The Anglican Reformed Church and Her Clergy in the Days of Their Destitution and Suffering during the Great Rebellion in the Seventeenth Century.
Chapter II. Convocation divided--Bishops censured, and threatened with impeachment--First effort to abolish Church government--Root and Branch petition--King's remonstrance--Pym--Sir Edward Bering's vanity and foolish conduct
IT will not be matter of surprise, when so fierce and rancorous a spirit, as that alluded to in the preceding chapter, had been awakened in both Parliament and people against the Established Church, that any occasion, just or unjust, should eagerly be caught at, which might be likely to feed this popular lust, and push on the work of destruction , which it now began to be pretty clear was ultimately aimed at. Treating any assailant of the Church, however abusive and scandalous, with encouragement and indulgence--publicly and gratuitously insulting her governors and officers, of whatever degree--and making open mockery of her discipline and her services,--was at once to [25/26] make a formidable attack upon her executive powers. In her legislative capacity also the faction was equally prepared and eager to fall foully upon her, if by so doing they could make such a measure subserve the now popular cause of ecclesiastical demolition.
During the short Parliament, which met early in the year 1640, and which unhappily endured only a few weeks, the convocation had been regularly convened by the King's writ; and was after wards, even after that short Parliament had been dissolved, continued under the same royal authority. This convocation had, by the express order of the king, framed a body of new canons for the better government of the Church, for the better encouragement of Church uniformity, especially "for suppressing the growth of Popery," and for restraining Sectarians and Socinians. [The following extract, from the Diary of Archdeacon Daubeny, is too good, and too much to the point about Popery, not to deserve a special notice here:--"Popery never yet stood the test of sober inquiry, nor ever will; and the true way to foil it is, to meet it with the history of former days, and the stubborn facts of the present." To this we may just add, that no man was ever yet converted to Popery by reading or consulting his Bible. The Bible and primitive Fathers are no friends to that idolatrous system.] Some of [26/27] these canons even imposed an oath upon the clergy with a view to the "preventing all innovations in doctrine and government;" [Collier's Church History, Vol. II., p. 792.] and such canons had received the almost unanimous sanction and consent of the convocation Goodman, Bishop of Gloucester, being the only exception as well as of the Privy Council, and the King himself. Notwithstanding, however, all these safeguards and formalities, they were not sufficient to screen the Church from the wrath and malice of the Parliament. The tide of destruction had set in with something like savage vehemence and determination, and the most malicious ingenuity was exercised by some of the more active and vigilant enemies of the Church, not excluding a certain set of the fanatical clergy themselves, to find, in the operations of this convocation, and especially in the suggestions they had made as to the new canons, sufficient grounds for quarrel and accusation. It was alleged, that the continuance of the convocation after the dissolution of the short Parliament was altogether illegal and unjustifiable a charge which, it must be admitted, appears to be not altogether [27/28] frivolous, although there were not wanting certain precedents for such an occurrence. But at all events, it was an irregularity which, it is easy to see, neither the Parliament, nor the country in general, would have cared to take any serious notice of, had the predominant spirit of the times been of a more catholic and healthy nature than it now was. The result however of the dispute was, that many leading Members of the Commons, having made violent complaints against these canons, at length persuaded the House to resolve, "that they contained matters contrary to the King's prerogative, the fundamental laws of the realm, the rights of Parliament, the liberty and property of the subject"--and, in fact, that they were altogether "seditious and of dangerous consequence." The Lords too joined the Commons in this resolution, till at length a Committee was appointed to draw up certain charges against Laud, Archbishop of Canterbury, as the head and leader of the convocation. But this was soon found to be too precipitate a step, and the allegations much too weak to be ever substantiated. A second bill therefore was introduced into the House, for "making void certain canons and constitutions ecclesiastical, and for the [28/29] punishment of such prelates and others as were the framers and makers of them." But this bill also proved an abortion. What then was to be done? Was the Parliament to succumb to the Church? Was the hierarchy, the great butt of popular derision and hatred, to be allowed to escape unscathed? This, of course, was more than the now potent faction could consent to. Another expedient therefore was determined upon. An impeachment was to be lodged against the bishops, and especially against Laud; a measure this, to which, after three or four days debate, both Lords and Commons had given their sanction. But even now--so much will malicious zeal sometimes outrun sober wisdom and intelligence--all was far from right and legitimate in the course which the Parliament was about to pursue. They were, in fact, at a loss to find a proper and consistent denomination of delinquency under which to frame their impeachment. They would fain have called it "Treason;" but even their own lawyers repudiated this term, as wholly inapplicable to the case, some of them going so far as to say, with not more wit than truth, that it might as well be called an impeachment for "Adultery" as for "Treason." At length the bishops cause was [29/30] pleaded by their own advocate, Mr. Chute, whose arguments were so touching and unassailable, that "the impeachment at last sunk away in silence." Of this Mr. Chute most honourable mention is made by Collier, who tells us, "that in the face of the House of Lords, he openly declared his readiness to plead for the bishops, as long as he had a tongue to plead with." [Church History, p. 805.]
