16/17] unjustly dealt with by the judges, who had passed sentence upon them. Loudly, therefore, did the people call for indulgence and mercy towards these men, who against everything sacred and honourable in the Church (to say nothing also of the monarchy) had savagely outraged, both in writing and speaking, all decency and truth, all charity and fair dealing. The Parliament was not slow in listening to the calls made upon them on this occasion. By the sanction of Parliament, Prynne, Bastwick, and Burton, were recalled from their banishment; they were restored to liberty, their sentences revoked, and their fines remitted. The very judges themselves, before whom they had but recently been tried and convicted, were censured as having "acted against law and the liberty of the subject," and it was even voted, that some reparation was due to these mischievous and untameable offenders from those by whom they had been condemned--and all this was done by the advice and sanction of Parliament. Unhappily too, the popular feeling in most parts of the kingdom, setting in the same direction, was still more rudely and tumultuously expressed. When these three notable offenders landed on the southern coast from their places of [17/18] exile, they were received (as Walker writes) "with vast conflux of people, caressed and treated with great presents and with public acclamations, and conducted into London by more than 10,000 persons, with boughs and flowers in their hands, and even the streets were strewed with them for their reception." We need not then ask, what could have been the state of, not only the public mind, but the mind of the Parliament too, when they could distinguish by such indulgences and honours as these, men, whose writings and conduct had been so atrocious and iniquitous--men, whose great business and delight it had been to make all possible "havock of the Church," showing, at the same time, no less malignity to the Monarch on the throne.
But there were other offenders of a like stamp, besides these three notorious ones just mentioned, who, though not quite on a level with them in ability, were entirely so in atrocity and mischief, while they pursued a similar course in displaying it. Peter Smart, a Prebendary of Durham; Dr. Leighton, a Scotsman; Henry Wilkinson, of Magdalen College, Oxford; George Walker, "another seditious minister;" together with "John Lilbourn, of most infamous memory,"--these, [18/19] with many others of still smaller calibre, stand also recorded in history as among the most virulent and flagitious assailants of the Reformed Church, and abetting by their ribald writings the now prevailing and unhappy spirit of rebellion against both Church and State. These men were all caressed and humoured by the Parliament.--Smart, who had already been imprisoned for certain seditious sermons, was now set at liberty, and restored to his preferments, the Parliament being always found active patrons of all who might bestir themselves--the more fiercely and insultingly the better--against the Church. Proofs of this fact were not, as we have already seen, wanting; but one circumstance connected with this affair of Smart s, is too gross not to be here noticed. Dr. Cosin, at that time a Prebendary of Durham, and a man of eminent piety, charity, and learning, took an active part, and no doubt a becoming one, in the proceedings against Smart. The latter, through his congeniality of spirit with the Parliament, and being also (as Walker writes of him) "a man of froward, fierce, unpeaceable spirit," had no difficulty in bringing down the persecuting wrath of that untoward assembly upon Dr. Cosin, whom they soon [19/20] deprived of his preferments, voted him "guilty of superstition," and held him to be unfit to hold any kind of ecclesiastical office or benefice; whilst Smart himself, with all his ignominious transgressions upon his head, was held up by a Mr. Kowse in the House of Commons, as the "Proto-Martyr of England." As to Dr. Cosin himself, it is on record that all the charges, which Smart had made against him, were wholly unfounded, or aggravated by misrepresentation; so that Cosin became one of the first of the clergy who fell a personal victim to the sectarian despotism and hatred of the day. Deprived, as we have just seen, of his legitimate preferment and possessions, through the clamours of fanaticism, and through his own unshaken obedience and affection towards the Reformed Church, he continued for seventeen or eighteen years in a state of impoverishment, exiled from his country, and reviled by the breath of calumny. He bore his trials, however, with Christian patience and meekness, and having, during his residence in France, "administered" (says Walker) "the English Church discipline and service by the Book of Common Prayer, reducing some that had gone over to Popery, and confirming others in [20/21] the Protestant religion," he lived, by God's mercy, to return again to England on the restoration of Charles 2nd, and, being raised to the See of Durham, died in that possession in 1672.