But however this impeachment might, for the present, have been laid aside, or postponed sine die, yet it was far from being wholly abandoned; and as far was it from the feeling of the Parliament to relinquish, or in any degree to modify, their views of devastation against the Church. Under the mask of religious zeal, and the pretence of setting up the kingdom of Christ in the nation, this blind faction, which had certainly gained an enormous influence both in Parliament and with the populace, seems wholly to have laid aside that divine and apostolic rule, "Let nothing be done through strife or vain glory" [Philip, ii., 3.] and quite as much did they forget that wholesome and apostolic caution to all who would show their zeal [30/31] for Christ and his Church, that "where envying and strife is, there is confusion and every evil work"--and that "the wisdom which cometh down from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, and easy to be entreated, full of mercy, and good fruits, without partiality, (or "wrangling," as the margin expresses it,) "and without hypocrisy." [James iii., 16, 17.] Here are rules, principles, warnings, and graces, which, if the faction had but listened to and participated in them with any earnest or anxious spirit, would surely have taught them a very different lesson from Church abuse and destruction, and have led them to maintain their "zeal for religion," and for the "kingdom of Christ," in a way more worthy of so holy a cause, than that way which they were pursuing. These misled Puritans however, whilst they might have known much of the "letter" of Holy Scripture, knew little or nothing of its "spirit." To disturb the peace of the Church seems to have been to them a sort of glory. Forward therefore they went in their intemperate and unsparing animosity, till they crippled and disarmed her in all her capacities, executive and legislative. She [31/32] now lay very much at their mercy; so that the Psalmist's prophetical delineation of her miseries seemed again to he realized: "They broke down her hedges--the boar out of the wood began to waste her, and the wild beast of the field to devour her. The right hand of her adversaries was set up, and her enemies were made to rejoice." [See Psalms lxxx. and lxxxix.]
The famous petition presented by Alderman Pennington, (alluded to in the former chapter,) after lying in ambush in the hands of the Clerk of the House "for many months," was now again, like a giant refreshed, brought forward. Its spirit was too congenial with that of the faction to be allowed to lie longer dormant. Its object was, "the total abolition of the government of the Church by archbishops, bishops, deans, &c., with all its dependancies, roots, and branches." This object was undisguised, and the language in which it was revealed, unsparing and uncompromising. The very terms it employed, "Boot and Branch," have given it a long enduring notoriety, and it is now always known as the "Root and Branch Bill." So exciting and popular was this bill--not that "popularity" is any evidence of sound truth or [32/33] rectitude; too often it is mistaken for it--but the Boot and Branch bill was now so exciting and popular, that it sounded through the land like a tocsin to the many willing warriors, who might want only some such call to follow up the onslaught. "The trumpet" here gave no "uncertain sound"--there was therefore no question, "who should prepare himself for the battle." The Root and Branch petition soon found others to follow it, all singing the same tune, and all bent on the same destruction. One was got up by the apprentices of London, and was directed to the King, praying that "the prelacy might be all rooted up," and complaining of the hierarchy (to use old Fuller's quaint language) "as a burden, which the very porters themselves petition against, as too heavy for even their shoulders to bear." Fuller, sound, upright, honest churchman as he was, knew quite well the hollow pretensions, and the preposterous claims of that fanatical spirit, which now reigned in the nation; and happy enough is his ridicule and irony when applied to their exposure.
Petitions however to Parliament, or to the throne, when brought about by some heated and turbulent party, or by some temporary and [33/34] popular excitement, are always to be regarded with caution, if not with suspicion. Party spirit is seldom a reasonable or a charitable one, and can partake but little of true healthy patriotism, or sound zeal for religious truth--nor does party spirit always care to confine itself to honest and legitimate means in order to gain its end. We know that in these our own days, much as we may boast of our "march of intellect," we have too much ground for shame in the means, which sects and parties, whether in Church or State, will sometimes resort to with a view to advance their own cause. So that whatever sound wisdom one age may leave behind it for the benefit of those succeeding, it is undeniable, that this age of puritan piety has left for our instruction plenty of examples of roguery in the business of petition-mongering, no party perhaps having ever shown more unscrupulous and unqualified knavery on such occasions, than these self-called "godly" Reformers of the Church, during the "Long Parliament." "It was strange disingenuity" (says Clarendon) "that was practised in procuring these petitions." Petitions not at all likely to be suspected were passed at public meetings--a few names were signed, and plenty of vacant space left [34/35] for more. Then the petition was afterwards clandestinely changed to suit the views of the "Root and Branch" party, and thus appeared with a long list of subscribers. So that "men found their hands subscribed to petitions, of which before they had never heard, and did in no way approve." A similar intimation of this dishonest conduct is given also by Heylin, in his life of Laud; and even the King himself, in his declaration, August 1642, complains of "certain seditious preachers and agents being sent into different counties with petitions ready drawn for the people to sign, but which were frequently changed for others more agreeable to the faction, before they were delivered to either House of Parliament."
Bitter, however, and violent as was this now dominant spirit against the Church, yet there were still some, perhaps many, sound hearts left in the Parliament, (especially the upper House,) who would yet lift up their voices against these nefarious and most unseemly doings. This system of the fabrication of petitions was sometimes so flagrant that it was resolutely exposed and overruled. Some honest and intrepid friends of the Church presented, or uttered, their remonstrances from the County of Chester against the jugglery so [35/36] carried on; and Walker mentions one Sir Thomas Aston, who, on presenting a remonstrance to the House of Lords, got one person severely reprimanded for "printing and dispersing a forged petition against episcopacy and the Liturgy, in the name of the County Palatine of Chester." And moreover, even the Commons House, where the destructive and antichurch spirit chiefly displayed itself, and where every possible discouragement was given to those who would help on any movement in favour of the Church,--even among the Commons, there was yet decency enough left to induce them to institute some kind of enquiry into "the irregular ways which had been used to procure hands to petitions, either in favour of episcopacy or against it." But notwithstanding these occasional scintillations of fair-dealing towards the Church, the faction itself continued unchecked and unmitigated. In almost all public acts, in the resolves of Parliament, in writings, in sermons, in lectures, the great burden of the song was, the demolition of the hierarchy, and the identification of "Prelacy with Popery, with atheism, and with damnable heresy." However numerous were the petitions in behalf of the Church--and numerous they certainly were, and of the highest [36/37] consideration in regard to the station and property of the petitioners yet were their arguments and protestations treated with mere scorn by the Parliament, and seemed rather to inflame than appease their enmity to that sacred cause. The Church party were designated by the invidious appellation of "mutinous" and "malignant;" and the commons House went so far as to address their remonstrances to the King, against all who should favour the institution of the hierarchy. The sentiments returned by the King were some of them of so touching and reasonable a nature, that one may wonder at the hardened, deep-sunk blindness, and deep-rooted rancour, which could resist such appeals. "Do you" (said the King) "receive, with complacency and even with thanks, petitions demanding the destruction of Church and State, and will you call those, which would maintain the constitution of both in their proper integrity, mutinous and malignant?"--Then, in another speech which the King addressed to both Houses, he observes "that there were certain men who, more maliciously than ignorantly, would put no difference between reformation and alteration of government--that he himself would willingly concur with them for reformation of all innovations [37/38] both in Church and State--that if churchmen had encroached too much upon the temporality, or if Bishops had any temporal authority inconvenient to the State, and not so necessary to the government of the Church, he would desire them to lay it down." In these sentiments there was a manifestation of good sense, upright feeling, and true patriotism. Had the Parliament par* ticipated in any of those estimable qualities, many melancholy events, and much unhappy distraction in the country, might have been avoided. But the tide ran in a different direction. The Parliament sought not, and cared not, for honest reform they were bent on destruction, "Root and Branch;" and whilst they were well aware of the sound sense and reason of the King's observations, and that great numbers in the nation went with them in that opinion, yet they nevertheless assumed to themselves the liberty, quite consistently with the sour and factious spirit which reigned among them, "of printing and dispersing