It will be easy to understand how deep a wound the Church must have received by such proceedings as these; and it now became clear enough that so much indulgence and encouragement was shown by the Parliament, and by those who took a lead in its proceedings, towards all who would assail and harrass the Church, that however flagitious might be the conduct of the libellers, they would be sure to escape either altogether unrebuked, or with but mere nominal chastisement. One instance of this kind is plainly alluded to by Collier. [Church History, Part II., Book 9.] "Fourscore Anabaptists" (he says) "went about preaching that the law of 35th Elizabeth, enjoining the use of the Common Prayer, was no legal statute, because the Bishops were concerned in making it. They then asserted that the king cannot make a good law, because (he is) not perfectly regenerate. Upon this being brought before the Lords, they confessed the articles, but were [21/22] dismissed without punishment." Those very ministers also of the Church herself, who had unhappily (as was the case with many) imbibed the distorted and puritanical spirit of the times, using the very Liturgy as if it were mere trash and corruption, and speaking of it in no other terms but those of scandal and reproach,--even these ministers found themselves too well backed and seconded by the popular feeling, and parliamentary disposition then prevailing, to be left under any fears of loss or disgrace for even disobeying (if they were so disposed) or insulting their own Bishops; and so it also was with any seditious or profligate parishioner, who might be, in like manner, inclined to deal with his own appointed minister.
The Church, in short, had become the abused of all abusers; the popular rallying point for every kind of ribaldry, blasphemy, and scorn--the vulgar cry being, (especially with "the godly,") "Down with her, down with her, even to the ground." Lord Clarendon's testimony to this description is very strong and interesting. "The press" (he says) "was at liberty for publishing the most invective, seditious, and scurrilous pamphlets, that wit and malice could invent against the Church, the same spirit also reigning [22/23] in Parliament, as in the people." And the language of the King himself, in his declaration, August 1642, exhibits a similar picture. "The ears" (he says) "of all our good subjects are filled with lies and monstrous discourses, to make them believe all ill of the government, and the governours of the Church and State; books against the Common Prayer suffered, without reprehension, to be dedicated to both Houses of Parliament, whatsoever the rancour and venom of any infamous person may direct." But the most graphic, and probably not the least accurate, delineation of the low and malignant spirit, which reigned against the Reformed Church at this tempestuous period, is given to us by Butler in his Hudibras.
"The oyster women lock'd their fish up,
And trudged away to cry No Bishop;
Botchers left old cloathes i'th lurch;
And fell to turn and patch the Church;
And tinkers bawled aloud to settle
Church discipline, for patching kettle."
Such was the low estate of religious temperament to which the nation was now reduced by the operation of that ignorant and fanatical zeal which delights, and thinks it is doing God [23/24] service, to despise all sober and reasonable discipline, all legitimate and even sacred authority, and all the blessed privileges of Catholic truth.
It is not, however, our present object, to enter into any discussion of the soundness or unsoundness, the expediency or inexpediency, of certain peculiar opinions maintained by those Genevan divines in the sixteenth century, who, although considered by Milton as the "Masters of orthodoxy," were the undoubted precursors of the Fanatics during the Great Rebellion. We shall be content with recounting some of the most flagrant and mischievous results of their violence and enmity towards the Reformed Church and her clergy; by which we shall also plainly see, that however militant she may be against "sin, the world, and the devil," yet she is neither in tolerant nor persecuting, as is too often the case with her enemies, over person or property, nor revengefully or wrathfully disposed towards those, who would oppress and spoil her.
--------"O terrible excess
Of headstrong will! Can this be piety?
No; some fierce maniac hath usurped her name." WORDSWORTH.