false copies of his Majesty's speech," garbling its good sentiments, and "wholly omitting his intimations in regard to the reformation of episcopacy." Under the blind and ignorant notion that the [38/39] Church, in her constitution, discipline, doctrine, and services, was a work of Antichrist, a work of Popish corruption and superstition--under the equally visionary notion, that demolition was reformation, that puritanical and presbyterian godliness was the true apostolical godliness, and that it was really "doing God service" to supplant His Church by a form of their own invention;--under notions and resolutions of this chimerical description, it would be but natural that men, with minds so affected, however deep the delusion, or iniquitous the object, would gladly embrace and patronize those, who should be found ready to abet their views. We find, therefore, that not only were the petitions against the Church received by the Commons with approbation and kindness, but the very excesses of the mob out of doors, were extenuated, and even encouraged in their aggravations. Many, who cried out, with boisterous malice, "No Bishops, no Popish Lords," and assaulted the very persons of the Bishops, as they proceeded to Parliament, threatening them with bodily injury, and endangering their lives;--others also, who madly at tempted to force their way into the House of Lords, and even to break into and pillage the [39/40] Abbey Church at Westminster;--all these low and tumultuous rebels were so far patronized by the Commons House of Parliament, that they were wont to look upon them in the light of only oral petitioners, differing only from the more regular and legitimate petitioners in the mode of expressing and presenting their objects and wishes. It is recorded, indeed, of Mr. Pym, the great leader in the House of the Puritanical Faction, that he openly avowed his complacent disposition towards these rioters, by saying, "God forbid the House of Commons should proceed in any way to dishearten the people to obtain their just desires in such a way."
Pym's character and history are well known, and it seems not necessary here to enlarge upon it. But what we read of him in Wood's Athen. Oxon. is so consistent with the spirit shown on the occasion now before us, that it is worth repeating. "He was" (Wood tells us) "esteemed by James 1st, a man of ill-tempered spirit," so infected with Puritanism, that "he rode about the country to promote elections of such brethren to serve in Parliament, wasting his body much in carrying on the same cause." [Wellwood relates the following story of him. "When Lord Strafford, then only Sir Thomas Wentworth, was upon making his peace with the Court, he gave Pym some obscure intimation of it Pym, understanding his drift, stopt him short, with this expression: You need not use all this art to tell me that you have a mind to leave us; but remember what I tell you, you are going to be undone; and remember, that though you leave us now, I will never leave you whilst your head is upon your shoulders."] He became "the idol of that faction," and the most "bitter, remorseless persecutor of the unhappy Lord Strafford," as well as of the equally persecuted and calumniated Laud; and "would have proceeded further," (says Wood) "if possible, against other persons and things, had he not been justly cut off from the living, in the midst of his most diabolical designs." That he was cut off for some wise purpose, for some purpose pregnant with good hereafter, is unquestionable, how inscrutable soever to human eyes are these dealings of God's providence with the affairs of men. Equally mysterious and inscrutable it is, how there should be permitted to dwell, and even to reign, in the hearts of men, so great a perversity of spirit, as to lead them, on so many occasions, to admire, and follow the steps of [41/42] demagogues, sedition-mongers, and schismatics. Yet such was the case with Pym. Sour and rancorous as was his temper, vehement and unsparing as were his prejudices against certain men of upright minds and virtuous dealings, who might happen to love the Church and ordinances of God, which Pym so bitterly hated, yet he nevertheless had his admirers, not among the ignorant multitude only--that had been less wonder--but even among the clergy also, whose sacred calling and position he had so mercilessly reviled and maltreated. "His funeral sermon was preached," as Wood tells us, "by Stephen Marshall, B.D., Minister of Finchingfield in Essex, archflamen of the rebellious rout." The preacher said, "he wondered all faces did not gather blackness on so melancholy a theme." He compared Pym to John Baptist; and the tide of the sermon (on the text Micah vii. 1, 2) was "The Church's lamentation for the good man's loss." Still (continues Wood) "all impartial men have held (let those of Pym's persuasion say what they will) that he was the author of much bloodshed, and those many calamities under which the kingdom, for several years after, groaned; and therefore he deserved not only to have his death with the transgressors, [42/43] but to be buried with the burial of an ass, drawn and cast forth beyond the gates of the city." [See Jeremiah xxii. 19.] There seems an air of uncharitableness in this harsh language, or at least in the application of it in the present instance. Pym, like many other misguided men, may have been honest in his intentions of good, however wrong-headed and crooked-spirited in his measures for effecting it. But the excitement between party and party in these times was of a most aggravated description, and in any man levelling his intemperate language against his adversary, or in support of his own side, great allowance must be made for this state of excitement. Of all animosities too, which disturb the peace of society, none are ever found to be more bitter than those which arise from different persuasions in religion or in politics. At all events, it would not be easy to carry human enmities, revilings, and scurrilities higher, than seems to have been the case between contending parties in these dismal times.
With such indefatigable and virulent agitators as Pym was, and with such favourable countenance as the House of Commons, at this time, [43/44] was disposed to exhibit towards any man, or set of men, however contemptible, who would join them in vituperating the Church and the prelacy, we may naturally expect to hear of public meetings convened with that object chiefly in view. Such was certainly the case; and it is very curious to observe, what a ready and eager spirit the House of Commons always displayed to protect, and even foment, rather than suppress, these rebellious meetings, and to encourage them in their violent harangues, by giving out that "they were only godly and well-affected men met together to petition against Bishops." The signs of the times now became too evident to be mistaken, and the prospects for both the Established Church and Monarchy were daily growing more painful and perilous. The House of Commons, at length, took the undisguised and decided step--though at present not altogether successful--of declaring their readiness to unite with Scotland in their form (the Presbyterian form) of church-government. With this view, they send up a bill to the Lords, "for the utter eradication of Bishops, Deans and Chapters," &c.--a bill concocted in the true spirit of the "Root and Branch" petition, and which was now unhappily become [44/45] more than ever the general theme of agitation among the people.
There was a circumstance connected with the act of framing and presenting this hill to the Lords, which at once shows an extraordinary dereliction of manly sense and upright principle in him who undertook to do it. This notable individual was Sir Edward Bering, the first Baronet of that family, and M.P. for the County of Kent. He was never accounted an enemy to either his Church or his King; but on the contrary, he had, on all occasions, shown his attachment to both. Yet this was nevertheless the man, who had undertaken to present to the House this revolutionary and destructive hill "for the eradication of Bishops," &c. The Puritanical party were delighted at what they then considered a new seceder from the Church, and a new coadjutor to their cause--whilst the hierarchical side was not a little surprised and mortified at the inconsistent and perfidious conduct of one, who had always been held as a friend. But when the real motives of Bering were discovered, he also became, very deservedly, the object of derision with all parties. Little doubt remained, but that his only motive was, a vain, pedantic display [45/46] of his classical scholarship, by introducing the hill with a pointed and apt quotation from Ovid--
"Cuncta prius tentanda, sed immedicabile vulnus
Ense recidendum est, ne pars sincera trahatur."
So that, while it is said of some wits, that they will hazard the loss of a friend sooner than the loss of their joke, yet here we have a man, who risks the demolition of his Church sooner than lose an ostentatious display of his learning.
Of this Sir Edward Bering (as of many others under like circumstances) that may he said which Dr. Johnson wrote of Milton, when he forsook the Presbyterians and favoured the Independents: "He that changes his party by his humour, is not more virtuous than he that changes it by his interest: he loves himself rather than truth."--We read, however, of Sir Edward Dering, that "his repentance and apology for his conduct so offended the Republicans, that he was openly declared a delinquent by the Commonwealth," but escaping to the King, he had the command of a regiment of horse,--a post which, through illness, he was afterwards obliged to relinquish; and then, retiring with his wife and children to one of his farm-houses, he there died in 1644, and was [46/47] buried in the family chancel. During his continuance with the King, his whole estate was confiscated, his newly furnished house four times plundered by the Parliament's soldiers, his goods and stock being all seized and taken away so that
few suffered more than he for his weak and in consistent conduct.